Pumpkin Chocolate Spice Cookies


Friday, October 17, 2014

The Fall leaves, bursting in crimson and orange, briskness in the air, warm meals, fires lit at night, these are heaven to my husband, as peonies in the Spring are to me. My heart is most filled with joy when Spring, in all it's floral glory appears, leading into the heat of summer with long days at the beach, juicy tomatoes and fruit, swimming, sun tans and outdoor bbq's. But mostly, it's about the flowers and warmth for me. For Cam, it's the snow and cold. To that I say, to each his own! I am so thankful that God gives us change. He doesn't stifle our thoughts and desires but gives us new ones. He gives us new seasons with changing produce, foliage, flowers, weather, wardrobes. I love watching our table change, too. A pitcher of garden roses, ranunculus, peonies and sweetpeas in the Spring and summer, sunflowers, dahlias, gourds and pumpkins going into Fall. Greens, poinsettias, and camellias blooming in winter.

And with all four seasons comes cravings for the foods that shine in each one. Right now it's much ado about pumpkins, squashes, cheesy potatoes, hearty soups, pomegranates, apples, mushrooms. But my favorite part is how all of the delicious foods and meals this time of year bring family together, or in our case, without family in Monterey, friends. Food has a way of breaking barriers, opening doors and helping relationships grow. I experienced that nearly every day in Okinawa each time our neighbors gifted us with a basket of produce or I returned the favor with a freshly baked cinnamon twist bread or plate of warm chocolate chip cookies. Or in the case today, pumpkin chocolate spice cookies for our neighbors from Indonesia and for my husband who absolutely loves this season and the next. What says "Welcome to America" and "I love you, honey!" more than warm cookies and milk?!

Pumpkin Chocolate Spice Cookies
{makes about 2 dozen}

1/2 C  or  8 TBS pureed pumpkin
1/2 C (or 1 stick) of salted butter
1/4 C pure maple syrup
1/2 C packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 egg, room temperature
1 3/4 C all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
I bar of high quality chocolate, chopped

The flavor in these cookies is not overpowering, and I reduced the amount of sugar I would normally use so they are not overly sweet either. I wanted them to be a little chewy and moist and have the pumpkin flavor shine while not be "too much." I would recommend making some, tasting them, and then try adding more sugar and spices if you like a stronger taste. They are delicious with a glass of milk, or even in the morning with a cup of coffee. Nana Beth, I have in my head to make a gluten and dairy-free version, coming soon!

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Melt the butter (if just pulled from the refrigerator, microwave for about a minute, or melt over the stovetop) and whisk the brown sugar and maple syrup with it until smooth. Mix in the vanilla and almond extracts and pumpkin. Whisk in the egg.

Fold in the flour, salt, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice and cinnamon. Reserve about 1/4 of the chocolate pieces. Fold in the remaining chocolate until just combined. Place spoonfuls of dough on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper about 2 inches apart from each other. Press the chocolate pieces into the tops of the cookies. Bake for about 8 minutes, remove from the oven, slide the parchment paper off the baking sheet and let the cookies cool. If you prefer crunchier, less chewy cookies, let them bake for 10-12 minutes. Enjoy!

Coffee Date with My Boys & the Importance of Kafa


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

I've been reading a lot lately on the importance of kafa (coffee!) in Croatia. The fascinating part to me is that it's more about sitting down with someone for an hour, or two, or even three, to talk, and less about the actual coffee itself. Though we do hear the coffee is really good! There are coffee shops all throughout Zagreb, lining the streets, and I read that it's common to go to the exact same one every day. I am so excited to dive into this part of the culture. I love a good coffee date. In Okinawa, Kenz, Stace and I would meet up atleast once (sometimes two or three) times a week in the morning with our little babes who were still small enough to sleep on us in a wrap, while we sat outside Coffee Casa talking about every subject under the sun, and reminding each other that the incredibly long nights of not sleeping would one day pass, laughing about the strange things our bodies were all doing after birth, and realizing that it was totally fine if our babies missed their usual nap attempts at home so that we could spend that time together. I always felt so refreshed after those mornings with them, even if I had only slept an hour the night before!

Early Monday morning, we made breakfast together, threw on clothes and went on a coffee date to Cafe Lumiere. It's only a block or two walk from the harbor and their cappuccino and latte were so good (though they could never top yours, Lanney & Timmy Britt!)

It might look like we enjoyed a long, leisurely coffee date, but the real life version is that while it was so sweet being together, sitting and laughing, it lasted for about five whole glorious minutes. I wouldn't expect our energetic one year old to make it any longer than that. We downed those delicious coffees in about two minutes flat and I was jittery the entire day, but so thankful for a morning date with my boys!

I also wanted to take you inside Parker-Lusseau Pastries & Cafe... It is darling. They are well-known in the area for their yummy pastries that are made fresh daily, and their whole selection and atmosphere is very inviting and very French. I took home a buttery croissant for Cam, two ciabatta rolls for our soup dinner and a morning bun and ratatouille quiche for a friend.

I'd recommend both cafes if you're ever in Monterey!

Big Sur


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

I hope you had a good (long?) weekend! Cam had today off from school thanks to Columbus Day, so one of the things we did was drive the gorgeous stretch of coastline down to Big Sur.  It's only about a 45 minute drive away, winding along the cliffside with stunning views of the Pacific. Every bend has cars pulled over with people taking photos, picnicking or just admiring the view.

When the fog rolls in like this, it almost feels like you're high up on a mountaintop peaking out above a blanket of clouds in the sky. It's a beautiful sight.

We hiked the Ewoldsen Trail, which I would recommend if you're ever in the area ~ it has beautiful vistas overlooking the ocean, groves of ancient redwoods and an ethereal feel to it, but I've gotta say, it was a tough hike straight uphill. Either that or I am just way out of shape!! Normally I'm right at Cam's heels, able to talk with my husband. This time I was just concentrating on breathing. Ha! Near this pretty spot is also where we took in gouda & apple slices, bread, water and those delicious peanut butter cups from Trader Joe's I'd made sure to pack.

I could not stop laughing. John Shea literally chit-chatted the entire way up, and then passed out like this for the whole way down. It totally cracks me up seeing the positions that he can sleep in and hearing him deep-sleep snore. I also love that Cam hiked the whole day with his sippy cup!

This is looking north at the 1, from the backside of McWay Waterfall.

What I Learned in my 20's (Revised)


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Do you remember this awesome post about lessons learned in her 20's from my dear friend Jodie? I wish that everyone had a Jodie Curtis in their life. She is fall-on-the-ground hysterical, a loyal friend, she regularly stays up all hours of the night to bake for all of her co-workers (I used to be one of them!), she is thoughtful and honest, and I'm so glad to have her on my blog today!

A few years ago Amanda asked me to take over her blog for a day.  I’m not a culinary genius and I haven’t traveled the world and most of my photography lives on my iPhone – so I live in awe of her.  At the time, I hadn’t quite reached my thirties yet and I wrote a list of things I would have told my 20-year-old self.  Well, time marched and the 30th birthday mark hit.  I didn’t melt into a pile on the floor, but life did a change a bit.  It got messy.  Life hit a little harder.  So in the spirit of being very frank and honest I present the revised lessons I’d pass along to every 20 year old girl … 

Your parents are living it up now.  Sometimes you’ll call and you won’t be able to reach them.  Hypothetically they might be at a Steak & Shake at 3am and they forgot to let anyone know.  You gave them enough heart attacks during high school that they have earned these moments.  There might also be a time when you call and ask what to do about a second degree oven burn and they tell you to just “Google it.”  They love you, but they’re a little tired of parenting.  Tell them to be careful, check in with someone and let those crazy kids have fun.  Because we all know they spent far too many sleepless nights helping with a book presentation we didn’t remember we had until 1am.  There are moments when you will call and no one picks up the other line, and then you imagine having to live life without them one day – and at that moment you literally can’t breathe.  Tell them thank you.

Be ready to have your faith shaken.  Life is not fair.  I had obviously heard this often but knew it to be true in the most superficial of ways – as in, sometimes the nice girl doesn’t win homecoming queen or you get the squeaky wheel cart at the grocery store.  It’s much crueler than that.  Over the past few years I’ve seen friends struggle to have children, I’ve watched marriages crumble, I lost a wonderful healthy charismatic friend in his thirties to cancer.  No, life is not fair.  So unfair there were a couple of days I stayed inside my apartment.  Not only did I not feel too Christian, I barely felt human.  The lights stayed off and the doors stay locked and I swore I wouldn’t breathe in the direction of anything I cared about for fear it might be next to crumble.  I love God, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t days I wasn’t livid at His reasoning … whatever it might be.   The sooner we realize we aren’t the only ones yelling in the valley the better chance we have of finding a hand out of there.

Less is more.  I recently moved into a studio apartment in the city.  I live in 490 square feet.  I can open my refrigerator from my couch.  I had to get rid of half of my clothes to fit them in my sad little closet.  For a year and a half I had a 12 inch television that I watched on a TV tray.  There’s not much of anything hanging on my walls.  If I want to eat at a dinner table (and I use that term loosely) it requires moving all three pieces of furniture I own.  I can put something in the oven and dust my bookshelf at the same time.  I sold my car.  I walk everywhere.  All of that to say, I thought this would kill me.  I thought I would go crazy.  I thought I’d miss “things.”  It turns out life is simpler.  However, much you have right now – trust me it’s more than enough.

No one has their sh** together.  I see a lot of beautiful people in DC with polished nails and townhomes and handbags from designers I can’t even pronounce.  I see them glide seamlessly from their job to their children to their well-manicured lawns – most of them younger than me, all of them (I assume) more successful than me.  I can’t walk five blocks to work without spilling coffee on myself or realizing my shirt is unbuttoned.  Yes, I own a pair of Tory Burch flats … but there’s a hole in one of them and duct tape on the bottom of the other.  I’m a cobbled together mess.  The truth is there is a lot that goes on behind closed doors that none of us know anything about.  And because we live on social media we only see the best parts of everyone’s life.  No one openly posts about credit card debt or kids with behavior issues or absent husbands and self-doubt.  We show everyone the shiniest parts of our lives and secretly hope know one looks under that metaphorical couch for the mounds of disappointment we’ve stashed there.  Don’t feed yourself the lie that everyone else has it all figured out.  Be kind.  The person whom you find most difficult is likely facing a multitude of things you know nothing about.

You’re still skinny enough.  Seriously, I cannot say this enough.  No one has fun at dinner with the girl who orders a salad.  No one wants to see your calorie journal.  Everyone is uncomfortable when you don’t eat a piece of your own birthday cake.  I’m not a guy but I’m willing to bet a girl who is ten pounds heavier but confident and comfortable in her own skin, trumps the girl who’s ten pounds lighter but couldn’t possibly eat burgers two nights in a row.

Crazy people hide it well.  Specifically people I’ve dated.  Someone once told me that it takes a good six months before someone’s true colors show … sometimes longer.   Yes, crazy people can hide their craziness like champs.  The key is just not to go crazy with them.  I dated one guy who conveniently left his wallet at home for around three months.  Another guy who I swore was the love of my life preferred not to be seen in public together and usually insisted we take separate cars.  Another guy never technically broke up with me, he just said he needed to remodel his kitchen and then I never heard from him again.  It must be one heck of a kitchen.  My point being my dating track record reads like a Criminal Minds B.A.U. unsub list – and yet still I have to give myself a break and realize we’ve all been duped by people who hid their true colors well.  When you see the first red flag, jump ship.  At the very least remember, it’s much better to happy alone than miserable together.

Be where you are.  Single people want to get married or married couples want to not feel so tied down.  Women with five kids fantasize occasionally, whether they admit it or not, about their bachelorette days.  Those with the small town life want the big city glamour …when really there’s no glamour at all and we’re all trying to scramble away to the country.  We want the promotion we think we deserve, the job at the bigger corporation, the boyfriend that got away, the children we think we’ll never have, or the days when we were 20 and single and life was simpler.  We wish away the moment we’re living in and are ready to trade it in for anything else.  I’m convinced it’s the greatest injustice we can do ourselves.  Be where you are.  The moment is fleeting and five years from now, you’ll be wishing for this day.

God determines your worth.  We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t seek input from others.  However, a lot of people will offer unsolicited loud opinions.  Some of them will make you feel like a million bucks and others will leave you in sweatpants for days.  As much as you shouldn’t let a man determine your worth, you really shouldn’t let other women do it either.  (Let’s be honest, some of us are brutal and catty.)

Show up early and leave late.  We’ve all been told during the course of our lives that we’re special.  Well, quite frankly, not everyone can be special.  The harsh truth is the person signing your check in the payroll department doesn’t exactly care how special your parents thought you were.  Work the late shifts without grumbling.  Pick up a weekend here and there.  Realize work is hard.  Work will occasionally make you feel like the worst version of yourself.  But you’re not.  You’re employed.  And one of the greatest blessings in life is showing up every day to a job you’ve dreamed of with co-workers who have become your best friends.  If that happens, then yes – you are special.

Don’t be afraid to do things alone.  At some point if you want to experience life – you have to be willing to do it alone.  Once I realized this, life became a lot more about experiences and a lot less about Law & Order SVU Marathons.  (Don’t get me wrong, Detective Elliot Stabler will always have a piece of my heart.)  I took a solo vacation to Florida to experience Nationals Spring Training.  Yes, I dined alone in a restaurant.  Multiple times.  No I did not die of embarrassment.  I ended up eating with the Gulf Coast League team.  I had never seen Gettysburg – so I drove there.  I ended up in a pub downtown with some really interesting locals who told me the CVS across the street used to be a Civil War hospital.  I wanted to be at Derek Jeter’s retirement ceremony, so I took the train and met the most fantastic Scottish guy who’s a huge fan of American baseball.  Lonely is a state of mind not a relationship status.  You can wait for someone to offer you a ride to enjoy life, or you can start doing it yourself.

Be grateful for the “No.”  There were things I prayed desperately for … literally begging God.  I would play the bargain game – we’ve all done it.  We offer God everything just short of joining the convent, if he’ll just answer a prayer or two.  Then you find out the answer is no.  The door shuts.  And if you’re not paying attention it shuts in a way that nearly takes off your fingers as you try to keep your shoe wedged in the doorway.  Accept the no and be grateful.  The things I prayed so fervently for over the past few years God denied in such a heart-wrenching way I would have sworn I couldn’t put one foot in front of another.  It was only months down the road I was able to be grateful for the “No.”  And in those wasted months, I spent a lot of time being mad at God for saving me from myself.  Don’t waste the time I did.

Time really does heal all wounds.  No less than 75 people told me this during my darkest days.  All 75 of them I wanted to punch in the face.  (Sorry guys, but it’s true.)  Sometimes the best medicine to get over disappointment, heartache, frustration, you name it – is just putting one foot in front of the other.  You let the hands on the clock tick away and it hurts a little less every day.  I know it feels like you’ll never get over him.  I know it seems a better job will never come.  I know you swear the friendship won’t be mended or the financial situation will never change.  This too shall pass.

If you check back in with me in two years, I might have scrapped this all and have thrown it out the window.  Be wary of anyone who tells you they have life figured out, we’re all learning as we go.  Remember, that occasionally it’s okay to be a mess.  Just laugh.  Especially on the darkest day.  Be kind.  We’re all in this together.

A Foraged Wreath


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Two things I (finally) wanted to learn while back in the States this year is calligraphy and how to make a wreath. I'm happy to report I've started in on both of them! I think this wreath is about as basic as they come, so you can just humor me as I share how other non-crafters like myself can make one, too :)

There is no shortage of pine and redwood trees where we live and we have a huge sage bush in our front yard with some lavender that I planted this summer, so there's plenty to forage while I learn how to make wreaths and give them as gifts.

I followed these very helpful and detailed instructions from Oh Happy Day, my Mom showed me what supplies to buy at Michael's and then to my surprise, this was actually easy to do! If you are a total wreath-making, crafting novice like me, here are the steps to make a basic fresh wreath at home:

1. Supplies:  I used these wire wreath frames, wire cutters, floral wire + foraged greenery of your choosing. I intertwined pine, redwood and sage and the smell is out of this world!

Directions are thanks to Oh Happy Day:

2. Cut the branches into workable sections, about 5-6 inches in length.
3. Gather two sections of pine and one of redwood and hold together at the base.
4. Hold the section up to the wreath form and wrap 2-3 times with the wire until secure.
5. Repeat steps 3 & 4 but when attaching the branch sections, cover up the wire of the previous section.
6. Continue until the wreath form is covered. For the last step push aside the branches while wiring on the last section, then pull the branches back into place to cover the wire.
7. After the form is covered, tuck and pull the sections on the wreath to make them how you want. Tuck in or clip an unruly branch as desired.

Michael's always has coupons (you can get them online), so with that plus my foraged greens, the total cost of my wreath came out to $2!

Some other Fall-ish inspiration:

Beautiful & Simple Autumn table settings from Heather Bullard
What To Cook Tonight's Amazing Recipes by my sweet friend Sophie
25 Yummy Pumpkin Recipes by Sadierae + Co
Styling the Classic Trench by my beautiful friend Anna
Hope Engaged - just all around one of my favorites
This & this has nothing to do with Fall, but Cam and I die laughing every time we watch
Thankful Placemats by Oh My Deer

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