Trail Mix Cookies: bites for on and off the trail

Having two hours free on a weekend is a rare occasion in Marin County. So I stood on my tip-toes to reach for my age-honored recipe box, tucked away in the recesses of a cabinet, high above my galley-like kitchen. A dig through a basket of snacks and a bin of baking supplies produced just the right ingredients for chocolate chip cookies, but I knew I could do better.

“What is an ingredient that I’m overlooking? Something we have a lot of and eat frequently?”

Most of you know the answer to this. Peanut butter. But I didn’t stop there. The scavenger hunt continued and because most weekends are filled with hikes, campouts, and bike rides, I found a variety of trail mixes to satisfy every outdoorsman and outdoorswoman’s cravings. I mixed this all into a basic chocolate chip cookie recipe with “Mag.” (This nicname is twofold. Not as much a shortened version of “Magic Cookie Maker,” but more so named after its gifter, my sweet Grandma Maggie, “Mag” is a teal Kitchen Aid mixer. It was the first appliance I bought for our home, and I organized its arrival before any boxes were even unpacked.)

Because they are firm on the outside and tender in the middle, these baked goodies will hold up in a backpack or lunch box and still be moist and delicious when biting into their salty-sweetness. Read below for the tastiest, softest, cookie recipe I’ve made yet!

1-1/4 c. firmly packed brown sugar 

Better than traditional chocolate chip cookies, these nuggets are filled with sweet and savory crunchiness in addition to chocolate chips.
Better than traditional chocolate chip cookies, these nuggets are filled with sweet and savory crunchiness in addition to chocolate chips.

2 Tablespoons milk (or 2.5 T cream)

3/4 cup (3/4 stick) Vegetable shortning (You can use the equal amount of of butter too, but the cookies will spread more and be thinner, as described here.)

1 Tablespoon vanilla

1 egg

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 cup salted peanut butter (crunchy or smooth)

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 cup trail mix (raisins, dried cranberries, almond slivers, cashew pieces, walnut or pecan pieces, sunflower seeds)

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Combine vegetable shortning, brown sugar, milk and vanilla in large bowl. Beat at medium speed until well blended. Beat egg into mixture.

3. Combine flour, salt, baking soda and peanut butter. Mix into creamed mixture just until blended. Stir in chocolate chips and trail mix.

4. Drop ice cream scoops of dough one inch apart onto ungreased cookie sheet. Cookies will not expand much from original size if using vegetable shorting.

Bake at 375 for 8-11 minutes. Makes 3 dozen cookies.

Winter Salad

I was inspired by a great salad place, Blue Barn, who has a special Winter Salad. So I chopped up my own slightly addicting and satiating version. For the friends I’ve made this for lately, here is the recipe you requested!

A filling and healthy "Winter Salad"
A filling and healthy “Winter Salad”

Winter Salad

Mixed greens

Squash, roasted and diced

Beets, roasted or pickled and diced

Brussel Sprouts, diced and roasted

Romanesco Broccoli, roasted

Grape tomatoes

Sunflower nuts

dried cranberries


*apple chunks (optional)

*grilled salmon (optional)

Toss all together. For the dressing, use beet juice or balsamic vinegar.

The Love and Art of Ice Cream

Ask any of my friends and family and they’ll tell you my naughtiest craving: ice cream. Maybe you’re my mother. Maybe you’re my friend since grade school. Maybe I just bumped into you after 5 years in the line at The Fairfax Scoop. In any case, we’ve probably bonded over our obsession. And if you’re like me,  you’re probably just as excited when you see chain restaurant fro yo as you are when spotting Italian gelato, say, in the Cinque Terra.  I even convinced Jason (and it didn’t take much) to replace traditional wedding cake with ice cream concoctions. I created “Erin’s late-night bake-athon” and he crafted “Jason’s chocoholic chow down!” It was a marriage made in dairy bliss.

And yet, it’s taken 2 weeks shy of 32 years to actually make my own. My good friend and ice cream lover, Eric Carter, celebrated his birthday last weekend in Tahoe, but the sun-drenched mountains and the chirping birds inspired me to stray from the usual January birthday treats. Yup, I lugged a brand-new ice cream attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer up to the vacation house, and started the art of ice cream making. I wanted to make one fruity option and one decadent option for the birthday boy, so the first was inspired by the Liz Lemon Ben and Jerry’s flavor. Here is the first of two recipes that successfully rang in Carter’s birthday, and kept us hydrated in this California drought. See the second recipe, “Rocky Peanut Butter Road,” (a more adventurous rocky road) here.

Lemon Berry with Graham Swirls lemon berry graham ice cream

Put your ice cream mixer bowl attachment into the freezer at least 10 hours before making this recipe. You may want to double the recipe, as this will only make one pint.

Blackberry Sauce:
1/8 cup sugar
1½ teaspoons cornstarch
¼ cup water
1-1.5 cup(s) fresh or frozen blackberries
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Graham Mixture:
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ cup butter, melted
Ice Cream:
1/4 cup sugar
½ (3.4-ounce) package instant lemon pudding mix
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon extract
zest of one lemon


1. In a small saucepan, combine sugar and cornstarch. Gradually stir in water until smooth. Stir in berries and lemon juice. Boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally. Cover and refrigerate until chilled.

2. In a large bowl, combine the cracker crumbs and sugar. Stir in butter. Pat into an small ungreased baking pan. Bake at 350° F for 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool completely on a wire rack.

3. In a large bowl, whisk the ice cream ingredients. Fill ice cream freezer cylinder two-thirds full; freeze according to manufacturer’s directions.

4. Crumble the graham cracker mixture. In a large container, layer the ice cream, graham cracker mixture and berry sauce three times; swirl. Freeze.

This recipe was inspired by Ben and Jerry’s Liz Lemon, with the graham cracker substituted for lavender.

Three Cheese Shells with Bacon

Happy Thanksgiving!
Due to some recent requests, here is my recipe for my gluttonous shells and cheese! I sometimes make another round of the cheese sauce once I see how saucy it is! The key is to make sure it doesn’t get dried out when baking it, so you may want to add more sauce than you think you may need. Also, you can choose to use any cheese. These are just the 3 I like.

One or 1.5 boxes pasta shells (depending on # of people eating)
2 c. shredded sharp cheddar
2 c. shredded gruyere & swiss (they have this blend at Trader Joe’s)
6 T butter
4 T flour
4 cups whole milk or cream
garlic powder
red pepper flakes (optional)
pack of bacon

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cook pasta and bacon (crispy) as directed on packages.

Meanwhile, melt butter in large saucepan on low heat. Stir in flour; cook 2 min. or until bubbly.

Gradually stir in milk. (Let sauce start to thicken before adding more milk.) Cook on medium heat until mixture comes to boil, stirring constantly. Simmer on low heat 3 to 5 min. or until thickened.

Add all cheese; cook and stir 2 min. or until melted.

Add salt, pepper, garlic powder (and red pepper flakes for spice if wanted) to taste. Crumble bacon and stir into sauce.

Drain pasta. Add to sauce; mix lightly. Spoon into 1 1/2 quart casserole dish.

Bake 20 min. or until heated through. (Sometimes I even like to sample some before it’s baked because it’s extra creamy! Someone has to make sure it’s not poisonous.)



Following Bourdain’s Footsteps: Melbourne, Australia

We always said if we ever found a city with Philadelphia’s layout and San Francisco’s weather, we’d move there in a heartbeat.  Little did we know that’d require moving to the opposite side of the world to Australia’s hippest city, Melbourne.

We arrived in-style, fresh from Sydney after a perfectly executed 2-hour nap, starting before we took off and ending upon landing. We checked into our hostel within the CBD, Central Business District, a perfect rectangular shaped grid, eight blocks wide by four high.  Trams run in just about every direction but walking is easy enough unless you’re trying to get a bit out of “town” to visit some of the cool suburbs like Fitzroy and Collingwood for art, music and beer or South Yarra for high-end fashion and what would become our favorite restaurant.  We knew before arriving this was our kind of town as one of the few things on television worth watching, Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, had just done a special on Melbourne, and it had our mouths watering.  Whenever you build a city with immigrants from all over the world, you’re sure to find the Peanut Butter Nomads, fork, knife, spoon, chopstick, or freehand, ready to dig in.  Flush with some extra cash after a stellar month at my company, we proposed to spend a little extra and put ‘ol Bourdain to the true test.  We were going to follow in his footsteps, within reason of course, as it was unlikely we’d be getting tasting menus at the city’s most lauded kitchens, and see if the author was just full of fluff or really did make good suggestions and recommendations on his show. Continue reading “Following Bourdain’s Footsteps: Melbourne, Australia”

Bakso: The ‘New’ Pho

Move over Pho, you’ve got some competition. Its name is Bakso. I’d certainly never heard of it in foodie mecca of San Francisco prior to arriving in Bali, but now it’s become a daily obsession. It’s good, healthy soup, and considering it’s between 7-10,000 rupiah ($0.80-$1.15) per bowl, it’s also healthy for the wallet. To glass and rice noodles, they add a light beef broth, fresh herbs, bean sprouts, chopped cabbage, crispy fried onion, smashed peanuts, 6-8 small beef meatballs, and 1 large beef meatball with a surprise in the middle: a chicken or quail egg. You can add chili to taste, or go local and use a sweet ketchup. Usually served with banana leaf-packed rice as well as whole peanuts. Yelp Indonesian food now and try for yourself. Ini Ana Sangali!

Filipino Food Bible: What to Eat and Drink

For any traveler arriving in the Philippines with the foodie disease, this is your bible. When it comes to eating local cuisine, we intensely question everyone we meet, from hostel-owners to passers-by, taxi drivers to locals alike, all so you don’t have to. With fresh seafood galore and a near-unhealthy obsession with swine, Filipino cooks consistently knock it out of the park, and it’s so damn delicious. Wash it all down with a Red Horse or a fresh-squeezed, ice-cold glass of sugarcane juice and you’re in business.

Chicken Adobo

1. Adobo. Soy-stewed chicken or beef. Must be the national dish because it’s everywhere.
2. Sisig. Sizzling, of course. Pork ears and fat stewed to perfection served over rice. Wow.
3. Pinakbet. Veggies stewed in fish paste.
4. Lechon. For those who worship bacon, Lechon is your new god. Do not leave without trying it. Word is it’s best in Cebu but you’ll find it everywhere.
5. Kare-Kare. Oxtail, fatty as fatty gets, stewed in a beef broth-infused peanut sauce.
6. Lumpia. Philippine egg rolls. A staple.
7. Bangus (rellenong). Had this less-fishy sardine on our last day and it became my favorite dish. Smoky, salty, and soaked in olive oil. Simple dishes do it again. Try it at ‘Lola’s Best’ in Makati, Manila.
8. Diniguan. Pork stewed in it’s own blood. Not as gruesome as you think and really nice. Even Erin liked it.
9. Crispy Pata. Another pork dish not worth missing. Fatty, fried chunks dipped in chilied soy. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.
10. Ube. Purple yam used in every dessert possible. Sweet and abundant.
11. Adobong Pusit. Squid stewed in it’s own black ink. In-freaking-credible.
12. Halo-Halo. Translates to mix-mix. Basically a hodge-podge of Asian desserts covered with sweet condensed milk, sugar, and ube ice cream.
13. Lapu Lapu. Another local white fish that is flaky, firm, and wonderful.
14. Taho. Soft tofu covered with sugar water and tapioca.
15. Buko Pie. Coconut meat in a pie.


16. Buko Vinegar Sauce. This will be a staple in my cupboard for the rest of my life.  Pour over rice, meat or just drink it.  It’s that good.
17. Beef Tapa. Stewed-then-sautéed beef strips typically served at breakfast with an over easy egg and garlic rice. Probably ordered this at least a dozen times.
18. Garlic Rice. Last nights leftover white rice fried up with some veggie oil and an ample amount of garlic. You’re more likely to wake to this smell than anything else.

and last but not least,

19.  Balot.  A half fertilized duck’s egg.  Crack and peel the top, add some salt and drink the juice first.  Peel more, add more salt and dig in.  The secret, apparently, is to close your eyes or be filled to the brim with Tanduay so you don’t notice what you’re sinking your teeth into!


San Miguel holds the monopoly on beer and it’s OK. Pale pilsener is the standard and you can also opt for light. When available, we skipped both and went with Red Horse, SMG’s more tasteful pilsener, priced equally, but with 7% alcohol. You can even buy them in liter-plus sizes to share. A cheaper, more tasteful, higher-gravity nightcap? Yes, please. Better make it two.

The Best Beer in the Philippines

Tanduay! The local rum and given the abundance of sugarcane, it’s cheap (less than $2 per 750ml) and tasty. I like it straight but even the locals think that’s loco loco, and prefer to mix it with–you guessed it–good ‘ol Coca-Cola. Add calimansi, the local lime, and it’s Cuba Libre’s for a party of 5 all night at a $1 a head.

If rum’s not your thing, Ginebra, local Gin, is also popular. Mix it with pomelo juice and you are in for a treat. Sip slow though, it packs a mean punch.

Mango shakes rule our world and often made up our merienda, an afternoon snack. Philippine mangoes are world-renowned for their sweet flavor so the shake doesn’t need much sugar to make you happy.

Calimansi juice is always good too, but request less sugar because in typical sweet-toothed Filipino fashion, they overdo it.

Sugarcane Juice is ridiculously good and is often found fresh-squeezed. It boasts many health benefits as well.

Tuba, pronounced with a lot more flare than our giant bassy brass, tooo-baaahhh, is not only fun to say, it’s delicious too. It’s young coconut (buko) juice but only has a shelf-life of 8 hours before fermenting and being turned into vinegar. Tuba is hard to come by so when you do find it, drink up, it may be your last chance.

The wild thing is this list is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the cuisine of the Philippines.  The further you get from the main cities in the 7,100 island archipelago, the more local flavors you’re going to find.  We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.  For those at home, Yelp Philippines for your food and enjoy!

Felicitous Filipinos

After two layovers in NYC and Hong Kong, we arrived in the Philippines during a rain storm, but tried to be accepting of the seven-day dreary forecast. After all, it was wet season and we had packed new raincoats to break in. But the egg shell colored sky was a steep contrast to the general mood of humanity in Manila. In the taxi, upbeat English tunes streamed as loudly as the occasional horn toot and our driver sported a perma-grin, visible to us in the rear view mirror. Men in rain capes sped past us on mopeds and people dashed for cover by scurrying into jeepneys, budget transport military-style jeeps with two long benches.

From the Philippinos we know and love in the USA, we had an inclination that this country would have a high happy factor. But we had to believe the weather would definitely put that idea to the test.

Beef tapa is a slightly sweet, marinated beef often served with garlic rice and an egg for breakfast.

After taking a nap, which turned into a 17-hour jet lag coma, the clock struck 4 am and we were rarin’ to explore. By 6 am we had breakfasted, showered and planned our day in Manila. When we arrived at the front desk with a note pad and pen to jot down directions to Intramuros, the oldest district of the city, and to record a few tourist tips, the hostel owner pegged us as European tourists. We took that as a compliment and bolted to his first restaurant suggestion, Tapa King, for our second breakfast. (Hey, the first one was practically a midnight snack!)

More smiling faces welcomed us into this fast-food establishment. Garlic rice, marinated sweet beef and an over-easy egg was served in a bowl with vinegar and other sauces as condiments.

We strolled through Rizal Park’s gardens and came upon numbers of homeless camps along Roxas Blvd. We learned that there is even a content attitude among the very poor, with the passive Philippino philosophy, “Bahala Na,” meaning whatever will be, will be or leave it to God.

Pollution from moped taxis called tricycles mixed with the stifling air and our lungs reminded us it was time for a rest. Among 16th century town walls and ornate cathedrals, we ducked into an Intramuros cafe for a $.25 Sprite. Bowl cuts and bobby pins abounded. School had just recessed and students snacked on adobo and pinakbet and at the Philippino buffet. But this scene lacked the chatter of children as all heads turned up to view a small television screen suspended in the dark corner.
This is one sport that makes the already joyous Philippino hearts leap and faces beam.


Jason pedals the pedi taxi driver around for a role reversal.

After getting denied entrance to Intramuros’ ancient cathedral due to my sleeveless shirt, we decided to head somewhere with no dress code: China Town won that bid. A pedi taxi driver, a scrawny guy on a bicycle pedaling an attached dinged-up side cart, offered to cycle us there for 100 pesos (US$2.50) We’ve never felt heavier and looked out on the man with such pity that we decided Jason should get out and pu

sh at one point on a slight incline. The driver enjoyed this gesture and committed to displaying it with a belly laugh. Toward the end, it was my turn to hop out and Jason tried the mode of transport himself by pedaling the taxi driver around. The man chuckled and waved to passersby. Such a fun spirit these people have.

Throughout the next few days we were given free rides, taken to country clubs, brought specialty food that we may not have ordered but that we just “had to try,” and ended up feeling like the funniest people in the world. Laughter, innocent jokes and an all-around kind spirit hung in the humid air of Manila. We wished to bottle up these spirits and uncork in places with less pleasant demeanor. So we committed to partaking in a bit of Philippino humor during tough future situations. We’ll let you know how that one goes!

Next stop: The islands!