Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Rooms of Our Lives - Happy New Year 2014!

“We spend January 1st walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives...not looking for flaws, but for potential.”  
 ― Ellen Goodman

This quote from Ellen Goodman reminds me of Norman Vincent Peale's quote, "Change your thoughts, change your world." The power of positive thinking…it's a message that resonates this year. I'd like 2014 to be the year that I flip the switch from focusing on my own demerits and start noticing the positivity that others see, and look for the potential of each situation. Like many women I know, there's a tape that plays in my mind constantly about how to do better, how to be better, how to get more from every day. I wake up every morning feeling already behind the 8-ball, and go to bed every night hyper-aware of all the things I didn't accomplish or could have done better. I've heard this referred to as "negative self-talk" which, in psych speak, means we don't treat ourselves as well as we treat others. Sometimes, I have to have that inner chat and say "Be as nice to yourself as you are to your friends." 

When one of my daughters was in a particularly difficult teen-age phase, she'd make a statement about something that distressed her. The statement, expressing a situation, would be oozing in negativity. I would say "Think of a way to say the same thing, but with positivity." It wasn't always possible, but it was a conscious effort to look at the world with different eyes, to lift the emotion of the situation up and rid it of troubling energy. I don't even know if she remembers those little exercises (sometimes futile, sometimes not) but I do, and they were lessons for me as well.

So, I don't plan to enter 2014 obsessing about all the things I do wrong, the "cracks to be patched" with the intention to make them right. The cracks are there -- I make mistakes all the time and have learned and earned some of life's most valuable lessons in doing so. Without those cracks, I might never have come to realize that there is nothing, nothing more meaningful than family and cherished friends, especially when times are tough and I don't do it right, when I neglect these relationships because I am too busy or too tired or just don't feel like it at the moment. I suffer for the mistakes made along the way in the name of ego, pride, vanity, selfishness - those self-protective devices we all employ to some extent to stake our claims in the world. I hope to find forgiveness for the mistakes I've made, but if not, I have learned to forgive myself and move forward with optimism and positivity. There's nothing more worth claiming than the precious relationships nurtured through a lifetime of shared experiences. 

What I will do as I make my way through 2014, as Ellen Goodman suggests, is search out the potential in every symbolic room of my life. I will pick up the phone rather than text and connect, voice to voice, or preferably, face-to-face, with those cherished relationships. I will better anticipate those "unexpected" expenses and not be caught so off-guard when one arises. I will plan ahead so that I'll be able to take those trips that mean so much. I will invest in a more sophisticated camera so I can continue to capture, with even more detail, those precious moments with my grandsons and children, or a landscape along a highway, or a breaking wave, or a spontaneous moment of creativity in my kitchen.  I will look for the potential in each day, each challenge, rather than start out checking the tired, old demerit column. I will stop waiting. Waiting for the perfect moment to do whatever. Because the perfect moment may never come. I will dive in to the potential that all the moments of 2014 will provide.

These little guys know how to have fun!

Happy New Year to you all!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Perfect Gift from Katie and The Beekman Brothers!

I love cookbooks. Read them like novels at night before I fall asleep. I especially love and appreciate reading about handed-down recipes that carry on tradition. So, you can imagine my happiness at receiving an autographed copy of The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook: 100 Delicious Heritage Recipes from the Farm and Garden. It is my Christmas gift from Katie and Bill. This year, they decided to do all their Christmas shopping at the new Northshire Bookstore in downtown Saratoga Springs, and chose books geared to each recipient's particular interests. They hit the nail on the head with this one. It is a visually beautiful cookbook, with stunning photographs, personal commentaries, relevant quotes, and histories of traditional recipes. I SO love it!

The chapters of this beautiful recipe book are divided by seasons, starting with Winter. Some of the recipes in the Winter chapter are:  marble pound cake, gingerbread cookie ice cream sandwiches, snow cream with sweetened condensed milk, chocolate espresso soup with marshmallows, salty nougat fudge brownies, malted milk chocolate cake, and many more!

I'll be bringing you samples from this cookbook very soon. For now, here's a photo of this beautiful cookbook. It makes me happy!

This is one of my favorite things!
Thanks so much, Katie and Bill!

Friday, December 27, 2013

EASY Pineapple Upside Down Cake!

For my son-in-law Bill's birthday yesterday, I made his favorite: Pineapple Upside Down Cake. It's a very easy recipe using canned pineapple, its juice, and a butter-recipe yellow cake mix. Using the juice from the canned pineapple with the mix gives this cake a delicious edge. The upside-down part, the topping of melted butter, light brown sugar, pineapple rings and cherries creates such a delicious cake that you will want seconds immediately, or as in Bill's case, for breakfast the next morning! Just make sure you have whipped cream for the crowning glory! Happy Birthday Bill! You know you will always have your favorite cake for your birthday, as long as I am baking!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit
13x9-inch pan or 10-inch round (that's what I used)

Cake batter:
1 butter-recipe yellow cake mix
1/3 cup soft butter (or amount specified on mix)
pineapple juice from canned pineapple plus enough water to equal 1 cup
3 eggs

Mix ingredients together until moistened and beat for two minutes. Set aside while you prepare the pan and toppings:

Melt 6 tablespoons butter and pour into pan
Sprinkle 3/4 cup light brown sugar evenly over the melted butter in the pan. Distribute evenly over surface of pan with a fork.
Place pineapple rings in an even formation over brown sugar/butter mixture. I used 8 rings for a 10-inch round pan.
Place cherries in center of each ring and in between, as many as you like.

Pour batter over center of pan and allow it to spread to the sides. Gently nudge it to the edges with a spatula if necessary. Use all the batter.

Place pan on cookie sheet (in case of any spill-over) in oven.

Bake until cake tests done. My 10-inch round Wilton cake pan took 46 minutes. Try testing at 35 minutes on, depending on which pan you use and your own oven.

When done, remove cake from oven and set your timer for 5 minutes. At 5 minutes, invert hot cake onto a serving plate or platter and gently remove pan. If a pineapple ring sticks, don't worry. Just remove it from the pan with a knife or spatula and put it back in place.

Serve warm or cool to room temperature, and don't forget the whipped cream!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Egg Nog Fudge - Encore!

Who doesn't like fudge? No one I know. Fudge is the perfect little package of sweet, creamy, and satisfying. A little goes a long way. Just one 1-inch square of fudge is all I need for a luxurious indulgence. Last year I posted this recipe, one that my son Jeffrey made and shared for Christmas. It does taste like egg nog - you'll just have to try it to know. But you don't have to wait. Here's an encore of that great recipe, just in time for your cookie and candy platters, or as a sweet remembrance for someone special. 

made by my son Jeffrey from a recipe
he found at inspiringpretty.com/2012/12/12/eggnog-fudge

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup eggnog (full-fat will make it creamier)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 10-12 ounces chopped white chocolate (chips are fine)
  • 7 ounces marshmallow creme
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • Line a 9x9 pan (or 8x8 depending on your desired thickness) with wax paper or foil.  Set aside.
  • Combine butter, eggnog, and sugar in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium heat stirring occasionally.  Once boiling, reduce heat a bit.  Using a candy thermometer, continue cooking until temperature reaches 234 degrees (soft ball stage). NOTE:  I constantly stir with a wire whisk during this time, but this recipe does not call for that. Personal preference, and it does get hot!
  • Remove from heat and stir in white chocolate.  Continue stirring until chocolate is completely melted and blended in.  Add in marshmallow creme, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla.  
  • Spread into prepared pan.  Sprinkle the top with a bit more nutmeg if desired.
  • Let cool at room temperature completely before removingfrom pan and cutting into squares.
  • Store at room temperature for up to a week or in refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Cherry Coconut Thumb Prints

Last night I baked up a storm, getting ready to send out a package of cookies and scones to sunny F-L-A while our temps here get colder and colder. It was warm in my kitchen last night, though, as batch after batch of cookies went in and out of my oven. There were cooling racks everywhere as the assembly line of goodies went on. I baked from 9 pm to about 1 am, and woke up to a kitchen that looked like a bomb went off! Oh well, the price I pay for creativity!

One of the cookies I made last night was a thumb print cookie - basically a sugar cookie dough, rolled in a ball, then rolled in egg white, then coconut, and finally indented in the middle (with the end of a wooden spoon actually, not my thumb) and filled with cherry preserves. This recipe can be customized to your own preferences - don't like coconut? Used finely chopped walnuts. Have a favorite jelly or jam? Use that. There's no one way to make this cookie. I just happen to love coconut and cherries!

This recipe begins with my favorite sugar cookie dough. I had pouches of sugar cookie mix in my pantry (for those quick projects with my grandsons) but for Christmas, I wanted something great, and that's Alton Brown's Sugar Cookie Recipe, the gold standard in my experience. The only real differences between Alton's recipe and what I do are that I add vanilla for a punch of flavor, and I do not refrigerate the dough. For rolled cookies, I find it rolls out beautifully just after mixing, and that works for me. Alton also suggests rolling out with a dusting of confectioners sugar - I use flour. That's where we differ.  But there's no rolling pin for this recipe - you only need your hands!

So, here's the recipe. It's beautiful, delicious, and fun to make - pretty much a perfect combination for a great cookie!

from Alton Brown's Sugar Cookie Recipe
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F
Line cookie sheets with parchment paper (Always!!!)

Stir together:
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Set aside.

In mixing bowl, cream:
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar

1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (my addition)

Using your hands, roll dough into 1-inch diameter balls.

For coating and filling:
1 egg white, beaten with about a tablespoon of water to break it up
1 cup sweetened coconut flakes (or 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts)
A few tablespoons cherry preserves or  your favorite jam

Drop about 3 or 4 dough balls into egg white, coat evenly. With a fork, pick up and drop into coconut, rolling around until well coated. Place on parchment-lined cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart. Make a dent in the middle (about half-way down into the center) and fill each dent with about 1/4 teaspoon preserves or jam.

Bake until coconut is browning nicely, 10-11 minutes at least. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before removing to cooling rack. Cookies may seem soft in the center but they will firm up as they cool.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Easy White Cake Recipe from Kitchenaid

Tonight I took my brand-spanking-new RED Kitchenaid Artisan Mixer for a test drive. It seemed appropriate to initiate this beautiful machine with a recipe straight out of the booklet that came with it. It's as simple as can be - dry ingredients are dumped in the bowl. Wet ingredients are added all at once. It's mixed for about three minutes. That's it.

Ready for her very first project!

Here's the recipe. Enjoy!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit
Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans (I line mine with parchment rounds)

Dry ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Wet ingredients:
1/2 cup Crisco shortening
4 egg whites at room temperature
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Place dry ingredients in mixer bowl and combine. Add Crisco, egg whites, milk, and vanilla. Mix at low speed for 1 minute.  Scrape bowl. Mix at medium speed for another minute until smooth. Scrape bowl and give one final mix.

Pour batter into pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until cake tests done.

VERY pleasantly surprised!

Look at that beautiful crust! 

Ready to get dressed up!

Time to celebrate!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Bringing Back a Classic: My Mother's Meatloaf Recipe

Saturday night Russ and I had dinner out with good friends Frank and Sue. We decided to go to Jacob & Anthony's in downtown Saratoga Springs. I love the atmosphere there, it's dark, and warm, and cozy yet upscale and a little bit sophisticated. They have a 3-course menu for $20 which includes a generous salad, a hearty entree, and a small dessert. Russ, Frank, and I all ordered the same thing - meatloaf with mashed potatoes. I told the server that we must all be missing our mothers (true!). I ate half of mine and saved the rest for Russ to take back to Connecticut. He and Frank enjoyed it so much that they ate all of theirs. I gave Russ *most* of my dessert - a fudge walnut brownie sundae. Those two bites were worth it!  It was a little indulgent for me but I tried to estimate the calories and stop within reason!

Meatloaf brings back happy memories, so I'm linking here my post from last December with the recipe for my mother's meatloaf. I call it Virginia O'Farrell's Meatloaf. It is wonderful.

Enjoy this little walk down my memory lane!