Saturday, June 30, 2012

Rounding Out June 2012 and Lemon Scones

There's less than an hour left to June 2012, and I am looking forward to July.  One week from today, my  nephew Jack marries his love, Kristin, and I can't wait to be there to witness their marriage.  In less than four months, my daughter Tricia will marry her fiance Jeff, and it's so exciting to realize that these happy celebrations are almost upon us.  What seemed to be far in the future is suddenly here!  There is so much eventful life happening in our families these days, with the birth of three great-nephews in the last three weeks (Drew Ryan Britten, Breccan Robert Eddy, and Daniel Gordon Eddy) and now the marriages of my nephew and later this year, my daughter.

With the demands of work life and after-work life, sometimes I don't take time to smell the roses.  Days begin and proceed and end with barely a moment for reflection.  Over the next few months, I will be sure to stop and be conscious of all that is around me, all that is taking place in a specific moment in time, and reflect on those things that matter most:  family, friends, and time spent together.

When I'm taking my final breaths, I'm sure I won't be patting myself on the back for all those extra hours I stayed at the office.  I hope, if I can't remember anything, that my grandsons will be reading these blog posts back to me and once again sharing all the precious moments that really mattered.  That's what I hope to capture here now and then, not just recipes but moments worth remembering.

Happy July everyone!  To greet the month, here's a collage of tonight's baking project: lemon-filled scones.  I posted the recipe back in March, so this is nothing new, but I made them tonight, they're pretty, and they deserve one evening's spotlight!

Lemon-filled Scones!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Graduations, Babies, and Connections!

Hard to believe it's been thirteen days since my last post.  We had a problem with our internet connection, since we don't have Roadrunner or cable.  Our provider (that company that starts with a big "V") when contacted told my daughter that the problem could only be repaired by a house call (actually road/telephone pole call), and finally, today it was resolved.  It's been a long, almost-two-weeks, fast from the internet at home.  While I was able to connect at work and also on my Windows phone to at least get email and check facebook, I wasn't saavy or patient enough to attempt composing an actual blog post on a phone!  Thought I'd just ride out the technology snafu and here we are, at last reconnected.  The repairman told my daughter Katie that a wire out by the road had actually worn out or shorted out, and thus our blackout.  Like anything else, you don't realize how much you miss it until it's gone.  Recharged, it was fun to watch Henry and Pete participate in a Skype call with their daddy tonight before they went to bed.  Two little boys were very excited to see their father on the computer screen (first time), and were talking simultaneously.  They are new to Skype and once they figured out how to see and hear each other at the same time, it went very well.  It's a great way for families to communicate at a distance.

Over the past two weeks, a lot has happened.  I have two new great-nephews!  On the O'Farrell side, my nephew Adam Britten and his wife Rebecca welcomed their second son, Drew Ryan, on June 14th, weighing in at just over 9 lbs.!  Then  yesterday, on the Eddy side, my nephew Roddy and his wife Emily also welcomed a second son, Breccan Robert (at a whopping 9 lbs., 11 oz.!).  It's been a good year for babies in this family!  And tomorrow, also on the Eddy side, my nephew Gordon and his wife Mary will be having their second baby boy, Daniel.  An abundance of little fellas!

During the internet draught, a lot of baking also took place.  This past weekend I made three cakes.  The first was for my nephew Will's graduation party, celebrating his moving on from Saratoga Springs High School to The College of Charleston in South Carolina this fall.  It was a bittersweet moment, because Will is the youngest of four boys, and my sister Anne and her husband John will be empty nesters come August.  While the boys come home for holidays and any chance they get, with Will's oldest brother Jack getting married next week (to his beautiful fiance Kristin), his brother Ben following a career path in New York City, and brother Patrick interning at a golf course in Westchester until the fall, the boys aren't home often enough for a family that loves to spend time together.  I get to join them in August for our annual trek south to Emerald Isle in North Carolina.  It's a week of sun, fun, happy hours, dinners "at home" and board games.  I always call it my mental health week, but it is so much more.  It's a period of time every year when I consciously tell myself as it's happening, "Remember this.  It's good and precious and these moments will come in handy in the middle of a cold, Saratoga February."  This year,our trip to Emerald Isle will be especially meaningful.

Memories of a very happy graduation weekend ~ congrats, Will!

The second cake for this weekend was for Nancy Stevens,  the winner of this blog's monthly contest for May.  It was a marble cake covered in swirls of chocolate mocha frosting.  She decided to "redeem" her prize to coincide with her daughter Megan's 24th birthday.  They all loved it, so it was well worth the effort and I'm glad Nancy won.  Get YOUR comments in before July 1st and you have a VERY GOOD chance of being the winner for June!!!

The last cake on Sunday was for a little boy named Toby.  His mom works at Skidmore and she asked if I'd bake a cake I'd never made before -- a lemon cake with chocolate frosting.  It had a soccer ball on top, made of fondant, and was for Toby's 8th birthday party.  I didn't get a photo of Megan's or Toby's cakes, but I did manage to snap a few shots of Will's cake (in the collage, above).

Some exciting news is that my Williams-Sonoma order arrived -- my new Cuisinart red ice cream maker, with two freezer bowls!  I am VERY excited about that, and planning to make sorbets and frozen yogurt recipes (to be posted) as soon as I have the energy to unpack that big box!  It's standing next to my refrigerator at the moment, taunting me to open it, but I will wait until I can devote the proper energy to finding it just the right place for it to hang out on my kitchen counter (or not).  Still haven't decided just where I want to show it off!

The disappointing news is that it looks like my striped-cake recipe was not a contender for The Today Show's "Best Birthday Cake" contest (winner to be announced and on air June 28th) and that's OK.  I gave it a shot.  Since they were only contacting the three finalists, no word means my cake must not have been in the running, which is kind of sad because it did get RAVE reviews by my son-in-law's co-workers.  So, maybe next time I'll try something a little less ambitious than a national morning television show.  Maybe a county fair.  But, as my friend Lynn often quotes...  "Shoot for the moon.  If you miss, at least you'll land among the stars!"  As far as I am concerned, there are plenty of stars in my midst, right Will?  I know if you shoot for the moon, you'll land there!  - xoxox, Aunt Jeannie

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Taking My Chances: Striped Birthday Cake

I've entered my first-ever baking contest (well, excluding that 4th grade chocolate chip cake I made for a day camp baking contest, the first cake I ever made, which actually earned a blue ribbon!).  As an AAB (amateur adult baker) I've never taken a chance on putting my recipes up against anyone else's, until now.  A friend sent me a link to The Today Show's "Best Birthday Cake" contest, suggested I enter, and I decided it was time to throw my spatula into the ring.  The rules are simple, and at the same time, not, requiring one original recipe and one photo.  Starting tomorrow, June 14th, finalists are chosen based on recipe, taste, and originality.  The winner will go to The Big Apple June 27th and 28th.  I thought, "What the heck? I've got nothing to lose." and started thinking about what a "best" birthday cake could be.  It seemed a classic cake would be perfect, so I decided on an 8" round, 2-layer cake.  I can imagine that size with a ring of birthday candles just waiting to be wished upon and blown out.  Then the recipe - how do you come up with an original recipe, one that no one has ever made before?  Well, I did it, but wasn't sure my experiment would be up to snuff.  It had to be tested out with real subjects.  Since I bake almost every Sunday for my son-in-law Bill's co-workers (he brings the goodies with him to work Monday mornings), I figured them to be my perfect taste-testers.  So instead of the typical muffins, scones, cinnamon rolls, or coffee cake, this week they were treated to the Striped Birthday Cake, and it wasn't long before the reviews came in:  thumbs up all around.  No suggestions to change a thing.  They even wrote their reactions on the company white board!

Bill (real name "Millard") sent me this photo of
his co-workers' reactions to the cake!

Newly confident that the recipe was good, last night it was submitted on-line, as instructed.  There are no contest rules about not sharing the recipe, so I am posting it for you here.  It's simpler than it looks.  If you read through the recipe once or twice before you make this cake, it will seem even easier.  I hope you make this cake, and enjoy it, and even if The Today Show doesn't choose it, the Striped Birthday Cake may earn you your own "Best Birthday Cake" award!

Oven 350 degrees F
Prepare two 8-inch round pans:  grease and flour or spray with cooking spray and line with waxed paper rounds.

In bowl, combine dry ingredients:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Set aside.

In large mixing bowl, beat:
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup sugar

Add 2 eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add 1 cup sour cream and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.  Mix well.

Add 1/4 cup buttermilk (or 1/4 milk soured with 1 tsp. vinegar. let sit 5 min.)
Mix well.

Add dry ingredients and beat until smooth, scraping sides as necessary, about 2 minutes.  Divide batter in half, placing half the batter in one 8-inch round pan.

To the remaining batter in the bowl, add:
1/2 cup cocoa powder
4 tablespoons brewed coffee
Mix completely and spread the chocolate batter in the other 8-inch round pan.

Bake for 28 minutes or until cake tests done, springing back in the center when lightly pressed.

Cool layers in pans on rack for 15 minutes.  Remove from pans and cool completely.

Freeze layers for an hour or more, and when frozen, with serrated knife, remove any domes from layers to even them out.  Then, with same knife, split layers horizontally in half.  Insert the knife half way up and rotate the layer as you move in with the knife.

Place first layer on serving platter.  Spread with 1/3 of the cream cheese filling.  Alternate dark and light layers, with cream cheese filling between 2nd and third layers as well.  The top layer will be frosted with chocolate frosting, as will the sides.  Here are the filling and frosting recipes:

Cream Cheese Filling:
4 ounces cream cheese
2 cups confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat cream cheese with confectioners sugar, add vanilla extract, and then just enough milk to make it creamy and spreadable (a tablespoon at a time).

Chocolate Frosting:
4 ounces unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 lbs. confectioners sugar
1/2 cup brewed coffee
up to 1/2 cup milk, more if necessary

Melt butter in microwave.  Place butter in mixing bowl and add cocoa powder, vegetable shortening, vanilla,  and salt.

Add all of the confectioners sugar to bowl,  Very slowly, start mixing together, adding brewed coffee slowly as you mix, then add up to 1/2 cup milk and beat very well (adding more milk, a tiny bit at a time, until the frosting is smooth and spreadable).  Don't add too much liquid.  You can always add a bit more if you need it, but you can never take it out.  You want a nice, thick, but spreadable frosting.

Frost top of cake and then sides.  If desired, add a border or rosettes to the top of the cake with left-over frosting (you'll have a lot).  To make it a true party cake, add sprinkles around the bottom and top edges of the cake.

Now, celebrate!

Taa Daa!!!!  

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Simplicity of the PB & J

In an effort to spend less money, I've been brown-bagging my work-day lunch lately.  Earlier this week, I poached a couple of boneless, skinless chicken breasts just to make chicken salad (inspired by last weekend's quick visit to Greenwich, New York).  I let the chicken breasts simmer (in just plain water, lightly salted) for about 20 minutes, took them out of the pot, and let them cool for another 20 minutes.  I kind of chopped, pulled the meat apart and added the following to make a GREAT chicken salad:  chopped walnuts, Craisins, red grapes sliced in half, mayo, salt and pepper.  It made a lot and I took it for lunch three days in a row - just put it in a container and ate it like that, with a fork, no bread.  It didn't need it.  I didn't add much in the way of seasoning, but that's just personal preference, anyway.  You can certainly make chicken salad your own by adding your favorite things -- celery, dill, seasoned salt -- and enjoy it any way you please!

When it came time to make today's lunch, I opted for the simplicity of that old childhood classic, peanut butter and jelly.  My mom always made it with Peter Pan peanut butter and Welch's grape jelly.  Maybe Jiff now and then, but always one of those two.  No jelly other than Welch's grape.  Ever.  And she made it on Sunbeam white bread, because in the 1960s and 70s, it seemed everyone ate white bread.  My peanut butter and jelly sandwich has evolved a bit from the one in my 1960s lunchbox.  Today, I use 12-grain bread and strawberry jam.  I do use Peter Pan peanut butter, though, and it is as good today as it was in my 5th grade lunch room!

One day at work, I had a craving for a PB&J, so I bought one from the sandwich case in the cafeteria.  It had about 4x the thickness of peanut butter than what I (or my mother) ever used, and I actually couldn't eat it!  My mom used to make 7 sandwiches in one fell-swoop, and if she ever used that much peanut butter, she'd be buying quarts of it every week.  No, I like a thinner smathering of PB to compliment my J.  I used a generous tablespoon (maybe a bit more) and it was plenty.  And since I ran out of sandwich bags, I even wrapped it up old-school style with a length of wax paper.  Rounding out today's retro lunch were red grapes and a handful of Cheez-its.  I must admit to a Cheez-it addiction.  I'm not proud.  Maybe I can stop, but why?  Life is too short not to enjoy Cheez-its with a PB&J!

Here are a few shots of my lunch as it was prepared this morning.  Notice my cute little lunch bag with its own retro vibe.  I think I bought it at Ocean State Job Lots for next-to-nothing, but I'm not sure.  Lunch bag/box collecting is something I could quickly become way too interested in if I let myself!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Lemon Dinosaur Cookies

A few weeks ago I bought a book for Henry and Peter. It's How Do Dinosaurs Eat Cookies? by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague.  What prompted this purchase was the seeming disappearance (soon to be found, we hope)  of a beloved DVD, also by Jane Yolen, entitled "How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?" which was one of those random five-dollar purchases from an end cap at Target.  Every now and then I like to buy the boys a little something, and this DVD was a treasure from the first time the boys watched it.  I went back to Target to see if I could find another copy, but there wasn't one single copy in the store, and it looks like I'll find its replacement online.  BUT, in the children's book section I found the related cookie book and the boys love it.  It's a charming board book with beautiful illustrations.  It's a scratch-and-sniff book with scents like those you'd find in my kitchen -- cinnamon, lemon, chocolate chip cookie -- and the real surprise was when we came to the end and found two recipes!  The first is for Cinnama-Saurus Rex cookies, and the other is for "Fossilized Lemon Tracks" cookies.

Before they went camping up at Lake George for Memorial Day weekend, Katie used the lemon cookie recipe from the book.  A few days before, we had taken a ride to the nearby  Waterwheel Village Country Store (near Galway, New York) where Katie bought a set of dinosaur cookie cutters she'd seen on an earlier visit.  She used about a fourth of the dough for their camping trip, and froze the rest.  Tonight, after dinner, she asked the boys if they wanted to make more dinosaur cookies, and of course, they said yes!

Here's the recipe, followed by a few photos of their baking session tonight.

Fossilized Lemon Tracks
(aka lemon sugar cut-out dinosaur cookies)
from "How Do Dinosaurs Eat Cookies?" by Jane Yolen & Mark Teague

1 cup softened butter
1 1/2 cups granulated white sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon extract (Katie didn't have any; she used lemon rind)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
Extra sugar:  1/4 - 1/2 cup white sugar (do not mix into dough)

1.  Ask an adult to help you bake, and wash your hands
2.  In a large bowl, stir the butter with an electric mixer or large spoon.
3.  Add each ingredient in order (except for the extra sugar), mixing well each time.  At the end, you will need to wash your hands.
4.  Roll the dough into small balls.
5.  Sprinkle the extra sugar on a place and roll the dough balls around until coated.  Place them on the cookie sheet with space between them.  (Katie chose to roll the dough out, sugar-cookie style).
6.  Press "dino tracks" into each cookie dough ball with a chopstick, or the handle of a spoon, or some other kitchen tool.  Experiment with making different kinds of "tracks."  Press them in hard enough to squish the dough down by half.
7.  Bake for 9-12 minutes at 375 degrees F.  Let them cool 2 minutes before removing with spatula.
8.  Eat and share!

After dinner cookie session with  the boys...

Saturday, June 2, 2012

June Showers

Sarah's bridal shower cupcakes
As I delivered cupcakes to my friend Catherine's house today, I could sense her disappointment in the rain that was falling as her guests were about to arrive.  Catherine was hosting a bridal shower for her friend Sarah.  There was a flurry of activity as Sarah's bridesmades were quickly converting the outdoor party to an indoor event.  The tent was outside, quiet with tables and chairs that wouldn't be used, and the inside of Catherine's home was transformed into shower-central as the girls worked hard to switch gears. The house is a gorgeous Victorian in downtown Saratoga Springs, so very little was needed to create a beautiful environment.  I arrived with 40+ cupcakes and a stand to display them.  The girls worked around me as I set up the stand in the center of Catherine's massive dining room table.

Cupcakes for Sarah's bridal shower at Catherine's lovely home...

After making sure the cupcake set-up was ready to go, I bid them all a happy shower, got in my Jeep and headed east to Greenwich, New York, where I picked up a lay-away purchase at "Just Because," one of my favorite little boutiques.  They carry Vera Bradley products, Woolrich and Tribal lines of clothing, among others, and very pretty jewelry.  For my birthday in March, I'd put a larger Vera Bradley tote on lay-away, (just the right size for my own gear and any "Grandma" items I might need to take along) and for whatever reason just never got back there to pick it up.  Today was the day (so happy belated birthday to me!).  In addition to clothing, the store carries a good variety of things, including baby gift items, kitchen linens, handbags, and nice little gifts-for-self (!) as well as greeting cards.  They offer free -- and very pretty -- gift wrapping.   It's just a fun place to visit every now and then.  Usually, I head in that direction with a sister or a friend, but today I was on my own, so after shopping I went in to the little cafe next store (it has a new name - I'll check and let you know) where I ordered a chicken salad sandwich to go.  I am a HUGE chicken salad fan, and I like theirs because it has Craisins, green grapes, and is lightly seasoned.  They don't use much mayonnaise (also a plus) and I ordered it on their own home-baked wheat bread.  Simple. I hadn't taken time to eat all day, and was hungry but didn't want to go the drive-thru route. This was so much nicer, and I was surprised to find a serving of Lay's classic potato chips in the bag with my sandwich, which are just about the lightest, crispest, best potato chips, in my not-so-humble opinion!  The sandwich was so pretty that I took a picture of it!

Not quite fast food - chicken salad sandwich

Now I'm trying to decide what to do with the rest of my precious Saturday. Katie, Bill, and the boys are at a birthday party.  Russ isn't here this weekend. Oden, the big black lab is hanging out in my apartment while his family is away, and it's quiet as can be.  I could actually do nothing for a little while, but I'm not sure I know how!!!

I hope you all have a wonderful Saturday, and enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Friday, June 1, 2012

And the Winner for May 2012 is....

Congratulations to Nancy Stevens whose comment earned her the prize of an 8-inch round cake, any flavor she'd like!  Today, on my lunch hour, I printed the name of every commenter for May on slips of paper (a slip for each comment during the month) and my lovely co-worker Lynn pulled Nancy's name out of the Gladware container someone left in our office kitchen hat. Regardless of the vessel, it was on the up-and-up and Nancy Stevens is the fortunate winner for May!

Nancy and her husband Tim are trying to decide what flavor cake they'd like, and I told her she can  have anything she wants!

Meanwhile, it's Friday so I'm baking!  I have 4 dozen cupcakes baking tonight, in preparation for lovely Sarah's bridal shower tomorrow at the home of my friend Catherine who, along with her husband Michael own a gorgeous Victorian on Regent Street in Saratoga.  I hope the weather holds out, but if the forecast is correct and the shower is showered upon, they'll need the tent that's been erected in their back yard.  I've been thinking alot about these cupcakes, and expect that they will be very pretty.  I'll take photos tomorrow as they take shape.  The cupcakes will be displayed on my trusty custom-made cupcake stand.  It promises to be a memorable day for Sarah, Catherine, and all their guests.

With gratitude to Nancy and all who took the time to comment on a post in May, I invite you to keep commenting through June.  It would be great to hear from new voices as well.  It's my pleasure to write this blog for interested readers, and comments help me to know what you like to hear about (or not!).   I'm already excited to see who's going to win on July 1st!

Have a beautiful weekend!