Nuts and Bolts

Confession: I like peanut butter cookies, though try as I might, I simply don’t love them. Their alluring crosshatch imprints do beckon, and I wouldn’t turn down a nutty morsel when offered, but they’re never my go-to treat. I don’t crave them like I do a proper fudgy brownie, or chewy caramel candies. When offered the choice between peanut butter cookies and just about any other comparable confection, be it gingerbread, biscotti, thumbprints and beyond, it’s almost always going to fall to last place.

Perhaps this isn’t such a scandalous admission, especially compared to the controversy that merely including raisins in cookies can cause, but somehow it feels like a personal shortcoming. There must be something inherently wrong with me that I can’t appreciate the subtle art of classic peanut butter cookies more thoroughly.

Ultimately, it comes down to texture. I’m not talking about creamy versus crunchy spreads; the very foundation of the treat fails to meet my expectations for an ideal cookie. Coarsely textured, a bit crumbly and sometimes sandy, yet it doesn’t have the same buttery richness of shortbread. Plagued by dryness if over-baked for a single second, they’re easy to throw together, but shockingly unforgiving once they hit the oven. Making peanut butter cookies is a snap; making great peanut butter cookies is no small task.

The solution is surprisingly simple: add more peanut butter.

Peanut butter powder stands in for plain flour, adding an extra punch of rich, nutty flavor along with a more flexible foundation. Working in concert with cornstarch for a gluten-free base, the results are exceedingly tender, soft, and chewy. Better yet, there’s no eggs or butter anywhere to be found in such a spare list of ingredients. In fact, no extra oil is needed at all when you can harness the natural oil of the peanuts themselves.

Complete with classic crosshatching, they may look like the traditional sort of peanut butter cookies that deserve only a passing glance, but I’d implore you to look closer. These treats could upset the conventional cookie hierarchy as we know it.

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Kiss and Tell

One small batch of nostalgia, coming right up.

For someone who built a career on sweet treats, my kitchen has been churning out distinctly savory dishes lately, with desserts far and few between. It’s tough testing so many sugary indulgences when you’re baking for one, and the pandemic has cut severely into my opportunities to share. Still, there’s no denying the call of cravings, a deep, undeniable, almost primal urge for the comfort that only a bit of sugar might bring.

Large pies are out of the question, as are elaborate entremets. Nothing too fussy, nor too perishable in reasonable quantities for a solo eater to take down. Most days, I can satiate those innate desires with sensible poached pears or macerated strawberries with softly whipped coconut cream, but there’s something about the ritual of actually baking that soothes the soul, almost more than the act of eating the end results.

To that end, I turn to this scant handful of treats that comforted me as a child. Impossibly picky, there wasn’t much I wanted beyond the basics, which is where these cocoa kisses came in. Meringues tinted with a hint of chocolate, my mother modified a recipe right out of The Joy of Cooking to create a cookie that was crisp, light as a cloud, but slightly gooey and soft on the inside. Perhaps it’s not the proper form for a true meringue, though who’s to judge when they were snapped up as soon as they could cool?

Bringing down the yield to a more manageable quantity, you can whip up a batch in minutes, and feel just fine about devouring them just as quickly. Anytime I feel that familiar craving for nostalgic sweetness, I won’t deny it; this is the kind of self-care that everyone deserves.

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Respect Your Elders

Stay healthy. Take care. Be well.⁣

These common refrains are easier said than done right now, and naturally, everyone’s looking for that magic bullet to protect themselves against illness. As with life, it’s about how the little things add up, rather than one big thing that will make all the difference. Elderberries offer an easy first step towards a stronger immune system, critical even when not facing a global pandemic. Studies have shown promising results in protection against bacterial and viral infections, reducing the symptoms and duration of a cold, easing symptoms of allergies, and that’s to say nothing of their impressive antioxidant and vitamin A load.⁣

Both the flowers and berries have a long tradition of culinary and folk medicinal uses going back thousands of years. In fact, Hippocrates (often called the father of medicine) referred to the elderberry as a “medicine chest,” thanks to the seemingly endless benefits and applications. The stem, bark, leaves, flowers, berries, and root extracts of the plant have all been instrumental in historical recipes, dating all the way back to Ancient Egypt.



There’s is a catch, of course. Raw, fresh, or dried, elderberries are not exactly a treat to eat. They’re rather tart at best, bitter and astringent at worst; not something you’d want to snack on out of hand, like blueberries. Of course, they have more than twice the natural antioxidant capacity of their blue brethren, but need a bit of help in the flavor department. Sambucol Black Elderberry Gummies take care of that shortcoming by concentrating that nutritional potency into soft, bite-sized chews, sweetened only with pure cane sugar. Pectin, rather than gelatin, gives them their plant-based bounce, to the delight of children and adults alike. Make no mistake, these aren’t candy, but potent supplements wrapped up in a highly appealing package.

Enticing right out of the bottle, gleaming like faceted purple gems, it’s not a struggle to get your daily dose. However, they also offer ample opportunities for some healthy experimentation.

Thumbprint cookies, typically crowned with a dollop of humble fruit preserves get a superfood upgrade thanks to Sambucol. Softening into a jammy nugget within the gentle slope of a hearty oat and almond butter base, you might forget that such tasty treats are actually powerful immunity boosters.

Comfort food and health food don’t need to be mutually exclusive when armed with naturally delicious nourishment. Consider these simple morsels your secret weapon against the midday slump, and well beyond.

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Bar None

As the antiquated adage goes, when it rains, it pours. When in drought-stricken California however, what falls from the sky is not a deluge of precipitation, but of citrus. Yes, you heard me right: Fruit is showering the city streets at this very moment, heavy with juice and blown asunder by the most gentle gusts of wind. Every variety you can imagine, from the average lemon and lime to more exotic mandarins, yuzu, pomelo, even Buddha’s hand litter the pavement. Dash out for a quick walk around the neighborhood, eyes to the ground, and you can take care of your vitamin C needs without spending a dime.

Urban foraging has kept my fruit bin full of these tart, tangy, sour, and sometimes sweet gems. Oranges are real treasures, eaten straight out of hand, sometimes before even returning home, but the most plunder is the venerated Meyer lemon. Popularized by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame, it’s no surprise that this particular specimen that’s come to represent so much of California cuisine now thrives up and down the coast, and is especially concentrated so close to home.

Thus, lemons have been on the menu at every turn lately, when alternative acids and groceries in general are scarce. Large pitchers of lemonade sit chilled, at the ready as the days grow warmer, threatening to skip right over spring and straight into the summer season. Fine flecks of zest sparkle in simple vinaigrettes, lavished over everything from greens to grains. Jars of marmalade use up every scrap of peel, preserving the harvest for countless slabs of toast to come.

For dessert, of course, you can do no better than homemade lemon bars.

Luscious, silken curd dazzles like a semi-sold bite of sunshine atop a buttery, pleasantly sandy shortbread crust. Tender and yielding, each square trembles gently in the hand, melting the instant it hits the tongue. Avowed lemon-lovers and fair weather friends alike can agree that a properly baked lemon bar can even surpass the appeal of a beguiling chocolate cake.

Finished with a flurry of powdered sugar, this classic, unassailable treat suits every occasion, every season, every craving, as far as I’m concerned. Even if lemons aren’t literally falling into your lap, do yourself the kindness of splurging on a generous surplus. Trust me, you’ll find a way to use them up without any difficulty, especially with this sweet serving suggestion on deck.

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Emergency Rations

Warranted or not, panic wrought by the coronavirus has spread to pandemic levels, faster than the illness itself. Food scarcity is a concern that most city dwellers have the luxury of ignoring, but suddenly doomsday preppers are wiping grocery shelves clear of dry beans, grains, and spices. It’s the end of days for the avid baker caught off guard. Surely it’s a temporary state of affairs, but when dire cravings strike, what’s one to do without easy access to ingredients previously taken for granted?

Lucky for you, I’m terrible at planning on a good day, so I have years of experience working with a limited pantry. Skipping past all the fancy flourishes and contemporary conveniences, you can still make superlative sweets, comparable to the most indulgent high-end baked goods.

Just plain flour, oil, sugar, and cocoa are at the heart of these treats. Embellish with nuts and chips if available, but it’s far from necessary. These basic staples hit high marks for every category; soft and tender, crisp around the edges, sweet with a touch of salt to accentuate deep chocolate flavors, they’re ready for you at the dawning of the apocalypse. The world at large may turn into a hellish land populated by zombies and shut-ins, but at least there will be dessert at the end of the day.

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Doodling in the Margins

When you’re ready to jazz up your sweets this holiday season, there’s more than just cinnamon in the spice rack. Snickerdoodles epitomize the power of this humble seasoning, bringing the full bouquet of warm, woodsy, piquant notes out to the surface, quite literally, by varnishing chewy sugar cookies with a crackled cinnamon coating. Though it’s hard to argue with that elegant simplicity, that tried-and-true method that children of all ages, including children at heart, adore, there’s a lot to be said for embracing the saltier side of the pantry.

No longer a crazy concept, adding just a pinch of salt to sweets is now the norm, embraced by wise bakers seeking to amplify the layers of flavors already in place. By emphasizing those saline crystals, even the most basic tastes take on greater dimension. Case in point: The pretzel. Without their darkly varnished exteriors sparkling with coarse salt, they would merely be dry bread sticks. Take the next step forward, adding crushed pretzels to the tender cookies we all know and love, and an equally startling, yet wholly satisfying transformation can take place.

In stark contrast to the supple cookie dough beneath, crunchy layers of everyone’s favorite bar snack turn this treat up to eleven. It’s the kind of cookie that has real staying power, after the other guests have gone home and the decorations are carefully packed away, after Christmas, New Year’s Day, and beyond.

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