The Ups and Downs of Homemade Peeps

Homemade Easter Peeps

When I was younger, I always wanted to like Peeps — they were so cute and colorful and looked so festive it was hard not to want to bite their little heads off. But even as a kid, I’d get halfway through the pack and lose interest. They just weren’t as delicious as their bright candy colors made them seem. (They were still better than Cadbury Eggs, with their creamy yolks that still give me the creeps, but a far cry from my favorite Easter candy, mini-Whopper Robin Eggs.)

And yet, this year I became obsessed with making my own. After all — homemade marshmallows are infinitely better than store-bought ones, so it would seem that homemade Peeps would follow the same logic.

I did some recipe and technique research before I began, which led me to trying out Alton Brown’s recipe for marshmallows. Normally I am a big proponent of Martha Stewart’s recipe, but it seemed like as good a time as any to try something new. (Personally I still find Martha’s recipe to be fluffier and sweeter, but feel free to use whatever recipe you like best.)

If you are a newbie at marshmallow making, make sure you have a candy thermometer that is calibrated and that actually works (mine broke and I ended up having to test for the soft ball stage using a cup of water. Effective but not very fun). Also prepare yourself for the mess, especially if you try to color part of your mixture like I did. Imagine yourself in a stringy web of sugar — it gets everywhere!

And in hindsight, dying the marshmallows was pretty silly. The sugar covers them anyways, I was just experimenting.

Pink and White Marshmallows

Pink and White Marshmallows. They look unassuming but managed to put up quite a fight.

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Heart on a String: A sweetly simple sign of love

It’s funny the way that holiday decorations can instantly bring me to a happy place. In December, the stress of holiday traveling melts away when I see my childhood stocking (made by my mother years ago) hung over the fireplace. In college, I remember the sense of connection and solace when my friends and I would do silly things like paint Easter eggs together or decorate our dorm rooms with hand-print turkeys. It made being away from home a little easier.

Vase of Pussy Willows

Seeing this vase makes me feel like I’m home.

This is how I feel every February when I go up to my grandma’s house for my birthday and see a familiar white vase on the table, full of pussy willows and dangling red heart candies. I feel like a kid again, like I’ve come home from camp or a weekend slumber party.

Logically, it doesn’t make much sense because growing up I was never at my grandparents’ house this time of year — I was always in school. Instead they would fly to Alaska (on alternate years) to visit my brother and me for our birthdays. I was oblivious to the whole pussy willow/candy heart tradition until I was living in Portland and began spending my birthday weekends with them in Tacoma. Yet, there’s still a nostalgic feeling attached to those little gummy hearts.

Maybe it’s because the story connected to the vase and its enticing sweets is so familiar. Every year I hear about my uncle, who in his younger days used to pull all the hearts off their strings, leaving behind the empty circles of thread as evidence. My grandma loves to tell me this story and honestly, every year I enjoy hearing her recount the memory. It makes me feel connected knowing that traditions (along with having a sweet tooth) remain a constant in my family.

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Gingerbread “Truffles”

Gingerbread "truffles" with lemon icing and candied orange peels

Gingerbread “truffles” with lemon icing and candied orange peels

Even though I have yet to buy a single Christmas gift (eek!), I have already immersed myself in holiday baking projects. With the rate the holiday season is approaching, I had to start early or it’d be January before I knew it!

These little guys were one of the easiest creations I’ve made this season and I pretty much love them. The recipe is very easy to follow and you don’t even have to turn on your oven!

Basically they are bite-sized “truffles” made from oats, pecans, dates, flax seed, molasses and spices. Somehow something so relatively healthy (when compared to the decadence of other holiday treats) still manages to taste like a sweetly chewy gingersnap cookie.

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Chocolate Dipped Peppermint Meringue Cookies

Peppermint Meringue Cookies

Meringue in the wild!

Like many new projects I tackle on a whim, these peppermint meringues were found on Pinterest. They were just too pretty too pass up and I happened to have egg whites left over from making ice cream for Thanksgiving (we made a goat cheese ice cream and a straight up old-fashioned vanilla — both were awesome!). I decided it was a perfect time to use them up and cross a cookie off my holiday “must bake” list.

Meringues are super easy to make and I can totally, absolutely appreciate a cookie that you can let bake for two hours and not have to think about. In fact, the only things you have to worry about with meringues are having any fat in the egg whites when you whip them (bad news) or over/under whipping them. Happily, I avoided both of those issues and my cookies turned out pretty darn adorable.

Peppermint Meringue Cookies

I like to do different sizes so people can have “just a nibble.”

Peppermint Meringue Cookies

It’s like a meringue mountain range!

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The Obsession Continues: Apple Cider Caramels

Apple Cider Caramels

Apple Cider Caramels

I have been on cider bender the past few months. Since early October my fridge has contained no less than one half-gallon of fresh apple cider, purchased anywhere from Farmer’s Markets to the grocery store. I’ve drank it straight, mulled with Applejack and used it for various cooking endeavors, like this brined pork roast.

However, the best creation I made are these apple cider caramels from an old issue of Food & Wine magazine. They tasted (depending on which friend of mine you asked) like caramel apple pops, apple fritters or candied apples. To me they were just as I imagined,  a perfect combination of the spiced cider flavor — cloves, cinnamon and tart apple — and creamy decadent caramel.

They were also luxuriously soft. While they’d hold their shape in the refrigerator, once popped in your mouth, they would melt almost instantly. They were so good I had to fight my natural instinct to hoard them and instead manged to share them with co-workers, friends and even some of my favorite customers in Seattle.

My friend Ariel loved them so much I think I have to make a batch just for her and her husband to enjoy. I gave her a few to take home and got this hilarious text message later that night: “Holy sheep shit, Batman” is what Eric said after trying a bite of one of your caramels. Now that’s a compliment, people!

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One of the best ideas I’ve ever had…

Malibu Rum, Pineapple and Coconut Popsicles

Malibu Rum, Pineapple and Coconut Popsicles

A few weeks ago, while reading a blog, I came across the idea of making popsicles with coconut water for a healthy, refreshing summertime treat. And although it sounded like delicious concept, it seemed a little tame to me.

Coincidentally I had also seen something intriguing on Pinterest — pineapple chunks soaked in coconut rum, a boozy, refreshing summertime treat.

Aha, I thought, now we’re getting somewhere!

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