Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

Can it be that another year has already whizzed past? It's been a busy year. Between baking, homeschooling, vacationing, hosting cooking camps, and watching my granddaughter grow up, I haven't been posting nearly as much as I would've liked to. I'm not making a resolution of it, but I will try to be a bit more consistent in the coming year.

So here's a toast to the year gone by and the one yet to come. May the joy increase, the inevitable pains be productive, the lessons be learned quickly, and the calories not count.

I'm toasting with a glass of the best eggnog I've ever had. I've never been a big fan of egg nog. My family always got excited when the cartons showed up in the grocery store and I would buy it for them. But the gloopy texture and the odd taste didn't please my palate, so I'd pass.

But this fall a friend told me about his family's tradition of making eggnog. More specifically, Gramma made the egg nog. A gallon at a time. Every Christmas. Even on vacation.

He related how one Christmas the extended family was on vacation together in Mexico and it just wouldn't be Christmas without Gramma's eggnog. So they hiked into to town to buy the supplies for a gallon of eggnog. After hiking back with their burdens, Gramma put together the splendid libation, and they took turns stirring it for the 40-50 minutes needed to thicken it. Then it needed to sit in the refrigerator overnight to let the flavors meld. Having nothing else on hand, she poured the eggnog back into the plastic jugs that had held the milk.

The next morning, arriving back after some frolic time, they were appalled that the jugs were empty and in the garbage can. The cleaning crew told them they'd thrown the milk away since it had obviously gone bad. Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!

Back to town. More supplies. More stirring. Then after more chilling, the cleaners held at bay, Christmas was back on. There was eggnog at last!

If the eggnog was worth that kind of perseverance, I just had to try. And, yes, it's worth it. Light, delicious, frothy, and not overly sweet. One small glass is never enough. I've become an eggnog fan!

You could make the recipe as written, but then you'll probably kick yourself and say, "Why didn't I make more??" If you want a whole gallon, multiply the recipe by 4.

I used raw, whole milk and farm fresh eggs from healthy chickens. If you are uneasy about using raw egg whites, you can substitute powdered egg whites for that. And if you are not comfortable pouring rum into your eggnog, you can use rum flavoring (which is alcoholic, too). If there are kids at your gathering, you can put the rum on the side so adults can add their own to taste. And if anyone dislikes nutmeg, putting it on the side accommodates their tastes as well.

Gramma Jane's Famous Eggnog 
 - adapted from Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, 1968 Edition
  serves 6 to 8

1/3 cup sugar
2 eggs, separated
1/4 tsp salt
4 cups whole milk
3 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Rum to taste
Freshly ground nutmeg to taste
1/2 cup whipping cream (optional)

1- In a large saucepan beat the 1/3 cup sugar and the egg yolks. Add salt. Stir in the milk.

2- Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture coats a spoon. It will not be as thick as a custard. (I timed it while making a gallon. This took about 50 minutes. Taking turns stirring is a good way to make it easier.)

3- Pour this mixture into a medium mixing bowl and set that into an ice bath to speed the cooling. Stir occasionally as it cools.

4- When the mixture is cooled, beat the egg whites until foamy. With the mixer going, gradually add the 3 Tbsp sugar, beating until soft peaks form (when you pull the beater out of the egg whites, they should make little mountains that floomp over at the tip).

5- Add the beaten egg whites to the custard and mix thoroughly. Add the vanilla, rum (unless you'll be serving it on the side), and nutmeg. Chill 3 or 4 hours.

6- Pour the eggnog into a punch bowl or cups. Dot with dollops of whipped cream and add a dash of freshly grated nutmeg.

Thank you Jane for sharing the recipe.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Crack

It's been 4 years now since I shared on my blog the perilous substance known as Killer Crack Peanut Butter Fudge. I've been strong and resisted the temptation to make it for quite a while now, but I've gotten some terrific comments from readers who have. My favorite was this:

This is the fudge my husband rebukes, the way any good evangelical man rebukes sin, fearing and secretly lusting after it. He literally carries plates of this stuff to the neighbors so that it will not dwell under his roof, or on his waist. And yet I keep making it. The making AND the rebuking; a weird holiday tradition now.

Yes, I am all about holiday traditions and keeping it festive for my readers. With that goal in mind, I present to you my latest concoction, Chocolate Caramel Pretzel Crack. This is the evil cousin of the Killer Crack Peanut Butter Fudge. It's pretty simple to make, and yet it's irresistible. And once you've tried it, you are helpless; you simply must go back for more. And more. And....well, you get the picture.

What is it, you ask? A layer of pretzels, a layer of caramel, a layer of chocolate, and then a sprinkling of Crack. And by crack I mean sea salt. Either chunks or flakes will do, just so long as you get a nice hit of salt with every sweet, sticky, gooey, chocolatey, crunchy bite. It's seriously amazing.

 I've made it three times now. The first time was just playing around with the idea, the second time was refining it and the third time was because the second pan went so fast I didn't take any pictures! And the third pan has been cut up and put into containers to be given away because I don't want my family to be in such a carb coma that they can't open presents on Christmas. But I'd better get those containers out the door quickly, or else certain unnamed family members might "accidentally" happen to pry open a container (even if it's already in a sealed box ready to be mailed) and "accidentally" fall face first into it. Not pointing fingers or naming names. I don't want to spoil Christmas. I'm just saying it's a possibility.

If you're looking for the ultimate last minute gift, the perfect hostess present, or just a decadent treat for your co-workers or yourself, this is it. Go buy some pretzels, cream, and chocolate and in a couple of hours (you can wait for the chocolate to set up, can't you?) you can be in serious salty-sweet heaven.

Chocolate Caramel Pretzel Crack

8 oz. pretzels
1 cup heavy cream
5 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup water
1-1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 lb. good milk chocolate, chopped
Sea salt (Fleur de Sel or Maldon Sea Salt are good choices)

1- Line a jelly roll pan (10-1/2 x 15-1/2-inches) with parchment paper and butter the paper. (Mine is a seasoned stoneware pan, so I skipped the parchment paper.)

2- Spread the pretzels in an even layer in the pan. Break up a few pretzels to fill in gaps as needed.

3- In a small saucepan combine the cream, butter, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat and remove from the heat. Set it aside.

4- In a large saucepan combine the water, sugar, and corn syrup. Stir gently just to combine. Be careful to not splash the sugar crystals up onto the sides of the pan. Cover the pan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. The steam from the simmering will help to wash any errant sugar crystals from the sides of the pan.

5- When the sugar is dissolved, remove the lid from the pan. Continue simmering until the liquid turns a golden caramel color. If your liquid is getting dark in one area and not in another, DO NOT STIR. You can pick up the pan and gently shake it side to side the even out the color.

6- When the liquid is golden caramel color, add the cream mixture and stir. The mixture will bubble up, so be careful. Simmer and stir with a clean wooden spoon until a candy thermometer in the mixture reaches 248 deg. F, approximately 15 min.

7- Pour the caramel over the pretzels evenly.

8- After the caramel has set, melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler. For a prettier presentation, you can temper the chocolate. (I was attempting to temper the chocolate, but got distracted, so it didn't go well, hence the artistic swirliness of the chocolate. If that happens to you, don't worry. People will think you went to an extra effort to get those swirls, so if they compliment you, just say thank you.)

9 - Spread the melted chocolate evenly over the caramel layer.

10- Sprinkle sea salt sparsely over the top of the chocolate layer.

11- When the chocolate has set up but not hardened, use a pizza cutter or a knife to cut it into squares.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Oh, man, I thought I was all set for Christmas. All of the planning and shopping done, just wrapping and shipping left to do. Wrong. Someone went and did something amazing, transferring their name from Santa's Good List to the Most Excellent List.

When I was typing up my last post I looked and looked for the recipe. I searched in all of the likely spots -the shelves that holds my cookbooks, the other other shelves that hold my cookbooks, the other other shelves that hold my cookbooks (what do you think, too many cookbooks?) and in the magazine holders that hold all my old Bon Appetite's and other cooking magazines. I came up empty handed and frustrated. I decided that since I hadn't posted since the paleozoic era (or close to that), I'd just throw up the post as is and hope that one of my faithful readers would know just what I was talking about and be able to supply the recipe. And there were many good suggestions, but none was it.

My husband saw my frustration and quietly went on a quest. While I had given up on the recipe and had moved on to other tasks, he methodically worked his way through all the possible hiding places, thoroughly checking each one. Then, with a pleased smile of satisfaction, he set the errant Baking Sheet in front of me.

"Where did you find it?" I squealed, leaping up to kiss him. He modestly informed me that it had gotten jammed behind the magazine holders and had slipped down and gotten somewhat squashed under them. What a guy! Santa's going to have to find an extra special way to reward this good boy. Maybe something with lace....

Whole-Grain Soft Molasses Cookies
 - adapted from King Arthur's Baking Sheet - Julie Christopher

1/2 cup (4 oz) applesauce
1 cup (7 oz) sugar
3/4 cup (6 oz, 1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup (3 oz) molasses
1 large egg
1/3 cup (2-1/4 oz) crystallized ginger, minced
1-1/2 cups (6-1/4 oz) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 cups (6-3/4) King Arthur Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground allspice
Sugar for dipping

1- Drain the applesauce for several minutes in a fine strainer set over a bowl to remove excess liquid.

2- In a large bowl, cream together the applesauce, sugar, and butter; beat at medium speed until well blended (about 3 minutes). Add the molasses, egg, and crystallized ginger; beat until well combined.

3- In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, salt, and spices. Gradually add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture, beating slowly until blended. Chill the dough for at least an hour. If you bake it the same day, the cookies will be crispy, flatter, and chewy. If you bake on the second or third day, the cookies will be taller and softer (like in my photos).

4- When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 deg. F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

5- Scoop the dough by tablespoons and form into 1-inch balls. (If the dough gets sticky while you're working with it, pop the dough back into the refrigerator to chill it.) Dip the tops of the balls into the sugar and place them, sugar-side up, 3 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.

6- Bake for 10-11 minutes, until set, but still soft and puffy in the center. Remove the cookies front he oven and allow them to cool for 5 minutes before transferring them to a rack to finish cooling completely.

Makes about 30 cookies.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Surprise Cookies

Christmas gift giving is tricky.  There is a decision to make- do you go for a big surprise, with the possibility that the recipient will not like the gift, or do you have them pick it out, making sure the size and color are correct, then wrap it and hand it to them?

I love surprises. That tingly feeling of anticipation as they hold your wrapped package in their lap, wondering what on earth it could be, not daring to hope, but hoping anyway that it might be that one  thing they really wanted. The tension builds as they gently ease open the wrapping paper (or tear it off, if that's the way they roll). And then, if you shopped/planned/or made correctly, the look on their face makes it all worthwhile.

Early in my marriage I tried for surprises and they always failed. First of all because my husband has an almost supernatural gift for knowing what's inside a wrapped package. I tried wrapping a tie rolled up into a squishy ball, foregoing the standard and obvious tie box. My husband, picked it up, gave it a squeeze, and said, "Oh, that's a tie." I was quite depressed. Then I tried the box within a box gambit. He'd pick it up, shake it, listen critically, and announce the contents. Boo again. He guessed the cologne before he even picked up the box, smelling it three feet away from the tree.

Finally my husband realized that knowing what all of his presents were a week before he even unwrapped them drained Christmas morning of a lot of its fun. He now has a strict no guessing policy. He doesn't shake, squeeze, or sniff any packages under the tree. Until Christmas morning. Then he releases his inner Karnack and has a good time.

But the other reason my surprises fail is because of finances. Since he pays the bills, unless I pay cash, he knows about it. And accumulating a stack of cash isn't something I'm good at. I do many things fairly well, but none of them generate income, so I'm stuck either asking him for money to buy him a present (which he always vetoes, saying he doesn't need anything) or buying in a very modest price range.

Last year I finally managed to surprise him. I'd been saving cash in my super secret cash stash and when I found a really good deal on Amazon on something he had on his wish list, I asked my daughter to order it and handed her the cash. She kept it at her house and brought it over Christmas eve, sneaking it into the house while my husband was occupied with the grand baby.

Christmas morning he was happy, amazed, and confused when he opened his gift. He said thank you many times, then asked over and over "How did you do it?" It drove him nuts. I loved that best of all.

Today's cookies are molasses cookies. An obvious choice for Christmas time and always welcome. What's the surprise part about it? Um, (she coughs in embarrassment and nervously shuffles feet), it's the recipe. There is no recipe today. You see, I made these cookies a while ago. I've been too busy with life to stop and take pictures of stuff I've made recently, so I was really scraping the bottom of the barrel for this post. And after I'd gotten it written, I could not find the recipe. I'd helpfully written the notation that it came from a King Arthur's Baking Sheet and was Whole Wheat Molasses Cookies. So, if any of you happen to have the recipe, please email it to me and I'll post it. Till then, I'll keep looking. And hopefully I've inspired you to go bake your own favorite molasses cookie.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Please Pass The Cupcakes

My memories of Thanksgiving don't match up with current reality. In my childhood, Thanksgiving was a wonderful time when we brought out the very best of everything. The linen, china, and candles made the dining table a glittering, shimmering tableau of beauty. The heavenly smells wafting from the kitchen had us all drooling with anticipation for the coming feast. My mother sternly warned us not to snack, but black olives were always pilfered from the cut glass bowl in which they resided. When the perfectly browned turkey was carried out and set on the table, and the plates were loaded up with slices of meat, great globs of mashed potatoes and stuffing, over which rivers of gravy were poured,  it was torturous to sit patiently through the grace. 

My current reality is that I spend 3 days baking and then collapse at the table while everyone eats. Is it just a lot more fun and special when someone else does all the work? In a word, yes. I know this to be true because this year we had two Thanksgiving dinners. (My, that does sound porky, doesn't it?)

The first dinner was an early Thanksgiving feast that we put on as a send-off for my son who's on his way to boot camp (he joined the Naval reserves). He and his wife came over to break bird with us and give thanks for our blessings. While I didn't go all out (no pies, to everyone's disappointment), it was still essentially a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. 

For our second dinner, we were invited to my daughter's house. She and her husband did all the work, cleaning, baking and prepping for two days ahead of time, then serving us a beautiful meal. All we brought was wine and gravy. That was much more like it! So, apparently, the key to a happy, relaxed meal is to have someone else fix it for you. 

The only downside to eating at someone else's house is the lack of leftovers when you get home. Normally I hate leftovers clogging up my refrigerator, but Thanksgiving leftovers are as much a part of Thanksgiving as the main meal is. How can you properly watch a football game without a turkey-cranberry sandwich or a plate of turkey and stuffing, with extra gravy? Can it be done? 

More importantly to me, what do you eat for breakfast the day after Thanksgiving if there is no leftover pumpkin pie? Pumpkin pie has squash, milk, and eggs, so what part of that doesn't say healthy breakfast to you? But if the leftover pie is languishing in someone else's kitchen, you either have to suck it up and have oatmeal, or bake your own pie. Or cupcakes.

Yes, I said cupcakes. These beauties are even healthier than pie because there's no crust. They're just delicious pumpkin pie taste in cupcake form. So there's no fussing to get straight edges when you cut a piece of pie (you pie nibblers out there know what I'm talking about!), just single-serving goodness, ready to go. Plus without having to make a crust (my pie downfall), they're a snap to make. I'd say, "easy as pie," but they're easier!

Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes
  - adapted from Baking Bites
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 15-oz. can pumpkin pie puree
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract 
3/4 cup half and half or evaporated milk 
Whipped cream (for topping)

1 - Preheat the oven to 350F. Line the cups of a mini muffin tin with paper liners. (You can't skip the liners, or you won't be able to get the cupcakes out neatly.)
2- In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pumpkin pie spice.

3- In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin puree, sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla and half and half until well combined. Add in dry ingredients and whisk until no streaks of flour remain and batter is smooth.

4- Fill each muffin cup about 3/4 full. They won't really rise.

5- Bake for 11-14 minutes. Cool cupcakes in pan. They will sink as they cool.
Chill cupcakes before serving. Top with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Makes 24, possibly a few more.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Chocolate Can't Fix Everything

Every relationship that you have changes you. Sometimes the changes are subtle, like emulating a friend's hairstyle, or the way in which they answer the phone, and sometimes they are drastic, like making a career choice or moving across the country, just to be with a friend. People brush up against your life and leave their fingerprints on it.

Sometimes that might be words of wisdom that come back to you at just the right time. Sometimes it's the memory of an extravagant act of selflessness that prods you to be a better friend. And sometimes it's pieces of pain, shared in quiet moments.

One of my friends once confided in me that her marriage was loveless. Not that either cheated on the other, just that there was no emotion, no passion. I had often wondered why she married this bland man, unremarkable in looks, personality, or finances and one day posed that question to her. She responded, "Because he asked. And I didn't think anyone else ever would." I cried inside, thinking of both of them living in a settle-for, I-can't-do-any-better-than-this marriage.

Another friend was in a truly unhappy marriage. Her husband was demanding, treating her as if she were a slave rather than a cherished gift from God. He was verbally abusive to her and I often found her in tears. I offered our home as a sanctuary for her daughter so that she could drop her off if the fighting got too ugly. More than one late night she came to visit.

One Sunday I sat behind my friend and her husband in church. From the set of her shoulders I knew that she was crying. She left the service early and when I went outside, she was sitting in her car, tears streaking down her cheeks. Though her face was saying, "just leave me alone," I motioned for her to roll down the window. I took her hand and kissed it, leaving an imprint of my lipstick on her hand, a kiss to take home. It made my heart ache that I couldn't do anything to fix it and make everything better.

And what could I say to my very dear friend who's husband of 20 years drained their bank account and left her and their 4 children for the woman he'd been having an affair with for 10 years? I offered to buy her a t-shirt that says, "It's better to have loved and lost than still be married to the crazy b-----d," but that wouldn't fix it all and heal the pain of loss and betrayal.

If only chocolate could fix everything. I'd make a batch of these bars and take them to every hurting woman in my life. But some days it seems like that would be a mountain of bars. I can't do it alone. So I have a challenge for you bakers out there. Make your favorite treat, then, rather than eating the whole batch and moaning about the size of your hips, wrap them up individually in cellophane and put a little ribbon around each one. Tuck some into your purse and see how many hurting people you can find that day to give them out to. And if you run out of hurting people to bless, try just brightening someone's day. There's nothing like the smile of someone who's been randomly given a cookie!

My Heart Breaks For You Bars
(aka Thousand Dollar Bars - adapted from King Arthur Flour)

shortbread layer:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

caramel layer:

2 cups caramel, cut into small chunks
3 tablespoons heavy cream

chocolate layer:

3 cups chopped milk chocolate or dark chocolate, melted
1 tablespoon coconut oil (optional)
Crunchy sea salt for garnishing

1- Preheat oven to 300 Deg. F. Line a 9 x 13-inch pan with parchment paper, leaving enough to hang over the edges.

2- In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the butter, sugar and vanilla. Add the flour. At first the mixture may seem dry, but will come together as you continue to beat at medium speed.

3- Take the dough (it will be somewhat stiff) and press it evenly into the pan. Lightly flouring your fingertips will help with any sticking.

4- Prick the crust all over with a fork. The holes will allow steam to escape and the crust will bake evenly with fewer bubbles.

5- Bake the crust until it's lightly golden brown on top and the edges are deeper golden brown, about 35 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and set it aside to cool completely.

6- Once the crust is cooled, melt the caramel and cream over low heat in a small saucepan. Pour the caramel over the cooled crust and set in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to chill and firm up.

7- Melt the milk or dark chocolate slowly in a double boiler or over very low heat. If it seems very thick, add a tablespoon of shortening to thin it. Pour evenly over the chilled caramel layer and spread to cover all of the caramel. Sprinkle the sea salt over the chocolate layer. Return to the fridge until the chocolate is well set. Cut into 2" x 2" squares to serve. (The chocolate may shatter if you cut it straight from the fridge, so you might need to let it warm up just a tad before cutting.) It's best to store these bars in the refrigerator.

8- These bars can also be cut and dipped in milk chocolate to resemble Twix ® bars. After the caramel layer has chilled firm, cut down the length of the pan, splitting the bars into two long, narrow bars. Then cut each long strip into "fingers". Dip the chilled bars into melted chocolate, place on parchment paper to set, sprinkle with sea salt, and allow to set up for several hours.

(Note: It's waaaaay easier to spread the chocolate on top, rather than dipping them, but dipping gives a nice, all-over layer of chocolate that's wonderful. Either way, they're delicious. And don't forget the crunchy salt. Salt + chocolate + caramel + shortbread = fabulous. If cookies could fix problems, these would do the job!)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lotus Eaters

OK, I have to got to admit it. Once again, I've been a bad blogger. I've only put up one post this month and the month is almost gone. I was gone for two weeks, and the week before that I was packing and prepping for the trip. In the week since I've been home I've scaled Mt. Laundry, harvested the fields of suitcase regurgitation in my living room, and tried (not very successfully) to refocus our brains into work and school mode. What I haven't done is bake.

Sure, I've made bread for sandwiches and I've made dinners, but nothing that made me run for the camera and shriek, "Don't eat that yet!" I think I must have caught something in Hawaii. A bug? A virus? Or maybe just a way of life.

We noticed a peculiar phenomenon while we were there. Wherever we went we saw a certain type of person, usually a man. He would be lean, leathered, wearing minimal clothing, as though fresh out of the surf, with an unfocused quality to his gaze as he looked out at the waves.

We dubbed them the Lotus Eaters. They would sit in parks, walk down the streets aimlessly, or stand on the beach, watching the sets roll in. It was as though they had come to the islands many years ago and had been sucked into a timeless existence, living from one ride in the surf to the next, unaware of the passage of time.

Just being in Hawaii does tend to bring on that mindset. Each day is so like the one before it, with temperatures in the 80's, a light breeze coming off the ocean to cool the skin, clouds scudding across the sky, and the sound of the surf always in the background. The only difference day to day is what you choose to do with that day. Playing in the ocean, stacking rocks, watching the sunset, or just closing your eyes and smelling the plumeria.

On the drive back to the airport I kept asking my husband, "Have we really been here two weeks? Are you sure it's time to go back. It feels like only 3 days. 4 at the most!" Without that dated return flight ticket, it would have been so easy to put off the return for just a few more days. And then a few more. And I'd eventually be wandering the streets of Maui with browned, crackly skin, wearing a thong bikini, and a faraway look in my eyes.

I suppose it's for the best that we came home when we did. The thought of appearing in public in a thong bikini is enough to jolt me back to reality. I guess instead of a lotus eater I'll stick with being a brownie eater. It works for me.

These are delicious brownies that I made before the trip. The recipe is one that I've heard raves about. I had to try it, but, of course, couldn't leave perfection alone and had to add my own spin on it. They are fudgy, chocolatey, cherry goodness in a bar, much tastier than lotuses.

Baked Cherry Brownies
- adapted from Baked

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp dark unsweetened cocoa powder
11oz. dark chocolate (60 to 72% cacao), coarsely chopped
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tsp instant espresso powder
1o-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup tart dried cherries

1- Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Butter the sides and bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking pan, preferably glass or light-colored metal.

2- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and cocoa powder.

3- Put the chocolate, butter, and instant espresso powder into a large bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter and completely melted and smooth. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water and add the sugars. Whisk until completely combined, then remove the bowl from the pan. The mixture should be at room temperature.

4- Add 3 eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Ad the 2 remaining eggs and whisk until combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not overbeat, or your brownies will be cakey.

5- Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture. Sprinkle the chips and cherries over the flour. Using a spatula (not a whisk), fold the flour mixture, chips, and cherries into the chocolate until just a bit of the flour mixture is visible.

6- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time. The brownies are done when a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it.

7- Let the brownies cool completely before cutting into squares. Store tightly covered with plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Note - I stored mine in an airtight glass container and a few got forgotten on the counter before our trip. When we got back, they were surprising still edible. Hey, why are you looking at me like that? When you've got a chocolate craving, you go with what you've got!

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Three S's

Can you guess where I am?

Here's a clue.

Here's another clue.

Got it yet? How about this. It pretty much says it all.

Yup. I'm in Hawaii. Maui, to be specific. The sun, the sand, the surf. It's pretty fabulous. Especially knowing that back home people are breaking out their extra warm sweatshirts and snuggling up to warm mugs of tea. Here the tea is iced and we debate whether to turn on the AC or just let the ocean breeze blow through the screen doors.

We've gone snorkeling, boogie boarding, body surfing, swimming. And by we, I mean my husband and kids. I don't like getting my face wet. What? Don't look at me like that! You already knew I was weird. I anchor the beach towel and take pictures so that my daughter and husband can have something to post on Facebook.

I also excel in the shopping department. No vendor remains unvisited in my quest for Christmas presents and thank-you gifts. In case you're thinking there will be a hefty overweight bag fee at the airport, fear not, because I travel like a hippie.

I realize that most people, when on vacation, want to do as little in the kitchenette as possible. We're staying in a beautiful condo where everything is brand-new and the kitchen is gorgeous! (Contact information available on request). Knowing this, I menu planned in advance and brought along ingredients like a jar of honey, a baggie of salt, a baggie of yeast, a 5 lb. bag of King Arthur Whole Wheat Flour, and a 6 liter dough rising bucket. Yup. Hippie. I'm on vacation and I'm making my own bread, pizza crust, and hamburger rolls.

You might think that's a bit much for a vacation. Let me tell you about my hippie daughter. She and her husband and their daughter are here, too, but in a different part of the island. She started her packing and menu planning 3 months in advance. She fermented, dehydrated, and prepped food to take along, including a dehydrated scobie so she could make her own kombucha in paradise. She also carefully packed her daughter's cloth diapers (no diaper rash on vacation!), the Sweet Pea Baby and favorite blanket, her daughter's special eating time bowls and food coats, as well as coconut oil, olive oil, and spendy food supplements. Guess what happened.

The morning we were flying out my son-in-law was loading the bags into the back of the car, which was in the driveway, back hatch open. He put in the big suitcase, went in the house for another bag, heard a sound like a car door slamming, went outside with the second bag, and the first bag was gone. Someone had stopped, grabbed the suitcase, hopped into their El Camino, and sped off down the street. Seriously. Who steals a suitcase? What were they hoping for? Whatever they hoped for, I'm sure they were tremendously disappointed.

Every single thing in that suitcase was expensive, either in terms of the time spent to make it, or the cost to replace, but not one thing had street value. My chin quivers when I think of some landfill being gifted with a whole load of lovely organic cotton double-thick diapers.

But, thankfully, my son-in-law is awesome. He shrugged and said, "They didn't take anything that can't be replaced. We'll go shopping in Hawaii." And with the wonderful attitude, the trip went on, it wasn't ruined, and we're all having a grand time.

I don't have pics of the food that I made. We were too busy enjoying it to stop and take pics. Here's the dough recipe, though, in case you travel like a hippie, too, and want to have your own healthy bread on the go. I'll bet you could even enjoy it at home.

100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

Makes two to three 1.5 lb loaves

1 1/2 c lukewarm water
1 1/2 c lukewarm milk (I used coconut milk)
1 1/2 Tbsp granulated yeast (1 1/2 packets)
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp salt
1/2 c honey
5 Tbsp neutral-flavored oil (I used coconut oil)
6 2/3 c whole wheat flour

1. Mix the yeast salt, honey, and oil with the lukewarm water and milk in a 5-quart bowl or a lidded, not airtight food container.

2. Using a spoon, food processor with dough attachment, or a stand mixer, mix in the whole wheat flour without kneading the mixture.

3. Cover the mixture, and allow it to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses (or flatten on top); approximately 2 to 3 hours.

4. Although the dough can be used after it has risen and collapsed, the authors state that the mixture is easier to handle when it is cold. Refrigerate it in a lidded, not airtight container and use over the next 5 days. After the five days, put the dough in the freezer for up to 1 month.

5. On baking day, lightly grease a 9x4x3-inch nonstick loaf pan. Using wet hands, scoop out a 1 1/2-pound (cantaloupe-size) handful of dough. With wet hands, quickly shape the dough into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.

6. Drop the loaf into the prepared pan filling it slightly more than half-full.

7. Allow the dough to rest for 1 hour and 40 minutes. Flour and slash the top of the loaf using the tip of a serrated bread knife.

8. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) for 5 minutes, if not using a stone; otherwise, preheat the oven 20 minutes before baking time.

9. Place the loaf on a rack near the center of the oven. Pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the broiler tray and quickly close the oven door. Bake the loaf for 50 to 60 minutes or until deeply browned and firm.

10. Allow to cool completely before slicing in order to cut reasonable sandwich slices.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Back to School Blues

I've been desperately ignoring it, doing my very best ostrich impression, hiding my head in the sand, but it's come anyway. Yes, school is upon us. I know for most mothers, back to school is a time of "ah, the kids go away all day and life is quiet again." For homeschoolers, though, it's a time of "oh no, my other job is starting up again!"

For some reason this year has been particularly bad. I was in such deep denial about the coming school year that I didn't even put in my school book order until two weeks before we were scheduled to start. Perhaps that was my subconscious ploy to delay - if the books aren't here, we can't do school, right? But I was foiled by my most excellent curriculum provider. They had the books on my doorstep the day we started. Grrr.

You see, I was not ready to let go of summer. It seemed like we'd barely had a summer and I wanted to continue our ambitious agenda of lazing around, going to the pool, hanging out with friends, reading trashy novels, and baking just for fun. But life intrudes and pretending to be a grown up takes precedence over play time.

So, to console myself, I made cookies. Since I'm trying to drastically cut down on sugar (see my last post), I thought I'd try these cookies. Sweetened only with fruit, they seemed to be the answer to my post-breakup prayers. But I have to be honest with you. They're a make-do cookie. You know, the kind you eat when you're desperate for something sweet and there's nothing else in the house. It's not that they're bad, but they're not amazing. If you had your choice of these cookies and the ones in the previous post, you'd pick the latter. Every time.

In fact, I even ended up chucking a few of these cookies. They'd gone moldy. My family probably figured out that if they just held firm, the sugar embargo wouldn't last and I'd come up with something more tempting. (They were right. You should see what's sitting on my counter now!) Or maybe it was because of the coconut. My family has issues with coconut.

But if you're committed to not feeding your family sugar, or if your kids have never had sugary treats, you will probably really enjoy these cookies. They are moist, the banana-chocolate combination is always a winner, and they have the added bonus of making you feel virtuous while eating a cookie. But if you're one of the parents who packs a lunch for your child to take to school, be aware that they might try to trade these away for a Twinkie. (Euww!)

No Sugar Banana Cookies
adapted from 101 Cookbooks

3 large, ripe bananas, well mashed (about 1-1/2 cups)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup coconut oil
2 cups rolled oats (not quick or instant)
2/3 cup almond meal
1 Tbsp coconut flour
1/3 cup coconut, finely shredded & unsweetened
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup chocolate chips

1- Preheat oven to 350 deg. F with a rack in the top third of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or Silpat.

2- If your coconut oil is solid, warm it up to liquid. You can use either a saucepan or just set the measuring cup into a cup of hot water. You want the oil liquid, but not hot.

3- In a large bowl combine the bananas, vanilla extract, and coconut oil. Set aside. In another bowl whisk together the oats, almond meal, coconut flour, shredded coconut, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder.

4- Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until combined. Fold in the chocolate chips. Let the dough sit for 10 minutes to firm up a bit.

5- Drop the dough in dollops about 2 tsp each onto the prepared baking sheet, about an inch apart. Bake for about 12 minutes, until the tops are just browning. Leave on the cookie sheet for 2 minutes before removing to a cooing rack.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Breakup

Dear Sugar,

It's been a while now since we broke up, but I can't stop thinking about you. Don't misunderstand, it's not that I want to get back together; I know you're no good for me.

I remember all the reasons I gave when we broke up:

~ You don't make me feel good about myself

~ You were so controlling

~ Sometimes being with you just made me sick to my stomach

~ And, I know this sounds immature, but, you were always more popular than me. When we went anywhere together, you were the one people were interested in. I need to have friends that care more about me than you.

But even though I know we're through and I'm better off without you, the problem is that I can't stop thinking about you and all the good times we shared. Baking together in the kitchen, cozying up together at the end of a meal, and those delicious stolen moments together late at night. I'm constantly reminded of you by all the friends we have in common. And when I'm lonely or bored, I still reach for you, like a phantom limb.

What we've shared was special and magical, but it can't go on. I learned a lot from our time together, and I grew a lot, too (several pant sizes), but I have to put an end to this. I'm seeing others now. I try to fill the void with my new companions, Stevia, date puree, and sometimes I still see my honey. They don't make magic happen like you did, but it's for the best. I've moved on. I won't look back.

Well, maybe just a little. Now and then.

Missing your sweet kisses,

Cookie Baker Lynn

Post Break-Up Cookies
(aka Hazelnut & Milk Chocolate Chunk Cookies)
-adapted from Flour

Just the right balance of tender, chewy, crunchy, and sweet, these are the perfect way to get over a break up. You make the dough one day, and the next day, if there's any dough left, bake up the cookies. Two comfort foods in one.

3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp (1-1/2 sticks plus 1 Tbsp/ 185 gm) unsalted butter, at room temp
2/3 cup (140 gm) granulated sugar
2/3 cup (150 gm) packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups (210 gm) blanched whole hazelnuts, roasted
2-1/2 cups (370 gm) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp kosher salt
12 oz (340 gm) milk chocolate, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

1- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture is light and fluffy. Stop the mixer a few times and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

2- Add the eggs and vanilla and beat on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, until thoroughly combined. Scrape down the bowl again.

3- In a food processor, pulse 1/2 cup (70 gm) of the hazelnuts until ground to a fine powder. Roughly chop the remaining 1 cup (140 gm) hazelnuts. In a medium bowl, stir together the ground and chopped hazelnuts, the flour, baking soda, salt, and chocolate chunks. On low speed, slowly blend the flour mixture into the butter-sugar mixture. Mix just until the flour is totally incorporated.

4- For best results, scrape the dough into an airtight container and let it rest in the refrigerator overnight (or at least 3 to 4 hours) before baking.

5- When you are ready to bake, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 deg.F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

6- Using a medium cookie scoop (about 2 Tbsp) make dough balls and drop them onto the prepared cookie sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Flatten each ball slightly with the palm of your hand.

7- Bake for 9 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown on the edges and pale and slightly soft in the center. Let cool on the baking sheet for 5 to 10 minutes, then transfer the cookies to the rack to cool completely.

Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. The unbaked dough can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

(As always, the quality of your cookie won't surpass the quality of your ingredients. Make sure your hazelnuts are not stale or rancid and use good quality chocolate. I loved the Guittard I used in these.)

Friday, September 2, 2011


Very often I feel inadequate. When I look at the jobs I have to do, they seem like huge mountains to scale and for my Everest assault I'm equipped with only a fork, a paper bag, some dental floss, and I'm wearing shorts, a tank top, and flip flops.

Then I make the mistake of looking to my side. There are herds of other women, sure-footed as mountain goats, decked out in climbing gear from REI, managing to make it look as easy as a walk in the park as they nimbly navigate life's hazards, leaping from rock to rock, ascending at a dizzying pace.

My biggest personal mountains are in the areas of my job (homemaking) and the raising, training, and teaching of my children. I meet amazing women, or read their blogs, and think, "My gosh, where does she find the extra 36 hours per day to be in a book club, do inventive crafts with her children, redecorate her bedroom, learn Italian, run marathons, publish a book, raise all their own food in the garden, play an instrument beautifully, can everything that grows, cook delightful, inventive, and healthful dinners every night, sew her own designer wardrobe, and still keep her home immaculately clean?"

I compare myself to that and I just want to crawl onto the couch with a bowl of pudding, pull a blanket over my head, and give up. I'm not ever going to be that amazing, so why bother trying?

I used to have hope that one day I'd be amazing, that one magical day it would all come together. My house would be spotless, my children would be on track in their schoolwork and would start reading the encyclopedia, just for fun. Since everything at home was under control, I could shed the stained sweat pants, put on a cute outfit, and go out with girlfriends, not dreading the inevitable phone call of "When are you coming home? They're trying to kill each other and if they don't succeed, I'll do it for them!!"

But I've come to the conclusion that's not going to happen. I once had a friend (one of the amazing kind with perfect, mannered, homeschooled children and a spotless home) come over to my house for the first time. In shock she surveyed the debris of toys, socks, books, projects, shoes, dress-ups, and dog hair coating the living room and she said, "You must be really good in bed. My husband would never put up with this!"

So I started a blog. A happy little corner of life where I could feel amazing. But I'll let you in on a secret. Just in case I might have you fooled, I'm still not amazing. Did you ever wonder why almost all of my pictures are close-ups of the food? Yes, partly it's to show the tantalizing texture of the food. But mainly it's because It's a chore to find more than 2 square feet of table or counter that's clear of stuff.

And the food? Some of it is original, but most of it I just copy. I hang onto the coattails of someone who's truly amazing and hope some of it will rub off on me. Like today's recipe. It is amazing and comes from a woman who is also amazing, Janelle. She has a beautiful blog where she chronicles her life and cooking adventures, Talk of Tomatoes. Fabulous photos, wonderful recipes, and lovely writing. Sigh. (Oh, sorry, just comparing myself again.)

I met Janelle at the food blogger's dinner I attended in the spring. We were each to bring something to share and she brought some red pepper jelly. Ohmygosh, it was love at first bite. Spread on a cracker with some chèvre, it was addictively good. My husband, after his third cracker, said, "You have got to get this recipe!"

Janelle, being an amazing person, already had it posted on her blog, making it super easy for me to copy her. And my family loves me for it. I didn't have any chèvre cheese, so I used cream cheese on flatbread crackers. Oh, heavens, it's good! Hot, sweet, salty, creamy, crunchy - it's a sensation overload for the mouth. You barely finish the first cracker before you're reaching for the next.

I put off making this jelly for months, thinking it would be really difficult and time consuming. It's not. It's super easy. In fact, next time I make it (which will be soon), I'm going to make up a big batch. I think jars of this will be my new favorite Christmas present to give!

The next time you want to appear like you have it all together, use a snow shovel to get all the junk out of the living room, vacuum (vacuum tracks are important, they make it look like you clean regularly), and then serve this jelly with cream cheese on crackers. After the first bite, no one will care that you're only faking it.

Spicy Red Pepper Jelly
- from Talk of Tomatoes
makes about 2 small jam jars

1 cup finely chopped (OR quickly pureed) bell red pepper
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 1/3 cup white vinegar
2 tsp calcium water from POMONA PECTIN*
1 1/2 tsp pectin from POMONA PECTIN*
2 1/3 cup white sugar

*(I found Pomona Pectin at Whole Foods. It's pricier than standard pectin, but each box makes 2 to 4 recipes, and it's a natural citrus pectin that allows you to use less sugar in your jams and jellies. I love it! The calcium water is included in the packet; it's not something you have to buy separately.)

1. Wash and rinse jars; let stand in hot water. Bring lids to boil; let stand in hot water. Read through the insert with the pectin, if you haven't used this brand before.

2. Either mince or puree peppers in a food processor. Place in medium saucepan with vinegar and red pepper flakes. Bring to boil, stirring occasionally, then let simmer 5 minutes.

3. Add calcium water to pan. Stir well.

4. In small bowl, combine pectin powder with 1/2 cup sugar (scoop the sugar out of the 2-1/3 cups sugar you already measured).

5. Bring pepper mixture back to a boil, stir in pectin-sugar blend to dissolve. Then add remaining sugar. Stir vigorously to dissolve, once it boils, remove from heat.

6. Fill jars to 1/4inch from top. Wipe rims clean. Screw on lids. Boil 10 minutes in hot water bath. Remove and let cool. Label.

For gift giving, tie red ribbons around the neck of the jar, add a pretty piece of cloth under the ring, or make a gift basket with crackers, chèvre or cream cheese, and a bottle of wine. (Just a few ideas I picked up from other people.)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Over The Top & In The Middle

It would have been wrong for the cookie baker to have a cooking camp and not bake cookies. So it was that for the last edition of cooking camp, we made cookies. And since it was the last one, we went all out, making cookie-stuffed cookies.

Short Friend was once again camping, (what is it with this obsession with camping? Nature is fine in it's place - outdoors. That doesn't mean that we need to be in it's place. But I digress.) so Tall Friend again brought his little sister to share in the fun.

These outrageous cookies caught my eye on Pinterest. They're basically a stiff chocolate chip cookie dough wrapped around oreos. The result? A mammoth cookie that's got great taste, contrasting textures, and a fun surprise in the middle. Really, what's not to love? Plus, as a bonus, shaping the cookies involves playing with your food. It's like playdoh that you're allowed to eat. (But we did have to cover that once you lick your hands, you MUST go wash them. I think we had to cover that several times.)

We also covered some cookie-making basics (stuff that I covered in this post). It was all pretty simple stuff. The only tough part was keeping the kids from snacking on the oreos. I'd gone to great trouble to search out and purchase sandwich cookie without hydrogenated fats (well, it wasn't great trouble. They were on an end cap at Whole Foods. I saw them and grabbed them.) Another member of my family had already found the package and opened them and before I killed him, I hastily counted the cookies remaining. Ah, just enough with none to spare (but the family member's life was spared). I put the precious remaining cookies in a zip-loc bag and hid them. Yes, sometimes a baker has to do that to protect the ingredients.

Forming the cookies was everyone's favorite part. You take two balls of dough, sandwich the oreo in between, and smoosh (a highly technical baking term), then add dough as necessary to cover and seal in the sandwich cookie. The resulting dough mounds are plopped onto baking sheets, cooked, and tasted, I mean cooled on wire racks.

The verdict? Thumbs up! We ate cookies with our lunch and watched an educational baking video, Tangled, which covers the importance of cast iron frying pans.

Oreo Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
3-1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 package chocolate sandwich cookies (preferably without hydrogenated fats) (or 24 cookies, if your husband finds the package and snacks on them)

1- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat.

2- In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugars with a mixer until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla.

3- In a medium bowl mix together the flour, salt, and baking soda. Slowly add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients, stirring just until combined. Add the chocolate chips when there are still traces of flour showing.

4- With a medium cookie scoop, form balls of dough. Place a ball on either side of a chocolate sandwich cookie. Smoosh together and seal up the edges so the cookie is totally encased in cookie dough.

5- Place the dough balls on the prepared baking baking sheets and bake for 13 minutes, or until the tops are set and the edges begin to brown.

6- Let cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I'm Going Nuts

When I was little I couldn't see the point of the newspaper. (I understand that with the internet, no one sees the point of a newspaper now, but this was way back when.) Why would anyone want to start their day looking at depressing pictures of war, stories of crime, and horrible economic news? The only part of the paper worth anything was the comics page. While my parents drank nasty coffee and read their awful part of the paper, my sisters and I would eat our sucrose flakes and squabble over who got to read the funnies first. (Although, really, including Mary Worth, Apartment 3G, and Judge Parker in the funnies was odd, because they were never funny.)

Once the comics were mined for their nuggets of humor, all that was left was the puzzles and little filler sections. One of those fillers was a column called Ask Andy. Andy was, apparently, some sort of genius, because he had answers for every question that was mailed in to him. Or, he printed the questions that he knew the answer to and pitched the rest. Either way, I was always trying to come up with a great question to send in so I could see my name in print.

The questions that were printed were on the order of "Why is the sky blue?" and "How do snakes move in the sand?" I'd come up with a stumper and run it by my dad, the physics professor. He encouraged my enthusiasm for scientific enquiry, hoping I'd grow up to be a super science nerd, too. Sorry to disappoint, Dad.

I never got a question printed. I don't remember that I even mailed in a question. My dad always had the answers. It could be that he was smarter than Andy.

One question that would be worthy of sending in to Any would be "why don't seeds and nuts sprout in the shell?" And the answer to that question leads to the kitchen.

Nuts contain high amounts of enzyme inhibitors. That's the reason that eating a lot of nuts can make your tummy feel unhappy. God put the enzyme inhibitors there to keep the nuts from sprouting prematurely, trying to make a new plant when it's not even in the ground. That's a good thing. But having those enzyme inhibitors in your tummy is not a good thing.

So how do you make nuts a happy thing for your digestive system? The same way that God does. Soak those suckers. When you plant a seed and wait and wait and WAIT for little green bits to poke through the ground, what's happening underground is germination. Part of that process is the seed (or nut) getting wet enough long enough for the enzyme inhibitors to be neutralized so that growth can happen.

In my kitchen this translates to a big bowl of saltwater on the counter with a batch of nuts having a pool party in it. I soak the nuts, drain, then dry either in the oven or food dehydrator. (Good information on how to soak various types of nuts is in this post.) After they're dried till crispy, I put them in a zip-loc bag and store them in the freezer. I often carry a small bag of walnuts in my purse as a snack to keep my blood sugar level even. When I offer them to friends (it's rude to snack without offering to share, my mother told me), I'm frequently told "No, thanks. I don't like walnuts." Then when I encourage them to try my soaked nuts, they're amazed at the difference. No bitter taste! No heavy feeling in the tummy! It's wonderful how simple soaking changes them so much.

Once you try soaking nuts, I doubt you'll go back. And once you've fallen in love with the new and improved flavor of walnuts, you'll want to try this recipe to showcase their great taste. These bars are sticky, crumbly, gooey, loaded with nuts, flavored with honey and are absolutely delicious. Plus they're super easy to make. So get soaking and baking!

Walnut and Honey Bars
- adapted from The Cookie Book

1-1/2 cups (6 oz) all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/2 cup (4 oz) butter, diced

scant 3 cups (11 oz) soaked and dried walnut halves
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup (2 oz) butter, melted
1/4 cup (2 oz) light brown sugar
6 Tbsp dark clear honey
2 Tbsp light cream

1- Preheat oven to 375 deg. F. Lightly grease an 11 x 7-inch baking dish.

2- In a food processor, combine the flour, confectioners' sugar, and butter and process until the mixture forms crumbs. Pulse, adding 1 to 2 Tbsp water till it makes a firm dough.

3- On parchment paper, roll the dough out into a rectangle to fit the bottom of your baking dish, 11 x 7-inch. Flip the parchment paper over the baking dish, peeling the dough off to line the bottom of the baking dish. Trim and fold the took edge inwards.

4- Prick the base thoroughly with a fork. Line it with foil and weight the foil with baking beans or pie weights. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the beans and foil, return the dish to the oven, and bake another 5 minutes, until cooked, but not browned. Remove the pan and reduce the temperature to 350 deg. F.

5- Sprinkle the walnuts over the base. Whisk together the remaining filling ingredients. Pour over the walnuts and bake for 25 minutes.

6- Place the pan on a wire cooling rack to cool completely before slicing.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Butt Wait, There's More

Warning: this post contains material pertaining to bottoms. If you are easily offended, or just want something more delicious than what I'm offering today, I suggest you click on to the the next blog.

Bottoms, also known as buns, are the topic of the day. But if I said buns, then you'd go looking for a tantalizing bread product, preferably dripping with sugar and cinnamon. Now that I've got your mind on that track, check out this post, then join me back here.

You back, cinnamon roll in hand? Good. Now we can get to the bottom of today's issue. Buns. I mean bottoms.

Most people probably don't think about bottoms much. Unless you're trying on jeans, or working out, or at the pool, or ice skating (I tend to fall down a lot), or....OK, maybe people do think about bottoms a fair amount. But the people who think about buns a whole lot are new parents.

Doing diaper changes every couple of hours (or minutes, depending on the little one) gives a concerned parent the opportunity to assess the state of their child's buns all day long. Are they smooth and healthy or are they covered in an unsightly, painful rash?

As a new parent I didn't know any better than what advertising told me, so when my precious little bundle of joy got a bad diaper rash, I reached for the Desitin. People, that stuff is nasty. It's basically zinc oxide. It stuck to his poor, fragile skin and to the diaper, so when I next changed the diaper, it pulled off a layer of skin. Ouch! It made a painful problem much, much worse!

After that horrible experience I did some searching for natural alternatives and found a wonderful ointment made with herbs. It soothed, it healed, and it didn't have any nasty chemicals in it. But it was also expensive. So I set about trying to make my own version.

The main ingredient in the ointment is comfrey. Comfrey is a member of the plant family known as "weed." But a useful weed. It contains allantoin, a cell proliferant (meaning it encourages cells to grow and spread). For blistered buns, this means swift healing. Hooray!

Now comes the part of the post where you get angry at me. I've sold you on comfrey and now you want to know where to get it. Well, I get mine in my sister's back yard. Her house used to be owned by a naturopath who grew a medicinal herbal garden. Plus, due to a stream running through the property, local regulations mandate that no chemicals be used in the yard. So it's organic, plentiful, and cheap!

If you do an online search, there are several places that sell organic comfrey seeds. If you don't have the space or inclination to grow your own, you can also order comfrey oil. But that can be spendy. Finding your own source and making your own is the thriftiest way to go.

Once you've located comfrey, you need to turn it into comfrey oil. This is so easy, it's ridiculous. You soak it in oil. That's it. Then you add whatever thickening and soothing agents you'd like, and, hey, presto, Bun Goobies!

Bun Goobies? Yes, we like to name things weird names. We also like to make up lyrics to known tunes and possibly sing them at diaper changing time. Here, as an added bonus for today's post, are the lyrics to the diaper changing song, sung to this tune.

Diaper Changing Song

Puttin' on the bun goobie goobies on
Puttin' on the bun goobie goonies on
Puttin' on the bun goo-oobies

I put the goobies on the buns
Cause you are my honey bun
I don't want your buns all sore
So I'm putting on more and more

(Freestyle for the rest of the song or the rest of the diaper change, whichever ends first.)

Bun Goobies

Fresh, organic comfrey leaves
Olive Oil (doesn't need to be fancy or expensive)
A clean stone (optional)
Beeswax, grated
Cocoa butter (optional)
Coconut oil (optional)
Calendula oil (optional)*
Essential oil for fragrance (optional)
Baby food jars

Rinse and towel dry the comfrey. Into a clean jar (I like to use a quart canning jar), cram as much of the comfrey in as you can. Pour the olive oil into the jar slowly, allowing it settle into the spaces between the leaves.

It's important to keep the leaves submerged under the oil. Leaves that aren't covered can start to mold. If that happens, you'll need to toss it all and start over. To prevent that from happening, place a well-washed stone on top of the leaves to keep them from bobbing up above the surface. Also, filling the jar to the top with oil discourages mold growth.

Place the jar in the sun and leave it there for one to two weeks (depending on how warm it is). If sun is unavailable to you (hello Northwest weather), you can place it in a food dehydrator or an oven on low for 4-24 hours.

When the oil is done it will be green with a strong, funky smell. Funky like comfrey and oil, not funky like decay. Line a sieve with cheesecloth and place it over a bowl. Pour the oil into it and allow it to drain into the bowl.

The first time, just allow gravity to do all the work. This is the first "pressing". Set that oil aside. For the second "pressing," use a wooden spoon to mash the leaves, pressing all the oil out that you can. This results in a darker oil, but it's still good. Throw the comfrey leaves onto your compost heap.

In a saucepan over low heat gently heat the oil. To each cup of oil, add 1/4 cup of grated beeswax. Stir until the wax is melted. At this point you can add any of the optional oils. Be aware that adding extra oils will change the consistency and you might need to increase the amount of beeswax that you use.

Check for proper firmness by placing one tablespoon of the mixture in the freezer for just a minute or two. Test the firmness and adjust if necessary. To make it firmer, add more beeswax; to make it softer, add more oil.

When you're satisfied with the consistency, remove the salve mixture from heat and immediately pour into clean baby food jars.

Label and store in a cool dark place. It will last for months, even years.

It's an awesome baby shower gift and it's also useful as an all-around first aid ointment.

* You can make calendula oil the same way as the comfrey oil, if you have access to organic calendula. I recommend growing your own. They're a lovely, cheerful flower, and the petals make a very soothing oil.