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Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2013

11 Dec

fbcookieswap2013_badgeIt just dawned on me why this thing became so darn popular so quickly.

The first year I participated in the Great Blogger Cookie Swap I titled my post “Cookies = Joy. Period.” I reflected on how much joy cookies bring  to the people who receive and eat them.

Well this year I took the struggle bus to cookie town and joy was the last thing I was feeling.

Baking for this year’s swap was too hectic (Thanksgiving weekend), too stressful (ditto), too under-planned (Ms. Indecisive), too expensive (because I used the wrong shipping boxes), too messy (sorry Mike!) and I completely lost sight of the bottom line that Cookies = Joy. Period.

Normally, I’m just bursting with warm-and-fuzzies when I bake for others.  Receiving a picture text of my dad gleefully devouring the box of whoopie pies I sent for Thanksgiving or the comical message inquiring “are there crack in these?!,” are worth every mess, the minutes spent and the groceries purchased.

Luckily I was able to put on my big-boy-baker pants, get these things done and find that cookie joy I knew I had in me.

Now back to my revelation.

The thing that makes the GFBCS so magical, so special is the 360 degree joy;  it lets the baker experience joy as  the giver and the receiver.

Despite having a freezer full of cookie we’ve made over the past week months, we bakers really enjoy receiving something once in a while too. And they say that things always taste better when someone else makes it.

So bakers, keep baking because it makes you happy. And cookie-eaters, express that joy and that baker in your life is sure to keep your cookie jar full.

Cookies = joy. Period. Spread the joy.

On to my recipe for the 2013 Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap!

Cookie Swap Image-1



  • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (packed)
  • 1 large egg

Caramel Cream Filling

  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 stick butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup caramel sauce


  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Bake oats on the top rack until lightly brown (about 10 minutes). Make sure to stir them once.
  3. Set aside to cool (don’t put hot oats in the batter).
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, powder, cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice and salt.
  5. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugars until fluffy. Beat in egg. Slowly add the flour mixture, beating just until combined.
  6. Stir in toasted oats.
  7. Scoop 1 tablespoon-sized portions and drop onto cookie sheet, leaving space for spreading.
  8. Flatten the dough slightly with the bottom of a glass.
  9. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until slightly brown.
  10. While the cookies cool, prepare the filling. Mix cream cheese and butter until creamy.
  11. Slowly add the powdered sugar.Pour in the caramel and mix just until combined.
  12. Frost the bottoms of half of the cookies and top with remaining cookies.

You can also roll the cookies in colored holiday sprinkles for a festive look.

The Send Off

After the cookies were baked and assembled I packaged them up in Tupperware with ribbon and tags I typed on our typewriter. I’m never sure the best way to pack the cookies, so I’m interested to find out if they make it in one piece.

Ready to go

Ready to go

And they're off!

And they’re off!

Thanks again to the organizers Lindsey of Love & Olive Oil and Julie from The Little Kitchen for the many boxes of joy that were sent and received this year.

Incoming Joy

I bet you’re wondering what cookies I got. I was incredibly lucky this year to receive cookies from three fantastic bakers. They were:

  1. Sticky Toffee Pudding Cookies from Southern Sweets & Eats: First of all, these get an A+ for packaging. Each cookie was individually wrapped, which made it way to easy to pop one into my pocket on the way out the door…Second, they were delicious. Soft, a bit of spice and not overly sweet. photo 1-1
  2. Sugar Cookies with Peppermint Frosting from A Clove of Garlic, A Pinch of SaltAs I was opening the box I was literally thinking “I hope I get something with mint” and there they were. Soft sugar cookies with just the right amount of mint. It was love at first 2-4

  3. Nutty Maple Date Cookies & Tropical Peanut Butter Balls from True Blue Baking: Jackpot! This generous baker included two types of cookies. The nutty maple date cookies knocked my socks of – I can’t wait to see what the frosting was on top of those things. The PB balls were a solid and winning combo. A-mazing. photo 3-1

About the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2013

Now in its third year, the premise is this: eligible food bloggers sign up. Receive the addresses of three other food bloggers. Send each of them one dozen delicious homemade cookies. Receive three different boxes of scrumptious cookies from other bloggers. Eat them all yourself (or, you know, share. If you want. No judgement either way.) Post your cookie recipe on your blog. See everyone else’s cookie recipes. Salivate. Get lots of great ideas for next year’s cookie swap. Rinse and repeat.

Participants donate $5 to Cookies for Kids’ Cancer and the swap’s sponsors match our donations. This year the group raised $13,778.40!

Learn more or sign up for the GFBCS.


Low-Fat Cinnamon Raisin Scones

8 Dec

So I’m personally not really into scones – especially for breakfast. I need some major protein to kick off my day and usually opt for an egg white sammie with some veggies on top. Mike on the other hand is digging them, so I’ve been experimenting with flavors and lightened-up recipes.

Gina over at Skinnytaste created this recipe that I tweaked slightly – it was incredibly easy! Enjoy.



Low-Fat Cinnamon Raisin Scones

Adapted from 



  • 3/4 cup cold buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp chilled butter (must be cold) cut into small pieces
  • 3/4 cup raisins


  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • Cinnamon to taste

Preheat oven to 375°. Combine the first four ingredients in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Spray baking sheet with cooking spray.

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Cut in chilled butter with a pastry blender, or you could use two knives, until the mixture in crumbly. Gently fold in raisins. Add milk mixture, stirring just until moist.

Place dough onto a floured surface and knead lightly four times with floured hands. Form dough into an 9-inch circle onto baking sheet, about 3/4″ thick. Using a knife,cut dough into 12 wedges all the way through.

Bake until golden, about 18-20 minutes, depending on your oven.

While the scones bake, mix together the milk, cinnamon and powdered sugar to make the glaze.

Cool completely. Frost with cinnamon glaze.

November Oktoberfest 2013

13 Nov

It’s that time again! November Oktoberfest, our annual (and purposely belated) tribute to the epic 16-day festival thatIMG_5787 has been held every year in the motherland since 1810.

The first year we hosted this party I was much more strict about the food being only traditional dishes, but I love that the menu has evolved to incorporate many Wisconsin delicacies like deviled eggs and beer cheese dip.

Although I still get the urge to make schnitzel and potato salad, years past have proven that items that require a knife and fork tend to be difficult. With our tiny apartment and lack of seating it is much easier to graze.

The brewmaster himself.

The brewmaster himself.

Confirming that I am my mother’s daughter I always experience a moment of panic that we won’t have enough food…but of course, that wasn’t the case.

Here’s what we served this year:


  • A Selection of Sausages – we included a beer sausage from our local meat market in the mix
  • Pigs in a Blanket w/Cheddar Cheese from – solid marriage of salted meats, cheese and flaky crust
  • Beer Cheese Dip from – cream cheese, cheddar and ranch…it doesn’t get more midwest than this
  • Classic Deviled Eggs – a must
  • Sweet & Spicy Pretzel Nut Mix from CookingLight – this was tasty and would be a great snack to serve at holiday parties


Photo Credits: Ryan Nestle




  • Traditional Pretzels from – I boiled them this year instead of just dipping them in the baking soda solution 
  • Rosemary Pretzels with Cheese Sauce from Two Peas and Their Pod – a little salty, but has potential with a little tweaking 



  • Rum Balls from Taste of Home – bourbon or rum, you can’t go wrong with cocoa, nuts and booze mixed together 
  • Spice Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting (I used the frosting recipe from my pumpkin whoopie pies) – this frosting is a winner
  • Peanut Butter Chex Bars with Candy Corn and Peanuts (used a traditional Chex Bar recipe with add ins)



  • Sonnenbrau’s first Oktoberfest: Dachsbier…wunderbar!
  • Brewsky Sangria from Food & Wine – I loved the mix of pear, lager and liqueur


Pumpkin Whoopie Pies w/Maple Frosting

20 Oct


They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Well in my dad’s case, I’m pretty sure that journey to his heart requires the key that unlocks the door to his sweet tooth.

After a failed attempt at pumpkin fudge (my dad loves fudge), I have to admit I was feeling down. Still wanting to bring something for him when I flew home last weekend, I went back to baking basics and whipped up some pumpkin whoopie pies.

Whoopie pies are a fairly new dessert concept for me (but check out my first attempt – Peanut Butter Banana Whoopie Pies), so I was curious to learn more. Here is what Wikipedia said:

The whoopie pie (alternatively called a black moon, gob (term indigenous to the Pittsburgh region), black-and-white, bob, or “BFO” for Big Fat Oreo) is a US baked good that may be considered either a cookie, pie, or cake. It is made of two round mound-shaped pieces of chocolate cake, or sometimes pumpkin or gingerbread cake, with a sweet, creamy filling or frosting sandwiched between them.

A friend simply described them as “crack.” Enjoy!

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies w/Maple Frosting



  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 TB cinnamon
  • 1 tsp pumpkin spice
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 –  29 oz can pumpkin puree (chilled)
  • 2 eggs

Maple Cream Frosting:

  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 8 ounces cream cheese (softened)
  • 1/2 cup butter (softened)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 TB 100% pure maple syrup


  1. Pre-heat oven to 350°.
  2. In a medium size bowl stir together dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, pumpkin spice and ground nutmeg.
  3. In another large bowl combine sugars, oil, pumpkin and vanilla. Mix in eggs.
  4. Slowly add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture and stir until the batter is smooth.
  5. Line baking sheet with baking mat or parchment paper.
  6. Using a small cookie scoop, place dough onto pan about one inch apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until a tooth pick comes clean.
  7. Remove pan from oven and allow to cool for two minutes. Then transfer cookies onto a cooling rack and allow to cool for one hour.
  8. To make the frosting, beat the butter and cream cheese in a large bowl for one to two minutes, or until smooth. Add the powdered sugar a little at a time, then add the maple syrup and vanilla and beat until nice and creamy.
  9. Place frosting in a gallon size Ziplock bag and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  10. To assemble the whoopie pies, turn the cookies upside down. Then snip a small corner from the Ziplock bag and pipe the frosting around the bottom of the cookie. Place another cookie, flat side down, on top of the frosting. Press down slightly. Store pumpkin whoopie pies in the refrigerator to firm before serving.

Sonnenbrau Spent Grain Bread

15 Oct

Since Mike began making beer two or so years ago I feel like I have gotten a pretty good handle on how to incorporate it into recipes, especially desserts.

Recently, he purchased the necessary equipment to brew beer using the “all-grain” method which involves steeping the grains instead of purchasing liquid extract. Since we don’t have any cattle in the backyard to feed it to, this posed a fun new challenge of finding ways to use the spent grain (the bi-product of steeping the grains and removing the sugars) in recipes. After some botched experiments (grain chocolate chip cookies anyone?) I found a great spent grain bread recipe. It uses three whole cups of spent grain and produces a hearty, dense loaf. Smear a slice with homemade apple butter or dunk it in your favorite chili.

Homemade bread

Homemade bread


  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup wheat flour
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. commercial yeast
  • 3 cups spent grain (Make sure to run the grains through a food processor. This is key to break down the husks and create a smoother texture.)
  • ¼ cup of sugar
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 egg (beaten)
  • 1 cup of milk


Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl and the wet ingredients in a smaller bowl. Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients in. Incorporate the wet into the dry and knead the dough by hand for five to ten minutes.


Shape the dough into ball and let rise in oiled, covered bowl until doubled–about 90 min. Punch down and divide. This makes three medium-sized loaves or two large loaves.  Score tops with a knife.

Pre-heat oven. Bake at 350F for 40 min, until deep golden brown. You can also sprinkle water on them towards the end of the baking process to create a crunchy top crust.

Maple Lake Safari

28 Jul

As we quietly glided through the calm lake water and the darkening evening sky was being painted with stokes of pink I could almost hear a familiar voice with an Australia accent narrating the scene…

“There she is. The rare North American porcupine emerging from the woods at the shore directly ahead.”

Maple Lake in Northern Wisconsin is a truly peaceful and serene place. Its remote location and abounding wildlife offers the ability and privilege to reconnect with nature and the people around you.

Over the past few years, Mike’s parents have been enjoying vacations to Maple Lake where Mike’s uncle owns land and a cabin and we were lucky enough to spend two nights there during our last trip home. My favorite thing about visiting Maple Lake was sharing in Kathy and Steve’s favorite cabin pastimes and routines – especially the sunrise and sunset safaris, water sports and family meals.

Bundling up and getting on the boat.

Bundling up and getting on the boat.

Beaver crossing the lake.

Beaver crossing the lake.

Painted turtle sunning himself.

Painted turtle sunning himself.

Loon nesting!!

Loon nesting!!

Can't wait to see photos of the baby loon(s)!

Can’t wait to see photos of the baby loon(s)!

Porcupine hanging out along the shore. Seeing him was a real treat.

Porcupine hanging out along the shore. Seeing him was a real treat.
Brynn named him Biggie Smalls

Brynn named him Biggie Smalls

I love kayaking

I love kayaking


Evening swim…


…it was not warm.

Great spread and company

Great spread and company


Waterfront dining

The kids

The kids


Love from Maple Lake. xo.

The Mighty Redwoods

2 Jul

Over Memorial Weekend Mike and I embarked upon an epic Northern California road trip to the Mighty Redwoods in Humbolt County.

You can see our route here – nearly 1,000 miles and 15 hours in the car!

Here Are Our Top Ten Favorite Experiences:

1.  Sunset Boat Ride in Eureka with Captain Steve 

Sunset cruising on the Madaket.

Sunset cruising on the Madaket.


Getting ready to shove off! Captain Steve at the wheel.


View of Humbolt Bay.

We saw a ton of wildlife including Sea Lions.

We saw a ton of wildlife including Sea Lions.

2. Watching a Leg of the Famous Kinetic Sculpture Race

This 3-day, 42 mile “triathlon of the art world” is a BIG deal in Eureka.

Crossing a bridge...and holding up traffic.

Crossing a bridge…and holding up traffic.


In first place on day two.

3. The Big Trees in Humbolt Redwoods State Park

We were a bit underwhelmed by Avenue of the Giants. The good stuff is in HRSP.

Keeps going and going...

Keeps going and going…

"Tall Tree"

“Tall Tree”

"Giant Tree"

“Giant Tree”

4. Wildlife Sightings

Banana slugs

Banana slugs

Elk grove in Prairie Creek Park.

Elk grove in Prairie Creek Park.





5. Watching a Baby Whale Play at Patrick Point State Park

I didn’t get a picture of the whale because I didn’t want to take my eyes off of it, but it was playing in the cove off to the left.


I could have sat there all day.

I could have sat there all day.




The Trail


I mean, seriously.

6. The Cheese Curds at Loleta Cheese Factory 

The man loves cheese.

The man loves cheese.



7. Coastline at Trinidad

This reminded us of the Cinque Terre in Italy.


Imagine waking up to that view every morning.



8. Dinner Over the Campfire

Setting up camp.

Setting up camp.


Meat and veggies on the grill.

The grillmaster.

The grill master.

Finished product: Bison burgers w/pub cheese, mushroom and cous cous salad, white bean salad and marinated red peppers and zucchini.

Finished product: Bison burgers w/pub cheese, mushroom and cous cous salad, white bean salad and marinated red peppers and zucchini.

9. View from Cow Mountain

We stopped over here on the long drive north because the camping was free. But reaching the sites took so long we probably burned the cost of a campsite in gas. Good thing the views were pretty amazing.

The view

The view

The site.

The site.

It was freezing being that high up. I had to wear 84369305 layers.

It was freezing being that high up. I had to wear 84369305 layers.

10.  Driving the Lost Coast

Getting blown away on the Lost Coast.

Getting blown away on the Lost Coast.

11. (BONUS!) The Craft Beer-Tasting!


Six Rivers




Mad River



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