California love

l and j at beachThe Friday after Valentine’s Day felt like being in some sort of sweet golden dream: the coast was sunny and blue-skied, the air was warm, and it felt exactly like a place where you’d never find the dance floor empty. While I know our dear friends and family in San Diego get this every day, we do not. Up here we pride ourselves on our rugged coasts: rocky and cliff-edged, fog-banked and moody. But on Friday, this place was in the most beautiful mood.

Which was good, because the guys and I were nursing a serious sugar hangover. We all needed to get outside.

j and l at beach

I was born and raised here in California. I have traveled to far away places, through countries that have changed me, and when living or visiting elsewhere I have always found much to love. But it is this placemagical, troubled, hauntingly beautiful and deeply dysfunctional – it is this place that has my heart.

J valentines

L valentines

We’re belated with sharing our recipes for Valentine’s Day treats, but I offer them with our best wishes for love: love that “>increases with time, that grows deeper with each new experience, that gives and takes, that shares stillness as well as movement. Love that holds strong to its beloved always, embracing the deep imperfection alongside the spectacular beauty. Love that is joyful, hopeful, miraculous. Love that is true.

J beach

Happy Valentine’s Day California. We love you.

cookie cutter hearts


J marshmallows

Some other things I love this week:

This NYT excerpt is from Michael Moss’s “>disturbing expose about processed food.

– The interview with Michael Pollan in the current issue of Lucky Peach is worth the price of admission, if only because despite practically predicting food system collapse he remains optimistic, practical, kind-hearted and so deeply thoughtful.

– So, speaking of Michael Pollan, can we talk about how excited I am about this book?

– And speaking of real food, and Valentine’s Day, these chocolate bars are wonderful, and so are these.

This made me think about bones in a new, beautiful way. (Thanks Tara)

– After hearing a brief spot on the radio about this, Jacob said “That’s so cool!” and Lucas said “Wow!” in the voice he usually reserves for garbage trucks and construction sites.



So – part of the reason I’m late with my post is that I have been really struggling with whether or not I can, in good conscience, post this candy on this site. The chocolates (“butter cups” my kids call them – grown up candy, I would say) I have no qualms about. But the marshmallows – they use a inverted sugar syrup, and I have serious doubts about that as an actual food.

DSC_0107 DSC_0099

But the guys absolutely loved making them – and since they are adapted from this book (which you know I love) I probably don’t even need to tell you that they were incredibly delicious. They were. And in the spirit of once-a-year, pass-them-out-to-classmates excitement and joy, I think they make a good case for themselves. Certainly they all got eaten, and are still being talked about around here.

J makes graham crackers

Jacob packaged them for his preschool friends, two at a time in waxed paper bags, with heart-shaped graham crackers and a couple squares of chocolate, a homemade valentine tied to each with baker’s twine. He told pretty much everyone we saw all that week about his Valentine S’Mores – and if his friends loved eating them even one one-hundredth as much as he loved making and sharing them, then everyone was happy.


(And if you find yourself the next day with sugar-aching teeth, inexplicably craving the “>sesame-honey-hippie-candy of your youth, may I suggest going to the beach and taking along a sandwich of tahini and honey on sprouted whole grain bread? Totally worked for me.)

S’More Marshmallows
Adapted from the marshmallow recipe in “>The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila

This recipe uses “>Lyles Golden Syrup in place of the corn syrup you find in most recipes. The marshmallows themselves are pillowy, soft, and perfectly homemade tasting: they barely relate to the powder-dry, rubbery chew of regular marshmallows. With a homemade marshmallow, you taste the pillowy-ness of all the air you whip in, you taste the softness of the golden syrup, you get a real sense of confection.

We deviated from Alana’s recipe in a couple minor ways: first, we spread our candy to set in a jelly roll pan (rimmed baking sheet) instead of a 9-inch square. I wanted thin sheets of marshmallow that could easily sandwich between crackers – I also wanted to make sure we had enough for the whole class. (I used parchment, which Alana does not, because I was nervous about the thin sheets of candy sticking to the pans, oiled or not). Second, Jacob sprinkled the top of one pan with red cookie-decorating sugar. This was pretty and festive, but I’d say neutral at best on what it added flavor/texture wise. I preferred the plain white ones myself – the kids, of course, liked the ones with bling.

Best of all: much like making butter, the whipping of the candy into fluffy puff is veritable kitchen magic for kids. If you’re going to dip a toe in the pool of not-real food, you certainly get a lot of bang for your buck with this one. (And less you doubt the weirdness of what you’ll be eating: if you have any leftover gelatin, you can ‘stretch’ your shampoo, make face masks, mount transparencies, freeze some fish, and fertilize your plants!)

3 envelopes (3/4 ounce each) unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup “>Lyles Golden Syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Optional: 1 cup grated toasted coconut or powdered sugar for dusting, or decorating sugar crystals for the top

Line a jelly roll (rimmed baking sheet) pan with parchment paper. Grease lightly with canola oil. If using coconut, sprinkle half of it into the pan.

Pour 2/3 cup water into the bowl of your stand mixer, then add the three packages of gelatin. Let stand for five minutes, or until the powder has turned into gel (it will absorb all the water and look like clear toothpaste). Put it on your mixer, with the wire whip attachment. Don’t mix anything yet though.

Meanwhile, mix 1/2 cup water, the sugar, the syrup and the salt in a medium saucepan with a candy thermometer clipped to the side. Place over medium-high heat and cook without stirring until it reaches 250 F.

Start the mixer on low speed, and slowly and carefully (I wore oven mitts on both hands and made the kids stand well back) add the hot (hot!) syrup to the gelatin. Once it is all in, add the vanilla. Increase the speed on the mixer to medium and keep whipping for 10 to 15 minutes, until it changes from golden brown and bubbly to thick, bright white, and shiny. It will be smooth and silky looking, with a real sheen on it. A wedding-dress of a thing, really.

Pour the marshmallow into your pan and smooth with a rubber spatula that has been lightly greased with canola oil. If you are using coconut or candy sugar, sprinkle over the top. (Powdered sugar gets dusted on immediately before eating).

Let the marshmallows sit, uncovered and untouched, for at least 12 hours (we put them up on top of the fridge so that curious little fingers wouldn’t go exploring).

Once they are set, turn them out of the pans and cut into squares. Jacob used clean, lightly canola-oiled kitchen scissors – a greased knife would also work. We cut each pan into 40+ marshmallows – but you can cut them to any size, really.

If using powdered sugar, dust immediately before serving. Alana says these will keep at room temperature (covered) for 3 weeks, or in the freezer (bagged) for 3 months. We gave all ours away within about 24 hours, but they sat uncovered on our counter and then in little waxed paper bags, and all seemed none the worse for wear.

graham cracker hearts

Graham Cracker Hearts
Adapted from the graham cracker recipe in “>The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila

These are really good graham crackers. Not too sweet, nice and crisp, nothing carboardy anywhere. These crackers love a good smear of peanut butter, and on a plate with apple slices they’re a vintage after-school snack. (Or: set them out with sharp cheddar and some bitter-orange marmalade and suddenly your snack is all grown-up!)

I like to make the dough in the morning, then roll and cut them after school with the guys, and then have them as snack the next afternoon – that seems to be the right amount of time for them to settle into themselves. That said, people here have been known to sneak one off the cooling rack and burn their mouths – and they also keep very well for a week in a jar on the counter.

Little changes: I use all butter, instead of the mix of butter and shortening called for in the original recipe. I have no doubt that shortening makes them better, since I have great faith in Alana – but I don’t ever have it on hand, and graham crackers are often a last minute treat for us. (I also use an entire stick of butter, which is slightly more than a direct substitution – I did this the first time because I was cooking with kids and wasn’t paying close enough attention to the conversion, but then we liked it). I also use coarse, stone-ground graham flour in place of the regular whole wheat flour – I like the slightly rougher, heartier crumb. I keep a small bag of this in my freezer and use it for these crackers, but also mix it in waffles, pancakes, and breads from time to time.

We cut these with cookie cutters, because it’s a rolled dough anyway, and it’s a fun project for the guys – but you could certainly cut them into more traditional rectangles or squares (Alana recommends 2×3 inches, and her crinkle-edged ones are cuter than cute).

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup graham flour (or regular whole wheat flour)
1/2 cup rye flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 stick cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Optional: 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 tablespoon turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

Combine flours, salt, baking soda, baking powder, brown sugar, and cinnamon in the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk together with a fork. Add the butter, and mix on medium speed with the paddle attachment for about 30 seconds.

Combine the honey and the vanilla with 1/4 cup cold tap water in a liquid measuring cup. Stir until the honey is dissolved and it is basically uniform. Turn the mixer on medium-low, and add the liquid slowly, a little at a time, giving the flour time to absorb each addition of liquid. Once all the honey mixture is added, continue to mix for about 20 more seconds, or until the dough comes together around the paddle. Squeeze dough into a ball, wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 3 days. (You can also wrap it tightly and freeze it at this point if you’d like). [NOTE: if I know I’m rolling dough that afternoon, I sometimes separate it into two pieces and flatten it into discs, like you would with pastry dough – it makes the rolling a bit easier, as long as I have fridge space for the two flattened discs of dough).

Take the dough out of the refrigerator 20 minutes before you plan to start rolling and set it on the counter. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

If your dough is in a ball, unwrap it and then cut it in half – if it is in discs, unwrap one. Alana recommends rolling the dough between two pieces of waxed paper dusted with rye flour – I usually roll the dough on my pastry board dusted with rye flour, adding additional flour as needed to prevent sticking.

Roll the dough to 1/8 inch thick. Gently run a thin, off-set metal spatula underneath it to loosen it from your rolling surface. Cut using cookie cutters (or into rectangles), transferring to ungreased baking sheets with your thin metal spatula (they won’t spread and can be quite close together – but not touching at all). Re-roll scraps and repeat. Do the same with the second half of the dough. [NOTE: we make all the crackers on any one sheet the same approximate size to make baking time the same – tiny crackers and huge ones shouldn’t cook on the same sheet].

Mix the cinnamon with the turbinado sugar and sprinkle a pinch over each cracker. Poke each cracker a few times with the tines of a fork (this helps them cook evenly and also looks more authentically graham-cracker like).

Bake for 15 minutes or until the edges are just starting to brown. Cool on a wire rack.

mini dark chocolate almond butter cups

Mini Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Cups, with crunch
Adapted from the recipe on Sprouted Kitchen (which was informed and inspired by “>The Homemade Pantry :) )

These couldn’t be easier. Really! The first time I made them, I was shocked at how quickly it went. We took them out to the coast the next day when we were going hiking to visit Elephant Seals, and they won rave reviews from all. They are not too sweet, and make an incredibly satisfying post-hike treat. (I kept them in a mini cooler in the car – you might not want them in your car on a hot day though).

The addition of crisp rice is inspired by a beautiful recipe for peanut-butter balls from my sister-in-law Kate’s family: but while those have butter and sugar and are holiday decadent, these feel heartier and less delicate – more at home in a backpack, though they could also take the stage at a holiday soiree. And of course, they’re a sweet treat for any Valentine’s day special friends.

Also: I love the dark chocolate and almond butter, but you could obviously go for the classic milk-chocolate and peanut-butter combination here if that’s more your speed.

8 ounces dark chocolate (I use “>Scharffenberger 70% cacao baking chocolate)
1/2 cup unsweetened natural almond butter *
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons powdered sugar**
3/4 cup crisp rice cereal
Sea salt flakes for topping the cups

* If your almond butter is unsalted, you can also add 1/4 teaspoon fine grain salt to the filling mixture

** You absolutely can make these without the sugar, in fact I usually do

Break up your chocolate, and melt it gently in a double boiler (or make a fake one with your stand mixer bowl, like we did here). While it melts set out 15 “>miniature parchment liners in mini muffin tins (we used one full tin plus a few spots in a second tin). Make sure the chocolate is really liquidy – too thick won’t pour well. Spoon a little bit of melted chocolate into each cup, tilting the cups to coat the entire bottom. Let them sit back in their tins, and put the chocolate back on the boiler to keep it liquid.

Mix together the almond butter, honey, sugar, and salt if using. (I sift the sugar to prevent lumps). Once it is uniform and smooth, mix in the crisp rice cereal. The mixture should be stiff enough that you can easily form it into little balls: still sticky, but not squishy. (If needed, add more rice cereal or sugar to firm it up).

Place little balls of almond butter filling into each cup. Once filled, spoon additional melted chocolate over the top, completely covering the almond butter.

Put a tiny pinch of sea salt flakes on each cup, then set them in the fridge until firm (we leave them overnight).

(And watch out for marauding “butter cup” bandits while trying to photograph these – they’re that good!)


grabby mcgee

ludu loves chochit

10 thoughts on “California love

    • Thanks Daisy – they are really Jacob’s, and I will tell him that you said so. It was definitely one of those “did we really just make these?” moments for us here!

  1. Hannah! Loved some of your shots of the California coast, all bathed in gold. I’ve always wanted to visit, for all of the contradictory and wonderful reasons you describe. So beautiful. I’m also completely thrilled about Pollan’s new book–mostly excited for him to talk about a very concrete way forward.

    And no shame on marshmallow making! That you made them from scratch instead of buying treats is pretty spectacular. Your kiddos are lucky indeed. Happy belated Valentine’s Day to you :)

    • Hi Laura! Happy Valentine’s Day to you, too. It is a golden coast – though, more often, a gray coast. But wonderful and contradictory, always.

      The marshmallows were fun, sweet, and pillowy … but next time I think we might go with your mini bundt muffin cakes. I can’t get those out of my head!

  2. You shouldn’t worry about posting the marshmallow recipe. Once in a while it’s okay to make something that’s good for the soul, even if, strictly speaking, it’s not good for the body. Sort of like letting your kids fill a small bag with all manner of “penny” candy at the old fashioned country store because they have so much fun making their selections. No, gummy worms are not really food, either. But sometimes kids (and their parents!) have to eat candy until their teeth ache. It’s both fun and educational.

    My husband got homemade marshmallows when he stayed at some boutique hotel – in Montreal, maybe?? He goes so many places I lose track. Anyway, he brought them home to us and they were amazing. We may have to try these at home. It’s a snow day today (and maybe tomorrow, too), so the the kids are home. I can load them up with sugar and then send them out to shovel!

    Thanks for the link. You’re sweet.

    • When we go from time to time to the little old-fashioned candy store here, my kids get to put just one piece each in their little bag! This has led to Jacob’s number one candy choice: gummy sharks. They are the largest single piece :) I hope you guys have a good snow day, full of puffy candy (perhaps floated in some nice hot cocoa?). And I really do love your thoughts on bones.

  3. Aw, now I miss California! I think I’ll have to console myself with tahini and honey on my morning toast. Sounds like a good February! I love Valentines Day. And s’mores!

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