RECIPE: Salty Pretzel S'more Peanut Bars

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The healthy eating we've been doing at our house since January has bummed out my daughter. I used to always make treats and decadent dinners-thus giving birth to this blog. I definitely have been blogging less this month as I have been dieting and eating healthy-which means a lot less fun in the kitchen. I am not saying that eating healthy can't be fun. I've shared some of my own creative takes on the Fast Metabolism Diet's recipes. But as we round to the final stretch (and last 6 pounds to goal) I am hitting a routine with my food choices on this diet, so its been a little rote.

Well, I decided that my monkey girl needed something special. She's been kicking butt at school and I wanted to give her a boost as we push toward the final stretch of year end grades.

Thus these S'more bars on steroids.

A cakey bar cookie has bits of salty goodness with broken pretzels. Then you put a layer of marshmallows and chocolate chunks on top, and throw it under the broiler like a pretend kitchen campfire. And just when you think you're done, you melt some peanut butter chips and drizzle it all over, giving the salty pretzels a nice nutty compliment.

My tween daughter gave me two polite thank you's and...wait for it...a smile.

The elusive preteen smile.

That's worth 10 hours in the kitchen! Lucky for us these bar cookies don't take that long!

Salty Pretzel S'more Peanut Butter Bars
adapted from the Food Network Magazine, Sept 2012


Parchment Paper
11/4 cup crushed and broken pretzels
1 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 stick butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 cup chocolate chunks
1 cup mini marshmallows
1/4 cup peanut butter chips
1 tsp. vegetable oil (or more depending on consistency)


Preheat oven to 350˚. Check your racks. One should be in the upper middle and then one on the top near your broiler. Line an 11 x 7 or 9 x 9 pan with a sheet of parchment paper. Fold edges to fit nicely on the bottom, and cut a slit in each corner and flap the paper over each other to fit the parchment in the corners. Set aside.


Crush the pretzels in a sealable plastic bag and a rolling pin or use a food processor. You want small, broken pieces and some crushed. Measure 1 cup of crushed up pretzel bits in a bowl and toss it with the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and whisk in the brown sugar. Take off the heat and let cool slightly. Next whisk in the beaten eggs and vanilla extract until well combined. Finally add the flour mixture and mix well. Pour the batter into the parchment lined baking pan and spread out evenly.

Sprinkle the top evenly with the remaining 1/2 cup crushed pretzels.

Bake for about 30 minutes in the middle of the oven. The center should spring back when touched. Let the bar cookies cool in the pan on a wire rack.

Once cooled completely, pull the bar cookies out by pulling up on the parchment paper edges and set the cookies and the parchment together on a cookie sheet. Lay the parchment paper flat.

Sprinkle the mini marshmallows and chocolate chunks evenly on top. Turn on your broiler on low. Place the pan gently on the top rack and toast the marshmallows for 1 minute. Keep a close eye on it, lest you burn the marshmallows. You just want them smokey and toasted.

Pull out and let cool a little while you melt the peanut butter drizzle.
In a small ramekin drizzle the vegetable oil in the peanut butter chips and microwave for 30 second intervals at 50% power until chips are melted and you have a nice drizzling consistency.

Drizzle all over the bar cookies. Let the drizzle set up.

Cut in 2 inch squares and store in an airtight container for a week, if they last that long!

Sundays with Starbucks: Reminiscing about Travels Near and Far

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Remember photo albums? You know, actual printed photos put in a book that you can flip through?
With the onset of digital everything, physical ANYTHING is hard to come by. On the one hand, I think it's better on the environment as well as space planning for your home. After all, who needs more clutter?

But the issue I have at my age is that there is a whole 20+ years of my life that's sitting in boxes and boxes of photos and nestled in photo albums in my home library. Most of my "pre-baby" traveling with hubster is documented in photo albums and slides. Slides? Most of my honeymoon is in boxes of slides! Who is going to look at slides in the era of Instagram?

SO one of my favorite things to do on a Sunday lately is sit in my chair in the library with a cup of coffee and flip through a photo album or weed through a photo box. I pick one or two to scan for TBT on Facebook, and enjoy reminiscing about loved ones and adventures. I lament youth and wish I was as skinny as I was years ago when I thought I was fat (what was my problem!?) and count my blessings. It's becoming a nice tradition.

Today I ran across photos of a trip to Napa Valley in California. Friends we were traveling with were very tied to the wine industry and scored some great lodging and exclusive tours. One of those trips involved a picnic day on Mt. Veeder. I looked through some stunning photos of the Mt. Veeder Winery. As its name describes, the vineyard is on a mountain. The grapes lined the sides of the precarious slopes and I remember wondering how they harvested the grapes during the crush without falling. The mountain had various micro climates and very fertile soil giving the wine an amazing, complex and unique nature. We ate a picnic lunch in the late summer sun under a giant oak tree and walked around the vines. The winery was small and only made a small amount of cases each year. It was a magical day. Of course we bought a few bottles to bring home. And when we get a chance to buy it now and sip that luscious wine, we get transported to the place where it comes from. I envision the grape vines lining the slopes as clouds hug the sides. I remember the hot sun towards the top, and the cool air as we walked down. That mountain is where it all started. And we had a chance to experience it, just like the grapes.

The best things have deep and magical beginnings that form and shape what they are. How ironic that today I was tasting a Starbucks single origin coffee from Mt. Ramelau. It's one of the highest peaks in East Timor-a far away place in the Asia-Pacific. As most coffees from this area are rich and full bodied, the temperate conditions and rich soil on and around this mountain create a mild and smooth yet spicy flavor profile.

Mountains are magical things-whether it's wine or coffee. Their unique one-of-a-kind place makes for one-of-a-kind taste experiences. Treasure those experiences. There are so few of them. And if you need to pull out an old, frayed photo album to help relive those experiences, so be it! Photo albums are like some nice clothes-they want to be taken out once in a while.

Please note: Starbucks Timor Mt. Ramelau and the fabulous pour over contraption with filters was provided by Starbucks. All thoughts, opinions and obsessions about Starbucks coffee are completely my own. Thanks! #starbucks #MtRamelau @starbucks #singleorigins

Gardening: Spring chores are done, now the fun begins!

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Hubster and I have been kicking butt in the garden the past few weekends. It's hard to get motivated, and sometimes the weather doesn't help. But once you get over the hump of getting out there and clearing out and tending your first bed-the rest comes easily.

This is what I've been up to-and maybe a good guide for you to keep in mind.

First, get out your Canna that you've been wintering inside, and figure out where you will be planting them.

Peonies need some love. Clear out the dead debris around the new shoots, then add blood meal, bone meal and Epsom salt around the drip line. If you want to stake them or put in a wire structure, place it in now around the shoots. I usually wait until the peonies are fuller and stake them. Here is a how-to video on prepping peonies for spring.

Next clear out the winter mulch you planted around roses. Prune according to the 3 D's (Dead, Diseased, Damaged). After you prune that away, clean up the shrub by cutting canes to tidy it up. Add some rose food along the drip line. For a how-to video on caring for roses in the spring, watch this! 

I cleaned out all the beds from dead leaves and debris. We reset the self watering system, and sprinkled Epsom salt all over. It greens up the leaves and makes them wider and stronger.

 Rake off leaves and debris off of walkways and pavers. Then with a power washer or the "jet" setting on your hose sprayer, clean off the dirt on your pavers until they gleam!

Take off any protective tarps or covering off your garden furniture. Sweep off debris then lightly spray it down with the hose to clear off dirt. Let dry, then put cushions on it! (At this point, I grabbed an iced tea and sat in my shade bed on my rocker. Mamma needed a break!)

Stake and prune any climbing shrubs This is my climbing Japanese hydrangea. I tied new growth to continue to train it on the trellis, then cut dead wood off. I gave it a nice helping of Muir Acid. Also find your hydrangeas and give them Muir Acid too. 

If you have a hydrangea that grows fresh shoots from the bottom and not on old wood, you can prune off dead wood. If you have a hydrangea that grows off of old wood, leave the shrub alone until you see what's blooming and growing. Prune the shrub after flowers fade. If you wait too long to prune you may cut off flower buds set for next spring, so be careful and diligent.

Azaleas and Rhododendrons need some Muir Acid. DON'T PRUNE! Prune these bushes after they flower. If you prune in the spring you will be cutting off flower buds.

While you are cleaning out beds, pay attention to what has died and what has come back. Journal as you go and see the empty spots that you have not been able to fill out-like this corner in my shade bed. My budget never extends to this corner, BUT NOT THIS YEAR! This year is the year I am finishing the shade bed. Sketch as you go and start visualizing what you may want to replace, fill or move.

Buy some inexpensive cold tolerant annuals to add some color to you deck or patio. Bring out plants that you have been wintering inside to get them used to being outside again. See that spindly plant to the right? That's my herbal rose geranium! I cut it back and will soon repot it to give it some life over the summer.

After the beds are all tended to and cleaned, and the window boxes cleaned and mixed with compost and peat, it's time to go shopping for some flowers!! The fun began this weekend. I got plants for the boxes around the deck and container pots. Next trip I'll get some shrubs and perennials. We also prepped our vegetable garden with compost and peat. We then planted our veggie plants and seeds.

I hope you are getting your tushie out there! It's hard work but my goodness, it's so healing to get dirt under your fingernails and create beauty on your little plot of land. Especially after a rough winter we had! It's wonderful to be outside in fresh air. And the hard work you do now will pay off in July! Give your garden love and it will love you back.

Sundays with Starbucks: Enjoying Mother's Day and Thinking About "Origins"

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Mother's Day comes every year, and we have settled into a tradition in our home where breakfast is served to me with a steamy cup of coffee, a vase full of flowers, fresh fruit, and whatever I want on the T.V. (Right now I have a Harry Potter movie on-I know. But I am a quirky girl.) It turns out to be a lazy, delicious morning.

Today I am enjoying a Starbucks "single-origin" brew from Guatemala called Laguna de Ayarza. It's spicy aroma and citrus punch comes from one place far away. A place rich in volcanic soil paired with warm days with cool nights to create a very special coffee bean that grows slowly developing a complex flavor profile. The characters and traits of that one, exotic, faraway place is what creates all the subtle nuance of this mellow, spicy-chocolate coffee. It got me thinking of origins-our beginnings and our roots-and how Motherhood is the origin of us all.

This morning, as I await my fancy Mother's Day pancakes, I've really enjoyed my Facebook feed. Countless people are sharing pictures of their moms, their children, their aunts and Godparents. Facebook is so full of love and memories today, some bittersweet, some funny and silly. But one thing threads all these moments together, and that is motherhood and the powerful connecting thread of a mother's love. Today it's not just about moms, it's all about love. 

It's how humanity continues, day in and day out. It's how the animal kingdom continues. Mother's give birth to life, and we love our fledglings until our dying breath with a ferocious mama-bear love that at times can suffocate them. We all come from a mother's love, and flourish there. It's our one place of origin. It's our touchstone, and it connects us all. It makes us who we are, with all that complexity and flavor. It's a powerful thing.

So today, bask in the glow of love. You may not be a mother, but you came from a mother. I also believe that we all have many different mothers. There are aunts and Godparents and grandparents, neighbors, friends and teachers that all are there to love us and give us roots, give us a "single-origin" from which to grow and flourish. Celebrate them. Celebrate you. Celebrate Love.

Happy Mother's  Love Day.

And to my pookie pie who made me a mother 12 years ago, Thank you for the best journey yet. I hope I am deserving of the gift of YOU.

Please note: Starbucks Laguna de Ayarza and the fabulous pour over contraption with filters was provided by Starbucks. All thoughts, opinions and obsessions about Starbucks coffee are completely my own. Thanks! #starbucks #LagunadeAyarza @starbucks #singleorigins
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