Strawberries ‘n Cream Cookies {+ A Few Thoughts from a PokéTrainer}

You know those incredibly frustrating people walking around on the streets and into traffic and over cliffs and right smack dab on top of your newly-polished dress shoes because they’re too busy playing Pokémon GO?

I have a confession to make.

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I am one of those incredibly frustrating people playing Pokémon GO.

I apologize if I ever trampled over your dog in my haste to catch an Arcanine. It was (probably) an accident, unless you just happened to be in my way while a Squirtle is loose nearby and a mad, mob-mentality stampede that would make any Black Friday vet proud seized hold of me. Then it was probably deliberate. But I realize that being part of a cult(ural phenomenon) doesn’t make me any less of a Poké-jerk, so please excuse my trangresses…

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There are many downsides to living in a college neighborhood. Blasting music at 3 in the morning, piss-drunk but holier-than-thou undergrads whom you hope to never see in your classes, zero parking…

But there are also upsides, one of which is that when geeky pastimes hit home, they hit hard. For the past 7 days or so, seriously over half of the people walking around campus are fueling up at Pokéstops, catching Pokémon, talking about Pokémon, dreaming Pokémon. We shuffle casually up to spots where those glorious purple lure modules have taken over our AR screens, grinning sheepishly around at the other folks around us who have stationed themselves on the same block as we swipe our fingers upward in an all-too familiar motion, swiping in harmony with every other index finger in a 30-foot radius, warmed by the knowledge that we are all part of the same cultural moment–that even though we are strangers, we are a community, too.

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It’s easy to make fun of Poke-players as geeky eccentrics or even fanatics, but there is also something strangely democratizing about the game that should not be ignored, even at this early stage of the craze.… Read more

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Strawberry Cream Cheese Oat Bars

Happy middle of Jul–wait, what?

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I’m not sure how we’re already halfway through the summer–nobody ever consulted with me about this matter, or I would’ve veto’d it faster than you can say “pandas on a water slide”–but here we are, even so…and in spite of me, it seems!

These past two weeks have been unusually crazy ones…which is my way of excusing myself for the recent lack of updates. Whoops! Thankfully, we’ve finally hammered out our final plans for le big Europe trip, which is exciting because I hate travel planning with a passion, and more than one late evening ended with me simply drooping my head onto the table while the boy (bless his much more patient, level-headed penchant for these things) continued to click away at various online bookings and ticket listings, and basically making sure that the rest of the trip actually happened.

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Aside from that, there hasn’t been much time for baking or photography because apart from travel planning, we’ve been having a bit of fun around here! We spent this past long weekend moseying around town, attending various picnics and potlucks, and having an early surprise birthday day for him since he’ll be home when it happens later this month. We started the day by getting massages, watching Hunt for the Wilderpeople (a VERY good film–it earned 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and we both loved it for its wit, fast-paced humor, and general ability to tell a spot-on story), and then getting dressed up to see a play called Big Sky at the local playhouse (it was also VERY good–the perfect mix of humor and dramatic insight into the workings of a dysfunctional family). Needless to say, I’ve been playing a lot of blog catch-up since he left for home yesterday, and I can’t wait to share all of the other exciting developments happening around here lately!… Read more

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Easy French Apple Pie {15-minute prep!}

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The end of term was last week, and–as one of my graduating friends reminded me–nothing smells comfort-y quite like pie does. And nothing spells comfort when you’re tired and hungry and stressed like a 15-minute prep time!

Yes, none of my jokes here: this is quite possibly the easiest dump-it-all-in French apple pie recipe that I’ve ever made, and my summer-ready self is SO thankful for it.

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In the past two weeks, I taught my (possibly last ever!!!) undergraduate English class and started kicking my butt back into full dissertation writing mode. Oh! And I haven’t shared the biggest news of all–I’ll be traveling to Europe!

I won’t be posting anything specific about my travel plans until later this year when they’re all done–as much as I love everyone here, the internet has too many eyes, not all of which are savory–but I’m super excited for this development. I’ll be traveling and staying with friends and simply cannot wait to soak in the beauty of these places! Totally worth the five days of throbbing headaches that I suffered in between… #definitelynottheplanningtype

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Meanwhile, back on planet Reality, I’ve been moseying around in the kitchen a lot this week. In my last meeting with my advisor, he point blank asked me how baking was going and he sounded palpably disappointed when I told him–rather boringly–that I was focusing on my dissertation. His exact words were: “Oh, is that what you want to be doing right now? All right then.”

So. I’m baking again. Seriously though, I love my advisor. And productivity levels are up, because let’s be frank here–who wouldn’t be inspired to write with this easy-arse pie in one hand and a massive fork in the other?

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Before I go, let me tell you a little about this pie. Unlike your standard apple lattice or baked top crust pie, this one has my favorite topping ever: cinnamon brown sugar streusel.… Read more

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White Chocolate Cookie Butter Pecan Shortbread Cookies

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #BiteSizedBitsOfJoy #CollectiveBias

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My favorite phrase of the year: oldies but goldies!

As the de facto ancient dinosaur/matriarch of every one of my friend circles–I’m officially like a 22nd grader or something this year–I now love this phrase because it makes me feel…classic. And let’s be honest here: some things really do get better with age. Wine, cheese, dad jokes…my students’ end-of-year evaluations, which from now on I will only read while I am double-fisting these gorgeous White Chocolate Cookie Butter Pecan Shortbread Cookies, because these retro treats make everything better.

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Why retro? For one thing, these rich morsels are no-bake and take only 5 minutes to make, which is for some reason something that I imagine saying when I’m wearing a 50’s sweetheart red-and-white-polka-dotted apron and heels in my kitchen. For another, I was browsing the cookie aisle at Ralph’s last week when I stumbled upon an entire shelf of these classic gems:

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KEEBLER!!! To my five-year old self: you’re so welcome.

Growing up, Keebler was the eye candy of the TV commercial world. The food porn before food porn was a thing. The sacred key to unlocking my refined preschooler palate.

There are, however, definite perks to revisiting these cookies as an adult. The biggest perk is, without a doubt, that you get to enjoy all of the stuff that you loved as a kid, except now you can eat it at any time of day for any meal you want and your parents won’t pounce on you in the kitchen to tell you that you’re going to spoil your dinner, and nobody else is allowed to judge you because you’re an adult, dammit, or do I need to bust out my snazzy driver’s license and show you that I am a real bona fide grownup?… Read more

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Caramel Shortbread Cocoa Krispies Bars

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For anyone who is currently sitting in an office, classroom, library, or other public setting, you may want to bookmark this page and come back to it later…unless you don’t mind running the risk of accidentally salivating onto your keyboard in front of your boss. If that’s the case, then by all means: scroll on!

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I was editing the photos for these treats this weekend when the boy poked his nose hopefully over my shoulder and stared at my computer monitor. “What are those?” he asked with an air of studied nonchalance that wasn’t fooling anyone. When I told him that they were caramel shortbread cocoa krispies bars, he asked whether I had made them earlier that day and was disappointed to find that I had not.

“Yesterday, then?” he prompted expectantly.

” I made these last month.”

“Oh.” Pause. “Sooo….I suppose that means there aren’t any left?”

Sadly, if you’re asking the same question as you sit there drooling at your screen in your office right now, I regret to inform you that these bars are long (I mean long) gone.I brought them to a class film screening back in April and they were gone lickety-split. With a buttery layer of shortbread, rich oozing caramel, and fluffy rice cereal infused with marshmallows and chocolate, these bars are pretty much one of the most amazing things you’ll ever try.

And hey, never fear–the recipe is here! (Er, below.) Happy Tuesday to you!

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 What about you: do you know someone who always wants to know where the sweet treats are at? ;)

Ala

Caramel Shortbread Cocoa Krispies Bars

These bars are insane--and insanely delicious! Start with a buttery shortbread crust, topped with gooey rich caramel, and topped off with a surprisingly fluffy layer of rice cereal and marshmallows infused with the deep tones of chocolate.

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Fried Ice Cream Cake

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #SoHoppinGood #TopYourSummer #CollectiveBias

Who’s ready for summer? I am SO ready for summer.

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As you’ve probably surmised from the dearth of recent blog posts, life lately has been busier lately than the ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese’s in the middle of birthday season. These past two weeks, I’ve flown home for a 24-hour stint, seen Young the Giant perform live, hosted my wonderful friend and her sister at my place for several glorious days, won the Family Cup with my global sibs group, gone to see a soccer match between my two “home” teams, attended our school’s annual musical showcase, and busted my butt to scrap/rewrite a starting draft of my next dissertation chapter section. That last one in particular still has me reeling on me feet, but thankfully no hellfire or brimstone spewed forth when I brought it in to my advisor meeting yesterday.

Phew!

With only two weeks left in the school year, though, my mind is already wayyy into summer mode–if you haven’t already guessed by this AMAZING summer-inspired fried ice cream cake that I’ve busted out for y’all. I’ve also been making this summer’s epic to-do list, which looks a little something like…

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1. Take a spontaneous journey somewhere unexpected.

2. Spend an entire lazy day at the beach.

3. Travel outside of California.

4. Go camping, with real tents and campfire s’mores and stuff.

5. Eat lots of ice cream.

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6. Go to a concert.

7. Stargaze. Dance under the stars.

8. Host a movie marathon night.

9. Read a book…for fun!

10. Eat oodles of ice cream.

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11. Send care packages to my friends.

12. Try 5 new restaurants.

13. Plan a surprise for someone.

14. Watch the sunrise and sunset on the same day.… Read more

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Caramel Coffee Toffee Sticky Pudding Brownies

Happy Teachers’ Appreciation Week, everyone!

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It’s crazy how much you take for granted until you’re the one standing in front of the classroom–that, and the amount of baking that you end up doing for your students in any given school term because you genuinely love them and want them to be happy human beings, even if they sometimes ask you questions whose answers are on the syllabus and expect responses when they email you 5 hours before a paper is due. I guess it’s good practice for the 40-kid family I plan on having someday.

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Facetiousness aside, though, I owe a lot to the teachers in my life who pulled me through my brighter years and supported me through my tougher ones. Two in particular stand out to me: the first is my high school English Lit AP teacher, who was a total tough cookie and set us a timed essay on our first day of class after having us write multiple essays throughout the summer on 1984, My Name is Asher Lev, Typical American, and (I think) something broadly Shakespearean. He had a reputation in the school for being something of a hardass, but I never received anything but fair judgment and respectable guidance from him. Granted, I was a pretty strong writer already in senior year and didn’t struggle nearly as much as my peers did in that class, but I also knew it was because I worked my butt off that year to put out my very best work for this teacher. And in a way, that year was the year when I first learned what it’s like to fall deeply, irrevocably in love with literature.

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The second is a very special lady whom I admire to the stars and back. Katharine taught my children’s lit seminar at university during my junior year, and I was lucky enough to spend that quarter with her exploring New York City in Stuart Little, strolling through the rolling cityscapes and hills of the Rootabaga Stories, laughing and crying over the images in American-Born Chinese and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Read more

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Letting go of fear–and that pink tube of pepper spray

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. While this (obviously) is a food blog, today’s post addresses some of my thoughts on important issues surrounding women’s safety and social perceptions surrounding sexual assault and harrasment. We’ll be back to your semi-regularly scheduled recipes & photos next week! ~Ala

Image courtesy of the University of Missouri.

- one -

I am sitting at one of the counter seats at Starbucks, laptop out and a messy pile of blue examination books sprawled out on the narrow wooden surface. Outside, it’s dark, though the low buzz of the cafe and the artificial lighting mean that I can–and intend to–stay for at least another 3 hours before heading home for the night. I squint my eyes, trying to decipher the illegible scrawl in front of me that is attempting to make a vaguely coherent argument about the psychiatric relevance of Winnie-the-Pooh. I have just read something about Pooh’s undiagnosed case of OCD when somebody pulls out the stool next to mine and sits down. Unconsciously, I shift my seat away just the tiniest bit to the left.

Focused as I am, another five minutes pass by in silence before I begin to notice: that feeling that jolts you slightly from the back of your head down your neck when you suddenly realize that somebody is looking at you. Or maybe it’s just that my peripheral vision is working. Whatever the case, I can feel a pair of eyes studying me as I work, a face turned in my direction rather than poring over a book as all the other faces around me are.

Then a voice: “Hey.”

It’s not a suspect “hey” or anything: not the sleazy “hey” you might get at the bar when your girlfriend goes to the bathroom and hasn’t come back yet; not the gruff “hey” of the guy sitting on a stoop leering at me as I hurry past, staring hard at the ground; not the catcall-type “hey”‘s that are hurled out of open car windows as a group of boisterously laughing and whistling men drive by.… Read more

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Mini Churro Donut Muffins

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If you love churros, donuts, and the excuse to justifiably eat them both for breakfast–trust me, these sugary babies are for you.

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Mini Churro Donut Muffins are, as their name implies–ahem–the perfect balanced breakfast food. Okay, so they’re rolled in glorious cinnamon sugar post-baking, and maaaaybe they’re more like a donut/cake than a muffin–but they’re baked instead of fried, which has got to count for something…right?

And that makes them okay to consume for breakfast.

And lunch.

And dinner.

And maybe dessert, if your stretchy pants are feeling particularly stretchy.

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We’ve been having a lot of sweets around here lately…and I mean a lot. The boy is a chronic snacker with an enviable metabolism and I’m always catching him rummaging through my kitchen for freshly baked sweets. Last week, I baked a batch of these donut muffins for my students, tucked them away in tupperware, went to the bathroom…and emerged again to the sound of a hastily closed plastic lid and smacking lips.

The upside of smothering all your baked treats in cinnamon sugar (besides the obvious): you’ll always catch the culprit. And this particular culprit agreed that the donuts were very good indeed.

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As with all great things, you’ll need to coat the donut muffins in melted butter before proceeding to roll them in a snug, cozy coat of cinnamon sugar goodness. The butter-meets-sugar combo is what gives these breakfast treats extra crunch on the outside, so don’t skip this step!

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My students, friends, and friends’ coworkers all RAVED about these Mini Churro Donut Muffins, and really–who can blame them? I recommend making a double or even a triple batch.

You know, just in case someone in the kitchen happens to eat half of them before they make it out the door.

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Who’s the biggest sweets snacker in your house?Read more

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Asian Sesame Pasta with Steamed Broccoli

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #DareToPair #CollectiveBias

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Last year, when the sneak-peek movie clip featuring broccoli-topped pizza from Inside-Out was first released, my Italian friend sent the link to me, laughing as he quoted Anger:

“Congratulations San Francisco–you’ve ruined pizza!”

As it so happens, I love broccoli on anything–even pizza–and I stand my ground when I say that it makes a great, refreshing topping for one of my favorite homemade meals: Asian sesame pasta. Luckily, I recently learned that this same Italian friend buys Barilla pasta, which is exactly what I used in this recipe: Barilla Whole Grain Spaghetti, made from 100% whole wheat! And who am I to question a true Italian who knows his pasta, right?

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It might not look like much, but trust me when I say that this 10-minute pasta recipe is just the right, light accompaniment to the nutty sesame oil and bright broccoli flavors in this dish. It’s certainly been a heaven-sent meal after swimming, which I’ve been trying to do 6-7 days a week so far this year–with success, I might add!–and the tangy vinaigrette has got to be one of my favorite flavors ever. To be honest, I’ve been cooking for two more often around here but, erm, this dish hasn’t made it to two mouths so far. Just one.

Might be mine.

So yeah, it’s pretty darn good!

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If you’re looking for a fun, new way to spruce up the nutty taste of whole grain spaghetti, this dish is your Patronus. (Sorry, we just got back from a very late Harry Potter pub night…) Your calling. Your soulmate. Whatever the heck you want to call it, it’s YOURS.

You can even run your fingers down the glorious boxes in the pasta aisle as you prance by while you shop at Walmart, if you wish.… Read more

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