Smart Sweets

March is National Nutritional Month, which focuses not on good or bad foods, but emphasizes the importance of making informed food choices. This is an approach I can fully support. As a vegan with a huge sweet tooth, alimentary harmony is all about balance, which isn’t black and white. No single diet is best for everyone, but society at large would no doubt be happier and healthier with greater awareness of exactly what they’re eating. That all starts with simply reading the label!

Plant-based eaters are already seasoned pros at packaging interrogations, but it’s a skill that everyone can benefit from. Knowing which nasties to avoid goes a long way. Questionable ingredients like artificial colors and flavors, high-fructose corn syrup, and trans-fats should be on the permanent no-fly list for every conscious consumer. It might surprise you which brands do and don’t fit the bill. Voortman has been baking treats tirelessly since before superfoods were trendy or keto was a thing, but their consistent commitment to quality makes their cookies an ideal example of healthy indulgence.

Speaking of trends, charcuterie boards are all the rage these days, capitalizing on human nature to snack, graze, and nibble through the day. It’s a simple approach to hosting friends without putting out a full dinner menu, while still satisfying with a wide range of delights. Of course, there’s the stunning visual impact made by so many shapes, colors, and textures. Composed of simple staples that may not wow by themselves, the collection of complementary bites add up to far more than you would expect.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be all about meat and cheese. Dessert boards are where it’s at!

Dessert charcuterie is the new fun way to serve dessert. You don’t need to be a baker, spend a ton of money, or squander your precious time to assemble your own. In fact, you probably have everything you need already on hand!

Balance is the key, like anything else in life. Truly anything goes, and having a wide array of options ensures there’s something for everyone. Crisp wafer cookies are the most important feature for me, which guides the selections that follow. Voortman has so many bold flavors, I like to use one or two to get the party started. From there, I’ll match corresponding fresh fruits, pair dips that both contrast and heighten those flavors, and fill in the gaps with some additional treats. Your only limit is the size of your board!

In truth, you don’t need to spend a minute in the kitchen for this show-stopping composition. Just remember, it’s all about balance! Wholesome fresh ingredients, decadent chocolates, and healthy treats create a harmonious, natural union.

There’s a lot to be said for chocolate hummus if you wanted to go all-in on desserts with benefits, but I’m a fan of darker cacao endowment here, given the other lighter components. You can whip up this dip in one minute flat, and it’s great on ice cream, too.

Another crowd-pleaser is cheesecake, which graciously accommodates any flavors you can throw at it, while still retaining a tart, tangy vigor. More than just vanilla, it provides the light and lemony contrast to the darker, earthier additions.

Rounding it all out with something nutty, peanut sauce is often seen as a spicy topper for Thai food, but makes a rich addition to the final course, too. A touch of maple syrup and a pinch of salt is all it takes to flip the script over to the sweeter side.

A lot is said about the path towards health and wellness, but for me, it’s one that must still lead to dessert. At the end of the day, I’ll always crave something sweet, so I’m careful to stock only smarter choices. It’s all about creating a happy balance that starts on the plate, or in this case, charcuterie board!

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Easy Like Christmas Morning

Light filters in through frosted windows, gently painting the tinsel-clad branches of pine, dancing across silken wrappings, glinting off glossy greeting cards. All is still, silent, and calm. The air is just a breath too cold for comfort, but nothing the sun won’t fix in another minute, glowing and growing stronger right before sleepy eyes, still clouded with dream of feasts from the night before. Christmas morning, in the best situation, is a magical time, the split second right before children squeal with glee to mark the start of joyous mayhem. Controlled chaos will soon describe the scene as paper is torn and tags go flying. The last thing you want to fuss with is a fancy breakfast that would tear you away from these fleeting moments, but a bowl of cold cereal just won’t cut it today.

Before calamity descends, take the wheel and prepare yourself well in advance. Sticky buns or cinnamon rolls are the classic daybreak decadence for this annual celebration, but who wants to wake up at 5am to start mixing dough? Not me, even if I don’t have children to beat down the stairs or a tree to furnish before Santa slacks off.

Save yourself some time and labor by turning out one giant, majestic, family-style spiral, rather than individual little buns. Dazzling with warm rivulets of cinnamon sugar goo dripping into every tender spiral of dough, wrapping around crisp pecans like a pillowy blanket, you’ll think you’re still dreaming when you take the first bite.

Perhaps it will be the scent of buttery dough or cinnamon spices that awaken Christmas spirits, rather than the sunrise this time around. All the hard work is done the night before, so in the morning, all you need to do is preheat the oven and pop in the pan. It’s not exactly holiday magic… But it may just taste like that.

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Sweet Success

Tuesdays don’t get much love. They don’t mark the beginning or end of the week. They rarely host holidays or days off. Aside from Taco Tuesdays, who looks forward to the day after Monday with any sort of enthusiasm?

Book authors, that’s who! For reasons still unknown, Tuesdays are when new releases hit shelves, both physical and digital, for all the world to see. Theories abound but still no consensus for the origin of this weekly book birthday. I’m not about to enlighten you with a brilliant new explanation, but I do want to light a few candles for this particular upcoming Tuesday… Especially if they’re on top of a Lemon-Lime Sunshine Bundt Cake.

Sweet Vegan Treats, my sixth cookbook baby, will officially be born tomorrow! Pre-orders have already started shipping, but now you’ll be able to find copies in brick-and-mortar stores, and maybe even your local libraries, if you ask nicely enough. Every book has been a labor of love, but this particular collection of recipes has been a long time coming. To anyone craving a bit of sweetness in their lives, for breakfast or dessert, quick or complex, this one goes out to you.

Put on your party hats and and cut yourself a thick slice, because I’m getting ready to take these treats to the streets! Join me in real life for the grand release party at my favorite cafe, Timeless Coffee in Oakland, CA, Friday October 18th from 5 – 7pm. Get a taste of the treats within while raising a glass (of iced oat milk latte) to even great delights soon to fill your own kitchen.

The fun doesn’t end after those morsels are devoured, though. For the next few months, you can catch me all around San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley sharing demos for various tricks and tips to make your time in the kitchen even sweeter. Not in the bay area? Never fear! I love any excuse to travel and would love to bring some pastry appreciation to you, too. Let’s bake something great together! Where should I go next?

Dogged Ambition

Dogs are more than just man’s best friends. Dogs are family members, every bit as precious and vital as the small creatures with two legs. Some recoil at the comparison, loathe to grant a “fur baby” the same sort of allowances, but the bottom line is that we need dogs just as much as they need us. Beyond basic care and feeding, your most valuable resource costs nothing to invest: Compassion. So many hundreds, thousands, and yes, millions of dogs out there are changing lives, yet find little to no love in return. Today is the time to celebrate these canine companions, big and small, mixed breed and pure, because it’s National Dog Day.

Yes, so many national “holidays” are silly, baseless non-events schemed up by corporations looking to make a quick buck or steal the social media spotlight for a minute. This day, however, was founded in 2004 with a far more noble objective. The goal was to not only show appreciation for dogs, but to bring attention to the plight of abused dogs, to end puppy mills and to bring an end to breed-specific legislation that regulates, or outright bans, certain breeds in the hope of minimizing dog attacks. Every day should be dog day, whether or not you’re a proud puppy parent.

I’d like to raise a glass to all the hard working canines out there, as well as the simply doggedly adorable fluff balls. The only thing fitting here would be a salty dog cocktail; classically composed of grapefruit juice and gin, with a salted rim, the origin of the name is a bit murky, but the bright, punchy flavor profile is clear. Tangy citrus, herbaceous spirits, and a salty kick to accentuate the two leaves nothing left to be desired. Well, okay, a bit of sweetness might be nice… and on that note, how about a dessert while we’re at it?

My take on the salty dog involves cake, because what’s a celebration without cake?

If the dog bone shape strikes you as a bit over-the-top, or you’re baking to suit a different theme, it’s even easier to simply cut the cake into squares instead. Better yet, bake the batter into cupcakes and no cutting will be necessary.

These treats are for adult humans only, as they do include a decent splash of alcohol that doesn’t cook or bake out. Each morsel is glazed with a poured fondant icing spiked with gin that sets up as a crisp, sugary shell for the tender grapefruit cake within. Don’t forget the pinch of flaky salt on top to complete the experience. While such garnishes are often listed as “optional,” it’s utterly essential here- it’s in the name, after all. It’s a bold change of pace, bright and refreshing, just like the original inspiration.

Let’s all raise a glass, or a piece of cake, to all the canines in our lives. Whether you have one, two, three, or none, there’s never a bad time to adopt

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Going Bananas This Summer

Officially, summer has arrived. It’s certainly felt that way for the past month, but at least the weather and the calendar are finally in agreement. Longer days, warmer nights, and of course, cooler eats are here at last. While some people live for the winter holidays, I’d make a strong case for classifying this fleeting moment as the best time of year.

Beautiful weather beckons, teasing me out of the house early in the day, tempting me away from work and towards play. The last thing I want is to be stuck in a hot, stuffy kitchen. I’d much rather reach for any easy treat like Voortman wafer cookies and be on my way. They make so many flavors that there’s always something to suit the season. Made with real fruit, nothing artificial, the flavors are all stunningly fresh.

The light, crisp wafers give way to soft creme filling, both crunchy and smooth, satisfying with every bite. Right now, the banana wafer cookies occupy that prime spot in my snacking routine. Evoking memories of crunchy banana candies of bygone childhood delights, the real magic happens when they’re stored in the fridge. Chilled, they suddenly taste like a fruit smoothie in stick form. That serendipitous discovery happened quite accidentally, stemming from an urge to clear overflowing counters with no shelf space remaining. Into the fridge the package of cookies went, and out came a brand new treat.

Of course, I couldn’t leave well enough alone right there. Obviously, what’s great alone could be spectacular with just a bit more finesse. No-churn banana ice cream, enlightened with a dollop of tangy dairy-free yogurt, perches temptingly on these edible sticks, every bite as satisfying and wholly refreshing as the last.

Chill out, enjoy the heat of summer, but don’t let the opportunity to indulge in more whimsical sweet pleasures melt away.

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Bar None

May I introduce you to your new sweet obsession?

Every baker dreams of instantly whipping up sure-fire hits every time they turn on the oven, and eaters, no matter how adventurous, always crave certain comforting staples. While the internet hardly needs another plain old blondie recipe, it DOES need this one. It’s the one I always turn to for potlucks, for presents, and for random sweet tooth satisfaction, year in and year out. Something with enough staying power to see that many repeat performances in my kitchen deserves greater attention.

Super chewy, surprisingly buttery, and singing with sweet vanilla essence, they’re simply the best rendition of the classic bar cookie that everyone should have in their repertoire. There’s nothing crazy going on here; no complicated preparation, drawn out chilling or baking times, crazy ingredients, or any other shenanigans. Just tender slabs of caramelized brown sugar sweetness, filled with rich chocolate morsels, ready to be devoured in under an hour.

The only element that may give you pause is the cassava flour, but it’s not so scary as it may sound. It’s made from the yucca root, like tapioca starch, but comes from the entire tuber, thus affording it more fiber and nutrition than the later. If you can’t find it, don’t want to hunt it down, or don’t care about making your treats gluten-free, make it even easier by swapping in good old fashioned all-purpose flour.

In closing, I must apologize for making this introduction. If you had any attachments to particular blondie recipes previously, I’m afraid this fresh suitor will prove irresistible, leading to quite the sordid affair. I’m not sorry, however, for the joy it will create once you surrender to such an inevitability.

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