Cone indulgence


Though we don’t travel that way often, we always stop for ice cream.

Coming back from Virginia on Sunday (we finally got to take our hot air balloon ride — more tomorrow!), Spencer suggested stopping by Hovermale’s — a classic walk-up hot spot in Fort Washington, and my dad’s favorite — for dessert.

We’d just eaten lunch in Berryville . . . and I’d had more than my fair share of snacks at an early-morning amateur radio event that morning.

But soft serve from Hovermale’s? I’ll find room.

Desserts just have that effect on me. Though I’ve done well keeping up healthy habits since I reached my goal weight with Weight Watchers in January, I have loosened up on my portion control . . . and how often I’m consuming chocolate.

And cookie butter. And pie.

Desserts are just . . . my thing. I love baking and often have a bear of a time turning down a cupcake. Though I can easily monitor my helpings at mealtimes and load up on fresh fruit and vegetables during the day, when it comes to passing up cake? I get a little wicked. Pretty cranky.

For so long, declining dessert was a means to an end. I was very focused on making my goal weight and religious about tracking every morsel I consumed — all with the ultimate mission to slim down and feel better. My life has certainly changed after losing 35 lbs., but I’m still me. My sugar cravings aren’t as extreme and all-consuming, but they’re there.

Though I’ll admit to being less friendly with my Weight Watchers Tracker these days, I am still very much aware of what I’m eating and make time to consciously plan my food each day. I’m accustomed to (painfully) turning down pie in favor of fruit, but the secret to long-term success?

Well, I know what it isn’t: deprivation.

Cutting out foods cold turkey would have been a quick way to torture myself — and probably quit. Obviously it matters if you’re allergic to a food or food group, but I’m certainly not allergic to truffles. I’m careful not to eat ice cream every day, but do I occasionally indulge? Absolutely.

More than anything, Weight Watchers gave me permission to stop shipping out on endless guilt trips every time I reached for a cookie. I learned to add the snack to my Tracker, adjust for the rest of the day, make different selections to stay within my Points and move on.

That power — to feel in control — changed everything. It gave me the strength to push through when I may have wanted to stop, and the occasional indulgence is what has kept me on the wagon all these months.

So I might have felt momentarily guilty for ordering a small mixed cone on a hot summer day . . . but those feelings melted with my ice cream. Life is all about balance, and food is meant to be enjoyed.

Especially if it’s in a cone.

Glazed lemon olive oil muffins: tart, sweet, addictive

Lemon olive oil muffins

Though I was never much of a breakfast eater until I joined Weight Watchers (and came to understand the morning meal really is important), I’ve always been a fan of the humble muffin. And, you know, baked goods in general, but especially before work . . . when I’m hungry and really need a boost.

Like so many, I’ve been working to integrate healthier versions of favorite foods into our diet. Typical muffins and pastries are too much of a splurge for yours truly, but I love scouring the Internet for tasty, lower-calorie baked goods so I can continue bumbling around in the kitchen and make my husband super glad he married me.

Enter Nosh My Way’s Lemon-scented Olive Oil Muffins, a dense and almost cake-like treat that can operate as both dessert and/or coffee accompaniment. With a fresh citrus punch in the batter and the glaze, these muffins are a delicious way to say “good morning.”

Or “good evening.” Or just, um, “hello.” Whatever works for you.

The glaze is the real highlight — don’t skimp on the good stuff. You could even poke holes in the cooling muffins to allow even more of that delicious sugary mixture to infiltrate, just like I do with the Key lime cupcakes.

Apparently I have a thing for fruit-flavored treats?

Eh, there are worse things.

Lemon muffins

Lemon Olive Oil Muffins

Recipe from Nosh My Way

Ingredients for muffin:
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vanilla-flavored Greek yogurt
1 1/2 tablespoons grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 Tablespoons 2% milk
Fresh juice of half a lemon (or about two tablespoons)
1 egg
1 egg white

Ingredients for glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Grated lemon rind (optional)

Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl; stir well with a whisk. Make a well in center of mixture.

In a separate bowl, combine yogurt, lemon rind, olive oil, milk, lemon juice, egg and egg white in a small bowl; stir with a whisk until well combined.

Add to flour mixture, stirring just until moist.

Spoon batter evenly into 10 muffin cups coated with cooking spray or cupcake liners.

Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center. Remove from pans immediately. Cool completely on a wire rack.

To prepare glaze, combine powdered sugar, 1/2 teaspoon rind and 3 tablespoons juice in a small bowl; stir with a whisk until smooth. Spread about 1 teaspoon glaze over each muffin; let stand 5 minutes or until set. Garnish with lemon rind, if desired.

Yield: 8-10 muffins.
Weight Watchers PointsPlus value without glaze: 3; with glaze: 4






Strawberry pretzel salad and birthday wishes for Mom

Strawberry pretzel salad

Today is my mom’s birthday!

According to lore, her birth was perilously close to April Fool’s Day — and the doctor asked Grandma if she wanted her firstborn to enter the world in March or April. She chose March, obviously, and Mom’s birthday caps off a blustery month for us here in Maryland.

As one of the most caring, thoughtful people I know, Mom never misses an opportunity to let her family know how much she loves them — so I can’t neglect to do the same. You’re awesome! We love you! Rumor has it the sun will be returning after a soggy weekend, so I hope Mom enjoys your day until we can celebrate this evening.

And let’s talk about strawberry pretzel salad.

The timing of this post is far from coincidental . . . because this is Mom’s signature dessert. It falls into the category of foods that look weird but actually taste fantastic, mostly because this dish balances sweetness and saltiness in an exquisite way. If you’re a strawberry fan, you’ll love it all the more.

Mom whips up strawberry pretzel salad for most functions, especially our annual July birthday party. My dad, sister and I have birthdays within five days of each other, and our big blow-out in late July wouldn’t be the same without this family favorite.

My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Strawberry pretzel salad II

Strawberry pretzel salad

Recipe adapted from Mom and AllRecipes

2 cups pretzels, crushed
3/4 cup butter or margarine, melted
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 (8 ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed
2 (3 ounce) packages strawberry flavored gelatin
2 cups boiling water
2 (10 ounce) packages frozen strawberries


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Stir together crushed pretzels, melted butter and 3 tablespoons sugar; mix well and press mixture into the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes, until set. Set aside to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together cream cheese and 1 cup sugar. Fold in whipped topping. Spread mixture onto cooled crust.

Dissolve gelatin in boiling water. Stir in frozen strawberries and allow to set briefly. When mixture is about the consistency of egg whites, pour and spread over cream cheese layer. Refrigerate until set. Serve and enjoy!

Guinness cupcakes revisited — or, enjoying a rich and boozy cupcake

Guinness cupcakes

Remember these?

I sure do.

Boozy desserts are all the rage these days, and these may go down in history as one of my most popular baked goods ever. I actually couldn’t believe I first made these in 2012. It really feels like yesterday.

Though I’m really more of a Smithwick’s drinker than a Guinness girl, you can’t visit Dublin without trying the iconic beverage. My dad was the sturdy one in our group, ordering his drink on our first night there in 2011. I remember less of the drink and more of the meal, which was hearty and delicious and filling.


Irish flags

Irish food

Burger and fries — Irish style. What I wouldn’t give to jump into that frame . . .

Ahem. Anyway. Though I do partake in the occasional beverage, I have to confess to enjoying booze more in desserts than glasses. If you like the rich taste of chocolate and the bold, unmistakable tang of Guinness, this is certainly a treat for you.

Just have some milk handy . . .

Or maybe an extra Guinness. Totally your call.

Cupcake trio

Dark Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes
with Bailey’s buttercream

Recipe adapted from Global Table Adventure

1 1/2 sticks butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 cup Guinness Extra Stout
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 eggs

For the Bailey’s buttercream:
3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2-4 tbsp Bailey’s, as needed


Preheat oven to 350F. In a small saucepan, melt butter and whisk together with Guinness, vanilla extract and cocoa. Remove from heat.

While Guinness mixture is cooling, add cupcake liners to pan. Whisk together dry ingredients (sugar, flour, baking soda). Pour Guinness mixture onto the dry ingredients, then whisk in the 2 eggs. When the batter is shiny and smooth, pour evenly into cupcake liners.

Bake for 16-18 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

As cupcakes cool, make the buttercream by whipping together the softened butter and sugar, then adding in just enough Bailey’s to get it loose and fluffy. (About 3 tablespoons.)

When cupcakes are done, cool completely. Frost as desired. Yields approximately 18 cupcakes.

Lucky Link-up copy

Come back Monday to share your favorite Irish-themed posts in the Lucky link-up I’ll be hosting with the lovely Maureen of She Is Moments! Whether new or old, share posts that could highlight favorite Irish books or authors; recipes for favorite Irish dishes; travel posts from past Irish adventures . . . or something entirely new. The link-up will go live in the wee hours of St. Patrick’s Day here and at SIM. We hope you’ll join us!

Dark chocolate cupcakes for two

Dark chocolate cupcakes

My love of desserts? Well-documented. Before I started Weight Watchers, the idea of forgoing chocolate was so upsetting I couldn’t even consider it. I was laboring under the delusion that I’d have to “give up” all the things I loved, which . . . wasn’t true.

But this isn’t about my eating habits, friends. This is about cupcakes.

Having moist, delicious baked goods around is a blessing and curse. When I bake, I typically end up with the standard 24 cupcakes that beckon me from every corner of our apartment. After Spence and I have our treat for the day, we’re pretty disciplined about packaging up whatever remains to take to our respective workplaces.

We’re really popular around there.

But sometimes? Sometimes you want to bake — like yesterday, with a heavy snow falling and the roads destroyed — without the surplus goodies. You want your cake for an afternoon snack, but you absolutely can’t have 22 extras eyeballing you from the dining room.

When I stumbled across The Baker Chick’s recipe for fudgy dark chocolate cupcakes for two, I was eager to give them a whirl. While I’ll admit this recipe is a bit of work for two cakes, it solved my dilemma of wanting to bake without enough food to feed an army.

One for Spence, one for me.

These are moist, decadent, incredibly chocolatey and perfectly paired with milk. Though far from low-calorie, they were a great way for me to get that craving out of my system . . . and with nothing left to tempt me now, I feel better about having made (and enjoyed) that single dessert.

I’m pretty popular around our house now, too.


Dark chocolate cupcakes for two

Recipe from The Baker Chick

3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dark cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/8 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 tablespoon chocolate chips (optional)

For frosting:
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter, very soft
1 tablespoon of dark cocoa powder
4-5 tablespoons of powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350F. In a small bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt.
2. Make a small well in the middle of the bowl and add the water, oil and vanilla. Whisk together until smooth.
3. Evenly distribute the batter between two liners and sprinkle with chocolate chips if using. Bake for about 18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean.

For the frosting:
In another small bowl, use a spatula to spread the butter around making sure it’s super soft and pliable. Add the cocoa powder and stir into the soft butter. Using the spatula or spoon, add the powdered sugar one tablespoon at a time until the frosting is creamy and thick. Frost cooled cupcakes and decorate as desired.

The new dessert challenge


Desserts are really making a comeback around here.

I’m a little scared to admit that — mostly because I fear putting it out into the universe. Since losing 35 pounds last year, I had to get serious about cutting down on my sugar intake . . . which was tough. Not as hard as I expected, honestly, but still no cake walk (pun intended). I mean, y’all know I love to bake — and we got so many cool kitchen items as wedding gifts. Pie plates and cookbooks and the Kitchen Aid and . . .

It’s so tempting.

But I knew — I know — I can’t be trusted around chocolate. I just can’t. I have my limits, friends, and know when I’m reaching them. Having cookies and cake and other tasty treats loitering in the kitchen is a recipe (! okay, I’ll stop) for disaster. Even though I’m still going hard with Weight Watchers, I’m in maintenance mode now. Having hit my goal weight in January, the idea now is to keep on keepin’ on.

And I don’t want to slip back into my little bad habits.

Long term, I know I won’t go back to the way things were before. I’ve come too far and fought way too hard to change my entire lifestyle to start sabotaging myself with snack-size Snickers bars, but . . . well, the reality is that having avoided temptation for so long, sweets are getting extra tempting. I miss them. My stomach misses them. We remember the cool crunch, the chocolate tang, the caramel goodness . . .


But I’m learning to cope and am still adapting. In terms of Weight Watchers, I’m allowing myself some extra points each day for a Lindt Lindor truffle (2 points!) or two Hershey’s Kisses (1 point!). From the beginning, my motto was not to “deprive” myself of anything; going on a true “diet” — where you eliminate a certain food or food group — can create hunger pangs that go beyond simply eating fewer calories, I think. For me, anyway.

The second you tell me I can’t have it, I want it desperately. It’s a universal law or something.

Without getting on my sparkly spokesperson soapbox, Weight Watchers worked for me because I learned to make smarter choices, control my portions and treat myself to indulgences — not enjoy them nightly. Then they’re not indulgences. To say I can never have X, Y or Z again? Nope. Not my bag.

In that vein, I’m trying to be gentler with myself about the sweets. For Valentine’s Day, I requested molten chocolate lava cakes for dessert — and my sweet husband obliged. He even improvised by making dulce de leche as a topping, and . . . well, it was amazing.

I didn’t feel guilty after, exactly, because I planned ahead and gave myself the wiggle room to accommodate that sugary deliciousness that night. But that experience did get me thinking about trigger foods, and how the key is to indulge occasionally without going overboard.

It’s a work in progress — like me.

But we’ll get there . . . one alluring spoonful at a time.

Crunchy peanut butter cookies

Peanut butter cookies 1

After spending a few hours watching cooking shows while snowed in last week, I knew it would only be a matter of time until I attached myself to my oven.

I mean, you can’t watch delicious baked goods being prepared all afternoon and not have a serious craving for some. And because our home is a mostly-healthy-food-only zone, I knew if I wanted something buttery and sugary? Well, I’d have to make it myself.

In one of my weaker moments, I’d printed a recipe for Fifteen Spatulas’ crazy good peanut butter M&M cookies — but lacked the crucial candy component. I decided to just bake the cookies themselves because OMG peanut butter and ignore the candy completely . . . and then I remembered the Heath toffee pieces hiding in the pantry.

If you like peanut butter (yes) and love cookies (double yes), these are the treat for you. I had to distract myself to avoid getting seconds or thirds after they came out of the oven, especially because we were sequestered in our tiny apartment where everything smelled like cookies.

And it was all my fault.

My final version looked nothing like Joanne’s beauties, and . . . I’m not sure why. Maybe because I made them too large? And they spread too thin, getting extra crunchy? I don’t know. But regardless of appearances, they were delicious. And that’s all that really matters, right?

Crunchy peanut butter cookies

Recipe adapted from Fifteen Spatulas

Cookies 3

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 large egg
1 cup Heath toffee pieces (optional)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and sea salt. Set aside.

Place the butter, sugar and brown sugar in a large bowl and cream together with a hand mixer for approximately two minutes, until the mixture looks fluffy. Add the peanut butter and egg, mixing until incorporated. Add in the dry ingredients and mix until the flour has almost disappeared. Fold in the Heath toffee pieces, if using, with a spatula.

Using a large cookie scoop, portion out mounds of the cookie dough on your prepared baking sheet, leaving 2 inches between each cookie. Bake for 15-17 minutes, until cookies are golden brown. Cool and dig in!

Peanut butter dough

Cookies 2