Category Archives: Bars

Graham Cracker Crumb Cheesecake Bars with Golden Oreos: a recipe/post from your newest PhD candidate! (eep!)

Graham Cracker Crumb Cheesecake Bars with Golden Oreos 2--060815

If it’s felt quiet around here lately, you’re completely right. But guys. Guys.

Guess who’s penning this post as a newly baptized English PhD candidate? (eeks!) Excuse me while I bust-a-move around the room a la old-school 90s arcade game.

Graham Cracker Crumb Cheesecake Bars with Golden Oreos 4--060815

Graham Cracker Crumb Cheesecake Bars with Golden Oreos 6--060815

So for those of you who are just like, Ala you big nut what are you even talking about we have no idea please speak English okay, I have basically spent the past few months working furiously toward writing a dissertation proposal (called a “prospectus”) that I finally discussed with my entire exam committee on Monday. For a little shy of two hours, we sat in a room and questioned and brainstormed and pontificated about my ideas on the construction of children’s fantasy literature (and yes, that’s my dissertation topic–booyeah!).

Then they sent me out of the room and were all like GO STEW IN YOUR SWEATY INSECURITY and closed the door and deliberated.

Graham Cracker Crumb Cheesecake Bars with Golden Oreos 8--060815

Okay, actually they sent me out at a really nice and comfortable point in our conversation, and basically everyone was grinning as I walked out and everyone was still grinning when I walked back in. I was honestly a little bit scared because I have never seen my advisor beaming so broadly before at me, and I expected a terrifying green imp to burst out of his skin at any second and shout, “NYAH NYAH, you failed!”

But thankfully, my advisor’s skin stayed intact and he actually shook me heartily by the hand as he said: “I am so happy to congratulate you on successfully passing your exam!”

I imagine there being a palpable exclamation mark at the end of that sentence. Like, never ever have I heard him use an exclamation mark and the word “you” in the same sentence before, so you know–pretty big deal!… Read more

21 Comments

Filed under Baked Goods and Desserts, Bars

S’mores Bars { + S’More Thoughts on the Difficulty of Loving Yourself }

S'more-Bars 2--052515

Almost a year ago now, I wrote this post on Defining Your Self-Worth, which received tons of amazing, thought-provoking, vulnerable, and deeply genuine comments from all of you readers out there. Today, in the midst of one of the craziest and most turbulent but also “happiest” periods of my life, I want to continue the discussion by bringing up another related topic: the Difficulty of Loving Yourself.

This is going to be a long post, so if you’re here for the S’mores Bars recipe (which is phenomenal BTW), go ahead and skip to the bottom of this post. I promise I won’t be offended!

S'more-Bars 4--052515

S'more-Bars 6--052515

“We accept the love we think we deserve.” This is the catchphrase of that wonderful coming-of-age book-turned-film that I’m watching alone tonight, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Having always identified as a Wallflour/Wallflower myself, that line always resonated with me. We accept the love we think we deserve. Fine. But what if there was no love to accept? What if, at the heart of it all, the problem wasn’t that I wasn’t accepting love, but that I didn’t deserve to be loved in the first place?

At my lowest moments, these are the thoughts that hang over my mind like an invisible but palpable cloud that blocks out all sunlight. Despite considering myself to be a fairly cheerful and positive person, the difficulty of loving myself has been something with which I have always struggled, but exponentially more so in the past six or seven years since all this crappiness happened. What makes the whole experience even more trying is–or at least was, as I’ll explain in a moment–what I perceived as a lack of stable support systems on which I could rely to actually talk about my problems. My blog has provided a surrogate version of that outlet for the past three years, but at some point the irreplaceability of face-to-face human warmth and contact just hits you, and suddenly the whole illusion of knowing what you’re doing and being the person the world thinks you are crumbles, leaving you to reconstruct some semblance of order from out of the rubble.… Read more

29 Comments

Filed under Baked Goods and Desserts, Bars

No-Bake Cookie Butter Bars for #SundaySupper

No-Bake-Cookie-Butter-Chex-Mix-Bars 2--041715

It’s hard to believe, but change is beginning to settle in the thick, smoggy air. The days are getting longer, the cotton material of my shirt is sticking to my armpit to an increasingly embarrassing degree, and these days I can go until nearly 7:45 PM before the sun starts setting and I actually begin to feel guilty about all the work I haven’t done for the day.

In other words: summer is coming!

No-Bake-Cookie-Butter-Chex-Mix-Bars 4--041715

It’s hard to believe we spent the last two perfect weekends outdoors at two of the West Coast’s biggest book festivals–the Young Adult literature festival last weekend, followed by the city’s annual book festival this weekend–surrounded by some of the best, most delightful names in the world of publishing. (For example, yesterday afternoon I met Mac Barnett, one of the friendliest children’s book authors out there, a veritable genius, and a client of one of the lit agents I had worked for years before!)

I spent the first weekend volunteering at the book festival, meeting a variety of YA authors but also getting to interact with thousands of wonderful, vibrant fans (over 6,500 of them turned up!). Last Saturday was brutally sunny, and some of these folks waited in line for over 2 hours just to nab a signed book copy–not to mention the opportunity to exchange a coveted “hello” with their favorite authors. I ended up monitoring the author signing queues, turning away over 200 people in the course of 3 hours because there was simply no way to accommodate every single autograph request.

It was a thankless task at best, but even I was stunned by just how gracious most of the fans were! Most were disappointed, of course, but several of them thanked me for doing my job and for treating that crazy afternoon with a cheerful smile.… Read more

57 Comments

Filed under Baked Goods and Desserts, Bars

Easy English Toffee

Spoiler: majorly embarrassing stories ahead……

EnglishToffee3--022615

EnglishToffee4--022615

Yesterday, over lunch, my friends and I were sharing our best embarrassing stories. You know, the ones that made you blush so hard you thought your face was actually going to combust into a bunch of fiery napalm and set ablaze everyone within 15 square yards of you. We’re not talking the kind of mild embarrassment that happens when you walk in late on the first day of class and get called out by the teacher.

We’re talking stress-dreams-of-getting-caught-stark-naked-in-a-Costco-parking-lot-on-a-Sunday-afternoon kind of embarrassment.

Unfortunately, I’m terrible at calling up examples while they are still relevant (i.e. during conversation), so I didn’t contribute much to our lunch sharing session. I did enjoy a very nice Afghani spinach flatbread, though.

But as it turns out, this is very lucky for you guys, since I’ve decided to spend this Friday sharing a few of my favorites with you! None of which involve unwanted nudity, thank goodness. So without further ado….

EnglishToffee6--022615

EnglishToffee7--022615

Quite a few years ago at Disneyland, I was waiting in line for the bathroom next to Adventureland. There I was, fiddling with my gray Tigger jacket sleeve, minding my own business, when I suddenly look up and notice an Asian man with short-cropped hair, spectacles, and a rather square jaw standing in front of me.

Of course, I immediately feel embarrassed for the poor man. Can he read English? His unfashionable red sweater and khaki pants tell me he might be a tourist (thank you, vast over-stereotyping), and as we get closer and closer to the front of the line, I start fidgeting. Finally, when I see the “Women’s Restroom” sign passing us by the restroom entrance, I decide I can’t let him go through the agonizing embarrassment of walking into the Women’s restroom by mistake. So I do the worst thing I could possibly do in such a situation: I tap him on the arm.… Read more

12 Comments

Filed under Baked Goods and Desserts, Bars, Brownies & Chocolates, Snacks, Snacks

Apple Fritter Blondies

Apple Fritter Blondies 6--011115

I am fairly good about self-control (said nobody, ever), but every once in a while somebody throws something in my path that sets all my cravings on fire like a match to a bucket of propane.

Something that looks very much edible. Usually shaped like an apple fritter.

Apple Fritter Blondies 11--011115

Apple fritter was THE donut of choice in our house growing up. In fact, I did not know there was such a thing as “options” at a donut shop until our eighth grade field trip to Florida, where I downed my first–and second, and third, and maybe a fourth–Krispy Kreme. Up until that moment, I always just assumed you walked to the counter of a place with the DONUTS FOR SALE sign, ordered “one of those,” and walked out with freshly-fried apple frittery goodness in a white bakery bag.

It wasn’t until college, when I started buying my own donuts (we had a place next to campus that fried piping hot donuts until 3 AM), that I even learned what an apple fritter was technically called. Which is probably a good thing, since my household has led to some very embarrassing misnomers…

…like calling it Napoleon ice cream for nineteen years instead of Neopolitan.

Also, my mom convinced me I was allergic to chocolate until I was almost in middle school, so I tried to keep “learning” in my house to a minimum. (Just kidding, Mom, I love you.)

Apple Fritter Blondies 7--011115

Apple Fritter Blondies 9--011115

Still, my mom must have gone right somewhere along the way, because if I had to choose one food to crave for the rest of my life, it might just be apple fritters. Right up at the top there battling tooth and nail with ice cream–and even then, we could all just invent apple fritter ice cream, brush our hands, and call it a day.… Read more

31 Comments

Filed under Baked Goods and Desserts, Bars

The Best Blondies for #SundaySupper

Quick Etsy shop announcement: this month’s new featured item is my Coconut Rum White Chocolate Blondie: perfect for pre-holiday season gifting! If you’re looking for other thoughtful gifts, you can browse my whole selection and learn more about the shop’s history here!

Best Blondies 2--110214

It’s clear what kind of a spinster I will be: not an old batty cat lady (I’m allergic to cats), but a decrepit little woman who bakes Coconut Rum Blondies at 4 AM after finishing a terrible Ginnifer Goodwin rom-com alone on my couch.

On the bright side, there are worse things. For example, I could be an old hag who runs around on her neighbor’s lawns scattering apple tree seeds and shouting at the top of my voice: “The British are coming! The British are coming!

Or I could be without these blondies, and that’d be a crying shame, don’t you think?

Best Blondies 4--110214

Thankfully, a few nights ago I was chatting with one of my best friends and unofficial psychotherapist H, who finally talked me out of my three-week shlump. To celebrate my release from the fetters of romantic comedy films, I decided to start a dedicated Me-Time journal for the next 21 days, where I can write my scattered thoughts about the day’s events. However, it’s only Day 1 and I’ve already filled 8 pages with musings on life! Who knew anything actually buzzed in this tiny brain of mine, right?

One thing I realized over the course of those eight pages was that a) I’ve actually had a really amazing week, and b) I love the feeling of meeting and keeping in touch with new people. There’s something incredibly liberating about getting to know someone who has no preconceptions about who you are except what you show them while you’re chatting–in the past 3 days alone, I’ve met & become (at least Facebook) friends with 2 folks in Starbucks, 2 guys from an international siblings program, and at least a handful of really wonderful people from my friend J’s recent PhD graduation party.… Read more

59 Comments

Filed under Baked Goods and Desserts, Bars

Inverted Graham Cracker Cheesecake Bars

Inverted Graham Cracker Cheesecake Bars 1--101414

As students trundle to their first classes of the quarter, laden with heavy backpacks filled with books they will probably never finish, for classes they will soon find no time to attend;

as school swings back into high gear with the sound of familiar chimes ringing from the campus bell tower, tolling its stolen set of pipes recorded from another university tower;

as I lug my brick of a laptop to my office under the unnaturally blazing October sun, I think vaguely to myself that if I chance to encounter a mad Sasquatch on my unlikely path to school, at least I carry a dense projectile with which to defend myself, my expenses spreadsheets be damned.

New beginnings are always an adventure, and Fall is a beautiful thing…

Inverted Graham Cracker Cheesecake Bars 4--101414

This–the late start of a new school year–is when the sun sets at an abysmally early hour and all the poetic heebie-jeebies jittering around my body just want to leap off onto the page illuminated by burning midnight oil. Call it my inner Donne or just an English grad student’s whimsy; but this is also the season of  warm, comforting flavors of cinnamon-infused graham crackers in my treats, which must all be baked now that the temperature has dropped below 90F: and there’s something special about graham crackers that makes me ask them in their lurid blue cardboard box, blithely, What the heck is a “graham” anyway? Why didn’t we reunite earlier than this?

On that rude self-interruption: I don’t know what a graham is. The phrase “graham cracker” reminds me oddly of the joke that goes, “If olive oil is made of olives, then what is baby powder made of?” Enigma central. I could probably Wiki this in a second but Bruno Mars’s “Lazy Song” just came up on my Spotify and I am not one to argue with divine intervention.… Read more

20 Comments

Filed under Baked Goods and Desserts, Bars, Cheesecakes

Raw Salted Chocolate Chip Oat Healthy Bars for #SundaySupper

I dare you to tell me this is “just another healthy oat bar” recipe. I triple dog dare you, and if you lose, I will bite the head off a hapless gingerbread man (is it almost that time of the year already? Sigh).

Raw Salted Chocolate Oat Healthy Bars with Dates and Coconut 2--100414

Apart from the mumbled ooh’s and aah’s these bars received when I brought them to my friends’ houses, this healthy snack alternative just knocked my socks off. I was messing around with the food processor last week because it’s been a solid 98 degrees all week here. Living in perpetual beautiful summertime may not sound like a problem, but it is indeed a problem.

A big, fat Californian first-world problem. Try hashtagging that. 

Raw Salted Chocolate Oat Healthy Bars with Dates and Coconut 4--100414

I expected “good,” I expected “delicious”–but I did not expect these.

I anticipated “love ‘em!”, I anticipated “yum!”–but I did not anticipate this.

I did not know there would be violent voices in my head screaming at me after I tasted these, “EAT THEM ALL BEFORE THE REDCOATS COME OR WE WILL KEEL YOU.”

And really, who am I to disobey?

Raw Salted Chocolate Oat Healthy Bars with Dates and Coconut 12--100414

The most gorgeous thing about these bars (if one could pick) is that they taste like honest-to-goodness no other oat cookie/granola bar I’ve ever made before. The oat base is slightly salty and leaves this unexpected coconutty taste (from the coconut oil) in your mouth that makes you suspect they’ve started flavoring crack with essence of coconut these days. The bars are studded with chunks of dark chocolate (always a good move) and a great salty balance of pretzel chunks, which add awesome texture to the bars. And they’re vegan, GF, raw, and completely date-sweetened, which means

the fact that I gobbled up an entire pan in one sitting

is also like a merit or something.

Almost.

Raw Salted Chocolate Oat Healthy Bars with Dates and Coconut 6--100414

I’m thinking granola bowl, served with vanilla soy milk or–better yet–sweetened coconut milk.… Read more

77 Comments

Filed under Bars, Healthy

Healthy Salted Caramel Apple Bars for #studentbloggers

Healthy Salted Caramel Apple Pie Bars 1--092814

Thanks so much to everyone who has joined us for this #studentbloggers series. This is our final installment (for now, at least) as the school year revs into gear. See you guys on the other side, and don’t forget to check out all these incredibly TALENTED bloggers who have participated!

Grad Undergrad Student Bloggers Icon Small

(See our interviews from Week 1 and Week 2.)

QUESTION 1. Let’s be honest: how much time do you spend on schoolwork/research vs. the blog?

Ala: I treat school like a full-time job…and it is one! I still spend a good chunk of time every night blogging though (anywhere from 20-30 hours a week), and my friends think I’m crazy for doing it because I insist on having a social life as well. That leaves me with some scary number of hours of sleep…you can do the math.

Bec: Majority of the week is spent a) procrastinating and b) mentally and physically stopping the procrastination/procrastibaking c) attempting to smash out Uni work

Nicole: In all honestly – about 60 % research, 40 % blog (but I do spend almost my entire weekends and lots of evenings solely on blog work)

Shelley:  Schoolwork comes first ;) I’ll blog when I have the time!

Zainab: I am ashamed to answer this just in case my PI sees this one day. But in a 24 hour day, I think 9 goes to schoolwork and the rest the blog. Just so much goes into blogging and being new at it, the learning curve is steep so it’s sucking lots of hours of my day. With research, I am very efficient at this point. I get to lab in the morning and can hammer out my experiments pretty quickly. I try to do most of all I need to do there (9-6.30pm) and most times once I leave lab, I leave it all there.… Read more

12 Comments

Filed under Bars, Blogger Series, Fruit Desserts, Healthy

Mud Hen Bars

Dirty poultry desserts. Say what?

Mud Hen Bars 5--091114

Okay, so that’s not what “mud hen” really means, but I swear I was on the right track when I first heard the term “mud hen bars” two blissful months ago and tried my hand at creating my own!

Let me break this down for you and blow your soon-to-be-enlightened mind…

Mud Hen Bars 2--091114

Brown sugar meringue top. Yes, this is actually a thing. It is so much a thing, in fact, that these bars might just explode in the face of its ultimate thingy-ness. Crackle, meringue, yum!

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie Base. Possibly my favorite kind of base, unless you count the rebel base from Star Wars, in which case this cookie base swoops in for a close second and Ala collects major geekdom points (+10 EXP, Lvl Up!).

Chocolate Chunks. I support your impulse to throw many chocolate chips in your batter until it becomes chunkier than a sedentary monkey with fifty pounds of butter cake…

Now that I’ve walked you through that drool-worthy deliciousness, I want to talk life stuff. But first, some weird performance artsy gifs…

Mud Hen Bars gif 3

Mud Hen Bars gif 2

If you’re wondering why in holy chocolations I was filming myself breaking off giant chunks of Mud Hen Bars (don’t worry, I ate them all myself afterward), I have no idea either. I think I might have been having a bad day and suddenly realized that my petty grad student income isn’t big enough to justify buying a punching bag. Outlets, outlets…

Between these and stress eating, I really need to find a better outlet for my feelz. Seriously.

Mud Hen Bars 8--091114

But okay, that’s just me being facetious. Besides the fact that family can be sometimes high-stress in tiny little ways, life has actually been great and relaxing this past week, and I am 110% happy to report that I am rereading the Harry Potter series for the first time in 6 years.… Read more

21 Comments

Filed under Bars