Improvising: Almond lemon butter cookies

After bragging about my well-stocked kitchen on Twitter, I settled in to bake Spicy Lemon Butter Cookies — a long-standing recipe in my “to be baked” folder — only to discover . . . well, my pantry was stocked. Until I used up all my ingredients.

Gone were two staples of any baker’s repertoire: nutmeg and vanilla extract. Vanilla extract. I mean, seriously? We’re out of vanilla? Rookie mistake to not check and see if we had vanilla. I was cocky, friends, and I’ll admit it: I was wrong.


Still, I was in the mood to bake. So I improvised. The vanilla became almond, my most favorite of all flavors; and the nutmeg became extra cinnamon, which I added generously. If I’d been on my A-game, I would have thought to substitute cardamom — the most exotic of all spices in my pantry.

But I wasn’t. I was flustered.

Despite my frequent dessert-baking, I still consider myself an amateur. Cookies scare me. Unlike cupcakes, which have a foolproof pull-out-a-toothpick way of checking doneness, you can’t really tell if cookies are done until they’re . . . done. Or, in my case, “extra crispy.”

They were still delicious. Light, fluffy, and with a very distinct almond taste (and aroma!) I love. I could definitely see these at a summer or spring party, and I’m sure they’d be pretty if you didn’t make them as large as I did! Abide by the 1-inch-size cookie ball rule, friends. Abide. They spread.

Almond Lemon Butter Cookies

Adapted from WordFlux’s Spicy Lemon Butter Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 egg
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp lemon zest
2 cups unbleached flour

Beat butter, sugar, salt, egg, almond, cinnamon and lemon zest in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in flour on low-speed until well mixed. Refrigerate 1 hour. Alternatively, you can shape the dough into a log and wrap in a parchment paper before putting in the fridge.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Shape dough into 1-inch balls or, in case you have made a log, slice the dough. Place on ungreased baking sheets. Flatten with a fork.

Bake 12 minutes or until lightly browned around edges. Cool on baking sheets 1 minute. Remove to wire racks; cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

For more delicious and food-related posts (recipes, novels, and more!), head over to Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Spicy pumpkin cookies are heavy, delicious — and sure to please

Friends, family and occasional visitors of write meg! will know that I’ve become a bit of a nut about pumpkin. I can’t tell you quite when my obsession with the gourd began, but I do know that I’ve become known in some circles for my devotion to all things pertaining to that bright orange vegetable.

And, you know, I have a reputation to uphold.

Months after I began my search, I finally found cans of pumpkin — not pumpkin pie mix, friends, but just plain ol’ pumpkin — at my local Safeway this week. I have this booklet filled with cookie recipes and, since it’s officially fall, I knew it was time to try my hand at these little babies.

Though cupcake-baking has lately superseded any of my other culinary attempts, I’m trying to branch out and make/bake other things. So I won’t weigh 600 pounds in the near future, for one, but also so my family can have a well-balanced meal every now and then. Cookies and cupcakes do not a dinner make. (Um, most of the time.)

For the moment, though, I just can’t shake my fascination with dessert — and my excitement at the prospect of actually being able to make something like this on my own. My latest batch of goodies come in the form of Spicy Pumpkin Cookies, a recipe I pulled from a tiny Betty Crocker booklet, “Great Cookies,” I’ve kept in my purse for weeks. Yes, I seriously walk around with cookie recipes on my person at all times . . . just in case, you know, I get the urge to bake.

And I do get that urge. I do.

And now you can, too.

Spicy Pumpkin Cookies

From Betty Crocker’s “Great Cookies booklet” (2010)

Prep time: One hour

Start to finish: One hour and 30 minutes

Yield: About 30 cookies


1 box (1 lb. 2.25 oz.) yellow cake mix with pudding in the mix
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup raisins, if desired
1 cup vanilla creamy ready-to-spread frosting
Ground nutmeg or cinnamon for garnish, if desired


1. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease cookie sheet with shortening. In large bowl, mix cake mix and pumpkin pie spice. Stir in pumpkin and butter until well blended. Stir in raisins, if desired.

2. Drop dough by generous tablespoonfuls about 2 inches apart onto cookie sheet.

3. Bake 11 to 12 minutes or until set and light golden brown around edges. Cool 1 to 2 minutes; remove from cookie sheet to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 30 minutes. Frost with frosting. Sprinkle with nutmeg or cinnamon.

Meg’s notes:

Delicious! This is a heavy cookie — not light and fluffy — but I think that works well for the autumn-infused pumpkin flavor. The recipe was very simple and I left out the raisins, since no one in my house is a fan. I was a little generous with the frosting, but can anyone ever be too generous with frosting? And I think the creamy vanilla was a great complement to the cookie. Overall, very tasty — and I’d wager a crowd pleaser. Mine took longer to bake than 11-12 minutes — it was probably more like 15 — but keep an eye on them . . . the bottoms brown quickly.

The Modern Latte Goldilocks

pumpkinOK, enough messing around — I have found the perfect pumpkin spice latte. I know you’re all chuckling to yourselves right now, probably shaking your heads sadly as you realize yes, I’m obsessing about a tasty seasonal drink again. But since you all know me well enough to know my quirkiness and coffee devotion is just another of my cutesy quirks, humor me for, oh, one more blog post. (Or a few more — it depends on how much I’d like to wax philosophical here. I’m thinking very much.)

My friend Kelly’s birthday was this past weekend and, devoted friend that I am, I forgot. In order to make it up to her, I hopped in my car and got myself over to the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts this morning. I managed to get inside with all of my appendages, which was a miracle in itself — those people in the drive-through line do not play. I was pretty sure one angry SUV driver was going to mow me down as I dared to cross in front of him to, you know, get inside the shop. I can barely open my eyelids too, people. Let’s play nice.

So I narrowly make it inside, order Kelly’s birthday donuts and casually glance around at all the brightly-colored ads around the store advertising — what else? — the pumpkin-flavored stuff they have. I resisted the temptation to get a pumpkin donut or muffin but the allure of a frothy, delicious latte was way more than I could handle. I may put on a great show, but my self-restraint can only take me so far!

And let me tell you — it’s perfection. Yes, I will boldly say that Dunkin’ Donuts’ pumpkin spice latte is the best pumpkin spice latte. Ever. Starbucks’ is great, yes — and I do enjoy the frappuccino version, too. But it’s got a tinge of bitterness to it and, no matter how much cream or sugar you pour in that puppy, you’re always very much aware that you’re drinking coffee. And Panera’s latte? Yummy, yes, but it’s actually overly sweet. Like licking pumpkin syrup from the bottom of the cup. Much more of a dessert than anything.

So here I am: Meg, the Modern Latte Goldilocks. Because Dunkin’s version? Oh, yes — it’s just right.

Do yourself a favor and grab one. Like, today, if you can. Because I have a feeling a nationwide Dunkin’ Donuts latte shortage will be happening in the very near future . . . because, you know, I’m really thirsty. And fall comes but once a year!

Pumpkin spice groupies

starbucks_sleeveFew things in life send me shouting and trembling with excitement — and most of them are hypothetical. (Like, say, hypothetically I would get an e-mail from an agent telling me yes, he/she’d like to represent me and already knows just the publisher for my absolutely incredible novel.)

But the ones grounded in absolute reality? Of course, nothing compares to going to a concert — and seeing a favorite band live for the first time. That magical feeling can easily sustain me for days, if not weeks, at a time! The first time I saw John Mayer? Heaven. Total heaven. And The Killers concert from Monday night? I’m still babbling incoherently about it.

But the other crazy, ridiculously exciting stuff? Usually it has something to do with food. And no, I know you wish I were joking . . . but I wouldn’t kid about something like this.

Considering I spend all day on a computer, you’d think I would be a little more up with the times on matters of vital importance . . . like Starbucks’ annual unveiling of the pumpkin spice latte. I mean, seriously! I lust after this drink all year and then I have no clue when it’s finally available in expensive coffeeshops across the U.S.? Am I insane?

And this where I chant, yet again, thank God for Twitter! Without it, I’m not sure I would know if nuclear war broke out, leveling half the world. Trending topics tell me all I need to know! So imagine my excitement when I saw a little Tweet from author Robin Benway . . . which prompted this response from yours truly:


I immediately texted my sister with the great news as I jumped up from my desk, grabbing my keys and hastily waving goodbye to my coworkers. My hometown is littered with Starbucks cafes in grocery stores like Safeway, but I wanted the real deal. My Corolla and I sped over and, only fifteen minutes after discovering my beloved drink was back, I was holding one in my hot little hands.

And oh, it was heaven.

When Katie got home from college later in the day, I regaled her with the tale of my dedication to getting the pumpkin spice as soon as possible. I’d chosen the latte — the hot version — which allowed me to savor it over the course of, oh, an hour or so. Because everyone knows the drink experience will be severely tainted by a burnt tongue.

me_pumpkin_frapMy sister wasn’t content with just hearing about the pumpkin spice, though. Did I seriously think I was going to have the edge over her? We piled into her car after dinner and drove to a nearby Target where, yes, they had the pumpkin spice. And like I was going to miss an opportunity to get another drink? Though this time I went with the cold variety — the frappuccino. Grande, if you’re interested.

And that’s me at right, drinking it. And wearing my Killers concert T-shirt from Monday night. Two of my favorite things, combined! A good night. (Yes, Kate took this photo; we are those pumpkin spice groupies.)

So what’s the moral of the story? Rely on Twitter for news of your favorite beverages making their annual appearance . . . and, after drinking that grande frap, don’t drink two giant pumpkin drinks in one day. Seriously, bad idea.

Still — was it worth it? Heck yes. And all this pumpkin chatter has me hankering once more . . . I wonder when Dairy Queen’s pumpkin pie blizzard will be back? Maybe someone is Tweeting . . .

Just can’t beat the peach milkshake

peach_milkshakeLooking for a little slice of heaven during the hot, sticky days of summer? Travel no further than your local Chick-Fil-A, where I gained about 10 pounds on Tuesday consuming one of the most delicious confections mankind could dream up.

Oh, yes — I’m talking about the Great Peach Milkshake. I’m happy to report that this delicious treat is available in both a small and large size, but that “small” will just about make you bust a gut regardless. And to be honest, the calorie count isn’t too different for both of them (I say just go for the gusto).

News of the Great Peach Milkshake spread like wildfire around my office a few weeks ago. Chick-Fil-A wisely ran an ad in our paper, and Brandon stuck it on a message board near our collective desks. He was the first to try one and kind enough to let me get a taste. That spoonful was enough to send me over the edge . . . but as I’m working hard to get in shape, I dutifully refrained. Even when I went to lunch with my cousin and grandmother last week, I steadfastly refused their kind offers to get my own shake — which required Herculian self-control I didn’t know I possessed!

But I cracked.

Oh, I cracked.

Crumbled. Completely betrayed myself, consuming a peach milkshake on Tuesday with the ferocity of my dog around a full, unattended plate of barbeque chicken (he knows good BBQ, what can I say?).

And it was worth every whipped-cream-covered, cherry-rich, fruity spoonful! It reminded me so much of this amazing peach ice cream I once had from a local market with my sister and grandmother — completely intoxicating! (Maw Maw, if you’re reading this, it’s impossible to forget that dessert!)

My only caution? Don’t check out the nutrition facts — it’s hard to forget what has been painfully revealed! (But if you’re not the type to respond well to mandates, click here.)

A holiday I can appreciate


I don’t know how I’ve failed to ever celebrate this holiday in the past, but today — May 15 — is National Chocolate Chip Day! And why shouldn’t we have a day devoted to all things chocolate chip — presumably white, dark, milk and mint? It’ll certain soothe what ails you. And if you add the beloved chips to any variety of desserts, you have the recipe for happiness (pun intended!).

Hope you all celebrate this momentous occasion in the way you see best fit! As for me? I’m off to find a cookie.