Me and my star outside Pinnacle Foods, home of Duncan Hines

My Awesome Trip to Duncan Hines

Me and my star outside Pinnacle Foods, home of Duncan Hines
Me and my star outside Pinnacle Foods, home of Duncan Hines

How do we travel on $20 a day? Well, mostly we don’t. Every time it seems we manage to save up any money,we end up having to give it to something decidedly uncool like immigration, the IRS, or the tire shop. The only way to get off my island is to get someone else to pay for it. Mostly, you have to get really really lucky.

I mentioned before that I won a trip to the Duncan Hines Test Kitchens in Parsippany, New Jersey. After months of waiting and anticipating it finally happened. 

Pre-flight margarita
Pre-flight margarita

I flew out on Thursday evening and arrived Friday around 11:00. I do not sleep well on planes, so I was exhausted and starving when I arrived. The first thing on my agenda was a nap and a shower in my totally swanky hotel room at the Sheraton.

My fancy hotel room
My fancy hotel room

After I brought myself roughly back to life, I forced myself to socialize with strangers, which I’m awful at, by heading down to the hospitality suite. Luckily, there was food, sandwiches and a gorgeous cheese plate, and I even managed to sneak in a glass of wine. It was a bit awkward at first, but people from my tribe eventually began to show up, and I saw that I might actually be speaking the same language as some of the other lucky ladies attending this event.

After putting on a fun dress, I headed down to one of the hotel’s banquet rooms for cocktails, then dinner. I was interviewed by the videographer and was brilliant and charming for the first take, and then a blithering idiot when they said I had to do it again. I guess I won’t be getting my own TV show any time soon.

Winning Desserts
Winning Desserts

Dinner was pretty good, but the best part was dessert. We got to try all the desserts from the winners of the contest. My favorite was the mocha gooey bottom bars from my new friend, Genell. They were the perfect amount of gooey. 

Beth is the coolest. I am a weirdo.
Beth is the coolest. I am a weirdo.

I also got to sit next to Beth from Wilton at dinner. She’s a pastry chef, cake decorator, winner of Cupcake Wars, and an all around super awesome human. It was amazing to get to meet so many people working in the industry and just talk to them like it was no big deal.

Saturday morning, jet lag punched me in the face and made a complete fool of me. I overslept and missed the bus. What an idiot! I only ended up being about 15 minutes late, but it was pretty embarrassing. In my defense, it was 3 am Hawaii time. I was a bit disoriented.

We toured the test kitchens, watched a cake decorating demo from Beth, got to try some top secret products under development, and ate lunch. It was amazing and exhausting, but the fun was just beginning. 

Learning great things from Chef Joe
Learning great things from Chef Joe

We spent the entire afternoon in a four hour demo from Chef Joe, the pastry chef for Duncan Hines. He showed us one great technique after another. His energy was limitless. This is a guy who loves his job.

Three desserts for one dinner
Three desserts for one dinner

Dinner was pretty great. I especially loved the butternut squash. Crazy, right? But of course, this was a baking event so it was all about dessert. Each and every one was amazing. Chef Joe went all out for us. I can’t wait to try some of the techniques and recipes I learned and share them with you.

Some of the participants also did a little gifts exchange back at the hotel. This was really fun. We all had to bring a gift representing our home state. I brought toffee mac nuts, Hawaiian salt, Kona coffee, and lilikoi pancake mix, all wrapped lau lau style in a sarong. I can’t believe how popular it was. It got stolen three times. I received a box of herbal teal, some nut butters, a huge bar of chocolate, and an awesome fridge magnet from my new and way rad friend, Becky, who lives in Colorado.

Those of us who stayed up late got treated to another visit by Chef Joe and some of the staff from Duncan Hines. I can’t believe how friendly everyone there was. I guess I’d be pretty happy if I got to make cake every day at work. Their generosity of spirit was so refreshing.

Duncan Hines and Wilton swag
Duncan Hines and Wilton swag

This was an unforgettable experience. I don’t get to travel much, and I certainly don’t think I’ll ever have a chance to attend another event like this. The horrible jet lag was totally worth it. I can’t believe how lucky I was to get to meet so many wonderful bakers. In just two days, I feel like I made some awesome new friends, and if you know me, you know that’s saying a lot, since I’m an awkward weirdo nerd. I will never forget this experience, and I can’t wait to share some of the things I learned with you.

 Mahalo Duncan Hines! You made me feel like part of your ohana.

P.S. Duncan Hines paid for my trip, but I was there as a giveaway winner. I was under no obligation to write this post. They’re just super amazing, and I had to tell you about it. 🙂

Awesome Homemade Cookies
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Awesome Homemade Cookies

Awesome Homemade Cookies

Awesome Homemade Cookies

If the internet is telling the truth, Tuesday is National Homemade Cookie Day! Surely the internet wouldn’t lie about something as important as that. We get to take this day off work, right?

Clearly, I haven’t made enough homemade cookies in the last six months. Let’s make sure you don’t have that problem. Here are some of my favorite homemade cookie recipes. They’re all pretty idiot proof. I mean, I made them, and what do I know?

White chocolate cranberry macadamia nut cookies have a long name, but as long as you eat one cookie for each word in the title, you’ll be a happy human. Sweet, buttery, and just a tiny bit tart, these cookies combine the best of the islands and the mainland.

Cheater shortbread is so fast and so easy, anyone can make it! And everyone should eat it. Straight up or as a crust for something creamy, it’s gonna be awesome!

Giant chocolate chip cookies are pretty much as awesome as they sound. It’s my favorite chocolate chip cookie at the moment, and since it’s made with melted butter, there’s no waiting around. Cookies in your face in under 30 minutes? Yes, please!

Scottish shortbread is the real deal. The best thing to come out of Scotland since Ewan McGregor! Simple joy!

Make your own cookies at home this week. I promise, the smell alone is worth it. And you can eat as much cookie dough as you want. I won’t judge you if you don’t judge me. Homemade cookies are where it’s at, kids. What could be awesomer?

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Me and my star outside Pinnacle Foods, home of Duncan Hines

Happy Hour: Mai Tai Bar

Mai Tai Bar

One of our favorite places to grab a quick drink or two and a couple of pupus is Mai Tai Bar at Ala Moana Center. They have some pretty good happy hour deals in the afternoon, including $5 pupus, but I love coming here any time of day. I think t’s best in the early afternoon when it’s nice and quiet and you can get a table with a nice comfy sofa. Mai Tai Bar is a great way to relax.

Obviously, the best thing about Mai Tai Bar is the mai tais. I order mango, and Geoff always gets lychee. They’re sweet and refreshing and make me feel generally content. I could kick back and sip at one of these all day. They have a great variety of mai tais and other drinks. Maybe someday I’ll try them all.

Mai Tai Bar

In the food department, they have a tasty barbecue chicken flat bread pizza, and the parmesan herb fries are pretty spectacular. Everything is perfect for sharing. They don’t serve entrees, but you can get plenty of small plates to fill you up.

It’s not the cheapest bar in town, but it’s not completely unreasonable. If you find yourself at the mall, it’s the perfect way to chill out. My favorite thing about this place is just how comfortable it is. It’s totally relaxing. They also have live music at night, if you dig on that.

Mai Tai Bar3

I’m thinking I might need to get myself back to Mai Tai Bar very soon.

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