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Every February, with a few notable exceptions, I focus on chocolate. Chocolate cakes and cookies and pies and other delicious little things because it seems appropriate. Visions of chocolate hearts cloud our vision during these four weeks. Plus it’s cold and I think chocolate is a proper distraction until the beautiful summer fruits start appearing. Sheepish admission here … I’m not much of a chocolate person so I figure if I’m going to eat chocolate, it better be good. I’m getting a late start this month but I’m kicking off with a bang. These cookies are good.

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Well, it’s Christmas and we’re off to a rough start in this household. My mother and I spent 4 hours shopping for all the Christmas dinner necessities yesterday and realized at lunch we forgot about 52 things. It’s not Christmas until you run to the store 17 times, I suppose. Then, in the capper of all things, she looked into the kitchen last night and said, “Why is there smoke billowing out of my oven?” Yes mom that would be the pizza box you forgot was in there before you turned the damn thing to 400 degrees. My sister pulled into the driveway at this exact moment to smoke pouring out of windows, fire alarms screeching, the two of us yelling and coughing and waving newspapers around in some strange ritual dance. Chaos. Complete chaos and the house still smells like a bbq. Merry Christmas indeed.

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Does anyone need another recipe for apple pie? Maybe. Hell, I’ve got three of them on this blog, each one a little different. Guess it depends on what you’re looking for but I think that there’s always room for another. I’ve covered the bases – classic, amped up with salted caramel and even fancy in a French inspired tart. But what about an apple pie that was completely packed with pure apple flavor, holding nothing back? Scoot over and make some room; there’s a new addition to the line up.

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Growing up, occasionally my mom would buy a plastic tub of soft cheese spread as a treat. Once in a while it was a cheeseball or log, rolled in chopped almonds or pecans, but mostly it was just a clear plastic tub that I would dip crackers directly into. This method was rarely successful and I’d often leave a trail of cracker debris in the container and someone would yell at me. But I continued to do it anyway, too lazy to get a knife and a proper plate I suppose. There were a few flavors as I recall, cheddar certainly and maybe something called “Swiss almond” but my favorite was a pastel pink and orange swirled concoction known as “port wine cheese spread.” I didn’t even know what port wine was until many years later, but damn I loved that stuff. It seemed very adult and sophisticated to my young mind, like the Daiquiri Ice at Baskin Robbins.

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Retro old school appetizers, for the most part, are perfect. Rumaki, that delicious little bite of salty brown sugar glazed bacon wrapped around a bit of water chestnut and chicken liver? They were a requirement at my parents’ parties when I was a kid and I ate as many as I could steal. Green olives wrapped in a cheddar dough and baked until crispy? Delightful. How about meatballs or little Vienna sausages swimming in a sea of those ‘70’s classics, chili sauce and grape jelly? Sounds hideous, I know, but I’m also certain you were the one boxing out the crockpot, fishing around with a toothpick hoping to score that last delectable, caramelized piece. And then there’s baked Brie. Does anything epitomize the ‘80’s more than a golden pastry encased round of gooey cheese? I think not. I also don’t think it should stay stuck in the ’80’s. Holiday party season is here, let’s bring that baby back

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Winter is coming. Seems obvious and though I’m having a hard time truly accepting this fact, I came face-to-face with the inevitable. It snowed on Halloween. Oh joy. It was a light dusting in the morning followed by that particularly awful mix of cold slightly frozen rain, huge traffic delays and everyone generally acting like an idiot. At the end of my two hour commute home I saw a few determined trick-or-treaters on the streets. Good for you kids, good for you. I hope you took home loads of treats for simply braving that mess.

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Oh salads. You and I have a lukewarm relationship at best. Sure, back in the day at the Sizzler salad bar, you were my favorite. A giant chilled plate with a side of Texas Toast was all I – and most people I suspect – needed. A pile of crispy, cold iceberg drenched in blue cheese dressing, croutons and a few standard fixing’s really hit the spot with that bottomless barrel of iced tea. But I’ve grown up. I’ve moved on and I’ve become increasingly tired of uninspired and insipid salads with limp greens, boring toppings and heavy, flavorless dressings. So few salads are done well these days. Why is that? Does no one care anymore?

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