Peppermint Crunch Brownies

 

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It’s the holidays. You’ve been nonstop busy for the last month. Christmas is just days away and you’re frantically trying to fit in all the errands, gift wrapping, visiting, you-name-it that’s still left to do. At times you stop and wonder why you do this to yourself, is this really worth all the hassle and stress, lalala… If this describes you, that’s just a coincidence because I’m talking about myself here. Is it just me or does it seem a little paradoxical to eagerly anticipate every year a season that always promises good cheer but instead delivers great stress? This past weekend as I made my “yet to do/buy” list, I began to feel the pressure mounting inside and once again, I had to stop and remind myself that this isn’t what Christmas is about. Stress and a to-do list shouldn’t define a joyful time of year, yet somehow, if we let them, they not only define it but become masters of and overtake all the good that Christmastime promises. Next year I plan to begin my Christmas planning early, accomplish my shopping early, even pack early so that on Christmas week I can relax with steaming cups of Peppermint Bark tea while cookies and brownies bake in the oven and Christmas carols play in the background.

Joy, cheer, being with the people we love and simply taking the time to soak in all the beauty, tradition, and thousands of years worth of song and story that float over and around our lives at this time of year should be what defines this season – but it can only happen if we let go of our lists and ignore the retailers’ pressure to buy, buy, buy while you still have time. Next year I plan to conquer the material part of Christmas early, rather than having it conquer me again, as it did this year.

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Baking is my stress-relief and my ultimate expression of cheer, so it was no surprise then that I ended up in the kitchen this past weekend, whipping out a batch of brownies that was not only easy and quick, but so decadent in taste that the result totally belies its ease of preparation. If you need a last-minute dessert for a party or perhaps a sweet something for unexpected guests dropping by, I recommend these brownies for a quick, homemade treat that everyone will love.

I made a change to the original Epicurious recipe by adding espresso powder to enhance the cocoa, and for a festive touch, decided to add some Andes Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips. You can’t go wrong having a bag of this stuff around, as it can be added to cookies, cakes and brownies for a delightful Christmas addend to regular recipes.

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Peppermint Crunch Brownies

adapted from Epicurious, 2013

Nonstick vegetable oil spray

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 1/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup Scharffen Berger natural unsweetened cocoa powder*

1 tsp espresso powder**

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 large eggs

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/4-1/2 cups Andes Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips, depending on taste (1/2 cup gives it a strong peppermint flavor). Reserve a few for garnish!

Preheat oven to 325 F. Spray an 8x8x2 pan with vegetable spray, completely coating pan.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Let cool slightly. In the meantime, whisk together the sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder, and salt. Pour butter over mixture in a steady stream, whisking to combine. Add vanilla, whisking until mixed in. Add eggs one at a time, beating vigorously to blend after each addition. Add flour and stir until just combined (but don’t overmix). Gently fold in desired amount of Andes peppermint crunch chips. Scrape batter into prepared pan; smooth top.

Bake until top begins to crack and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 25-30 minutes. If you like super-fudgy brownies, I recommend taking out a teeny bit early.

Transfer pan to a wire rack; let cool completely before cutting and serving. Makes 16.

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Recipe Notes:

*I used Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa powder in a pinch and it worked great.

**NOT instant coffee granules, but espresso powder. It may be hard to find, but it’s well worth tracking down. I like Williams-Sonoma’s as it is a good quality and amount for an affordable price.

***My favorite vanilla extract is Nielsen-Massey Vanilla. Available at Williams-Sonoma and World Market.

 Happy Baking, dear friends… xo

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A White Christmas

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“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” 
― John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

The last couple of Decembers we were gifted with unusual Christmastime snowfalls. The above picture was shot last year when, after a night of vigorous storms that dropped snow and ice, we awoke to a bright winter landscape. Perhaps it is because I don’t get to experience it very often, but the prospect of snow has never ceased to cause my heart to flutter and my mind to begin planning my snow day activities (because in Texas, a snowfall means a city-wide shutdown and everything closes). This year it doesn’t look as if we will get snow before Christmas, which is why I am especially anticipating my trip to New England next week where I will experience a White Christmas nonetheless. I will take knitting and reading material, and am looking forward to a week of fireside relaxation in between winter activities at the Vermont farmhouse where my family will be staying.

Happy Weekend, dear friends! xo

The Old Peabody Pew

IMG_5204If you’re looking for a sweet, heartwarming Christmas story, look no farther than this one by author Kate Douglas Wiggin, of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm Fame. Set during Christmastime at the turn-of-the-century in a small New England town, the story centers on a charmingly diverse group of women who are readying their town’s church for Christmas, and we catch hilarious and thoughtful glimpses of their lives during the process. The narrative’s pinnacle is reached when, on Christmas Eve, single, lonely, and 3oish heroine Nancy is unexpectedly given the gift of romance. Pensive reminiscing and hopeful dreams of the future are skillfully woven into the story, which, incidentally, must have created a refreshing and surprising read for single women in the early 20th century who were often considered too old for marriage when well into or past their 20’s. A short and charming story for Christmas, you won’t regret your foray into one of Ms. Wiggin’s lesser known stories.

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I found the book several years ago when visiting a used bookshop in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The title and cover first caught my eye, then upon turning the pages I discovered some charming illustrations and what looked like a lovely story. I turned to a blank page inside and discovered that the author had inscribed a postscript to her story and signed her name beneath it. Of course, it had to come home with me.

The book was originally published in 1905; my edition was published in 1907. You can purchase your own original copy or a paperback here.

Until next time… xo

Gift Guide for The Traveler

Gift guides are so much fun to make that I can’t stop. Everything I see that I think unique and delightful, I want to share! I hope that this list will inspire you whether you’re shopping for a traveler this holiday season or are just looking for unique (but useful) items for anyone on your list. 
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1. Foldable Pocket Rain Poncho from The Container Store. $24.99. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished for a rain poncho that didn’t make me look, well, like a tourist in a rain poncho. This red polka dot number solves the tourist dilemma and keeps you dry in cheery style.

2. Bonjour London, Paris, New York travel guide books. Available from Merci. $14.75 (exchange rate as at time of post). Almost more than visiting an actual city, I love planning my trip there. I don’t often use typical travel books either, preferring instead small, unique guides (such as these) that help me to discover a city beyond the Fodor’s books (nothing against those books – they can actually be helpful with basic travel information. I just love finding the less-traversed areas of cities I’m visiting).

3. Victorinox 22″ wheeled carry-on from Amazon. $249. I’ve blogged before about my beloved Victorinox carry-on. I can’t even tell you how far it’s traveled, how many times I’ve stuffed it thinking it wouldn’t hold anymore, only to discover that it would. Or how many times I held my breath wheeling it onto smaller jets, keeping my fingers crossed that it would fit in the overhead bin (I shouldn’t worry though, it always has). It goes on every trip, unless I’m on a weekender, in which case I take a duffel. This one isn’t mine, but it looks the closest to it. Good luggage is worth the splurge! 

4. Pack This! List Pad from The Container Store. $6.99. I use this. I really do. I check off items as I pack them and then carry the list on my travels. This way I can keep up with my things easily and do quick checks as I unpack and repack on my travels.

5. The Laundress Travel Kit from The Laundress. $52. For the green traveler, these items are nontoxic, biodegradable, and made with natural ingredients. Included are a laundry bag, travel sized stain solution, delicate wash, crease release, and fabric fresh. Items are available separately if you don’t fancy buying all at once.

6. Bobble Water Bottle with Filter from Amazon. $11.20. I’ve blogged before about these lightweight bottles. I don’t recommend the large size for travel, but the small size would be perfect for your adventurous trekking.

7. Go Clean Bags from Flight 001. $52.00. I may not be the most organized traveler, but I’d like to be. Maybe if I owned this set, I would be… In any case, they look cool and useful all at once. What’s not to love?!

8. Pack-It Compression Sacs in S/M/L from Eagle Creek. $22.40 (on sale at time of post!). Why roll your clothes up when you can compress them?

9. Little Bow Passport Cover from Amazon. $13.99. If one must present a passport when entering other countries, one might as well do it with a delightful flourish.

10. Mophie Juice Pack Powerstation from Amazon.com. $79.95. I don’t own one (yet), but a friend had one on a trip we took last year and we discovered that it was.worth.every.penny. You can’t underestimate your phone’s battery life (er, like I did) when you’re using it to find your way around and take photos of every amazing thing you see. This battery power station was a lifesaver when our phone batteries were low.

Not Pictured: Aromatherapy Travel Pillow from Kuhi Comfort. $44.99. Currently sold out, but perhaps there is a similar one somewhere? I know I’d love to find one. Imagine sleeping comfortably and peacefully on a flight! Who knew this was even possible?!

Happy Weekend! Until next time… xo