Sunday, October 30, 2011

Julia's Strawberry Shortcake Birthday Cake

Earlier today I delivered a birthday cake to 3-year old Julia, whose party was this afternoon. Julia's mom, Rebekah, is a former neighbor of mine and, along with her sister Robyn, has been friends with my own kids since they were all pretty little.  They all grew up together in a quiet neighborhood in rural Greenfield Center, New York, and all the (now grown) kids seem to have fond memories of those years, from kindergarten right through high school.  It was a neighborhood where kids could stay out all day long and no one ever had to worry.  I used to call my kids in for lunch and dinner, and then they played outside until it was time to come in for the night.  They loved it.

Rebekah asked if I could make a Strawberry Shortcake birthday cake for  Julia's birthday party, and sent me a photo of her "inspiration" cake, which I attempted to replicate but also add my own touches.  For this cake, I baked an 8" tier and a 6" tier of yellow pound cake.  Layers were filled with pink vanilla buttercream with just a bit of raspberry flavoring (extract).  I carved the 6" inch cake  into the strawberry house shape, crumb coated both tiers, and then started to decorate.  The finishing touch was a little Strawberry Shortcake doll (that I had searched a number of stores to find!) perched at the bottom of the cake.  A few fondant flowers for trim, and Julia's cake was complete.

Here is a collage of photos of Julia's cake:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Making of a Barn Cake

For Pete's first birthday party, Katie asked if I could make a barn-yard cake.  Researching wasn't too satisfying, because I couldn't find an image that matched what I had going on in my brain.  I wanted something quasi-authentic, not too cutesie (event though Pete is VERY cutesie!) and I didn't want something terribly out of scale. Many of the cakes I found on-line had barnyard animals that seemed like giant specimens next to a little barn.  Hmmm.  Well, I baked a big rectangle of yellow/chocolate marble pound cake, and sliced it into thirds.  I thought I'd stack the three sections and see what would come of it.  This cake was designed as I went, which is a gamble for something as significant as my own grandson's first birthday bash...  Anyway, it all came together better than I could have ever hoped, with a little fondant, a little food coloring, and a little imagination.  I was at a loss about the roof, and then I thought of slate shingles, and made my own shingle strips with fondant and overlapped them, resulting in a pretty  neat roof.  As it came together, it seemed a little impersonal -- where would I ever write "Happy Birthday Pete"?   Then I thought of old advertisements I used to see on the side of barns, like a road-side billboard, and decided that the back of the barn was the perfect place for the greeting.

In the end, I didn't make barn yard animals.  Henry's toy barn had all the appropriately-sized livestock (plastic stock?!) this little barn needed.  Accessorized with Katie's owl and pumpkin cupcakes, and my own haystack cupcakes (with fondant pig butts peeking out!) we ended up with a pretty nice barn yard cake to ring in Pete's second year!

In case you think that the party was all about cake, you should know that there was quite a feast beforehand. Bill and Katie hosted grandparents and friends for a pig roast (because you know all one-year-olds want one!) and I just had a hard time looking at the pig.  I knew it was being roasted.  I know that I am a hypocrite because I buy deli-sliced ham and bacon, but the immediacy and reality of THAT pig roasting outside of our house just kinda made me feel bad, and though I don't want to get into a debate about why this does and should bother me, let me just say that I love the movie "Babe" and I won't be able to watch it with Henry, not for a while...

Following are photos of the party, followed by pics of the making of Pete's cake.  Hope you enjoy!

Click to enlarge

And here are photos of the creation of Pete's birthday cake:

Pete had a terrific first birthday party.  Hope you enjoyed reading about it!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Adventures in Babysitting

This weekend I babysat for my grandsons Henry and Peter while their parents went on a well-deserved few days away with friends.  They joined two other couples and headed to the Maine coast, spending the first night in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and the next day proceeded north to York Harbor.  They had beautiful weather and a wonderful time.  Katie and I texted back and forth, me with updates on the boys, and Katie with updates (and photos) of delicious meals and beautiful scenery.  Hank, Pete, and I had almost as much fun, starting with a Saturday morning trip to Sunnyside Gardens in Saratoga Springs, where the boys took in all the sights of the pumpkin patch, got to ride on the little train, and picked out a few pumpkins.  I loaded the boys into a wagon, to which we added a pumpkin for me, a couple of small (pie) pumpkins for the boys, and three beautiful 9" mum plants which Pete, apparently, found delicious because as I was unloading the wagon, he had a mouthful of  yellow petals!  He hadn't yet gotten to the purple or rust-colored plants...

After Sunnyside, we took a trip to AC Moore where I picked up some baking tools and a box of paints for  Henry.  He's going to paint his little pumpkin.  I decided to fore-go the complicated (for me) stroller in the back of Katie's car and carried Pete while holding Henry's hand.  I had forgotten about that "mind of one's own" as Henry decided to go one way and I had to go the other, but he was a very good boy and even let me re-shelve the $70 Thomas the Train toy that he was dragging behind (unbeknownst to me until we got to the cash register!).  He wanted to buy it for Pete's birthday.  I had to whisper that the reason we were putting it back on the shelf was because it had to be a secret (and not that I hadn't yet printed the 50% off one item coupon that would make such a purchase even considerable)....  That negotiation only cost me two Pez dispensers, a Buzz and a Jessie from Toy Story.  I figured I made out ahead in that transaction!  It'll be a year or two before I have to use the same bartering techniques with Pete, I hope!

As grandparents are known to, I continued a day of indulgence with a trip to MacDonald's for lunch, where I not only let Henry have french fries, but also chocolate milk.  I dragged a high chair into the play space, and Pete and I were onlookers as Henry climbed the heights and found joy in tunnels, slides, and climbing ladders.

We had another fun two days together though I was a little behind the 8-ball this morning... Last night Pete woke up at 1 a.m. in the room he shares with Henry, and fearing he'd wake his brother (and me having two wide-awake kids in the middle of the night) he spent the rest of the night in the guest room with me, kicking off covers, tossing and turning in his version of deep sleep. Did you know that it is possible that for a 25-pound yearling to hog the better part of a queen bed?  Well, he did...  He slept fine, but I never really did fall asleep because I was so aware of him, and didn't want him to roll off the bed!   I couldn't be frustrated, though, because watching him, completely relaxed on his back with his little arms over his head, reminded me of just how beautiful sleeping babies truly are.  I used to spend what seemed like hours watching my children sleep when they were babies and young children, in awe.  Their father would be patient as I would call to him to "just come look for a minute."  Those moments are among my best memories of their early years.

I'm sure there will be more long weekends when I'll be spending time like this with my grandchildren, and I look forward to all of them.  Here is a collage of photos of our time together this weekend:

Weekend with Hank and Pete (click to enlarge)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pumpkin Walnut Muffins

Today I made pumpkin walnut muffins.  The batter was beautiful, a lovely dark orange color, with specks of cinnamon and  nutmeg.  The house smelled like pumpkin pie as they were baking.  I'm packing a dozen up for Katie and Bill's road trip to Maine, and saving a few for home.  Here's the recipe:

Oven - 375 degrees F - makes 24 standard sized muffins


1 bar unsalted butter, softened (4 oz.)
2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
1 pint sour cream
2 cups canned or fresh (mashed) pumpkin
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (dried)
4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

1/2 c. chopped walnuts


In large mixing bowl, cream butter with sugar for five minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add sour cream.  Mix well.  Add pumpkin, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Mix well.  Stir flour with baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and add to mixture in mixing bowl.  Mix well on low speed until completely incorporated.

Using a standard ice cream scoop, scoop batter into prepared muffin cups (lined with paper liners or sprayed with vegetable spray).

Sprinkle chopped walnuts on top of muffins before they go in the oven.

Bake on center oven rack for 20 minutes or until tops are dry and muffins spring back to the touch.  Ovens vary so watch carefully.  Cool on wire rack for 20 minutes.  Remove from pans and cool completely.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Just a picture...

It's been a long day with an early start to work and and then home for dinner with Katie and the boys.  After Katie put the boys to bed, I was waiting for some laundry to finish and made this collage of photos taken after I got home tonight.  No recipe this time ~ we had another chicken pot pie (!) with a spinach salad, and "Granny Syd" joined us.  It was festive, too, because she gave Pete an early birthday gift, a bouncy-walker chair so he can navigate until he gets his footing (very soon).  He'll be a year old in 9 days!

It was simply a quiet, lovely night, and I caught a little bit of it with my camera.  Hope you enjoy...

A quiet night at home - click to enlarge.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Pumpkin Waffles with Walnuts

For breakfast this morning, I was wanting to make something seasonal.  Katie and the boys were home downstairs.   Her husband, Bill, was on his way home from a camping trip with his buddies.  I thought about making pumpkin pancakes but then remembered some really sweet, sweet potato waffles that a friend, Kathleen, made once when her sister Claire and I were visiting in Westchester, PA.  Kathleen had baked sweet potatoes the night before, used whole wheat flour, and added chopped nuts to the waffle batter.  I wanted to do something similar, but I had no whole wheat flour on hand.  So, I broke open a box of pancake mix that I had in my lazy-Susan (Hungry Jack) and followed the waffle recipe but adapting it in a way that made sense, and it worked.

Here's the recipe:

2 cups pancake mix (Bisquick or any other is fine)
1 cup canned pumpkin (half a standard can)
2/3 cup milk
1 egg
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine the above ingredients well in a mixing bowl. In a preheated waffle iron, drop about 1/4 cup batter per waffle onto the plates. Cook according to waffle-maker directions -- I closed up the top and when the green light came on (after a lot of steam escaped) I knew they were done. Katie had her oven set to "hold" which I guess is about 200 degrees F, and new waffles went into the oven as I continued to make more.

My easy batter, with a little help...

About 1/4 cup per waffle...

On hold, in the oven...

Breakfast was a platter of pumpkin waffles, walnuts on the side, warmed Vermont maple syrup, and a plate of sliced-up Honey Crisp apples that we picked yesterday at Hicks's Orchard in Granville.

Pumpkin waffles, yum!

Henry, fascinated by the waffle!

And Pete, who is a punkin!...

It was a great way to start a warm and beautiful October Sunday.

P.S.  Here's the photo collage of our day at Hicks Orchard, yesterday:

Our day picking apples ~ click to enlarge!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Beef Burgundy Pot Pie

Last weekend I made a chicken pot pie, and it got me thinking about how so many dishes would be great between two layers of pie crust.  I'd also been thinking of making a beef burgundy, and the idea of the two of them together seemed like a great idea.  So, last night I made a litle pot roast, and saved it for today when I got home from work, and tonight assembled the latest pot pie.  Here's how this one came together:


2 cups cut up pot roast, with cooking juices saved (about 2 cups)
baby carrots cut up, about a cup
3 red potatoes, quartered and sliced
one pint baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1 white or yellow onion, coarsley chopped (I used pearl onions, but they were too much work!)
1 jar good beef gravy
1 cup burgundy wine
2 tablespoons corn starch
water as needed
Pillsbury 2-Crust Pie Crusts

In large stock pot, combine vegetables, beef and cooking juices, gravy, and wine.  Stir cornstarch in enough water to dissolve, and stir into pot.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce to a low simmer and let it cook, covered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove lid.  Test for taste and add spices if necessary.  Add water if you think the wine taste is too strong.  I thought it was, so I added about a cup of water, but as it cooked, the strong taste seemed to dissipate and ended up just perfect.  Continue to cook uncovered until the gravy is nice and thick, adding a little more cornstarch and water if necessary. 

Line pie plate with bottom crust.  Using a slotted spoon, remove vegetables and beef from pot into pie crust, adding enough gravy so you have a nice balance.  Cover with top crust, flute edges, and brush with beaten egg.  Make a slit in the top.  Bake at 425 degrees F for half an hour or until nicely browned.  Let it sit for 10 minutes or so before cutting. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Lazy Woman's Chicken Pot Pie

Today I took what was left of a roaster chicken (about 2 cups meat), a bag of frozen stew vegetables, gravy, and Pillsbury pie crusts and made a really delicious chicken pot pie.  It was so simple it's almost embarrassing!  Here's how I did it:

I took the bag of frozen stew vegetables, let it thaw overnight in the refrigerator, and then cut them up in bite size pieces.  This bag, about a pound, was carrots, potatoes, celery, and pearl onions.  Then I melted a tablespoon of butter in a large pan and sauteed the veggies for a few minutes, to get rid of any residual water from thawing.  To that I added left over gravy from the chicken dinner, about a cup and a half.  When the gravy was melted, I added a cup of milk and a tablespoon of cornstarch, mixed with enough cold water to make it liquid.  I brought the veggies and gravy to a boil, let it thicken, then took it off the heat, and stirred in the 2 cups of cut up chicken, light and dark meat.  I added no spices because the gravy was well-seasoned but if it needed it, I would have.

The next step was to line a pie plate with one of the crusts from a 2-pack of Pillsbury pie crust.  I filled it with the hot chicken mixture, placed the second crust on top, and crimped the edges.  A small slice was made in the top for steam to escape, and the top crust was brushed with beaten egg.  It was baked for 35 minutes in a 425 degree (F) oven, and then I let it sit for about 15 minutes before it was cut.

This pot pie was so simple, the assembly took only about 15 minutes.  Here are photos of the whole process:

Veggies and gravy...
Filling the pie crust...
Pretty pie...
With egg wash...
All baked...
Good enough to eat...

Six Years Later...

Katie and Bill's Wedding Cake
October 1, 2005
Yesterday was the sixth wedding anniversary for my daughter Katie and her husband, Bill.  They were married in Manchester, Vermont, at the beautiful steepled church across from the Equinox Hotel, with a reception up at the hotel's Trout Pond Pavilion.  It was a perfect early autumn day that year, with bright blue skies and warm temperatures.  As evening fell, luminarias lit the path along the pond, and the venue was decorated in a fall theme, with carved pumpkins and mums, hay bales and tiny lights.  It was a wedding that was both rustic and elegant, and the buffet dinner was unique with such offerings as Vermont Cheddar Ale Soup, baked trout, and maple mousse!  Of course, there were traditional dishes as well.  My contribution was to the dessert table.  From my then tiny apartment kitchen in Saratoga Springs came not only the wedding cake, but a pineapple upside down grooms cake, a lemon cake, a carrot cake, a double fudge cake, a pumpkin swirl cheesecake (perhaps overkill?) as well as my son Jeff's chocolate chip cookies.  Next to the dessert table was a big tin tub filled with ice and single-serving containers of Vermont dairy milk! Anyway, the staff were impressed because the next day in the hotel's elevator, one of the staff asked me if I was the mother-of-the-bride who baked all those cakes, and thanked me enthusiastically, as they were the lucky recipients of any and all leftovers.

It's been our tradition that on Katie's and Bill's anniversary, I make a mini-version of their wedding cake.  The original was a yellow cake with Hershey chocolate frosting (recipe on back of tin), both enhanced with just a hint of almond.  Layers were filled with a swirl of buttercream and sour cherry filling.  So yesterday, when I was babysitting for Henry and Peter (their parents went back to Manchester for shopping and an anniversary dinner), we baked the cake.  Henry helped me (see photos below).  It was a rainy, cool day and we stayed in all day watching movies and baking, and had a very good time.  We made the same yellow cake and chocolate frosting, but decided to forego the swirled filling and kept it simple.  Pete enjoyed his pouch of babyfood for dinner (sweet potatoes and pears in a little container that he "drinks" like a bottle) and Henry and I dined on Campbell's tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.  We enjoyed our dinner at the coffee table while watching Pingu, a cartoon about a penguin.  It was a lovely.

Happy anniversary, Katie and Bill.  I look forward to making your cake again and again and again!

Click to enlarge