Tis’ the season for Cranberry Bliss Bars! So first of all let me preface this blog post by mentioning that I could house an entire box of Starbucks Cranberry Bliss Bars to myself. In one sitting. They are one of my all-time favorites. So I decided to make a gluten-free, grain-free, copycat version because why the hell not?! It’s Christmas!
Okay so another thing I should maybe mention is that I’m obsessed with Christmas. Like OBSESSED obsessed. I put my tree up the day after Thanksgiving and I’ve had eggnog in my fridge since late September. What?! I can’t help it. Christmas is the best. Mainly because everything is covered in lights, Uggs are acceptable footwear, scarves are the best accessory, and the baking is on point. Oh man is the baking on point. Not only is baking so fun and delicious, but then you can also use the heat from the oven to heat your house, so it’s kind of like you’re saving money. Is it? No, it’s not, but just go with it.
So I also have been meaning to write a follow up to my July blog post about how I quit drinking for 8 months. Oh, you haven’t read that post yet? Well let’s go ahead and pause here so you can get caught up. It’s fine, I’ll wait…
And we’re back. So lots of you wonderful blog readers have reached out wondering, “What the heck Vanessa, are you a full-blown alcoholic again after your Honeymoon, or what? The people are dying to know.” So let’s go ahead and get right on into it, here’s my recap: I drank on our Honeymoon, I had champagne, piña coladas, dirty martinis, the works. I really enjoyed myself and I was surprisingly not hungover at all. I think the most drinks I had in one day would be about 4 though, so it’s not like I was a college girl after finals or anything.
I definitely felt and still feel myself sliding back in though. As I type this it’s only be 6 days since I’ve had a drink. After vacation ended I stayed sober until I visited a friend in San Francisco for my birthday (about a month total) and then I didn’t drink at all the month of October, I did a “Sober October” to try and get my sh!t together. Then November came in hot! I’ve basically drank every weekend in November, usually 3-4 drinks, sometimes in one day, sometimes over the whole weekend. We visited family in Tucson earlier in the month, then I had a friend in town, and then it was Thanksgiving…blah blah blah excuses, excuses. So I basically feel like someone who is walking up a steep hill and then every few feet or so, I slide back down part of the way. I believe “a slippery slope” is the easier and technical way to say that right? Ugh. See. Alcohol makes you dumb. Even after 6 days without it.
The original plan was to only drink on Holidays, special occasions, or when it’s really worth it. That plan has proven much harder to stick to than I originally thought it would. I think I just want to be one of those “in moderation” people so bad that I’m like, “Oh yeah, totally, I can make that work.” I’m still going to earnestly give that route a try because it makes the most sense to me. So the goal now is to make it until Christmas Eve without a drink and then start fresh in the New Year and go as long as I can again.
Each time I drink now I make a conscious effort to really ask myself, “What is it about this that I think I like so much?” because to be completely honest, the last few times I’ve gotten buzzed, it’s given me a sort of nervous paranoid anxiety that made me feel like, “I don’t like this, I feel uncomfortably fuzzy, I can’t articulate what I’m trying to say to this person, and I feel like everyone knows I’m drunk.” but then I still continue to do it anyway. Why? Is it to just check out of reality for a second? Or make things more challenging just for the fun of it? What is it? I’m still trying to figure this out.
On our 6 hour road trip to Tucson, Brad and I played the New York Times 36 Questions to Love which you are actually supposed to play with someone you’ve never met, but I thought it would be a good way to kill time. We’re married, so obviously we already knew a lot of the answers to the questions about each other, but it was still fun and there were actually quite a few that we didn’t know about each other. Like Question 1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest? He said me! Isn’t he the best?! That’s why I married him, but then I made him pick someone else besides me and he said Jesus. Which I thought was strange since he doesn’t believe in God, but anyway that’s another blog post for another time.
Fast forward to Question 12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be? His answer was amazing, he said, “I’d wake up without any vices.” Well, wow, that got me thinking (mainly because my answer was something dumb like be invisible or be able to sing) what causes us to have vices or need vices? Is that why I think I’m entitled to a drink whenever I want one? Is it because we live in a world where we feel entitled to our vices? Like we’ve earned them?
So I guess the Cliff’s Notes version of this blog post is I’ve realized I don’t particularly enjoy drinking that much anymore, but I’m still doing it anyway, and I have no idea why. Maybe I need therapy?! Or maybe I just need to read This Naked Mind again. Then the other part of me is like, who cares, YOLO, just drink and be merry. It’s the quintessential angel and devil on each shoulder.
So knowing what I know now, would I have still chosen to drink on my honeymoon or would I have continued my non-drinking stretch? The answer is yes, I would have still drank regardless. I enjoyed having piña coladas in St. Barth’s and having expensive champagne on my wedding night in St. Maarten, and drinking a cocktail as I watched the sun set over Anguilla. Yes. I’d do it again and again. It was part of the experience for me, and while it’s true that I know I would have had just as much fun without it, I still liked the feeling of just letting my hair down and completely indulging with no guilt. Just like you’re supposed to do on vacation.
As someone who rarely lets their hair down, meaning that figuratively rather than literally, because I’ve actually been wearing my hair down a lot lately, as I feel a workout bun is just not an appropriate way to present myself to society, no matter how convenient it may be and I spend way too much money cutting and coloring my hair to just throw it up so no one can see. I’m rambling aren’t I, where were we again?
Ah! Letting my figurative hair down felt really nice and carefree. And since I’m an abstainer, it’s hard for me to get out of the drinking cycle, if I’m still drinking on weekends. Are you as confused as I am? It’s hard getting all of your random thoughts and feelings into one concise point or blog post, so forgive me if this post seems scattered. I blame the alcohol obviously.
I’m excited to see what 2018 has in store! I’m excited to get off the drink again and get back to that place where I was living my best life and things weren’t so foggy. As much as our society worships alcohol, I think there is really something to be said about living an alcohol-free life. It’s charming almost, simple and charismatic.
So anywho! That’s that. The married life rules too in case you were wondering. I love it! Everyone I tell that to says, “Oh well enjoy it while you can, that will change real soon!” Um, excuse me, that’s not nice. Be nice. Speaking of being nice, you absolutely have to make these copycat Cranberry Bliss Bars because they are just too delicious not to, they are very nice. So nice in fact that I think Santa took them off the ‘Naughty’ list just for you.
- 12 tablespoons (170 g) salted butter, browned
- 2 cups (184 g) sifted fine grain blanched almond flour
- 1/4 cup (40 g) coconut flour
- 1½ teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
- ¼ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 cup (135 g) sifted maple sugar
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup (6 oz./180 g) white chocolate, chips or chopped
- ½ cup (70g) dried cranberries
- 16 ounces (452g) cream cheese, softened (see Notes for dairy-free option)
- 8 tablespoons (112g) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup (115g) (70g) powdered sugar, or sifted maple sugar
- ¼ cup (60ml) light-colored raw honey
- 1 teaspoon orange extract
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup (50g) finely chopped dried cranberries, for garnish
- ½ cup (90g) white chocolate, chips or chopped, for garnish
- Brown the butter by placing it in a medium-sized heavy-bottomed saucepan (2.5qt./2.3L) and cook over medium-low heat. Stir intermittently using a rubber spatula. As the butter melts it will start to bubble and foam. As the butter continues to brown, the color will turn from lemon yellow to amber and go from a loud bubble to quiet simmer. When the butter is ready, brown specks will have formed at the bottom of the pan and some will start rise in the foam. The butter will also have a very pleasant nutty aroma. Remove from the heat and let cool for about 15 minutes. While butter is cooling prepare other ingredients.
- In a large mixing bowl combine the almond flour, coconut flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, ground ginger, and salt. Stir together using a fork until well combined; set aside. In a separate medium mixing bowl add the maple sugar.
- Once the butter has cooled, use a rubber spatula to transfer it into the maple sugar bowl, use the spatula to scrape in the browned bits as well. Beat together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on low speed until combined, about 1 minute. Once the butter and sugar are mixed together, add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each, and then add the vanilla. Increase mixer speed to high and continue to beat until smooth bubbles appear on the surface, about 1 minute.
- Transfer the wet egg mixture to the dry mixture. Use the spatula to scrape out any remaining liquid in the bowl. Beat on low until thoroughly combined. Then mix in the white chocolate and cranberries by hand. Scrape the dough down into the bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pressing directly on the surface. Place in the freezer to chill for one hour.
- About 15 minutes before the hour is up, adjust oven rack to the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C). Line a 9×13 quarter sheet pan with parchment paper; set aside.
- Once the dough is chilled, use fingertips to grab some dough and spread the dough evenly across the pan. Place a piece of parchment paper over the dough and roll out until the dough reaches the edges of the pan. It will rise during baking. Bake for 22-25 minutes or until browned on the top and edges and a toothpick comes out clean. Make sure the middle is cooked through completely. Cool completely before frosting.
- Add the cream cheese and butter to a large mixing bowl or to the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat together using a hand mixer or stand mixer set on medium speed until fluffy and combined. Gradually add the sugar, beating well after each addition. Then add the honey, vanilla, and orange extract and continue to mix until smooth and creamy.
- Use an angled frosting spatula to spread the frosting across the cookie layer. To garnish, sprinkle the dried cranberries across the frosting.
- Melt the white chocolate in the top pan of a double boiler over simmering water. Stir until smooth. Another method is to place the white chocolate in a large glass or metal mixing bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir intermittently, using a rubber spatula, until the white chocolate is completely melted. Once melted, let slightly cool, then transfer to a piping bag or re-sealable plastic bag with the corner cut off. Drizzle across the top of the frosting.
- Use a sharp large chef’s knife to cut into 12 squares, wiping the blade after each cut. Then cut each square in half diagonally. Serve immediately. Store any leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- To make these dairy-free, sub ghee for the butter (I recommend Tin Star Browned Butter Ghee or 4th Heart Ghee) and sub dairy-free cream cheese for the cream cheese in the frosting. Kite Hill makes a great dairy-free cream cheese and you can find their products in health food stores across the country. Omit white chocolate chips or use a dairy-free version.