Chocolate & Caramel Layered Shortbread Bars

Last weekend, in the company of my two sisters, brother in law, and three of our cousins, I ran my fifth half marathon through the streets of San Francisco.

After running my first in 2011 with my dad and two sisters, the energy and excitement got the best of me and I signed up immediately for another a couple of weeks later, then went on to run another in 2012 with the whole family, and in 2013 ran the same one with my lovely older sister, then again a week ago. 
They are exhilarating,.
I look forward to training season each year. The weeks of training leading up to the event are like a craving that only grows until it is satiated on the day of the event.
Every year that day comes and goes so quickly, it's fleeting. And every year the motivation, perseverance, endurance, and pride extracted from the ever-present energy of the event leave me wanting to continue, to keep going, to not let it be over.

Having the opportunity to participate in these events with such inspiring people is one of my favorite things, and a big part of why I look forward to it year after year.
The excitement, rush, and proud feeling of accomplishment were just as amazing this year as they were four years ago.

During the last couple of weeks of training season, I made these chocolate covered, creamy caramel layered, almond meal shortbread bars, and they were amazing.
With just a handful of simple ingredients, these bars are better than candy. I will be making them twice for Friday's festivities, once for a potluck and again for celebrating with family - the more the merrier, especially when it comes to good food and great company. 
I'm very much looking forward to Halloween falling on a Friday this year, it means more time to celebrate the fall season with family and friends.

Chocolate and Caramel Layered Shortbread Bars - Twix
makes a 9x5 loaf pan

-1 cup almond meal
-1/4 cup arrowroot starch
-2 Tablespoons coconut oil
-2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup

-1/3 cup coconut cream
-2 Tablespoons coconut oil
-2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
-1/4 cup coconut sugar
-1 teaspoon vanilla

-1/2 cup chocolate chips
-1 teaspoon coconut oil

1. Preheat oven to 350F and line a loaf pan with parchment paper.
2. Combine all crust ingredients in a mixing bowl and press evenly into lined pan. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool. 
3. Heat ingredients for caramel in saucepan over medium heat. Allow to come to a boil and reduce heat to low. Stirring frequently, simmer caramel for 15-20 minutes until it starts to thicken. Remove from heat and cool for 15-20 minutes. Once cooled, pour over crust, spread evenly and refrigerate. 
4. Melt together chocolate and coconut oil. Spread evenly over chilled caramel layer. Refrigerate until chocolate layer has set, 10-15 minutes. Cut into narrow bars and serve.

store in the refrigerator.
adapted from this recipe by My Purple Spoon
optional substitutions...
-almond meal: cashew meal
-arrowroot starch: tapioca starch, potato starch
-coconut oil: dairy free butter
-coconut oil: dairy free butter, coconut butter
-coconut sugar: turbinado sugar, raw sugar
-coconut oil: dairy free butter

Mangia! Mangia!

Vanilla Bean & Cinnamon Spiced Bartlett Pear Cheesecake

We were invited by a couple of friends to gather in celebration of Canadian Thanksgiving and their first little one due to arrive in the winter.
My sister came up to visit for the occasion, my mom cross-stitched sweet designs on tiny onesies, and I made this vanilla bean and cinnamon spiced pear cheesecake.

I had brought home a few bartlett pears from work determined to find a delicious use for them. As they quickly ripened, I began to wonder if I should take my Aunt's advice and make pear jam out of the sweet fruit before they became too ripe. 
This recipe was a delicious solution and made for a perfectly fall-flavored dessert with the slightly sweet pear flavor, warm spices, smooth texture, and creamy notes of vanilla.

I made it the night before the gathering and chilled it overnight. The following day, after taking a trip with my sister to meet my parents for endless hat shopping at a sample sale, I was ready to photograph this delicious creation. 
I was so excited about the lighting being just right, and the cake's swirl looking so photogenic. 
After about 20 photos had been taken, my beau came running into the kitchen, thrilled to show me the lovely gift wrapping job he and my sister had done. Responding to the excitement, I stood up quickly, my hip bumped the surface the cake was sitting on, and the backdrop fell flat on top of it.
I was crushed.

Quickly, and without hesitation, he picked it up, took out a small slice to widen the space where the original piece had come from to make it fit back in, and began re-forming it and smoothing it over. My sweet husband and sister fixed what could have been a game-over moment less than 30 minutes before the event.  

After fitting the cake back into the springform pan and placing it in the freezer to firm up, my beau turned to me and said, "You know what the bright side of this is?" Trying to figure out what positive could come of this, I looked up at his big smile and he went on, "I got to have a little piece of the pie." 
His uplifting remark and warm smile were enough to melt my heart and were a reminder of words that I try to keep in the back of my mind to see the good in everything
We brought the cheesecake to the event, thanks to my husband and sister, and it was much enjoyed.

Vanilla Bean & Cinnamon Spiced Bartlett Pear Cheesecake
makes one 10" springform pan

-1 cup almonds
-1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
-3 Tablespoons cocoa or cacao powder
-2 Tablespoons maple syrup
-2 Tablespoons coconut oil

-3 cups cashews, soaked overnight, rinsed and drained
-3 cups cubed ripe pairs
-1 cup maple syrup
-1/2 cup coconut cream (solid portion in canned coconut milk)
-juice of 1 lemon (about 2 Tablespoons)
-1 1/2 Tablespoons vanilla
-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-3/4 cup coconut oil
-1/4 reserved filling mixture
-1 1/2 ground cinnamon
-2 vanilla beans

1. Trace and cut a parchment paper circle to place inside of 10" springform pan.
2. Process all crust ingredients in food processor until mixture starts to rise up sides of processor. Scrape down with spatula or spoon and continue to process until mixture is consistent. The resulting texture should hold together with a gentle pressure and be broken apart with a clean break. Press mixture into bottom of parchment-lined springform pan. 
3. Begin preparing filling: Add all filling ingredients except coconut oil to blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Add melted coconut oil and blend until smooth and fully incorporated. Pour 2/3 to 3/4 of mixture into crust and springform pan. Add additional 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon and 2 vanilla beans (scraped insides only). Blend until incorporated. Pour evenly over top of pie and swirl.
4. Freeze for 1-2 hours or until center is firm to the touch. Remove once firm, run a butter knife around edge of cake and release springform. Cut and serve. 

Store covered in refrigerator for up to 5 days
inspired by this recipe from Both Halves
optional substitutions...
-almonds: cashews, pecans
-coconut flakes: additional nuts
-maple syrup: preferred liquid sweetener
-coconut oil: avocado oil, olive oil

Mangia! Mangia!

Coconut Almond Kind Bars

You know that moment you sift through your mail and see an envelope with a hand-written address, and inside is a hand-written letter to you? 
Such a captivating method of communication. The way it used to be.

Email, text messaging, and all sorts of other methods of sending some sort of message to anyone anywhere in the world have monopolized the communication of the twenty-first century, bringing the human population to drift away from what hand-written communication was, and into digital communication.
It's come to the point that since communicating is so easy at any time of day instantaneously, less thought, sincerity, and earnestness go into a message being sent. 
The anticipation and excitement of receiving that message in your mailbox in the front yard has transitioned into dread when you open your email inbox on the computer. 

When using paper stationary, pen, and stamps was the primary method of sending a message, mailboxes were not inundated with spam and inappropriate virus-infested scams, they served the purpose of housing your letters going out or coming in. 

Letter writing takes purpose and sincerity, and while my beau was overseas, it was our primary form of communication. 
For that ten months, I received no more than a small handful of precious phone calls at odd hours, from strange numbers and satellite phones, without knowing when the next would be. 
But the letters; I re-read them again and again.

While I was away at college and he was on the other side of the world, my favorite days were those when I would come home from class and have a letter or small MRE package in my mailbox (some of the MRE packaging was designed to be used as post mail). 
Getting messages and updates from from him halfway around the planet were comforting, and would brighten my days so greatly-words don't quite capture it.

So, when a friend I acquainted on Instagram was looking for summertime penpals, I leapt at the opportunity to craft hand-written letters and receive her lovely correspondence. 

Like the simplicity of hand letter writing, these bars are basic. Made of whole ingredients that come together to make something delicious as ever, these bars are full of fiber, protein, fat, and flavor. They can be used as a snack, fuel for sustainable energy, or as a hearty dessert. They also would make for a sweet gift for the holidays. 
Just scrumptious.

Coconut Almond Kind Bars
makes a 9x13" pan

-2 cups whole almonds
-2 cups flaked coconut
-1/2 cup puffed millet
-1/2 cup maple syrup + 1/3 cup brown rice syrup
-1 teaspoon vanilla
-1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1. Preheat oven to 350F and line baking sheet with parchment paper or non-stick liner. Line 9x13" pan with parchment paper.
2. Spread almonds evenly on baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven 10 minutes, or until lightly toasted. Remove from oven and place in a large mixing bowl.
3. Spread flaked coconut evenly on baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven 6-8 minutes, watch closely as it can burn quickly. Remove from oven and add to large mixing bowl. Add puffed millet and throroughly combine.
4. Combine maple syrup and brown rice syrup in medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring often, until candy thermometer reads 260F (hard ball stage). Remove from heat immediately. Stir in vanilla and salt. Pour over mixing bowl ingredients and quickly incorporating until thoroughly coated.
5. Working quickly, pour mixture into prepared pan and evenly spread. Cool at least 20 minutes. Using parchment paper, lift out of pan and place on cutting board. Cut into bars and allow to cool completely before transferring into airtight container with parchment paper between layers or individually wrapping each bar for on-the-go.

adapted from this recipe by The Yummy Life
optional substitutions...
-almonds: pecans, cashews, whatever you'd like-they won't be as similar to the almond coconut bars you can get in the store, but they will be delicious either way!
-puffed millet: puffed grain or rice crisp cereal
-maple syrup: brown rice syrup, honey
-brown rice syrup: honey
optional additions:
-additional nuts, seeds or dried fruit

Mangia! Mangia!