Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site in Brookline, MA

On a gorgeous October day John and I visited the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site in Brookline.

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Frederick Law Olmsted is known as the founder of American landscape architecture (more on that later).  In 1883, Olmsted established the world’s first landscape architecture office at his home, which he called “Fairsted.” For nearly 100 years, Olmsted, his sons, and their associates, worked at Fairsted. The National Park Service acquired Fairsted in 1979, including the archives and working records, and restored the grounds to their 1930 appearance. The national historic site offers a guided tour of the Fairsted offices, grounds, archives, drafting rooms, and their vault.

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Upon arriving at the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site you can tell there is something special about this place. It’s tucked back from the road, surrounded by visual treasures and landscaping works of art. No surprise there, that is what made Olmsted famous.

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First, some history.

Frederick Law Olmsted was born in 1822. In 1838 he was just about to enroll at Yale College when sumac poisoning weakened his eyes and he had to give up on his dreams of going to college. Instead, he worked as an apprentice seaman, merchant, and journalist for several years and then purchased a farm on Staten Island in 1848.

In 1850, his career as a journalist began to take off. He traveled around England and published a book on the public gardens there. He then became a correspondent for the New York Times in the mid 1850s and traveled the south extensively to conduct research on the slave economy there. During this time in his career he was a writer, journalist, editor, etc., and was gaining national recognition for his political views and landscaping interests.

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In 1858 Olmsted and new colleague, Calvert Vaux, entered a competition to design New York’s Central Park, and won. That began their long partnership in landscape architecture. In 1865 Vaux and Olmsted formed Olmsted, Vaux, & Co.

In 1883, Olmsted moved his family and business to Fairsted. At this point in his career, he was 100% focused on landscape design and the importance of providing green spaces for urban areas, helping to establish the American profession of landscape architecture. Olmsted’s philosophy was that thoughtful and purposeful landscape design should provide restorative public experiences necessary for a healthy society. In the pursuit of this, he created a notable portfolio of designs that influenced the US park system. His body of landscape design work includes: Central Park, the US Capitol Grounds, Biltmore Estates in Asheville, Prospect Park and Seneca Park in NY, Mount Royal Park in Montreal, Acadia National Park in Maine, academic campuses such as Bryn Mawr, Cornell, Colgate, Smith, Stanford, Tufts, UCal Berkeley, Wellesley, Yale, University of Chicago, and notable Boston landmarks such as the Emerald Necklace, Arnold Arboretum, Back Bay Fens, Lynn Woods, and World’s End. A full map of all of his parks can be found here.

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To walk through the drafting rooms and engineer’s offices of Fairsted was really cool. They have been restored to what they looked like when the firm was in full swing.

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You can really imagine what it was like to work here and truly appreciate the innovative history that was being made within these rooms.

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The firm kept meticulous photographic records and plans in a series of drawers in the photographic record room. When the National Park Service acquired the site, they cataloged and conserved the Olmsted collections containing landscape photographs, initial surveys, field sketches, general plans, planting lists, presentation drawings, business records, and scale models. The archives of the Olmsted firm are held here at the Olmsted National Historic Site (more below on this) and at the Library of Congress.

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Drafting room with original tables and stools and a first generation light table!

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The Printing Room contains sunprint racks and light tables, and the Wagenhorst Electric Blue Printer (circa 1904), a glass cylinder that was one of the firm’s tools for fast reproduction. Basically the first ever copy machine!

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The bottom floor of Fairsted contains the archival collections and the vault!

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The Olmsted Archives is one of the most widely researched museum collections in the National Park System, containing over 1,000,000 historic documents.

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The Archival collections held at the Olmsted National Historic Site date from 1839 to 1980. The collections include an estimated 139,000 landscape architectural plans and drawings, 70,000 sheets of planting lists, 60,000 photographic prints, 30,000 photographic negatives, 12,000 lithographs, financial records, job correspondence, records and reports, and models relating to over 5,000 design projects.

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After we toured the inside of the house, we went outside to tour the grounds.

The Welcome Gate stands at the front of the property; the front door is purposely obscured behind trees and plants. Inside the gate is the carriage turn, designed specifically so that visitors could “discover” the house upon first entry.

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Standing in the middle of the carriage turn is a massive tree with a Roxbury puddingstone at its foot.

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At the front of the property, off the carriage turn in front of the house, is The Hollow. The Hollow is a sunken park; sloping down to a pastoral path surrounded by greenery. The design follows Olmsted’s aesthetic of slowing down to enjoy nature. He very much believed that city life took its toll on people and wanted them to enjoy open spaces that nourished the soul and mind away from pressures and stresses of life in the city. Pretty ahead of his time, I could use a park like this in front of my house!

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In the back of the house there is a rock garden with a walking path through it. Again, a way for Olmsted to slow down and be away from complex urban life.

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The south lawn in the back of the house opens on to a grand and deep expanse of grass, which is intentional: you are meant to want to run and play in this space.

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And finally, the interior of the first floor of the house is an interactive museum that features objects from Olmsted’s firm and exhibits of their work.

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The Olmsted National Historic Site is a lesser known NPS landmark but certainly just as important as the rest; a must-visit for anyone from landscape architecture buffs to anyone who loves gardens and parks. It’s truly a treasure to see this home as it was at its peak under Olmsted’s leadership. As always, the site is maintained with care by people truly dedicated to its preservation. It was a treat to tour and visit, and during the National Park Service’s centennial year too!

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Top 10 Domestocrat Recipes of 2016

Thank you for your continued readership throughout 2016! I am really proud of the recipes I brought to you in 2016 and am looking forward to what 2017 will bring.

I crunched the numbers and present to you the top 10 Domestocrat recipes in 2016:

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  1. Raspberry Charlotte Cake
  2. The Best Egg Salad Ever
  3. The Best Chocolate Cupcakes
  4. Fogo de Chão’s Pão de Queijo (Brazilian Cheesy Bread)
  5. Six Ingredient Strawberry Shortcake
  6. Baked Corn & Leek Risotto
  7. Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie
  8. Caprese Salad Pizza
  9. Pecan, Coconut, and Chocolate Chip Blondies
  10. Macaroni Pasta Salad

John’s favorite was #4, mine was #1 – which was your favorite?

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Day Trip To Monaco

While we were in France this summer we drove up to Monaco for a little side trip/overnight. We’ve both always wanted to go to Monaco, and it was only about two hours from where we were staying in France, so of course we had to go!

Monaco, officially the Principality of Monaco, is a sovereign city-state/microstate, located on the French Riviera. France borders Monaco on three sides while the other side is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea (i.e. awesome views no matter where you look).

Monaco is most known for the Grand Prix, its casino the Monte Carlo, and for being a go-to destination for the world’s rich and famous.

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Monaco is the second smallest, and the most densely populated, country in the world. It’s roughly 500 acres; 3 miles long by 1 mile wide (about the size of Central Park).

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While in Monaco we stayed at the Fairmont Monte Carlo Hotel right on the water. When we arrived we decided to ditch our car at the hotel, get settled in, and then venture out to see the sights.

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The cars parked outside the Fairmont were ridiculous and the interior was as posh as you could imagine.

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Our room overlooked the hotel’s interior courtyard, which was very pretty.

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We really wanted to get a sense of the whole country and since Monaco is so small, we decided to do a hop on-hop off bus tour that ran the length of the entire country. The tour had 12 stops including the Place du Palais, Monte Carlo casino, Grimauldi Forum, Musee oceanographique, etc. The tour offered free headphones and an audio tour in 8 different languages.

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The huge tour bus bobbed and weaved through the tiny, windy streets of Monaco. At that moment, I was so glad we opted not to drive ourselves around. I thought driving in France was bad, Monaco was downright treacherous!

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Our first stop was at the Place du Palais, Prince’s Palace of Monaco, the official residence of the Prince of Monaco. The palace is the highest point in the country and the views were magnificent from the top.

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We then walked around the outside grounds of the Place du Palais until the next bus arrived. We couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather, even though it was like 90 degrees outside. Ack!

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Back on the bus we decided to do a loop of the whole country and listen to the audio tour.

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We continued to fly through the narrow, windy streets, over and under bridges, dodging cars, motorcyclists, and pedestrians. I’m kind of glad you can’t see the terror on my face in these pictures, haha.

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The bus begins its loop at Port Hercule so when we got to that stop, the bus idled for a bit waiting for passengers. We were able to check out the waterfront views from the port, which were amazing. There were yachts of all sizes around us and the entire country built up into the cliffs behind us. I’ve never seen anything like Monaco before!

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Our final stop on the bus was at the Monte Carlo Casino, famous for being in many James Bond movies, as well as the untold wealth it attracts from gambling of course. As a rule, citizens of Monaco are not allowed to gamble here. Originally the casino was developed in the 1850’s to save the area from bankruptcy. It succeeded due to the rail from Paris and the hotel/opera nearby. It eventually gained recognition for being the place for the world’s wealthiest to vacation and gamble.

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The architecture is stunning and the cars outside were some of the most unique, expensive cars I have ever seen.

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We had dinner inside the Fairmont Hotel at their Saphir 24 bistro – a delicious meal overlooking the water and the yachts below.

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The next day we enjoyed the morning in our room until it was time to check out. We left around noon and headed back to Ramatuelle for the rest of our vacation in France.

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France Vacation: Nice & Cannes

In addition to Ramatuelle, Gassin, and St. Tropez, we also took day trips to visit Nice and Cannes while we were in France this summer.

We left Ramatuelle very early in the morning, drove about 2 hours north to Nice, and arrived around 10am. We drove down the Promenade des Anglais and took in the sights of the gorgeous art-deco hotels, beachfront restaurants and shops, and all of the people bustling around city.

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The views overlooking the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Nice are unreal!

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We walked around the heart of Nice through the Place Masséna square and the Promenade du Paillon.

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Our main activity in Nice was a perfume workshop at Molinard, one of the oldest parfumeries in France, founded in 1849.

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The workshop consisted of an hour and a half long private perfume making experience with one of Molinard’s perfume/scent experts. We bought tickets for the workshop on Viator, if you’re interested (when I was researching this prior to our trip it took me forever to figure out where to buy tickets!).

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The expert we worked with explained that all of the bottles on the table contained each possible scent we could use – base notes along the bottom, heart notes in the middle, and top notes along the top. The scent science of perfume notes is that the top note is the one you smell first but it doesn’t linger long, the heart note is the one that sits on your heart and wafts up to your nose all day long (so you really need to love this one!), and the base note is the scent you leave behind when you walk through a room. The science behind it all has to do with time of application, evaporation, and the particular groupings of all the various scents in the perfume.

We were instructed to sniff each bottle we thought sounded appealing, and to not waste our nose on scents we knew we didn’t like. For a scent we truly loved, we dipped a piece of paper into the scent, wrote the name on the end of the stick, and set it aside. We were given and hour to smell everything, taking breaks occasionally to go outside or smell coffee beans to give our noses a rest.

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When we were done, our perfume expert used each paper stick to create a custom grouping of scents. She would add and subtract scents based on our feedback and was constantly swapping out one to two pieces of the paper to craft the best perfume combination. She carefully did this process for both John and I, waving the scent sticks in front of our noses, until we had a perfume that was perfect. When we each had the scents picked, our perfume expert wrote out the “recipe” for each of us. The recipe included each scent, which kind of note it was, and what volume of that note would go into the bottle.

My recipe included top notes of green tomato, honeysuckle, and green apple, heart notes of floral base and white peach, and base notes of blackberry, sandalwood, and cotton.

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With our “recipes” in hand, a slew of pipettes, and an empty perfume bottle, we got to work carefully measuring out each scent per the recipe with the pipette and adding to the bottle. This process was so cool! We both loved actually getting to make our own perfume!

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When our perfume/cologne was finished, our perfume expert closed up the bottles, packaged safely, and instructed us to give the scents a week to properly blend together before using.

She clearly loved her job and was such a joy to work with. While crafting our scents she was professional and clearly experienced, but also lent a whimsy and romance to the process. She said, in her French accent, “You picked all of these scents for a reason, because of all the things that make you, you. I don’t know you because we just met, but through this scent I know everything about you.” And, as she was packing up our fragrances, she said “Take this perfume, unique to only you, and wear it for the rest of your days.”

This was such a special and fun experience and I’m so happy we did it. Another awesome thing is that our fragrances have a unique code so we can log on to the Molinard website and reorder the exact scent any time we like if we ever run out.

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During the rest of time at Molinard, our perfume expert gave us a tour of their museum which consisted of vintage perfume bottles and labels. There was a video that showed the history of Molinard and where they derive their plant/extracts for scents from (many of the flowers are grown locally in the Provence region of France).

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We spent our remaining time in Nice walking around, shopping, snapping photos, and getting lunch.

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One final highlight of Nice was going to the Louis Vuitton store there – which is the oldest Louis Vuitton shop in the world (the flagship in Paris has moved several times but this one has remained in the same place since the late 1800’s, according to the clerk who helped me).

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The next day we spent a few hours in Cannes for lunch. Cannes is a beautiful city with a very old charm and stunning architecture.

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After walking around downtown Cannes and taking in the views of Baie de Cannes, we had lunch at La Californie.

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We had a lovely time on our mini road trip up the coast while in France. The French Riviera is simply beautiful and full of wonderful things to see and do. I hope to come back here someday!

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France Vacation: Ramatuelle, Gassin, St. Tropez

This summer friends of ours invited us to go to France with them. France! The family of said friend has a home in Ramatuelle, a small town next door to St. Tropez, in the south of France. John and I of course said yes! We went in late August and had a lovely time.

This vacation was very different from our regular trips – we relaxed without a timeline, we went to the beach, played card games, visited the local market when we were hungry, and went out to a few nice dinners. We did a day trip to Nice & Monaco (that’ll be a separate post) but for the most part we just enjoyed friends, took in the gorgeous scenery, and unplugged. Thus, the posts I have about the trip are different from my usual action packed, play by play blogs – but I hope you enjoy none the less!

I snapped an awesome shot of Castle Island/Fort Independence while taking off from Logan Airport!

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We flew from Boston to Montreal – about an hour flight – and had a 2 hour layover there before flying from Montreal to Nice, France.

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We flew Canada Rouge on both flights and it was pretty good – lots of leg room and good food on board. I have a lot of trouble sleeping on planes so I don’t love overnight flights but they are a necessary evil.

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Based on the time difference and the length of the flight from Montreal (7.5 hours), we arrived in Nice at about 8AM. Man, was the view of the French Riviera (or Côte d’Azur) from the plane beautiful.

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We arrived at the airport, picked up our rental car (a little Opel sedan), and headed to Ramatuelle.

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The drive was lovely but kind of scary – the drivers in France are insane. Also, we think tolls are bad here in the US? There were tolls every few miles or so on the highway out of Nice and were 3-4 Euro each time.

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After a 2 hour drive, we arrived in Ramatuelle. Our friend’s home that we stayed at was rustic and charming.

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The house sits on top of a massive cliff overlooking St. Tropez/St. Maxime.

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The views from the house were breathtaking!

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I couldn’t believe how many yachts there were. But this soon became a common sight on this trip.

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Here is the backyard sitting area that overlooks the Gulf of St. Tropez.

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The sunrises from the house were amazing too. So many gorgeous views looking down from the house over the water or down to the vineyards.

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The Ramatuelle/Gassin area is full of vineyards (naturally, we were in wine country after all) and the sweeping views, especially at sunrise, were stunning.

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Just up the road from the house, at the highest point of the coastline cliff, is the Cap Camarat Lighthouse. This lighthouse was built around 1829 and is now on conservation land.

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There was a spectacular view of the house we were staying in from the lighthouse (the little orange roof on the left is the house!).

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And additional wonderful views of the Gulf of St. Tropez.

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John and I with a view of the house and the gulf in the background.

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For meals in France, we did a combination of going out to eat and cooking at home. There was a local market just down the street from the house where we bought great fresh produce, pasta, bread, rosé, and CHEESE.

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One afternoon we visited the center of Ramatuelle. It resides up on another hill (situated there to provide a natural defense to any enemies) and the views of the vineyard below, and the gulf, are just beautiful.

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Ramatuelle is small (~2,000 residents) but is full of narrow winding streets, quaint restaurants, and European charm. The locals are very relaxed but didn’t seem particularly friendly.

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We had a tasty lunch at Le Cigalon in town and walked around enjoying the sights.

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In Ramatuelle there is a memorial monument to those French Special Service members who died in WWII. There is so much WWII history here; it was very interesting to see how a small town like this memorializes its involvement.

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One of my favorite things we did in Ramatuelle was go to Bonne Terrasse beach. It’s a rocky beach (very little sand) with gorgeous blue waters and an awesome view of the Cap Camarat lighthouse (that’s the same cliff where the house was).

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We also visited another impressive St. Tropez beach – Plage de Pampelonne.

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Pampelonne Beach is full of sunbathers, families, yachts, awesome restaurants – you name it. The water was warm and lovely and the waves were plentiful.

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We had a great time at Pampelonne and an awesome lunch beach side at L’Esquinade.

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One night for dinner we ventured to Gassin, Ramatuelle’s neighbor. Gassin is one of the oldest villages in the South of France, dating back to 1234. It looks very similar to Ramatuelle – quaint village, cobbled streets, old world charm, up on top of a cliff overlooking the water – which makes sense since Gassin and Ramatuelle were originally founded to give locals a place to escape pirates on the Mediterranean.

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We went to Le Pescadou which is a lovely restaurant featuring local cuisine and overlooks the Gulf of St. Tropez.

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Clearly this was the first time we all had internet/wifi for a while.

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The food at Le Pescadou was delicious and beautiful!

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Another dinner we ate out was beach side at Le Migon, right on Bonne Terasse beach. The service was awful but the food was good. As you can see, I stuck to salads and cheese on this vacation. I’m not a red meat eater and only like a few kinds of seafood so I kept it simple on this trip!

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Five days in France – and then we were on the way back home. It went by so fast. Since we had to leave so early in the morning I enjoyed one last sunrise over St. Tropez.

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We flew from Nice to Frankfurt, Germany for a 5 hour layover. The Frankfurt airport is huge!

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I spent our brief time in Germany either eating schnitzel, eating pretzels and mustard, or napping in the terminal. Crushed it!

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The journey home was a long one. We flew Lufthansa on the way home to Boston and I thought it was ok – the seats were super small but the in-flight entertainment was awesome and the food was plentiful and very good.

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We finally arrived home at 8PM after being up and traveling for about 24 hours. You just can’t beat the sunset behind the skyline of your hometown, am I right?

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Stay tuned for separate posts on our side adventures to Nice, Cannes, and Monaco!

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Recipe: Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie

Thanksgiving always reminds me how much I love pecan pie and this year was no different – except that my sister had bought a chocolate pecan pie so good it made me wonder why I hadn’t made one before. It’s been a good long while since I made any kind of pecan pie (about 5 years, to be exact!) so I was due for a reboot, and a chocolate one at that.

Recipe: Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie (adapted from David Lebovitz’s recipe, yields 1 pie)
3/4 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup (light corn syrup works too)
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. melted butter
3 eggs
1.5 cups toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
3/4-1 cup really good chocolate chips (I used Guittard semisweet, but use whatever kind you enjoy)
1 pre-made pie shell or homemade pie crust (I used a store-bought crust for this recipe to make life easier, but if you need a homemade pie crust recipe click here)

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This recipe is really, really simple – in a big bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients except for the chocolate chips. Pour into the pie shell. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top in an even layer. You can move them around with a spoon if you need to. Be sure that the filling doesn’t overflow!

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Bake the pie at 350 degrees for 55 minutes. Cool for at least an hour on a wire rack, preferably overnight. This pie cuts the best after being chilled and tastes the best at room temperature. You definitely should not eat this right out of the pan or too warm.

Serve with ice cream or as is. It is chocolatey, nutty, sweet, and has the perfect texture. So, so good.

I really enjoyed the chocolate chips as the star in this pie. There are many recipes out there with the chocolate and butter melted together, but I like seeing the chips and prefer the texture too. Maybe I’ll try this recipe with that method in the future but this is so good, why mess with perfection?

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Recipe: Pecan, Coconut, and Chocolate Chip Blondies

Now is the time of year where I want to start baking again. I can’t stand to turn on my oven in the summer so baking (and, let’s be real, any involved cooking) goes right out the window for 3-4 months. But in October, baking feels right again and I’m always on the hunt for a new cookie or brownie recipe. Blondies, to me, combine the best of both of those worlds. I found Smitten Kitchen’s blondie recipe this weekend and happily turned my oven back on.

Smitten Kitchen’s Blondies (original recipe here; slight modifications made by me below)
8 tbsp. butter, softened/melted
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
Pinch salt
1 cup AP flour (I use King Arthur’s White Whole Wheat)
2/3 cup coconut
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1.25 cups chocolate chips

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This recipe is insanely easy. In a stand mixer, beat the melted butter with the brown sugar until smooth. Add in the egg, vanilla, and salt. Slow mix in the flour. Once the dough has come together, slowly add the coconut, nuts, and chocolate chips.

Spray down an 8×8 pan with cooking spray. Spoon the dough into the pan – this dough is thick so you may have to press down with your fingers to get an even layer in the pan. Bake at 350°F for 20 minutes. They may look gooey but you want these blondies slightly underdone; that’s when they are the best. Cool for 15 minutes before cutting (if you can stand it). These dense and chewy beauties will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for a week, though I highly doubt they will last that long!

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