Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Honey Peanut Butter & Coconut Cookies

I haven't been baking much recently and I finally got the urge to break out my bowl & whisk today. It was probably a combination of the weekend coming to a close and dealing with the sad news at UCSB. Cooking and cookies always make me feel better. These honey peanut butter and coconut cookies from My Happy Place blog caught my eye on Pinterest. They're a simple weeknight vegetarian snack (no eggs) and they're delicious with a dollop of vanilla bean ice cream right on top. I made a few tweaks as I went along but it's mostly the same recipe.  
Here's what you'll need for 10 cookies...

1 cup creamy salted peanut butter
6 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla 
Little pinch of salt
2/3 cup flour (white or whole wheat)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/3 cup desiccated raw coconut flakes

Preheat oven to 350ºF and line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then set aside. In a large bowl, whisk peanut butter, honey, and vanilla until smooth. Add flour and baking soda. Stir until combined. Scoop dough into balls and roll in coconut flakes. Place on a baking sheet and press down with a fork, forming a criss-cross pattern. Bake for 5-7 minutes or until golden brown.


Monday, 19 May 2014

Summer Guide to Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel has always been a special place for me and my family. It's close to Santa Cruz (as well as San Francisco and San Jose) and offers something for everyone, from outdoor shopping and cozy restaurants to pristine beaches and spas. I find myself sticking to my favorite spots like the Cypress Inn for live jazz, Mission Ranch to watch the sunset or Dametra’s for dinner...and I thought I’d seen it all. When the boutique family-owned Hofsas House Hotel invited me down for a long weekend, I jumped at the chance to spend more time exploring this town I've come to love so much. It happened to be Mother’s Day weekend, so it was extra special to be able to bring my Mom along for the journey. Read on for my tips for the perfect summer Carmel getaway…
Make Hofsas House your home
The Hofsas House Hotel seems like something out of a European movie, radiating character and charm. It’s in an ideal location just three blocks from the main street in town and eight blocks from the beach, so you can walk everywhere, no car needed. The owner, Carrie Theis, took over the property from her grandmother who built it 67 years ago, and has done a wonderful job preserving the family hospitality. This is seen in the delightful touches during your stay like complimentary fresh coffee and pastries from a neighborhood bakery, and your own fireplace to fend off the chilly coastal nights.
Each of the 38 rooms are quite spacious and uniquely designed with Bavarian-inspired decor including a mix of new and vintage pieces (ours had a fabulous pale pink velvet chair that I want for our apartment!). Make sure to order a wine and cheese pairing upon arrival – our bottle of Holman Ranch sauvignon blanc and selection of local cheeses from The Cheese Shop made for the perfect happy hour after we checked in. Carrie was also more than happy to give us recommendations on what to do, see and taste, and her suggestions were spot-on for a relaxing yet adventurous weekend.
Taste Spanish tapas at Mundaka
If you love tapas, paella and a small, trendy ambiance, you must try Mundaka in Carmel-by-the-Sea. We walked over here on Friday night and it was a fun way to kick off our weekend. Don’t miss the pan con tomate (my favorite appetizer from my time living in Barcelona), the traditional seafood paella (easily enough for two or three people) and the cauliflower gratin (not typically Spanish but so decadent).
Wake up with Carmel Valley Coffee Company
I've tried many coffee shops in Carmel and this one is by far my favorite. We walked here Saturday and Sunday morning for lattes and donuts (it was a special treat kind of weekend!). If you have time afterwards, head down the street a few blocks towards the water and take in the beautiful views of the ocean and iconic Pebble Beach Golf Course. Or you could always head straight to the boutiques.
Tour the Carmel Mission 
Truth be told I am not sure if I’d ever been to this beautiful place before. Carrie recommended we spend an hour or so walking around and it was well worth it. The Mission is more than 300 years old and the grounds are incredibly well kept with lush gardens all around the basilica. 
Nosh on handmade pizzas at La Bicyclette
This casual European bistro and pizzeria is just a couple blocks off the main street in town so there's no reason not to head on over for lunch after popping in a few stores. They make the most delicious pizzas and desserts in a relaxed environment decorated with European antiques. We opted for two pizzas: one with kale and almond pesto and one with mushrooms along with a glass of Prosecco. And then we topped it off with a huge bowl of chocolate mousse. Absolute perfection. 
Wine Walk around town 
About a year ago, the wine scene quietly started growing in Carmel with local wineries opening small tasting rooms in town...since then the number has grown and it's giving Napa a run for its money. Twelve local wineries have partnered with the city of Carmel to create the Carmel Wine Walk, a $65 booklet of wine tasting passes that get you 10 wine flights at participating tasting rooms. It's a fun way to explore the town and taste the local wines.
We chose to stop in two tasting rooms: Vino Napoli, an Italian-themed spot known for their Chardonnay and "Vesuvio” (a blend of Cabernet, Merlot & Syrah) and Caraccioli, a smaller tasting room with a loungey vibe and fantastic rose champagne.
Wind your way to Monterey on 17 Mile Drive
When we were planning our itinerary, Carrie recommended we take 17 Mile Drive to our dinner in Monterey. This was another first for me and I’m so surprised I’d never done it before. 17 Mile Drive is a stretch of road that wraps around the coastline, offering breathtaking views...make sure to stop off and take photos along the way. 
Order fresh seafood at Abalonetti  
If you love seafood – especially calamari – and want to be near the ocean, Abalonetti on Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey is the place to go. They are all about fresh local seafood and the menu has about 10 different calamari dishes ranging from BBQ'd to full steaks. The fried calamari we ordered was so fresh, tender and crispy with the perfect amount of seasoning. Our waiters were so hospitable and helpful with recommendations. If you end up wanting something a little sweet after dinner here, head down a few doors to the candy shops where you’ll find fresh salt water taffy.
From our adorable pink room and top notch dining experiences, to local wine tasting and Fisherman’s Wharf, this was a new and memorable way to see Carmel. Our final adventure included a day trip to Carmel Valley for a celebratory lunch and wine tasting - more to come in another post! Whatever your itinerary ends up being, I am sure you will fall in love with Carmel’s charm and beauty. 

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