With Love, Apple Pie

You Can Do It Apple Pie

I want to show you how to bake a pie.  I’ve got step by step pictures.  I’ve got instructions.  I’ve got encouraging words.  I’ll even hold your hand if you need me to.  This isn’t anything to be scared of… but I do have a secret.

See, there’s a secret to making the best apple pie in the world.  Love.   Any way you can get it or give it, the secret to apple pie is love.

Love is a funny thing.  (Ok, you should totally call me out- that’s just a silly thing to say.)  While I don’t contend to be any sort of expert on the subject, I do take comfort in the knowledge that getting love, and giving love, without a doubt, the best feeling in the world.

I’d like to think of my apple pie as a pure and unadulterated delivery device for love.

You know how cupcakes are actually a delivery device for sweet and fluffy frosting? How cheeseburgers are just an excuse to go crazy with the french fries?  How movie theater tortilla chips are merely edible spoons for gobs of fake yummy, cheesy nacho sauce?  Well this apple pie, I cross my heart and hope to die, is just an excuse to pour all of my love right into a pie crust and into the oven.

It’s perfect.  There isn’t a more perfect thing in the world… ok, except maybe babies and puppies and snowflakes and kate spade flats (but WHY so expensive kate!?  $300, seriously!?)

I will warn you, this pie is a labor of love.  It takes time.  It takes commitment.  It takes a personal outpouring of love and support.  I’ll just say it now, there’s cutting and pressing, chilling, peeling, macerating, boiling, tossing, rolling, preheating, baking, slitting and slicing…. almost in that order.

If I haven’t yet scared you away.  If you’re so full of love that you just might burst, throw it into this pie, and send it out into the world.  It’s important.

You Can Do It Apple Pie

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Hey Hey Holiday!

Pumpkin Pie Bars

I know I promised you apple pie… apple pie so good that it will make your heart explode.  It looks like we’re going to have to wait just a bit longer for that epic post.  I’ve totally been swept away in Thanksgiving madness.  I know I can’t be the only one.

I’ve got mad baking and enjoying of friends and family to do.

Today I’m making banana bread.  I’ve got bananas that just won’t quit.

And then, because no Thanksgiving would be complete without pumpkin, I’m making Pumpkin Pie Bars.

I’ll be back after the holiday with recipes for your heart and for your soul.

Don’t Worry, I’ll Find It.

Joy in a Tree

This weekend, I went to Oakland, smiled a lot, sat in a tree and ran over a tumble weed at high speeds.

I wanted to sit down today and tell you about pie… about pie that’s so full of love and goodness it might make your heart explode. I’ve got the pictures, I’ve got the proof, and I can’t find the recipe. It’s got to be here somewhere covered in crumbs and flour.

Gimme a minute. Ok… gimme a few hours. I’ve got pie. You’ve got a heart that’s ready to explode. Now we just need to find that darn recipe…..

Persimmon Bread

Persimmon Bread

If my sister and I were produce instead of people, we’d be persimmons. Without a doubt… a couple of sibling persimmons- from the same tree but oooooooh so different. Let me explain. This will all make sense in a short bit.

My little sister and I are two and a half years apart. That means we were close enough to tear things up and figure out how to get ourselves out of it. You know, experiment, explore, break stuff and try not to get in trouble… life skills.

My sister, as an adorable, slick and sly child genius, would mush up and cry whenever trouble was on the horizon. I was not quite so skilled.

Maybe we’re about to get in trouble for knocking out the screen door that was just installed hours earlier… or we’re about to get a talking to for breaking the bathroom window with a soccer ball… or someone, who shall remain nameless, thought it would be a good idea to swing like Tarzan from the palm tree…

Here’s how the situation would play out: Lauren would run into the house, after one of our outdoor terror sessions , a big ball of red eyes and tears. She’d throw herself on the ground inconsolable, and thus… unpublishable. I would freeze and try to figure out a way to fix the broken thing before my parents could discover it. Not wise. Not wise at all. I was always the one left standing stiff with the broken object, eyes wide, wracking my brain for solutions. Thus… I always got in trouble. I’m not just saying that… Lauren, you totally know it’s true.

Any while we’re on the subject, please allow me this:

Dear Lauren,

You know you were the one that ran straight into the new screen door. That was all you. I was watching The Cosby Show and minding my own business. You and your tears! I got in soooo much trouble for that! No, twenty years later, I’m still not over it. Well played sister. Very well played.

This isn’t over.

Your sister,


So… um… persimmons. Follow me.

Persimmon Bread

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Already Thankful

Persimmon Bread

I know Thanksgiving is still a week away, but I’m already thinking about what I’m thankful for.

I have a lot to be thankful for. I like to reflect upon it, savor it, write it down, study it. I know I’m early, but it’s a lot to think about. Don’t give me a hard time… you should be thinking on it too. There might just be a test… yes, on the things you’re thankful for. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

So far I’m thankful for smiles that come from the inside out… the ones you can feel in your gut. I’m thankful for contagious laughter and persimmons that ripen in their own stubborn stubborn time. Smiles, laughter and fruit with free will. Pretty great list so far.

I’m going to go whisper sweet nothings at my stubborn persimmons, make you a treat and we’ll talk more tomorrow. Get thinkin’ on your thanks! It feels good. Promise.

Joy the Baker Reads


I know this book is one of my new favorites for two reason. I’ve had it for three days, I’m half way through reading it, and the cover is already bent beyond belief. I have a nasty habit of falling asleep with a book and then sleeping all over that book all night. For that reason, my favorite books, the ones I read over and over again, either have no covers or are bent beyond recognition. Some might call this habit of mine charming. It is.

Let me tell you about Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating. In two simple words: super awesome! It’s a book for people who care about food, where it comes from and how it’s made. This book makes food a story about people and places, time and craft.

Take traditional balsamic vinegars, for example. Traditional balsamic vinegars come from the town of Modena in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.  That’s it!  That’s the only place where traditional balsamic vinegars come from!  Are you still with me?  Balsamic vinegars weren’t even available for purchase until the 1980’s. For centuries, balsamic vinegars were lovingly crafted and passed down from family to family. Vinegars were carefully dema by the matriarchs of the family and kept under lock and key by the patriarch of the family. They were so essential to family history that they were often given as dowries.

See, I learned all that from Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating!  The book is so inspiring!  It makes me want to go out, ask questions and seek out shops that are as nutty about food as I am.

Nowadays you can hop down to your local grocery store and buy virtually everything you’ll ever need, including an unassuming bottle of balsamic vinegar. I have to tell you that this isn’t the stuff that old Italian women are making in their attics. The real stuff, the good Italian stuff, the stuff approved by the Italian government is expensive. While the price may deter most of us, the taste and the experience is absolutely astonishing. The brilliant part about beautifully crafted food is that it inspires others to create good food in its imagine. That’s when those of us with tighter pocket books win.

For those of us who can’t spend $200 on a small bottle of tradition balsamic vinegar, there are inspired artisan varieties that have some pretty sultry depths. A bottle of artisan Elderberry Balsamic Vinegar (made from elderberries instead of grapes) will set you back $40, for example. Totally doable!

The amazing thing about good food, prepared with care is that your tongue will tell you what’s what. You don’t have to be a fancy vinegar connoisseur, or a cheese expert to tell the good stuff from the crap.

What I love about Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating is its totally unpretentious and approachable attitude. It shows us that good food come from people who really care about it, and that care translates into the quality of their product. Good food comes from culture and time and tradition.  Most importantly, good food is for everybody. This book totally warms my heart. Yea, it’s that good.

Honey Roasted Acorn Squash

Honey Roasted Squash

There are wildfires raging all over Southern California and although I don’t live in the danger zone, the thick air and daunting skies make the fires impossible to ignore.

Driving around at dusk tonight, listening to the fire coverage on my car radio, I remembered that between the ages of about seven and eleven I would proudly proclaim that I wanted to be a firefighter to any adult that would ask.

It’s funny the reasons you choose to declare your future profession when you’re a child.  See,  I don’t particularly like fire, or being hot, or tall ladders or carrying heavy things.  I’m not much of a hero.  I don’t have that life saving gene inside me, aside from not killing the cricket that was in my kitchen last night.

My seven year old brain wanted to be a firefighter for several unheroic reasons: I liked (loved!) how awesomely clean and shiny fire trucks were.  I also really liked color and something about the red truck and the yellow suits and the black and white Dalmatian was totally exciting.  This is going to sound totally weird, but I used to love to do pull ups (I know, nutty), and my child brain somehow connected the ability to do pull ups with the ability to save lives and fight fire.

So I wanted to do pull ups and be a firefighter, until I wanted to own a zoo and be a vet, until I wanted to be a brooding writer, until I wanted to be a lady baker.  Phew… figuring out that stuff is nearly exhausting, and I’m not even done dreaming yet.

How about some squash?

Honey Roasted Squash

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On Saturday afternoon I found my self standing in my kitchen, sipping a hot cup of milky Ovaltine. As I stood there, I started reading the Ovaltine canister… you know, like you read the box of cereal as you eat breakfast.

It turns out that my unassuming canister of Ovaltine had a recipe for me. I paused. I raised an eyebrow. I set down my mug of Rich Chocolate Ovaltine and I decided to bake their Ovaltine brownie recipe.

Let me stop here to answer the questions that have undoubtedly formed in your mind.

Yes, on rare occasions, I’ve been known to enjoy a cup of warm Rich Chocolate Ovaltine. A girl can only drink so much tea.

No, I will never again enjoy a warm cup of Rich Chocolate Ovaltine.

Why? I’ve discovered that Rich Chocolate Ovaltine is neither rich, nor chocolate. I’m not even convinced that it’s food. It should not be baked into brownies. Ugh. God. Ick. No! Mistake.

What happened? My ‘brownies’ came out of the oven bubbling with butter and chocolate-ish preservatives. Brownies are not supposed to bubble with butter. My house didn’t even smell like warm brownie goodness. It wasn’t a pretty picture. I felt sorry for the two sticks of innocent butter that I subjected to such torture.

But I learned something- something that I had already known, but my judgement must have been clouded by artificial chocolate flavoring. Use real ingredients. There is no substitute. Ovaltine is not chocolate. It might say it’s chocolate. It might strive to be chocolate, but it’s not, and it has no business in your brownie pan.


Don’t get it twisted. I’m not entirely hating on Ovaltine. Ovaltine rocks the house in my Chocolate Buttercream Frosting.

Hungarian Paprika Chicken

On any given day my diet is consistently composed of scrambled eggs (seriously the perfect food), some variety of baked goods fresh from the oven, cheese (lots of cheese) and tea (I drink so much I run out of mugs).

Have I mentioned that I love scrambled eggs?  I’m convinced that the perfect way to eat them is in tortillas, standing in the sunny spot in my kitchen flipping through cookbooks.

But this post obviously is not about my love for the egg.

There are days that I decide to slow down, take a deep breath and make myself something other than scrambled eggs for dinner.  On those days I go for my no frills, yet somehow impressive Hungarian Paprika Chicken dish.  It’s flavored with sweet Hungarian Paprika, onions, tomatoes, and the added creaminess of a touch of sour cream.  Served it over a bed of buttery egg noodles, and the world is instantly coming up roses.

Everyone should have a no fail chicken recipe in their back pocket.  This is mine.  From my stove top to yours.

As a note, I think the big red tin of Hungarian Paprika is the only way to go with this chicken.  You should be able to find it in your local grocery stores,  it’s not a fancy pants thing.

Go say hello to the boys at Foodproof for my recipe.  It’s a winner, I cross my heart.  

Print this Recipe!

Banana Cranberry Bread

It should come as no surprise that I relate to the world through food. Sure, I’m fairly well adjusted, I can carry on a warm conversation and function in life, but in the secret world that is my brain, I’m always trying to understand the world around me by relating it to something I’ve eaten.

Crazy? Maybe. Confusing? Let me explain.

Say I walk into my parents’ house and am greeted with a hug and kiss from my father. That’s just like eating a bowl of vanilla bean ice cream smothered with warm dulce de leche sauce. The hug from my dad and the ice cream create the same feeling in my brain. Get it?

The smell of fresh rain on concrete is just like eating a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup.

Having a heart to heart with my mom is just like sipping Earl Grey tea with extra sugar and milk.

Getting a paper cut is just like taking a shot of cheap tequila with salt and dry limes.

Falling absolutely, head over heals, silly in love with someone is just like smooth bourbon and cigarettes at midnight.

Sitting next to Grandmother at the dinner table and feeling her almost thoughtlessly stroke my hand as if it were her own… that’s just like this perfectly spiced Banana Cranberry Bread. Yes, there’s that much comfort in the bread. It’s the real deal.

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The Good. The Bad. The Facts.

Fact:  I love this blog of mine.

Fact:  I absolutely adore all of its readers.   That’s you.

Fact:  I’m obviously not very good at posting every day as NaBloPoMo would have me do.

Request:  Bear with me.

Hope:  This blog has always been about quality and not quantity.

Another Fact:  I’m getting in the kitchen to bake right now-  mostly because I’m starving, also because I’m thinking of you and what you might like.

Last Fact:  I went through a serious sunflower loving phase in my early teens.  I will admit that this phase included several straw hats with fake sunflowers glued to them.  Painfully dorky, and now.. for you to know. Facts are facts.


Sugar Crusted Ginger Chewies

To Do:  Thursday 11.6.08

-Scowl at 6:30 am alarm clock.

-Randomly hit night stand in search of snooze button.

-Search the bed for warmth, find it, snuggle hardcore.

-Force self out of bed.  Write.  Seriously.  Write something.

-Um…. snuggle more.  It’s not a crime.

-Dress.  Aroma Cafe.  Tea.  Breakfast.  Dreamy.

-Write, seriously, you have to write.

-Jump on the bed.

-Make Sugar Crusted Ginger Cookies-  eat a great deal of the dough.

-Watch Foodproof videos.

-Snuggle more.  For your health.

-Think about showering.


-Discuss cheese.  Make cheese look pretty.

-Bourbon.  Drink some.

-Bed.  Snuggle.  Prepare to scowl at forthcoming early alarm clock.

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A Lesson in Nutmeg

We need to talk. It’s important.

I can’t have you using that Ground Nutmeg you have in your pantry. I know it’s easy. I know it’s cheap. I just can’t in good conscience let this continue.

Let’s talk about nutmeg. I have The Internets so I know everything I need to know.

Nutmeg comes from a type of evergreen tree in southeast Asia and Australasia. Now, before I continue, am I the only one that didn’t know what Australasia was? Australasia includes Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Ginuea. True. Fun fact!

So two important culinary items come from this magical evergreen type tree:  nutmeg and mace.  Nutmeg is actually the seed of the tree.  It’s slightly smaller than an egg, solid and hard, but when grated, has an interesting lace like design.  Mace is the dried, reddish covering of the arillus seed. Huh?  Yea. Pay attention, we’re still learning.  Mace has a slightly more delicate flavor than nutmeg and when baked, imparts an almost saffron like orange glow.

The beauty of nutmeg is that it’s so versatile.  It’s an integral part of a spice cake like carrot cake, or my beloved Sugar and Spice Cinnamon Rolls, but also shines when sprinkled over sauteed spinach or mixed into cheese sauces.  The key to nutmeg is to always (always! always!) go for the fresh stuff.  It’s easy.  I promise.  It’s not a pain in the ass.  All you’ll need is a jar of the nutmeg seeds (they often come in a jar with between 6 and 8 ) and a microplane.  Microplanes are just about the handiest zester/grater ever!

When a recipe calls for freshly grated nutmeg, you’re good to go.  If a recipe simply calls for 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg, you might want to use a dash less.  Go for 3/4 teaspoon of the fresh stuff instead.  Fresh nutmeg is stronger, more aromatic and more forward that the pre-ground, dusty nutmeg.

Pre-ground nutmeg is a poor excuse for such a beautiful spice.  Go fresh.  It’s the only way to go.

All Purpose Holiday Cake

It’s November, and that means that we’ve undeniably entered the holiday season. In my world that means lots of family, lot of parties and eating a ridiculous, almost painful amount of food. Cocktail parties. Tacky Christmas sweater parties. Surprise guests and…. my oh my… is it too early to be this excited?

Despite all of my (possibly premature) excitement, I’ll admit that I’m sometimes at a loss when it comes to a holiday night out. If I’m not fussing over what I’m going to wear, I’m getting nit picky about the dessert that I’m going to bring. It’s enough to drive myself crazy and send me straight to the egg nog bowl when I hit the party. The egg nog is always such a nice thought, but the actual introduction of egg nog into my system is a very, very bad idea.

This weekend I picked up a few party dresses and tights- festive and hip but not over the top. I also baked up the perfect all purpose holiday cake. It’s a winner because you can throw it together with virtually anything and everything you have in your pantry.

Let’s discuss…

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Oatmeal on the Go!

With a deep breath and a big fat smile I welcome you to National I’m a Maniac and Posting On My Blog Everyday for and Entire Month, also known as NoBloPoMo.

Well…. here we are.  Now what do we do?  Can we just sit and stare at one another for an entire month?  No?  You mean you actually want me to cook things, take pictures and tell you all about them?  Ooooh.  I guess that makes sense.  What’s that?  You want my crazy good Apple Pie recipe?  Ok… we can do that.

What else?  I’m coming to you with an empty bowl and a clean spatula.  What would you like to see come from Joy the Baker in the next month?  Do you have a recipe you want to share?  Do you want me to make more pancakes?  Do you need some sort of tutorial?  Leave a comment announcing your deepest baking desires and we’ll see if I can make all your dreams come true.  It’s going to be just like Disneyland, with shorter lines and fewer mice.

And now…. oatmeal.


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