my 2019 christmas card


2019 was quite the year. It some ways it was a dumpster fire and in other ways it was wonderful. Obviously the dumpster fire didn't make the actual Christmas card photo :-) But overall, it was a year that was spent mostly outside, wearing leggings, or looking for Lowe's coupons online. 

I did come to the realization that I get 1 Christmas for every 2 that I send out. For someone who is often most interested in efficiency,  you might think that I'm going to make some cuts in 2020.... but honestly that is unlikely. I love sending them out and frankly at the cost per card including postage... I'll take the $25ish hit. 

If 2018 was the year of renovation... and 2019 was the year of embracing my neighborhood and the outdoors.... I'm on the edge of my seat for what 2020 will bring. I have a lot of personal projects this year that aren't small, so it'll be interesting to see what materializes over the next 12 months. 

Prior years: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015

Chocolate dipped merengues


I am fully committed to merengues as a household staple. I believe that I have now made them weekly for a month? The minute I eat the last one in the container.... I just start to whip up some egg whites for a fresh batch.

The recipe isn't wholly different from the peppermint merengues that I made over Christmas... the difference is that I discovered the magic of dipping them in chocolate. I didn't stop there either. I started to then dip them in nuts and shredded chocolate. And then just this past weekend, I mixed some peanut butter into the chocolate and that was delightful too.

Here are the iterations I've done:
(1) regular peppermint merengue
(2) coconut merengue dipped in chocolate
(3) coconut merengue double dipped in chocolate and then sea salt pistachio or shredded coconut
(4) almond extract flavored merengue dipped in chocolate peanut butter
(5) vanilla extract flavored merengue dipped in sea salt pistachio

And if I'm being honest, I've got my eye on some orange extract that I feel like would be a great decision too.
Here's how it goes.
  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper, set aside.
  2. In a large bowl beat the egg whites, cream of tartar, peppermint, and salt with a mixer on medium until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time beating on high. Beat well after each addition. Beat until stiff peaks form.
  3. Place a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip inside a large cup and fold excess over top of the cup. This will help hold the pastry bag in place making it easier to paint the stripes and fill with meringue. If desired, using a small paintbrush paint small stripes up the sides of the pastry bag. Carefully spoon the meringue into the bag. Pipe evenly sized merengues onto prepared baking sheet about 1" apart. I went with 2 and 4 inch merengues.
  4. Bake for 1 1/2 hours or until meringues appear dry and firm when lightly touched. Remove and cool on a wire rack.
  5. Dip in melted chocolate and then dip again in a mixture of pistachios and sea salt.
Shopping List
3 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon pure extract
3/4 cup granulated sugar
chocolate chips
coconut oil
pistachios, very finely chopped
sea salt

Nighttime Moon Milk


I believe I first saw this recipe on Instagram back in the Fall. I was immediately enchanted by the idea of "moon milk" and had to know more. After reading the Bon Appetit description, I was sold. I love sleep and this promises more sleep.

While I had all the spices at my disposal, it did take me a little bit to get the last ingredient: ashwagandha. Whole Foods does sell several different options but I held off for a sale to save a few extra dollars. The recipe calls for ashwagandha powder but you can also just open one supplement pill like I did. Turns out one pill is exactly the amount called for in this recipe.

I have now made this 3 times and enjoyed it more each night. The first night that I drank this milk before bed I slept over nine hours. 

1st batch = made it a little too hot and wasn't patient enough to let it cool
2nd batch = perfect temperature
3rd batch = good temperature again... and I actually strained the hot milk to remove some of the excess spices before drinking it. 

I am quite sure that I got less benefit from the strained milk but I did enjoy drinking it a whole lot more. To each their own, but seriously... try this milk if you love sleep.
  1. Bring milk to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. 
  2. Whisk in cinnamon, turmeric, ashwagandha, cardamom, ginger, if using, and nutmeg; season with pepper. 
  3. Whisk vigorously to incorporate any clumps. 
  4. Add coconut oil, reduce heat to low, and continue to cook until warmed through, 5–10 minutes (the longer you go, the stronger the medicine). 
  5. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Stir in honey (you want to avoid cooking honey or you'll destroy its healing goodness). 
  6. Pour into a mug, drink warm, and climb right into bed.
Shopping List
1 cup milk (any variety... regular, nut, etc)
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon ground ashwagandha
2 pinches of ground cardamom
Pinch of ground ginger
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon virgin coconut oil
1 teaspoon honey

tomato recap 2019


Funny story. I wrote nearly this entire recap post in September... and it has taken me this long to finish it. I'm getting ready to think about this year's garden plans. I've got about 15 tabs open in my browser and they are all different tomato varieties.

The tomatoes were pretty solid this year. Solid enough that I've unfortunately let way too many rot and then pulled myself together enough to can more than the amount that spoiled. 

Overall, feel pretty good about this year's selection. I'm not sure that I love them as much as the 2018 batch but a strong showing none the less. There was always something to make a good salad with and that is half the battle. 

Pink BerkeleyBeefsteakCAD
Mr. StripeyBeefsteakB+BA-
Big RainbowBeefsteakBAC
Tasmanian ChocolateSlicerDCD
Fourth Of JulySlicerAAB+
Red CurrantCherryAAA
Chocolate PearPearABA
Black TrufflePearB+AB+
Tangerine MamaPlumBBA

PINK BERKELEY TIE DYE // I have nothing to say about this one - in part because it was the worst producer out of the whole bunch. But I did like the one tomato that I got.... yes ONE.

Mr. Stripey // Super productive plant. The size is a true beefsteak. I lost more to bugs than I'd like. I didn't do a great job trimming the plant back and as a result there was more space for the bugs to hide and snack.

Big Rainbow (2018) // This variety was far more successful this year than in 2018. I believe I only got 1 good tomato last year... and this year I'm shaping up for at least more than that. It is the absolute most beautiful slicer. The colors are incredible.

Tasmanian Chocolate // Overall a disappointment. Nothing special to write home about. I had one in my first tomato salad of the season and I can't remember anything about it. I might have picked it a tiny bit early. The colors on a ripe tomato are rather dull and muted so it is not even a pretty tomato to have in the garden. Can't recommend this to anyone.

Fourth Of July (2018 graduate) // all-star tomato. I'll forever put this in my garden. Despite being one of the first varieties to ripen, it has wonderful flavor. The size is perfect and it works great as a small slicer.

Tomatoberry // beautiful bright red cherry sized tomatoes. They ripen on strands like other cherry varieties. The fruit is also quite strong and resists bursting or damage when it falls from the plant.

Red Currant // Okay, the red currant is filed under: want to do again for sure but need to figure out how to manage it. The little fruits are the absolute best. Anyone who has tried one in the garden agrees, but it just is a bit sprawler of a plant. I don't think caging it is the answer either. Like maybe this is one of those plants that you hang upside down? I'm going to really have to think about this one - but anyone with kids or grandkids should plant this variety. It is amazing.

Chocolate Pear // Sweet lord this plant was productive. The flavors are great for such a small fruit. Would absolutely recommend.

Black Truffle (2016, 2017, 2018) // I didn't love the black truffle this year as much as in prior years. I do believe this is an all-star variety for most, I just might be tiring of it. The fruit was just as productive as in prior years but ripened a bit differently. It was as though the whole tomato was never fully ripe. Maybe that doesn't make sense but it feels like the most accurate description. 

Blush // The blush was the first tomato to ripen this year! I won't plant this one again but it was an all-star and has contributed to many many jars of homemade sauce. The fruit stays in good shape for quite some time. I used it often in salads as well. It's a perfectly fine tomato, just not worthy of a repeat showing in my garden.

Tangerine Mama // I primarily used these in my canning sauce. They didn't have that soft, ripe texture that you generally want in some tomatoes. I feel like they would be great as a slow roasted tomato because of the size and shape. This might sound obvious, but wait until the color is a deeper tangerine. The deeper the color the better the flavor. 

So what makes the cut for next year's garden? Hard to say. I love growing so many different varieties of tomatoes. It is really fun for me - but it might be too many tomatoes to reasonably care for. Instead of planting 12, I might try to scale back to 8. That seems very reasonable.

Posterity Posts: Garden Plans (20182017, and 2016) + Recap (20182016)



taco lentil soup


I haven't stopped talking about how good this chili / soup is. It is so good that I even bought more lentils at Whole Foods yesterday. That should be a clear testament to the gold star status.

Each year for Christmas my sister and I make new recipes for my grandfather as presents. In the past I've made some other low sodium or otherwise inspired meals. 2018 was a delicious turkey posole inspired by his love of San Diego. 2017 was a chickpea tomato soup. It was so long ago that I forgot I made that soup and almost made it again quite recently. Time flies when you are having fun apparently.

I will absolutely be making this soup again soon. I treat it like a chili and there is nothing bad about enjoying some melted cheddar cheese in the winter. While it is great as a vegetarian option, I think you could easily some ground turkey or chicken to the base if you feel that is needed. I'll pretty much be using it as a way to trick myself into eating lentils.

here you go.
  1. Place a medium skillet over medium high heat. Add in olive oil, garlic, bell pepper, onion and jalapeño; sauté for 5 minutes or until onions begin to brown and soften. Transfer to the slow cooker.
  2. Add in the remaining ingredients (except for the corn) to the slow cooker: lentils, crushed tomatoes, broth, black beans and spices. Stir ingredients together to combine, then cover and cook for 3-4 hours on high or 7-8 hours on low. 20 minutes before serving, stir in frozen corn.
  3. Once soup is done, distribute into bowls and top each with cheese or whatever you put on your chili normally.
Shopping List
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 white onion, diced
1 jalapeño, seeded and diced
1 cup lentils
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
4 cups chicken broth
1 (15 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (if you like a little heat!)
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup frozen organic corn

almond apple pie


This pie got rave reviews in spite of the odds against it. What odds do you say? Well primarily because I didn't cook it enough. Adorable right?

What happened was that I was trying so hard to bake the pie in advance without overcooking my beautiful lattice work. In hindsight this was a real low risk and silly to be concerned with. I normally make things to be consumed rather immediately and then perhaps as leftovers.

I ended up making this pie again by request for my parents on New Years. If you chose to buy pre-made crust... it will take you less than 10 minutes to put together. Isn't that incredible? A delicious and impressive pie so quickly. The secret to kicking it up a notch is absolutely the almond paste. Sure, you could skip that step but then you are just making a normal apple pie.

Here's how it goes.
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the sliced apples with the lemon juice. Whisk together the sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a separate bowl, then toss with the apples and lemon juice.
  3. Roll out your bottom crust and transfer it to a 9" pie plate. Press it up the sides.
  4. Take your almond paste, and roll it out into a thin circle, about 9" in diameter. It shouldn't be any thicker than about 1/8". Transfer the thin disc of almond paste to the pie plate and press it gently on top of your bottom crust.
  5. Fill your pie crust with the sliced apple mixture. Dot the top of the apples with the melted butter. Place in the refrigerator while you roll out the top crust.
  6. Roll out the top crust. Transfer it to the top of your pie plate and crimp the edges. Cut 5 slits in the top of the crust in the center to let steam escape. Brush the crust with milk and sprinkle with sugar (optional).
  7. Bake the pie for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven heat to 375°F and bake for 35-40 minutes more, until the fruit is soft and bubbling and the crust is golden. If the crust is browning too quickly, you can cover it with foil.
  8. Remove from the oven and let the pie cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.
Shopping List
2 pie crusts (1 for the top and 1 for the bottom)
3 pounds apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced (about 6 cups)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
7 ounces almond paste
3 tablespoons butter, melted
milk + sugar, for the crust 

gingerbread macarons


I have made a lot of macarons recently - or so it feels. I made two batches of peppermint macarons in early December. I got a little fancy with my piping bag food coloring to create red swirls. But this weekend, I felt the urge to make another batch but it did not feel exciting to do more peppermint ones.

That's how I ended up with gingerbread macarons.

If you can make regular macarons, there is nothing stopping you from these seasonal favorites. I was a little nervous about how the spices would affect the almond batter consistency ... even though it is such a small amount. These shells are so ridiculously finicky that you don't want to mess with them too much. The last time I made macarons I changed up my recipe a bit and I feel pretty great about them now.

What did I change? Lowered the temp significantly to 300F and added more dry ingredients to the whipped merengue. This tutorial from Tasty is the best macaron tutorial I've ever read.

  1. I will now always look for the figure 8 in my batter. Watch the demo video and you'll see what I mean.
  2. Bloom time? I had never heard of this but it makes a lot of sense. After fully assembling the macaron, you let it sit for 24 hours (or so) in an airtight container. Macarons always felt better the next day or even a couple hours later... and now I know why.
  3.  In spite of the "figure 8 technique", I think there is a chance that I'm overmixing my batter occasionally. On the Great British Baking Show, I learned that if your macaron shells feel a bit hollow it is because they are overmixed. 
  4. Absolutely whack the cooking sheet a few times to get the air bubbles out. I could literally see them come to the surface after hitting the sheet.

Other macaroon recipes I've tried: peppermint swirl, matcha coconutmargaritaraspberry with coconut fillingstandard, and these award winning Christmas cookie variety.

  1. Make the macarons: In the bowl of a food processor, combine the powdered sugar, almond flour, and ½ teaspoon of salt, and process on low speed, until extra fine. Sift the almond flour mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl.
  2. In a separate large bowl, beat the egg whites and the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt with an electric hand mixer until soft peaks form. Gradually add the granulated sugar until fully incorporated. Continue to beat until stiff peaks form (you should be able to turn the bowl upside down without anything falling out).
  3. Add the vanilla and beat until incorporated. Add the food coloring and beat until just combined.
  4. Add about ⅓ of the sifted almond flour mixture at a time to the beaten egg whites and use a spatula to gently fold until combined. After the last addition of almond flour, continue to fold slowly until the batter falls into ribbons and you can make a figure 8 while holding the spatula up. 
  5. Transfer the macaron batter into a piping bag fitted with a round tip. 
  6. Pipe the macarons onto the parchment paper in 1½-inch (3-cm) circles, spacing at least 1-inch (2-cm) apart.
  7. Tap the baking sheet on a flat surface 5 times to release any air bubbles. 
  8. Let the macarons sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour, until dry to the touch. This helps the feet form under the shell.
  9. Preheat the oven to 300˚F. 11 Bake the macarons for 17 minutes, until the feet are well-risen and the macarons don’t stick to the parchment paper. 
  10. Transfer the macarons to a wire rack to cool completely before filling.
Shopping List
1 ¾ cups powdered sugar
1 cup almond flour, finely ground
1 teaspoon salt, divided
3 egg whites, at room temperature
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon ginger

1 cup unsalted butter, 2 sticks, at room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons of cinnamon

iced oatmeal cookies


These cookies are addicting and delicious .... and I absolutely made some mistakes when I was making them. But wow, if you aren't interested in trying them ... please show yourself to the door.

Although technically an oatmeal cookie, it is lacking all the things that make people sad like raisins and a heavy oat textures. Sure there are a lot of oats in the recipe but you can't really tell because they are blended down to a finer texture.

My recipe came out a little bit different than the original but primarily because I freaked out about moisture. I was so worried about the dough not being able to keep together that I added about 3 tablespoons of melted butter to the dough. I'm a big fan of the result. They are almost permanently chewy but still strong enough to keep their shape and get covered in glaze.

To Make the Cookies:
  1. In the bowl of a food processor, grind the oats to a flour. Add the brown sugar, flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg and process briefly to blend. 
  2. Toss in the butter cubes and process until the butter is well incorporated and the dough begins to clump and pull off the sides of the bowl. 
  3. Add the egg yolk (save the white for the icing!) and pulse until the dough comes together. If you are worried about your dough not being moist enough you can add up to 3 tbsp of melted butter.
  4. Line a work surface with a large sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper. Turn out the dough onto the lined counter and form it into a log about 10-inches long. Wrap the dough tightly. 
  5. Chill the dough for a minimum of 3 hours in the fridge.
  6. Preheat oven to 350 F and prepare 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Use a thin, sharp knife to slice the dough log into 2 dozen rounds, each just shy of 1/2-inch thick. Transfer the rounds, evenly spaced about 2 inches apart, to the prepared baking sheets. 
  7. Bake until golden and firm on the edges. Should be between 12 - 18 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely—they will crisp all the way through as they cool. 

To Make the Icing:
  1. In a small bowl, combine the egg white, powdered sugar, vanilla and salt. Mix until smooth and thick. 
  2. Blend in 1 teaspoon of water until smooth. 
  3. To ice the cookies, working 1 at a time, just touch the top of the cookie to the icing. Don't submerge it. 
  4. Let the excess icing drip off and then set the iced cookie on a wire rack. If the icing begins to firm while you’re dipping, give it a quick mix with a fork and perhaps add a drop or two of water if needed. 
  5. Allow the icing to dry completely before serving, about 1 hour. 
Shopping List
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup  firmly packed dark or light brown sugar
1/2 cup  all-purpose flour spooned and leveled
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter cut into cubes + 3 tbsp melted butter (if needed)
1 large egg yolk

1 large egg white
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
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