Almond Butter and Apricot Bars


I got a call from my dad last Tuesday saying my grandma had become unresponsive. The nurse told my dad and his siblings that she would most likely pass in the coming days.  I asked my dad to call me as soon as she passed away. I waited for the call. It was excruciating. By the end of the day Thursday there was still no change. By then, I had become extremely anxious and wasn’t sleeping well. I needed to numb the pain and not deal with my feelings. I didn’t know what else to do with myself, so I started to eat and didn’t stop until Saturday night.  I ate potato chips, ice cream, pizza, chocolate and cookies. I couldn’t shove the food in fast enough to fill the hole.  I hadn’t eaten like that in years. I actually went to bed Saturday night feeling sick. My dad called Sunday morning to tell me that my grandma passed away Saturday night with several of her kids by her bedside. And just like that, the bingeing was over. Now that my grandma was gone, I could let myself feel the pain of losing her. I wanted to go for a run and process my grief while listening to music. It was the most nurturing thing I could think of to do for myself. I blared Beyonce in my earbuds and started to run, all the while thinking about my grandma’s life. It wasn’t an easy one, but I hope that she had true moments of joy and contentment.

This recipe is an Ina Garten one that I tweaked simply because I had apricot jam in my refrigerator that I wanted to use. I love the combination of almond and apricot, especially when almond extract is involved. Of course, you can easily swap out the almond butter for peanut butter and use strawberry jam in lieu of the apricot jam if you want a straight-up classic combination. But it’s fun to try new flavors, and if you haven’t experienced the almond/apricot pairing, I encourage you to try this. Even if you’re not a seasoned baker, it’s a very approachable recipe.  It also feels a bit autumnal, which is absolutely perfect for this week.

Almond Butter and Apricot Bars
Adapted from Ina Garten

Yield:  24 bars

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups creamy almond butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups apricot jam
2/3 cups almond slivers

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 x13x2-inch cake pan. Line it with parchment paper, then grease and flour the pan.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars on medium speed until light yellow, about 2 minutes.
3. With the mixer on low speed, add the vanilla and almond extract, eggs, and almond butter and mix until all ingredients are combined.
4. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the almond butter mixture. Mix just until combined.
5. Spread 2/3 of the dough into the prepared cake pan and spread over the bottom with a knife or offset spatula. Spread the jam evenly over the dough. Drop small globs of the remaining dough evenly over the jam. Don’t worry if all the jam isn’t covered; it will spread in the oven.
6. Sprinkle with almond slivers and bake for 45 minutes, until golden brown. Cool completely, and cut into squares.


Loaded Sweet Potatoes with Chorizo and Pomegranate


I went back to Minnesota in August to visit my family. It was a really great trip overall. I had really nice moments with family, and had some quiet moments to myself that allowed me to reflect on how far I’ve come in my relationships with my family members. We’ve all done our share of personal growth, and it’s been manifested in the way we interact with each other. Of course, we still have our moments, but we can work through them much faster than we did in the past.

I visited my 88-year old grandma while there. She has had dementia for a while now, but she has been holding on fairly well. I know that people with dementia can deteriorate pretty quickly, but I was still not prepared for what I saw. She has whittled down to almost nothing, and she was barely lucid during the two short visits I had with her. My grandma has not had an easy life. Her husband was not a good man – he was mean, was never around, and had several affairs. She raised 8 kids largely on her own. I’ve often wondered what her life would have been like if she hadn’t met my grandpa. I think she always yearned for a bigger life. She wanted to contribute something to the world other than being a mother and a housewife. She is a very smart woman who liked to stay informed of politics and social justice issues. I remember her once telling me she was so happy that I had moved away from my small town. I think the little joy she got out of life she obtained through other people who were living happier and more fulfilling lives.

It was heartbreaking to see her now in this condition. However, my dad truly impressed me with the way he interacted with her during our visit. He was very loving and tender – making sure she had enough water, asking her if she was too warm. It almost brought me to tears. Because my dad was not a very warm and nurturing person while I was growing up, his kindness today can often times stop me in my tracks. It’s such a beautiful thing to see how people can evolve and become better human beings. My dad was never close to my grandma, and, in fact, I think they had a bit of a contentious relationship when he was growing up. Knowing this makes his caretaking of her now that much more touching.


I lurrrrrve sweet potatoes. However, I think I am unusual in my disliking of them in a sweet preparation. That will NEVER happen in my kitchen. People, they are already sweet to begin with! And they pair so nicely with bitter, savory, and umami flavors. One of my favorite ways to eat sweet potatoes is to turn them into french fries, covered in rosemary, garlic and sea salt. It beats McDonalds fries any day of the week. Ok, maybe not when I’m pms’ing, but you get the point. This is a great recipe to make this time of year. Summer is winding down and the first few hints of fall are in the air. It’s a hearty dish but it’s still light enough that it won’t weigh you down. Of course, if chorizo is hard to find in your neighborhood (or you just don’t eat pork), you can substitute chicken, beef, lamb, etc. I bet lamb would be extra delicious in this recipe.

Loaded Sweet Potatoes with Chorizo and Pomegranate
Adapted from Food & Wine

Yield: 4-6 servings

1/2 pound fresh chorizo, casings removed
3 cipollini onions, thinly sliced (1/2 cup)
1 jalapeño, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup pure pomegranate juice
1/4 cup chopped cilantro, plus leaves for garnish
Salt & pepper; Course sea salt
Crème fraîche or sour cream
Sliced avocado
Pomegranate seeds
Finely grated lime zest

1.  Preheat the oven to 350°. Set each sweet potato on a sheet of foil. Drizzle with olive oil and season with course sea salt.
2. Wrap the potatoes in the foil and transfer to a baking sheet. Bake until tender, about 1 hour.
3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil until shimmering. Add the chorizo and cook over moderately high heat, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until nearly cooked through, about 5 minutes.
4. Add the onions, chile and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chorizo is cooked through and the onions are softened, 3 to 5 minutes longer. Add the pomegranate juice and cook until nearly absorbed, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the chopped cilantro and season with salt and pepper.
5. Unwrap the sweet potatoes and arrange on a platter. Cut a lengthwise slit in the top of each one and fluff the insides with a fork. Season with salt and pepper and fill with the chorizo mixture.
6. Top each sweet potato with crème fraîche, sliced avocado, pomegranate seeds, grated lime zest and cilantro leaves. Serve immediately.

Smoky Eggplant Chips

L1050532I started another phase of No Sugar a few weeks ago. I’m on day 14 and so far, have only had one pretty bad day of sugar cravings, but I think it was largely hormonal. Throughout this experiment, I’ve had to accept the fact that I use sugar to cope with my emotions, which at any given moment, can contain a high level of anxiety. I used to think that depression was my demon, but I think anxiety is my bigger struggle.  Besides eating sugar, I’ve always found baking to be very comforting and therapeutic. It’s almost as if just being around sugar/sweets calms me. I’m almost positive it goes back to the numerous positive reinforcements surrounding sweets throughout my childhood. Bygones, mom, grandma, and numerous aunts!

So, in an effort to scramble my dopamine release system, I am focusing on other activities that can help manage my stress levels. Numero uno on this list is returning to yoga. I forgot how much I enjoy yoga! I mean, I really enjoy it. It’s physically challenging, and additionally, because a big part of it is about learning to breathe through your movements and stay in an uncomfortable position, yoga has a very calming effect. I’m actually considering going on a yoga retreat later this summer. With the news becoming seemingly worse every week, anxiety/stress management is my personal project this summer.
L1050523I’ve been experimenting with new ways to prepare vegetables. One of my favorite veggies – eggplant – is one of the most underrated veggies out there. I LOVE eggplant; I could eat it every day! I found this super easy recipe and had to try it immediately. It’s incredible. I’ve been making kale chips for a while now, so I thought eggplant chips would be even more delicious. I am not ashamed to say that I ate the equivalent of one whole eggplant over the course of a day via these eggplant chips.
L1050527Smoky Eggplant Chips
Adapted from Healthful Pursuit


Yield: 100 Chips

2 eggplants, sliced thin
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

½ tablespoon smoked paprika
½ tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
½ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon dried ground sage
¼ teaspoon sea salt
Pinch cayenne pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 250F and set aside 2 large baking sheets.
  2. Slice the eggplant using a mandolin slicer or a sharp knife. The slices should be as thin as a potato chip.
  3. Place eggplant slices into a medium-to-large sized bowl, and add olive oil. Toss to coat thoroughly, then sprinkle with seasoning and toss again. Mix until seasoning is evenly distributed.
  4. Pour eggplant slices onto baking sheets, making sure that slices are not overlapping.
  5. Place in the oven to bake for 60-70 minutes, depending on how thin you sliced them. If you make them too thick, they can take upwards of 2 hours to complete.

Bacon, Kale & Tomato Frittatas

L1050516A dear old friend visited last week. We had not seen each other in over 15 years.  15 years. It’s pretty astounding that we’ve kept in touch all these years, seeing as that we initially only spent a few months together back in 1997. I studied abroad in Lancaster, England the spring semester of my junior year. I had no idea what a pivotal experience that would turn out to be for me. College is usually a time of growth and self-exploration for a lot of people, but there is something more acute about living in a foreign country by yourself when you are 20 years old. It’s almost like starting all over again, like the first day of college, except you stand out so much more because you’re a “yankee” and you have to learn new words like “snog” and “bollocks”.

My time in England was where my inner-feminist blossomed, and I’m still not completely sure how or why. While there, I met several smart, interesting young women who would have probably defined themselves as feminists, but it wasn’t something that I remember us specifically talking about. Rather, it was in the subtle ways they lived their lives. They made certain assumptions about being a woman that I found very refreshing. Until then, I had always struggled with my female identity – what it meant to be a woman. I remember coming back home after six months and feeling transformed in so many ways.
L1050505Because it was such an intense inner-growth period for me, the friends that I made during that time are still very dear to me. Stephanie is one of those friends. She now lives in Australia and has a beautiful family. They all came to NYC last week for a visit. I was super excited to see my friend after such a long time, but I surprised myself by getting choked up when we hugged. It was like no time had passed at all, and we picked up where we left off all those years ago.

In my never-ending quest to make healthy recipes (I promise there will be gluttonous recipes to come) I found this one recently and thought it sounded both easy and delicious. Weekday breakfasts can get a bit boring; I’ve been trying to eat more eggs for breakfast during the week, but I was getting tired of scrambled eggs every day. Frittatas are a nice way to change it up. You can essentially add anything you want to them. This recipe calls for bacon, but I substituted hot dogs since we had some in the refrigerator. The frittatas even make a quick and healthy lunch!

Bacon, Kale & Tomato Frittatas
Adapted from Shape

Yield: 6 servings

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped, stemmed kale
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
4 slices bacon, chopped
4 eggs
4 egg whites
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly spray a muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Over medium heat, pour the olive oil into a medium-size pan. Add bacon and cook for 5 minutes, or until desired level of crispness.
3. Add kale and tomatoes and cook for an additional 3-5 minutes.
4. In a large bowl, beat together 4 eggs and 4 egg whites. Add Greek yogurt and mix until fluffy.
5. Add bacon, kale and tomatoes to egg mixture.
6. Season with salt and pepper and mix well.
7. Divide among 6 muffin cups. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Peanut Butter Fudge Cookies

L1050494A few years ago, I turned a corner and started enjoying going to the gym. Like a lot of people, I used to dread it. Now, I actually feel better on the days when I’ve gone to the gym. Sadly, I don’t think I’m in much better shape than I used to be (damn you peri-menopause!) but my mental health has improved, thanks to my regular workouts. I love starting my day by pushing myself physically and increasing the dopamine that my 40-year-old brain produces.
L1050483I’m in week 4 of my food regimen, and so far it’s going pretty well. I haven’t felt too terribly deprived, despite the fact that I work at a bakery and smell cakes and cupcakes all day long. I really enjoy creating healthier versions of some of my favorite sweets. That definitely helps ease the pain of not being able to eat sugar. These cookies are a new favorite of mine, and I think most people would be surprised to learn that they are sugar-free, grain-free, and made with just a few simple healthy ingredients.
L1050499Peanut Butter Fudge Cookies

Yield: 16 cookies

3 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup all-natural peanut butter (no sugar added)
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of sea salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Place mashed bananas in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add peanut butter, cocoa powder, vanilla extract and sea salt. Mix until well incorporated.
3. Using a medium-sized cookie scoop, place 1″ rounds of batter onto lined baking sheet.
4. Bake for 10 minutes.
5. Let cookies cool completely. Can be refrigerated up to one week or stored in freezer.

Kale & Brussels Sprout Salad

L1030066I am one week into my new food regimen.  I like to think of it as a regimen rather than a diet.  I don’t do well with diets.  The minute I am told I can’t have a particular food, I immediately want it.  This regimen was prescribed for me by a naturopathic doctor that I have been seeing for my IBS.  As you know from my last post, peri-menopause has caused quite a bit of havoc in my life over the past 18 months. I can’t believe it took me this long to seek medical treatment. I am a firm believer that much of what ails us has to do with our diets. So when my doctor prescribed this specific diet for my condition, I decided to give it a go. One year ago, I probably would have said, “No thanks”, but I am desperate to feel better. The regimen is  similar to the Paleo diet in that it excludes sugar, dairy, and all cereal grains. However, I am allowed a few types of cheese (thank god) as well as legumes.  I joked to my husband that I might join the CrossFit/Paleo cult that has swept the nation. I saw fear in his eyes.

I had awful headaches during the first few days. I’m assuming this was my body going through sugar withdrawal. But after they passed, it got a lot easier. I’m feeling pretty good and not feeling deprived at all. In fact, the thought of sugar doesn’t even sound good to me, which is strange. I was planning on allowing myself a piece of cake next weekend for my birthday, but I decided that I am going to make a healthy dessert instead.  Black bean brownies, anyone? I will try to post that recipe here in the coming months. It’s one of my favorite things to eat when I need something sweet.

In the meantime, get a load of this salad! It may sound boring, but I can assure you that it’s full of flavor and slightly addictive.  The dressing has a nice bite/tang to it, thanks to mustard and shallots. Give it a whirl!

Kale & Brussels Sprout Salad
Adapted from Bon Appétit

Yield: 8-10 servings

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 small garlic clove, finely grated
1/4 teaspoon sea salt plus more for seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper
2 large bunches of Tuscan kale (about 1 1/2 lb. total), center stem discarded, leaves thinly sliced
12 ounces Brussels sprouts, trimmed, finely grated or shredded with a knife
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/3 cup almonds with skins, coarsely chopped
1 cup finely grated Pecorino

1. Combine lemon juice, Dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, 1/2 tsp. salt, and a pinch of pepper in a small bowl. Stir to blend; set aside to let flavors meld.
2. Mix thinly sliced kale and shredded brussels sprouts in a large bowl.
3. Measure 1/2 cup oil into a cup. Spoon 1 Tbsp. oil from cup into a small skillet; heat oil over medium-high heat. Add almonds to skillet and stir frequently until golden brown in spots, about 2 minutes. Transfer nuts to a paper towel-lined plate. Sprinkle almonds lightly with salt.
4. Slowly whisk remaining olive oil in cup into lemon-juice mixture. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Add dressing and cheese to kale mixture; toss to coat. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Garnish with almonds.

Harissa-Spiced Cassoulet

L1040015If anyone had told my younger self that I would go through menopause in my late thirties, I probably would have shrugged and went on with my life.   Back then, I thought menopause would merely be a ceasing of menstruation and maybe a year of hot flashes.  However, I’m learning that the experience of menopause is a heck of a lot more than that, and it’s a really difficult transition.  Just the other day I was so frustrated and disheartened that I thought to myself, Why aren’t there menopause support groups the way that there are AA meetings?  The thought kind of made me laugh, but then I soberly wondered if any actually exist.
L1040007It wasn’t until recently that I came to the conclusion that all of my ailments were due to my hormones being out of whack due to menopause.  It’s pretty amazing how much control our hormones have over how our body functions; they control everything!  They’re like the lobbyists of the U.S. political system.  (Ok, I won’t get political…but isn’t that a good analogy?!)

I am trying to remain patient and maintain some sense of normalcy with this transitional phase of my life, but it has been a struggle the last few months as my symptoms become more acute.  Yoga definitely helps.  And I’ve started training for the half-marathon that I will be running in April.  Every little thing helps.  I just hope that I am one of the more fortunate women for whom menopause lasts two years instead of ten.  Gulp.
L1040004This was my first time making a cassoulet.  I came across this recipe in Food & Wine, where a Minneapolis chef was sharing riffs-on-casserole recipes.  If you haven’t ever made one, they are as easy as a casserole, and even more delicious.  And this particular cassoulet is perfect for hunkering down on a cold winter’s night.  It’s almost March, people!
L1040013Harissa-Spiced Cassoulet
Adapted from Food & Wine

Yield:  10-12 servings

1/2 pound thick-cut bacon, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely diced
1 celery rib, finely diced
2 medium carrots, finely diced, plus 2 large carrots, cut into 2 1/2-inch lengths
14 oz. can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Sea salt
Black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Four 6-ounce chicken sausages, sliced into 1/2-inch thick rounds
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2 1/2-inch pieces
3 turnips, peeled and cut into 2 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
4 ounces rustic peasant bread, crusts removed, bread cut into 1/4-inch dice (2 cups)
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

  1. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, cook the bacon over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the fat is rendered. Add the onion, celery and diced carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning 
to soften, about 8 minutes.  Add the beans and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°. In a small skillet, toast the cumin, coriander and mustard seeds over moderate heat, shaking the pan, until fragrant and the mustard seeds begin to pop, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer 
to a spice grinder and let cool. Add the smoked paprika and crushed red pepper and grind the harissa blend into a powder.
  3. Wipe out the casserole and heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in it. Add the sausages and cook over moderate heat, until lightly browned all over, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Do not wipe out the casserole.
  4. Add the sweet potatoes, turnips and large carrots to the casserole. Season with salt and black pepper and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, 5 minutes.  Add the harissa spice blend and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  5. Stir in the bean mixture and the chicken broth and bring just to a simmer.  Cover and bake the 
cassoulet for about 1 hour, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Remove from the oven and uncover the cassoulet.  Mix in the sausages.
  6. Preheat the broiler. In a bowl, toss the bread, parsley, lemon zest and the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil; season with salt and black pepper. Sprinkle the bread over the cassoulet and broil until golden and crisp. Let the cassoulet stand for 10 minutes before serving.





Healthy Pad Thai

L1030054I am not a fan of making New Year’s resolutions.  Rather, I prefer reflecting on the past year–my accomplishments and what I am grateful for.  It helps me to take stock of where I am in life and how I want to move forward in the coming year.   2015 was a very good year:  I was promoted to General Manager of the bakery I work at, I concluded therapy after 4 years with an incredible therapist, and I traveled to Norway, Sweden, France and Switzerland with my husband.
L1030053Seeing as that I’m turning 40 this year, I feel the need to try some new things and push myself out of my comfort zone.  I signed up for a Half-Marathon in April, and Mr. K and I plan on taking a trip to China this summer.  I also want to learn Spanish, once-and-for-all!  Of course, always on my list is trying out new recipes, and this past week it was Pad Thai.  I, like most people, love Pad Thai, but I rarely order it when I eat out, as it’s usually a really heavy dish, and loaded with calories.  I found this Mark Bittman recipe and decided to tweak it a bit to make it lighter and healthier.  Enjoy!

Healthy Pad Thai
Adapted from Mark Bittman via The New York Times

4 ounces fettuccine-width rice noodles
1/8 cup peanut oil
1 teaspoon tamarind paste
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
2 cups shredded cabbage
1 cup red cabbage
1 garlic clove, minced
2 eggs
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

  1. Put noodles in a large bowl and add boiling water to cover. Let sit until noodles are just tender; check every 5 minutes or so to make sure they do not get too soft. Drain, drizzle with one tablespoon peanut oil to keep from sticking and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, put tamarind paste, fish sauce, soy sauce, ginger, lime juice, sesame oil, oyster sauce, salt, pepper, honey and vinegar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and bring just to a simmer. Stir in red pepper flakes and set aside.
  3. Put remaining 3 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; when oil shimmers, add garlic and cook for about a minute. Add eggs to pan; once they begin to set, scramble them until just done. Add cabbage and continue to cook until cabbage begins to wilt.
  4. Add drained noodles to pan along with sauce. Toss everything together to coat with tamarind sauce and combine well. When noodles are warmed through, serve, sprinkling each dish with peanuts and garnishing with cilantro.

Cannellini Beans with Bacon & Spinach

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADespite the fact that we got ourselves a cute little tree, I’ve been listening to Christmas music while getting ready in the morning, and I spent an entire weekend (and then some) making edible holiday gifts, it just doesn’t feel like Christmas this year.  It might be partly due to the fact that it’s been insanely warm for this time of year-–it’s been in the 60’s for weeks now!  Ugh.  My husband finds it humorous that I should complain about this, but I stand by it.  I want a little chill in the air, enough so that a winter coat is mandatory.  I want to walk down the streets of NYC, looking through the windows at the whimsical holiday displays while sipping a hot cocoa.   Is this too much to ask??  The world can be a tough place to stomach sometimes, and I feel like December is the one time of year when we are allowed to live in a fantasyland in our heads––dreaming of sugarplums, reindeer, and snowmen.  I am going to try and make the best of it.  At least we’re not housebound due to a huge snowstorm, eh?

You HAVE to make this dish, and soon.  I’ve made it twice in the past month, and I can’t get enough of it.  Not only is it a perfect, comforting winter meal (even if it is warmer than usual), but it’s super-easy and pretty healthy.   It takes all of 10 minutes, and you can make it in one pan.  Enjoy, and Happy Holidays!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACannellini Beans with Bacon & Spinach
Adapted from The Splendid Table

Yield:  4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
6 ounces smoky bacon, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 shallots, minced
1 (28-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
6 cups baby spinach
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Put a large (approximately 10-inch) skillet over medium heat. Add the oil and let it get hot.
2. Add the bacon and cook until crispy, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the garlic and shallots, and cook for 30 seconds longer. Add the beans and cook for another 2 minutes.
4. Add the spinach and salt, season with pepper, and cook until the spinach wilts, about 4 minutes, adding a tablespoon or two of water, if needed, to help the spinach along. Serve immediately.

Sea Salt Caramels

DSC_6671I had a nice, leisurely brunch with a good friend today.  It was one of those enjoyable, meandering conversations that could have easily continued for several hours.  After we parted ways, I found myself thinking of several more things I wanted to talk to my friend about––what was the name of that running app she mentioned?  Avon Barksdale is in the new Creed movie!  When can we do another double date?
DSC_6656After I returned home, I started in on my holiday baking:  melting butter, whipping meringue, and rough-chopping chocolate, all the while thinking about the incredibly rich and meaningful female friendships I’ve had over the years.  There is a beautiful passage in an Anaïs Nin book that I love:  “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”  She articulates so elegantly how different friends show us a side of ourselves that we hadn’t previously tapped into.  They see our potential, and challenge us within a safe space.   By the time I started cleaning up my post-baking mess, I found myself reminiscing about my college days and all of the incredible friendships I made throughout those four years.  Those women saw something in me before I really knew who I was or how I wanted to live my life.  Through their eyes, I learned so much about myself.
DSC_6668I haven’t made caramels, or any other candy, since the day I closed my business 2 ½ years ago.  I wasn’t sure if I would remember how to make them, but it all came back to me.  My stepdad has asked me to make these for him ever since I closed my business, and he will finally get some for Christmas this year!

Sea Salt Caramels

Yield: 35-40

12 oz. sugar
12 oz. evaporated milk
5 oz. heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean, split
10 oz. corn syrup
1 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon sea salt

1.  Line 8×8 pan with parchment paper.
2.  Combine sugar, evaporated milk, heavy cream, and vanilla bean in a large pot, and cook over medium-high heat.  Bring to a boil, and add corn syrup.  Stir to incorporate.
3.  Insert candy thermometer and clip onto the side of pot.
4.  When temperature reaches 230 F degrees, add butter and stir until melted.  Mixture will start to thicken and darken in color.  Turn heat down to low, and stir frequently, scraping bottom of the pan every once in a while.
5.  When temperature reaches 240 F degrees, remove pot from heat, add sea salt, and stir until combined.
6.  Pour caramel into parchment-lined pan.  Using a spatula, smooth the caramel out, making sure it is distributed evenly throughout pan.  Cool completely, and cut into 1×1-inch squares.