RECIPE // Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bars

| October 24, 2014

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“Are you ready for me to eat four of these in a row?” asked my husband. He was standing at our dining table, holding up the whiteboard backdrop in the above photo since I couldn’t keep it propped up no matter what I’d tried.

I smiled to myself at the thought. I knew he fell for these pumpkin bars, a Martha Stewart recipe, after trying one from my test batch. Both he and I dig the combination of the earthy pumpkin spices with the semisweet chocolate chips and the bars’ dense yet cakey texture.

Still, eating four in a row? At the time, he was training for the 150-mile Bike MS Bay to Bay Tour and eating healthy was his go-to. So, I naturally assumed he was joking. Later, when I checked on the container in which I’d stored the rest of my latest batch, I noticed that four bars were indeed missing.

“I warned you,” he said.

To make these squares, I stocked up on all purpose flour, baking soda, salt, 2 sticks of unsalted butter that I’d left out to come to room temperature (an important detail!), granulated sugar, large eggs, vanilla extract, a 15-ounce can of pumpkin puree, a 12 ounce-package of semisweet chocolate chips, and pumpkin pie spice (a seasonal ingredient I was able to find at Trader Joe’s).

If you aren’t able to find pumpkin pie spice, Martha Stewart says you can make your own by combining 1 1/2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon, 3/4 teaspoons of ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon each of ground allspice and ground cloves.

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As for baking tools, the big-ticket items I gathered were a 9-by-13-inch baking pan, a medium mixing bowl, a large mixing bowl, measuring cups for dry ingredients, and my stand-up electric mixer (though a hand-held electric mixer will do).

Want to give it a go?

Begin by preheating your oven to 350 degrees and preparing the baking pan. While Martha recommends lining the pan with foil, I prefer greasing it with butter then dusting it with flour. This way, the bottom, edges, and corners of the resulting cake are smooth instead of occasionally indented from hairline creases in the pressed-out foil.

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Whisk 2 cups of all purpose flour (each of which has been spooned into a measuring cup and leveled), 1 teaspoon of baking soda, 3/4 teaspoon of salt, and 1 tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice in a medium mixing bowl until well combined. Set aside.

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Next, in a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to combine 1 1/4 cups sugar and both sticks of the room temperature unsalted butter until smooth (if you’re using a stand-up mixer and the paddle attachment, you’ll see it go through stages a-d below). Remember, you won’t get the necessary smooth texture unless the unsalted butter is at room temperature.

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Beat 1 large egg and 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract into the creamed butter and sugar until well combined.

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Then beat 1 cup of pumpkin puree into the wet ingredients, and don’t worry if the mixture looks curdled. It isn’t; it just appears that way.

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Now, mix in the dry ingredients from the medium mixing bowl into the wet ingredients until just combined. If you choose to use your electric mixer to bring the ingredients together, dribble the dry ingredients slowly and carefully. As for me, I do this part by hand to reduce the poofing of dry ingredients into the air as I add it to the wet ingredients. Lebron James, I am not.

Just keep in mind: If you also opt to do this part without the use of the electric mixer, drizzle a half cup of the dry mixture onto the wet mixture at a time until it’s all been incorporated. Be careful not to overmix!

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Finally, fold in the chocolate chips.

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To make sure the batter is spread evenly throughout the prepared pan, I spoon lumps of the thick batter across the pan, then spread it from the center out to the edges and corners.

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Then, bake the beautiful beast on a rack set in the center of the preheated oven until the cake’s edges just begin to pull away from the sides and a toothpick inserted in the center of the pan comes out with few moist crumbs attached, about 35-40 minutes.

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Let the cake cool completely in the pan. Once cooled, getting the cake out of the pan depends on how you’d prepared the pan:

  • If you buttered-and-floured the pan like I did, cover the top of the pan with a cutting board that’s wide enough to cover the pan top, carefully turn the pan and cutting board over so that the pan is sitting upside-down on the cutting board, and watch the cake slowly slide itself onto the board.
  • If you lined the pan with foil, carefully lift the cake out of the pan by the foil overhang, set a cutting board on top of the cake, flip both over so that the cake top is resting on the cutting board and the foil side is facing up, and peel the foil off of the cake.

Then, use a serrated knife to cut the cake into 32 squares and prepare to defend the dessert from any pumpkin-pastry lovers in your household until you’re ready to serve them.

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***
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bars
Recipe from Martha Stewart
Makes 32 squares // 30 minutes prep, 35-40 minutes to bake


2 cups all purpose flour, spooned and leveled
1 tbsp pumpkin pie spice (such as found at Trader Joe’s during the fall)
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 12 ounce-package semisweet chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9-by-13-inch baking pan, either by greasing the bottom, sides, and corners with butter and then dusting it all with flour, or following Martha Stewart’s method of lining the entire baking pan with enough foil to leave an overhang on all sides.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt until you no longer see dark clumps of pie spice. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, cream the room temperature butter and sugar on medium-high speed until smooth. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat the mixture until just combined (you should no longer see bubbling from the egg or dark streaks of vanilla). Beat in the pumpkin puree until the mixture appears curdled.
  4. Slowly mix in the dry ingredients from the medium bowl into the wet ingredients in the large bowl until just combined, being careful not to overmix (you shouldn’t see any streaks of dry ingredients). Fold in the chocolate chips.
  5. Spoon batter into prepared pan and spread it out evenly. Bake on a rack set in the middle of the 350-degree oven until the cake’s edges just begin to pull away from the sides and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with few moist crumbs attached, 35-40 minutes. Cool completely in the pan.
  6. If you buttered-and-floured the pan, cover the top of the pan with a wide-enough cutting board and carefully turn the pan over to release the cake onto the cutting board. If you lined the pan with foil, gently lift the cake out of the pan by the overhang, set a cutting board on the cake top, flip the cake and board so that the foil is facing up, and peel off the foil. Use a serrated knife to cut the cake into 32 bars.
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4 San Diego Spots for Pumpkin Treats

| October 23, 2014

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Do you have a hankering for something sweet made with October’s quintessential varietal of squash? Then consider making a stop at any one of these four San Diego outposts, each of which are capitalizing on our taste for pumpkin… everything.

And if you know of other local San Diego spots shelling out food and drinks using the seasonal orange fruit (according to the Mayo Clinic), please leave a comment!

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This moist slab of sweet-and-savory bread packs a spicy lowlight with every bite thanks to the chipotle baked into it. Each serving is individually wrapped and available to grab-and-go from a basket near the register; just look for it as you turn the corner from the cookie display. This Hillcrest mainstay is also serving pumpkin cheesecakes, pumpkin tartlets the size of a round appetizer plate, and roasted pumpkin bisque. 350 University Avenue, breadandcie.com

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Despite the intense orange color of the meringues, these delicate french pastries harbor an equally delicate pumpkin flavor. Currently at $2 a pop, they add a little bit of fall and Halloween to an afternoon coffee or evening hot chocolate. Get them at their freshest on Thursdays. 4176 Convoy Street, bigjoyfamily.com

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Served up at the youngest sibling of the Cafe 222 and Bankers Hill Bar & Restaurant family, this dense pumpkin cake gets a tasty boost from the piped-on caramel cream cheese frosting and the sprinkling of toasted pumpkin seeds and sea salt. The East Village gem is also offering up slices of spongy pumpkin rolled cake with cream cheese filling as well as a made-with-real-pumpkin pumpkin latte which can be served hot or iced, and as caffeinated or non-caffeinated as you like. Should you scrap the caff all together, make sure you also ask to dial back the pumps of simple syrup, too. 815 F Street, bakesalesd.com

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“Pumpkin Palooza is Back” notes the blackboard behind the register of this Serra Mesa coffee and baked goods den. Though the dessert is called a cookie, its consistency tastes more like a cupcake and that’s not a bad thing. To make good on its palooza claim, the punny locale popular for its cinnamon buns is also dishing out pumpkin spice muffins, pumpkin spice cake, and your choice of hot, iced, or frozen pumpkin lattes. 3251 Greyling Drive, mybearbuns.com

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ABROAD // Joshua Tree 2014

| October 15, 2014

“Whoa! A coyote! Did you see that?”

The sun had already set when my husband and I drove into Joshua Tree National Park for Rocktoberfest, the annual reunion of our camping and climbing friends. The park road was neither highlighted by street lamps nor reflectors so as not to disturb the night habits of the desert’s natural inhabitants. It was frustrating, particularly since the headlights of the Eurovan we borrowed from my in-laws only illuminated five feet ahead of us, but my husband’s sighting of the coyote crossing the black, out-of-place road reminded us that we were visitors of this place, not residents.

Over the last handful of years, our Rocktoberfest friends have taken turns reserving a group site at the Sheep Pass campground a year in advance. Prior to this practice, we chanced finding two first-come-first-served spots in Ryan campground. But as our camping family began to grow, we needed more of a guarantee that we’d get to stay together through the duration of our trip.

Since the group sites have room for as many as 50 people and 15 vehicles, the core set of campers–about 10 of us–invite friends to join our fold every year. Potential newcomers tend to show excitement and commitment, only to decide days before that they can’t make it. This wasn’t the case this year. As my husband and I drove up to Group Site 1 this past Saturday, we saw at least 20 people around the campfire. It was awesome.

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To get a better sense of the allure of our camp site, check out this great time-lapse video by our friend Miz.

There were also pups…

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…And a darling first-time camper.

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When it comes to the climbing aspect of these trips, we owe the opportunity to scale epic routes to our friends Miz (left) and D (right), both of whom learned to climb from our friend Bing. Miz and D have been our climbing guides for as long as my husband and I have come out to Rocktoberfest. They scout routes, lead climbs, and set anchors, always keeping in mind the variety of climbing experience among those who’ve come out and taking everyone’s safety into account at all times.

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My husband’s first climb this year was on The Exorcist, a gnarly 5.10a in the Hall of Horrors rock pile. For those of you unfamiliar to climbing, think of it like this: The US climbing grade starts at 5.0, a level likened to climbing a steep ladder, and maxes out at 5.15. Something like a 5.10a in Joshua Tree means there’s maybe one rung-like hold in the entire climb. More often, holds take the shape of vertical features known as pinches, flakes just deep enough for fingertips known as crimps, and cracks in the rock just wide enough to jam one’s hands. Those same pinches, crimps, and cracks are also used as footholds unless you’re lucky enough to find little round nubs along the route. So, when it comes to this level of climbing, you need to get creative.

Here’s what transpired.

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Since I chose to stay grounded this year–what with my growing belly and refusal to pay $100ish for a full-body harness I’d only get to use for a few months–I was photographer and onlooker. Yes, I was a lot envious, but I know I’ll get to climb next year.

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Besides climbing, this year’s campers got to partake in some long-distance frisbee golf thanks to our friend D Lyons who’d brought along his frisbee golf cage.

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My husband and I left on Monday afternoon, but not before spotting another coyote, this one exploring the day use area of the Hidden Valley rock formations. It was the perfect way to close out a trip that was filled with great friends and great conversation set along the shadows of majestic piles of monzogranite boulders and out-of-this-world Joshua trees. Until 2015!

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ABROAD // Santa Barbara

| October 10, 2014

After a fun overnight stay in LA that included a visit to South Pasadena (or “South Pas” as LA locals call it), my husband and I headed north to Santa Barbara for part two of our babymoon road trip.

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Our first day in town began with breakfast at D’Angelo’s Bakery, which is located in a Downtown area known as Lower State. Seating is available indoors, in D’Angelo’s white hexagon-tiled dining room, and outside on the sidewalk. It was a calm and cool morning–something unheard of in San Diego last week–and we wanted to lap it up. So, we sat at a two-top tucked in the shade of D’Angelo’s blue-green awning.

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While Lower State is considered a tourist hot spot, the makeup of D’Angelo’s patrons that morning spoke otherwise. Cyclists dressed head-to-knee in cycling kits unclipped from their road bikes for a leisurely cuppa and a plated meal. A sleepy-looking couple toting a baby in a sling meandered in for a breakfast they didn’t have to prepare themselves. Maybe the seeming lack of out-of-towners was because D’Angelo’s isn’t smack dab on State Street, Downtown Santa Barbara’s tourist haven. Or maybe it was because we were there before 11:00 a.m. on a Monday in a week that isn’t assigned to a national or state holiday. Whatever it was, I appreciated the mellow vibe of everyone around us, from D’Angelo’s service staff to its customers.

I opted for a simple meal: a fresh-baked triple berry scone, a side of two egg whites, and organic mint tea served in a French press. The scone was my favorite part of my a la carte meal. It’s circumference was wider than my hand, and it was flaky like a biscuit yet moist enough to stay together as I spread bits of butter and jam on each bite.

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Our day was unrushed so far, and we meant to keep it that way. Too often, we plan a vacation with so many activities that the trip leans more towards The Amazing Race than a relaxing getaway. So, when it came to lunch, we decided to pack a picnic. That way, we wouldn’t feel pulled away from wherever we ended up because of hunger pains. Enter C’est Cheese.

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C’est Cheese is a market and cafe that’s all about, well, you can guess. I was excited about this place and not only because saying “C’est Cheese” aloud in my worst French accent sounded very close to “Say Cheese!” All sorts of gourmet cheese, from ones you might recognize to ones you’d hesitate to pronounce, are available for purchase in wheels, wedges, slices, or crumbles. You can also buy something to pair with the cheeses of your choice, be it jams, dried fruits, meats, crackers, fresh-baked breads and the like.

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My husband and I ordered two sandwiches for takeout to pack in the small cooler we’d brought with us from home. I chose the Turkey & Fig, which is composed of Diestel turkey, a semi-firm Spanish cheese called Campo de Montalban, fig jam and arugula in a halved ciabatta roll. My husband went for the grilled Ham Sandwich made up of Niman Ranch ham, Gruyere, tomato marmalade, pickles, red onion, arugula and grainy mustard on rye. Each sandwich meal came with its own small mixed green salad that’s lightly tossed in a simple vinaigrette.

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After a quick stop into an AMPM for a 52-ounce cup of ice to keep our lunches chilled, we went for a scenic drive up the Alameda Padre Serra (known as the APS to locals). We followed its winding roads past the remnants of early 20th century sandstone wall terraces and road dividers, past hillside homes with lush and long driveways, to play peek-a-boo with views of Santa Barbara that stretch all the way to the coast, eventually finding our way up to Franceschi Park.

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This was once the home of Francesco Franceschi, an internationally respected horticulturalist who lived in Santa Barbara during the late 1800s and into the early 20th century and was responsible for introducing a variety of Mediterranean plants to Santa Barbara and the West. He purchased the land in 1903, partly for its climate and partly for its view of the Pacific and the Channel Islands.

While the home is in much need of repair (and closed off because of it), the gardens behind it are maintained with little dirt walkways taking you through and around them. It’s also possible to wander around the villa to imagine what it might have been like to live in it at the turn of the 20th century, but just be sure to watch your step.

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My sweet husband. While much of my focus was on taking in the panoramic view and thinking about what it was like to live as a Franceschi during the late 1800s, his was to capture my budding pear shape. It’s taken us six years and many heartbreaks to finally achieve this feeling of being on top of the world, so I guess it’s only fair he’d want to linger at this pinnacle. I don’t hate him for it.

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After driving down the hill to explore the roads that snake behind it, we finally dug into our C’est Cheese lunch in the late afternoon while sitting on a bench by the Rose Garden of The Old Mission.

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This was my favorite meal of the trip. I pine for my turkey and fig sandwich! There’s got to be a way I can re-create it in San Diego (I’m looking at you, Venissimo Cheese).

I suppose we could have had our C’est Cheese lunch at any one of Santa Barbara’s numerous parks, so many of which seem to pop out of nowhere in the middle of a stretch of urbanity or carved out under a canopy of knobby trees. But there was something special about sitting in that open space of The Old Mission that just made us feel lucky to be there.

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For dinner, we went to Jane restaurant, a little spot a couple of doors down from the Arlington Theatre on State Street. I hankered to eat there after a friend on Facebook posted photos of her meal at Jane’s a couple of weeks ago.

My husband devoured the Penne Pasta bowl which, on paper, didn’t seem like anything spectacular, but ended up being a deep and wide bowl of perfectly cooked penne pasta swimming in a light seafood broth with generous helpings of clams, shrimp, and scallops. I indulged in a duck breast that was dressed with a berry-like reduction and braised red grapes, and served with au gratin potatoes and sautéed squash. It was all divine.

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The next morning, we walked along Arroyo Burro Beach to take in the coast and cool our feet in the waves. We watched sandpipers scurry on the wet sand. We saw a lone egret staring off into the distance. We even spied googly eyes peer down on us from the cliffs. It was the perfect way to savor the last sip of our trip before heading back south. I’ll never forget it and look forward to visiting Santa Barbara again someday, next time with our baby boy in tow!

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ABROAD // South Pasadena

| October 08, 2014

“How was the moon rising thing?”

My father-in-law’s question caught my husband off guard, but it only took him a beat to realize that my father-in-law was asking about our babymoon to LA and Santa Barbara.

Although “babymoon” has been around since the 1970s, I’d only learned about it once I entered my second trimester. Basically, it’s a honeymoon-like vacation parents-to-be take before their baby is born.

But like doula and colostrum, it’s just another term of the secret-club vernacular I’m only learning now that I’m lucky enough to be pregnant. So, I’m not surprised that the concept didn’t fully click with my father-in-law.

To answer his question: It was great! It began with an overnight stay at my cousins (and our nephews!) in Rowland Heights last Saturday night. They took us to dinner+dessert around and in the trendy Anaheim romp known as the Packing House, and then took us to brunch in South Pasadena the next day.

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I lived in LA County until I was 18 years old, but had never heard of South Pasadena before. And, no, it isn’t a neighborhood that makes up the south of Pasadena. It truly is its own city, having incorporated in 1888. And what a darling hidden city it is, with its craftsman homes and tall, shady trees. It felt the way I imagine old LA used to feel like, before it was congested, smoggy, and taken over by concrete and asphalt.

Understanding that we didn’t make it into South Pasadena until late Sunday morning, we knew there would be a 20-minute wait at our restaurant of choice on Mission Street, one of the historic city’s main arteries. So, after my cousin put her name down for our party of six, we wandered into Buster’s Cafe for a quick coffee stop.

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Buster’s is a 2-story establishment that serves up coffees, teas, smoothies, ice cream, pastries, sandwiches and salads. As my cousin and husband stood in line for their coffees (which my husband later said was the best coffee he had on our trip), my godson took to playing up and down the red staircase that leads laptop-wielding patrons to additional seating while treating them to a view of the street below.

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By the time their coffee orders were up, it was time to head back to our brunch spot, Mike & Anne’s, where our table was waiting for us.

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I wanted something with vegetables, but I also wanted to be a glutton, so my husband ordered the Garden Omelette, I ordered the Lemon Ricotta Pancakes, and we shared our meals. I got to eat half of the omelette, which was literally bursting with wilted baby spinach, oven roasted tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, and sweet peppers, and oozing with warmed goat cheese. He, in turn, got to have one-and-a-half of my fluffy, mildly sweet pancakes which I preferred with a little bit of the accompanying blueberry compote rather than the maple syrup.

To walk off are huge meals, we checked out the Cruz’n for Roses Hot Rod and Classic Car Show which conveniently took place up and down Mission Street and was free to tour.

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My husband and I are lucky to have such wonderful cousins, who not only put us up and take us around when we visit LA, but have been kind enough to give us a bunch of our nephews’ gently used onesies and other goodies in prep for our baby. We’re so blessed!

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