What the F happened?

The purpose of this blog was to detail the tumultuous journey I was taking toward becoming a better “cook.” Here is why I have not posted a recipe experience in months:

In May, I moved to San Francisco and have been working simultaneously as a publicist for restaurants and hotels as well as a server at a French restaurant. To my dismay, the residence I have taken has NO KITCHEN!!! This means my paltry attempt to learn to cook has been put on hold indefinitely.

During this culinary hiatus, I’ll try to repurpose this blog to feature tasty things seen and tasted in San Francisco- town of infinite gastronomic delights.

Home

 

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The Quest for the Perfect Phad Thai

Goat Mother
Pregnant Thai goat on a beach in Koh Mook

Thailand, the land of fierce spices, idyllic beaches, pregnant goats. This March, I was lucky enough to carry out one of my life’s most important missions: travel to Thailand and hunt down the perfect phad Thai. On the cusp of my college graduation, I visited Thailand with my family to celebrate the academic milestone. I had chosen the destination because of its fabulous cuisine and magical beaches. Although its climate was nearly unbearable (que the heat rash, sun poisoning, and lobster-colored skin), Thailand turned out more wonderful than I could had hoped, and the quest for the best phad Thai was a delicious challenge. (Side note: yes, I realize phad Thai is probably the most cliche Thai dish to ever eat) Below are just a few of the many noodles noshed.


Not Enough Peanut Too Saucy Banana Leaf Plate!The question on everyone’s lips may be, “where do you find the best Phad Thai in Thailand?” This would be a very good question. As a novice when it comes to Thai culture, I wasn’t sure where to begin in my search. My only method was, in Pokemon-ic style, to try them all (or as many as I could try in two weeks). A standout version of the dish was found in a jungle outside of Bangkok:

IMG_4123

This particular one may have been so special as it was enjoyed after an epic bike ride through the city, a boat ride across a river, a bike ride into the forested outskirts, and a huge lizard sighting. Or maybe the lady cooking it was just a noodle master.

After tasting my way through dozens of dishes, I came to the conclusion that like an apple pie in America, phad thai in Thailand is made in a different way by each individual person. The perfect phad Thai may be just as obtainable as reaching the horizon.

IMG_4370ขอขอบคุณคุณ

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The Vegan/Vegetarian Egg Pie

The egg pie. The nostalgic comfort food of my youth. Served only on holiday mornings, I rarely stuffed my face with this savory delight. As a strict vegan, this dish was always a no-no. As an egg eater, I recently had my opportunity to make my delicious dream come true. I was going to recreate the famous egg pie, in a vegan-ish way.

The decrepit recipeI realize that this pie is leaning on the side of vegetarian side as it called for 10 eggs, but the spirit of veganism is still within! Instead of baking it with dairy or Canadian bacon, I made the pie with vegan dairy products and fake ham (note: fake Canadian bacon does exist; the store was just out of stock).

I worried that the whole creation seemed a little too much like science fiction. Was I trying to play God? Who can create THE egg pie without even a dollop of real dairy?

The warm memories of this pie beat out my skeptic side. I carried on with the experiment despite my fear of failure (I had just totally botched a cake).

The pie blew my mind. Not only was the gooey Deiya cheese perfect, the edges of the “ham” were crispy, a great nod to real bacon. No one could tell that the cream cheese was actually a faux substitute.Baked BlissCheesy and awesome.

Yay!I am thrilled to have gone where no vegan/vegetarian has gone before, and recreated my family’s meaty/cheesy tradition. Three cheers for egg pie!

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A Cake For Christmas

Da Lee
Santa’s Little Helper

I realize that Christmas was four months ago, but I forgot to post it whilst caught up in the holiday hustle. Enjoy this tale of sugary failure.

The title for this post should really be “how to make the ugliest cake in the world.” It’s not, but it definitely should be. I wanted to make Christmas Eve very special by baking a very special cake. What sounds more special than a red velvet cake with coconut cream cheese frosting? Did I mention it’s supposed to have FOUR layers? I wanted this cake to be at the center of our family’s holiday joy. The result was a disfigured monster cake that was delicious, but hideous.

This cake was a big job, so I enlisted the help of my dear friend Leah. Two people baking a cake is great because it helps cut down on mistakes. Also, when your arm gets tired from stirring, you have another person to take over. The moral of the story: be friends with Leah.

We went through the cake batter making without a hitch. Our tag team routine went swimmingly. The cake was nearly vegan. We veganized most of the recipe except for the fact that we used free range eggs. To combat the issue of needing buttermilk, we used this vegan alternative. We felt that the batter was not enough for four layers, and decided to bake three instead to have thicker layers.

Blood Cake?
Blood Cake?

Making the frosting was an ordeal. I purchased the ingredients ahead of time only to

realize in the cooking process that I was short in vegan cream cheese. Leah and I schlepped ourselves to the store (which was a zoo considering it was the day before Christmas Eve). We returned home with the goods only to realize we were also short on powdered sugar. We were exhausted from baking and shopping for hours, so we decided to reconvene the next day.

After going out for the powdered sugar and adding it to the rest of the frosting, I realized that I was also short on coconut shreds. There was no way I was going back to the store again for the third time in hours, so I decided to go for it and ice the cake anyway.

Que the heartbreak. Despite the sitting of the cake overnight and the chilling of the frosting, the frosting would not stick to the cake. It oozed like a sludgy landslide down the sides of the mountainous mass. I felt like I was in I Love Lucy, battling the force of a conveyor belt. The more I scooped the frosting back to the top, the more it ran down the sides. It was a lumpy, runny disaster.

Before:
The Beginning

After:Abominable Snow Cake WHAT IS HAPPENING?!What. The. F. What did I do to deserve this? My sister recalled a time she used vegan cream cheese in lieu of the dairy variety and had a similar experience. But despite this bonding over a shared nightmare, I wasn’t ready to give up hope on my dream cake. I popped it back in the fridge after wiping up some of the glob and decided to add more frosting later. In the end, it looked terrible and tasted mediocre. The moral of the story? Don’t be me and make this cake. It will turn out ugly.

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Bubbly on a Budget: How to Find the Best Champagne This Holiday Season

   ’Tis the season to be jolly, and what could be more jolly than sipping on some champagne? Shopping for a good bottle of champagne can be tricky for the frugal. As students, most of us do not have the luxury of downing Dom Perignon. Fortunately, it is possible to find bubbly for a bargain without sacrificing quality or taste.

     Cue wine expert David Glancy, CEO of the San Francisco Wine School. According to the school’s website, Glancy is one of only 12 people in the world to pass both the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Master exam and the Society of Wine Educators Certified Wine Educator exam. The man knows his wine.

     Glancy assures that it is possible to get a great product for $10-15 a bottle. His first tip for the fiscally minded is to consider regions outside of Champagne, France to find sparkling wine unless you specifically want champagne.

     Although most people refer to sparkling wine as champagne, the term champagne only encompasses sparkling white wine from the Champagne region of France. As far as deals go, discover the joys of sparkling white wine from other parts of the globe. “There are regions that provide great value outside of Champagne, certainly sparkling wine from Burgundy labeled as Bremant de Bourgogne. That’s one of my favorite value areas,” Glancy says.

     Louis Boillot is his top pick for a budget-friendly Bremant de Bourgogne.

     Glancy also recommends looking for sparkling wine from the Cava region of Spain and Tasmania, an island state off of Southern Australia.

     “Tasmania is actually a great, cool climate which is the right place for making sparkling wine,” Glancy says. “It’s economics, because they are not well known, the prices aren’t particularly high. These producers specialize in sparkling wine.”

     For great Tasmanian products, try producers Jansz or Taltarni.

     Cava, Spain is another often-overlooked producer of sparkling wine. According to the Wine Guide 2013 by the editors of Food & Wine Magazine and Mary G. Burnham, Spain is a great place to look for bubbly.

France & Spain are some of the most popular countries for sparkling wine

     “Spain is one of the most exciting – and disparate – wine-producing countries on the planet,” the Wine Guide says. “Its bottles range from some of the greatest values in the world to some of the most expensive.”

     Andre Tamers is the owner of De Maison, an importing company that specializes in unique, high-quality boutique wines from Spain and France. He started off as a buyer at a restaurant and moved on to traveling the great wine regions of Europe. He knows the wine business inside and out.

    Tamers suggests finding a good wine retailer to recommend sparkling wine purchases.

    “Students or people who are starting to drink sparkling wine on a regular basis should develop a relationship with someone who is trustworthy and has a good selection,” he says.

Professionals in the wine industry will look to the label to see who is importing the product. In the United States, there are fifteen top importers who have their names on the backs of the labels. Tamers recommends doing as the insiders do.

“In the industry, experts tend to follow specific importers who bring in products,” Tamers says. “Once you start following those people, you can get a good sense of quality that they are bringing in.”

     Some of the top importers in California include Kermit Lynch and Charles Neal.

     “Start looking at back labels and looking at who these guys are,” Tamers says. “Go on their websites and see what they are bringing in and what their products are all about.”

     Like Glancy, Tamers also offers cava as an affordable sparkling wine choice. He suggests Llopart or Cava Avinyó, his company’s best selling product.

    “It’s one of the finest cavas we import. It’s an exceptionally good value that is as good as 95 percent of champagnes available on the market,” Tamers says.

     Visit demaisonselections.com to learn more about Cava Avinyó, as well as Tamer’s other products.

     Whether you want to sip or gift sparkling wine this holiday season, remember that you don’t have to break the bank for a good bottle (or settle for Cook’s either). Be a smart shopper and think globally, meet your local wine retailers, and find out who’s importing what to find the best bubbly for your buck. Cheers!

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Chocolate Chip Muffin Mediocrity

 9:45 pm may seem like a strange time to start baking muffins, but I take breakfast very seriously. Who has time to bake before school/work? Nobody.

I decided to jump the gun and make breakfast at night. I was in the mood for muffins, so I found this recipe that seemed easy and straightforward.

I whipped the ingredients up pretty quickly and popped those babies in the oven (the muffins, not infants).

20 minutes later, the muffins were done, and boring. They were mediocre. I would not use this recipe again. The whole experience was a big disappointment. I was looking forward to some fluffy, delicious muffins in the morning, but it was not meant to be.

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Country Style Breakfast Scramble

Behold, the country scramble. One of the heartiest breakfasts around. This dish means business. After getting tired of the same old breakfast, I have been experimenting with different egg dishes. This country style scramble was a great meal to start the day with. Also, it gave me an excuse to eat some Annie’s brand organic ketchup.

I chopped up garlic, mushrooms, a giant carrot, and a red bell pepper only to realize that this was a ton of food for two people. I had wanted to use a potato, as the vegetable always seems to be in country scrambles. I omitted the potato because I didn’t want to end up with a ton of leftovers. Regardless of the pile of food, I added a link of Field Roast apple sage vegan sausage.

While the veggies started to cook, I cracked five eggs and scrambled them up plain. I seasoned the vegetables with green onion, some onion salt, and a ton of pepper. When all was prepared, I mixed the eggs into the vegetable concoction.

I added a dolup of vegan sour cream, although I’m not sure it really went with the meal.

And just like that, breakfast was served.

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Thanksgiving 2012

This is not what I ate for Thanksgiving. Every year, vegans and vegetarians everywhere go to holiday celebrations and are faced with the usual barrage of questions.

“Do you eat skim milk?”

“Do you eat butter? Butter’s vegan right?

“Wait, you don’t eat shrimp?”

“What’s wrong with pie?”

My grandpa may never remember that I don’t partake in the holiday bird, but Thanksgiving can still be a joy. My sister and I always take on the challenge of veganizing traditional dishes. Each year, no one notices that the mashed potatoes have been made with Earth Balance vegan butter or almond milk. The side dishes still taste great despite the missing animal products!

My favorite piece of this feast is the sweet potato pie. We use the same recipe that has been in my family forever. Of course, I switch out half of the ingredients,  but it is still feels like a rich family tradition. I always go for the sweet potatoes first. ALWAYS!!!

The feast was full of different items this year thanks to my cousins. They came up with some zucchini, brussel sprout, and spinach dishes to try.

I stuck with the vegan classics: celebration roast by Field Roast, sweet potatoes, peas, and mashed potatoes. It was quite the feast!

Here is Bella, my family’s sleepy beagle. Every Thanksgiving you can find her moping on the couch or slinking under the table waiting for scraps.

Happy holidays!

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The Easiest of Breakfasts

You know what is often a giant hassle? Cooking. You know what is the most important meal of the day? Breakfast. What happens when these two facts come together on the same day? Cinnamon rolls!

Trader Joe’s has the perfect fix to your lazy morning conundrum. These cinnamon rolls happen to be vegan and happen to be painfully easy to make. Why am I even writing about this?

I write to you to shed light on this wonderful secret. There are no partially hydrogenated oils or weird ingredients in these babies. Although cinnamon rolls alone are not necessarily the healthiest breakfast choice, they serve as a nice treat on a hurried morning.

Behold these sweet, sugar slathered delights. Revel in their painless baking process. Enjoy their tasty wonder.

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Mexican Inspired Breakfast – Ole!

Sometimes I get bored with my usual breakfast routine of eggs, fruit, or yogurt. Today, I literally spiced things up for a muy bueno meal.

I started by sautéing two cloves of garlic in a bit of olive oil, then adding a chopped carrot, bell pepper, and squash. After cooking those up for a while, I added a little over a half of a can of black beans.

While those were simmering, I cooked about five eggs in another pan. *Note, this breakfast was for more than one person. I chopped up some cilantro and threw it in with the vegetables along with a TON of cumin and a bit of coriander. I use enough cumin that will make the dish flavorful enough to avoid using salt. (Too much cumin will make the dish chalky though.)

When the eggs were done, I mixed them in with the vegetables. For the finishing touches, I threw on a dollop of vegan sour cream, a few slices of avocado, sprinkled it all with Deiya vegan cheese, and a spoonful of Trader Joe’s salsa. The result was a hearty, savory breakfast that turned out more like a brunch as I was full until much later.

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‘Tis the Season!

The holiday season is here! Three cheers for not knowing how to cook a chestnut! 

There is something about the holiday season that calls for the use of italics. Any way, I am thrilled that we are on the cusp of Christmas and a brand new year (given that the Mayans were wrong). I just can’t wait to bust out the Mariah Carey Christmas album (the 1994 variety) and start sending out Christmas cards. Don’t even get me started on Love Actually.

But what brings more joy than festive music and movies? Holiday food! This Christmas, I hope to cook myself in to jolly oblivion. The New York Times whipped up a list of some pretty delicious main dishes I’d like to try. 

After whipping up an entree, I’d like to make one of these whipped cream delights: 

Although strawberries don’t necessarily scream Christmas, they are cute. 

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Soft Snicker Doodle Cookies

I felt like a cookie, and not a peanut butter one. With no chocolate chips in the house, I was running out of simple options. I decided that a snicker doodle attempt was in order. I found this recipe and set off on my cinnamon adventure.

OBSTACLE: I had no cream of tartar. After Googling “cream of tartar replacement for cookies,” I soon realized that cream of tartar is a big deal in the snicker doodle world. It creates that classic snicker doodle texture. I discovered that baking powder would help, though not perfectly.

I used vegan butter for the butter part, and split the recipe in half as to not find myself drowning in cookies later. The result: soft, fluffy sugar cookies with some spice on top.

Bonus: Dip these in some almond milk!

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Paula Deen Pancakes Y’all

Disclaimer: I broke my nice camera lens. If that was not sad enough, here is a photo of a really sad seal. The following post will be brought to you by Instagram. How hip!

In the case that you want diabetes, you should follow the Paula Deen diet. Lots of sugar, lots of fat, and avoid raw fruits and vegetables. I don’t plan on following her lead, but I did succumb to her sweet pancake recipe.

I can see why Paula Deen isn’t known for her health. This woman called for two tablespoons of butter to use in the pan alone. I cut that down to one, and was still blown away by the buttery behemoth. The recipe itself didn’t seem all that outrageous. A few tablespoons of sugar here, some flour there.

The pancakes burned around the edges almost every time, but I was told that this is a normal occurrence when you cook in a sea of butter.

These pancakes were not my favorite version of the brunch staple, but they were pretty tasty. The pancakes that were not burned were the best, and the most overwhelmingly rich and buttery. This is not the recipe for those cutting down on fat and sugar.

Slather on some of Trader Joe’s 100% Pure Vermont Maple Syrup and you’ll have yourself in a diabetic coma. The meal was essentially dessert for breakfast.

Add some fruit with this breakfast, for your blood sugar’s sake.

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Quick Cookie Fix

Although I am trying to cut back on my sugar intake, sometimes temptation takes the better of me. Since I don’t have any prepared sweets in the house, I am forced to create my own confection. I never plan for these cookie creations, so I have to work with what I have in the cupboard. Tonight, I had just what I needed to make a half batch of whole wheat peanut butter cookies.

I’d like to think that the whole wheat aspect of the flour would make my snack healthier, but I’d also like to think that money grows on trees. Any way, these cookies turned out great. Dip them in almond milk, and you’ll find yourself in heaven! They took about thirty minutes altogether to make and bake. These cookies are more filling than others, so I’m not tempted to eat a million. Making the half batch helped with that too. End note: peanut butter cookies, good.

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Sweet Potato & Black Bean Burrito

Is there anything else in this cruel world better than guacamole? I didn’t think so. In order to enjoy this phytonutrient-philled side dish, it’s best to make a Mexican-esque main course. Instead of going for my usual taco, I went for a sweeter variety. Meet the sweet potato and black bean burrito/soft taco. Is the only difference between a taco and a burrito how you fold it?

I love how simple guacamole is to make. I used one avocado, a handful of diced red onion, half of a lime’s juice, cilantro, cumin, coriander and garlic salt. Whip it up with a fork and you’ll find yourself with a delicious and chunky treat.

For the burrito’s innards, I googled “black bean and sweet potato” and got a nice gauge of what would be good in such a mix. I ended up using three or four garlic cloves, a half of a yellow onion, one giant sweet potato diced up into small cubes, a can of black beans from Trader Joe’s, a large fistful of cilantro, cumin, salt, pepper and coriander.

I used the same tortillas as my usual go-to taco called for, as it is the only easily found variety that is free of partially hydrogenated oil. Lately, I haven’t been able to live without Tofutti’s vegan sour cream. It is a creamy heaven. I slathered the bottom of my burrr with it and may or may not have had some on the side as well.

The flavor was pretty great there, but I went the extra mile to add some Daiya cheddar cheese. It didn’t melt all the way because the sweet potato pile wasn’t hot enough.

The meal was perfect (minus the unmelted cheese). Next time, I won’t even use cheese. The flavor of the vegetables was enough by itself. The next time I need a guacamole fix, it will be hard to choose between the old and the new taco. Poor me!

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Fall-Friendly Frosted Pumpkin Cupcakes

Autumn is here! In the city of Stockton, I fondly refer to this month as Stocktober. It is one of my favorite, month-long holidays. During Stocktober, I forget about the danger and bankruptcy of the city and get lost in the falling foliage and pumpkin laced treats.

To kick off Stocktober, I perused the internet for an easy pumpkin dessert. My selection had to be based on what I had in the kitchen cabinet. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much. Fortunately, I purchased a can of pumpkin a few months ago thanks to my spot-on foresight. What I could muster up was a frosted pumpkin cake.

Shortly after I had whipped up the batter, I tasted the mixture to make sure everything was going alright. SURPRISE!!!! IT’S PUMPKIN PIE!!! I was tempted to skip the cooking process and just flatten my face in the awesome, autumn mush. I gathered up the willpower to pour the batter into its baking tin. Instead of making a cake, I went with the less threatening and more portable cupcakes option.

After about 10 minutes in the oven, I was overcome with giddiness as the delightful pumpkin scent wafted through my apartment. Who needs a pumpkin candle when you can bake a pumpkin dream?

I had an icing issue. The recipe I found called for cream cheese and powdered sugar when it came to the icing. I had neither of these key ingredients, and had to look elsewhere for the topping. I used this recipe for the icing, but substituted the powdered sugar for the brown variety. It turned out pretty weird and will definitely make sure to buy powdered sugar the next time I hit the town.

The cupcakes themselves turned out perfectly. They were each like little morsels of cake, just what I wanted. The icing was a bummer, as it looked more like brown, runny sauce than the fluffy, white tiara I wanted.

Next on my fall baking list: apple pumpkin galette. Whatever that means.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies, Why Not?

One night, I was out of luck when my sweet tooth started demanding sugar. I had nothing to instantly satisfy the craving, but did have all the trimmings needed to make a classic. Say hello to some good ol’ fashion chocolate chip cookies.

For such a classic cookie, I needed to turn to the classic cook. Que Martha Stewart. I found this recipe and thought that soft and chewy sounded alright with me.

I split the recipe in half because I didn’t want to make a million cookies. Since I am not a math wizard, I have to wonder if I did said math correctly. What would these cookies have been like if I had followed the recipe verbatim? We will never know.

The other hitch in this process was that I only had a half handful of chocolate chips on me. I was not about to go to the store, so my chocolate chip cookie escapade left me wanting more. I ended up with lots of cookie, not so many chocolate chips. I will admit that these did turn out better than one of my other cookie attempt.

The lesson learned was that I either need to keep cookie making items on me always, or stop being lazy when I need to go to the store for a crucial piece of the puzzle.

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Farmers’ Market Finds – Indian Peaches

After missing a train, I happened to be in an unusual place at an unusual time. I’m not often in downtown Stockton on an early Saturday morning, but due to chance I wound up there. Under a freeway overpass in a parking lot was a pretty large farmers’ market.

 This wasn’t like the farmers’ markets I have been to in San Francisco or Los Angeles where you can get organic, free range albino chicken meat or whatever is trendy right now. This was more of a salt of the earth kind of place, with real Americans buying stuff fresh from the ground. Not a hipster in sight.

There was a wide variety of goods to be had. I was blown away by the number of Thai-centric ingredients that are usually quite difficult to find in stores. They have been hiding under this freeway overpass all along!

I have no idea what is in the picture above, but there sure were a lot of them at this market. I was too scared to buy one.

I was disappointed in the egg options there. One vendor was cage free, but not free range. The other egg vendor was not selling your ordinary product. Instead of the unfertilized variety, the men were selling the partially developed embryo sort. NO THANK YOU.

I ended up picking up some of the basics: tomatoes, strawberries, yellow peaches as well as a new find. Until that morning, I had never heard of an Indian peach.

These peaches were not only beautiful, but juicy and sweet and wonderful. They were just different enough to stand out against the other peach breeds. Check out your local farmers’ market to see if you can find any!

Indian peaches are not a complete breakfast without the addition of eggs and cinnamon toast. Am I right or am I right?

The moral of this story is that missing a train can turn into a new breakfast treat. So always miss your first train and wander under freeway overpasses.

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Operation Breakfast

Breakfast, favorite meal of the day. Could I beat a dead horse any more? I seem to be saying this all the time these days. Any way, I adore breakfast. But how many times I can make Gordon Ramsay’s eggs? I need some inspiration for my morning meal. Here’s what I discovered:

For a hearty option, these poached eggs over rice look perfect. I feel like after this meal, I would be full forever, which is just what I need for a morning/afternoon of back to back classes. To be honest, the 101 Coobooks blog can do no wrong in my book, so I bet this dish is amazing.

While we’re on this source of inspiration, I might as well mention the other delicious options I need to try ASAP.

I wish I didn’t have to go out to the grocery store every time I had a hankering to bake. Going to the store for ingredients is a hassle. Why is magic not real?

This recipe for egg muffins seems pretty easy, but I’m not sure how well they’d taste the next day (if there were any leftovers). These seem great as a grab and go option (minus the chicken sausage). Actually, it might be totally weird to be seen walking around eating portable eggs. BUT HEY I love eggs!

Last but not least, THE MOTHERLODE:

Cinnamon Baked French Toast

If I made this, that would be the end of me.

Now that I have looked at all of these wondrous delights, I am hungry. In addition to being hungry, I am motivated to tackle at least one of these recipes. Can’t wait!

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