An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


Oh My Gourd

It’s not hard to understand the appeal: syrupy-sweet, warmly spiced, and redolent of everyone’s favorite morning cup of Joe, pumpkin spice lattes have taken off for plenty of good reasons. Add in their limited seasonal availability, and you’ve got a legitimate craze on your hands. What I have trouble wrapping my mind around, on the other hand, is why this same flavor palate has spread like an annual autumnal infection across the food landscape, afflicting everything from breath mints to hummus to moonshine, and that’s not even the tip of the iceberg. Don’t forget about the body care products, offering pumpkin spice lip balm to keep you in the pumpkin spice spirit even when you’re not actively consuming anything.

Pumpkin spice is a wonderful thing, but I think that I’m reaching flavor fatigue more rapidly than ever. At least, that was until I heard about the latest creation from Dandies

Well, I’ll eat my hat. Or another round of pumpkin spice treats, to be more accurate. A large part of this once humble seasoning’s success is truly its pervasiveness. No longer can it be ignored or avoided; one must either get on board, or get run over. Luckily, it’s no sacrifice to join the bandwagon with these mini marshmallows. Cinnamon leads in this well-balanced melange of spices, followed by more subtle notes of clove and ginger, but the blend is so successful that it’s truly a challenge to pick the individual notes apart. Soft, springy little pillows of fluff, they possess the very same delightful chew as the originals, but sport a dusty orange hue to complete the theme.

The temptation to plop a few of those miniature mallows straight into my steaming mug of coffee was strong, I must admit, but I managed to resist. Of course, I didn’t manage to resist shoveling two full bags into my mouth completely unadorned and in short order, but I’d like to think that there’s still more dignity in that approach, some how.

With my last remaining bag, I went into the kitchen and fired up the oven to do these morsels proper justice. As temperatures outside began to drop, the kitchen began to warm and fill with the heady aroma of brown sugar, toasted marshmallows, and yes, pumpkin spice.

Folded into a dense yet soft blondie batter enriched with a healthy dose of genuine pumpkin puree, most of the marshmallows seemed to melt while baking, but that’s not to say they disappeared. Leaving gooey pockets of sweetness, almost like a highly spiced caramel sauce, each void contained an incredible wealth of flavor.

The year, I implore you to leave the latte, but take the blondie. There’s no sense in fighting the incoming wave of pumpkin-treats this year, so we might as well make them count.

Pumpkin Spice Blondies

1 1/4 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
3/4 Cup 100% Pumpkin Puree
3/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/3 Cup Olive Oil
3 Tablespoons Aquafaba (Liquid from a Can of Chickpeas)
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
3/4 Cup Dandies Pumpkin Spice Marshmallows, Divided
1/2 Cup Pepitas, Divided

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line an 8 x 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil. Lightly grease and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, spices, baking powder, and salt. Add in 1/2 cup of the marshmallows and 1/3 cup of the pepitas. Toss to coat the mix-ins with the dry goods. This will help prevent them from all sinking to the bottom as the blondies bake.

In a separate bowl, mix together the pumpkin puree, brown sugar, oil, aquafaba, and vanilla, stirring until smooth. Once homogeneous, pour these liquid ingredients into the bowl of dry goods, stirring with a wide spatula just to combine. Be careful not to over-mix.

Spread the batter into your prepared pan, smoothing it out into an even layer. Sprinkle the remaining marshmallows and pumpkin seeds over the top, gently pressing them into the surface. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes, until the marshmallows are lightly browned, the batter no longer appears wet, and a toothpick inserted into the center pulls out cleanly. The bars puff up quite a bit while baking, along with the toasted marshmallows on top, but never fear! They’ll fall back down to a normal size once cooled.

Let cool completely before slicing into square or bars. For the cleanest cuts, chill the whole slab for at least 15 minutes and use a very sharp knife to make easy work of that sticky marshmallow topping.

Makes 12 – 16 Servings

Printable Recipe


Well-Traveled Treats

Time was not on my side. Mere days before departing for my two month stint in Hawaii, a generous package from Dear Coco landed on my doorstep, over a half dozen glossy chocolate bars embellished with huge chunks of amber brown toffee. These were no ordinary candies, boasting flavors as wild as curry and wasabi, each one inspired by various cuisines across the globe. Despite my voracious sweet tooth, I couldn’t have possibly eaten them all before jetting off, but there was no way I could leave them behind. Somehow it seemed fitting that such a worldly collection of chocolates should accompany me on this exciting adventure. After ejecting shoes and shampoo from my overstuffed suitcase (you know, the less important things) I miraculously made enough space to squeeze in the whole range of treats. Sure, I bore a striking resemblance to Cousin Itt for a full day or two, but any cosmetic sacrifice was worth it.

Boasting eight unique varieties, there truly is something to suit all tastes in this powerful lineup. A brief overview of the creative flavor options wouldn’t truly do these innovative chocolate creations justice. Sharing a peek at my tasting notes is the only way to properly explain these treats, since complete sentences seem to fail me when faced with such intense chocolate treasures.

Sidama (coffee toffee with Buunni Ethiopian coffee beans and sea salt):

  • Whole coffee beans! Not fooling around here
  • Aroma of freshly brewed coffee erupts from the package as soon as the seal is broken
  • A must for mocha-lovers
  • Dark, smoky chocolate is a match made in heaven with those warm, roasted coffee notes
  • Sweet, crunchy toffee makes the perfect counter point
  • Caramel incorporates a symphony of burnt sugar flavor to round the whole bar out
  • Utterly addictive, not to mention highly caffeinated
  • I feared that the whole beans would be off-putting, but they meld beautifully- Not at all gritty like ground beans can become

Savanah (pie spiced toffee with roasted pecans and sea salt):

  • The toffee is absolutely divine! I would gladly eat that alone, and by the handful
  • Delicately balanced yet warmly spiced, the salt is really bumps the flavor up to a whole new level
  • Toffee really is the star here, with pecans lending their nutty essence and crisp bite
  • The chocolate, while snappy, rich, and deep, is really the backup singer to this melody, emerging with a smooth baritone once the high notes have melted away

Barcelona (roasted almond toffee and sea salt):

  • The most tame, traditional of all offerings
  • Not really sure what makes it so distinctly “Barcelona”
  • Solid rendition of the classic chocolate/toffee combination
  • Toffee really holds its own against the dark chocolate, both share about equal time in the spotlight
  • Nicely snappy, crisp and crunchy throughout
  • Liberal use of salt makes flavors pop
  • Something that everyone would enjoy, very agreeable; no doubt a crowd pleaser

Shanghai (chinese five spice toffee with roasted white sesame seeds and sea salt):

  • Especially thick, crunchy slabs of toffee chunks
  • Lovely licorice-driven spice; gentle yet persistent
  • Sesame seeds really do get lost in the mix
  • Seeds look nice and are conceptually sound, but don’t contribute discernible flavor or texture
  • Very good, just not exceptional like the others

Oaxaca (Mexican cinnamon and smoky hot pepper toffee with roasted pepitas and sea salt):

  • Toffee has taken on a distinctly red hue from the pepper
  • Gentle warmth from the cinnamon lures you in, but the fiery aftertaste of cayenne bites back with a vengeance
  • Definitely has a kick, but isn’t overly aggressive
  • Spice adds flavor without so much heat that it would make me hesitate to break off a second (or third, or fourth) piece
  • May take you by surprise, but there are no alarm bells going off here
  • Pepitas are overshadowed by the bold toffee
  • One for you thrill-seekers and hot sauce-lovers out there

Madras (sweet curry toffee with roasted sunflower seeds and sea salt):

  • Golden-yellow colored toffee chunks
  • Notes of coriander and cumin come through most clearly, but are soft and subdued
  • Not the least bit hot; Spice adds a certain je ne sais quoi, an undefinable complexity
  • Doesn’t ring quite true as the madras curry powder I know and love, but it’s certainly a tasty riff on the flavor.
  • Love the addition of sunflower seeds. An unexpected addition that really pulls the bar together with a nutty, toasted undercurrent

Istanbul (cinnamon toffee with rosewater, roasted walnuts and sea salt):

  • Sings with sweet cinnamon!
  • Brighter pops of clove follow, adding excitement and energy to each bite.
  • Rosewater is an intriguing addition, but is sadly smothered by the stronger spices
  • Occasionally, if you’re really looking for it, you might get the faintest hint of something floral… But that might also be imagined
  • If rosewater hadn’t been listed on the label, I would have never guessed

Tokyo (ginger toffee with crispy rice and sea salt):

  • Definite zing to the toffee
  • Bright, almost floral/citrus-y ginger
  • Very vibrant and fresh
  • Deep dark chocolate balances out the high notes
  • Rice crisps lighten the toffee just a touch, but are barely noticeable
  • All you taste is ginger and crunch, but there could be far worse things of course
  • A fairly straight-forward combination that’s still a nice change of pace
  • Any easy leap for anyone looking for something slightly different

No matter your location or destination, any one of these stellar confections can instantly transport you to a whole new world of flavor. There isn’t a single dud in the whole bunch, but don’t just take my word for it. There’s good reason why all eight are available as a neatly bundled gift pack!


Popping Up Everywhere

The connection between Christmas and popcorn is tenuous at best, and yet is deeply rooted in the traditions of so many families. Whether it appears in ball format or strings adorning the annual evergreen tree, there is no escaping, nor explaining, those exploded edible kernels around the holiday season. Even as an outsider, I can’t help but associate this otherwise innocuous snack food with the frenzy of festive treats, weaving them into various gifts more often than not. Not even the all-knowing Google can provide a satisfying explanation to the centuries-old affiliation, and yet it remains, as relevant and convincing as ever.

And so come December, the popcorn comes out in force once again. This year, I opted to skip all the fussy individual balls, pressing the whole sticky mixture into one square baking dish instead. Easily yielding neat rectangular bars, they now fit seamlessly onto a cookie platter, amongst other sweet options or featured by themselves. Taking one more short cut by employing popcorn cereal rather than freshly popped maize may seem like a poor choice, but the corny essence still shines through loud and clear. Without the sharp hulls, they pose fewer potential hazards for sticking in between teeth, and there’s no risk of including unpopped kernels. An emergency trip to the dentist is not my idea of a Merry Christmas.

Perfectly festive red and green mix-ins add the excitement here, but if cranberries and pistachios are not your favorites, don’t be afraid to stray into more diverse ingredient pools. Dried cherries, strawberries, or raspberries would be alternatives that still keep the color theme, and of course the options are endless for other hues.

Christmas Popcorn Bars

6 Cups Puffed Corn Cereal
1 Cup Dried Cranberries
3/4 Cup Shelled, Unsalted Pistachios, Toasted
1/2 Cup Vegan White Chocolate Chips, Divided
1 Tablespoon Non-Dairy Margarine or Coconut Oil, Melted
1 Cup Light Corn Syrup or Light Agave Nectar
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Pour the cereal, cranberries, pistachios, and half of the white chocolate chips into a very large bowl and set it aside, but keep it near the stove for easy access.

Lightly grease an 8 x 8-inch square baking pan. Set a saucepan over medium heat and add in the margarine or coconut oil, along with the corn syrup or agave, sugar, and salt stirring just to moisten all of the dry sweetener. From this point on, resist the temptation to stir the mixture, but swirl the pan gently instead to mix. This will prevent large sugar crystals from forming.

Allow the syrup to cook until it bubbles up vigorously and becomes frothy. Reduce the heat slightly so that it’s at a steady but low boil and cook for about 5 minutes. Turn off the stove
and stir in the vanilla. Pour the hot sugar mixture over your waiting cereal and mix-ins, carefully but quickly fold it in using a wide spatula. Transfer the sticky cereal into your prepared pan, and press gently using the spatula so that it evenly fills the space. Sprinkle the remaining white chocolate chips over the top, pressing them in gently so they adhere.

Let cool completely before turning the whole sweet block out and slicing into bars.

Makes 12 – 16 Bars

Printable Recipe


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