Friday, April 27, 2012

Happy Birthday Unc Joe!

When I got home from work today,  Henry came upstairs to help me finish his Uncle Joe's birthday cake, and to bring him a birthday card that he and Pete had scribbled on signed.  Adorable.  Henry was very, very helpful when it came to making the Hershey chocolate frosting.  He poured in the vanilla and then the milk as we mixed up a batch of beautiful fudge-like frosting.  He was happy to get the somewhat loaded beater and to watch as I frosted the cake, Joe's favorite, the Hershey chocolate cake recipe on the back of the cocoa tin, always my old reliable.  I baked it last night and had intended to get up early to frost it, but that didn't happen!  (Seems I value sleep so much more in the morning than I expect to when I make that running list of errands to do upon waking up.)

Henry  must have said "Happy Birthday Unc Joe" forty-seven times in a half-hour, each time with more sincerity and enthusiasm than the last.  When we were done frosting and decorating with sprinkles, Unc Joe said, "Let's cut it."  We hadn't even had dinner, so dinner tonight was birthday cake and milk!  Pete joined in the fun, and when Henry walked away from his cake, baby brother managed to harness both plates and was working two servings at a time.

Henry and Peter love their Uncle Joe, and I know the feeling is mutual. It's a special thing...

Everyone loves a birthday cake (especially Pete!)...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

April Birthdays and Cake!

My kitchen is going to be cake city over the next few days.  Just out of the oven is a marble cake for my friend Joanne's father, who's celebrating his 90th birthday this weekend with his family and friends.  Joanne provided a photo of her dad and his dog and had it duplicated in sugar.  It will be the central decoration on the top of the cake, with some embellishment and a message to complete this gift to her father.  What a milestone -  90 years! - so many of us never have the opportunity to share that special birthday with our parents.  I know my siblings and I didn't get to, so I very much appreciate the significance of this celebration. 

As that cake came out of the oven, in went two layers of the Hershey's chocolate cake recipe that will be my son Joe's birthday cake.  It's hard to believe that he's 36.  It seems like yesterday when he was born, on what was one of the happiest days of my then very young life.  I had just turned 22, and was more than ready to embrace motherhood and all that goes with it.  I just didn't know then the still-to-unfold "all that goes with it" and it's been an education for me and for all of my children along the way.  In many ways, we grew up together, and I only hope that my learning curve wasn't too much of an impediment to my kids realizing their own hopes and dreams.  The one thing I can guarantee to all my children is that I couldn't love them more, no matter what courses their lives take, or what happens along the way.  I think every mom, perhaps every parent, knows what I'm talking about.

After Joe's cake comes out of the oven, I'll clean up my kitchen and get ready for THE big cake of the weekend:  Henry's 4th birthday cake!  He wants a Star Wars cake, and I have exciting ideas for how that will come together.  He's having a kids party with his nursery school classmates this Saturday morning (just a small little shindig) and then Sunday evening the grandparents will have dinner together and celebrate.  His actual birthday is Monday.  Henry's had different ideas along the way about what he wanted for this birthday - months back it was a "Cars" cake, then a Dinosaur Train cake, and now he's firmly set on Star Wars (though he doesn't want to watch the movies, says they're too scary).  I'll bake Henry's cake tomorrow night and decorate it Saturday morning, just in time for his little friends to appear. 

April is an exceptionally busy birthday month in my family.  We just (last night) celebrated my sister Patsy's birthday with our usual sibling dinner at Red Lobster in Glens Falls. It was so much fun, and I loved every minute.  Earlier this month we celebrated my daughter Tricia's 30th birthday (she's named for her Aunt Patsy).  Today is my nephew Ben's birthday, tomorrow is Joe's, and Monday, Henry's.  My own grandfather, Valerian O'Farrell, was also born on this day, April 26, 1876.  He died long before his grandchildren were born, and I am sad that I never got to meet him.  Part of me feels as if I know him.  He was a very good writer (as was my Dad) and I like to think that my passion for writing is a direct connection to him. 

So, no more time for writing.  I have a kitchen to clean up so I can mess it up again!

Happy April birthday to all my family (and friends) who are celebrating this month.  I love you all!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Weekends, Friends, and Family

It had been a whirlwind of a social weekend when I finally settled in last night, tired from that good kind of busy, aware that I did pretty much eek out every bit of quality from the time that spanned leaving work Friday to walking into my office this morning.  After work Friday, I had a choice of either stopping at Humpty Dumpty for ice cream (an anticipated date with two grandsons) OR join friends from work at Wheatfield's for their 2-for-1 drink special before 6 p.m.  Opting for the former, and having a coffee ice cream soda for dinner, there were no regrets.  There will be other opportunities to raise a 2-for-1 glass with my co-workers (many, I'm sure) which I will thoroughly enjoy (also very sure!).

Later Friday night found me baking hostess gifts for my dear friend Jan who lives in Hatfield, Massachusetts.  I've written about my visits to her home before.  This time, I brought her orange marmalade scones and a coffee cake loaf.  She was freezing some of the goodies for her daughter Logan's visit home from Colorado next week.

I so love visiting Jan in Hatfield.  With such a hectic "real life," it was almost liberating to get in the car Saturday morning and head east through the Berkshires to exit 4 of I-90, head north on I-91 to Hatfield, to drive through the beautiful country landscape and finally arrive at Jan's door.  I was greeted by Leila, her enthusiastic and wriggly Golden Retriever, and evaluated by Pearl, the cat she adopted about a year ago.  Jan and I talk, and talk, and talk (whoda thunk I could do that for hours on end - don't answer that!) and solve some small problems if not some of the world's biggest!  It's truly such a gift to have a friend like that, someone you only see a couple of times a year but who knows you so well, who knows your heart and forgets about the lack of communication between such visits.  It's a mini-vacation and so rewarding, even for just a 24-hour period of time.  As usual, my little Canon camera came along, and captured some lovely moments of our walk along the banks of the Connecticut River, where Jan's home is located.  After our long walk with Leila, Jan and I headed to the movie theaters in Amherst and saw The Hunger Games.  I had not read the books (Jan's read all three) and I had a few preconceived notions that I might not like the movie.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  While it does seem to glean from so many sources ("The Lottery," The Wizard of Oz, Dr. Seuss, the Olympic Games, reality TV, even The Coal Miner's Daughter) it is an amazing film and now I can't wait to read the trilogy that inspired this movie and undoubtedly the sequels that will be made.

A lovely time in Hatfield, Massachusetts

Back in Middle Grove yesterday afternoon, Katie took me for a ride in their new ride - a 2007 Volvo with 3 rows of seats:  all the better to fit assorted grandparents and two car seats, my dear!  It's like brand-new, and though I am sorry that their wedding-year Subaru bit the dust (2005 Subaru, wedding, new puppy in that quick order), this new-to-them car is not only beautiful but larger and safe for the precious cargo it now carries. That afternoon I realized it was good to be away in order to take a fresh look at what I have at home - a lovely home so close to Katie and Bill and the little guys.  I took a look around, and appreciated all that the weekend had provided...friends, family, and an awareness of all that is to be appreciated, now.  And the weekend wound down...

Generous Pete sharing his pbj with Odie

Today, back at work, I decided to go see Henry in his nursery school class, right on campus.  I usually don't have the opportunity to leave my office to go check in on him, but today I was running an errand that brought me right by his classroom.  I got permission to stop in and say hello, so I walked in and surprised him.  He said, "Grandma, whatcha doing here?"  I reminded him I'd be stopping by one day this week.  He was in full-on fireman gear (after a visit by the local fire department last week which absolutely captivated him!).  He was so happy to see me, and my heart melted as he went to each of his little friends and said "That's my Grandma!" with a look of pride on his face.  I don't know that I've ever had such a heart-felt introduction in all my 58 years!  Well, the ever-ready camera was with me, so I captured that moment, one that is already etched in my memory.

Fireman Henry

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Martha's Marble Cake

Tonight I was looking for a really good on-line recipe for marble cake.  It's for a birthday cake so I couldn't take any chances -- it had to have good reviews.  I found it, and I am not surprised at the source:  Martha Stewart.  I know that pretty much all of her recipes are tested to perfection.  So, trusting Miss Martha implicitly, I dug right in and mixed up a batch of marble cake batter that not only looked beautiful in the pan, but now smells DIVINE as it cools, just out of the oven.

The recipe is simple.  You stir together cake flour (I didn't have any and went ahead with all-purpose at no apparent cost, as some of her recipe's reviewers did), baking powder, and salt.  That's added to a sugar/egg mixture alternately with the buttermilk.  Cocoa powder is mixed with almost an equal amount of boiling water and that's stirred into a third of the batter.  Then you spoon the different batters into your cake pans in a rustic checkerboard fashion, swirl with a knife, and bake!

I won't be eating this cake so I'll have to wait for a response as to how good it is, but it appears the top needs just a little leveling-off and there will likely be at least a few teaspoons of buttercream left over, so maybe I'll have to...  See, this is where that saying comes from, "Never trust a skinny cook."  I am very trust-worthy!  Photo of my trusty cake follows the recipe...

This is Martha Stewart's recipe, as follows, from her Web site, (though Martha didn't frost hers in buttercream, and I baked mine in 2 round pans instead of one loaf pan)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
1 3/4 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup buttermilk, room temperature
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon Dutch-process cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Generously butter a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan; set aside. (I used two 6-inch round pans, lined with parchment, sprayed with baking spray).

Whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating until combined after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Mix in vanilla.
Add flour mixture in 2 batches, alternating with the buttermilk and beginning and ending with the flour.
Set aside 1/3 of the batter.
In a bowl, mix cocoa and 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water with a rubber spatula until smooth. Add the cocoa mixture to the reserved cake batter; stir until well combined.
Spoon batters into the prepared pan in 2 layers, alternating spoonfuls of vanilla and chocolate to simulate a checkerboard. To create marbling, run a table knife (or wooden skewer) through the batters in a swirling motion.
Bake, rotating the pan halfway through, until a cake tester comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes.
Transfer pan to a rack to cool 10 minutes.
Turn out cake from pan and cool completely on the rack.

Cake can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.

Martha's marble cake, all dressed up and ready to go!


Photos:  Adirondack Baker

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Baby's First Haircut

Today Katie took Pete for his first haircut!  Pete is 17 months old, and with the exception of a little snip here and a little snip there, he's never had a real haircut.  I went along for this exciting milestone while Henry and his Dad (and Russ) stayed home to do other things.  Kylie, a stylist at my friend Bonnie's "Greenfield Hairport" was an expert with this little guy.  Katie started plying Pete with M&Ms to keep him from crying.  When that didn't work, Kylie resorted to the old Dum Dum lollipop and Pete kept it together long enough to get a big boy haircut.  Now we can see those beautiful baby blues!  Way to go, Pete!

Before through After...Pete's 1st Haircut!
(click to enlarge)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Maple Walnut Scones

Today I bring you maple walnut scones, a very simple recipe made even simpler by using a biscuit mix.  I used Bisquick but you can use any similar product.  I found a number of recipes on-line for quick and easy scones, and switched things up a bit to create this recipe for two of my favorite flavors, maple and walnut.  Once baked, they are glazed with a maple sugar glaze and sprinkled with chopped walnuts.  These fall into the category of "pretty food" but they are equally as impressive as palate pleasers.

And a side note:  don't forget the contest!  At the end of every month for the next year, I will choose one follower who posts comments to any post (you can add new comments all the way back to the earliest posts if you'd like) to win an 8" round cake (locally) or a dozen large chocolate chip cookies (to be shipped).  I think it's worth it!  So sign on as a follower if you haven't already, make a comment or three, and get ready to win some goodies!

oven 375 degrees F - makes 12 mini or 6 regular sized scones

2 cups Bisquick or other self-rising biscuit mix
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup buttermiilk (or regular milk soured with 2 teaspoons vinegar - let sit for 5 minutes)
2 tablespoons maple syrup - real is best, maple-flavored is fine

In mixing bowl, stir together Bisquick, sugar, and chopped walnuts.  In separate bowl, combine beaten egg, buttermilk, and maple syrup.  Stir wet ingredients into dry, mixing just to blend.  Turn out onto well-floured surface and knead 10 times (folding over/flatten/folding over/flatten).  Shape into 1/2-inch thick disks (two for mini, one for regular).  Cut disks into 6 wedges.  Separate. Place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, fitting so there's about an inch between scones.

Brush with egg wash (1 egg and 1 tsp. water, whisked together with fork).

Start checking at 17 minutes, but bake for up to 20 minutes OR until you notice the edges are starting to get golden brown.  Remove from oven and drizzle with maple glaze (recipe follows):

Maple Glaze

1 cup confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
drops of water, added and whisked with fork until of drizzling consistency, when it flows nicely off a fork in a slow stream.

Immediately sprinkle with additional chopped walnuts, before the glaze sets. You might have to press them in a little.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Pumpkin Pie Walnut Muffins

Tonight, I'm baking Pumpkin Pie Walnut Muffins.  This recipe varies from my traditional muffin recipe in that it uses canola oil instead of butter, and buttermilk in place of sour cream.  Canned pumpkin any time ( or mashed in season) and pumpkin pie spices provide all the flavor.  It's a moist, high-rising muffin, proud as it sports a sprinkling of walnuts across its crown.  I posted a photo of these on my facebook page tonight, and lovely Teresa (my honorary neice) said she had to have the recipe, so here it is, just for you TLR!  I hope you love it!

Bake at 375 degrees F
Makes 12 standard muffins, plus a few more

1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk ( or 1/2 cup milk soured with 1 tbsp. vinegar - let sit 5 min.)
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (or 1 tsp. cinnamon; 1/2 tsp. nutmeg; 1/4 tsp. ground cloves)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts.  

In mixer on low speed, blend oil and sugar until completely combined.  Add eggs, one at a time.  Add pumpkin and vanilla. 

In separate small bowl, combine flour, spices, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add to pumpkin mixture and mix until thoroughly combined.  

Spray muffin cups with baking spray or line with muffin liners.  Fill muffin cups half-full and sprinkle tops with chopped walnuts.  Let it sit for 15 minutes before baking (allows the baking powder to start working and gives you a higher, lighter muffin). Bake at 375 degrees F or until tops are dry and bounce back to a light press.  Cool for 10 minutes.  Remove from muffin pan and allow to cool completely.  


Friday, April 6, 2012

Easter Cookies

This post is short and sweet, much like the two little buddies who will be sharing the Easter cookies I'm baking this weekend (pictured with this post, the cookies I made last night for a friend).  The recipe is one I use all the time, from The Food Network's Alton Brown.  It's as simple as can be.  You mix up flour, baking powder, and salt.  Separately, you mix butter, sugar, an egg, a little bit of milk, and vanilla extract.  Mix it all together and let the dough hang out in the fridge for an hour or so.  It rolls out beautifully (I like to roll cut out cookies a little thick, about 3/8 of an inch), bake at 350 degrees F until they just begin to show a little color on the edges, cool, and decorate.  It's a lot of fun. The original recipe, from an earlier post, is linked here.  And I've also added a photo of the same cookies from Easter two years ago, when we gathered in Katie's kitchen to produce a basket-full of beautiful treats!

From Easter 2010 - so much fun to make!

These are a bit of work, but worth it.  If you're baking this weekend, have a great time.  I wish all of you a lovely spring weekend, whether  you honor Easter, Passover, or another meaningful springtime ritual.  Enjoy this time with your family and friends.

And speaking of family, here are Hank and Pete yesterday morning:  I stopped in before leaving for work, and they were enjoying breakfast in their "toy" room: mesmerized by Curious George
that they didn't even notice me!

Tricia's Birthday Dinner

The Birthday Girl!
When you come from a big family, and then you have a big family, there are happily a lot of birthdays to celebrate.  Tonight we celebrated my youngest daughter Tricia's birthday.  She was 30 on Tuesday, but our dinner in her honor was tonight.  It was a small group with Tricia, her fiance Jeff, Katie, Henry and Pete, and also my sons Jeff and Joe.  I had four of my five kids and my two grandsons in one place, which is just about all I ever need, and of course, we missed Meghan (we always miss Meghan).  She and Mark are loving life in California.  Tricia's Dad Gene and his wife Kathryn were both working tonight.  It  seems impossible to find a time that works for everyone these days, so we are especially looking forward to having them join us for brunch at Katie's Easter morning.

For dinner tonight, we had chicken spiedies, a romaine salad, broccoli, and a home-made macaroni and cheese that I put together last night.  The topper was Tricia's chocolate with chocolate birthday cake.  I've been so busy with work that I had to rush home to frost Tricia's cake, which I was in the process of when she and Jeff arrived.  And then I had to wrap her gifts at the last second, searching for Scotch tape and finally getting it all done after the guest of honor arrived (!)  You'd think I'd have my act together by now, but that's just the way it is when you work all day and then try to accomplish something after work!  Anyway, it was all worth it with such a delicious and happy dinner, and I am very glad that we'll be together again in just a few days, enjoying an Easter brunch on what is supposed to be a beautiful day!

Once again,  happy birthday to my lovely daughter Tricia.  It seems like just yesterday we brought you home from the hospital.  Yesterday, plus thirty years!  xoxox

Hershey's Chocolate Cake and Frosting
(recipe on the Hershey cocoa can)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Dave Lieberman's Noodle Kugel

Dave Lieberman's Noodle Kugel
(photo from The Food Network)
When I visit the home of my friend Catherine Golden, she often serves traditional Jewish foods for holidays and celebrations.  I laugh when I consider myself her "token Irish Catholic friend" - realizing that is not, at all, the case.  Catherine has friends of all denominations, and many, many of them!  Her home is one with doors open to everyone, and she is always a gracious hostess whether it is a party of fifty or one person knocking on her door.  Anyway, the one dish Catherine always insists I try (in addition to anything with her prize-winning jam!) is kugel, a pudding of sorts with noodles in an egg custard.  It is delicious!  In researching on-line recipes for noodle kugel (Dave Lieberman's recipe from The Food Network follows - gorgeous photo above, to the left), I learned quite a bit.  I went to that unofficial replacement for the now almost-defunct Encyclopedia Brittanica (sad), Wikipedia, and learned:

"The name of the dish comes from the German Kugel meaning "sphere, globe, ball"; thus the Yiddish name likely originated as a reference to the round, puffed-up shape of the original dishes (compare to German Gugelhupf — a type of ring-shaped cake). Nowadays, however, kugels are often baked in square pans. There is a common association of this word to the Hebrew k'iygul ("as a circle"), but this is a folk etymology.
The first kugels were made from bread and flour and were savory rather than sweet. About 800 years ago, cooks in Germany replaced bread mixtures with noodles or farfel.  Eventually eggs were incorporated. The addition of cottage cheese and milk created a custard-like consistency which is common in today's dessert dishes. In Poland, Jewish homemakers added raisins, cinnamon and sweet farmer's cheese to noodle kugel recipes. In the late 19th century, Jerusalemites combined caramelized sugar and black pepper in a noodle kugel known as "Jerusalem kugel," which is a commonly served at Shabbat kiddushes and is a popular side dish served with cholent during Shabbat lunch.

In Romania, this dish is called Budinca de Macaroane/Paste Fainoase(Maccaroni/Pasta Pudding), and it is a traditional Romanian dish. In certain villages throughout the country it is known as "Baba Acolo". It is made with with or without cheese, but it most always includes raisins.  Savory kugel may be based on potatoes, matzah, cabbage, carrots, zucchini, spinach or cheese.

Kugels are a mainstay of festive meals in Ashkenazi Jewish (Jews of Eastern European descent) homes, particularly on the Jewish Sabbath and other Jewish holidays or at a Tish. Some Hasidic Jews believe that eating kugel on the Jewish Sabbath brings special spiritual blessings, particularly if that kugel was served on the table of a Hasidic Rebbe.

While noodle kugel, potato kugel, and other variations are dishes served on Jewish holiday meals, matzo kugel is a common alternative served at Passover seders which is adjusted to meet passover kosher requirements.

A similar Belarusian dish is potato babka.Amongst South African Jews, the word "kugel" was used by the elder generation as a term for a young Jewish woman who forsook traditional Jewish dress values in favor of those of the ostentatiously wealthy, becoming overly materialistic and over groomed, the kugel being a plain pudding garnished as a delicacy. The women thus described made light of the term and it has since become an amusing rather than derogatory slang term in South African English, referring to a materialistic young woman."
This may be more than you ever wanted to know about noodle kugel, but I believe knowing the history of a dish informs our perception.  It provides respect for tradition and gratitude for the passing-down from one generation to the next those things that define a culture.  With the world becoming smaller and smaller, and cultures expanding to incorporate each others' food traditions, the world has become a more delicious place!  This recipe is the highest rated of any I found on the Web, so expand your horizons, or revisit your Bubbie's kitchen, and give it a try!

from the Food Network Kitchens

1/2 pound wide kosher for Passover egg noodles
1/2 stick butter, melted
1 pound cottage cheese
2 cups sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
6 eggs
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup raisins
*my friend Jane suggests sprinkling cinnamon and sugar on top before baking - says it helps give a nice, sweet, crunchy crust!
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Boil the noodles in salted water for about 4 minutes. Strain noodles from water. In a large mixing bowl, combine noodles with remaining ingredients and pour into a greased, approximately 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
Bake until custard is set and top is golden brown, about 30 to 45 minutes.


Recipe and Photo:

History of kugel:

Sunday, April 1, 2012


You can win one (or more!) of these!
CONTEST!!!  Happy April! To celebrate the 2nd best month ever for my Adirondack Baker blog (I don't think anything will beat December 2011!), and to generate more comments on the blog itself, I'd like to offer up twelve cakes - one 8" round 2-layer a month to twelve lucky winners.  If you live out of the area, I will send you one dozen chocolate chip cookies in the mail).  All you have to do is sign on as a follower on my blog, and starting today, comment on the postings, even past postings.  If you're already a follower, and you continue to comment, you're in the pool.  I will judge comments on sincerity and content (don't just say "hi!")  You can add your comment under "Name/URL" and it will be easy.  You can win more than once.  Feel free to share - the goal is to increase the number of followers!  Thanks so much!