Hassleback Apple Crisp

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I don’t keep a diary, but I do have a small notebook that I write my favorite quotes and song lyrics in. This little book has been in my possession since I was 15 or 16, and I occasionally like to look back at the lyrics that meant the most to me in years past. I recently came across one particular verse that I scribbled in my little notebook the summer that I lived in Pensacola, Florida. I was 1,000 miles away from everyone I loved, and Ani Difranco’s words really resonated with me. “Strangers are exciting, their mystery never ends, but there is nothing like seeing your own history in the faces of your friends.” This past weekend, I helped celebrate the wedding of my sweet friend, Julie, and the extra time I got to spend with some of my oldest girlfriends made me realize how truly blessed I am. Not everyone can say that the majority of their closest friends have been a part of their lives for 10, 15, or even 26 years, but thankfully I can. There is something remarkable about friendships that are strong enough to weather the storms of distance, time, and the struggle of simply “growing up.” A few of these strong, incredible women have been by my side for my highest highs and lowest lows. In particular, my three best friends Annie, LT and Lo all stood next to me on my own wedding day to celebrate one of the happiest days of my life thus far. And all three of them have stood by my side during some of the worst times in life. I can still remember the day my Grandpa passed away and the look of love and compassion in Lo’s eyes when I gave her the news. She took one look at my tear stained face, ran towards me, and held me as I cried. And in high school, LT rescued me from a mortifying moment when I forgot all of the words to a solo I was singing in front of 200 people. Instead of joining our choir for the final song in the concert, LT walked me off stage, drove me home, and sat on my parent’s couch and cheered me up until my embarrassing moment was nearly forgotten. And when my first boyfriend broke up with me, Annie came home with me after school every day to eat ice cream and discuss why we were “absolutely done with men.” So although it is exciting to meet new people and form new friendships, there is nothing quite like having friends who have been by your side every step of the way. Even though months often pass between our visits, having these wonderful women by my side always makes me feel a bit more whole. I’m sad to see this weekend of togetherness come to a close, but theses three are always in my heart.

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And when the “Sunday blues” hit, I like to turn to the kitchen for a little baking. This recipe is a simplified and speedy apple crisp. Top with some vanilla ice cream, and your Sunday blues will diminish in no time.

Ingredients: Serves 2

  • 2 apples, peeled, cored and cut in half vertically
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar, divided
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted and divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided
  • 2 tablespoons old fashioned oats
  • 1 teaspoon all purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cup vanilla ice cream

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400
  2. Starting at the outermost corner of the apple, cut most (but not all) the way through the apple in 1/8 inch intervals. Place apple halves cut side down in a 8inch baking dish, coated with cooking spray.
  3. In a small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1 tablespoon melted butter, and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Brush mixture evenly over apple halves
  4. Cover pan with foil and bake at 400 for 20 minutes. Remove foil, bake at 400 for 10 minutes, or until apples are tender. Remove from oven and let cool in pan for 10 minutes
  5. Combine remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons melted butter, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, oats, flour and salt.
  6. Carefully fan open apple halves, and spoon oat picture evenly over apples. Bake at 400 for 10 minutes. Turn broiler on high and broil for additional 2 minutes
  7. Remove from the oven and serve topped with vanilla ice cream
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Oreo Peanut Butter Chip Cookies

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When I was in high school, John Mayer came out with a song called Stop the Train. It wasn’t a hit single, and I doubt it ever played on the radio, but it is still a song that I relate to even now. It touches upon the fear of growing older and drifting further and further into the unknown of the future. I’ve had quite a few moments that I quietly dubbed “stop this train” moments. Times in life that are so wonderfully perfect that you wish you could hold onto them…but in the back of your mind, you know they can’t last. And that might be a bit sad, but the fleeting property of those moments is what makes them so sweet. The first time I ever experienced a “stop this train” moment was only a few months after I had first heard that song. It was the summer before college. The summer I had spent every waking moment with three of my best friends. I remember sitting in the car with the three of them, days before we were to head our separate ways in college, and just wishing I could hit the “pause” button and stay in that period of my life forever. Young, naive, and surrounded by those three kindred spirits. But time went on, and life happened. Two of those wonderful friends now live across the country and we only get to see each other a few perfect times a year. And sadly, I lost touch with the third friend years ago. But I like to think that our friendship, with all four of us together, lives on in that perfect memory. And as life continues to move forward, I’ve experienced more and more “stop this train” moments. Late night conversations while eating Ore Ida french fries with my best friends from college. The last Christmas my family had with my Grandpa. Countless moments from our wedding day, when Eric and I were surrounded by every person that we love. Moments like that don’t happen often. And as much as we long to hang on to them as long as we can, they pass quickly. But that’s ok. Because if every moment in life was a “stop this train” moment, those special memories wouldn’t be as special, perfectly preserved in the backs of our minds.

This post doesn’t perfectly tie in with one of my recent recipes. It’s just a collection of thoughts that came to me while baking cookies. Oreo Peanut Butter Chip Cookies to be exact. My coworkers had pointed out that it had been quite a while since I brought baked goods into the office, so I knew I couldn’t come into work on Monday empty handed. This recipe uses a classic chocolate chip cookie base, but has an extra sweetness with the addition of crushed Oreos and peanut butter chips. Enjoy!

Ingredients: Makes 24 cookies

  • 1  1/4 cup  packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup  granulated sugar
  • 1/2  cup  butter, softened
  • 2  large egg whites
  • 1  teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4  cups  all-purpose flour
  • 1  teaspoon  baking soda
  • 6-8 crushed Oreo cookies
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter chips

Preparation:

  1. Cream butter & sugars together
  2. Add egg whites (one at a time) & vanilla extract
  3. In separate bowl, combine flour and baking soda
  4. Gradually combine wet & dry ingredients
  5. Add in crushed Oreos and peanut butter chips
  6. Place tablespoon sized portions of the dough on a greased cookie sheet.  (Make sure the dough is evenly spaced, as the cookies do spread a bit while baking)
  7. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes

 

 

LA and San Diego

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This past week, my company sent me out to Los Angeles and San Diego to visit some of our top clients. And lucky for me, my husband agreed to tag along! I had some free time on the weekends and the evenings, so we got to see quite a bit of Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Burbank, Hollywood and San Diego. It was definitely a whirlwind of a week!

Last Saturday, we started off our day in Los Angeles with

a quick trip to In ‘n’ Out. Eric had been to LA a few months ago to see Michigan State win the Rose Bowl, and he came home raving about In ‘n’ Out. I’m not a big fast food person, so I’ll be honest…I wasn’t expecting much. But oh my goodness, is In’ n’ Out delicious. Their burgers and fries are made fresh for every order and you can definitely tell. I honestly think this was one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. Well done, west coast!

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Since we arrived on a Saturday, we had a day and a half to explore the touristy parts of LA before I had any work appointments. We started our Sunday morning with a visit to Griffith Observatory, where we had some incredible views of the city.

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Next we hit up Hollywood to see the “walk of fame.” I had to snap a pick of Barbra’s star for my mom, as we share a love of Funny Girl.

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Later we strolled around Beverly Hills and were far too intimidated by the high end stores to go inside, but window shopping was fun nonetheless!

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We then wandered through the Beverly Hills hotel, which was like a time capsule of the 1950s. The whole hotel just oozed old Hollywood glamour. I’d love to stay over night some day, but for now I will stick with my cheap Hilton employee rates!

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The best thing about the trip, was getting to see some of my best friends from home. Lo moved out here 3 years ago, and it was wonderful to see her and spend a little time in her new city.

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We even got to see her band, LoJo and the Truth, perform live. They are incredibly talented and it was such a great show

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After the show, we spent the evening with Lo and our friend Jon. Lo, Jon and I met in high school, and though we didn’t know each other during childhood, I still feel like we “grew up together.” We got each other through the angsty high school years, the first broken hearts, the transition to college, and later the transition into adulthood. We often go a long time between visits, but as soon as we’re together, we’re able to pick up right where we left off. Prior to this trip, I had had a rough week at work, and was just generally feeling a little down. But being back together with two of my closest friends left my heart feeling full and my mind feeling refreshed. Sometimes a quick visit with friends is all you need.

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After four days in the Los Angeles area, we were off to San Diego for my last round of appointments.

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San Diego is one of the coolest cities I have ever visited. The weather is absolutely perfect (and apparently stays this way year around) and the views of the ocean are stunning. We only had a day and a half to explore, but we quickly decided that we would love to come back. Our hotel was situated right near San Diego’s Gaslamp District, which is a fun downtown area filled with restaurants, shops and bars. We had a great time strolling around, people watching, and enjoying the weather.

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Before we knew it, it was already time to go home. It was such a fun trip, and we hope to visit again to explore the west coast a bit more. But for now, I will leave you with a few “food pics” of our LA/San Diego Eats.

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Fonuts featured baked or steamed vegan donuts. My favorite was the Strawberry Buttermilk. Delish!

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Housemade veggie burger and sweet potato fries from Lab Brewery. This baby was topped with caramelized onions and tasted way more decadent than any veggie burger I’ve ever had.

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Eric’s BBQ bacon burger from barleymash in San Diego. #typicalboyfood

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Kale salad with quinoa, goat cheese, grilled chicken and peaches from barleymash. This was SO good and I am dying to recreate it at home.

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Veggie and hummus sandwich from Joan’s on Third. I heard about Joan’s on the Food Network and was so glad we stopped by. Everything was so fresh and delicious.

Homemade Hummus

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A few days ago I stopped by the grocery store to pick up a few items to make this hummus, and as I was placing my items on the conveyer belt, I saw a little girl dressed in an all too familiar black and white plaid jumper. It was the same plaid uniform that I wore during my years attending St. Paul Catholic School. So I smiled thinking about which teachers this little girl might have and which classroom she spent her days in. And I thought about the little friends she might be making in the same hallways that I met my best friends. I wondered if the friends she was making now would be the same friends that would stay by her side for the rest of her life. Because that’s how it was for me at St. Paul. I spent my school days at St. Paul with LT and Annie, and these two wonderful girls are still my very best friends today. We were attached at the hip through those 8 years of Catholic School, and the bond we formed there is probably why I look back at my time in grade school so fondly. And though we all had different groups of friends in high school and college, and our friendship went through many different phases, these two have always been my anchors. Because whether we were in a period of talking every day or whether a few weeks passed between our long winded interactions, I never doubted that they were my best friends. There is something special about having friends who have known you through every phase of your life. Those type of friendships seem to be especially strong, as they effortlessly ride the storm of “growing up.” There were times I got caught up in some short lived friendships in high school and college, but when it came down to it, I always turned to Annie and LT in the end. This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from a play by Edward Albee. “Sometimes it is necessary to go a long distance out of your way in order to come back a short distance correctly.” Because no matter how many twists and turns our lives take, we always have each other to come back to. And that, my friends, were my long winded thoughts while standing in line at the grocery store.

This easy hummus recipe doesn’t contain tahini, but is still just as delicious as the store bought varieties. I added garlic to the mix, but you could easily customize it with roasted red peppers, chili powder, or whatever other flavoring you like.

Ingredients: Makes 1 1/2 cups

  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 whole clove of garlic, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • salt & pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until mixture is smooth
  2. Serve with veggies, pita bread, ect.

A Bridal Shower Weekend

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What a fun weekend! My Saturday was filled to the brim with pre wedding festivities. I started the day off at a bridal shower given by my Grandma and Auntie Karol.

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My Aunt and Grandma

We had lunch at the Ardmore Cafe with 20 or so of my family and friends and it was such a great afternoon. We ate lunch, chatted and then I was given so many thoughtful gifts. My cousin Jenny and Aunt Norma even put together a box of decorations for each holiday of the year. And they even included Eric’s favorite holiday…football season

IMG_1611It was such a great shower and it was so wonderful to spend with members of both Eric and my families. A big thank you to my Aunt and Grandma for all of the planning that went into the day!

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All the girls in the family

Later on, my best friend Annie and her mom hosted a lingerie shower at their house. The night started off with a few cocktails. Namely an incredibly delicious Champagne Punch.

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It was great to spend the night with friends from grade school, high school, college and of course my favorite cousins.

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My cousins and I

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My best friend Annie

We laughed until my stomach hurt and danced the night away. And I was given some pretty things for when I’m a Mrs.

 

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But the best part was just hanging out with so many of the girls in my life. I feel so blessed to have such amazing family and friends and was so happy to be able to spend so much time with them all this weekend. And before we know it, April 26th will be upon us. And we’ll all be together again to celebrate what is sure to be one of the best days ever. 2 months to go!

 

Heaven Cookies

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When people talk about “lifelong friends” they rarely mean it in the literal sense. You might meet a lifelong friend in grade school, or even college. But we call them “lifelong friends” as a way to describe the bond we have with them. Because no matter what phase you meet them in life, you know that they will always be a part of you. I feel very lucky to say that I have quite a few of these lifelong friends. But only one is my lifelong friend in both the figurative and literal sense. Because I have known my dear Annie since, well, before we were even born. Our moms met while they were only a few months pregnant with us so I literally do not remember my life without her. We were born a mere 10 days apart and there are few of my childhood memories that Annie is not a part of. In many ways we appeared to be very opposite. She is tall with the curly hair I so wished I had when I was little. While I’m quite petite and don’t even have a wave in my pin straight locks. Annie is outgoing and charismatic, while I was always a bit more shy. But we’ve always just fit together. Annie always pulled me out of my shell, and I always got her bad grades in conduct. Through the amazingly fun family vacations we shared to the not so fun year that we both got dumped within a few months of each other, Annie and I have been through it all. And I am excited for all the new memories we’ll continue to share. In just a few months she will stand by my side as I marry my other best friend, and maybe someday we’ll have little ones of our own that will of course be lifelong friends like us.

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Some of my quintessential “Annie” memories are the countless summer nights that we spent floating in her Grandpa’s swimming pool eating cookies that we lovingly dubbed “Heaven Cookies.” I’m pretty sure her mom bought them on a whim at Kroger, but they were considered our favorite food group for years. They consisted of lemon buttercream and sugary licorice sandwiched between two buttery sugar cookies. So for Annie’s 25th birthday (and our 25th Anniversary of friendship) I thought I would recreate our favorite cookie. And the red licorice makes these Heaven Cookies perfect Christmas cookies as well. Enjoy! (and Happy Birthday Anne!)

Ingredients: Makes 2 dozen sandwich cookies

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract

Frosting:

  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Preparation:

  1. In a medium bowl, mix flour and baking powder and set aside
  2. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy
  3. Beat in egg and almond extract
  4. Slowly add dry ingredients to butter mixture, beating well after each addition
  5. Once dough has come together, wrap in tin foil and chill for 2-3 hours
  6. After dough has chilled, roll out with a rolling pin until dough is approximately 1/2 inch thick.
  7. Use your favorite cookie cutter to cut 24 cookies
  8. Use the same cookie cutter to cut 24 additional cookies, but use a melon baller to cut out a small hole in the center of each cookie
  9. Place all cookies on a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes
  10. Let cookies cool completely
  11. To make frosting, beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, slowly beat in lemon juice
  12. Spread the “non-holey” cookies with the lemon butter cream and place a small piece of licorice in the center
  13. Top cookie with a “holey” cookie.
  14. Repeat with remaining cookies for a total of 24 sandwich cookies

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Coffee Date

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If we were having coffee today I would tell you I am beyond excited for Thanksgiving. It will be a weekend filled to the brim with family, friends, food & holiday themed races. That’s right. I will be running the Turkey Trot with my cousins on Thursday morning (in costume, of course) and I’ll be running the Jingle Bell Run with my friend Annie on Friday. It is mighty chilly here in Michigan, but perhaps the promise of hot chocolate will get me through all those frigid miles.

If we were having coffee today I would tell you I am not-so-patiently awaiting the return of my best friend Leona from Paris. Leona has been studying at Le Cordon Bleu Paris and we haven’t seen each other in over a year. Seeing as we lived together through most of college and were practically attached at the hip for 3 years, the separation anxiety has been extreme. She will be back in the States over the holidays and I am pumped!

If we were having coffee today I would tell you I’m really thankful for my job. I was really unhappy at my first job out of college so when I finally found my way to my current position, I was delighted to find that it felt like home from day one. Not only do I get to do what I love, but my coworkers aren’t just “the people I work with.” They have truly become some of my closest friends over the last 2 years. Monday mornings are actually something I’ve come to look forward to because I can’t wait to hear everyone’s stories from the weekend.

If we were having coffee today I would tell you that you should visit Peet’s Coffee. The California based coffee chain just opened 7 stores in Michigan and they were kind enough to send me some coffee to sample. I’ll have to admit, I was a little hesitant to try the coffee shop that took over our beloved Caribou Coffee, but I was not disappointed. I tried a Vanilla Latte when I visited the store and loved how it was just subtly sweet. And the Holiday Blend coffee is smooth and delicious. I’m certain  it will even make my coffee snob fiance happy. I’m looking forward to trying one of their freshly baked muffins or scones that are brought in by Michigan’s own Zingerman’s Bakery. Their partnership with Zingerman’s is part of their ongoing commitment to support the local economy. Plus, as any Michigander would know, every item made by Zingerman’s is pretty fantastic.

So grab yourself some Peet’s, and enjoy your holiday week!

Scenes from the Summer

 

It’s hard to believe it’s already mid August. I feel like Memorial Day was mere days ago, yet here we are facing the end of yet another summer season. The summertime always seems to be chock full of fun events, quick vacations, and for me, very little time spent in the kitchen. Cozy nights of baking are few and far between in favor of evening walks with my best friend Anne, or quick adventures to new restaurants and breweries with Eric. So instead of a recipe, today I thought I would share a few photos showing what I’ve been up to these last few months. And not to worry, as soon as the temperatures start to cool, I will find my way back to the kitchen for plenty of new recipes and stories.

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Dancing the night away at Kerri’s Wedding

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Winery Tour in Traverse City, Michigan

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Seared Salmon with Shrimp Pesto Risotto at Palate in Petosky, Michigan #bestthingieverate

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My mama and some Mackinaw Island fudge

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Bridesmaid Dress shopping with my beautiful best friends. Only missing our Leona!

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Finally getting to see my best friend Lo perform her original music. ❤ LoJo and the Truth!

Dinner at Jolly Pumpkin Brewery

This past Saturday Eric and I ventured out to Ann Arbor to see our friends Arielle and Dave. We met up for dinner at Jolly Pumpkin Brewery and had a fantastic time. Eric and I have been saying for some time now that you can truly never go wrong with dinner at a brewery. I don’t know what it is, but every brewery we have ever eaten at has not only had delicious brews, but has also had some delicious eats. And Jolly Pumpkin was no different. Luckily we had some great company as well.

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We started off the night with a few beers. The Seasonal Porter for me and the Bam Noire for Eric. My beer was rich and slightly bitter. I don’t often get darker beers but this one was really good. It had an almost chocolate-y flavor.

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For dinner I chose the “Not Just a BLT” and it was definitely more than your typical BLT. The sandwich featured fresh mozzarella, fire roasted tomatoes, fresh arugula, salsa verde and bacon. It came with Jolly Pumpkin’s signature truffle fries. The truffle fries are shoestring fries tossed in fresh rosemary and truffle salt. Arielle fondly refers to them as “crack fries” and I can see why. So good.

 

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Eric got one of their pizzas as per usual. He got the Margherita, a simple pizza topped with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil. Although it wasn’t the best pizza he’s ever had, he said it wasn’t too bad.

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And since Dave is a huge fan of pumpkin flavored anything, we all decided to try out the Pumpkin Whoopie Pies. Fun fact: We actually referred to Dave as “Pumpkin Dave” the first few months of our friendship, because of his affection for all things pumpkin. Anyway… back to the eats. The whoopie pies were filled with buttercream and served over a ginger creme anglaise. Although the filling was a little too sweet for me, the pumpkin cake was awesome. Altogether, it was a great meal and a fun night!

Low Fat Chocolate Chip Cookies

I learned a couple of things in high school. One being that no matter what that American Eagle sales associate said, that shirt with the attached vest was not cute. (Even if you wear it with a pleated jean skirt. Also not cute.) Another lesson being that if you are a really good kid (aka incredibly boring) that one time you miss curfew may be more amusing to your parents than anger inducing. But ya gotta let your dad think you actually believe he’s mad. Believe me, it makes it more fun that way. Another lesson from highschool was that a girl needs a group of girlfriends. Because even though guy friends are equally important, they just won’t be able to stomach endless chick flicks that you all pretend to hate, guy friends won’t give you good clothing advice (or maybe they’ll ignore your ridiculous vest too) and they will never appreciate the amount of junk food girls can eat at sleepovers.

I found a great group of high school girlfriends freshman year. LT and I were already a well defined unit, but then we met Hollis and Kerri and we eventually became a group of four. Hollis often compares the four of us to similar fictional groups of four from movies and books. Sex and the City. Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Desperate Housewives (really, Hol?) If there were four characters, Hollis always tried to convince us that our personalities were exactly like those of the characters. Except Hollis was always the protaganist. And even though her comparisons were ridiculous, it made it all the more funny. But rather than compare us to some fictional group of girls, I think we’re pretty unique. There’s Kerri, who is literally the sweetest person you’ll ever meet. And Hollis, who is one of the funniest people I know. LT is the wildcard of the group, because we honestly never know what crazy thing she’ll say next.  And me? I’m the one who brings the cookies. So when we all got together the other day to catch up and talk about Kerri’s upcoming wedding I whipped up these batch of chocolate chip cookies. It’s funny to think that just a few years ago we were four 15 year olds crowded around the wedding magazine section in Borders discussing our imaginary weddings…and now one of us is actually engaged. When did we suddenly grow up?

These cookies are soft and cake light with a subtle hint of cinnamon. I used some healthier ingredients to make these cookies low in calories and fat, so go ahead and have two. Or three.

Ingredients: Makes 18 cookies

  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup margarine, softened
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 egg whites
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light agave nectar
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preparation:

  1. In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients (flour through cinnamon), set aside
  2. In a medium bowl, combine margarine, egg yolk & vanilla extract; mix until just combined
  3. In a small bowl, place egg whites and beat with an electric mixer on high until white and foamy
  4. Gradually add sugar to egg white mixture and beat until mixture becomes white and glossy and soft peaks form
  5. Beat agave nectar into egg white mixture
  6. Fold egg yolk mixture into egg white mixture until just combined
  7. Fold egg mixture into dry ingredients until just combined
  8. Stir in chocolate chips
  9. Place dough by the tablespoon on a greased cookie sheet
  10. Bake at 350 for 12-14 minutes