Monday, August 10, 2015

Can you handle the cuteness?

A recent family trip resulted in the acquisition of a new kitten.  Ever since meeting him, we have been enamored by his utter kitten cuteness and his friendly personality.  Currently, he has a room to himself so that our other two cats can get used to the new addition through closed doors.  Visited frequently by every member of the family for play time and cuddle time, it is a usual occurrence to find him in his little bed of sheep's wool.  And, yes, he has his own bed of sheep's wool; hand-dyed sheep's wool in this beautiful shade of fuchsia...

My muse comes to me in a variety of places; photography is one of them.  The opportunity to capture a moment or object for posterity, is one that I seek to embrace, given of course that my camera is nearby.  I'm not sure who can resist passing by a sleeping kitten (in a bed of fuchsia colored sheep's wool) without grabbing for a camera.  I surely, am not one of those people who can resist that urge.

So, just like that our "glamour shots" session began. Having tried to take pictures of him in zoom kitten mode before, I can say this experience was far more successful in that there were much less opportunities for blurred photos. Which, of course, would basically lead to deleted images.  No, for this particular instance, I truly believe he was very purposely posing.

I cannot say what it is about this kitten that gets me speaking in funny voices; it's a baby, what can I say?! In my general opinion, babies of all kinds elicit notions of excessive squeezing, along with odd speaking sounds from those particularly enamored by babies.   I will vehemently admit that this kitten has complete control of my sensibilities.  And, when my youngest son says, "I've never heard you talk like that" in regard to this kitten...I am compelled to divert the attention from me and back to the kitten with a very distinct, "But wook at the wittle kitten...he's just a wittle baby..."

I may need help dealing with this cuteness if I am to be exposed to it with such frequency.   My vocabulary may be in jeopardy.  In addition, I see a remake of the movie, A Few Good Men.  In this case, the movie is titled, A Few Good Kittens and in my version Jack Nicholson's character bellows, "You can't handle the cuteness!".  See? It's a downward spiral for me.

Although, I may have exhausted this little guy with our photo shoot, I will be hard-pressed to tire of his adorable, furry self.

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Upper Crust of Lists

Summer vacation brings on the list-making for me.  It is 8 weeks of time with my kids, time in my kitchen and in my garden, on the road traveling to visit family, and day trips to here, there and everywhere.  Not to mention home improvement projects; some of which are as simple as cleaning off my bureau, because let's face it, that would improve my bedroom immensely!

It really turns out to be too much to try and fill into an 8 week period of time.  I mean, there are always variables that are most certain to emerge; throwing off the beautiful list.  But, I will say, I have learned to be flexible.  It's like Jack Sparrow said in reference to the pirate's code, "it's more like guidelines, anyway".

So, let's consider this cookbook I picked up at the newly opened, An Unlikely Story; a bookstore in Plainville, MA, owned and operated by Jeff Kinney, author of the hugely popular "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series.  The important part about the above picture is the phrase, "mastering the art of pie in 67 recipes".  This book, is full of anecdotes involving pie, baking pie and eating pie at great pie establishments.  The author, Teeny, has worked with many pie-makers and draws her inspiration for her recipes from many places. 

And, as I have mentioned, this summer is all about the list.  Mastering the art of pie is on said list.  Or at the very least, finding a few tried and true recipes is, depending on where the variables take us, good enough for me. 

With that said, let's back up a day or two to the start of  of vacation.  I don't have to be any particular place in the morning.  I can throw caution to the wind and mess up my kitchen, only to spend the rest of the night cleaning it up.  I can pull out the rolling pin and flour and parchment paper to make a pie crust that in my 39 years, beats all crusts...and if you know me...I eat pie crust with reverence.  My mother's pie crust was hands-down, the one to beat.  And, no other pie crust ever really could hold a spot near her recipe, until now.

With strawberries and rhubarb from a local farmer's market, I went on to make the filling for this Strawberry Rhubarb Custard Pie.  Of course I made some modifications.  I always do.  I wrote down my changes in the margins of the page, though.  Making this pie again, will be a must.  Next time, though, the crust may just find its way into the oven without a's that good.

In any case, it makes me happy to create something edible that others will enjoy.  And, it brings me great satisfaction to work through recipes I haven't tried before.

Even better than that, perhaps, is the feeling of striking something from my list.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sugar Today, Honey Tomorrow

Here I am, deciding to experiment with my most prized chocolate chip cookie recipe by replacing the sugar with honey, and this is what I have going through my head: "Sugar, Sugar", by The Archies.  If you haven't heard it, it begins a little something like this: 

Sugar, oh, honey, honey
You are my candy girl
And you got me wanting you
Honey, oh, sugar, sugar
You are my candy girl
And you got me wanting you

The original music video from 1969 can be found here, if you want to hear it for yourself.  As for the video itself, it's taken from an animated show from the 60's. Enough said. 

With a song in my head and honey, honey in my measuring cup, I put my trusty Kitchen-Aid mixer to work churning up everything, but the sugar, sugar.  To be more specific, I omitted the granulated white sugar, not the brown sugar.  The brown sugar is no less refined, but I figured I would keep it in the recipe this time around.  It just may be that I will need to remove both types of sugar in an experiment for another day.  This recipe historically yields a cookie that looks very much like what can be seen in the picture above.  The cookie is lightly crispy on the edges and chewy in the middle, which is exactly why I love this recipe.

Much to my chagrin, however, the cookies that emerged from the oven were very flat. This, for me, ruins the aesthetics of the perfect chocolate chip cookie.  And, because of the honey, the cookie is prone to browning much darker in the same amount of time than if it had it's granulated counterpart. As for taste, I would say they are enjoyable.  The honey doesn't overpower the cookie; the presence of it is very inconspicuous.  Of course, being thinner means that once cooled, they turned out very crispy.

On the off chance that anyone is wondering why I would choose to try and reinvent a perfectly good cookie recipe, I can explain.  I have been reading more and more about "clean" eating.  In a nutshell, this means that eating processed foods are out, and if eating/using anything packaged, it should have five ingredients or less.  White granulated sugar, as I use in all of my baked goods, really does go through the wringer to become the product we use on such a daily basis.  Honey, on the other hand, isn't refined from hive to table.  It really is a "clean" product.

In any case, my experiment wasn't a complete bust.   After about 4 dozen cookies were made, I put the rest of the cookie dough in a 13"x 9" pan and tried making them into bars instead.  I was slightly happier with this outcome due to the fact that the bars stayed soft and chewy.

The quest continues, though, for more ways to bake with honey. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Tea, for me, goes like this...

Please humor me as I acknowledge the simple discovery of a winning combination. A trifecta of ingredients that makes for the perfect cup of tea.  Traditionally, I enjoy tea with honey.  Leaning towards the chai teas and other "spicier" blends, I generally enjoy a cup now and then throughout the winter.  In most cases, I start brewing the tea when I feel a cold coming on, as I know the honey has certain antiseptic properties. 

However, a fateful moment during a recent trip to the grocery store has changed my entire outlook on tea consumption.  In the moment that I reached for the box of Bigelow Chocolate Chai, a woman passed me by.  I, returning to my flat-footed position from standing on tip-toe to reach the top shelf, stood there in the middle of the aisle attempting to discover if Chocolate Chai smelled as delicious as I felt the name implied.  The aforementioned woman, with four simple words: "That tea is excellent", has since brought comfort to my soul.

It didn't happen all at once, I tried the tea with honey as I normally prepare my tea, and I enjoyed it. The chocolate is certainly not a dominant flavor, I'm not sure I can really pinpoint its inclusion exactly. In general, it is simply a very smooth, sweet tasting chai that is not overpowered by cinnamon.  Although, I never drink tea with milk, I did decide to try adding some coconut milk only yesterday.  And just like that, a spoonful of honey, a tablespoon of coconut milk and I have a "perfecto" cup of tea. A spot of tea in a mug, that I hold with two hands in order to embrace the warmth, while absorbing the aromatic steam in through my nose. 

The only thing missing, really, is a plate of yummy tea sandwiches.  I would be quite satisfied with butter sandwiched between graham crackers, but I will exercise self control and avoid that, this time.  I will, however, have a second cup of tea...

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Good use of an illusion...

Oops, I did it again.  I played with their hearts...or rather their palates.  On this rainy summer Saturday, I thought some "apple"-berry crisp would be an appropriate after-dinner dessert.  Looking at the image pictured below, one might say they were looking at a bowl of cut apples and raspberries.  Go ahead, really look at it.  I'll wait....  

Fortunately, I did just buy some Granny Smith apples.  But, my garden is producing an abundance of zucchini...and, with a recipe for Zucchini "Apple" Crisp, I couldn't resist the opportunity to be a master of illusion. Now, here is how I play the game. Feed first, tell later...although, my husband had full disclosure before trying the dessert, my children did not.  

I mean, why mention the "Z" word if it isn't necessary?  With that, I served up the "apple"-berry crisp just as I normally would; with ice cream and a little caramel sauce.

The verdict?  They liked it.   However, both of my boys said that they could tell there was something different about the "apples".  My oldest thought I used peaches.  My youngest actually wasn't a fan of the raspberries.  As a rule, he normally finds raspberries too "tart" in baked goods.  In any case, they were good sports...

I even have permission to make it again.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A pie in the hand is worth....eating.

In my yard, the raspberries are ripe and ready for enjoyment in all manner of happy creations.  Eaten naturally right off of the bush is my favorite way to savor their sweetness.  While I do find their seeds tolerable on the fresh fruit, I am less inclined to enjoy them after the fruit has been baked down to a jellied consistency. Raspberry jams and/or jellies, for instance, should always be seedless in my book.  But when I found this recipe for raspberry hand pies, I was willing to put my distaste for the seeds aside in hopes of discovering another yummy way to use an abundance of these jewel toned fruits .  

On a side note, while perusing the shelves of a familiar chain store several months ago, I found these "pop tart" molds on clearance.  Not to be one to miss out on a deal *laughing out loud*, I threw them in my cart without a second thought as to when I would eventually make use of them.  It only took a year, but tonight, with my oldest cutting the dough and placing it in the mold, we had a nice operation in place.

As you can see in the image pictured above, these are chocolate raspberry hand pies.  I used some dark chocolate almond bars that I had leftover from a school fundraiser.  As the Art Club adviser at my high school, I can say without hesitation, that I fully supported this candy bar selling incentive with the purchase of several candy bars; to share of course. When the school year finally came to a close, I found that we had nine remaining candy bars, all dark chocolate almond.  I will not admit to how many bars I purchased in total.  I can honestly say, though, that they weren't all consumed by me.  These last few however, have already been used in s'mores and now chopped up and put into hand pies.  With six bars left, however, you can bet I'll be drumming up some other recipes in which to use them.

Fresh out of the oven, I left them to cool as seen above.  A two-mile walk with the dog later, they were sufficiently cool and ready for consumption.  Maybe it was the chocolate; maybe it was the crust and how it wrapped ALL the way around the filling; or, maybe it was the ice cream, but I for one did not find that there was the annoying presence of too many seeds floating around in the ruby red..JOY (for lack of a better word) that made up the contents of these hand pies.

Served up with some ice cream and drizzled with chocolate, kind of takes away from the term "hand pie"; thereby requiring the use of forks or spoons, instead. By using store bought pie dough, however, this little gem of a recipe was quick to make, while my pie molds (remember, bought on clearance), kept the dessert compact and even...personal.  

The filling for this recipe is as follows:

2 cups of raspberries
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon Flour
1-2 teaspoons of lemon juice (I had lime juice, so that's what I used)
1/4 cup chopped dark chocolate (I used dark chocolate with almonds)

Mix the first 4 ingredients together in a bowl and set aside.  
Next, unroll ready made pie crust and cut out 8 rectangles that are approximately 4.5 inches by 3 inches in size.  Place about a 1/2 cup of filling on one rectangle; keeping the filling away from the very outer edge. Sprinkle pieces of chopped chocolate over the filling before covering with another rectangle of dough. Crimp the edges together with a fork.  Repeat with the remaining pairs of rectangles.  Brush milk or watered down egg whites over the sealed pies and pierce the top crust with the tines of a fork.  This made four hand pies.

Naturally, if you've got a great pie crust recipe and you have time to make it your self, I would probably do that. Tonight got a little hectic, so I opted to make life easier and use the store bought crust already present in my refrigerator.  In addition, the original recipe I referenced can be found here.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Emotional Gardener

Anticipation.  Disappointment.  Excitement.  Patience.  All of these emotions, plus a few more, characterize my experience in the garden.  I have several flower gardens surrounding my house along with a vegetable garden and "berry patch". It's the berry patch that has me feeling DISAPPOINTED.  This year, four years into having planted strawberries, the plants have multiplied enough that there is finally a decent amount of plants to supply at least a pint or more of strawberries. In any case, enough for any pie, cobbler or crisp recipe of my choice.  Earlier in May, the flowers, like the one pictured below, crowded each plant with at least six to seven cheery faces.  With ANTICIPATION I imagined the plants later weighed down by the heavier fruit and my mind wandered; thinking about which recipe of mine would be made better by homegrown strawberries.    

After a month or so of PATIENCE; waiting for the weather conditions to provide for beautifully red, ripened fruit, I now find that I am not the only one who has been awaiting the taste of these berries.  With the first strawberry that I saw so close to being pick-worthy, I decided to give it another day.  Apparently, in my haste...something else decided to make quick waste of that first berry. Unfortunately, that has been the pattern we have followed for the last week or so. As the berries ripen, and I give them just one more day; something else: bunny, squirrel or mouse? takes advantage of my hesitation.  Not wanting to pick only partially ripened fruit has kept me from claiming what is rightfully mine, while the less choosy mammal is rewarded on a nightly basis.

Berry by berry, the pie in my mind, gets smaller and smaller.  The EXCITEMENT that once guided my visions of home-baked goodness has waned.  At this point, I feel I can only plan ahead for next year.  The word STRATEGY comes to mind.  I will need it as I wage a berry-sized war against the little varmints that choose to squash my strawberry dreams.  

In the meantime, I will look to the farmer's markets and Sweet Berry Farm, to supply me with locally grown strawberries. And as for MY berry patch....the raspberry bushes look promising!