winona2 (1 of 1)A

A few weeks ago the lovely people at the Blue Heron Coffeehouse had a book signing and dinner to celebrate the release of The Vanilla Bean Baking Book. It was a wonderful afternoon and evening. I saw familiar faces I used to wait on in my barista days; I met new friends, and celebrated with old ones. If you’ve read through my book you know the Blue Heron is mentioned frequently, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without the guidance and encouragement of Larry and Colleen.  (Once again, thank you, thank you, for everything.)

I’ve been quiet here. The past few weeks have been filled with word searches, as I’ve been trying to articulate my thoughts on the whirlwind of activity in our country. One never knows what one’s in for when one starts thinking.* More soon. I’ll have a recipe for you in a few days.

Here are a few things, book related, and around the internets.

I had an interview with Rick Nelson from the Star Tribune you can read here.

I also had an interview with the National Post.

Laura’s post really resonated with me. (Psst. You can also pre-order her book here.)

Aran from Cannelle et Vanille has a gorgeous new video series, A Cook’s Remedy, on her website. Also, just check out her amazing photographs.

Haley Bonar, Tiny Desk Concert. Also digging The Secret Sisters.

Currently on my nightstand: Still reading this. And rereading this. Started this with my kids. This came in the mail today.

*CS Lewis, The Collected Letters, Vol. 2


Blueberry Apple Bars

A kind reader pointed out to me that there  is a slight mistake this Blueberry Apple Crumb Bar recipe in The Vanilla Bean Baking Book, so I’m putting the recipe here (with corrections). The ingredient list is correct in the book, but the directions mention ‘baking soda’ instead of ‘baking powder’, and list cinnamon in the filling when there is none. Sorry about that!

If any of you happen to live in Winona, Minnesota, or are visiting there this weekend, I’ll be doing a book signing at The Blue Heron Coffeehouse from 2-4 this Saturday, January 14th. The Blue Heron is the coffeehouse I talk about throughout my book, and where I learned to bake, and it’s wonderful to be going back for this event.

I am also teaching a class in St. Paul at Cooks of Crocus Hill Sunday, February 5th, from 1-2:30. I’ll be doing some demonstrations, sharing treats, and signing books. You can register here if interested!

You can find a few of my recipes from the book around the web. So many beautiful posts, I’m totally overwhelmed! Julie from Always with Butter made my chocolate chip cookies. Molly from My Name is Yeh made my yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Michelle from Hummingbird High made my cheesecake, and Cynthia from Two Red Bowls made my cheesecake with a hazelnut twist. Alex and Sonja from A Couple Cooks made my shortbread with chocolate. Food 52 made my oatmeal white chocolate cookies. Sara from Sprouted Kitchen made my whole wheat banana chocolate muffins. Cindy from Hungry Girl Por Vida made my honey cake and added grapefruit. Elizabeth from Brooklyn Supper made my orange cranberry bundt cake. Alana from Fix Feast Flair made my brown butter buttercream. Alanna from Bojon Gourmet made my peanut butter granola. There are a few more that I will post later!

Thank you again for all your support. It’s been so fun to see what everyone is making from the book on Instagram, and I appreciate all your kind words and reviews. If you make something from the book, please tag it #vanillabeanbakingbook so I can find it!

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pumpkin bread

Happy Merry. I hope you and yours had a wonderful Holiday season, however it looked and was celebrated. We do Christmas here, and had a loud and lovely Christmas Eve with family, then ended up being rained in (which is very weird for Minnesota – freezing rain and howling winds, but no snow) Christmas Day. So we watched movies, ordered Chinese food (my father-in-law was nice enough to venture out), read books, and put together elaborate Lego sets.  Both days were perfect, and I felt completely content as I fell asleep.

The tree was thrown out the day after Christmas, sadly. We picked a bad one this year (I blame it on 2016) and it needed to be out of our house. I usually hang on to those green pine needles as long as I can, not willingly to let the jingle bells and the silent nights go. But it felt nice, actually, to pack everything up just a little early and start thinking about the New Year. I’m not really one for resolutions and crash dieting come January, but I do like to spend some time reflecting on what I hope for in the next year. I also like the feeling of a fresh start. After a whole month of too many cookies and too much peppermint bark, focusing on health and wholeness is a necessity.  I enjoyed adding Pulses to my diet this year (although I will admit December didn’t see as much of them), and want to carry out my Pulse pledge in 2017 as well.

pumpkin bread

pumpkin bread

This bread is another baking recipe I’ve created as a Pulses Ambassador this year. The United Nations has declared 2016 the International Year of the Pulse, and I’ve taken the Pulse Pledge, committing to eat pulses once a week for the next year. Pulses are beans, chickpeas, lentils and dry peas; leguminous crops that are good for your health and good for the environment. I’ll be posting recipes involving them periodically this year, incorporating pulses not only in my savory cooking, but baking recipes as well. I’d love for you to join me! If the Pulse Pledge sounds interesting to you, you can read more about it here. It’s a 10 week commitment, and it doesn’t require elaborate baking: a serving of hummus and a bowl of soup are good ways to take them in, too. Also check out my Vanilla Lavender Cupcakes.

This post was sponsored by USA Pulses & Pulse Canada. All opinions are my own.

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I spent ten Christmas Eves in a row working various retail jobs, everything from barista to Barnes and Noble. The holiday season started the day after Thanksgiving, with mile long lines continuing to Christmas Eve at 4pm, when the store gates finally clanged shut and stayed that way for one whole day. Work shifts in December were spent answering the constantly ringing phone, running around the store trying to find would-be presents, standing at the cash register hour upon hour swiping credit cards, dreading every 30 minutes when Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime would come on again, and cleaning up gigantic messes left by frantic customers. Then, at last, the night before Christmas, when the store gate was shut (although often people were begging outside it: please, can I buy just 1 pound of coffee? I just need one more book for my sister-in-law, will you let me in?) all the employees would feel that smack of exhaustion, the same one that comes at the end of finals week, when you are finally driving home for spring break. It would take hours to clean the store, and almost everyone could feel a serious cold coming on. Someone would order a pizza, and we’d munch in silence before taking off to our various celebrations, usually arriving sneezing and crazy-eyed, just wanting to crash into a bed.

I’ve now had ten years off on Christmas Eve. It is spent at home, quietly listening to holiday music, baking a batch of cookies, snuggling with my little ones watching White Christmas, and heading to my parent’s house early for festivities. I have a no-shopping on Christmas Eve rule for myself, but I must admit I feel something lacking each year without the craziness. The month of December doesn’t feel as sparkly and exciting to me without all the noise, the crowds of people, Mariah Carey singing Christmas songs through loud speakers all day long, racing up and down stairs trying to find books for exasperated customers. The thing I didn’t want to make the holiday about has now ended up defining the holiday to me. Those formative years of my teens and twenties, working hard all December long now shape how I need Christmas to feel to me as an adult. I can’t escape that, somehow.


I remind myself each year that just because something feels a certain way, it doesn’t mean that’s how it actually is. This is usually easier said than done. As a parent, I now determine how the holiday will look for my children. I start traditions and routine both for enjoyment and for recognition. I see my kids feeling so many things, and getting swept up in what makes Christmas so exciting. But my mission as a caretaker is more than that. It’s to teach what the reason behind this month long, money-spending, jingle-belling really is. At the very core, it’s to look to others, to give with no expectation of getting anything in return, and to remember that we all belong to each other, all of us, across this spinning round snow globe that’s so easily shaken. No matter how the actual days of December end up shaping my two little ones, I want them to still always be able reach past how they feel, and know, deep down, the joy and hope of Christmas, and their capacity to bring it everywhere they go. “If the world seems cold to you, kindle fires to warm it.” —Lucy Larcom

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pumpkin scones

My littles are on Brightly today, making Pumpkin scones from The Vanilla Bean Baking Book. If you haven’t been to the Brightly site yet please check it out! The space is a resource for parents to help create lifelong readers, something I’m passionate about. Launched in partnership with Penguin Random House, Brightly features book recommendations from all publishers for every age and stage, reading tips and insights, seasonal inspirations, author essays, contests, gift guides, and more. There are so many great book lists and ideas here.

pumpkin scones

pumpkin scones

pumpkin scones

pumpkin scones


You can get the recipe for the Pumpkin Scones here. These scones are a family favorite, and might be what we wake up to this Christmas morning. “If the world seems cold to you, kindle fires to warm it.” —Lucy Larcom



‘The snow
began here
this morning and all day
continued, its white
rhetoric everywhere
calling us back to why, how,
whence such beauty and what
the meaning; such
an oracular fever! flowing
past windows, an energy it seemed
would never ebb, never settle
less than lovely! and only now,
deep into night,
it has finally ended…

and though the questions
that have assailed us all day
remain — not a single
answer has been found —
walking out now
into the silence and the light
under the trees,
and through the fields,
feels like one.’
-Mary Oliver, excerpted from American Primitive

Many of you know that I contribute over at Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day – I’ve been working  for Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François about four years. While I write some blog posts for them and spend a good deal of time pinning to their Pinterest boards, one of the highlights of my job is helping them work on cookbooks. A little over a year ago we spent another week together, along with photographer Stephen Scott Gross, mixing buckets of dough and baking piles of bread for their book.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: I was a fan of the Bread in Five series before I met Jeff and Zoë, and now after spending time with the two of them, I can’t rave about them, and their books, enough. I’ve made boules, baguettes, bagels, doughnuts, beignets, coffee cake, sandwich bread, dinner rolls, bostok, and cinnamon rolls with their dough. They recently put out a new edition of Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, which is revised and updated with new recipes. I’m a huge fan of the whole wheat brioche dough, and use it often in my baking. It works great made into whole grain doughnuts, Christmas Stollen, Caramel or Cinnamon Rolls, and this Pistachio Chocolate Twist, which is a new family favorite.
pistachio wreath



Processed with VSCO with 4 preset
If you haven’t tried out any Bread in 5 recipes yet, I highly encourage you to! If you’re new to bread baking, their recipes are a great place to start, and if you’ve been baking bread for awhile, there is so much room for experimentation. It’s an easy and delicious way to make bread a part of your daily life.

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holiday drinks
A few weeks ago the kind folks at Martha Stewart Living sent me their new copper bar set. I’m not much of a mixed drink kind of person, more like the ‘1/2 beer with dinner’ type, even though I do have a cabinet stuffed full of liqueur bottles. These, however, are used almost exclusively for baking. I decided to live it up just a little this December; trade the beer in for something more sassy, and put the new set to good use.

I met Ben from BET Vodka at Molly’s fabulous brunch a few weeks back, and he donated a bottle to make some drinks with. I took a fancy to his beautiful vodka bottles at the brunch (I also had a delicious drink made from it), and thought it would go well with pomegranate juice and ginger ale. Turns out it does. Then I received a few bottles of wine from Seven Daughters – I have had a good number of glasses of it over at the Faux Martha’s house, and knew it would pair wonderfully with something simple. Orange juice and Moscato happened at a recent family gathering, and everyone loved it.

These two drinks are so simple they probably don’t need recipes, but I figured there might be someone like me out there who needs a little help with making party beverages appear fancy, so I thought this might come in handy.

holiday drinks

holiday drinks

holiday drink

The copper bar set was sent to me by Martha Stewart Living, and can be found exclusively at Macys.
BET Vodka can be found online here.
Seven Daughters wine can be found online here.

As always, all opinions are my own.

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Hello! I have another exciting giveaway for you. Three more pieces of kitchen equipment that I absolutely love: Emile Henry mixing bowls, Mauviel Copper Sugar Saucepan, and a Lékué springform mold. The mixing bowls are pretty much a necessity in any kitchen, and this set is lovely, with three different sized nesting bowls. I use them all the time – for mixing, of course, but also for holding fruit and filling with chips at parties, among other things. The sugar saucepan is beautiful (I included it on my gift guide as well), and I find it to be a fantastic tool for making Italian buttercream. And the springform mold has been a game changer for me. I will admit I was skeptical about silicone molds when I was first introduced to them, but I have fallen in love with them after never having to worry about messy cheesecake sides. The mold peels away from the cheesecake every time, leaving perfect sides. Extra bonus: the cheesecake bakes on a white ceramic plate that is perfect for serving on as well, and I never have to have the stress of sliding a cheesecake on to a serving plate ever again.

1 winner will receive 1 Emile Henry Mixing Bowl Set + 1 Mauviel Copper Sugar Saucepan + 1 Lékué Springform Mold + a copy of The Vanilla Bean Baking Book by Sarah Kieffer. Participants who complete*** this form*** will be entered for a chance to win. Contest is open through 12/13 to residents of the U.S. and Canada only.  The winner will be randomly selected through and notified via e-mail no later than 12/16. The winner’s name and address will be shared with Emile Henry, Mauviel, and Lékué for the sole purpose of mailing out the prize. Thank you! (Also: don’t forget to enter my Minted giveaway as well!)


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saint lucia buns

Each December, I find myself searching for the perfect holiday traditions. Not that there are any perfect ones, of course, but with two little ones in our family, I crave some routine and consistency each year. Dream scenarios would be opening presents every Christmas morning as a family in our home, snuggling up on the couch with a mug of hot chocolate Christmas Eve to watch Rudolph (and then later White Christmas), searching through holiday magazines and cookbooks for the best cookie recipes and then making them together over Christmas break, and sweet yeasted bread every day. Cinnamon rolls, fruit-filled Danish, braided pumpkin-spice knots, just anything along those lines, all Christmas-time long.

st. lucia buns

King Arthur Flour asked me to bring a Christmas classic to their Holiday Table, and I immediately thought of St. Lucia Buns. St. Lucia Day is before Christmas Day, taking place on the longest night of the year (according to the ancient Julian calendar), December 13th. While these buns are not dripping in icing and swirled with cinnamon, they are sweet and delicious nonetheless. They could be made in the middle of December, and then again on the 25th, served for breakfast, or an afternoon coffee break after opening piles of presents and shaking every last piece of candy out of stockings by the fire. Whenever you decide to make them is just fine; just make sure to add them to your baking list.

Browse some of my other picks for Classic Christmas recipes and favorite tips for the season at King Arthur Flour’s Holiday Table.

st. lucia buns

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Part two of my gift guide! But first, a ***fabulous giveaway from Minted!*** Enter to win one of three $100 credits to the Minted store. Just follow this link and fill out the form. Winners will be picked on 12/8.  Minted sells all kinds of beautiful things – from photo cards and personalized wrapping paper to fine art prints and home decor. Open to US residents only.

There are a lot of kitchen items that are my favorites. Too many items, probably. But here’s a little list of some things I love – some practical, some just because.

Goldtouch Pans – Williams-Sonoma’s goldtouch line is my favorite for baking. Falling somewhere between light and dark metal, they keep baked good from over baking, while still giving them some browning.  I love them especially for layer cakes (8-inch pans) and brownies (9×13).

Copper Sugar Saucepan – Maybe not a necessity, but this gorgeous pan by Mauviel is sure nice to have on hand. I use it for making Italian buttercream, mostly.

Walnut Wood Bowl – I’ve known Araya, owner of Willful, for awhile now, and have always been obsessed with her beautiful wood bowls. This one is a particular favorite. I use them as serving dishes, and in the kitchen baking. She also has lovely smaller ones here.

‘This Is Just To Say’ Tea Towel – William Carlos Willams on a tea towel? Yes, I want that hanging in my kitchen always.

Le Creuset Cast-Iron Braiser – I have expressed my love for this braiser pan many times, but it really is my most loved, most used pan. I highly recommend it. I have one in white, but I think this grey is beautiful, too.

White Marble Slab – If you don’t have a good surface for rolling out dough, I highly recommend getting a marble slab. I use mine all the time. It keeps the dough chilled longer, and cleans up easily. Also, it’s much, much cheaper than installing marble counter tops.

Silo Canisters – I really love these canisters. They look great, they are stackable, and they keep food fresh. I have flour, sugar, oats, chocolate chips, and all kinds of other goodness in mine.

Aheirloom Cake Stand – I have two of these cake stands, and use them all the time. They come in all different sizes and base shapes, and make a decorated cake look even more gorgeous.

Cakebox – I love all the wooden carrying boxes from this company. And who doesn’t want to be gifted a big, beautiful box filled with chocolate cake?


Lists of Note by Shaun Usher – A fun and interesting collection of… lists. But not just any lists, lists by Albert Einstein and F. Scott Fitzgerald and JFK’s secretary. Usher also wrote Letters of Note, which is another great book, and both make perfect gifts for just about anyone.

Complete Poems by e.e. cummings – I fell in love with poetry in 9th grade, after reading a section on Mr. cummings in my English text book. His poems are thoughtful, playful, and fun, but also serious and unafraid at times, too. Here are all his poems, in one volume.

The Chef’s Library by Jenny Linford – Ever wonder what cookbooks line the shelves of your favorite chef’s kitchen? Now you can get a glimpse. A great coffee table book, and after paging through it, I’ve added too many cookbooks to my wish list.

In Winter’s Kitchen by Beth Dooley – A thoughtful look at the food movement in the Heartland. ‘Using the story of one thanksgiving meal, Dooley discovers that a locally-sourced winter diet is more than a possibility: it can be delicious.’ This book inspires one to not only think, but to also get in the kitchen and cook.

The Lord of the Rings Reader Companion by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull – This book is amazing – a detailed look at the ‘literary and historical influences on the development of The Lord of the Rings, connections between that work and other writings by Tolkien, errors and inconsistencies, significant changes to the text during its fifty years of publication, archaic and unusual words used by Tolkien, and words and passages in his invented languages of Middle-earth.’ Complete nerdery. And I mean that as a compliment.

Vivian Maier: Self-Portraits – I love Vivian Maier’s photography – her street photography and self-portraits are incredible. This book is a beautiful collection, and paging through it always inspires me to pick up my camera. If you don’t know of her work, I highly recommend checking out the documentary about her work.

A Cozy Coloring Book by Adrianna Adarme – Have you ever wanted to color in your food photography? Well, now you can. Adrianna’s lovely coloring book is the perfect way to spend snowy winter afternoons by the fire. Both my daughter and I are smitten with it.

All The Odes by Pablo Neruda – Another lovely poetry collection. Neruda’s Odes are my favorite – everything has an ode,  from lemons and cats and socks to aging and common things and the present. The table is already set, | and we know the truth | as soon as we are called: | whether we’re called to war or to dinner | we will have to choose sides, | have to know | how we’ll dress | to sit | at the long table, | whether we’ll wear the pants of hate | or the shirt of love, freshly laundered. – Ode to the Table

The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets by Darra Goldstein – A must-have for any food lover, and especially one partial to sweets. ‘The Companion takes readers around the globe and throughout time, affording glimpses deep into the brain as well as stratospheric flights into the world of sugar-crafted fantasies. More than just a compendium of pastries, candies, ices, preserves, and confections, this reference work reveals how the human proclivity for sweet has brought richness to our language, our art, and, of course, our gastronomy.’ I’m always reading it.


Portable Record Player – I acquired this portable record player recently, and my kids have loved listening to music and stories on it. I pick up old vintage records at the thrift store here and there, and they have a little collection of favorites. We move it around a lot – in the summer, it stays on the porch and in the winter, we have it tucked away by the Christmas tree. This model is pretty but pricey; there are plenty of cheaper ones out there, too.

Julia, Child by Kyo Maclear – One of my favorite kids books. The illustrations are done by Julie Morstad, and, like everything else she illustrates, they are gorgeous. The book imagines Julia Child and her dear friend, Simca, as children in the kitchen.

The Mermaid and the Shoe by K.G. Campbell – Another beautiful book. about Minnow the mermaid, who is trying to figure out what sets her apart from all her super-talented sisters.

The Black Apple’s Paper Doll Primer by Emily Martin – The loveliest paper dolls you ever saw, all tucked away in this little book. You might want to buy two copies – one for cutting, and one for looking through on quiet afternoons with your littles.

Kids Tent from Minted – Imagine the loveliest spot to curl up in? Piled high with blankets and pillows and all your favorite books? As a child I would have gone crazy over a space like this, and I’m planning on surprising my kids with one this holiday season. We’ll snuggle in and and read our favorite books from above, as well as to take time to read about Native Americans and what it was like to live in our own state of Minnesota before white settlers appeared. This book looks like a good starting point. (Please note: the cut off for ordering a pre-styled tent is December 21st.)

Usbourne Book of Famous Paintings – Usbourne has some fantastic educational books, and this is one of my daughter’s favorite past times. She loves to paint and draw, and often pages through this book for inspiration. The paintings are shown in full, along with information on the artist, the paint/mediums/techniques used, and any historical context that is important. I love reading it with her because I learn something new every time.

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson – My husband recently bought this collection for my kids – he was an avid Calvin and Hobbes fan as a child, and wanted the comics to be a part of their world. They spend hours pouring over the books – a lot of it still goes over their heads, but the drawings are engaging, and it’s sparked a lot of interesting conversation about what people believe and how the world works. I’ve enjoyed rereading them again, too.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien – I couldn’t not include a Tolkien book. Plus, I am reading this for the first time to my children, and they are enjoying it so much, I had to encourage all of you to do the same if you haven’t yet. A classic.

Classic Legos – My son is obsessed with legos, and spends much of his free time building anything and everything. For a few years it’s been impossible to find anything but sets for a specific line (star wars, ninjago, etc)- and while those are fun, often my kids just want to free build. My daughter pointed this huge box out to me recently – it even contains pink and purple legos, and it might just end up under the tree.

Also, don’t forget about my Holiday playlist over on Spotify!

Purchase my cookbook!

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