The art of the mini-vaca

February 5, 2013 § Leave a comment

While I’m hashing out the details of how I’m ever going to survive this coming semester and how I’m ever going to have time for anything remotely social, I thought I would share a couple of pictures from some recent mini-vacations.

A recent trip to Seattle brought a Lola brunch of squid kebab with crushed chili and chermoula served with pita triangles, Greek salad, and garlic smashed potatoes; and mini donuts served with spiced pumpkin butter and maple mascarpone. A dinner at Restaurant Zoe featuring fresh ricotta gnudi with truffle oil; mussels and clams with smoked Fresno pepper and Spanish chorizo, sopped up with focaccia; and seared diver scallops with lentils and shredded duck, a heavier winter take on the usually light scallop; among many many other dishes. Another dinner at Poppy featured eggplant fries, a delightedly bright and crisp crab and avocado salad, curried shrimps, and an assortment of vegetarian sides including butternut squash, lentils, and red beet soup.
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A few weekends later found me in Boston, fulfilling a love affair with Flour, a bakery in Cambridge. We ate there twice in two days. A chunky cookie with coconut, nuts and chocolate chips, a milk chocolate hazenut cookie, and a ginger cookie for the bus back to New York City. A salad of greens, grilled focaccia, mozzarella, tomatoes, and white beans. A sophisticated BLT with dark crispy bacon strips, aioli, and ripe tomatoes. And finally a vanilla cupcake with chocolate buttercream to share, my favorite combination of cake and frosting.
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I’ve been slacking a bit on the pictures recently, and on remembering meals, mostly because my head is tied up recalling food experiences from last summer for my thesis writing and dreaming about this coming summer and all of the lovely places I’d like to vist.

Cacoa Nib Almond Biscotti

January 26, 2013 § Leave a comment

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I woke up this morning, after a day of fighting off the stomach flu, to snow-covered ground. I dizzily made a slow trek to Small World Coffee for my first food in over 30 hours, and have been here ever since. A hot chocolate and a plain croissant and a couple of endless hours of listening to people’s pithy conversations while I distractedly write my thesis. A couple of the hockey team boys are sitting across from me at one of the teeny tiny tables — if you’ve ever been to Small World, you know they’re about big enough to fit a laptop and a plate — drinking cappuccinos, and for some reason that makes me giggle though, I suppose, everyone has the right to drink a cappuccino. Two older middle-aged women are next to me, complaining about how their last dinner party dragged on too late, how some other woman has the same job title though she doesn’t deserve it (though she has a lot of past work experience), and saying how the only things they can cook are chili and meatballs (ham is a Dean and Deluca thing). A couple little toddlers are teetering around the cramped spaces between the tables, and in the background you can hear the one barista banging out used grounds as he struggles to keep up with the line. I’m not sure why I’ve stayed so long, though it might simply be that I’m afraid I’ll pass out if I try standing up.

Since the semester ended, I’ve been doing a lot of sitting. And thinking about the future more than occasionally. Right now it mostly consists of future travels as I’m generally trying to avoid thinking about the real life. I have trip to England coming up to see my boyfriend — the same boyfriend who recently received these almond cacao nib biscotti in the mail, about two weeks later and probably stale (though he won’t admit it), and who has been insisting that I go see a doctor all day, yes apparently I have only one — and then plans are in the abstract works for the summer. For some reason, I’m struck with the belief that the world will end in August, or maybe just that a new life will start and I better have done everything, and gone everywhere, I wanted to in this old life before the new one starts.

On the subject of the cookies. I packed half of them up in a box, and put the rest of them out at the end of a little neighborhood cocktail party the night before winter break ended. They’re studded with a delightful little chocolately crunch, without the sweetness of chocolate chips; twice baked (obviously); delicately flavored with both almond extract and chopped almonds; and so, so easy, it makes me wonder why people are so impressed by homemade biscotti. If only they knew, there would be so much less hate for the cookie which generally grows stale in the glass jar at your neighborhood coffee shop.
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I followed this Smitten Kitchen recipe structurally, but got a bit lost in the flavorings, as you can probably tell.

Ginger Molasses Cookies

October 18, 2012 § 1 Comment


I’ve spent the morning in one of the really comfy leather couches of my eating club, drinking coffee and perusing Miss Moss, a fashion/design/photography blog I recently discovered through a girl sitting next to me in seminar. I’ve spent the afternoon pouring through a thrift shop, looking for Audrey Hepburn long white gloves and pearl necklaces, but coming up with an ugly Christmas sweater with jingling reindeer instead. And the evening again, back to browsing through pages of Miss Moss, shopping for scarves online (I’m going at a rate of one new scarf a week, which is justified, I believe, because I wear them every, single day), and drinking Baileys out of an orange Solo cup, courtesy of my British friend reminiscing about Oxford Wednesday traditions of pancakes and Baileys.

Even with all of the homecoming events coming up this weekend, the threat of midterms next week, and countless other activities I feel like I should be excited about, I’m eagerly looking forward to getting off campus for a bit at the end of the month. I’d rather be buying play tickets and making dinner reservations for New York, or day dreaming about the quaintness of Portland, Maine, or just sitting around in Boston with my best friend, so I can stop calling her in panic mode every other day, dreaming of fall sunsets, which admittedly occur here too in glorious colors but lately I’ve been so lost in care that things like this tend to escape my notice. Still, tonight was one of those Halloween type nights, with a glowing moon and shadowing branchy trees cutting the orange sky.

Normally, I love fall in the Northeast, a season I never had growing up in San Francisco. I loved the crackle underfoot and in the crisp air. It felt homey, without ever reminding me of home. This year, there is something unbearably nostalgic about it that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s that feeling of being so lost in thought that I barely even notice what is going on around me. It’s that feeling that I need to see the water, breathe the ocean, that I can’t shake. This year, homey just won’t do — it will have to be home.

And so home. The Pacific Coast. The sunset hidden by layers of fog and mist that cannot be shaken. Ginger molasses cookies. Because that’s one of the first things I learned how to bake and they will always be my favorite. The only cookies I made in high school after coming home on Saturday mornings, after cross-country practice in Golden Gate Park. Crackly tops, rolled in sugar crystal. Spicy (I grated crystallized ginger into them) and dark sticky molasses. Is it Christmas yet?

S’mores Cookies

March 26, 2012 § 3 Comments



I have the Country Summer playlist playing on Frat Music, curled up in bed while the wind rages outside my window, and I’m trying to study for a quiz tomorrow but procrastinating by writing my junior paper. I’ve been up since 5:30 a.m.. At that time, I was in a hotel in the outskirts of Montreal. Eight hours later, I was sitting in seminar discussing post 9/11 literature. The campus is showing the first signs of spring, pretty pink flowers blooming everywhere, but you wouldn’t know it given the chill.

I’m torn between feeling like it should be summer, with all of us outside sitting around a BBQ and lying in the grass, and feeling like I could curl up in front of a fireplace and hibernate for the next month to come, these three weeks of midterms and papers and presentations and chilly winds that stand in between me and sundresses. Luckily, in this intermediary time, these s’mores cookies are filling the gap between winter and summer fires. Made in a hotel kitchen at the base of Mont Tremblant (which was disappointingly lacking in snow, so much so that I never even put on my skis), each cookie sits atop a graham cracker square and is packed with chocolate chips and mini marshmallows, with some extra chocolate squares on top just for fun and tradition’s sake. They’re soft and chewy and a great stand-in for the summer treat, though I imagine they would be even better with an extra-dark bruléed marshmallow on top.


I bookmarked these cookies a long long time ago. About a week ago, a friend came across them and demanded that they be produced. Here’s the cookie delivery.

Snickerdoodles

May 9, 2011 § 1 Comment


I’m getting really antsy. Literally all I can do is sit online all day looking at airline websites, searching for train tickets, comparing prices, signing up for Couchsurfing, sending off my WWOOFing requests. I cannot seem to think about anything else. Meanwhile, it seems to be becoming summer around here. The sun is out almost every day, but the wind has come in too in huge, gusty doses. Runs are now done directly into a firm and constant headwind. Hence less time outside, and more time umm…planning my life two months from now? No one said life was easy.

But then something happened that made me glad to be in San Francisco this time of year. After the discovery that I am most likely allergic to apples and the requisite purging of many of my favorite desserts from the repertoire, I’ve been getting pretty down on the lack of produce options at this time of year. I mean, you could have an apple or a navel orange or maybe a mandarin. I hate nothing more than having a lack of choices. But then, then I went to the Noe Valley farmers market on Saturday and right there in front of me were the season’s first crates of local cherries. Overflowing crates, leaking juices to permanently stain my fingers, and I grabbed handful after handful. As it is, my paper bag full didn’t even last through the weekend. But between you and me, I am going to blame that on the little brother, who likes to decide that he likes things after you buy them and consequently eats his way through your entire stash that you thought was for yourself and yourself only.

Another thing he is good at eating his way through is entire batches of cookies. A couple hastily stolen from the cookie racks with a very guilty look on his face, half a dozen in his school lunch. Come to think of it, I’m kind of the same way with cookies. They go fast.

Sugar cookies tend to get the short end of the stick. On a cookie plate with others offering up chocolately, nutty, fruity goodness, there aren’t many people who won’t pass them up for something more extravagant. But no other cookie quite achieves that soft, chewy interior and crisp edges quite like the ordinary sugar cookie. And coated with cinnamon sugar — seriously who doesn’t love cinnamon toast — and given a cute name like “snickerdoodle,” there’s really no way you can pass them up again.

Snickerdoodle Cookies
From Stars Desserts by Emily Luchetti

1 stick unsalted butter
3/4 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg
1 1/3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and the 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and mix until smooth. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Fold the dry mixture into the wet mixture. In a small bowl, mix together the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar and the cinnamon. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and roll in the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place the cookie balls on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes or until the edges are golden brown.

Cornmeal shortbread for windy sea days

April 7, 2011 § 3 Comments


After a couple of months of floating around, sort of doing one thing, starting another, the rest of my life until the start of school in September is all but laid in stone. Plane tickets are bought, apartment secured, various bureaucratic forms being sent in. It’s a little surreal — at the start, the idea of having a whole year seems so long and then I got swept up and suddenly I have it all planned out down to the last day. It seems I have a thousand documents open at once: draft articles for my new column, writing samples for journalism seminars, and finally, I’m pouring through past journals, filled with fiction stories and trying to edit, but failing that because well, they’re not really fiction and I’m not really ready to see an editor.

My spring is filled with half-thoughts, ideas that will be realized simply because I have deadlines that need to be met. Meanwhile San Francisco seems to be similarly indecisive about what time it is. The blazing hot afternoon softly melts into evening at the top of my hill. Dogs that I often trip over dart around the dusty paths and I pass the same people over and over again as I complete the sixth mile repeat. There’s something eerie at the shorelines blurring by as I run, at any second in time a different shore of the bay appears across the crosshatch of streets. As the sky darkens, a couple of lights begin to appear among the houses, outlining the city in gold. And then the wind comes out in full force, bringing runners to a standstill, burning the skin with frosty gusts.


The end-all-be-all in non-poetic language is that I am leaving for Prague in about two months, right after the Taste of Mendocino Public Tasting (follow @tasteofmendo), which I strongly urge you all to attend here in San Francisco. It’ll be packed full of wine tastings, food vendors and haystacks and promises to be a good time. Kind of like a weekend away in the country, just a bit more condensed and uhhh…it doesn’t require you to actually leave for the country.

These cornmeal shortbread are a bit of a rustic take on shortbread. I would recommend using superfine cornmeal, though the recipe doesn’t specify. We loved the grainy texture of the cornmeal but could have done without the couple hard crunches. Finally, the recipe says to pipe the dough into spirals using a pastry tip. My dough came to a thick, normal shortbread consistency, that absolutely would not have supported being piped through anything. So, I used the roll and cut method, which worked just fine.

Cornmeal Cookies
Adapted from Saveur

2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
21 tbsp. (1/2 lb. plus 5 tbsp.) butter, softened
2 egg yolks

Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, and lemon zest in a large bowl. Add butter and egg yolks. Use your fingers to work the butter and egg yolks into the dry mixture until you get an even crumb. Turn the crumbly dough out onto a clean counter and knead into a soft, smooth ball. Place the ball of dough back into the bowl and cover with a clean damp cloth for about an hour.

Preheat oven to 300°. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Lightly dust a clean work surface. Roll out to dough to a 1/4-inch thick. Cut out cookies using shapes of your choice and place on parchment paper. Bake cookies for 25-30 minutes or until lightly golden browned. Transfer cookies to racks to cool.

Fresh pow, cookies and whole grains

March 7, 2011 § 1 Comment



Commitment is a funny thing, and one most of my friends know I’m notoriously bad at. Something about not having options at all times scares me, and then finally I get my heart set on something and decide I need a concrete, definite plan of execution. For instance, I’ve dabbled in planning for the Vancouver, Oakland and Whidbey Island marathons over the past two months. I’ve accelerated and decreased training accordingly (albeit, probably more like arbitrarily). And then this weekend I decided it was time to buckle down and actually commit, I looked up the Western Pacific Marathon — the plus being that I wouldn’t have to fly to it — and signed myself up. And then, just to blow your socks off on my commitment levels today, I also signed myself up for a new CSA box, which shall remain unnamed for now, and committed myself to at least 4-weeks of farm fresh produce delivery. I know 4-weeks may not seem like a very large commitment to some, but hey, it’s huge for me. Since I can hardly seem to stay in one city for more than a couple of months, it seems silly to commit to a year’s worth of fresh produce anyway.

Sometimes my indecisiveness pays off in the form of several baked goods in the place of one. We went up to Lake Tahoe this weekend for skiing. I spent most of my childhood on the hill racing through off-course gullies, dodging trees and occasionally getting stuck in the fresh powder. I remember protesting the suggestion of joining the ski team because why in the world would I want to spend all my time on the slalom. I spent the rest of my time eating candy bars and Oreo brownies and drinking hot chocolate in the lodge with my instructors or my parents. Real food was a big time no-no during my time on the slopes. Actually, I think it was a big no-no for most of my childhood come to think of it, as my pre swim practice snack was often two Snickers bars in the locker room. Get that image of a chubby pre-teen out of your head right now, my metabolism was like a race horse back then. But despite the fact that most of my life skiing has revolved around junk food, when I think ski hill now, I think homely and hearty whole grains.

I made this loaf cake with graham and whole-wheat flour, 3 yams and 2 tablespoons of butter. It is incredibly moist, verging on being a bit too moist, and good toasted with a bit of peanut butter even four days after it was made. I feel healthy eating it even with the sprinkling of chocolate chips on top. Sure, it’s not for everyone (my little brother stood around in the kitchen making faces while I was making it) but it’s one of those recipes that is really guilt free. The cookies are whole-wheat chocolate chip and can be found here. The last and first time I made them, I quickly swore they were my new favorite cookies. This time, they were perfect the night of and hardened after a day, losing the chewiness I usually look for in chocolate chip cookies. Will have to work on that because I love the deep nuttiness the whole-wheat flour brings.

Yam Loaf Cake
Adapted from Kim Boyce’s Sweet Potato Muffins

3 small yams
1 cup graham flour
1/2 whole wheat flour
1/2 white flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup plain non-fat yogurt
pecans, semisweet chocolate chips and tablespoon extra brown sugar for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Roast yams for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until they’re tender when pierced with a fork. The bottoms should be dark and the juices should be beginning to caramelize. Let cool and peel. Puree in a blender with the buttermilk and yogurt. Add the egg and melted butter and mix thoroughly.

In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. Fold together the wet and dry mixtures, being careful not to over mix.

Butter and flour a 9-inch loaf pan. Scoop in batter and top with a sprinkling of brown sugar, pecans and semisweet chocolate chips. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour

Lime-black pepper cookies

February 19, 2011 § 4 Comments

I think I was pretty close to crying yesterday walking home from the metro station with the rain pouring down, my hood soaked through and my iPod carefully hidden in a waterproof pocket, because I’ve lost one or two already to sudden rainstorms. Also, I seem to have gotten in the habit of disembarking streetcars in relative franticness after a few too many uncomfortable encounters with creepy people sitting too close to me. I mean, whatever happened to polite people, and spring…spring weather please?

I made these cookies that were perfect for spring and now spring has gone into hiding. I know, I know, I’m not going to get very much sympathy from most people. By the way, have you seen this yet? Sure, we’re probably not making any friends talking like that but you admit we’re cute right? Right?

But so anyway, my point was that it’s pouring and I’m about to head out to the gym, kicking and screaming, and I think I’ll bike on the top floor, so that I can look out over the rooftop, outdoor swimming pool and remember all those late nights I spent at swim practice in the morning rain, wishing the lightning would just come out already so that I could get out of the water, but it never coming and practice finally ending and having to start my homework on the long drive back into the city. Well I guess that makes my current situation sound a little better anyway.

Okay seriously, the new journal starts now, I literally cannot manage to stay on one topic for more than a couple of sentences. Let’s get to the point:

I’ve been experimenting with black pepper as part of an article that I was writing, which you can find here. This was my favorite recipe of the ones I tried — lime-black pepper cookies. I know it sounds a bit strange, but give it a shot. You barely taste the black pepper itself at all but what it does is enhance the lime flavor so that what you get is a zingy, zesty pop. All in a little sugar cookie. If spring had a taste, this would be it.

You can find the recipe for black pepper lime cookies on the Chicago Tribune Website here. I did add a brush of a simple glaze made of freshly-squeezed lime juice and confectioner’s sugar on top, along with a couple of twists of the pepper grinder.

Also, I have recently revamped my Twitter account and to follow all my inane thoughts, all you have to do is click here.

Catching up over a ginger cookie sandwich

February 15, 2011 § 2 Comments

I haven’t been in the kitchen much thèse days. There are a thousand reasons why but the main one is that I feel like I am doing a thousand things at once—going to work, training for a marathon, planning vacations, writing in several different publications (like this) and constantly switching the language on my computer while becoming increasingly frustrated that my English keyboard doesn’t have accent buttons and my French spell-check corrects my English words and automatically adds accents to words like “these.” I made whole-wheat almond scones because their picture looked almost exactly like the almond scones I used to love (and still crave) from Martha’s Coffee, and then decided I couldn’t eat any, and then proceeded to completely forget about them until my dad had eaten them all for breakfast. So when I made these ginger sandwich cookies, I stashed a couple of them in the fridge for their photoshoot, which I finally got around to after a week of chocolate tastings, cook showcases, bakery anniversary parties and street food festivals.

To say I have two celeb-chef crushes would be a bit misleading as a.) They are both pastry chefs and b.) I have never seen them on TV yelling at a contestant. One of them is Emily Luchetti, former pastry-chef at Stars and current pastry-chef at Farallon — which has a wonderful $6 appetizers before 7 p.m. bar deal by the way — who made a dinosaur themed birthday cake for me once, complete with dinosaur sugar cookies walking across the top. Queue childlike adoration here. The other is William Werner, the man behind the Tell Tale Preserve Company, who will be opening a shop on Maiden Lane here in San Francisco later this spring. Unfortunately, I brought home a mystery jar from him the other day at work and opened it late Saturday night…hmm incredibly sweet vanilla spread?

My mom and I hung around the kitchen counter for a bit, poking spoons into the glass jar and trying to figure out what to do with it. The sweetness definitely needed something with bite to counteract it. So after a bit of rummaging around in the Stars Desserts cookbook, we came up with gingersnaps. Therein came the second perplexing situation: figuring that the spread had more than enough sugar, I decided the cookies should be just barely sweet. I halved the sugar in the recipe — white and brown — and added a generous amount of chopped, uncrystallized ginger, and made teaspoon-sized gingersnaps that were…not at all lacking in sweetness. I couldn’t even imagine twice the amount of sugar going in them. Emily, what gives?

Anyway, presenting spicy gingersnap sandwiches with vanilla custard. Please forgive the free-flowing, information-spewing text. I think it’s time for me to start keeping a journal again, it seems I am incapable of reflective thought without one.

Ginger Cookies
Adapted from Classic Stars Desserts

2 1/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 firmly packed brown sugar
8 ounces (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 large egg
1/3 cup dark molasses
generous amount of chopped ginger (use fresh if you have it)

In a bowl, stir together the flour, spices, baking soda, salt and pepper. Set aside. Combine the sugars and butter in a mixing bowl and cream until smooth. Add the egg and beat until mixed then beat in the molasses. Add the dry ingredients and mix until incorporated. Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Use a teaspoon to shape each cookie and flatten the balls slightly on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 12 minutes for chewier cookies and 14 minutes for crisp cookies. Let cool, then sandwich together with your favorite filling (if you like).

Chili chocolate chip cookies

October 11, 2010 § 1 Comment

Sometimes when I start feeling stressed out, I walk down to the Seine and sit by the river, on the cobblestones by the ridge — conveniently ignoring the dirt and the grime and the smells that I know, from my many runs in the early morning, come from the drunk and the homeless. Sometimes I bring a book — currently L’Etranger by Camus, which I have read in English and am now starting in French, one chapter a day — other times my iPod and then sometimes I just sit on the benches right by Notre Dame and watch the kids with dreadlocks do tricks in their rollerblades. Sometimes I buy a crèpe on the way, the kind with the eggs and ham and cheese, but that is only when I go immediately after class gets out and I really have nothing urgent to do. I wouldn’t say going there helps me think, in fact at times just sitting there seems a bit pointless. But it does help, even late at night, to tear myself away from the computer screen and the endless life plans and just do something that has nothing to do with the future. That really has nothing to do with anything at all.

This city does strange things to you. It makes even the most practical of us poets. It makes even the nicest person want to curse the living daylights out of American tourists who walk up and down every single street with their noses buried in their maps. It makes you want to smile when you see leaves dying for the winter, because oh, the trees are planted in such pretty rows in the Jardin Luxembourg. And it makes you long to break the Parisien routine sometimes, because really, every city has its routine from the rush hour Metro traffic to the way people drink their coffee to the greetings on the street. Ça va? Ça va. Et j’aimerais de la crème avec mon café s’il vous plait. Sure, I’ve learned to drink my coffee black, with one cube of sugar, but I’ve been walking around like a zombie with a headache after too many espressos.

Tomorrow, our class takes a trip to the Academie Française, where the 40 “top” scholars in the country meet weekly to discuss the French language. Together these writers, political men and other notables decide which words make it into the French dictionary and which do not. For instance, they were the ones who decided that words such as hamburger, cookie and brownie (just kidding!) existed in the French language. They were also likely the ones who decided on the pronunciation of the words, which seems to require French vendors to look at you askance whenever you pronounce the word in English. Not that I ever have much of an occasion to say the word cookie (cooo-kee) in French.

I actually made these cookies when I was home in San Francisco and am just now posting them. They are chili chocolate chip cookies that you roll into logs and simply slice off. Nice and easy with a light cinnamon-y flavor and an after-kick of chili, I thought they could have done with a bit more pop so feel free to up the anti. Actually I take that back. I appear to have lost the recipe in the move but you’ll be the first to know the minute I find chocolate with a kick out here.

In the meantime, more cookies….

From the Camden Market in London.

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