Friday, February 5, 2016

Air BnB Adventures 1: Trip to Salinas, CA

You guys, I get super bummed out when I go for weeks (months) without posting food recipes.  It kind of makes me feel like I'm failing at blogging, even though blogging isn't my job and no one's expecting me to do it.

So I've decided to kind of integrate other stuff in my life into this space.  (This is, of course, after years of saying "Why is [Food Blogger X] telling me so much about her LIFE?  I'm here for the FOOD!)

I still feel that way, but I'm going to be super hypocritical and start sharing with you guys.  OK?  OK!

I had my first Air BnB experience last weekend.  (For those who don't know, Air BnB is to hotels what Uber is to taxis.  People rent out space in their house or other property for people to stay in, either short or long-term.  For those of you who also don't know, I'm obsessed with Air BnB now.)

I decided last weekend I wanted to go to Gilroy, CA (the garlic capital of the world, if you wondered), and wanted to give Air BnB a shot, since hotel prices were either exorbitant or super cheap, but attached to motels that had 1-star ratings for cleanliness.

The place I found is referred to as the Peace Temple Abode.  The listing on Air BnB said "Looking for high adventure?  Vertical climb up to semi-private loft & crash on comfy futon with memory foam topper.  Privacy cafe curtains strung on rail open to reveal communal hall below."

Awesome, right?!

Other notes on the listing include that it's a "new age, yoga, and wellness experience" and that it's an animal-product-free house.  So you can use the kitchen, but don't think you're going to be cooking any meat.  (Or smoking, or drinking alcohol.)

On our way up, we stopped in San Luis Obisbo (which was so gorgeous, I didn't do anything to this picture, and it looks like this):

By the time we got there, it was dark, so we drove down this dark, twisty road to the address (which, at this point, I was referring to as Murder House) until we came to the correct place.  There were probably 10 cars in the driveway/parking area as well as two RVs.  Still not entirely sure what I'd gotten us into, we went in, and were immediately greeted by the host, who showed us around, and pointed us to the loft.

(Side note:  I did not realize how weak my arms and legs are until I climbed up and down that thing a few times.)

Not a great picture, but you can see it was a small space with low ceilings -- I loved it!

Higher than it looks.

The futon thing was super comfortable, and I fell asleep reading while Dennis went out to get some (non-animal product!) food.

The next morning, our host made us some coffee and offered up the bread drawer for toast.  The kitchen was big and cluttered, and amazing.

The previous night, our hosts had gone to a prayer meeting thing (I, admittedly, don't know exactly what it was.  I think they are some variety of Buddhist, so I don't mean to sound ignorant -- I just don't remember what the meeting was called, but Mrs. Host was very excited about it.

Had they not gotten in so late from that, they would have offered yoga in the morning, which would have been announced by the gong in the common area.

Oh yes.

It had just rained, so the plants all looked super green...

...and the barnyard animals outside were splashing around in puddles.

Yes.  There were barnyard animals.  How freaking cool is this place?

They had clean towels and soap and shampoo and everything for u s, and the bathroom had a huge tub with a garden-style shower.

This was, 100%, a must-visit spot.  If you ever find yourself in Salinas, give these guys a shot.  (They also have real bedrooms, not just the loft.  Our host offered us an empty one when we got there, since there was no one in it, but I was pretty set on the loft.

I could get used to country living, I think.  (Country living within 5 miles of the freeway, that is!)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Recipes for Fitness for Very Busy People: Chiffon "Pumpkin" Pie

I'm disappointed in you, Recipes for Fitness for Very Busy People.

The name of the recipe should have been my first clue something was about to go wildly awry:

"Pumpkin"??  But then I looked at the recipe, and there was actually pumpkin in it, so I'm not sure why the scare quotes.  I decided I could forgive some punctuation issues, even though I was an English major.

Then I looked at the ingredients, all 55 calories of them.

Something wasn't quite right here.  There was no...binding agent.  How was this "chiffon" "pumpkin" "pie" going to hold together?

(SPOILER ALERT:  It wasn't.)

I still followed the recipe, and was pleased to know that if you "play your guitar or violin for 10 minutes after dinner, you'll cancel the calories in your dessert.  (Unburned calories are apt to be stored as fat.)"

NOTE TO SELF:  Learn to play guitar and/or violin.

It just didn't look...right when I put it in the oven.

But I did it anyway.

Rather than telling you how to make this monstrosity, I'll just give you a picture essay.

Mmm...burned edges!

To call this a fail doesn't even really sum it up correctly.  I'm going to call this an extreme non-win.

Maybe better luck next time, all you Very Busy People.


One Year Ago:  No Post
Two Years Ago:  No Post
Three Years Ago:  Spaghetti Carbonera

Monday, January 11, 2016

Recipes for Fitness for Very Busy People: Turkey Divan

So it's a new year,

(OK, fine.  It's week 2 of the new year.  Clearly, one of my New Year's Resolutions was not "not procrastinating.")

It's the time of year when my RSS blog feed is full of recipes for Green Smoothies (seriously...I saw 6 of those recipes today alone), and healthy quinoa-oatmeal-kale-superfood bowls.  So I figured we here at Sarah Cooks the Books should jump on the healthy eats bandwagon.

Enter this gem (found at Bart's Books in Ojai, CA):

Recipes for Fitness for Very Busy People.  (Yes, I am floored as you are that this has an entry on Amazon.)

I can't 100% determine if the recipes are supposed to make you fit, or if this is a cookbook strictly for already fit people who also happen to be very busy.  Who knows?

My favorite thing about this book is that every recipe gives you the calorie count per serving, and also a helpful activity you can do to burn off said calories immediately.  Had a way-too-filling meal of turkey divan?  HAVE NO FEAR!

This book was written by a Food Consultant for The Oaks at Ojai and also the Palms at Palm Springs.  (These establishments are known for their relaxing atmospheres, and not necessarily for their creative naming conventions.)  So actually, the answer to my question is that these recipes were, in fact, written for very rich people.

I digress. 

Not only did this cookbook fulfill my love of weird cookbooks, the Turkey Divan was actually pretty tasty!  I didn't feel especially fit afterward, but at least the book tells me exactly how to burn off those pesky calories.  It's also a pretty easy recipe, so it also has that going for it.

Turkey Divan
Serves 6 (supposedly)


2 heads of broccoli, cut and lightly steamed
12 oz. cooked turkey breast, cut into cubes
2 cups celery, sliced
1/4 cup onion, diced
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp. soy sauce
1 cup grated mozzarella
2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat over to 350°F.

Put olive oil in a medium-sized pan over medium-high heat.  Add onion, celery, garlic powder, salt, and pepper, and cook, stirring, until onions are translucent.  Remove from heat.

Combine onion mixture with cubed turkey, mayo, and soy sauce.  Mix well.

Place broccoli in the bottom of a baking dish.  Pile turkey mixture on top of broccoli.

Combine your cheeses and sprinkle on top of turkey mixture.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until cheese is melted.

(As a side note from the recipe, it's "a good use of leftovers.  If you leave out the broccoli, you'll have a HOT TURKEY SALAD"!)


One Year Ago:  Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes
Two Years Ago:  No Post
Three Years Ago:  No Post

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2015! (Best-Loved Cookies: Pfeffernusse)

It's the most wonderful time of the year:  cookie time!  It's the 5th year of The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap, and the second that I've participated.  This year, as every year, to enter, we each made a small donation to Cookies for Kids' Cancer and raised $1,790.44.  If you add that to our brand partners' donations, we raised over $7,000!  Yay!  

The basic gist is, food bloggers (476 of us in 6 countries  this year!) are assigned 3 other food bloggers at random, and we send each of those 3 a dozen cookies.  In return, we also receive a dozen cookies from each of 3 people.  It's so much fun, and it's always a blast to see the kinds of cookies people make.

The cookies I received were SUPER cute Black & White Sables from Ausra at

Coconut Thumbprint Cookies with Berry Jam and Lemon Curd from Lisa at Healthy Nibbles & Bits:

And Eggnog Sugar Cookies from Sue at Munchkin Munchies:

These cookies were all SO good, and Dennis and I have been going to town on them.

My contribution this year was some German spice cookies called Pfeffernusse, and I got them from a book called Best-Loved Cookies.  They sounded pretty tasty, and I thought they would travel well.  The people I got feedback from seemed to like them, and Dennis and I sampled some as well, so I can definitely recommend these.

I know it's weird that I'm telling you to put pepper in them, but trust me.  Just trust me.  You'll love them.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies


3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup dark molasses
1 egg
Powdered sugar for sprinkling

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and all spices in a large bowl.

Beat sugar and butter together in the bowl of a mixer until light and fluffy.  Beat in molasses and egg.

Gradually add the flour mixture, beating at low speed until dough forms.

Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes and up to 3 days.

Preheat your oven to 350°F and grease cookie sheets.  Roll dough into roughly 1-inch balls and place 2 inches apart on cookie sheet.

Bake 12 to 14 minutes or until golden brown.  Transfer cookies to wire racks, and dust with powdered sugar.

Make fun patterns on your cookie sheet.

Thank you so much to Julie at The Little Kitchen and Lindsay at Love and Olive Oil for hosting.  This is always such fun, and I can't wait until next year!


Last year's cookie swap post here!

Friday, December 11, 2015

4th Annual Christmas Cookie Recipe Swap: Heather's White Chocolate Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

Happy Cookie Season everyone!

This is the first of two posts devoted to the season of giving (cookies).  A whole heap of us food bloggers got together and traded cookie recipes with the instructions to make the cookie recipes provided on our partner's blog.

I got paired up with Heather from Hezzi-D's Books and Cooks.  I don't know if the similarity in our  blog names was intentional on the part of the organizers, but I kind of hope so!

Heather gave me the choice between Thumbprint Cookies and White Chocolate Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies, and I chose the latter.

These cookies are awesome!  It make quite a few (you'll have to forgive me because I didn't count exactly how many), and I took them to a holiday potluck at work -- they were a big hit!

This cookie exchange was super fun, and I hope to do it again next year.

(Oh, and P.S. -- below is the list of recipe swap hosts.  Check them out!)

White Chocolate Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies


Bulk food items courtesy of WinCo.  I love WinCo so much.

2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 sticks butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cup oats
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup white chocolate chips
Preheat over to 375°F.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.  Mix well and set aside.

Not yet mixed well.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugars.  Set aside.

Melt the butter over medium heat in a small saucepan (or microwave it, if you're into that kind of thing.)

Add butter to sugars and mix well. 

One the butter cools a bit, add the eggs one at a time to the sugar mixture, beating after each addition.  Add vanilla.

Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture, bit by bit, stirring well to combine.

Stir in oats, chips, and cranberries.

Drop tablespoons of the dough about 3 inches apart onto a cookie sheet.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until cookies are lightly browned.  Remove from oven and allow to cool 2-3 minutes before transferring to a wire cooling rack.


One Year Ago:  Red (Bliss) Potato Salad
Three Years Ago:  Homemade Applesauce

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Meatloaf

I have a complicated relationship with Ree Drummond (aka the Pioneer Woman).  Her Food Network show makes me cringe, and I think she plays the "gee golly shucks I'm just a little 'ol country housewife from Oklahoma" when, in fact, her family is worth millions at the very least, a little ham-fisted.

On the other hand, I've never made a recipe of hers that wasn't just aces, and her cinnamon roll recipe would make a grown man cry.  Plus, she's figured out how to market the hell out of herself so now she can hire people to do all the dirty work of running her empire.

Like I said, it's complicated.

When I was working in the library system in North Carolina, when her first cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes From an Accidental County Girl, went on sale, there were hundreds of holds put on it, and we couldn't keep it in stock.

This one day, a woman returned the book and it was in tatters.  It had clearly been handled by dozens of people trying to make those cinnamon rolls. I checked the book in, and marked it for deletion.

"You're going to throw that away, right?" the woman asked me, a little manic.

I told her I was.

"Can I just keep it?" she asked.  I don't much like using adverbs in writing, but the only way to describe this is to say she asked eagerly.

"I'd...have to charge you for it," I told her.  This was protocol.  If books were taken out of circulation, we couldn't give them to the last person who had them because then people might start destroying them on purpose.

She thought about it.  "Full Price?" she asked.  I told her yes.

"You may as well just buy it," I told her.  She was disappointed.

After the woman left, I went to toss the book into the "Destroy" box.  My boss was in the back.

"That's been a really popular book," Boss Lady said. I nodded.

"You know," she said, "I know you cook a lot.  We can't use it, but you could probably rubber band it together or something.  The pages look like they're still intact."

"Is that something I can do?" I asked.  She shrugged.

"Why not?  It's just going to get destroyed otherwise."

So that's how I came to be in possession of this sad, deteriorating cookbook.  (Sorry, lady who wanted it!  I hope you got your Pioneer Woman fix somewhere else.)

All that said, this meatloaf is bangin'.  I don't know where meatloaf got such a bad rap, but those people have clearly never tried this meatloaf.  I made a couple of modifications (and even then, Dennis said the sauce was "too sweet for him."  I'd knocked it down from 6 Tbs. brown sugar to 4!  I also got rid of the bacon because, 1, I didn't have bacon, and 2, I don't much like meat covered in other meat.)

If you make it this way, I promise it's delicious and makes a really stellar sandwich the next day.

Serves 8
From the Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes From an Accidental Country Girl


1 cup milk
6 bread slices
1 1/2 to 2 lbs. ground beef
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. seasoned salt
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, minced
4 eggs, beaten

Tomato Sauce
1 1/2 cups ketchup
2-6 Tbsp. brown sugar (depending on how much you like sweet sauce.  I recommend 3.)
4-6 dashes Tabasco sauce

Preheat the over to 350°F.

Put the bread in a small bowl and pour the milk over the bread.  Let soak for several minutes.

Put the beef, bread and milk mixture, cheese, salt, seasoned salt, parsley, pepper, and beaten eggs in a large mixing bowl, and with clean hands, mix until well-combined.

Form a loaf with the mixture and put on a broiler pan (or in a loaf pan, but if you use a loaf pan, you'll have to worry about skimming grease off the top).

Make the sauce by mixing all sauce ingredients together and stirring until combined.

Pour a third of the sauce over the meatloaf.

Bake for 45 minutes.  Pour the rest of the sauce over the meatloaf and bake for another 20-25 minutes until cooked through.

One Year Ago:  No Post
Two Years Ago:  No Post
Three Years Ago: No Post

Friday, September 11, 2015

Pinterest Friday: Blackberry Frosting (and Some Thoughts on Boxed Cake Mix)

I got really excited about this frosting (not to mention I was distracted by the fact I was Periscoping this whole process), and I didn't take a picture of the ingredients.  I think you can forgive me, though.

One of my co-workers, Sergio, had a birthday on Thursday, and I'm the Official Bringer of Birthday Treats, so that's how these cupcakes came into being.  Sergio and I had had a whole conversation about cake a few days ago, and he'd indicated he has the same love for Funfetti that I do.  As such, I bought a Funfetti cake mix.

Now, I'm usually someone who prefers to make things rather than buy them pre-packaged.  9 times out of 10, when I'm baking, I don't use cake mixes unless it's an ingredient in something (cake mix cookies, for example).

But I've had some reconfigured thoughts on store-bought/pre-packaged stuff, especially after my podcast interview.  If you want to make a cake, and you want to go buy a box of cake mix to make that should 100% go buy that cake mix and make the hell out of that cake.  You don't have to tell anyone it's boxed.  (Conversely, you can tell EVERYONE it's boxed if you want.  Who cares?)

If someone's going to give you a hard time because you made them a cake from a box instead of from scratch, they're not someone you want to bake a cake for anyway.  If you go to the store and buy a rotisserie chicken and heat up some green beans and make boxed mashed potatoes for a hot date you have, and the person you're cooking for scoffs at store-bought chicken...maybe go date someone else.

Some people say about comic books "Well, it doesn't matter what they're reading as long as the kids are reading!" and I never really understood that, but I think I do now.  You mixed up those potato flakes and stirred in the milk and the butter.  You made those mashed potatoes!  You don't have to spend hours and hours peeling, cooking, mashing, seasoning, whatever those mashed potatoes to make someone a meal and let them know you like them.

I'm not 100% sure where that soapbox came from, but I'll get off of it now.

Long story short, I knew Sergio liked the specific Funfetti, so that's what I made.  Since I feel strongly about making my own frosting, though, I dug up one of my Pinterest pins called 55 Frosting Recipes and made this blackberry frosting from the Natasha's Kitchen blog.

Sergio with a birthday cupcake and an insanely decorated desk.  The fox is uninterested in sweets.

It's got sugar.  It's got berries.  It's got cream cheese.  What else do you need?

Blackberry Frosting
Makes 3 cups of frosting
From Greek Yogurt Cupcakes with Blackberry Frosting at Natasha's Kitchen


1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
8 oz. cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces and softened to room temperature
1/2 cup (1 package) blackberries

Puree blackberries in a food processor, then strain them through a fine mesh strainer to get the seeds out.  Push them through the strainer with a spatula until all that's in the strainer is seeds.  Discard the seeds.

In a stand mixer (or in a large bowl with a handheld mixer), mix the butter and the sugar on low speed until combined, scraping as necessary.  Once they're combined, increase speed to medium for 2-3 minutes.

Add the cream cheese a piece at a time and mix until combined and fluffy.

Add the blackberry puree and mix until well-incorporated.

Refrigerate frosting for 10 minutes before icing your cupcakes.

One Year Ago:  No Post
Two Years Ago:  Blog Redesign!