What I Read in August

It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey

Rating 4/5. This fun and steamy contemporary romance is inspired by Alexis Rose of Schitt’s Creek. I don’t typically read a lot of contemporary romance, but I’ve heard great things about Tessa Bailey and I love me some Schitt’s Creek. This was funny and quirky, it is about a Hollywood socialite that falls in love with a weathered Pacific Northwest fisherman after all, but also seriously steamy. Although beach read season is almost over, maybe this can be your summer swan song.

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Rating 4.5/5. This book was fantastic. I read it in about two days while still dealing with a 9 month old. Stripped down to its most basic points this is the story of a failed novelist, who decides to steal the perfect plot from a deceased student except the plot might not have been that student’s at all. This is a perfectly paced thriller with one of the greatest acts of literary hubris that pays off- a novel within a novel. While the seasoned mystery reader will probably guess the “twist” fairly early on, it doesn’t matter because this is such an excellent piece of genre fiction.

Rating 3/5. Do you love social history? Do you ever wonder what it was like to live through the worst century to be alive? Well, do I have the perfect book for you. Ian Mortimer has written an excellent piece of social history that really makes you understand the whole picture of living in 14th century England. My only complaints are that it’s a little long and repetitive, but that’s true of most history books, and it only briefly touches on The Black Death which is probably the greatest single event to effect the creation of early modern Europe.

The Duke Effect by Sophie Jordan

Rating 3/5. Sophie Jordan is a writer of consistently solid historical romance and this book is no exception. This is the 7th book in the Rogue Files series, but like most romance novels you need not to have read the others in this series for it to makes sense. This book follows Nora Langley, who longs to be a practicing physician like her father and has recently (although inadvertently) developed a powerful aphrodisiac, as she falls in love with an unwilling ducal heir named Constantine Sinclair. If you are a fan of the genre, this is a great book with which to kill an afternoon.

Rating 2/5. I honestly never thought I would give a Julia Quinn novel such a low rating. I’ve been a diehard fan of Quinn’s since reading the Bridgerton novels about five years ago, but Bridgerton this is not. Anyone familiar with historical romance will know that there are often rakes and rogues, who marry the dear heroine for not the right reasons. Most of the time, the reason for a deceptive marriage is money. However, by the end of the novel the rake has reformed and fallen madly in love with the often bluestocking heroine. In this novel, Sir Richard Kenworthy’s deception is gross and pretty unforgivable. You also do not find out about it until 3/4 of the way through the novel making his redemption arch quick and hard to believe. This isn’t bad novel, but it is a novel where it is hard to suspend disbelief that an HEA (happily ever after) makes sense, which is the whole point of a romance novel.

I’m Back!

I’m starting to blog again! I can’t believe it’s been almost a year. Between having my son in November 2020 and the pandemic, I just couldn’t find the bandwidth to blog. I try not to be too hard on myself, since this is just for fun and for the 5 people who read this thing. I had some pretty bad postpartum anxiety/depression after the birth of my son and I am just starting to feel more like myself again. The blog will have a little bit of a different format going forward. I’ll still be posting tasty low-carb recipes, but I’ll be adding book reviews. I need to make sure I’m fulfilling the bookish part of my moniker.

Lower Carb Banana Bread

With all the pandemic baking going on during the last six months, I felt really left out because I could not figure out how to make banana bread that tasted like the real thing. After a few loaves, I found my perfect recipe. This banana bread tastes as close to the real thing as you can get without eating grain or sugar. Bananas are probably one of the most carb heavy fruit on the planet, which is great if you run everyday but not so great if you’re trying to be as low-carb as possible. So my fellow banana bread lovers rejoice! Enjoy your fresh baked banana bread with a little butter and a hot cup of coffee.


Ingredients:

  • 2 c. fine ground blanched almond flour
  • 1/2 c. granular erythritol
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar erythritol
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. psyllium husk powder
  • 1 c. unsalted butter softened
  • 1/2 c. chopped pecans
  • 1 very ripe banana
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp. banana extract
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Recipe:

Prep Time: 10 minutes 

Cook Time: 50-60 minutes

Yield: 1 loaf (about 12 slices)

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Butter a 9×5 loaf pan and set aside.
  3. Combine almond flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and psyllium husk in a medium sized bowl.
  4. In a large bowl, cream the butter and both sugars with a hand mixer. Then add the vanilla and banana extract. Add eggs one at a time to the mixture. Then add the banana until well combined and there are little to no chunks.
  5. Slowly add the dry ingredients to wet ingredients using a hand mixer to combine.
  6. Fold in the chopped nuts with a wooden spoon.
  7. Then add the mixture to greased pan. Smooth out the top of the bread with a spatula.
  8. Place in the oven and check at about 50 minutes. Toothpick should come out clean when the bread is done.
  9. Bread will keep in the fridge for up to seven days.

Nutrition: 257 calories, 23g fat, 4.8 net carbs

Why I went Low Carb

I’m going to be upfront; I am not a fan of diet culture. I have been overweight the majority of my life and according to the seriously outdated and harmful BMI chart, I still am. I am also 5’10”, so no matter what I do or did I will be a large woman no matter what. I’ve tried all the diets. I think either myself or my parents had me on a diet from the time I was in puberty. I hated them all. I just wanted to be like my friends. I wanted to be able to eat a Taco Bell bean burrito after school without being a size 14 at 14 years old. I continually felt bad about myself until around age 25, when I said screw it and figured if nothing had worked so far nothing ever would. I am truly grateful for the body positive movement for making me feel comfortable with myself. I am grateful for Generation Z girls, who seem so much more positive with their bodies than I was and have helped this millennial learn to love themselves.

Me in 2018 before Keto

However, and you knew this was coming, once I turned 30 I really started thinking about becoming a mom. Diabetes runs in my family and both my paternal grandparents died from the disease. I knew that I couldn’t outrun my genes forever. I knew that I wanted to be able to play with my kids, travel, and be able to teach them a better relationship with food than the one I had growing-up- I knew something had to change.

My dad had been telling me about Keto starting around 2018, and it sounded really hard and kind of terrible. I figured that although I was heavy I had always been healthy and there was no need for me to do it, but I was really impressed with his results. Because although my dad is super active, thin, and ate a healthy diet compared to most Americans, he was still losing his eyesight to Diabetes. No matter what he did he couldn’t get a handle on the disease until Keto. So after 30 years as a Type 2 Diabetic my dad was finally off all meds in his 60s thanks to Keto.

Finally at 33, my husband I knew we were ready to start the rest of our family. In preparation, I went to the doctor to get a full blood panel and the results were not great. I was on my way to joining the rest of my family. I felt ashamed and really lost. I decided it was time to do a total overhaul on my diet. I knew I did not want to die before 70 like my grandparents.

But I loved bread. I had been a baker my whole life, how could I give up my one true love? So I started with calling my dad. I got the keto books he recommended. I threw out every carb in my house and did strict keto. I have to say with my personality that once I decide to do something I do it, so I don’t judge others for having trouble sticking to keto, but for me I just went in with the mindset that is how I now eat. This was about my life; this was about my health. I did strict keto for 4 months. No carbs, no cheats, and really no eating out. I lost about 30lbs in those 4 months without even changing my calorie intake that much.

3 months after changing my diet. March 2019.

While I haven’t had the crazy weight loss of some people, but for me it was never about that, I can’t dispute how much keto changed my life. I suddenly had more energy and was able to exercise more than ever before. I bought an exercise bike and within a year I had lost almost 50lbs and went from a size 18/20 to a size 12/10. But most importantly, my next blood panel came back beautiful. I was ready to start my family.

Nine months low carb. September 2019.

I am no longer keto, instead I say I am keto adjacent. I don’t eat sugar, rice, or wheat. I will occasionally eat corn and legumes, but usually no more than once a week. I avoid most starchy vegetables, but sometime incorporate a serving of potato. (Especially during pregnancy, this baby wants his 1oz serving of chips.) I try to eat a 1/4c. of fruit everyday, but I only eat berries, peaches, and kiwis. Basically, without trying I probably eat between 50-100 net carbs a day compared to the average American who eats between 225-325 net carbs per day.

20 weeks pregnant and 18 months low carb. June 2020.

Yes, it’s hard sometimes, especially when all I want is a quesadilla or a sandwich, but in the end the benefits outweigh everything else. Food and dieting no longer control me. I might never be the skinniest keto queen, but I am healthier than I have ever been in my life and I know that I am giving my baby the happiest womb. In the end, that’s enough for me.

Low Carb Blueberry Muffins

Is there anything better than a warm blueberry muffin in the morning? Well maybe banana nut or pumpkin spice, depending on the season, but more on those in upcoming posts.

My husband has been super happy with my pregnancy, because all I want is comfort baked goods. I think baby boy has inherited his dad’s sweet tooth, because if you know me you know I’m more of a savory person instead of sweets obsessed. Someday soon I will have some non-baking recipes, but today I am going to add my recipe for blueberry muffins. These are perfect warmed in the morning with just a little butter. Enjoy these grain-free sugar-free muffins ASAP.


Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 c. fine ground blanched almond flour
  • 1/2 c. coconut flour
  • 1/2 c. granular erythritol
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 tbsp. heavy whipping cream
  • 1 stick unsalted butter melted
  • 1/2 c. fresh blueberries

Recipe

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Yield: 12 muffins

  1. Preheat over to 355F
  2. Combine dry ingredients in large bowl. Add melted butter and mix well with wooden spoon.
  3. Add heavy cream and mix
  4. Add eggs one at a time until incorporated. Batter should be creamy but not runny.
  5. Fold in blueberries and be careful not to over mix thereby breaking the blueberries.
  6. Line muffin pan with silicone or paper cups.
  7. Use a spoon to fill each cup to the top, while trying to evenly distribute blueberries.
  8. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Toothpick should come out fairly clean when done.
  9. Muffins can be stored in the fridge for up to one week.

Nutrition: 167 calories, 14g fat, 3 net carbs

Almond Flour Tortillas

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When I first started eating low carb almost two years ago, bread was what I missed most.  However, that didn’t last long for me. I’ve never been a big sandwich person and I found breakfast was just as good without my extra slice of sourdough. I hate “keto” breads. As a bread snob they all remind me of either Wonder Bread or Orowheat, which I stopped eating years ago anyway, and they still give you gas and spike your blood sugar. Occasionally if I’m at a fancy meal or eating at a French restaurant, I will just splurge and eat a piece of a quality yeasty treat, plus you better believe when I was in Paris last year I ate a daily croissant.

As time wore on, the thing I’ve missed the most is tortillas. Growing up in a Mexican-American household tortillas were a staple of our diet. Tortillas are so versatile. You can fill them just about anything and go with almost any meal. Jicama and coconut wraps are ok substitutes, but you can’t use them for breakfast. I personally don’t like cheese wraps; they’re just too heavy, but you do you.

After messing around with a few recipes I found online, this is my adaptation. I will say these are tricky to cook, especially if you’ve never made tortillas before. I recommend the following supplies:

  • Tortilla Press (You can find them at your local latin market or Amazon sells several versions. This is mine. You can use parchment paper and a rolling pin, but honestly it’s more work and it’s harder to get a uniform shape.)
  • Parchment Paper
  • Cast Iron Skillet or Comal aka Mexican griddle 

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Recipe: (makes about 12  8in. tortillas)

  • 2 c. fine ground almond flour
  • 4 tbsp. psyllium husk powder, plus an extra in reserve
  • 2 tbsp. lard (or oil/fat of your choice)
  • 1 tbsp. avocado oil (or high heat oil)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 c. warm water

Instructions: (visit my IG account for a saved video tutorial)

  1. Combine all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl, keeping 1 tbsp psyllium husk powder in reserve. You can use whole ground psyllium husk instead of powder, but I find it harder to work with and it makes the tortillas more brittle.
  2. Add the lard to the dry ingredients and mix by hand until everything is smooth and crumbly. It should look similar to biscuit dough. I know a lot of people have an aversion to using lard, but if you’re eating low carb it’s a totally fine fat to use. Also, it is the traditional fat used in tortillas. If you are vegan, I recommend using avocado oil instead of lard and mix into the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula.
  3. Add the water to the dough and kneed by hand. If the dough is too sticky, add the psyllium husk powder a little at the time until the dough is smooth and forms a large ball.

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    Dough should look something like this.
  4. Heat-up your cast iron skillet or comal on medium heat. You’ll want to rub the avocado oil on the skillet using a paper towel or non-absorbent cloth.
  5. While the skillet is heating take two pieces of parchment paper and place them on either side of the tortilla press. Roll a piece of dough into about a 1in. ball and place the ball on the middle of the press. Close the press. You should be left with a tortilla about 1/6th in. thick.

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    Pressed dough.
  6. Remove the top piece of parchment paper. Leave the pressed tortilla dough on the bottom piece of paper.
  7. Place the tortilla dough side down on the skillet. The skillet should be close to smoking. You want it really hot.
  8. Press the tortilla into the skillet and remove the parchment paper.
  9. Cook for about one minute and then flip. The tortilla will remove easily from the skillet when ready to flip. Cook for another minute. Repeat steps 5-9 until all the dough is gone.

Nutrition: 123 calories, 10.5g fat, 2.75 net carbs

 

Essentials of Low-Carb Baking

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Switching to low-carb baking is very intimidating and let’s be honest it will never taste the same as wheat based goods with their soft and delicious gluten. I’m not going to lie to you about that. However, low-carb baking will satisfy your cravings while helping you maintain a new lifestyle. These new baked goods will give you the same comfort and make you feel better overall than eating sugar and wheat.

Obviously if you are reading this, you either flirting with going low-carb or you are already a convert. I’m not going to espouse all the virtues of eating low-carb (at least not in this post), but I am going to help you with your pantry essentials. I will always recommend baking for yourself or really paying attention to ingredients, if you are buying pre-made baked goods.

I recommend avoiding most pre-made commercially available breads and treats. Most gluten-free products are not low-carb and have very little to no fiber, unless you’re allergic you’re better off eating a sprouted wheat bread. As for “keto” breads, tortillas, and flours (aka Carb Quick), they are usually made with wheat flour and then a ton of fiber is added. These can often times kick you out of ketosis and if you are doing low-carb for blood sugar management, they will SPIKE your blood sugar. In addition, only certain sweeteners are low glycemic. I recommend sticking to stevia, monk fruit, and erythritol. While they taste good, aspartame and sucralose (aka Splenda) are not low glycemic and might even spike your blood sugar. I love Diet Coke, but I try to drink only 1 or 2 a week.

The Essentials:

  • Almond Flour. Almost any low-carb baking recipe uses almond flour as a flour substitute. It has a good fat to carb ratio and has little to no flavor. I recommend trying to find the finest ground possible. Costco carries large bags for a great price.
  • Coconut Flour. Coconut flour is also a common ingredient in low-carb baking. It does have a higher fat content and it does make your dish taste like coconut, and for those reasons I recommend it as a mix-in to be paired with almond flour. This helps make recipes lighter, because almond flour can make baked goods dense.
  • Xantham Gum. This little powder gives low-carb cookies and breads their chewy texture.
  • Cacao Powder. This is your chocolate substitute. It is high in fiber and sugar free. It does taste similar to dark baking chocolate,  so in other words a little bit goes a long way.
  • Psyllium Husk. This is your fiber. I prefer a fine ground and typical buy it on Amazon. Flax meal is also a common fiber additive, but it does have a stronger taste and I usually only use it in bread.
  • Sugar substitutes. When baking, I prefer erythritol. It tastes the most similar to sugar, it’s easy to find (most grocery stored now carry Swerve), and it’s zero carb and low-glycemic. Since the FDA does count sugar alcohols, the nutrition label will say there are carbs but as long as it’s not mixed with anything you don’t need to count them. The main downside of erythritol is that it can upset some people’s stomachs and bowels. It never has for me, but I feel like you should be aware. Monk fruit is also a good baking option, but it’s harder to find and usually more expensive per once. Stevia is great, but I don’t recommend it for baking except to make something sweeter. It has a strong flavor and it definitely take getting used to the taste.

“Birthday Cake” Cake

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Is there anything that screams birthday more than a rainbow sprinkle confetti cake?  When I picture the perfect childhood birthday cake, I picture just that- a moist and perfectly executed yellow cake full of rainbow sprinkles.  Homemade cake is probably one of the easiest things to bake.  A little more advanced than brownies, but no where near as complicated as pie.

Ben had never had a confetti cake until one evening I kept going on and on about them.  He basically looked at me like I had three heads, so with that we headed to Walmart and bought a box and canned frosting.  He was not a fan, and sadly the nostalgia just did not make it any better for me.  However, the homemade version brought a smile to his face. Never use a box again, because making a cake from scratch is not much more work and it tastes a million times better.  Say it with me, no more box cake.


Cake:

  • 3c. white flour
  • 1 1/2c. white sugar
  • 1c. softened unsalted butter
  • 1tsp. salt
  • 2tbsp. vanilla
  • 2tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/2c. milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 2oz. rainbow sprinkles (about one small jar)

Buttercream Frosting:

  • 1c. softened unsalted butter
  • 3c. confectioners sugar
  • 1tbsp. vanilla
  • 2-3tbsp. heavy cream (substituting milk or half and half is also fine)

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  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Combine flour and baking powder in one bowl. Set aside.
  3. In separate bowl (or stand mixer), beat butter, sugar, and salt until well combined but not overly whipped. Now add eggs one at a time to butter mixture, then add in vanilla.
  4. Now add in half of the flour mixture until combined.  Add all of the milk and blend well. Finally add in the rest of the flour mixture and stir until until combined completely.
  5. Gently stir in the sprinkles and keep stirring until they can be seen through the entire batter.
  6. The batter will be enough to fill two 8″ or 9″ round pans or a sheet pan of 9″x13″.  (In this recipe, I am using two pans to make a layer cake.) Grease and flour pans and fill with batter.  fullsizeoutput_e2e
  7. Place in oven and let cook for 20-25 minutes until done through the middle. The cake will be done when a toothpick or fork comes out clean when placed in the middle. When cakes are finished place on cooling racks and let them cool completely.fullsizeoutput_e32
  8. While the cakes are cooling, make the frosting.
  9. Use a hand or stand mixer on medium to beat together the butter and powdered sugar, again do not overly whip.  Add in vanilla. Finally add in cream a little at a time until the consistency is to your liking.  This will make enough frosting to cover a sheet cake or do the top and middle of a layer cake.  If you want to frost an entire layer cake, double this recipe.
  10. Place frosting in a piping bag or if you do not have one you can substitute a plastic freezer bag with a cut-off corner.
  11. Once cakes are cool, cut off the tops until they are flat.  The baking powder causes the cakes to rise with a small dome and this needs to be removed to create an even layer cake.
  12. Pipe half the frosting on the top of one cake and use a spatula to even out the frosting. Place the second cake on top and then frost, again use a spatula to evenly distribute the frosting. Finish off this more sprinkles  and you should get something like this:

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Fig, Honey, and Cheese Galette

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Figs! There is no fruit that I like better than figs.  They are so versatile.  They add the perfect amount of sweet to a charcuterie plate, work in many desserts and treats, but best of all they just kind of make you feel fancy.  It’s fig season here in California.  I told my staff I love figs and now I am up to my eyeballs in them.  I decided to make a treat that would satisfy not only Ben and I, but also my staff. I decided to make a galette or as I like to call it fancy French pie.


The Dough: (enough for two 9″ rounds)

  • 2 1/2c. flour
  • 1/2c. unsalted cold butter
  • 1/2c. butter flavored shortening
  • 1tsp. salt
  • 1tsp. sugar
  • 1/4-1/2c. cold water

The Filling:

  • 4oz. ricotta
  • 4oz. tart soft cheese (I used Kefir cream cheese, because I couldn’t find chèvre.)
  • 1tbsp. honey
  • 1tbsp. sugar
  • 8-10 stemmed and quartered figs
  • pinch of cardamon

Extra:

  • honey
  • 1 egg beaten

  1. In a food processor, combine flour, butter, shortening, sugar, and salt.  Pulse until ingredients come together until small crumbles form. Add water slowly and pulse until it begins to come together, but is not one solid piece.  If you over process the dough, it will not be flaky. Now remove from food processor and form two even sized balls then wrap in plastic and leave in fridge for at least 30 minutes.  I find that shortening and butter give you a richer more savory crust than just butter.
  2. While dough is cooling, preheat the oven to 400F and prepare figs.
  3. Combine cheese, honey, sugar, and cardamon in a bowl and whisk together.
  4. When dough is ready, roll each ball one at a time into a round shape on a well floured surface. Then place the crust onto a lined cookie sheet. (I use a silicon mat.) You can prepare the galette on the counter but it is hard to move once it becomes warm.
  5. Spread cheese mixture in a layer that is just enough so the crust doesn’t show through. Leave about 1.5″ ring of crust with no cheese.  Then place the figs on top of the cheese.
  6. Take the crust that is left on the outer edge and fold it towards the cheese and figs. It should look something like this:ORG_DSC00644
  7. Now drizzle with additional honey and brush the crust with the beaten egg.
  8. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Enjoy while still warm.

Ben calls this fig pizza, which it kind of is, it definitely walks the line between savory and sweet. If you like it more on the dessert side, I would recommend adding an extra tablespoon of sugar to the cheese mixture.

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Peter Kavinsky Kitchen Sink Cookie

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To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was one of my favorite book series as a teen librarian.  (Now, one of my favorite Netflix movies.) Lara Jean and Peter are one of the most adorable couples to exist in the young adult cannon. It’s saccharin and makes you feel good- just like a warm cookie and snuggling on the couch.

Lara Jean loves to bake.  She loves making those around her feel loved through food.  I feel the same way.  I think Ben fell in love with because of a blueberry muffin. I assume that the sweetness of a delicious baked good, made Peter Kavinsky fall in love with Lara Jean even harder.  These savory-sweet “kitchen sink” cookie are the perfect thing to pair with some cozy reading or re-watching a Netflix rom-com for the eighth time.


Recipe makes approximately 36 cookies

  • 2 1/2 c. all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 c. white sugar, plus 2 tbsp. set aside
  • 1/2 c. packed brown sugar
  • 1 c. unsalted butter softened, plus 1 tbsp. set aside
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 c. roughly chopped salted mini-pretzels, plus more for decorating
  • 1 1/4 c. corn flakes
  • 1 c. dark chocolate chips

  1. Heat oven to 350F.
  2. Melt one tablespoon butter. Mix corn flakes, melted butter, and 2 tablespoons white sugar in a bowl. Spread mixture on lined baking sheet and bake in oven for 8-10 minutes until golden brown. If they start to smell like toast, they are done. Set aside to cool.fullsizeoutput_c0c
  3. In medium bowl, combine flour, salt, and baking soda.  Set aside.
  4. In separate bowl, use hand mixer to cream butter and remaining white and brown sugar.  Once butter and sugar are  thoroughly combined, add eggs one at a time until smooth.  Add vanilla and combine.
  5. Slowly add flour mixture to the butter mixture until thoroughly combined.
  6. Now add each of the remaining dried ingredients, including the baked corn flakes, to the dough, one at a time.  Wait until each ingredient is combined before adding the next.
  7. Heat oven to 375F.
  8. Line baking sheets and drop cookies onto the baking sheet.  If decorating with pretzels, gently press them into the top of the dough.
  9. Bake for 9-11 minutes until lightly browned on top, but still soft.

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