Saturday, July 31, 2010

Road Trip to King Arthur Flour and Refrigerator Boxes

I've had a couple of nice summer days in a row.  Yesterday I joined "Eddy women" Kathryn, Lynn, and Carolyn on a day trip to Norwich, Vermont, where we visited the King Arthur Bakery and gift shop.  We allowed Lynn's Magellan GPS system, which she nick-named "Maggie" to guide us (in her beautiful new car) from Saratoga Springs north toward Lake George and eastward through the beautiful Vermont landscape to Norwich.  It seemed about a three hour ride, but it is hard to say because we never stopped talking the entire time!  Once at King Arthur, we  had a lot of fun checking out all the merchandise, from cook books to their own mixes to baking supplies.  KA has a wide range of products for the occasional baker/cook to someone who is always in the kitchen (me!).  I bought a few things, including Madagascar vanilla bean paste, and a nifty cooling rack.  It's tiered and holds four baking sheets at once.  That'll free up a lot of counter space on busy baking days.  The shop is home to KA's test kitchen as well as a small cafe where sandwiches, soups, pizza, and baked goods are available.  We all chose a slice of pizza for our lunches, and the roasted red pepper slice was delicious!  After lunch we browsed some more and then headed home, stopping at garden shops along the way.  I really love a day like that.  There's nothing like spending time with good women friends and talking, laughing, and solving the world's problems, enjoying each other's company.

This morning started with a visit to an antique show at the Washington County Fairgrounds.  I'm on the lookout for old-fashioned refrigerator boxes, the precursors to Tupperware and Rubbermaid.  There are a lot of reasons why I prefer these old kitchen relics, but mainly it is because I don't like reheating food in plastic in the microwave.  Glass is a much better alternative.  It doesn't stain and you know it's clean.  Besides, these are prettier and food is easily identified through the glass.  No more chemistry experiments under those plastic lids!  Once I found my refrigerator box (limited myself to one this time) we had a good time exploring the fair grounds for little treasures.  Katie and Bill bought Henry a kid-sized rocking chair, in great shape.  It looks like maple and it has a Windsor back.  My big find on the way out of the show was two Welch's grape jelly jar glasses with Winnie the Pooh images on the outside. We had those glasses when my kids were little -- ours had Flintstones characters.  I just loved those and still have two that are perfect for a small serving of orange juice.

My Saturday evening will be spent dog-sitting Hayden the bloodhound, and later I'll do some baking (of course).  Hope your weekend is off to a good start and that you have a chance to relax and enjoy the end of July and the beginning of August!

Photo image:

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Double Chocolate Bundt Cake

I was thinking about what would be a good dessert after a light summer meal, and fruits and light & polite-colored sweets kept getting pushed out of my brain by that alpha-confection, CHOCOLATE.  "No," I told myself, "No!" -- it's summer and we must keep things light.  Well, my intuitive baker side said, "Wait, chocolate knows no season!  Chocolate is universal.  Chocolate is always welcome!"  This recipe, from Good Housekeeping, does something no mix can ever do -- it makes a moist, rich, scratch cake that can't be duplicated by any manufactured dessert.  And nothing's easier, really, than baking a cake in a bundt pan. Once it's in the oven, your work is basically done.  If you want to make the simple glaze to top it off,  that's no work, really.  If you want to keep things simpler, just sprinkle this already-moist-enough cake with confectioners sugar, as the original recipe suggests.  So have your grilled chicken, corn on the cob, and a nice green salad. Then slice up this cake as a perfect ending to a summer day.


2 1/4 cup(s) all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoon(s) baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon instant espresso-coffee powder
3/4 cup hot water
2 cup(s) sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large egg whites
1 large egg
1 ounce (1 square) unsweetened chocolate,, melted
2 teaspoon(s) vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk (or 2 teaspoons vinegar and 1/2 cup milk, let sit for 5 minutes)

Mocha glaze, (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 12-cup Bundt pan.

On sheet of waxed paper, stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In 2-cup measuring cup, mix cocoa, espresso-coffee powder, and hot water until blended; set aside.

In large bowl, with mixer at low speed, beat sugar, oil, egg whites, and whole egg until blended. Increase speed to high; beat until creamy, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low; beat in cocoa mixture, chocolate, and vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat just until combined, scraping bowl occasionally with rubber spatula.

Pour batter into prepared plan. Bake 45 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack 10 minutes. With small knife, loosen cake from side of pan; invert onto wire rack. Cool completely.

Meanwhile, prepare Mocha Glaze. Place cake on cake plate; pour glaze over top of cooled cake, letting it run down sides. Allow glaze to set before serving.

Mocha Glaze: In medium bowl, combine 1/4 teaspoon instant espresso-coffee powder and 2 tablespoons hot water; stir until dissolved. Stir in 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa, 3 tablespoons dark corn syrup, and 1 tablespoon coffee-flavored liqueur until blended. Stir in 1 cup confectioners' sugar until smooth. Makes about 1 cup.
Recipe and photo source:

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

From KAF: American-Style Vanilla Biscotti

I love King Arthur Flour.  In fact, on Friday a few of us are taking a day trip to visit their store/shop/bakery in Norwich, Vermont!  I often go to the KAF Web site for recipes and inspiration.  This recipe for biscotti is among their top-rated, and its basic vanilla flavor complements summer fruits beautifully.  If you are wanting something more than basic vanilla, see the "variations" note below, where KAF makes scrumptious-sounding recommendations to make this recipe your own.


6 tablespoons (3 ounces) butter
2/3 cup (4 3/4 ounces) sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 large eggs
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) one large (about 18" x 13") baking sheet.

In a medium-sized bowl, beat the butter, sugar, salt, vanilla, and baking powder until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Beat in the eggs; the batter may look slightly curdled. At low speed of your mixer, add the flour, stirring until smooth; the dough will be sticky.

Plop the dough onto the prepared baking sheet. Shape it into a log that’s about 14" long x 2 ½" wide x ¾" thick. Straighten the log, and smooth its top and sides; a wet spatula or wet bowl scraper works well here. Note: For extra-long, bistro-style biscotti, pat the dough into a lightly greased 12" x 5 1/2" biscotti pan.

Bake the dough for 25 minutes. Remove it from the oven, and allow it to cool on the pan anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes; just work it into the schedule of whatever else you’re doing in the kitchen. Using a spray bottle filled with room-temperature water, lightly but thoroughly spritz the log, making sure to cover the sides as well as the top. Softening the crust just this little bit will make slicing the biscotti much easier.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F. Wait another 5 minutes, then use a serrated knife to cut the log crosswise into 1⁄2" to 3⁄4" slices. Or cut the biscotti on the diagonal—for fewer, longer biscotti. As you’re slicing, be sure to cut straight up and down, perpendicular to the pan; if you cut unevenly, biscotti may be thicker at the top than the bottom, and they’ll topple over during their second bake.

Set the biscotti on edge on the prepared baking sheet. Return the biscotti to the oven, and bake them for 25 to 30 minutes, till they feel very dry and are beginning to turn golden. They’ll still feel a tiny bit moist in the very center, if you break off a piece; but they’ll continue to dry out as they cool. Remove the biscotti from the oven, and transfer them to a rack to cool.

Yield: 3 dozen 3 1⁄2" biscotti, when cut crosswise. Or about 1 1/2 dozen biscotti cut on the diagonal; the exact yield will depend upon just how much of a slant you cut them on.

Variations: Add up to 2 cups nuts, dried fruit (dried, not fresh), or chips to the dough, along with the flour. Adjust the spice to suit the add-in, if desired; e.g., add 1 teaspoon cinnamon with 1 cup chopped dried apple and 1 cup diced pecans. Or substitute hazelnut, butter-rum, or your favorite flavor for the vanilla. A classic Italian anise biscotti is made with 1/2 teaspoon anise extract (or 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon anise oil, to taste), and 1 tablespoon fennel seeds.

Photo and recipe source:

Monday, July 26, 2010

Last Night's Spaghetti and Meatballs

Last week I bought everything necessary to make a nice pot of spaghetti sauce.  It took me a week to get around to it, but something about finally having A/C in my kitchen made it seem a good idea last night.  I have to say, it was delicious!  I used Barilla spaghetti, the regular width (not thin, not angel hair) and cooked it for 9 minutes to the perfect al-dente stage.  I just wanted one little plate, so there are lots of left-overs, which is especially good with sauce.  The longer it sits, the more the flavors intensify.

Here's my recipe for last night's dinner.

Meatballs - your own recipe or your favorite frozen (I love home-made).


4 tablespoons good olive oil
1 vidalia onion, finely chopped (almost minced)
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 32 oz. can tomato puree
1 32 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 4 oz. can tomato paste with Italian seasonings
4 oz. water
4 oz. red wine
2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon dried basil
2 tablespoons brown sugar


In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, saute onion in olive oil over medium-low heat until it is translucent.  Place chopped garlic over top of onions and let the heat from the onions start them cooking.  After a few minutes, stir the onions and garlic, careful not to let it get too brown.  Add tomato puree and diced tomatoes.  With a whisk, stir in tomato paste and then water, wine, and seasonings, including sugar.  Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.  Cook for an hour or so, stirring every now and then so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan.  Add cooked meatballs and let them hang out in the sauce for about another hour, simmering away as the sauce thickens a bit. 

This, from an Irish girl, herself!


Sunday, July 25, 2010

From Liz: The A&P's Spanish Bar Cake Recipe

The other day I had lunch with my friends Liz and Karen.  We were talking about early memories of downtown Saratoga Springs, and what used to be, and where.  The old A&P was on Broadway, where Soave Faire is now.  Later, it moved to Division Street, where the Shoe Depot now exists.  Once on the subject of the A&P, I said that my most distinct memory is the aroma of freshly-ground coffee.  It's what I remember most.  Karen agreed.  Liz grew up in Connecticut, but an A&P is an A&P, and she had very fond memories of the store's Spanish Bar Cake.  It was such a happy memory for her.  Later that day Liz sent me this recipe, which is (according to reviews) as close to the real thing as possible.  If you have fond memories of A&P's Spanish Bar Cake, you can relive them by making this and spending nostalgic time with an old favorite.

A&P's Spanish Bar Cake

Dry ingredients- mix these together first in a large bowl:

2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon cocoa
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon allspice

Then add these:

1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups applesauce
2 eggs
1 cup raisins (add these last, after everything else is mixed)


8 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 tablespoon lemon juice or lime juice

Mix all ingredients together and beat well. Beat in more milk if needed for easier spreading.

Bake at 350 degrees 30 to 35 minutes in a 9x13 pan, or 40 to 45 minutes in a bundt pan. Cool thoroughly before frosting.


Recipe source:

Photo credit:

Friday, July 23, 2010

American Macaroni Salad from the FN Kitchens

This American Macaroni Salad is from the Food Network Kitchens.  I made it last week for Alison's party, and it is really good.  It has a five-star rating on the FN Web site.  I'm not a fan of raw red onion so I substituted the milder Vidalia for red.  I used seeded and diced Roma tomatoes, and left out the parsley because I didn't have any.  I made about ten pounds of this salad, and loved the flavor.  The vinegar and sour cream provide a little bit of a welcome tang, and the sugar adds a nice balance.  It reminds me of a cole slaw dressing but is fantastic with elbow macaroni.  Give it a try for your next barbeque or as a nice side dish for a simple dinner. 


  • 2 cups dry elbow macaroni, cooked, rinsed, and drained
  • 1/3 cup diced celery
  • 1/4 cup minced red onion, soaked in cold water for 5 minutes, drained
  • 1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup diced vine-ripened tomato (optional)
  • 1/2 cup prepared mayonnaise
  • 3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper


In a large bowl combine the macaroni, celery, onion, parsley and tomato, if using. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard, sugar, vinegar, sour cream and salt. Pour the dressing over the salad and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve. Store covered in the refrigerator, for up to 3 days.

Photo credit:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

And Tomorrow, They're Off!!!!

David Letterman does it.  So does Jay Leno.  Even Oprah.  Every now and then a repeat is featured.  Today I'm re-running a post from last July 29 which was Opening Day for the historic Saratoga Race Course.  Things are starting a little bit earlier this year, and tomorrow is the first day of racing.  I thought you might enjoy reading today's rerun of last year's Opening Day post, just in time for tomorrow's big day:

When Saratoga Race Course opens for the season, there’s a lot of talk about how the city comes alive with all the associated excitement due to social goings-on and increased tourism, business and traffic.

For local residents, the change to our community is measurable in the simple things, like how long it takes to drive from one end of Broadway to the other, and many of us devise alternate routes for six weeks. While traffic is high on the list of locals’ complaints, I welcome much of what comes with racing season. During this late summer run, the vitality of our downtown is palpable. Sometimes it’s nice to get a new perspective on our home town by “playing tourist” and taking a day to experience Saratoga the way our visitors do – breakfast at the track, a stroll down Broadway going in and out of shops, lunch outside a restaurant under a canopy watching the world go by, maybe a visit to the Racing Museum. We full-time residents take a lot for granted here in Saratoga Springs. How many of us have enjoyed all it has to offer?

The New York Racing Association’s on-line Media Guide (found at devotes pages 13-16 to Saratoga Race Course, and its page on the history of Saratoga reads:

“Thoroughbred racing has no finer setting than Saratoga Race Course, named one of the world’s greatest sporting venues by Sports Illustrated. For six weeks every summer, the past comes alive in the historic grandstand as fans experience not only the best in racing, but the unmatched ambiance and charm of historic Saratoga Springs.”
The article continues:

“Already famous for its mineral baths, Saratoga held its first thoroughbred meet just a month after the Battle of Gettysburg. Staged by gambler, casino owner, ex-boxing champion and future Congressman John “Old Smoke” Morrissey and beginning on August 3, 1863, the four-day meet drew thousands of locals and tourists who saw Lizzie W. defeat Captain Moore in the best-of-three series of races…Emboldened by the success of the first meet, Morrissey promptly enlisted his friends John R. Hunter, William Travers and Leonard Jerome to form the Saratoga Association. Its first responsibility was the construction of a new, permanent grandstand on the current site of Saratoga Race Course. Across the street, the “old course” became the barn area known as Horse Haven, with the vestiges of the original track still encircling the stables.”

And later:

“Today, looking over the jam-packed backyard and grandstand on any sunny summer afternoon, it’s hard to fathom that racing at Saratoga once teetered on the brink of extinction. In the early 1960s, there was a movement to conduct summer racing exclusively at the new and modern Aqueduct Racetrack. But in 1962, New York State Governor W. Averill Harriman, who owned Log Cabin Stud, signed “The Harriman Law,” which mandated a minimum of 24 race days at Saratoga every year.”

From the New York Bred website, I found this:

An 1863 description of the track could still be written today:

". . . The main street of the place is a wide and handsome one. It is chiefly composed of hotels which are very large, well adapted to the comfort of summer visitors and no doubt well kept. We soon learned that all the hotels were full . . .The race course is well situated and quite near enough to the town. You can stand in the stable doors and look over a rich cultivated valley, many miles in width, to purple hills curtained with light summer haze far beyond."

My own personal connection to Saratoga Racecourse is that if it weren’t here, I wouldn’t be here. Not in terms of existing, but in terms of location. My father’s father, Valerian O’Farrell, and his family spent every summer in Saratoga Springs. Valerian O’Farrell was a famous New York City detective and loved the horses. There’s a lot of information about him now on Google, and, if you’re interested, you can do a search or read a little about him here.

My father had such fond memories of his own childhood summers in Saratoga that he and my mother decided to raise their family here. He used to take us, all seven children, to the backstretch and introduce us to people—horse owners, trainers, and track workers—his father had known. We’d be given carrots and told to open our hands flat to feed the horses. I was always afraid I’d lose a finger, but it was exciting and a special time in our lives.

Had it not been for the track, my family would never have arrived here, and my life would have played out very differently. I think of that almost every time I drive by the racecourse’s beautiful grounds on Union Avenue, aware that my family’s personal history is intertwined with that of this historic place, and knowing that my father, too, was grateful for the connection.

Photo credit:
NYBred quote:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fresh Blueberries from a Very Old Farm!

Planning to pick a lot of blueberries, last week Katie, Henry, Sydney, and I went in search of Winney's Farm in Gansevoort, New York.  Winney's Farm sits just east of the Hudson River on a big stretch of land.  The sign welcoming us read that the Winney family has been farming since 1652!  You can read more about their history here.

With three very full buckets (and one tiny one that kept emptying into Henry's face or on the ground), collectively we bought about 20 pounds of berries at $2.00/lb.  That's a much better deal than the grocery store, and knowing that our berries were as fresh as they could possibly be was very satisfying.

There are rows and rows and rows of different varieties of blueberries at the farm.  The rows we settled in were full of lush plants.  The berries were so abundant that we stood right there and just barely coaxed them off the branches into our buckets.  The ripe berries came off that easily.  If they weren't yet ripe, they didn't so we got nothing but perfect berries. 

Rows of Blueberries at Winney's Farm

There are still a few good berry-picking days/weeks ahead, and I encourage anyone in the area to go spend a little time (it doesn't take long to fill a bucket) at Winney's Farm.  It's really a lot of fun and having fresh berries is so much better than buying them at the store.  A map is linked here.

Here's America's Test Kitchen's recipe for blueberry cobbler, in the form of a YouTube instructional video.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Jamaica Smiles - A Tropical Concoction

OK, here it is:  the Jamaica Smiles recipe my brother-in-law Rod and his wife Lynn brought home from their recent trip to the Secrets St. James resort in Montego Bay on the Caribbean island.  It's a fruity concoction of rum (of course) and tropical flavors.  Rod duplicated Lynn's newly-favorite beverage for us this past weekend when we were floating in their pool.  He came out with a blender-full of this delicious frozen drink.  There we were in the pool, the sun shining, a light breeze, and our own "Cabana Boy" Rod bringing us frozen beverages.  It wasn't Jamaica and Tino the bartender wasn't serving, but it was very, very nice!


1 oz. rum
1 oz coconut rum
2 oz. rum cream
2 oz. pina colada mix
2 oz. strawberry daiquiri mix
half of a banana

Fill a blender about half-full with ice, add ingredients, blend.
Drink slowly!  (or risk brain freeze!)

Photo credit:

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Summer Weekend

I was crazy-busy this weekend with baking and cooking.  My friend Alison recruited me to help with her daughter's graduation party on Saturday.  Alison and her husband Michael provided the meat for grilling (barbequed chicken, hotdogs, and hamburgers), appetizers, and all the beverages.  I made the side-dishes and two cakes.  My typical self, I made way too much of everything, but it was all appreciated and left-overs are always good, right?  I provided salads:  macaroni, potato, confetti rice, bow-tie pasta, and a big green salad.  I also made baked beans with bacon and  baked ziti (one with veggies, one with meat).  This Irish girl's red sauce got two thumbs up from my friend Mike who knows his way around an Italian kitchen.  A dark chocolate graduation cake and a vanilla birthday cake rounded out the menu. 

Alison and Michael live east of Saratoga Lake, on a lovely piece of land among rolling hills.  It's not far from Saratoga but it feels a world away.  Their guests included 40 family and friends, ranging in age from 14 months to 92 years, and everyone had a great time.  Kids splashed in the pool, and, despite the heat, people sat outside around patio tables and had a very relaxing afternoon.  When the party was winding down, Alison and Michael helped me pack up my empty bowls and platters, and thanked me for taking part in their special day.  I loved the late-afternoon ride home along the lake.  If you are in the area and haven't taken that route in a while, treat yourself a go for a ride around the lake in the late afternoon/early evening.  It's beautiful.

I took Sunday morning to relax and rejuvenate, and spent Sunday afternoon floating in my sister-in-law Lynn's pool!  Her husband (aka Cabana Boy Rod) delivered us "Jamaica Smiles" drinks in tall glasses (the recipe comes from Tino, the bartender at a resort in Jamaica where Rod and Lynn recently vacationed), a wonderful concoction of strawberries, bananas, and coconut rum.  Oh man.  I sipped too fast and got the inevitable "brain freeze" that always hits me, not in my brain, but the bridge of my nose (?) and had to pace myself.

I came home from swimming and Katie had a pot of clam chowder ready to serve.  It was incredible.  With a loaf of crusty french bread and a tossed salad, it was just about the perfect meal.  Her blueberry cobbler for dessert made it so.

After dinner, we enjoyed time outside with Henry.  Bill tired out Oden, their black lab, with a long game of fetch.  Henry made me chase him down the driveway.  Every time I got close, he took off!  The driveway is very long and he gave his grandma a run for her money!

Photo Image:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Simple White Cake as a Belated Wedding Treat

My friends Sari and Holly just returned from their honeymoon in Italy after a beautiful wedding on Cape Cod.  I wanted to do something special for them, so I duplicated the flavors of their wedding cake, which was a white cake with lemon curd filling, frosted in buttercream.  My gift to them is a much smaller version of the cake from their wedding, and they loved it.  They broke open the box and had a slice immediately, and really raved about the cake, the lemon curd, and the frosting. Sari said it was even better than the cake at their wedding, and Holly said it was dense, delicious, and had a nice crumb (Holly's a great cook and baker, and for no real reason they gave me one of my favorite cookbooks, Baked).

I really enjoy Holly and Sari.  They are about the same age as my kids, and they are a beautiful couple.  Here's to many years of happiness for them, and may they always love cake!

Simple White Cake
(loosely adapted from

Prepare pans:  Butter and line bottom of 8" round pans with parchment or waxed paper.   Butter parchment paper.  Lightly dust with flour.

1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter
3 eggs, separated
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup buttermilk (or 3/4 cup milk with 2 teaspoons vinegar - let sit for a couple of minutes)

In large bowl of electric mixer, beat egg whites until stiff but not dry.  Set aside.

In another large bowl of electric mixer, beat sugar and butter for five minutes, scraping bowl occasionally.  Add egg  yolks, one at a time, and vanilla. 

Mix together flour and baking powder.  Add alternately with buttermilk and mix until completely incorporated.  Gently fold in egg whites, about a third at a time, until completely mixed in.  The goal is to lighten the batter, so don't overdo it.

Divide batter into 2 8" round pans and bake at 350 degrees F until done, about 30 minutes or until center springs back.  Do not over bake. Let cool in pans for 20 minutes.  Remove from pan and continue cooling on wire racks.  If you're not frosting the cake the same day, wrap cooled layers in plastic wrap.

Buttercream Frosting

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 lb. confectioners sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup milk, plus more if necessary

Beat butter with vanilla until smooth.  Add 1/2 of the confectioners sugar and half of the milk.  Beat well, and add the rest.  Beat until smooth and creamy, adding a few more drops of milk at a time if necessary. 

This makes a great cup cake as well.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Good Book

I just finished reading My Life from Scratch: A Sweet Journey of Starting Over, One Cake at a Time by Gesine Bullock-Prado (previously published as Confections of a Closet Master Baker!).  Yes, that Bullock, Sandra's younger sister, but Gesine is no hanger-on basking in the glow of her sibling's success (though she loves and appreciates her sister, clearly).  Gesine is a star in her own right in the world of confections, a lawyer who left the hectic world of Hollywood deal-making to start a bakery, Gesine's Confectionary,  in Montpelier, Vermont.

In this very entertaining book (interesting to a much broader audience than just we bakers), Gesine journals her soul-searching transition, experiences, and life with her husband and dogs.  She writes with candor and honesty, and I found much of what she writes familiar, as if her words came out of my head, oddly!  My friend Alison gave this book to me a few weeks ago, and said "She's written YOUR book!"  I have had a book in my head, soon to make its way out in to the real world, and I identify with Gesine's passion to bake, though we come to our common interest from very different backgrounds.  Gesine follows a maternal line of German women who baked sophisticated pastries, not as a profession, but as a passion, their families the fortunate recipients.

My love of baking was not inherited from a long line of skilled bakers.  Rather, it is a product of my own inspiration, a creative outlet, much like the painting and drawing that once occupied much of my time.  I have always had a craving to create regardless of the medium, and baking was just one passion as I was growing up.  It is the one that has stayed with me.  Oils and watercolors haven't seen the light of day in my home in a long time.  Fondant and gel food colorings have pushed pencils and brushes to the back of the line, though my new home has such beautiful light, I find myself itching to grab a canvas and begin again.

In the meantime, I have a nice little project underway.  Last night I baked a simple white cake, and tonight it gets filled with lemon curd and frosted with buttercream.  It's a gift for two friends who just returned from their honeymoon in Italy, and duplicates (I hope) the cake they had at their wedding.  I'm presenting it to them tomorrow.'s a surprise!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Summer Party Planning

This week my thoughts turn to party planning in preparation for a combo graduation/birthday party next weekend for my friend Alison's daughter, Katie.  Alison has asked me to prepare the side dishes while she and her husband Mike take care of main courses and appetizers.  I'm excited about taking such a big part in Katie's celebration.  There will be two cakes, one graduation and one birthday, and lots of really good food. 

Yesterday I went out and shopped for all the non-perishable items.  I bought pasta, rice, beans, tomato sauce, onions, celery, potatoes and all sorts of supporting items that will all evolve into delicious salads and a couple of hot dishes.  There will be vegetarian and meat versions of ziti, and savory baked beans.  There will be macaroni salad, pasta salad, potato salad, a green salad, and a confetti rice salad (my personal favorite), with a sweet ending of cake.

This is a departure from my typical contribution of cake, cake, and more cake.  My kitchen table is loaded with bags and bags of ingredients, stock pots are standing by to boil up pounds of pasta and rice, and later this week I'll shop at the grocery store and farmers' market for fresh ingredients.  My sister-in-law Carolyn (extraordinary cook) will come by Thursday night and we'll be putting a number of dishes together, and Friday I'll finish up the cakes.  I know it will be a ton of work, but I'm really finding the whole thing a lot of fun. 

I'll take pictures as we go along and of the finished dishes.  Wish me luck!


Friday, July 9, 2010

Caprese Salad

I have fallen in love with Caprese salad.  It was served at my daughter Katie's summer bridal shower five years ago, and I have loved it ever since.  My ex-husband Gene's wife Kathryn (seems there should be a less awkward way to say that? How about "my friend Kathryn"?) brought it to our 4th of July cookout, and it was refreshingly delicious, and gone in a flash!  She used basil from her own garden, and I swear, you can tell the difference!  Caprese salad is a perfect combination of thick slices of fresh tomato and mozzarella cheese, enhanced by basil leaves,  olive oil vinaigrette, and salt and pepper.  It is exquisite in its simplicity.  One bite of the sun-warmed tomatoes combined with the cool creaminess of the cheese, the fragrant freshness of the basil, and the snap of vinaigarette is summer on a fork.

Here's a little history I gleaned from Wikipedia:  "Insalata Caprese (salad in the style of Capri) is a simple salad  from the Italian region of Campania, made of sliced fresh buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, and seasoned with salt, pepper, and olive oil.  In Italy, unlike most salads, it is usually served as an antipasto (first course), not a contorno  (side dish)...  Insalata caprese is sometimes called insalata tricolore, tricolore referring to the three colors of the Italian flag..." from:


2-3 large, fresh tomatoes, cut in 3/8-inch slices
1/2 pound good mozzarella cheese, cut in 1/4-inch  slices
a bunch of fresh basil leaves, left whole or cut into ribbons (chiffonade)
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
freshly ground pepper

On round or oval platter, arrange tomato slices, mozzarella slices, and basil leaves in a fallling-domino pattern around the plate.  Drizzle with equal amounts of olive oil and vinegar.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. 

Photo credit:

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Red, White, and Blue Weekend

I've taken a few days off from my regular daily posting, and I'm back now to tell you about my 4th of July weekend.  The 4th, Sunday, was spent at home.  Katie and Bill cooked out. Later, my son Jeffrey and I decided to take a ride in to town (now that I am a country bumpkin, that's what I say when heading in to Saratoga Springs) to see the fireworks in Congress Park.  The park was beautiful as darkness set in.  Little girls were selling those glow-in-the-dark headbands and necklaces, and vendors lined the road leading to Canfield Casino.  People were picnicking on blankets, and the whole atmosphere was one of happy anticipation. 

Fireworks in Congress Park, Saratoga Springs

The highlight of the long holiday weekend was our trip on the 5th to western Massachusetts, to Tanglewood, to see James Taylor and Carol King perform on the last leg of their Troubador tour.  It was an incredibly beautiful night after a scorching hot day.  We packed up Katie's Outback wagon with everything we would ever need.  We picked up boxed lunches from Putnam Market on our way out of Saratoga (Katie's very smart idea!) and brought blankets, folding chairs, pillows and all kinds of Henry-paraphernalia to lug from the parking lot in Henry's little red wagon (leaving no room for Henry).  I brought sugar cookies I'd baked earlier in the day (see above, and right). 

We found a great spot on the lawn, settled in and enjoyed a relaxing, entertaining evening of music that just soothes my soul.  They sang all my favorites, and ended the evening with Up on the Roof, which I'd been waiting for and was so happy to hear.  It was my first time there, and I loved Tanglewood.  The drive from Saratoga is really enjoyable, and it is only about an hour and a half away.  I have a feeling we've started a nice tradition.

Here is a picture of Henry enjoying our spot at Tanglewood.

And Henry enjoying a little time with Ben & Jerry as we waited for the performance to begin (I think he had three changes of clothes, and another one after this!)...

A nice shot of our neighbor's picnic site...

And Tanglewood's ampitheater where JT and CK made beautiful music!

While we chose a spot on the lawn that didn't allow a direct view of the stage, it didn't matter.  We could feel the music, we were a part of it, and knowing we were right there was enough.  James Taylor and Carol King have fun.  They enjoy their music, and each other, so beautifully.  It seems that their collaboration is a musical marriage of sorts, where their styles and personalities seem one in the same as they play together.   I heard on NPR that their tour ends in Anaheim on July 20th, and that date is finite.  There will be no extension to this tour.  I'm so glad we had a chance to be part of it, but I want more.  Carol King said in the interview on NPR that the real sign of a successful performance is not just that it leaves an audience wanting more, it leaves her wanting more, too.  And it shows -- they played long into the night even after the concert was over, serenading us with songs as we loaded up our cars and left the parking lots.  How many performers care enough about their music or their fans to do that?  It is a beautiful thing.

I really enjoyed the essence of summer that was so present this 4th of July weekend.  I hope you all had a memorable time with your families and friends as well.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Fourth of July!

Here we are celebrating our country's 234th birthday.  Since none of us were around to remember what that first birthday was like, we rely on our own memories of the holiday.  I love the Americana of it all -- parades, cook outs, family gatherings, and fireworks.  Containers overflowing with flowers.  The distinctive American flag.  Honoring those who made it all possible.  It all means summer and relaxation and taking a little bit of time to enjoy all that we are so fortunate to have.

Yesterday my sister's neighborhood celebrated one day early, and we went down to the pool to enjoy some time in the sun.  Soon, her family joined us, and it wasn't long before the entire area will filled with families ready to party.  In preparation for last night's celebration, a crew was setting up all the containers and inserting fireworks in each.  That in itself was very interesting.

I had to return home to finish up some baking for this morning.  I made a cake for a former neighbor whose five daughters and seven grandchildren are hosting her 90th birthday party today.  What a beautiful day for a party. 

Yesterday, I delivered a cake for a couple celebrating  their fiftieth wedding anniversary.  To have such significant milestones combined with the excitement of the Fourth of July guarantees that this weekend's parties are truly happy, festive occasions. 

Tonight the city of Saratoga Springs will have its own fireworks display.  It's always a great evening in Congress Park as people sit on blankets, some there for the whole day, waiting in happy anticipation for that first "BOOM!"  I love watching the faces of little kids, the wonder and the oohs and aahs as the bright and explosive beauty in the sky unfolds. 

For me, my memories of the fourth of July are predominantly focused on two parts of my life.  First, as kids on Mac Arthur Drive in Saratoga Springs when all the neighbors came out after dark and the kids swirled sparklers in beautiful spirals in the night.  It was small, and intimate, and very, very special.   Second, the memory of July 4, 1985 will always and forever be, without a doubt, THE most memorable, for many reasons.  I wrote about it in last year's blog for this holiday, and it can be found here.

Enjoy this long weekend and this uniquely American holiday!  Have a great time!

Photos:  mine

Friday, July 2, 2010

Graduation Cake Time

This weekend I'm baking three cakes. The first was picked up this morning out in the parking lot as I arrived at work, a graduation cake for my friend Tracy's daughter, Michelle.  Tomorrow's cake is for a special fiftieth wedding anniversary, and since it falls on 4th of July weekend, I'm making a buttercream cake with golden stars flying above it (want it to be celebratory and connected to the holiday, but not red/white/blue).  Then for Sunday, I'm baking a special cake for a neighbor from many years ago, a 90th birthday cake.  These are three special cakes for three very different special occasions.

Michelle's cake (pictured above) came together nicely last night after I had been out with my friends at Gaffney's in Saratoga Springs.  I knew I had to get home to get started, but it was so nice outside on the patio.  My Corona with its submerged lime slice tasted so good, and the conversation just kept flowing.  Before I knew it, it was already 8:00 p.m., and I still had to stop at the grocery store for confectioner's sugar and a billion other things.  By the time I got home at 9:00 (after quickly stopping in to Four Seasons on Phila St. to hug my daughter Tricia, working so hard),  I had no energy.  No motivation.  No desire to make a mess in my kitchen.  No oomph.  I had to get my A-game on and dig in.

I made a big batch of buttercream and frosted the big, chocolate sheet cake, decorating the edges with a pretty piped border.  Then I got the fondant out and started playing with it.  It really is a lot of fun.  It's like Playdough.  Once I got the colors right, I rolled it out and cut shapes with flower and leaf cutters.  I made a little diploma, and also a mortar board.  I put the whole thing together and was satisfied it was just fine.  I had a counter full of aparatus and a sink full of dishes (of course, the dishwasher needed to be unloaded) and ZERO energy, so I went to bed at 2: 00 a.m., knowing that I had to be up to get to the gym by 7:00 a.m.

Can you feel my pain?  I now get to go home to my war zone of a kitchen, and that's how I'll start my holiday weekend. So, I'll clean my kitchen beautifully, just so I can mess it up again!  I seem to be in a tornado of baking activity, whirling off one cake at a time but not seeing a way out!  Sometimes it seems to be too much, but then, when Tracy opened the box this morning, and said "Oh!  It's so beautiful!" I beamed with pride and immediately thought about how to make tomorrow's cake spectacular.

I think it's a sickness.

Have a wonderful Holiday Weekend everyone!