Tag Archives: Peanut Butter

High energy bars loaded with healthy flavor

Like anyone who works out a lot, I love snacks. My natural inclination runs to trail mix and energy bars. Both, however, when purchased at normal stores are both expensive and pretty bad for you. The really good-for-you options are smaller companies where you have to order and those are even more expensive.

Still, choose these over the massive companies, because there are great ones out there, like Oregon-based Picky Bars, for example.

With the Test Kitchen’s recent post-holiday bent toward healthier items, we looked to make our own energy bars with carefully chosen, affordable ingredients. Because of my previously explained Cancer-phobia, I wanted these packed with free-radical fighting foods like sunflower seeds and cranberries.

We landed on a loaded creation that blew our minds with flavor, texture and nutrition. We consider this a “pre-work-out” bar because it’s high in carbs and fat that provide great fuel to burn. But unlike many bars, its absolutely loaded with protein (a whopping 25 grams).

Note: Midway through this recipe you will get concerned that they aren’t coming together. It will look like this:


But don’t worry. If you get them too moist they become SOO dense. This lightness now will keep them manageable at the end. They are just so loaded with goodness that they compact into chewy bars once they are finished.

For a post-workout, or evening energy bar, we have an old peanut butter standby that is virtually indestructible once its made and much lower in carbs. We take it on backpacking trips to make sure we have the protein we need.  We have a quick recipe for that at the end of this one, so scan down past the nutrition data if you’re so inclined.

There… the fine print out of the way, let’s get on with them already…

This we call the “Everything Energy Bar.” Try it out for yourself! 

Everything Energy Bar



  1. Prepare 8×8 baking dish lightly with grapeseed oil. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Mix dry ingredients together
  3. In stand mixer combine peanut butter, eggs, oil, brown sugar and vanilla.
  4. Mix together the dry and wet. The batter will be crumbly.
  5. Dump in the various goodies (berries, nuts, etc…. optional coconut flakes, because I love raw coconut).
  6. Work the batter through your fingers to combine thoroughly. If necessary, use one more tablespoon of grapeseed oil. Form into a sort of dough ball.
  7. Smoosh lightly into the pan to form up, but not totally smash into the bottom of it. Go for a balance between combined but not smashed. Press the edges a bit to firm them up around the pan.
  8. Bake for… (honestly I keep forgetting to time it, but I think it was 18 minutes. You should trust me anyway… check them and when your tester comes out MOSTLY clean, your done. They’ll finish cooking in the pan.
  9. Melt chocolate and drizzle in stripes diagonally across the top of the bars.
  10. Let cool for 30 minutes. (You’ll be worried they are too airy and potentially even crumbly, but don’t fuss).
  11. Cover with cling wrap and put in fridge overnight or for a couple of hours to thoroughly cool.
  12. Take out and cut into bars, wrap individually and store in airtight container.

9 Servings – Nutrition data by sparkpeople.com! very easy to use. Try it.

Amount Per Serving
  Calories 454.2
  Total Fat 17.7 g
  Saturated Fat 3.1 g
  Polyunsaturated Fat 4.0 g
  Monounsaturated Fat 1.3 g
  Cholesterol 0.0 mg
  Sodium 213.5 mg
  Potassium 406.4 mg
  Total Carbohydrate 56.0 g
  Dietary Fiber 7.3 g
  Sugars 15.7 g
  Protein 24.9 g

OK… Our go-to, work-horse Peanut Butter energy bar revises the old Peanut Butter Smoosh Balance bar before it got all big and fancy and store bought. This is a take-off from the old-school folks who figured out the 40/30/30 (carb/protient/fat) diet is a pretty good way to go (and still is, though I hate how commercial the “Balance Diet” has become, and won’t buy their products.

Anyway, this one is simple, and I took out a bunch of the honey to keep the sugar content low. The last batch of these I made for a backpacking trip in November and finished off the last of the bag in January. They keep forever … well not like Twinkie forever, but you get my meaning.

Peanut Butter Smoosh Energy Bars


  • 1 cup oats
  • 1 cup Effin Artist peanut butter
  • 1 cup whey protein
  • 1/2 cup (or less, just enough to make all this stuff stick) of honey.
  • 1 tsp salt
(add dried fruit if you want as it comes together, or mix in some dark chocolate to make them even more flavorful. You can do about anything with this base mix).
  1. Smoosh it together until it forms a cohesive blob.
  2. Line wax paper on a 8×8 cake pan and press the bars into the pan flat.
  3. Allow to set for an hour or two.
  4. Slice into bars or transfer to a freezer bag as a whole, then you just rip off a chunk when needed.
A couple of notes about this nutrition data. I left it at nine servings so you can compare the nutrition of this bar and the one above, but frankly, you never eat that big of a serving of this bar. It’s too dense and filling. I’d say realistically its 18 servings.  But as you can see the carbs are cut in half and the balanced protein/fat/carb ratio comes through. I’ve never liked how much honey ramps up the grams of sugars, but haven’t come up with another virtually un-spoilable ingredient that can form these together. Any ideas? I’d love it because these don’t really need the honey to be good. Any way, read on and enjoy:9 Servings
Amount Per Serving
  Calories 519.8
  Total Fat 30.2 g
  Saturated Fat 5.3 g
  Polyunsaturated Fat 0.0 g
  Monounsaturated Fat 0.0 g
  Cholesterol 53.8 mg
  Sodium 303.1 mg
  Potassium 162.3 mg
  Total Carbohydrate 28.7 g
  Dietary Fiber 4.0 g
  Sugars 18.9 g
  Protein 30.4 g

Jumped off the band wagon for cake pops

Here’s two truths I felt strongly about: 1) I don’t do trendy, which is why I haven’t had the least bit of interest in cake pops. 2) By popular demand of my relatively cranky family email chain, I’ve been making healthier stuff in the test kitchen to help battle the post-holiday bulge.

Having finished Bran Muffins (which went for about three weeks instead of one) I was moving on to Energy Bars.

But then my truths collided. In an impulsive desire to make a birthday present (and probably because my food drug was Jonesing for a rush) I went out and impulsively decided to make cake pops. That’s the drug talking, I’m sure.

Turns out, forget trendy, I love these little suckers and they reinforced a core principle I have about life in general. Philosophy on a stick, that’s what these are.

I made two types (of course… I have to experiment… clearly you get that by now, right?) with a couple of different ways to top them. The chocolate topping I used a tradition melted, pre-tempered product that only further convinced me that I need to get over my fears of tempering chocolate and figure it out. Soon… soon… (I hope?)… For the peanut butter ones I used Reese’s Peanut Butter morsels, melted down. They were heavier and had to be painted on, which made them look like hippie cake pops with shaggy hair. I sort of liked it, but we’ll work on the presentation (and apparently the photo… I wasn’t high, I promise!).


Here’s the one key, above all keys… whatever you use for the glue, be it frosting or like I did, a caramel filling, don’t use VERY much. I used less than a 1/3 of a cup for 3/4 of an entire cake (ON impulse I dug out some frozen white chocolate frosting I had from the holidays, because you know I never waste anything!) and cut a couple of pieces for The Bride and I. Nothing like chocolate cake and a big glass of milk!

I let the cake chill overnight in the fridge, which wasn’t necessary but really helped when it came time to make the pops. You need them to form and stick and hold together while you make them or they will fall off the stick. (By the way, I nabbed the foam to hold them from a florist for a couple of bucks.)

This is the whole thing when it comes to cake pops, that delicate balance between wanting the center to taste like cake, not gooey dough, but still hold together on the pop.


Balance. That’s the key. I held all these things in tension and with a little practice discovered a delightful treat, which is really the perfect size for those cravings or treats or whatever you call it when you need something delightfully sinful.

And that’s why I now love cake pops. They are balanced, which is really the secret to most everything in life.

As I ate my delightfully fluffy, moist, but not gooey cake pops, I reflected on how they emulate life, precariously perched on the point of a stick, doing our level best to hang on and still turn out delightful, balanced and sweet. That’s life. Cake pops as life! Seinfeld looked to the cookie! I look to the cake pop!


Chocolate Peanut Butter Bran Muffins surprisingly tasty, low in sugar

We originally set out to make a bran muffin taste like a snickers bar, and do it with very little sugar. It didn’t really work, but we did discover you can make caramel from nothing but sweet potatoes and water and its very passable, which we will surely employ in our upcoming Energy Bar Test Kitchen.

Eventually we circled back to a classic Chocolate Peanut Butter Bran Muffin. This might be our best creation because its BIG, its filling and its loaded with protein. Each muffin has only 230 calories, and 8 grams of sugar. Just 24 carbs for any muffin is pretty low. The peanut butter pushed the fat grams to a tolerable 8 grams and made it very tasty.

Here’s how to make it:


  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup bran
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbls dark, unsweetened coca powder
  • 1 cup chocolate whey protein powder
  • 1/2 cup unpacked brown sugar
  • 1 egg, lightly whipped until combined
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • tsp of vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup natural EffinArtist Peanut Butter (ok, any natural PB without sugar will do).
  • 1/4 cup plain greek yogurt


  1. Prepare muffin pans by greasing sides lightly with butter. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl.
  3. In a stand mixer combine peanut butter, egg, brown sugar, milk, yogurt and vanilla, just until blended, about two minutes.
  4. Fold wet into dry until combined.
  5. Pour batter into muffin pan, nearly full so they will rise and become very big.
  6. Bake for about 18 minutes, but watch carefully. Check with tester and remove promptly when dough has clotted and the tester comes out nearly smooth.
  7. Let stand for five minutes then remove from pan to a wire rack to cool.
  8. Best served warm but kept well for several days. Can be frozen as well.

For the best tasting, lightest Bran Muffins you’ve ever had check out the Cranberry Banana Bran Muffins we also made in the test kitchen.

Nutrition Facts 

  9 Servings

Amount Per Serving
  Calories 230.7
  Total Fat 9.5 g
  Saturated Fat 2.0 g
  Polyunsaturated Fat 0.5 g
  Monounsaturated Fat 0.5 g
  Cholesterol 43.4 mg
  Sodium 210.0 mg
  Potassium 105.4 mg
  Total Carbohydrate 24.9 g
  Dietary Fiber 3.9 g
  Sugars 8.5 g
  Protein 15.1 g

News from the Test Kitchen- Bran Madness

The Bride and I have been watching food documentaries of late. Any residual resistance I had for my sugary concoctions went largely out the window after viewing these. Sugar is the devil.

Of course, I’ve long danced with the devil, so no wonder it feels so familiar.

Bad food is also a drug. No wonder I’m so obsessed. I’m scanning about for new addictions apparently.

With that in mind the Bran Muffin test kitchen kicked into high gear in search of our three aforementioned goals: 1) Moistness 2) Health 3) Artistry.

After my first batch, where I stuck to the basics, I decided I had to branch out. Search “moist” bran muffins and the recipes are all very similar to bran muffins, in general, which by definition means dry as toast.

In the true spirit of testing, I’ve now made three batches of muffins each differently, slowly evolving the process to narrow in on what will earn the EFFin Artist label. I’m so far off the grid they don’t even have power here. I’m going where no recipe seems to have gone before.

For example. One batch I envisioned tasting like a healthy Snickers bar, full of chocolate, peanut butter and caramel and still having only a 1/4 cup of brown sugar total. Impossible? I think not.

Overall the muffin proved delicious, especially compared to bran muffins, but nothing like a Snickers bar. It was loaded energy bomb. For the chocolate I used protein powder. The peanut butter was Effin A brand, all natural. The caramel topping came from sweet potatoes, a smidge of butter and a teaspoon of brown sugar, greatly reduced. On a couple of muffins I mixed this caramel-like mixture with a touch of cream cheese to make it more frosting-like. It’s amazing how tasty this all was and with virtually no sugar.

2014-02-07 13.58.17

Sounds delicious right? Well it was. EXCEPT: I was listening to AC/DC and Ozzy at the time and got a little jacked up and forgot to turn the oven down (speaking of dance with the devil… our oven is Satan’s spawn. But that’s another story). So they cooked a bit hot and burned ever so slightly the muffin cup. They were still really moist thanks to the plain Greek yogurt I mixed into the batter. But they just didn’t have the perfect finished artistry to succeed on all three levels. Very close. For the next round I’ll mix some dark cocoa powder with the protein powder because the chocolate was all but lost. (Another little secret: I used half a banana mashed into the eggs to give added moisture. The flavor is lost, which I wanted because it didn’t go with a Snickers Bar, but the moisture remained… very cool, I think).

My next creation was a blueberry coconut bran muffin. Here I got absolutely a bit whacky. I decided to use coconut oil, but rather than heat it into a liquid I used it solid and crunched it up into the batter. My thinking was it would heat and pour moisture into the dough while they baked. I also used a 1/4 cup of raw coconut sugar, 1/2 cup of coconut water, dried coconut flakes and a sprinkling of coconut dust on top for that all-too-important artistry. I folded the blueberries in at the last so they didn’t smash up too much. Again I went for yogurt in the batter as moisture. It almost worked until… the oil ended up basically frying the muffins as they cooked. I opened the oven and it looked like I was frying dough again!

As it turned out, the edges are a delightful crispy texture like fried dough, but of course they aren’t really fried. But the oil kept them so moist and dense, they didn’t rise at all. So these are too tiny to call finished.

2014-02-07 16.35.44

I’m going to try it again with two corrections: The oil will be mixed in so it won’t “fry” but just have that moisture. I’ll also use baking powder next time to get the lift I need. I like BIG muffins that bowl over the edges, so that’s a must for the finished product.

So who wins the sweepstakes?

Just like my brother’s favorite TV show The Sopranos… nobody knows!


I can’t send the sweepstakes package yet… because I haven’t discovered the perfect muffin yet. Some good things have emerged, but other things haven’t quite come together. The freezer is full of these little dudes, but none are Effin Art. None are worthy to wear the “I’m an EFFin Artist, Man!” label. The quest continues. Stay tuned… the winner’s spot is still very much up for grabs. All I can say is when I’m done, these will be very, very worth the effort to win them.

By the way, the Snickers bar muffin had 1 gram of sugar! Only 1 per muffin. Amazing right?!

Stay tuned.

Effin A has left the building…. so don’t bother trying to unsubscribe. He can’t hear you…

Add ice cream to the DIY list

I am reasonably sure that most creative people have tried to make ice cream at home. When they do, they find they love it. But they also find it lacks that texture and consistency, that “quality,” that comes when you pry open a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.

When we get right down to it, it’s hard to make ice cream. At least it seems that way as compared to opening the freezer, grabbing a spoon and prying off the top of a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.

But like all things that are worth it… you’ve heard this before… say it with me now… “It’s the hard that makes it great!” (A bow of deference to the great Jimmy Dugan).

It’s not really hard per se. (what does per se actually mean, I wonder…) It’s that it takes practice. There it is again… roll the tape: I’m talkin about practice, man. Practice.” If you try it a few times and fiddle with it a bit, it is perfectly reasonable to never, ever buy ice cream again.

I didn’t realize this until a confluence of two thoughts made their way through the labyrinth of my brain this week. The first was an earlier post when I listed off the things I won’t buy any longer: Sauce, Salsa, Peanut Butter. Then as The Bride and I made our grocery list with her talking and me hardly paying attention, she said “Ice cream… uh no… you like to make your own ice-cream don’t you?”

About ten seconds later her words finished the cerebral cortex gauntlet and I said, “Yes. Uh No. No ice-cream. I’ll make it. Yes.”

The Bride was long gone on this thought and kept right along with her list, but I fermented a bit. Add Ice-cream to the list of things I’ll never buy again? Perhaps. Because finally, I realized, my creations lack nothing I get when I pry off a lid of Ben and Jerry’s.  In fact, the best recipes I have come from the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Cookbook, so I’m really not missing out. Over the years I tweaked the recipes to perfect them. The last batch I made — with Effin Artist Peanut Butter I might add — was, well, I’d say the batch was … evolved.

2014-01-27 17.06.03

That’s how I’d say it, EVOLVED. It kept well for several days, tasted like fresh peanut butter (served over Effin Artist Brownie) and when finished had that grainy, creamy texture, that “quality” homemade ice cream used to lack.

It was one of those Effin Artist moments, indeed.

So knowing my love for lists, ice cream is now on the Things-I-won’t-buy list for good.

Here’s where the real ding went off in my head. It wasn’t hard anymore. Through practice, I have worked out the recipe to realize that it isn’t that hard at all.

Sort of life like when you get down to it. As M. Scott Peck wrote, “Life is difficult.

“This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. This is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it.  Once we truly know that life is difficult—once we truly understand and accept it—then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

Just like ice cream.

Peanut Butter revisted: a must-do DIY staple

A while back I spent a week in the test kitchen focused on peanut butter, but I mostly skimmed past it in on the blog, lost in the fury of the Croissonut Craze that turned my family email chain into a WWE tussle we’re still recovering from. It wasn’t pretty, I’ll tell you that. Nevertheless a deserving winner arose from the abyss and enjoyed a sweet package of Croissonut goodness for her efforts.

Now that that’s over (for now- stay tuned for Valentine Cronuts) let’s revisit the peanut butter testing, which turned out to be a true keeper. I have simply realized I will never buy peanut butter again.

There are few things I just won’t buy, period. Spaghetti sauce. Won’t happen. Salsa, nope. Beans are starting to move toward that list, but in a crunch I’d probably break down and buy a can. As much as I love my pasta, I’ll buy some for convenience.

Peanut butter has now joined that list. I see absolutely no earthly reason to ever buy it again. We ran out the other day — no small thing because I eat peanut butter on everything. But rather than dash out and buy a jar to tide me over, I went through my test kitchen supplies and found a tupperware container of peanuts. Ten minutes later I had peanut butter. The cost is easily half that of a store-bought jar, more so of the really good peanut butters.  As I explained before the recipe can’t get any easier. Here it is again:

Get peanuts, toss em in a food processor and whirl the heck out of them for six minutes. Done.

You can get a bit creative and I have, slowly working toward my own concoction that will forever be EFFinArtist Peanut Butter. But you’d be a dolt to ever try to buy it from me as you can and SHOULD make your own, and it will be every bit as good as mine or Adams or Skippy or any other jar you can buy.

If there are better things in life than a Effin Artist brownie dunked in a jar of Effin Artist peanut butter, I don’t what it is, at least not right now (as I wipe the gooey brownie flecked peaut butter from my keyboard). What’s that you say about weight loss? We’ll revist that in another post, thank you very much.

There’s no excuse. Make yourself some peanut butter today. You’ll thank me.

News From the Test Kitchen: Peanut Butter

If I made resolutions, which I don’t  (see resolutions, suck) I would have resolved to back off the whole sugary addiction I’ve been nursing under the guise of holiday cheer since, oh… November 1.

I mean, I got a serious problem here. I love coffee and love chocolate. Love for me quickly can teeter into obsession.

So the test kitchen this week backed off of sugar and sought a purer ingredient, with far more healthy possibilities: Peanut Butter.

I’ve always thought homemade peanut butter should be one of those things I do because it’s expensive and I eat a lot of it. Yes, yes, I know, peanut butter is full of fat, but the whole low-fat thing is such a fraud I eat it likely because of the reaction it gets. Eat healthy food. Be active. You’ll be fine. That’s my diet plan anyway. Peanut butter fits in nicely. By the way, you are welcome to join me in a winter work-out schedule that I love: outside, active, all-body, and beneficial — commercial over, back to the show:

So I made peanut butter and as soon as I made it I wondered what the hell took me so long.

I researched and read and watched a video on you tube and soon I discovered that the people touting how easy it was to make still took longer to explain it than to make it. If it’s so easy why do you need a video and a long recipe and all that noise, I wondered? Truth is you don’t. I edited out the noise for you. Here’s the simple, to the point facts about how to make peanut butter:

Get some peanuts. Bang the bejeesus out of them. Done.

Got it?

Really, that’s it. If you have a food processor just turn it on for about six minutes and you’ll end up with peanut butter. Being the test kitchen, I of course bumbled around a bit and modified a bit and came up with “my” recipe, which is this:

Get some peanuts. Bang the beejesus out of them. Open the food processor and dump in a glug of grapeseed oil, a splash of vanilla, a smoosh of cinnamon and some salt and bang the beejesus out of them some more. Done.

So there you have it. Peanut Butter, home made. If you buy the not-so-fancy bulk peanuts at a normal, not fancy dancy store you likely end up paying about half the jar of a quality peanut butter. And that doesn’t suck (see Peanut Butter, doesn’t suck).

I even put mine through a taste test with my two other favorite peanut butters. It was a blind taste test (actually, that’s not true at all… I was looking at the jars the whole time) and wouldn’t you know it, I WON!

Who did you really think would win with me as the only judge and the whole blind taste test thing a baldface lie?

Go ahead. Bang some peanuts. You’ll like them.

Today, I’m finishing the test kitchen week with four peanut butter recipes:

1) Chocolate Peanut Butter Energy bars

2) High energy pre-run energy bars

3) Chinese noodles and vegetables

4) Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake (the addiction lives!)

Putting that Peanut Butter in action today!

Effin Artist out.

To unsubscribe to these emails take your complaint letter and instead of mailing it to me, slip it in your food processors after you’re done with the peanuts and give it a whirl. I suspect that one just might work.

Add a little life to last-minute lists

I made a list of the things I needed to do before Christmas yesterday. As I wrote it all down, my anxiety began to rise. I’d already been working full-time the last few days on various projects and gifts and planning for the holiday events. But the list seemed ominous, a monster under the bed with those scary musical chords that suggest something bad is about to happen playing in the background of my mind.

So I dealt with it then and ther. I slayed the monster.

First I remembered old Chuck Winchester III. One thing a time

Next, I added to the list.

Check it out. Here’s the first list:

– Ship packages

– Finish DIY presents

– Finish Christmas cookies

– Wrap DIY and cookies and mail

– Mail out Christmas cards (yes, I know, they’ll be late… )

– Make and hang burlap curtains

– Decorate house

– Get tree (don’t ask… I just didn’t get to it this year yet)

– Decorate tree

– Find Xmas CDs

– Make Peanut Butter for Test Kitchen

– Make Peanut Butter-based test recipes

– Plan holiday week menus

– Shop for groceries

– Clean house

– Make stockings for new family members

– Get some actual work done (good luck with that one…)

Here are the modifications I made to the list:

Watch 3- hour Eagles documentary (which led to add on: write blog about Eagles documentary). So cool. Stayed up a bit too late and slept not enough, but it was worth it.

– Ship packages – I left this at the top because the clock was ticking. Once I did this and scheduled the postal pick-up, my stress level went down… way down. So that’s something I do with lists, attack the hard stuff, the procrasting stuff first. As M. Scott Peck wrote in The Road Less Traveled, do it first. Shove it to the top. Once you cross it off, the momentum is like riding a bike downhill.

– Finish DIY presents

Plan menus – I like planning menus and after the shipping and the projects, I needed a break. This turned into a fun Sunday break.

Go for a run, end at grocery store and shop- It’s easy to let yourself go when you’re trippin’ on stress. By forcing myself to do something healthy, I felt better about the day.  I worked in the shopping to still get a key item done. The one downside I didn’t fully plan for was carrying $80 of groceries up this hill:

2013-12-06 14.57.34

Lift weights- bonus round. My arms and shoulders and calves felt blown out once I got the groceries home.

– Finish Christmas cookies- satisfied with my workout, I turned on a football game and baked cookies. An agenda item turned into a pleasant afternoon. I added an impromptu item to the to-do list:

Facebook your Seahawks loving nephew and punk him about the loss… at home no less! (Check that one off right away. tee hee… tee hee…)

– Wrap DIY and cookies and mail – I really don’t like wrapping presents. I’m not that great at it and you never really know how much there is to do until you start in. Typically I’d wait until Christmas Eve, turn on It’s a Wonderful Life, and wrap presents for the the whole three-hour movie and then still not be done at the end. I’d be wiped out Christmas morning. This year I want to be awake. So instead I watched The Big Lebowski and wrapped most of my gifts early. I have only about six more to do on Christmas Eve, which will be a pleasant tradition now as I watch Donna Reed (I’ve always had a big crush on her) and leisurely wrap a few presents. Not to mention “The Dudeness” was so stupidly funny, I had a good time. Besides the sugar high from tasting some of the cookies amped me up a bit and I ended up cleaning the living room. Bonus.

– Mail out Christmas cards (yes, I know, they’ll be late… )  I told myself to let it go. Who knew the little photo cards would take more than a week to ship? The cards are ready, addressed and stamped. They’ll get there late, but they are nice and its done, so for now, this will have to do. (Family members reading from home… this is my excuse. Ok? Save the hostile emails for the Test Kitchen.)

– Make and hang burlap curtains – One of those projects that sounded great on paper… now… eh? I know it’s going to be a lot of work, so I’ll tackle this first thing Monday morning (after I write this blog of course). Just like shipping yesterday, I’m knocking off the hardest thing first.

– Decorate house – No biggie. I’m no longer the nutty guy in Christmas Vacation with all the lights. I used to be, I confess. I used to be…. now, this won’t take thirty minutes.

– Get tree (don’t ask… I just didn’t get to it this year yet)- Still 50/50 on this. If I don’t have time, at this late date, we’ll just do without. My daughters will give me shit. They’ll get over it. I’m sure I’ll buckle under, but right now it doesn’t seem too important. Besides, how am I going to tie a tree to my bike? We’ll see. I’m giving myself permission to skip it so, I’m moving it down with get some work done and as the optional part of this list.

– Decorate tree- Hey, two for the price of one! This too moves to the bottom of the list.

Yoga– the run made such a difference yesterday both physically and mentally that I want to follow it up with yoga this morning. I already feel my head telling me I don’t have time, which is precisely why I’ll do it. This little diversion will pay benefits all day long. 

– Find Xmas CDs- Already found them when looking for shipping boxes! Cross that baby off

– Make Peanut Butter for Test Kitchen – Afternoon activities

– Make Peanut Butter-based test recipes

– Plan holiday week menus- check, see above

– Shop for groceries- check, check… who hoo! 

– Clean house – I’ve been taking a room at a time. I’m almost half done without even trying. Tuesday I’ll do a once over that will take about a third of the time I envisioned when I wrote the list.

Watch 49ers game on Monday Night Football.- This little bonus is the payoff for finishing the burlap. Once I know that’s done, I can relax tonight, so I’ll watch the game and while I watch I’ll: 

– Make stockings for new family members – another chore turned into a fun evening. 

– Get some actual work done (good luck with that one…) Yeah, we’ll see about that… maybe once the tree is up, or maybe instead of the tree. 

The point is, if there is one, that lists can so consumed us with the future we miss the present. The obligation of all these things — most of which I took on because they are fun and show my love for my family and friends — threatened to not only take away the joy of the present but make me miss the Holiday season altogether. A few modifications, a few add-ons, a lot more in-the-moment living instead of future trippin, and the dread turned to experiences I welcome and have enjoyed. 

My whole outlook has changed and I will be in much better shape to thoroughly enjoy the holidays with my family now then I was 24 hours ago.

Make time for what matters. It really is as simple as that.

Caramels and creativity go sweetly together

Do not re-invent the wheel is not a very useful cliche’ most of the time. In this day and age where everyone is writing and experimenting and inventing and creating and starting businesses and copying others and trying to find their little niche’, most everything has already been invented to some degree. If you don’t re-invent, you become a clone, not a creator and certainly not an Effin Artist.

By re-inventing the wheel we find our own explorations. Sure John Muir hiked it first, but it feels new and adventurous to us the first time we tread in his footsteps. The same goes for our creative expressions, whether they be on canvas or paper or baking sheets. Explore. Go off the trail. Re-invent. Discover. The journey beats the arrival. So, yes, re-invent the wheel… except for those times its just stupid to do so. Like the wheel. Let’s face it, that’s a good one. Don’t EFF with it.

Caramel, I discovered is the wheel of sweet creations. Folks have spent a lot of time getting this thing down and unless you have a masochistic love of frustration and failure, follow their lead.

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Before embarking on caramels of my own, I read a lot of different blogs about how to do it. Disclaimer: When I google something I typically skip the first page of Website powerhouses like the Food Network and the blogs that are so widely read you have to shift through ads like chopping through a jungle with a machete.

Once again, as usual, my bride disagrees. She goes to the ones with hundreds of reviews, reads those hundreds of reviews, and picks the one most celebrated. Then she follows the recipe like the Essenes. If I try to suggest a modification she threatens to banish me from the commune. It isn’t pretty.  She obviously agrees you don’t re-invent the wheel.

I like the blogs from un-celebrated artists like me, who do this for the love of the game. It may not be the most professional or glitzy, but it has heart. It has sweat and soul, still unmolested by corporate ads, (ASIDE: to any corporate advertisers out there wanting to populate this blog… just kidding?! see below… Apparently I’m a sellout.). just like my blogs, which are supposed to be short, I go against the grain and write long and longer. Screw them. I’m not People Magazine here, OK. Relax. Get some coffee, enjoy the read… or not. Really, it’s OK. Maybe next time.


In my search for caramel help, I landed on a blog more akin to my wife’s thinking than my own.  The simple video sucked me in. Soon I was following their footsteps and remarkably for me, staying on the path.

The folks at inspiredtaste.com know how to make the wheel. Their caramel recipe was spot -on and in the dozen batches I made I never varied. Ok, that’s not true. I Nearly Never Varied. I added a 1/4 tsp of vanilla by the second batch and then swirled in chocolate ganache by the seventh. But that’s it. For me that’s as coloring inside the lines as I get. I’m proud of myself for simply having lines to color in at all.

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So really, if you want to learn to make caramel, go watch their video. Whallaaaa! You’re an expert.  Don’t waste your time looking here for secrets. I didn’t invent the wheel.

I’ll say only this: Don’t stress it. It’s fun. Everyone makes caramel akin to splitting atoms. I’ve not split atoms, but it sounds stressful. Caramel is not… I repeat… not stressful. If it gets too hot too fast and turns too brown or hard, well as my daughter says, “that’s a first-world problem.”  You are only out some butter, sugar and cream, so try again. Besides, even hard, brown caramel is pretty tasty. Eating my less than brilliant projects is not what I call stressful.

I give a full recommendation to two key tips from the folks at inspiredtaste. 1) Put the lid on the pot as they say and screw that whole wet-the-sides-of-the-pan-with-a-pastry-brush thing most often advised. This is easier and more effective by far. and 2) Put the pan right back on the stove to boil water in it. This cleans it up in a snap, which is the one stressful part of caramels– cleaning– if you don’t do this step.

I made a scad of caramels and built up plenty of excitement on the ole email chain vying for the package winner this week. I laid out a big hint saying I wanted a bribe. I have several days free after New Year’s and wanted company to go snowboarding. Absolutely nobody took the bait. But my brother did take the bribe route and ordered caramels for 50 at his Christmas party. WINNER WINNER chicken DINNER! Soon the Test Kitchen as a football- watching, candy-wrapping sweatshop:

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The reaction from my loved ones was… well, let’s just say enthusiastic:


“EFF off…. you sold out. If all it meant was cold hard cash, I’ll just go right over to Trader Joe’s…”

ME: “Effin Artist gotta eat!”

“I’m thoroughly disgusted.”

ME: “Wait, I’m confused. Effin Artist doesn’t gotta eat?! You callin’ me fat?”

“sellouts always have excuses…”

“Sorry I haven’t been getting your emails today, I sent them all to spam.”

Tough crowd, my family. We play rough. And on that note, we’ll move on from the Caramel and move into something less hostile (we hope ;-)). Next week’s test kitchen ingredient: Peanut Butter!

Effin Artist out!