Saturday, December 17, 2011

Can You Handle the Cute? Black Olive Penguins

Kitschy, cute food is not usually my gig. But when I saw these guys over at  Foodie With Family I couldn't resist the adorableness.  Considering that we had a holiday potluck party to go to and considering that I have  4 year old who LOVES olives, why should I say no?  These were a huge hit all around. Little penguin army taking over the buffet table.

In this recipe at least, size matters.  I never realized that olives are classified according to how big they are.  But, after scoping out the grocery shelves, I realized they are canned and sold in at least four different sizes.  I used 2 cans of the largest size and one can of the smallest to create these guys. This made about 35 little penguin soldiers.

  • 2 cans  colossal or jumbo pitted black olives, drained
  • 1 can pitted black olives, drained
  • about 4 ounces of cream cheese
  • 35ish thin slices of the fat end of a peeled carrot
  • A couple green onions, long green part only.

  • Cut a small triangle out of each carrot slice.
  • Shove a triangle piece into each of the small olives.  You can use a skewer to poke the pointy end of the triangle through the wide end of the olive until it pokes out the narrow pitted part.  This can be tricky.  You can also squeeze the small olive until the wide end is oval shaped and pop the wide part of the triangle carrot in, leaving the pointy part sticking out.  I tried both ways.
  • Using  a sharp knife, cut a lengthwise slice, part way through each jumbo olive. Lop of the rounded end of the olive so your penguin will stand nice and straight on his little carrot feet.
  • Put softened cream cheese into a ziploc bag and snip the end off.  Use this to pipe cream cheese into each jumbo olive. 
  • Use a toothpick to attach "head" onto cream cheese filled "body".  Poke all the way through and into carrot feet.
  • Optional:  Tie a strip of onion around each penguin as a little scarf in case they need to keep warm. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Cookie Tuesday - For World Peace

I've been meaning to get this recipe to you. It was supposed be Christmas Cookie Monday Part 2.  I apologize in advance for holding onto something so amazing, so life changing.  This thing that you definitely must have as part of your holiday celebration.  After all - the name of these cookies alone "World Peace Cookies" promises a panacea to any stress or hurry you may be feeling. Each transcendent bite will dissolve ill will, anger or bitterness. The chocolate-sugar-butter medley sure to smooth away  your troubles

Ok - clearly that paragraph was over the top.   It is just cookies we're talking here.  You'll have to excuse my giddiness.   The children noise that live here are outside enjoying a sunny December afternoon, the coffee is french roasted, hot and strains of the Messiah are echoing around me.  Pure ridiculousness in the joy of this moment has taken over.

Dorie Greenspan included this recipe in her most recent baking book.   The ingredients are so simple, so easy  that you most likely have everything in your pantry.  Nothing fancy going on here.  But the combination is perfectly balanced. It has all the flavor of the darkest, richest brownie but with the light airness of a sandie or shortbread.  As if that wasn't enough, these cookies are highlighted by dabs of bittersweet chocolate tucked in  for a delicious finish. These are delicious on their own, made even better with a chaser of ice cold milk.

World Peace Cookies

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup  (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt (scant)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces  bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small bits, or a generous 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips.
  • Whisk the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.
  • Beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more.
  •  Pour in the flour mixture, drape a kitchen towel over the  mixer to protect yourself and your kitchen from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. Stop and check — if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of times more; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough — for the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don’t be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.
  • Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)
  • Preheat oven to 325.  
  • Line baking sheets with silpat or parchment paper.Working with a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about one inch between them.
  • Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won’t look done, nor will they be firm, but that’s just the way they should be. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sounds of the Season - For Free

Sometime the most fun holiday traditions are the ones that don't cost a dime.  Several years ago, we came across the "The Cinnamon Bear" and listening to it has become something we all look forward to. 

"The Cinnamon Bear" is an old-timey radio show that was first broadcast back in 1937  in Portland, Oregon.  It first aired in 15 minute segments, with one episode airing every day between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The show follows the adventures of Jimmy and Judy Barton who take a trip with Paddy Cinnamon to the world of Maybeland. It's a whimsical story that offers a  glimpse into simpler times.

I love the mental stimulus that listening to an audio story provides for kids.  They really have to engage their brain to be able to follow a storyline and use their minds eye to picture the action taking place in a story.  Much better food for the brain then another round of cartoons.

This radio show is now in the public domain and freely distributable.  I suppose when it was originally broadcast, families huddled around the radio to catch every episode.  Now we can download it to an Mp3 player and listen whenever and wherever we like.  I realize that I am posting this late in the season, but please don't let that stop you from listening.  The segments are short - just 15 minutes, so listen to two a day until you get caught up.  Once you start listening, it's hard to stop! 

I hope you enjoy!
Click here to listen

Friday, December 9, 2011

Kid Project - Bleach-Dyed T-Shirts

Our home has begun to hum with secrets as the kids have been working on making their presents for each other.  There is much whispering, hiding and sneaking about.

Kid 2 finished up his project yesterday and is so thrilled with how it turned out.  The wait to show off his handiwork is slowing killing him - or at least he's pretty sure it is.  We got some solid colored T-shirts, came up with a design that suited each family member and then printed it onto the shirt using plain old bleach. This was an OVERWHELMING success with the boy. Not only did he get to dream up a picture to suit each family member, but then he got to watch the chemical reaction between bleach and color.  To an 8 year old boy, it doesn't get much better that.  This is a project we did over a couple of days.

Supplies needed:
           Solid t-shirts                                 Regular bleach
            Scissors                                       Rags and towels
           Newspaper                                   Sticky-backed craft foam
  • If you use a brand new shirt, be sure to wash and dry it before doing this project.  New fabric has sizing on it that will prevent the bleach from soaking in.
  • Decide on a logo for each shirt you want to make.  Neither my son or I are great freehand artists.  Once he decided on a picture, we used Google Images to look up silhouettes of what we wanted.  Then we printed them out.  After printing them out, we cut them out and traced them onto sticky-backed craft foam.  The craft foam was our idea to use to block the bleach. It worked fairly well. Last of all, we cut the shape out of the sticky craft foam
  • Cover work surface with newspaper.  Lay shirt flat on surface.  Peel backing off foam and stick to shirt, making sure to press down around the edges for a good seal.
  •  Fold towels flat and lay them in the shirt.  This prevents bleach from soaking through to the back of the shirt.  Pour some bleach into a bowl and then dab it on the shirt, being sure to press up against the edges of the design.  Set shirt aside for bleach to absorb the color.  We let the shirts sit for at least an hour and reapplied bleach several times during that hour. I wish we would have let them go longer for a truly white effect..
When shirt is as bleached as you would like, or when your kid is jumping up and down with anticipation and cannot wait ONE MORE SECOND, peel off foam to reveal the logo underneath.  Rinse shirt in cold water to stop the bleaching process.  Run through the dryer to set the color for good.  And - that's it! A fun, easy, inexpensive project.  Here are the rest of our designs.

Music notes for piano playing big sister.  This design was a little tricky because parts of it were so thin.  The bleach kind of soaked in under the edges.  The process definitely works better with a chunkier design.

Next up was what he termed a "super-hero" look for the 4 year old brother.  For whatever reason, he was pretty sure a super hero should have a lightening bolt  with "some lines around it to show how powerful the lighting is.  This is the result.

Next up - a shirt for baby brother.  Since Baby is excited about anything with a star and it is one of the few words that he can say very clearly, he got a star shirt.

Last of all and probably the hands down favorite, was what he came up with for Dad.  Those of you who know the Dad - know that Dad has an ongoing war with squirrels.  This started years ago when squirrels chewed a hole into our attic and has been much exacerbated since we moved to a house surrounded by lovely pecan trees.  Every year, it is a great battle to see who will get the most pecans - Dad or the squirrels?  Dad has come up with all sorts of tricks to make our property most hostile to squirrels.  Therefore, this shirt is highly fitting! The boy could not stop laughing over this one.

Overall, I'd call this project a huge success.  We scored plain t-shirts at Walmart for $2.50 a piece, the sticky foam cost $3.00(also at Wal-mart) and the bleach we had on hand. Total cost was about $13.00 for 4 shirts.  The mess factor was minimal and gathering supplies was easy.  The boy is completely thrilled with the results and cannot wait to show off his creativity. Let us know if you try this one!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Real, 100% Grown-up Christmas Tree.

Every year, I tell myself "This is it!  This is the year. This is the year I will finally  have a real, 100% grown-up Christmas tree."  I'm sure you've seen them.  In fact, you are probably sitting by one right now.  A real, 100% grown up Christmas tree is a thing of beauty.  To start with, there is generally a theme or at the very least, a color scheme.  The ornaments and garland and ribbons and doo-dads and tree skirt all match  - or else they work well together. Then there's this thing called balance. You know, where the ornaments are evenly distributed around the tree?  No wads of 5 items on one branch with a giant bare spot underneath. No droopy ribbon or tangled beads. Oh and best of all, a real, 100% grownup Christmas tree is something you decorate one time.  Once.  That's it.  And then you are done for the year.  There is no need to take most of the things off for the sheer "joy" of putting them all back on at least 3 times a day.

Have you guessed by now that our tree is the complete opposite of all these things?  First of all, it's crooked and the star is wobbly. There's no hope for it.   It just is.  Secondly, I can promise you there is no theme and certainly no matching.  Last year, I splurged and bought a box of red "shattterproof" balls and some red ribbon just to bring a semblance of order.  The motliness (not sure if that's a word) all started years ago when my husband and I celebreated our first Christmas together.  We thought it would be such a romantic idea to pick out a new ornament every year - something that symbolized the year past.   All this was well and good until Baby #1 came along.  She obviously needed her first ornament, so we started collecting one for her each year as well.  A few more calenders later, our family has grown and so has the ornament collection.  Each one is dearly treasured, but there certainly is no rhyme or reason to any of it.
There's the rooster ornament.  We couldn't help picking this up after our first year in South Carolina.  Our first home here was a teeny-tiny trailer back in the boonies.  Our neighbors had chickens.  Free-range chickens.  How sweet you say?  Without fail, these chickens ranged right under our bedroom window every morning about 4:30am when they thought it was time to start the day.  Raucous crowing made the most obnoxious alarm clock either one of us had ever heard.

There's our snowman one - the first year we had a baby.  Seems like just the other day I stood and watched a craft fair vendor personalize this for me, but that baby is about to turn 11 years old.  Sigh.

The Sesame Street Collection.  Every two year old who has ever lived in this family, has been obsessed with Cookie Monster and Elmo.  We've got proof right here. 

I said earlier that these ornaments are treasured.  Believe me, they are.  To my kids, one of the best parts of early December is getting reacquainted with their beloved mementos which have been packed away for the past year. Somehow it really doesn't matter what color they are or what their theme is, because they all symbolize a memory to my kids.  The kids are in charge of  hanging the ornaments on the tree.  Some, all in one spot.  The next day, or even 10 minutes later, they take them back off to oooh and ahh some more and hang them all again.  This time a  little different.  The ribbon gets tangled or dragged to one side.  There are bare spots.  But the lights of this motley tree are reflecting in the eyes of  very happy  children who think this is the most beautiful tree ever.   I used to be picky.  I'd hang the ornaments all myself.  Evenly.  The ribbon swooped in exactly the right spots, there were no bare spots.  The kids were NOT allowed to touch or even breathe too close to my tree.  It was a stressful thing.  Somewhere, I decided it wasn't worth it anymore.  So what if the tree is motley?  My children love it,  I'm not stressed and tree makes us all smile.  Someday, I'll get that real 100% Christmas tree.  Until then, motley will suit me just fine.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Christmas Cookie Monday

It's Monday, in case you hadn't noticed.  I thought maybe you could use a Christmas cookie about now.   Actually, by the time I get this posted it may be Tuesday, but you get the point - the time has come for cookies.  Today seemed like a day for Cranberry-White-Chocolate-Orange-Cookies. This a recipe I tried on whim after seeing it in a cooking magazine years ago. Did you read the name of these things? There's alot of flavors tumbling around here, but it really works.  The tang of cranberry and orange play so well against the white chocolate.  There's even a dose of oatmeal in there so you can pretend this is a really healthy snack.

Of course I can never leave well enough alone, so this recipe has been tweaked, adjusted here and there to suit.  I  swapped in brown sugar where there was white, added a pop of cinnamon just to warm up the flavors, changed to golden raisins and tossed in some walnuts for crunch.  Do what you will - this is a sturdy recipe that handles variations quite well.

Cranberry White Chocolate Orange Cookies (aka Long Name Cookies)

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon 
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups old fashioned or quick oatmeal (whatever you have on hand is fine.  I've used either one)
  • 1 cup golden raisins (optional)
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
  • 1 package (10 to 12 ounces) white baking chips
  • 1 cup toasted, chopped walnuts


  • In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and baking soda; add to the creamed mixture. Stir in the oats, raisins, cranberries and orange peel. Stir in baking chips and walnuts.
  • Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls 2 in. apart onto greased baking sheets. Bake at 375° for 10-12 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned. Cool on wire racks. Yield: 6 dozen.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Glitter Letters

One of the hardest things about Christmas for me as a parent, is striking a balance between the joy of watching my children's faces on Christmas morning and overindulging them.  There is nothing better then their excitement and surprise over presents under the tree, but it sure doesn't take many years of excess before wonder turns into demand.  We've tried different things to combat the greed that tries to sneak in. One idea that has stuck and turned into a much anticipated tradition, is letting the siblings make presents for each other. The fun of creating a treasure, wrapping it and then trying their hardest to keep it a secret until Christmas morning is a highlight of the season.  Of course, this has the potential to turn into a huge complicated ordeal  - anything but simple.  To keep that from happening, this is what we do.

Each kid (with some direction from mom) chooses a single project that they will make -  the same thing for each of their siblings.  I shop and gather craft supplies. Then, each kid gets a "create day."  On this day, he and I spend the afternoon making their project.  All other kids are banned from the craft area - NO PEEKING!!! - while we work.  Some projects may take more then one afternoon.  Then we have a wrapping day, where each kid gets a turn with the wrapping paper, scissors and tape. Finally presents are stashed under the tree and  the waiting begins.  When someone takes the time, thought and effort to make something just for you, it conveys love in a way no plastic widget ever can.

Glitter Letters Initials:
 Ahem - I can see you.  Those of you who are twitching at the word "glitter".  Just hear me out. I know you've vowed to yourself never to let that evil substance into your home. Just this once, it won't hurt - really.  The glitter is so firmly glued in place that it can't move. I promise - it won't fall off the letter, get drug around and end up as errant flakes floating in your coffee cup.  However, if you knock over the container, all bets are off.  You'll be picking glitter out of your sock drawer for years to come.  Don't ask how I know this.

This is a great project for a pre-schooler or kindergartener.  Most kids that age are really excited about learning their letters and I haven't met one yet who doesn't welcome that chance to splatter paint about.  A project that incorporates both is it's lots of fun. Four year old David, made this project for his siblings last year.

 Supplies Needed:
  • Large wooden or cardboard letters  - these can be found very inexpensively at any craft store.  
  • Acrylic paint
  • White glue
  • Glitter
  • Wide paint brushes (the cheapo foam ones are fine for this project)
  • Newspaper or something to use as a drop cloth

  1. First of all, let your preschooler make a list of the first letter of sibling names in your family.  Help him choose a color for each one.  It makes the most impact if you choose the same color paint and glitter.
  2. Cover your workspace with some kind of drop cloth.  Let your child paint the letter.  Cover it completely with paint - no white spots.  Set aside to dry.
  3. When paint is dry, pour white glue into a paper cup.  Have your child paint the letter again  - this time with the glue. Then the fun - sprinkle glitter onto the glue.  Make sure you have a nice thick coat.  Shake off the excess glitter.  Let the glue dry
  4. If desired you can turn the letter around and attach a picture hanger to the back with hot glue.  Then the letter can be hung from the wall or propped on a shelf.  These letters are a fun way to add a bit of personalization to a kids room.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hot Chocolate Mix

Nothing says the holidays like a steaming mug of hot chocolate.  Preferably with a stripey candy cane for stirring. Sounds pretty basic.  But what if you take time to celebrate the first cup of the season?  Make it an occasion.  Break out the fancy mugs, scrounge up some whipped cream, cuddle up with the ones you love and savor the warmth. Turn on a holiday special or just sit by the fire. Perfect opportunity to make some memories. We stopped this week in the middle of the day and took a break for no good reason, just to enjoy our first batch of hot chocolate. What a fun way to celebrate the beginning of December.

My mother in law has blessed us over the years with many batches of homemade hot chocolate mix.  I took this stash for granted, until one year when we ran out and I had to purchase the packaged kind in envelopes.  Considering that our family has grown to a size where we can blow through an entire box in one sitting, our hot chocolate habit was pricey.  Plus, the flavor and creaminess we've gotten used to, makes the packaged stuff taste blah in comparison.  I've tweaked the original recipe to suit our family's  taste MORE CHOCOLATE  and the result is a lush, rich blend of deliciousness. This recipe makes a giant batch so it will either last you through the winter, or you will have plenty to share.  A tin full of this makes a lovely Christmas present for someone special.

Hot Chocolate Mix
  • One 20 quart box of powdered milk
  • One 22 oz container of powdered coffee creamer
  • 3 lbs of powdered sugar
  • 2lbs of powdered chocolate drink mix (I use Nestle)
  • 5 cups cocoa powder  

* Measurements for powdered milk, creamer and Nestle are approximate.  Your grocery store may not carry those exact sizes.  A little variation in either direction, will not change the overall flavor of this recipe very much.
Pour ingredients into a very large bowl. Mix with a wisk until everything is combined and mixture is all the same color.  You can divide this recipe and mix one half at a time, which makes for easier stirring.  Store in airtight container.  

To prepare hot chocolate, add a heaping 1/3 cup of powdered mixture to 8 ounces of boiling water.  Stir until well combined.  Add a splash of milk if desired.

  •  Use a flavored powdered coffee creamer instead of plain.  Cinnamon or mint are both good.
  • Use a "dutched" cocoa powder for darker, smoother flavor.  Hershey's Special Dark cocoa powder is an American example of dutched cocoa powder.
  • Add a spoonful of instant coffee crystals to a cup of hot chocolate for a mocha flavor
  • Invite some friends around and set up a hot chocolate bar.  Mini chocolate chips, crushed candy canes, red hot candies, cinnamon sticks, marshmallows or sprinkles are all fun mix-in ideas.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Simple Christmas

Countless times I have stood at the end of December feeling like the season of peace has been anything but. The weeks again ticked by in a blur of presents, parties, programs, obligation and I’m breathless from the whir of it all. Shiny new toys chosen with such deliberation, sprawl discarded. Dreams of the perfect Christmas lie charred by greed, bloated by overindulgence. Somehow I've fallen prey to the glitzy promises of happiness splashed in glossy advertisements and smiley commercials.

It's exhausting.  Empty.  Wearying.  Anything meaningful has long ago been sucked dry. This celebration of LIFE has been obscured by mere plastic & paper. So I stand at the end of December, robbed of Christmas.

 I feel a quiet tug within me. Slow down.  Be still.  Savor.  Contemplate.  Listen to silence.  Make time for what matters and say no to the things that don't.  Slowly, I am learning.  Changing.  Over the years, my picture of Christmas has become different.

This month, I am writing a series of blog posts titled "A Simple Christmas".  Handmade gifts, recipes, moments of peace - easy ways to cut out the crazy in order to make room for the sacred.  I hope you will stop in often and maybe find some inspiration.  Here's to December.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Simple Late Summer Supper

Just one quick thing for a night when you are rushing about and before the last of the summer veggies leave the garden. Chicken Provencal (sort of).  Sounds fancy, doesn't it?  Don't let a long name fool you.  This dish is just a matter of tossing together some odds and ends you probably have in your fridge, popping it into a really hot oven  and then forgetting about it.  Well actually, you won't forget about it because it sends a delicious, homey  fragrance wafting through the air.  Expect mouths to water in anticipation of a feast! The finished product is so pretty, that it easily goes straight from oven to table.  

Traditional Chicken Provencal is a lovely sort of chicken stew.  You brown the chicken, then braise it long and slow with tomatoes, wine and broth.  It is utterly delicious, but time consuming. This version simplifies the process.

Chicken Provencal

Notes: What piece of chicken to use for this?  This is one instance where I prefer bone-in thighs. Dark meat doesn't dry out in flavorless, dusty bits.  It holds up well to high heat and only gets better the longer you cook it.  But if boneless/skinless white meat is what you have on hand, use it!  Just be sure to adjust to a shorter cooking time. If you decide to use white meat,  cover with foil part of way through to help retain moisture.

  • 8-10 small chicken pieces
  • 1/2 of lemon, sliced thin
  • 1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 1/2 onion (or more to taste) chopped into large chunks
  • 5-6 smashed cloves of garlic
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • a couple stems  of fresh herbs - I used rosemary and oregano.   Nothing fresh in the house? Substitute 1-2 teaspoons dried.  Parsley would also be good here.
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock.
  • Optional: Big fat Kalumata olives or capers would be great in this dish

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Rinse chicken and pat dry with a paper towel.  You can leave the skin on or off.  Arrange in the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan. Scatter about the tomatoes, onion, garlic and lemon.  Drizzle on the olive oil and toss everything around a little to coat.  Season all with salt and pepper and thyme. Lay springs of fresh herbs if using, or sprinkle on dried. 

Place pan in oven for 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes of cooking at high heat, pour chicken stock around the edges.  Turn oven down to 400 and bake for 45 minutes.  Sometimes I cover with foil and sometimes I forget.  Either way is fine.  Serve with nice crusty bread to soak up the delicious pan juices. 

An easy side dish for this, is a pan of roasted vegetables.  Recently, I used a mixture of baby potatoes, baby carrots, onions, and eggplant.  Toss with a couple cloves of minced garlic, salt and pepper and a tablespoon or two of olive oil.  Place in the oven alongside chicken.  Bake for an hour or until veggies and browned and cooked through.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Apple Cake with Carmel Drizzle

No doubt about it, fall is in the air.  Although, in this neck of the woods, just because it's 60-degrees-throw-open-the-windows-break-out-the-sweater-wave-bye-bye-to-humidity one day, doesn't mean it won't be a sweltering, steamy 90 degrees two days later.  That's okay.  We embrace the fall moments when they come and revel in the fading days of summer.

To celebrate the much anticipated glimpses of a changing season, I took the kids apple picking.  We crunched through more then our share of  Gala and Honeycrisp apples, slurped up freshly made cider and filled baskets brimful with rosy-cheeked fruit. When we got home, what was there to do with our bounty but make cake of course?  A fall treat my kids beg for every year is this cake.  Mind you it is no light and  fluffy dainty, but a super-moist, chunky, fruit-studded delight.. The icing on the cake - literally in this case- is brown sugar and butter cooked together into a delectable sauce that it's hard to keep your fingers out of.

I will confess to you that I tried to "healthy" this recipe up by swapping in whole wheat flour, slashing the sugar, increasing the applesauce and leaving out the oil.  Yeah, don't bother.  It's cake, for Pete's sake.  Go ahead and eat your broccoli because this ain't it.  Then you can dive into cake - but only after you've eaten your veggies!

Oh - and by the way.  When you do make this cake, promise you won't be like me follow directions and sift the  confectioners sugar for the icing.  Otherwise you may land up with lumpy, bumpy frosting.  Which will not affect the flavor in the least, but may cause you to huff loudly in disgust.

1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
3  eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup applesauce
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon soda
2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (not a deal-breaker if you don't have this ingredient on hand - just leave it out)
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups cored, peeled and finely chopped apples - look for a good tart baking apple
1 cup toasted, chopped walnuts (optional for those nut-haters out there  - you know who you are!)

Preheat oven to 350. 

Grease and flour a 9x13 pan, or a bunt pan or two 9 inch cake pans.  Pick your cake shape according to what inspired you at the moment.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, eggs, vanilla, oil and applesauce and mix until well blended.  In another bowl sift together flour, soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt.  Fold in the apples and walnuts.

Bake for 55 minutes - 1 hour for a 9 x 13 or a bunt pan, a little less for the round cake pans.  Cake is done when a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Carmel Drizzle
1/2 cup butter
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar(or light brown)
1/4 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups sifted confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

In small saucepan, melt butter and sugar together. Add milk and salt.  Bring up to a boil and cook for about a minute, stirring.  Remove from heat and let cool for about 10 minutes or so.  Whisk in confectioners sugar and vanilla.  This icing sets up fast as it cools.  Don't be afraid to add a few drops of hot water if you need to thin down the consistency.

Drizzle over warm cake.  YUM!

Apple cake:

Sunday, August 21, 2011

On Fresh Beginnings

And just like that summer has whizzed by.  No, it's not fall yet, not even close, really.  But it's coming. I see it in the back-to-school sale papers tumbling out of the newspaper, in my once verdant garden that has been darkened and crisped by the sun. I hear fall coming when the lumbering yellow bus climbs the hill outside my door and in the silence of twilight.  No more thrum of cicadas to vibrate the air.

This summer has been a joy.  It's been full of spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment, fun. There have been lazy days, full of swimming, vacation, and sun.  And there have been busy days full of garden soil, produce and canning. There have been evenings on the front porch, mason jars of sweet tea at hand, laughter and fireflies hanging in the air. Yet finally, summer is fading, wearing thin at the edges.  These months of leisure have dulled us, lulling us into complacency.  I feel a tug toward routine, schedule and challenge. A bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils is starting to look appealing and is that a whiff of new crayons in the air?

As I prepare for new school year, I have been working on structure for our days.  A time to get up, a time to play, a time for chores, a time for projects.  Working on a menu plan again - simple, healthy ways to feed this crowd. Specifically, I've been thinking about how to streamline breakfast on school mornings.  This is always tricky.  Easily it's  turned into Mom as a short order cook, or drug into a huge production  with kids making their own thing until the kitchen is trashed and the day is half gone.

For this school year, I have given each day a main idea for breakfast and then variations so we don't have the same thing every week.  I have done this for years with dinner and it's high time to get mornings organized as well.  It helps so much to think "Today is oatmeal day, so something with oatmeal", instead of "WHAT IN THE WORLD SHALL I FEED THESE PEOPLE??".

Monday - Oatmeal day. 
  • Cook up a big pot of whole grain oatmeal seasoned w/ lots of cinnamon and a little flax seed thrown in for extra fiber & Omega-3's.  Serve w/ a variety of toppings.  Dark chocolate chips, walnuts, dried cranberries, blueberries, maple syrup, brown sugar or whatever you have on hand.
  • Baked Oatmeal.  Easy to prep the night before and pop into the oven first thing.
  • Homemade Granola Bars.  These are thick and hearty,  Make a batch and they easily keep for a week or two.  Serve with a glass of milk and some fruit.
Tuesday - French toast/ Pancakes
  • Mix up pancake batter or french toast egg mixture before you go to bed.  Stash it in the fridge and it's easy to grab the next morning.  Vary your pancakes by stirring in chopped bananas and/or nuts, or peaches,  or chopped apples or a dash of cinnamon.
  • I have a big electric skillet that makes it easy to cook up a huge batch of french toast or pancakes at one time.  I also keep on hand a whole grain pancake mix. Either one of these is easy to throw together while the kids are getting dressed and making their beds.  Sometimes I put one of them is in charge of the flipping.
  •  Baked French toast.  This is basically French toast made the night before.  Dip the bread in a milk/egg mixture, layer in a 9 x 13, chill overnight and bake in the morning.
Wednesday - Eggs
  • Scramble eggs w/ leftover bacon (if there ever is such a thing), chopped ham or some veggies.  Melt cheese over all.  Wrap in tortillas.  Optional:  Add salsa.  Easy and fun
  • Breakfast pizza - spread crescent rolls on a pizza pan (Shhhh- processed food).  Layer on meat of choice, cheese, veggies and beaten eggs.  Bake for 20-30 minutes.
  • Omelets - but only if I'm feeling inspired
  • Egg Scramble - cube a couple of potatoes.  Cook in a tablespoon of olive oil or butter for 8-10 minutes or until browned.  Add ham, onions, peppers, mushrooms or whatever you like.  Cook for several minutes.  Scramble in some eggs.  Melt on some cheese. 
  • Breakfast casserole/quiche  - Lots of variations on this one.  Easy to make the night before.
  • Pile scrambled eggs, meat and cheese into a tortilla and grill into a quesadilla.
Thursday - Muffins and Fruit 
  • There is a whole list of muffins our family enjoys.  Banana/chocolate chip, blueberry, apple/bran, cranberry/walnut just to name a few.  I usually swap in some whole wheat flour, ground flax seed or wheat bran to "healthify" things up.
  • Quick breads like banana bread, pumpkin bread, applesauce bread are another option.  Making one of these is a great afternoon project for an older kid and then breakfast is all ready to go in the morning.  We love these breads lightly toasted and spread with cream cheese.
  • If we are having muffins for breakfast, the night before I measure out and mix dry ingredients in one bowl, wet ingredients in another.  In the morning, all I have to do is pour them together and bake.  

Friday - Toast/Misc

  • Cheese toast
  • Toasted bagels and cream cheese
  • Smoothies & leftover muffins
  • Canadian bacon, egg and cheese on toasted English muffin halves
  • Yogurt layered with fruit and granola
  • Pb & J toast
  • Pb & honey toast
Saturday - Cereal/Fend for yourself
  •  Mom and Dad sleep in and kids make their own breakfast!!! At least in the theory that's how it goes.
Sunday - Fruit, Toast
  •  Once in a while I purchase pastries or break out a special treat like (gasp) donuts for Sunday morning.
 So - why not more cold cereal mornings on this list you ask?  For one, my kids are not big fans of cereal.  (they have no idea what they are missing out on in my opinion), for two, when they do eat it, they are hungry again an hour later and three - when everyone eats cereal for breakfast we go through a whole box in one morning.  I got tired of buying cereal!

Breakfast is a big deal at this house.  I'm pretty sure I've harped on the subject before, but watching the difference in attention and ability to concentrate  with a good breakfast vs a nutritional nothing breakfast has made me a believer.

So what are your tips and tricks?  Do you have a morning routine?  Are you trying to make things easier at the start of the school year?  What works for you?

    Monday, July 25, 2011

    About those pickles....

    Pickles are serious business in my husband's family. According to them, pickles should be puckery, crisp, with a great dill tang. There should NOT be sweet, floppy or bland pickles. Over the years, I have come to agree with them. My husband's paternal grandmother came up with a refrigerator pickle that really is perfection. These have a decided crunch when you bite into them and pack the ideal punch of dill, salt and vinegar. Best of all, these are super-easy to make. No boiling, no two-part jar lids, even a food preserving novice can make a great pickle. I know this, because these pickles were one of my first successes.

    I got married young. Twenty-one, starry-eyed and quite confident in my ability to be the perfect wife, I couldn't wait to set up housekeeping with the man of my dreams. Our first summer we planted a small garden in the back yard. Watering and weeding, I planned out all the delicious canning projects I would impress my new husband with. He even installed shelves in the basement in anticipation of jars full of our garden bounty. Excitedly, I skipped off to the dollar store(we were broke and living on love) bought a $8.00 stockpot, the Blue Ball book of canning and a box of jars. I couldn't wait until our beans were ripe, so my first attempt was blueberry jam. Sugar and blueberries got measured into my brand new pot. I cooked and stirred, cooked and stirred and stirred some more. But the jam did strange things. It bubbled over the sides, regardless of my stirring and seeped right into the crevices of my stove. The cheap pot scorched the berries. Rock hard and tasting of ashes, the finished project was a disaster. Even my husband couldn't choke it down. Undaunted, I tossed the jam, scrubbed the pot and got ready to try something else. This time I thought salsa would be just the thing. I chopped tomatoes, onions and peppers in a flurry, ready to prove that I could conquer the mason jar. My husband took one look at my project and urged me to call his mother. "She makes great salsa and she's been canning for a long time. Maybe she could give you a few tips." "Oh, that's not necessary, Honey", I assured him. "I know exactly what I'm doing." He wandered out the door and down the hall to the office. Ten minutes later he was back, recipe card in hand. "I just talked to Mom and this is what she does. See, this is how she thickens up the salsa." I sighed, took the card and reminded him of my expertise. "None of this is the the book," I replied, holding up my brand new canning book. "It can't be right." Well, the salsa was a lot of work. Making it took plenty of expensive produce, and turned out - can you guess? That's right, it was awful!

    My husband and I have now been married almost 15 years. Somewhere along the way, I figured out that I don't know it all. Thankfully, my dear mother-in-law took me under her wing and passed along many trade secrets and family recipes. One of the highlights of summertime, is our canning days. "Mom", my sister-in-laws and I spending the day chopping veggies, catching up, laughing and working together while the cousins play. These days are memories that I will always treasure. Also treasured, is the Grandma Ropp pickle recipe. This is one of first things I successfully made after I finally got tired of wasting ingredients and took some advice. Now, my kids help me make these pickles all summer long. Currently, we are going through a gallon per week. They really are that good! My baby eats them whole, like corn on the cob.  He nibbles bites all the way around, and then wants a new one.  I like them cut into wedges, while the husband prefers them sliced thin and piled on his ham sandwich. There really is no wrong way to eat these.

    Grandma Ropp Pickles
    We make these by the gallon.  Stored in the refrigerator, they will keep for a couple of months.  Keep in mind, the longer they are stored, the stronger and more sour they will become.  If you want to slow down the pickling, pull them out of the brine and store them in a resealable bag or other container. If you want to make fewer pickles, it's easy to half the recipe.  I use an old gallon pickle jar.  If you don't have one, it's easy to find big glass jars at almost any Walmart, Target, TJ Maxx, Marshalls etc.

    Pickling cucumbers are best to use for this project.  They are small, firm and less seedy then their larger version.  Right now, our local farmers markets are overflowing with locally grown pickling cucumbers.

    You will need dill for this project.  Grandma Ropp used fresh dill heads, which look like this:
    Unfortunately, unless you grow your own, it's really hard to find this.  Once in awhile I've seen it at a farmers market, but very rarely.   So, I have used dried dill seed from the grocery store, which looks like this:
     I usually throw in a  little fresh dill weed, also from the grocery store which looks like this:
    Now that I have schooled you in everything you ever wanted to know about dill, here's the rest of the recipe.
    • 8-10 cloves of garlic
    • 2 large heads of dill or 2 tablespoons dill seed plus a few sprigs of dill weed
    • 3 scant tablespoons mixed pickling spice (available at any grocery store)
    • 6 tablespoons non-iodized salt.  Kosher or pickling salt both work fine.
    • 1 3/4 cups apple cider vinegar
    • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes or a chopped jalepeno (optional - use if you like a little heat)
    • pickling cucumbers, (the smaller - the better) scrubbed clean
    Put garlic, dill, mixed pickling spice, salt and vinegar into one gallon jar.  Pack jar full of pickling cumbers.  Fill the jar the rest of the way with cold water.  Put lid onto jar and shake until ingredients combine.  Let jar stand on the counter for a day or two.  Shake a couple of times - whenever you remember.  Store jar in the fridge for one week.  Cucumbers are officially pickled and ready to enjoy.  These will keep at least a month or two.  Grandma Ropp would make them in the summer and store them in the cellar until Christmas, so rest assured that they won't "go bad" for quite some time.

    Tuesday, July 19, 2011

    Peach Blueberry Muffins

    South Carolina peaches are not something to be taken for granted.  Sweet, juicy, bursting with delectable flavor, these bits of summer sunshine are locally available  from early June through mid-September.  Our weekly trek to the peach farm is always an adventure because we never know what variety will be ripe next.  Late June brings the delicate white "Georgia Belle's,  July, the rosy "Red Globe".  Comparing, contrasting and choosing the favorites has been an intriguing business for my crowd of peach eaters. Last week we brought home 2 full bushels, which has meant quite an abundance of peaches in this house.  We've eaten them whole like apples, chopped and sugared over vanilla ice cream, swaddled in cream and baked in cobbler, best of all, paired with blueberries and tucked into muffins.

    These muffins bake up light, cakey and delectable.  They manage to avoid the whole gummy, heavy feeling you sometimes get with a muffin that has oil as a base. The peaches and blueberries add a summery burst of flavor that make it hard to stop at just one. As a final layer of decadence, these have a crunchy layer of struesel on top.  Because you know, if you're going to eat cake for breakfast which we all know muffins are it might as well be worth your while.

    Peach Blueberry muffins with Pecan Streusel
    Brown Sugar-Pecan Streusel Topping:
    • 2 cups coarsely chopped pecans (optional), lightly toasted if desired *
    • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
    • 2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
    • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
    Muffin Batter:
    • 3 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 1/2 cup sugar
    • 2 teaspoon baking powder
    • 3/4teaspoon baking soda
    • 1 ground cinnamon
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice (optional - try nutmeg if you don't have allspice)
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 5 large eggs
    • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
    • 2 1/4 cups sour cream, plain yogurt, or buttermilk
    • 1 1/2 tablespoons  pure vanilla extract
    • 2 cups peeled, pitted, chopped peaches
    • 1 1/2 cups blueberries
    1. For the Topping: In a small bowl, combine the pecans, flour, brown sugar and cinnamon. Stir in the butter, and mix until well blended.

    2. For the Muffins: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line at least 24 large muffin cups with paper liners, and spray lightly with nonstick spray.

    3. In a medium bowl, wisk together the dry ingredients, from flour to salt, and set aside. Pour in the blueberries and gently toss until well coated with flour mixture.

    4. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, butter, sour cream, yogurt or buttermilk and vanilla. Fold in the peaches.

    5. Add the egg mixture to the dry mixture. Stir until just moist and blended. Do not overmix.

    6. Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin pan with a large ice cream scoop (1/3-cup scoop). The batter should come to the top of the paper liner or pan. Sprinkle generously with the Brown Sugar-Pecan Streusel Topping, and lightly press the topping into the muffin batter.

    7. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, until the tops of the muffins spring back when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes clean. Remove from the oven, and cool for 5 minutes. Turn the muffins out of the pan, and serve immediately.

    *Tip:  Try lightly toasting nuts to be used in baking.  It just takes a minute and absolutely deepens the flavor.  To do this, place nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat.  Let cook  for 4-5 minutes, shaking and stirring  until nuts are fragrant and/or begin to brown.  Set aside and let cool before chopping.

    Friday, July 15, 2011

    Scenes from my kitchen

    Somewhere on the dim edges of my memory, there is my Great-grandma Hostetler.  My family lived in Northern Michigan and one of the highlights of our year, was making the trip to Ohio to visit our cousins and grandparents.  Often, we stayed with my grandma who lived in a big house with my great-grandparents.  I don't know if it was a duplex or what, but I know they each had their own kitchen.  Sometimes while my brothers were napping and the house needed to be quiet, mom would let me go over to the great-grandparents side of the house.  Great-grandma Hostetler would be delighted to see me and I can still her the sound of her voice as she settled me into the chair and asked if I wanted tea and a snack.  She would bustle around the kitchen, putting on the kettle and pulling out shimmery orange Fire King mugs.  There would be hot mint tea with a bear shaped bottle of honey that I got to squeeze in myself, as much as I wanted!  And then, best of all, she'd give me a little china bowl of  her home canned peaches.  Those golden, sweet circles tasted to me, of sunshine.  I'd cut the halves into tiny pieces so I could make  my treat last as long as possible.  Great-grandpa would sit beside me with his long white beard, stirring his tea and eating peaches.  I felt so big, so grown-up. I think of them, my great-grandparents as I stand in my own kitchen peeling peaches, filling jars, keeping a watchful eye on the bubbling canner.   I love the richness of tradition, of the women before me who took the time to preserve summer.

    Then there are these. Grandma Ropp pickles.  This recipe is handed down from my husband's grandmother. Anson's dad tells the story of how his mom would make these pickles in the summer and stash them in the cellar until Christmas time.  By then they would be so puckery strong, but they loved them anyways. These are a simple refrigerator pickle that we make all summer long when the garden is full of fresh cucumbers and dill.

    Who would think that food could hold such memories? In a time when life is a non-stop frenzy and dinner is sometimes more like ingredients out of science lab then actual nourishment, I love the simplicity of canning.  I like slowing down and taking time to pack summertime produce into a jar.

    Monday, June 20, 2011

    Cobb salad with Home made Ranch Dressing

    In the continuing spirit of not turning on the stove  if at all possible, we have been eating lots of salads at this house.  Cool, refreshing, it's an uncomplicated dinner that everyone can customize just how they like which means - no complaining.  The only problem is, salad can be kind of wimpy.  A handful of microgreens, gently drizzled with  fat-free vinaigrette would not get real far in this house, especially when salad is the main course. I pile on  lots of protein rich goodies for a dinner that sticks to the ribs, but also packs  plenty of veggie servings.

    Which brings me to, the salad dressing.  Dressing of choice at this house is good old American ranch.  Oh we do plenty of oil and vinegar combinations, but the ubiquitous  green and white bottle is something that gets pulled out quite often.  I decided the other day, that there had to be an other alternative.  Something fresher, tastier.   Ranch dressing was originally developed in the fifties at an actual dude ranch.  Tourists came to ride horses, but came home raving about the salads they were served with this unique home made dressing.  The ranch owners started selling the dressing, and eventually sold their brand to a major food manufacture. The big food guys, put their crack team of scientists on the job and they figured out how make a dressing that can sit on your shelf for half a year.  Hmmm, I'm guessing the original recipe never included calcium disodium ethylenediaminetetraacetate.

    What I came up with was a combination of fresh herbs and garlic, blended together with buttermilk and a little mayonnaise.  Light and flavorful, it is the perfect topping to a salad, or a dip for fresh veggies. I have a feeling we'll be making this all summer long. 

    Ranch dressing:
    1/2 cup of buttermilk
    1/2 cup of mayonaise
    2 tablespoons sour cream
    1/2 garlic clove
    1 tsp kosher salt
    1/2 tsp onion powder
    1-2 dashes of worchestershire sauce
    2 tsp minced fresh parsley
    1 tsp minced fresh dill
    1 tsp minced fresh basil

    Combine buttermilk, mayo and sour cream.  You can use the low fat version, if you like.  Finely chop garlic.  You will look at that measly little 1/2 clove and think you need to add more, but don't!  The garlic gets stronger as it sits.  Sprinkle the salt over the garlic.  Use your knife or a fork to chop the salt into the garlic, until you kind of get a paste going.

      Dump garlic into the buttermilk mixture.  Mince up herbs very finely and wisk those in. Or do what I did and dump everything into a jar, and shake well.  Add Worcestershire and onion powder.  Taste for seasoning.  Does it need a little salt?  Maybe an extra dash of Worcestershire? Chill for a couple of hours and serve.

    This is a basic dressing that you can vary so many ways. Don't have fresh herbs on hand?  Try it with dried.  Don't like dill? Leave it out.  Have a lemon half you don't know what to do with?  Squeeze it in there.

    Cobb salad ingredients that we like:
    • Start with a  bed of mixed romaine and iceberg lettuce.  This salad needs a good, sturdy crunchy lettuce as a base
    • Tomatoes
    • Avacados
    • Bacon
    • Hard-boiled egg
    • Cucumbers
    • Grilled chicken 
    • Shredded cheddar cheese
    Now go forth!  And get your salad on.

    Saturday, June 11, 2011

    Watermelon Popsicles

    Yeah, I'm still hung up on this business of staying cool.  Today, the husband and I spent the morning in our garden, which sounds delightfully old-fashioned and romantic. Sad reality is that it was dirty, sweaty work and of course we argued over the best way to plant lima beans and zipper peas.  Who knew there could be such strong opinions about dumb old beans?? Eventually, we reached a compromise and the garden is now packed full of seeds, well watered and weeded.  Best of all, when it was all done, we cooled down with some popsicles the kids and I made a couple of days ago.

    We came to the conclusion that one of the most delicious parts of summer, is biting into ice cold watermelon.  Why not take that a step further and turn watermelon into a popsicle?  This idea turned out much better then any of us imagined.  We added some lime juice for a bright burst of citrus against the sweet melon. Cold and tangy, these pops are so refreshing, we can't keep our hands off of them.

    Watermelon Popsicles

    5 cups cubed seedless watermelon
    1 cup fresh or frozen raspberrys
    Juice of one lime
    6 tablespoons granulated sugar.

    Puree all ingredients in blender.  Let mixture sit for a minute to dissolve sugar.  Blend a little bit more. If raspberry seeds bother you, push mixture through a sieve.  Pour into popsicle molds and freeze. 

    • swap the raspberries for blueberries
    • Add bananas 
    • Use cantaloupe or honeydew instead of watermelon

    Friday, June 10, 2011

    Hot and Bothered

    Summer in these parts, has started off with a bang. Perhaps a better word would be blast.  Or make that wave as is HEATWAVE.  When the thermometer hovers well above 90 every day with humidity dripping from the air, frankly I can't be bothered to fuss with complicated cooking. We have been much too occupied with trips to the pool, sprinkler afternoons, slurping down icy cold watermelon, whatever we can do to stave off the heat and enjoy the freedom of summertime.

    The other reason for cooking hibernation is the fact that there are three different farm stands less then 10 minutes from my house.  This time of year, they are packed with seasonal, local produce that begs to be taken home.  Food this fresh doesn't need much to make it shine. A little seasoning, the barest amount of cooking,  and dinner is done.


    Green Bean, Corn and Tomato Salad

    1 lb fresh green beans, topped and tailed
    2 cups grape tomatoes
    2 ears of corn

    1 large garlic clove
    2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
    Salt and pepper
    1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    Basil or other herb (optional)

    Once beans are cleaned, break them into large pieces. Drop  them into a pot of salted, boiling water and cook for 4-5 minutes or until crisp-tender.  Remove from water and lay out to cool, or plunge in ice water to speed up the process.  Bring water back to a boil and add the two ears of corn.  Boil for 5-6 minutes or until barely cooked.  Remove from water and slice kernels off the ear of corn.  Slice grape tomatoes in half.

    Place minced garlic in a bowl with vinegar, salt and pepper.  Wisk in olive oil.  Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.  Toss with beans, corn and tomatoes.  Finely chop basil.  Add and toss to combine.  Serve chilled or at room temperature.

    • Add strips of grilled chicken for a main dish salad
    • Serve over a bed of lettuce
    • Omit corn and add crumbles of feta cheese and some bell peppers
    Stay cool!

    Monday, May 16, 2011

    Of waiting. And of Butterscotch Pudding

    A couple of years ago, a very dear friend gave me a set of footed dessert dishes that were made in France.  Now, if there's one thing that I am slightly addicted to (other then coffee) it would be pretty dishes. I have managed to collect quite a few over the years, but love to find new treasures.  This particular set is lovely perched in my glass fronted cabinet, catching glimmers of  sunshine. This set is special.  Made in France, from a dear friend. So, in my mind, it should be reserved for special occasions.  It's fancy.  Footed, even.  So, again.  Special. Not for the common, the every day.

    And so the dishes stay on the shelf.  Perfect. Waiting for exactly the right time. Waiting till everything is just right.  Waiting.  Waiting.  Waiting.  They are collect bits of dust, start to lose the shine. This business of  not getting to live out their purpose - what they were created to be, is dulling. Instead of being filled, bringing delight and joy - they remain empty.

     Sound familiar?  For me at times, perfection becomes a curse. Just what all do I miss out on because life isn't meeting my standard of perfect? "If only  -fill-in-the-blank- then it would be the right time".  "If I could just__________  then, then it would be right." "If he would finally ________"   Life ticks by.  Beauty stays behind glass because of fear.  Chances missed because of the "what-if".

    I pulled the dishes out today.  On a Monday.  For no good reason.  And filled them up with butterscotch pudding. Oh, there was joy alright. I'm glad I stopped waiting.

    Butterscotch Pudding

    I grew up thinking that pudding came out of a box.  You know, add some milk, whisk  and viola - pudding!  And butterscotch - isn't that a candy flavor?  In truth, butterscotch is simply brown sugar and butter cooked together. From there it becomes the base for a decant ice cream sauce, or frosting, or even brownies.   And also in truth, home made pudding is nothing like the boxed imitation.  Oh no, this is deliciously better. My kids love this still warm and then they love it again when it's chilled.  I often make a double batch, so they can have both.

    • 3 tablespoons butter
    • 1/2 packed brown sugar, dark brown if you have it
    • 1/2 cup heavy cream
    • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
    • heaping 1/4 tsp salt
    • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
    • 3 tablespoons water
    • 1 tsp vanilla
    • 1 tablespoon butter

    1.In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter over low heat.  Add the brown sugar and cook, stirring until melted and bubbly.
    2. Gradually stir in 1/2 cup of cream.  Stir over low heat until butterscotch is dissolved.  

    3.Slowly add in 1 1/2 cups of milk and the heaping 1/4 tsp of salt.  Be careful as this mixture can really foam and bubble.  Whisk  until everything is blended together.  Take off heat and let cool for 5 minutes.

    4. In the meantime,  mix together the cornstarch and the water together until smooth and cornstarch is completely dissolved. 

    5.  Stir into the milk mixtures.  Cook, stirring constantly over medium high heat until mixture begins to thicken.  Reduce heat to low,  whisking briskly, bring to a simmer and cook for another minute.  Remove from the heat and stir in vanilla and the last tablespoon of butter. 

    6.  Pour the pudding into bowls.  If you can stop your family from slurping this up immediately and if pudding skin bothers you, press plastic wrap directly onto surface of the pudding to prevent skin from forming.  Chill for two hours or as long as you can keep your spoon out of it.