Sharing our Strength Spirit

Bakesale for Japan

Do you remember where you were when 9/11 happened? How about the Indonesia earthquake and the ensuing tsunami? Haiti? Chile? Japan?

In my job I have the fortunate opportunity to listen to and talk with customers curious about our products.  What I’ve begun to hear is a rising fear and panic in some of their voices even if it’s just a slight shift in tone.

Are you worried about radiation in your water and food?
Are you worried about an earthquake?

While I think it’s natural to wonder about these things for a moment especially given living in California, hanging out there for long stretches of time is dangerous. And really, it’s kind of beside the point.

I happened to be in Anaheim for a gigantic natural foods trade show when the headline appeared on my computer about an earthquake in Japan. The findings were still preliminary and I remembered how surreal it had been to watch the headlines unfold during the massive quake and tsunami that struck Indonesia and Thailand, sometimes the headlines anticipating oncoming devastation with its matter-of-fact, in print facts and summations.

The next morning, I turned on the news in that hotel room and began seeing footage of the tsunami, seeing a wall of black water and debris devour whatever was in its path. We watch sometimes unseeing. It didn’t look real and yet at breakfast, all eyes were glued on the television, even as we prepared for our first day at this important trade show. I emailed my friend in Fukuoka to see if he and his family were alright and then went on to greet people and encourage them to try our products.

In the wake of natural disaster, it’s always surreal to somehow continue on your normal way. You can’t necessarily go to each afflicted country and help the people first-hand. You have to find a way to respond that fits, but responding is not a question either. The how is really the question.

This year I’ve been in a runner’s mark of readiness. Two opportunities arose that not only gave me a way to naturally give back to Japan and get involved but really take on solidarity with the ravaged country with a host of other people who felt a call to action.


Bakesale for Japan

I had the sincere pleasure and pride to watch people from the foodservice industry come together with home bakers, food bloggers and people wanting to contribute in this past weekend’s Bakesale for Japan. Pizzaiolo pastry chef Samin Nosrat organized this one day Bay Area event with all proceeds going to Peace Winds Japan that then grew to various cities around the country this past Saturday, April 2nd.

What touched me to the core and continues to are the restaurants wanting to share what they do best and help this cause. This was quite evident as SPQR shuttered service until 3 p.m. letting the Bakesale create a pop-up store inside the restaurant. We moved tables and received baked goods from Arizmendi, Sweet Jo’s, Citizen Cake, Out the Door, Telltale Preserve Co., SPQR, A16 and Blue Bottle to name a few foodservice operators that got involved. Starter Bakery sent along goodies for the bakesale to be sold and also sent over a box for the volunteers- a nice touch.

The staff at SPQR had baked up some chocolate buttercreme cupcakes with peanut butter centers and other treats the night before the bakesale. In their spare time from cooking, they were baking up goodies to contribute. This act really reverberated in me and reminded me how much I love working in the foodservice industry.

I volunteered Saturday morning and part of the afternoon to help out at SPQR and while there, reconnected with friend Laiko and Ariel and met new friends Monica, Marissa and Silvana. Together we can make a difference. We put on our marketing hats and issued short-timed promotions throughout our stint on-site. Two tables hosted origami lessons, making cranes.

I posted photos of goodies to buy up on my food photo album to entice and lure friends checking it out to head over to SPQR as well as hitting the street with Ariel and Nader to invite people to head over to the bakesale. We sold through most of the homemade treats and there were many!

Initially, I’d thought to make Raisin Bran Bread, but with shortbread still on the brain, I composed some shortbread that looked a bit like the Japanese flag that I called “Rooibos Rising Sun Shortbread.”

Check out some of the cupcakes, cookies and other treats below. Want more, go here to see the full spectrum of goodies available that day that I photographed.


Online Bakesale for Japan

I also participated in an Online Bakesale for Japan, where 90 food bloggers from different parts of the world offered to bake and ship some of their morsels to the highest bidder with all proceeds going to Second Harvest Japan. Irvin told me about this and I contacted organizer Sabrina to see how I could help out and get involved.

Late Sunday night, I took a taxi from the airport to style the tea and photograph it for her that I would be baking with and then a few nights later finished experimenting with the baked Tea Shortbread. Beck supported my baking and made dinner that night as we had a movie on in the background.

Sabrina pulled off this feat within a short amount of time and while she had set the goal of raising $2500 for Japan, we superceded that over threefold, as final sales brought in around $8000 for this one day event. I bid on some Sour Cream Chocolate Cake in a Jar and put my own Menagerie of Tea Shortbread up for sale (recipe coming soon).

Menagerie of Tea Shortbread

This past year has had me at its mercy, living through my own personal tragedy. I feel emotionally spent and physically beleaguered. As I’ve been volunteering, I think of my dad’s memory and can’t think of a more fitting tribute than doing my part to help others devastated in a small way. I tire myself on behalf of my Father, doing His work and being His hands.

What I think both of these day-long fundraisers have in common is a lot of heart and shared action. Through the inspiration of the organizers, Samin, a pastry chef and Sabrina, a food blogger, set up different ways to address the same issue at hand. One person can make a difference because that first voice has power to call others alongside. Together we can.



Mexican Wedding Cookies & a Cookie Swap

DESSERT RECIPES- Mexican Wedding Cookies

Over dinner one night in Oakland, I swapped stories and ideas with Luna. We share a love of tea and as such had decided it would be fun to meet up and bake at my new digs using tea. Weeks and a wedding later, the idea was revisited and began growing until I swapped out the tea baking get-together into a cookie swap.

I had never hosted a cookie swap before.

Seemed simple enough. Invite guests. Check. Have guests bring homemade cookies to swap. Check.

But then it went in many different directions. I’ve been known to put my own spin on the occasional party, such as last year’s Birthday Chili cook-off where guests voted for each other’s chili using print-outs of Willie Nelson and varying degrees of “Willie Likes It”… The year before that, a cupcake decorating party thrown in the spirit of Project Runway, complete with a runway and a backdrop illuminated with the words Project Cupcake. Yup. My spin.

So when I started thinking how to do the Cookie Swap I began tossing around ideas. People walking in and drawing a slip of paper out of a hat and then later looking for their word’s other half (i.e. “candy & cane”). Distributing cookies like a secret santa party where people could exchange the cookies they receive for another person’s.

Nathan and I discussed how to proceed. And we went for simple, straightforward: everyone bring 36 homemade cookies and the recipe to share. Our first Christmas together, we are making traditions as we fashion our lives together. The cookie swap cemented our first party for us to co-host! Nathan’s the ultimate party sidekick.

The guests began arriving. Heather brought homemade Scottish shortbread. She told the story of earning the recipe from her grandmother which entailed baking them with her and then sending her some to make sure they were okay. I loved this and especially the part of her learning through shadowing her grandmother. Family time / cooking time.

Stephanie and I chatted it up at that same dinner in Oakland now several months ago where we talked about her studying linguistics and her mad baking skills. I’m still looking forward to baking macarons with her! She brought and adapted a recipe from David Lebovitz for Meyer Lemon Rosemary Madeleines and Berry Pumpkin Madeleines. The glaze on the Madeleines gave them a delightful crisp and tang of berry or lemon. Yum!

Anita and Mike came bearing several types of cookies. Armed with meringues and her jam thumbprint cookies. We were excited to nibble and nosh because we knew these would be phenomenal. I met Anita at the SOS Bake Sale this year. She single-handedly organized the logistics and bakers for the sale with poise and grace. Her jamprint cookies were a fun take on a wedding cookie with a thumb print filled with TellTale jam Sangria chocolate jam. These reminded me of Mexican cookies with their specific crumb and especially tasted great with a glass of milk.

Irvin and AJ showed up bearing a plastic bin filled to the brim. Irvin has a way of making people laugh in between bites of his creative concoctions. We met originally at the SOS Bake Sale because we were the two people to bring gluten free goodies. He definitely leaves an impression and has quickly become my twitter BFF, my sidekick at food blogger get-togethers and my go-to source for gluten free baking. He baked up Marbleized Lemon and Ginger cookies. The texture was soft with a slight crunch of sugar at the end.

Jen (aka Jeters) showed up bearing Ginger Cranberry Cookies. Jeters recently roasted an entire pig and we talked about how she stealthily did it in a tiny kitchen. Her spunk and spirit make any party more fun. We laughed at a food blogger conference earlier this year as her name was called as the winner of a well outfitted albeit huge oven unit. The Ginger Cranberry cookies were small and bite-sized sweet and spicy morsels. I ate mine with a glass of milk.

We had a great time chatting it up and sitting around telling stories in between the plates of cookies being passed. This was such a great way to celebrate the holidays!

Nathan and I contributed by baking up some Mexican Wedding Cookies.

Here’s the thing. I had every intention of baking some up for the wedding. I told my Mom and Tia that I would be baking up cookies the Sunday evening before the wedding to include in the guest welcome bags. As I got closer to that Sunday, it so didn’t happen. Irvin offered to make some, but I was definitely in the space of overload and began molting ideas, letting them go as fast as they actually occurred to me. It was my way of staying sane. And his offer was beyond nice.

So there really wasn’t any veering from the cookie of choice for the year. I found the recipe at new friend Amber’s blog. She too is from the Southwest and recently posted a recipe of Mexican Wedding Cookies from a Southwest recipe book. That was all I needed to know. I trust her Southwest instincts and it only fit that one food blogger inform this food blogger friend cookie swap.

While this may be my first cookie swap, I’m looking forward to continuing the tradition next year… who doesn’t love starting a new tradition and one imbued with sugar…

DESSERT RECIPES- Mexican Wedding Cookies



Found at Bluebonnets and Brownies Adapted from “Mexican Wedding Cookies” in The Tex-Mex Cookbook by Robb Walsh

YIELD: Makes approximately 3 dozen

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c. confectioners’ (powdered) sugar plus 1 cup for dusting
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. coarsely chopped pecans
2 1/2 c. all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Beat butter and 1/2 c. sugar together in a mixer on high until light and fluffy. While still mixing, add in the vanilla, salt, and chopped pecans, and continue until well combined.

Mix in flour by hand, stirring only until combined. Do not overmix or the cookies will be tough.

From dough into crescent shapes (I did this by using a cookie scoop. I’d make a scoop, and then cut the scoop in 1/2 to create half moons), and bake 12-16 minutes until the edges are golden brown.

Allow to cool. Put the rest of the sugar in a large bowl. When the cookies are cool to the touch, place 2-3 at a time into the bowl, and shake to coat with sugar. Once all the cookies are coated once, sift the remaining sugar over the cookies to give a second coating.




Pumpkin Cream Pie

There is so much to be thankful for.

Many kids love the gifts that Christmas brings, but from a young age, I found myself enchanted with Thanksgiving. It quickly became my favorite holiday. This might have had something to do with the food. It might have had something to do with family. It might have had something to do with giving thanks. And on several occasions it had to do with friends from college joining our family table. My aunts regularly hosted the holiday at their different homes and I remember early mornings awoken by the smell of turkey roasting in the oven. Hours sitting at the table and the card games that transpired the evening before with my cousin are delicately carved in my memory too. Then there were the years we had family from Mexico join us, which was such a special occasion. Every year gave me new reasons to look forward to Thanksgiving.

Being a newlywed, we had the delight of venturing up north to be with Nathan’s family on Wednesday night. My second year with them, I have enjoyed my role of sous chef to his mom’s executive chef. Thursday morning, we set a cheerful table with gourds running the gamut of the table’s spine and handwritten table cards with everyone’s names. We set out red wine glasses that sparkled alongside dessert wine glasses. In the kitchen, we prepped Brussels sprouts and rinsed the salted turkey.

Nathan and I took a mid-morning walk around town, taking in the crisp November air that has recently fallen on the Bay Area in the form of a cold snap. Arm-in-arm we traipsed over railroad tracks and past the one open grocery store. We walked past the sun high in the sky illuminating the yellow-bleached ginkgo leaves flapping like small flags in the wind. Our first Thanksgiving as an old married couple was shaping up to be something spectacular.

This year, I had the pleasure of dessert duty and made two pies. I love being responsible for dessert because it’s done ahead of time and gives me time to help out with other items best suited day-of, and as described above. I had seen the Pumpkin Cream Pie recipe on Shutterbean’s blog last week and found it intriguing. Despite my love of pumpkin, Pumpkin Pie has never been one that holds me rapt with attention. I get that it’s a tradition and thus like opportunities to riff on that tradition. I would say this is a keeper of a recipe and of course, leave it to Martha Stewart to get it right. My aunt B’s pecan pie- this is what always brought me to the dessert table. Perhaps it’s because I’m from the Southwest where we name rivers “Nueces” and such, pecans run in our blood. I hunted around online for an acceptable Pecan Pie recipe and happily found the one that will be my go-to from here on out at Simply Recipes. As Elise describes it there, “it’s not too sweet” and while I do love the Pecan Pie, they can sometimes taste cloyingly sweet. Beck’s sister brought a cheesecake with raisin crust which was tasty. As you can see, we had a dearth of treats.

We noshed on hors d’oeuvres of shrimp and rosemary marcona almonds, an array of crackers and a parmesan artichoke heart dip with olive tapenade. We started our festivities sipping leftover champagne from the wedding- as if extending that one party into this celebration- fantastic. One of Nathan’s sister’s prepared a salad with pomegranate seeds and toasted walnuts, dressed in a pomegranate reduction sauce. Onto the bird, her husband skillfully carved it with the help of the iphone. It sat alongside mashed root vegetables with garlic panko breading, a sourdough dried fruit & fig stuffing, a sweet potato banana side dish made famous by Tyler Florence for a reason and our Brussels Sprouts. With a three mushroom gravy and two kinds of cranberry- orange relish and brandied berries, we were set!  Shared with new family and friends, what a feast it was.Their tradition of going around the table and sharing what each person is thankful for after the meal and before dessert is a tradition I look forward to continuing with my family. We wined and dined well into the evening, our time drunk with laughter, stories, jokes and the ribbing of siblings and family members.

When you lose someone you love, pausing to remember those you love who are no longer with you is normal and good. Giving thanks for them is even better. And after you’ve allowed yourself to go there, you can come back to present day thankfulness for people who are still with you. I am incredibly grateful for new family coalescing with my consanguineal.  Our first Thanksgiving married, it remains a day to look forward to. After all,

There is so much to be thankful for.

DESSERT RECIPES- Pumpkin Cream Pie



Adapted from Martha Stewart


  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Salt
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 1/4 cups solid-pack pumpkin (from one 15-ounce can)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream, whisked to medium peaks
  • Frozen whole wheat pie crust
  • Garnish: freshly grated nutmeg
  1. Bake pie crust.
  2. While pie crust bakes, make the pumpkin cream filling: Bring milk, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, 1/4 cup sugar, and a pinch of salt to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks with cornstarch and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl.
  4. Gradually whisk about 1/2 cup milk mixture into yolk mixture. Gradually whisk in remaining milk mixture. Return entire mixture to saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until bubbling in center, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Immediately whisk in pumpkin. Whisk in butter.
  5. Strain filling through a fine sieve into a clean bowl. Pour into baked pie crust, smoothing the top with an offset spatula. Refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours. When ready to serve, top with whipped cream, and garnish with nutmeg.


Our Pecan Pie