Lolly Bragging

Author: Kirsten K., Food, Food & Drink, Holidays, Sweets

Halloween is just two weeks away, so it’s time to start thinking about candy (as if we at The Swoon Society aren’t thinking about it all year long). When it comes to trick-or-treaters, are you an apple (shame!), popcorn ball (boo!), candy corn (eek!), loose change (argh!), or miniature variety pack (yay!) dispenser? My brother-in-law’s aunt used to give out whole candy bars on Halloween. She did not mess around.

If hordes of sugar-mad zombies find their way to your door each year, you may have to be more practical, but I live on a steep, intimidating hill in a neighborhood with few children, so I have the luxury of splurging on the 3-5 trick-or-treaters who ring my bell annually. This year, I got them these bewitching lollipops from Natural Candy Store.

Everything sold by Natural Candy Store is 100% natural—no scary ingredients like artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives, or hydrogenated oils. In addition, their Halloween lollipops are allergy-friendly, vegan, and gluten-free, so I’ve got all the bases covered (except diabetes). Generously sized with flavors ranging from cherry, grape, and orange to cocoa and vanilla bean, these lollies will have trick-or-treaters bragging to their friends about their haul (I hope).

If you’re not prepared to go all in on individual treats, Natural Candy Store has a frightening array of Halloween sweets in bulk sizes, including Trick or Treat Mix, Organic Skull and Ghost Lollipops, Crispy Milk Chocolate Jack-O’-Lanterns,* Natural Gum Pops, Wholesome Organic Fruit Chews (uncanny facsimiles of Starburst) and, yes, even popcorn balls and candy corn. They also include free samples with every order (my favorite is the CleanCandy Watermelon Wheel).

Now that the candy has been taken care of, it’s time to turn my attention to pumpkin carving patterns and decorating, because Halloween is almost here and there’s no time for lollygagging.


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Natural Candy Store

 

*Orders to hot weather regions may require special shipping.

 

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Get Into Your Divvies

Author: Kirsten K., Food, Food & Drink, Sweets

For months, whenever I walked through the bakery section of my local market, I’d glimpse rows of cellophane bags standing at attention, each holding three perfectly stacked cookie sandwiches. Being a Double Stuf person, what caught my eye through the clear wrapping was a thick layer of white frosting in between each set of generously proportioned cookies. They were slightly more than I wanted to spend, but I was prepared to put a bag (or two) of these Divvies cookie sandwiches in my basket when I saw that they were made for people with dietary restrictions. Equating those words with boring and tasteless, I quickly moved on.

(Coconut) Milk and (vegan) cookies.

But that clear bag is diabolical.

Every time I went grocery shopping (usually on an empty stomach—the ultimate marketing no-no), I would stare at those cookies…and they would stare back. So I finally broke down and bought a bag.

Uh oh.

Sometimes it’s better NOT to know. I was safe when I thought they’d be stale and bland, but once I discovered their soft, chewy texture, abundance of chocolate chips, and rich, buttercream-like frosting, I knew I was in trouble.

A tragic case of mistaken identity.

Calling on hidden reserves of self-control, I only allow myself to indulge on occasion, so I almost snapped when a recent snafu caused me to pull a bag of oatmeal raisin cookie sandwiches out of my grocery bag when I got home. For those who know me, this is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. Raisins are always an affront, but when you’re expecting chocolate chips? We’re talking Et tu, Brute?-level betrayal. I thought about rushing right back to the store, but it had been a long, tiring day. Plus, I hate returning food items, since I know they can’t be resold, so I did what any reasonable person would do: I got a pair of tweezers.

If you love raisins, good news! These cookies are LOADED with raisins. (Bad news: you and I can never be friends.) By the time I’d cleaned house and sent the Sun Maid packing, my oatmeal cookie sandwich was FUBAR (fouled up beyond all raisin). I was feeling cheated of a rare indulgence, so I checked carefully the next time I went to the market and saw several bags of Divvies chocolate chip cookie sandwiches grouped together on the display table. I was about to grab a bag when I noticed that one appeared to have more frosting than the others, so I eagerly popped it in my basket…only to pull out another bag of oatmeal raisin cookies when I got home.

Shaking my fist at fate and the fact that chocolate chip cookies and oatmeal raisin cookies look disastrously alike, I vowed to stick with brownie cookie sandwiches from now on.

The last time I bought a bag, the checker asked if I was vegan. I said no, although I try to avoid animal products as much as possible, but we both agreed that Divvies stand toe-to-toe (and bottom-to-bottom) with any other gourmet cookie sandwiches on the market. So vegans and people with nut, egg, and dairy allergies, rejoice! You can indulge like all the rest of us “civvies”…just make sure to check your bags first so you know what you’re getting into.


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Divvies Cookie Sandwiches

 

Divvies are available at Sprouts and other markets, coffee shops, and specialty food stores nationwide. Click here to find a location near you.

 

Poppin’ Mad

Author: Kirsten K., Food, Food & Drink, Pop Culture, Savories, Snacks, Sweets

When popcorn lover Josh Chaney mastered his great grandmother’s secret 100-year-old vegan caramel recipe, he got a crazy idea: what if you made caramel corn…and froze it? The result was an extra crispy treat that could be stored in the freezer and remain fresh-tasting indefinitely. Along with his partner Sulmaz Rahimpour, the “Mad Popper” began experimenting with a variety of sweet and savory combinations, which culminated in the opening of California Frozen Poppers.

california-frozen-poppers

shabang

The whole ShaBang: cheddar, chile and lime.

The first thing you notice upon entering is the large chalkboard that lists the shop’s profusion of popcorn choices. I was given a chilly reception—in this instance, a good thing—with samples taken from a case typically used to serve ice cream. Spicy flavors like ShaBang, featuring cheddar cheese with chili and lime, are equally enticing frozen as candy-coated versions like Caked, a colorful confection that lets you freeze your cake and eat it too.

caked

“Let them eat Caked!”

Josh told me that his corn is air-popped and contains no oil or water, so only the topping freezes when it’s put in cold storage. This means that the popcorn can be thawed and refrozen a virtually unlimited number of times and will still taste crisp and delicious. When I asked how long the popcorn would last in the freezer, he didn’t know, because he’s had a batch on ice for six years and counting that continues to taste as fresh as the day he made it.

omg

“Like, OMG!” You’ll like OMG!

California Frozen Poppers sends its popcorn all over the country, but no special shipping or cold packs are required. It can be enjoyed at room temperature, or frozen upon arrival for an icy indulgence that will—theoretically—far outlast your restraint. In fact, your primary predicament will be choosing from their overabundance of offerings, including sweet, cheesey, nutty, and seasonal flavors. Standouts are Hefty Melons, which tastes like a spicy watermelon Jolly Rancher, and OMG!, a jaw-dropping medley of chocolate, caramel, sea salt, and peanut butter M&Ms that is NSFW (Not Safe For Waistline).

With specials and samplers, vegan and gluten-free options, and a constantly evolving lineup of flavors, you’d have to be mad not to pop over to California Frozen Poppers and get a taste of this cool concept.

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California Frozen Poppers

 

 

Order of the Purple Hearts

Author: Kirsten K., Food & Drink, Holidays, Sweets

sjaaks-lavender-heartsFebruary 14th is still a week away, but I’ve already received my order of purple hearts from Sjaak’s Organic Chocolates. These foil-wrapped confections put the “V” in Valentine’s Day with a vegan truffle center that’s infused with lavender.

I’ve written before about the fact that Kirsti and I don’t do subtle when it comes to flavorings, particularly floral ones, and these chocolates don’t disappoint. The lavender is distinct and tastes like the true essence of the herb. Blended with a creamy ganache made from all organic ingredients, including dark chocolate, cashews, almonds, and coconut oil, these dairy-free delights make a thoughtful gift for animal lovers, organic-vegan-chocolate-lavender-heartpeople with dietary restrictions, and those who simply enjoy singular sweets.

Sjaak (Dutch for Jacob) is pronounced like Jacques, the name of the company’s Netherlands-born owner, who is committed to compassion and sustainability through the family’s organic, fair trade, vegan products. Their variety of Valentine offerings includes both Cherry and Raspberry Hearts, but it’s the Lavender that will have you writing purple prose to its flowery flavor. So if you want to give a gift from the heart, don’t just pay it lip service. Order today and stock the Sjaak’s.

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Sjaak’s Lavender Hearts

 

Lavender Hearts can also be purchased in bulk.

 

Mother of Dragon’s Blood

Author: Kirsten K., Beauty, Wellness

Blood of the Dragon Styling GelAs I’ve mentioned before, I enjoy laziness. I usually shower at night, because I can go to bed with wet hair and it will be dry in the morning with no effort on my part. As I’ve also discussed, my hair is prone to frizziness…and frizziness + laziness = craziness. Fortunately, I’ve found a Method for solving this equation.

I could write individual posts for most of the items in the Morrocco Method line of hair care products (and I just might), but their Blood of the Dragon Styling Gel has been a workhorse for me this summer and deserves its moment in the sun. My hair dries quickly in the arid heat of Southern California, so I’ve been massaging a dollop of the gel into my wet hair and allowing it to dry naturally during the day. The Light/Medium hold of this non-greasy gel helps to define curls, smooth split ends, and bring out shine. While there’s nothing unusual about how it works—most hair gels can get the job done—there IS something unusual (and swoon-worthy) about the ingredients and the method by which it’s made.

Aloe Vera LeafOver the 50 years that Anthony Morrocco has been cutting and styling hair for celebrity clients, he’s learned that holistic care leads to beautiful hair. Dissatisfied with many so-called “natural” products on the market, he created his own pristine hair care line from pure plant botanicals and naturally-derived minerals. All MM products are synthetic-free, cruelty-free, gluten-free, sulfate-free, soy-free, Paleo, and raw. Blood of the Dragon Styling Gel is also wildcrafted and vegan (top that!). Made from a base of aloe vera and dragon’s blood powder, it has a neutral fragrance that won’t interfere with other scented products, washes out easily, and can be used with impunity, since it’s safe for you and the planet.

Targaryens and wild hair-ians agree: Blood of the Dragon is the mother of natural styling gels. So if you have an insane mane like me, apply some Method to your madness and take a summer vacation from bad hair days.

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Morrocco Method Blood of the Dragon Styling Gel

 

The One Hair Product I Can’t Live Without

Author: Kirsti Kay, Beauty, Fragrance

Lush R&B 1How does a relatively sane person end up going around to all the people she knows and asking them to smell her bangs? How does a mild-mannered girl from the Valley sit smugly at a concert silently thinking, “You’re welcome,” because we are packed in like sardines and everyone is able to breathe in the intoxicating aroma of her fragrant hair? Is it weird to wake up in the night and smile because your awesome-smelling hair woke you up, and then fall back into blissful dreams of jasmine petals and orange blossoms?

Our story begins on a rainy winter’s day in Portland, Maine. After a wonderful visit, our dear friend Treena dropped my husband and me off at the bus station, where we were catching a bus to the Boston airport. It was gray and drizzly and we were sad that our trip had come to an end. When it was time to queue up for the bus, there was an adorable gal with a service dog in front of us in line. Aaron asked if he could pet her dog, and as we started chatting, I was suddenly overcome with the most delicious scent. I could barely concentrate on our conversation because I was just breathing in this strange, invisible perfume that wafted from this woman, hypnotizing me with its floral majesty.

It turns out she was heading to L.A. with her sweet dog Lula to live with her boyfriend in Sherman Oaks. Wait. Sherman Oaks is about 15 minutes away from where we live! And, you say…your boyfriend works in the entertainment industry? Aaron works in the entertainment industry! Oh, and you’re obsessed with your dog? We’re obsessed with our dog too! And, hey, you smell so good and I happen to love good smells! By the time we got on the bus, we were friends.

I said to Aaron, “Wow, didn’t she smell amazing?”
“I guess,” he said.
I thought about it the whole flight home.

Lush R&B 2

The contents of this tiny tub will Revive & Balance your hair while enveloping you in a heavenly floral scent.

The first time she came over with her boyfriend and Lula, I gave her a hug, and not-so-subtly buried my face in her hair like a woman-starved pirate from a cheap romance novel. “Wow, you smell so good,” I said like an idiot. She casually mentioned it was a hair conditioner from Lush. As I poured the wine, I made a mental note to GET THEE TO THE NEAREST LUSH, ASAP!

The next morning, I went straight to Lush’s website, but they had so many conditioners I had no idea which was the one that had bewitched me body and soul. I was going to have to ask her again. I had anxiety. Some people don’t like to reveal their recipes or the name of their perfume…could conditioner fall into this quagmire of personal secrets? Would I be gauche for asking AGAIN?

The next time we met, I was slightly sweaty with anxiety. But the moment I got into her car and smelled that now familiar floral cloud, I just blurted out, “Please tell me again what that conditioner is!” She laughed the confident laugh of a woman who knows how good she smells and said, “It’s from Lush and it’s called R&B.”

I immediately went online when I got back to my office and discovered that R&B is actually a hair moisturizer, not a hair conditioner. The website also said it’s good for curly or African American hair, which was a little concerning, because I have the finest baby hair in the ENTIRE WORLD. Whatever, it shall be mine! And it was.

Lush R&B 3

Just a dab of this Lush-ious styling cream will tame flyaways and smooth curls.

At $24 for 3.5 oz., it’s not cheap, but a little goes a long way. It is very thick, almost like body butter. At first, I put a little bit on my freshly washed hair as a leave-in conditioner and it was too much for my baby fine hair. The best way to use this product is to apply it to dried hair as a styling cream. If you have wonderfully thick and curly hair, this will cradle each curl in fragrant shine and softness. If you have fine hair like me, rub about a pea-sized amount into your hands and smooth down flyways. I also rub a bit into my bangs since that hair is the closest to my nose. Immediately, I am enveloped in the scent of angels, if angels lived in a hair product inside a mall store. The ingredients are vegan and mostly natural, featuring orange flower absolute, Indian jasmine absolute, and organic avocado butter. And, like all of Lush’s products, R&B is cruelty free.

I’m sure I seem like a ding-dong asking my friends and co-workers to smell my hair, but all of my lady friends have swooned right along with me. I made sure to give everyone clear instructions on how to buy and use it. I’m ready to pay it forward, one awesome-smelling set of bangs at a time.

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Lush R&B Hair Moisturizer
 

Love the Cookie You’re With

Author: Kirsti Kay, Dessert, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Sweets

Tonight I’m all alone. It’s Saturday night and I am supposed to be at a party with my husband. Our pug, Owen, had some minor surgery earlier in the week and still isn’t feeling well, so we decided I would be the one to stay home with him. I was feeling a little sorry for myself—I had a really cute outfit all picked out and I haven’t seen our friends in a while. I watched Aaron leave with a nice bottle of Pinot Noir along with a platter of caramelized balsamic Brussels sprouts and shuffled back into the house in my yoga pants and slippers thinking, “Now what?”

Love the Cookie 1

It’s a beautiful evening, so I had a beer out on the deck. Owen sat on my lap for a while and then lay at my feet, snoring, which was a good sign. I read some food magazines, which is one of my favorite pastimes. I hoard them for the perfect time and the stars were aligned—no one to disturb me, gorgeous weather for sitting outside, alcoholic beverage of choice at the ready…even Owen was giving me a reprieve from nurse duty.

When I read food magazines, I have this system: I read each magazine from front to back, slowly, savoring each page and each recipe—even the ones with ingredients I don’t eat, like meat or tofu—and then I carefully dog-ear the pages with recipes or products or places I want to look up on the Internet and save to Evernote for future reference. I love to be transported to places like Morocco. I can almost smell the exotic spices, and the architecture is so wonderfully different from my Valley neighborhood. I decide I absolutely must buy a tagine and I make a mental note to order nigella seeds. I will also need to figure out a substitute for lamb. Pages dutifully dog-eared. And when I turn to the spread on a rustic wine country dinner in Napa, I can almost feel the breeze on my shoulders (fashionably covered in a cashmere pashmina, of course) as I sit at a reclaimed wooden table artfully placed in the middle of a million grape vines, perfectly set with mismatched china and flowers, lights twinkling above, and taste the ancient terroir in each sip of a single vineyard cabernet.

Love the Cookie 2

I finished my magazines and my beer and got out of my swinging chair (the best place to read) to feed the dog and make myself a sweet potato. I poured a glass of Riesling—’cause heck, there was still some in the fridge from last night—and sat down to enter all my dog-eared stuff into the interwebs for further investigation.

And that’s when I came upon the recipe for the Chocolate Chip Cookie For One.

Hmmmm, the oven was still warm from my sweet potato and I had all the ingredients. The night was definitely looking up. It took mere moments to mix all the ingredients together. The only tools I used were a small bowl, a fork and measuring spoons. When I was done, I had this tiny amount of cookie dough, and something about its diminutiveness made me happy. A sprinkling of Maldon sea salt on top of the cookie and into the oven with this solitary confection. Cookie for one coming right up!Love the Cookie 3

Usually, when I bake there is a mess to contend with that sometimes puts a damper on my baking high, but I washed my few dishes and was back on the computer in no time. I had barely typed “where to buy tagine” in my browser when…COOKIE SMELL!

The pug is resting nicely, the kitchen is clean, and I’ve got a warm cookie and Matilda (one of my favorite movies) on DVR. I guess the song is true—if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with, especially if it happens to be a chocolate chip cookie.

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CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE FOR ONE (adapted from Food & Wine magazine)

Love the Cookie 4Active Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Serves 1

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter*
1 Tbsp. packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. granulated sugar
⅛ tsp. vanilla
Pinch of salt
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1½ Tbsp. bittersweet chocolate chips or chunks (or any other chocolate you happen to have on hand)
Maldon salt (or other flake sea salt) for sprinkling (optional)

Love the Cookie 5Heat oven (or toaster over) to 350° F. In a small microwave bowl, heat the butter until just softened (not melted), about 10 seconds on 50% power. Using a fork, blend both sugars, the vanilla and a pinch of salt into the butter. Blend in the flour, then stir in the chocolate chips. Gather the dough in your hands and form a ball, then flatten onto a parchment-lined baking sheet (or toaster tray). Sprinkle with the Maldon salt. Bake for 13-15 minutes, until lightly browned. Let cool slightly. Get comfy with your most favorite pet (optional) and queue Matilda.

 

*To veganize this recipe, use a non-dairy butter substitute like Earth Balance.

Culture Cache

Author: Kirsten K., Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Savories, Snacks

Culture Cache 1Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to entertain guests who have a variety of dietary restrictions and preferences. You yourself may be gluten-free, lactose intolerant, vegetarian, or vegan. It can be challenging to create a menu of foods to serve that will cater to all tastes and requirements, so you might find yourself returning to the same old standbys again and again. While many people are gonzo for garbanzos, I am sick of chickpea dips, so it’s time to ditch the ho-hummus and try something a little nutty.*

When chef Miyoko Schinner became a vegan decades ago, she focused her culinary talents on creating gourmet dishes without the use of animal products. However, like many people who transition to a plant-based diet, she missed the dairy cheeses she used to enjoy and sought to recreate them in her kitchen. The result is Miyoko’s Creamery: a range of aged, artisanal vegan cheeses that look and feel like they came from the dairy case and have flavors that are reminiscent of familiar favorites.

Culture Cache 2Made from a base of organic cashews and miso, these cultured nut products (labeling laws prevent Miyoko’s Kitchen from referring to its creations as “cheese” on the packaging) have a smooth, creamy texture and a piquant tang. While other vegan cheese alternatives often contain processed soy and long lists of additives, Mikoyo’s Creamery combines wholesome ingredients with a sophisticated presentation that will give you the wow without the cow.

The Fresh Loire Valley variety is wrapped in a wine-soaked fig leaf and brings a soupçon of French refinement to even casual get togethers when served with dried fig and olive crackers and a bottle of crisp Chardonnay. For a bit of dark drama, offer guests a noirish nosh of Mt. Vesuvius Black Ash on a platter of black grapes. The ash imparts a slightly smoky flavor, but for those (like me) who prefer a more intense per-fume, try the Aged English Smoked Farmhouse.

Culture Cache 3The online cheese shop at Miyoko’s Kitchen has an ever-revolving and evolving lineup of flavors, which often sell out quickly. I am fortunate to have a local market that carries a large selection from Miyoko’s Creamery, but those who have trouble finding certain varieties and are adventurous in the kitchen can make their own cultured nut products by following the recipes in Miyoko’s book, Artisan Vegan Cheese.

Whether you or your guests have food allergies, ethical concerns, or simply a desire to reduce your consumption of dairy products, get some culture and squirrel away a cache of vegan cheese from Miyoko’s Creamery for your next gathering of (health) nuts.

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Miyoko’s Creamery

 

Artisan Vegan Cheese can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes & Noble , or get an autographed copy from Miyoko’s Kitchen.

 

*Unfortunately, those with nut allergies are still left holding the hummus.

Good Eggs

Author: Kirsten K., Crafts, Holidays

Good Eggs 1Spring has officially arrived and Easter is one week from today, so the time draws nigh when I must dye! No, I’m not starring in an all-female Passion Play, I am speaking of Easter eggs, those colorful capsules that—in a just world—contain chocolate and jelly beans, but, more likely, encase your breakfast or lunch for the next week or so.

When it comes to decorating for the holidays, I’m a traditionalist who likes to stick with the tried-and-true, but I am not a fan of hard-boiled eggs, nor do I relish blowing slimy innards out of a shell (a task I enjoy about as much as hollowing out pumpkins for carving at Halloween). The solution: EggNots.

Good Eggs 2EggNots are ceramic egg alternatives that look, feel, and dye just like real eggs, but are perfect for vegans, those with egg allergies, and lazy people with strange hang-ups (ahem). They are ready to use right out of the carton—no boiling, blowing out, or patching holes required.

I like to scatter a table or fill a bowl with solid-colored eggs in a variety of springtime pastels, but the blank white canvas of these ceramic spheroids inspires a plethora of creative ideas, so don’t put all your EggNots in one Easter basket. You can decorate eggs for any season or reason and use the company’s egg hangers to display your artistry.

If you’re stressed about Easter or springtime decorating, don’t lay an egg. Give yourself—and the hens—a break and crack open a carton of EggNots.

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EggNots

Sweet Dreams Are Made of This

Author: Kirsten K., Cocktails, Coffee, Food & Drink, Holidays, Hot Drinks, Spirits

St. Patrick’s Day is almost here, and while I may not be Irish, I like to celebrate a holiday on which people are encouraged to dress in my favorite color. Always having some article of green clothing on hand, I haven’t been pinched yet!

Sweet Dreams 1This year, in addition to the wearin’ o’ the green, I’ll be drinkin’ o’ the Dream. In our Holiday G.I.F.T. Guide, I chose Dream Catcher Legendary Toasted Irish Liqueur as one of my picks, and I’ve discovered that it makes a swoon-worthy Irish coffee. Simply replace the traditional whiskey with an equal amount of Dream Catcher and top with whipped cream. It’s magically delicious!

Serve up a mug with breakfast and you’ll feel on top o’ the mornin’. In the afternoon, you can enjoy a wee nip while you avoid a wee pinch. As a nightcap, the comforting warmth of the coffee and liqueur will help you catch some Zzzzz…and net some sweet dreams.

With luck, there’s still time to lurk in the liquor aisle and trap this treat from the Emerald Isle to enjoy on St. Patrick’s Day. One sip of this toasted chestnut liqueur and you’ll know you’ve found the gold at the end of the rainbow.

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Sweet Dreams 2DREAM CATCHER IRISH COFFEE (adapted from the Food Network)

1 cup freshly-brewed hot coffee
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 ½ oz. (3 Tbsp.) Dream Catcher Irish liqueur
heavy whipping cream and sugar, to taste*

Whip the cream with a beater or whisk until stiff peaks form, adding sugar, to taste (if desired). Set aside.

Fill a footed mug with hot water to preheat it, then empty. Pour piping hot coffee into warmed glass until it is about 3/4 full. Add the brown sugar and stir until completely dissolved. Blend in Dream Catcher Irish liqueur. Top with a generous dollop of whipped cream and enjoy!

*To veganize this recipe, substitute whipped coconut cream for dairy whipping cream.

 

For a store locator and recipes featuring Dream Catcher Irish liqueur, visit the company’s website.