Thursday, May 30, 2013

It's Apricot Fiesta Time!

The California Apricot is one of nature’s nutritional powerhouses. They are one of the healthiest and most beneficial fruits available.  They are rich in beta-carotene, Vitamin C, potassium, iron.  They are also very high in fiber and do not contain any cholesterol.  The apricot seed has a high B17 content and has been found to be effective in preventing cancer.

Over 90% of the apricots produced in the United States are grown in the central California San Joaquin Valley. One small farm town, Patterson, prides itself on being at the center of apricot production and hosts an annual Apricot Fiesta.  This weekend marks the 43rd annual event. 

Back in 1975, an 18-year-old young woman, one week away from her high school graduation, vied for the title of Miss Apricot and won.  I was that young woman. I had the honor of representing my hometown in various festivals & parades, attending functions and giving talks on the virtues of California apricots. Besides having a lot of fun, I learned the art of public speaking and conversing with strangers that has helped me in my career as a CPA.

I’ve always loved apricots and  cook and bake with them quite frequently. The apricot season is very short but canned and dried apricots are available year-round. Each year I make 3-4 batches of apricot jam, which is not only tasty but is so pretty in the pantry.

Our area's apricots are not quite ripe yet, some early varieties are hitting the markets but the season really won't begin for a few more weeks.  Plus, we've had mild weather, the apricots need the warm weather to fully develop the sugar in the fruit. Apricots also don't ripen after picking, a great tasting apricot is picked ripe. When shopping for apricots choose an apricot that is plump and that responds to the slight pressure of your thumb. Look for apricots that are orange-gold in color.

When I crave an apricot dessert when the fresh fruit isn't available I often turn to my stash of apricot jam. These two recipes are not only easy but showcase the wonderful flavor of the apricots.

This recipe is adapted from a sourdough cookbook I have.  I never manage to keep a sourdough starter living, even though I love the flavor it gives baked goods.  My life is too hectic to be worrying about feeding the starter! So, for this recipe, I use a regular sweet dough. 

Apricot Cream Cheese Twists

1 recipe sweet yeast dough of your choice (today I made a batch in my bread machine)
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup apricot jam

Roll the yeast dough to an approximate 18" x 10" rectangle.
Spread cream cheese over dough, leaving about an inch along all sides.
Spread apricot jam over cream cheese.

Fold the dough in thirds (like an envelope).

Cut into 1" strips.  Holding each end, twist once or twice.
Put on parchment-covered baking pan.  And, yes, this is the messy part, you will have jam all over your hands! Have a piece of toast handy and indulge yourself!

Put in warm place and let rise about 1/2 hour.

Using a beaten egg, lightly brush the tops of the twists.  Sprinkle sliced almonds on top.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25 minutes, or until golden brown. 

Cool on wire rack.  You can top them with a confectioners sugar glaze or, for more apricot goodness, brush with warm melted jam.

When done, put on bright paper plates and deliver to your neighbors!

I got the following recipe from a Taste of Home cookbook many years ago. It's very popular whenever I serve them and I always get a request for the recipe.  These bars are very versatile and so quick to put together. I've served them at brunch, taken to picnics, packed for an airplane snack, taken to bereaving families. Whenever I make them I try not to leave too many at home as they are very addictive for me! This batch went to a homebound family friend and her health care worker as well as my book club group!

The flavor ingredients.

Press 2/3 of the dough in pan, layer with jam, then crumble remaining dough on top.

 So yummy, they have a soft shortbread-like crust with the combination of chewy coconut and crunchy walnuts.

Apricot Bars

¾ cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 egg

2 cups all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon baking powder

1 1/3 cups shredded coconut

½ cup chopped walnuts

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 jar (12 ounces) apricot preserves

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar.  Add egg; mix well.  In separate bowl, combine flour and baking powder.  Gradually add to butter mixture.  Add coconut, walnuts and vanilla; mix thoroughly.  Press two-thirds of dough into a greased 13-in. x 9-in. x 2-inch. baking pan.  Spread with preserves; crumble remaining dough over preserves.  Bake at 350° for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool in pan on wire rack.  Cut into squares. 

Join me Friday at Foodie Friday, lots of great recipes there!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Rhubarb-Raspberry Custard Pie

When spring & summer rolls around my sweet tooth changes, too.  No longer content with cakes & cookies (well, I won’t turn them down!), I want fresh fruit desserts.  It’s time for fruit pies, cobblers, crisps, homemade fruit ice cream!

One of the fruits I crave in the spring is rhubarb.  Rhubarb, on its own, is very tart. But add some sugar, simmer or bake, and you have a lovely flavor; kind of sweet, kind of tart. Berry season also coincides with the rhubarb season so it’s very popular to combine rhubarb and strawberries.  A lesser-known combination, but just as wonderful, is rhubarb and raspberries. Today I made a rhubarb-raspberry custard pie. Mom has made this recipe for a number of years now and I just love it. Not only do you get rhubarb and raspberries but a creamy custard and a streusel topping. How can you go wrong with that?

Rhubarb always reminds me of pink celery!

Pie dough comes easy to me but I know some people struggle with this.  Don't let baking a pie intimidate you, the pie dough in the deli section of the grocery store or frozen pie shells work just fine!

Mix the rhubarb and raspberries and pour into unbaked pie shell.

One thing I've learned when baking fruit pies is to bake them on a foil-lined pan.  If it overflows I don't have to clean the oven! To keep the pie crust from getting  too brown during the baking time, cover the edges of the crust with foil or these little pie crust shields. Remove after 25 minutes and continue baking. The custard in this pie blends with the fruit producing a very creamy pie.

And now you see why I use a foil-lined pan to bake on.  This raspberry drip would've been on the bottom of my oven, smoking the house up and leaving me a mess to clean!

We ate this slightly warm and it was quite yummy (though the picture is blurry!) If you like rhubarb you will enjoy this pie!

Rhubarb-Raspberry Custard Pie

1 ¼ cup sugar
2 T. flour      
¼ tsp. nutmeg
4 beaten eggs                                 

Pastry for single crust pie
1 lb. rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces (3 cups)
1 cup fresh or frozen unsweetened raspberries

¼ cup flour
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. nutmeg
¼ cup chopped almonds
2 T. butter (cold)

In small mixing bowl, combine the sugar, flour & nutmeg. Add eggs.  Beat well with a whisk or beater until well mixed. 
Combine rhubarb & raspberries; spoon into pastry shell. Pour the egg mixture over the fruit. To prevent overbrowning, cover edges of pasty with foil.

 Bake in a 375° oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil from the pan and bake 25 minutes more or until the custard is set.
Meanwhile, for topping, mix the flour, sugar, cinnamon & nutmeg. With a pastry blender (or two knives), cut in butter until the mixture is the size of small peas.  Stir in the almonds.

Remove pie from the oven.  Sprinkle topping mixture around outer edge of fruit & custard, leaving a 5-inch circle in the center uncovered. Return to oven for 5-7 minutes, until browned.

Cool on wire rack.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Recycling Vintage Treasures

My Hubby & I have always been interested in vintage things. As young newlyweds we would often go antique shopping. We would take a picnic lunch and hit the road. We couldn't afford to buy much (if anything!) but it was cheap entertainment and we acquired ideas for the future. We especially like vintage treasures that have been passed down from family & friends. Even though we have many vintage items in our home many of these hand-me-downs languished in closets, drawers or in the attic because they didn't go with our decorating style or lifestyle. Over the years we have learned to re-purpose these things, to be able to show their beauty, the talents of a loved one or just to recall a special memory.

My Grandma McGee crocheted many a doily or table runner. They were heavily starched and placed on tables, the backs of sofas and chairs. Some had flowers, some had ruffles, all were very intricate. I have a plastic storage bin full of these doilies. I have no desire to use them on furniture like she did but I felt bad that no one was able to see their beauty. I have had some of them framed, both for me and for gifts to family members.

Doilies displayed in my dining area.

Doily I had framed and gave to my sister as a Christmas gift.
I have a few quilts that were done by my Grandmas, as well as my Great-Grandma. One quilt, in particular, was stored in a closet after I got married. Unknown to me, the closet leaked during a rain storm. During a move from that home I discovered that the quilt had mildewed. I had it professionally cleaned but it was too late to get all the damage out. I couldn't bear to part with it so it sat on a closet shelf for years. About 10 years ago my Mom started making teddy bears for her grandchildren. I thought of the old quilt and asked if she could make a teddy bear out of it. She was able to get enough pieces to make a teddy bear for me, as well as herself and my sister. This teddy bear now watches over me while I work in my craft room, a reminder of the handwork of a long-gone relative.

The yo-yo quilt was a popular style of quilt making in America during the 1920-40's. Yo-yo's, or tiny circles of fabric, were gathered up at the edges and sewn together to make a three-dimensional effect. They were popular because women could carry the little circles of fabric with them and make yo-yo's whenever they had a free moment. They didn't require much material so scraps of material, grain or flour sacks, or old clothing could be used. During the depression-era, when nothing was wasted, the scraps could be turned into something useful and decorative. My family has various yo-yo pieces made by family members. This piece was made from yo-yo's made by my great-aunt, Rhoda, in 1935 when she was bedridden during her first pregnancy. It now hangs in my hallway.

Many of us have jars or boxes of buttons from our relatives. My Mom has my Grandma's buttons (Mom, put my name on them, please!) Periodically, I will raid her stash and insert some into a cross stitched piece I've made. Or, they are beautiful thrown in a jar and displayed!

My Grandma Fannie always had hand-embroidered pillowcases on her beds. Over the years she gave me a few sets. Again, they were relegated to the closet as they didn't go with my decor or never would've lasted in my childrens' bedrooms. A few years ago I began noticing a child's dress called a pillowcase dress. You take an existing pillowcase (or make a new one), put armhole openings and a casing for the neckline and you have an instant dress. I made this dress for my daughter's baby shower in 2010. Grandma's embroidery and crochet work is wonderful.

Two years later my granddaughter was old enough to wear the dress! It's now packed away, saved for the next generation. I know Grandma would be thrilled to see how her pillowcases got recycled.

I've learned over the years to "think outside of the box" when acquiring vintage items, to look for ways to display these treasures so they can be enjoyed once more, even though it may not be in the way they were intended!

Join me at Show 'n Tell Friday!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Birdhouses and a Birthday!

Our oldest granddaughter turns 8 on May 25 (where has the time gone?) She had a birthday party with her friends today.It was held at a ceramics shop, the kids got to pick a piece to paint.  It was a very fun, no-fuss birthday party!
 Her request to her Nana was to make some cake pops. Now I'm not a big fan of cake pops, they are much too sweet for me. However, a Nana always tries to please so I set out to fulfill her wish!
I wanted to do something different than just a plain cake pop. We must keep Nana entertained, and not bored, you see! While searching for ideas online I ran across the cutest truffle wrappers and knew they would be perfect for cake balls (cake pops without the sticks!) With the truffle wrappers the cake balls look like flowers. I found an inspiration picture of a garden-themed party with painted birdhouses. My mind went into high gear. It just so happened I had a few unpainted birdhouses in my closet (you can buy them at any hobby store) and lots of material and ribbon scraps. So, with scissors, glue and a little paint, I sat down and decorated a bird house! It became the centerpiece of the cake ball plate and my color theme.

I enjoy making sugar cookies (and my family loves eating them!) My decorating skills improve with each batch I make but they are no where near the beauty you can find at various cookie blogs. I tend to stick to cookie cutters with not much detail because I don't trust my piping skills yet. For favors I made birdhouse cookies, using a mini heart cookie cutter to add more whimsy.

I played with a new-to-me technique; making royal icing transfers of birds. It was easy to do and produced a more uniform bird than if I had tried to pipe a bird on each cookie. To do this I colored the icing and placed in a decorating bag. I found a clip art that I liked so I made a few copies. I then taped some waxed paper to my countertop, placed the clip art under the waxed paper and, using the picture as a guide, piped the birds. I let them dry overnight. They easily pop off the waxed paper. They can be stored for a long time, I put my extras in a mini canning jar. Anytime you have extra frosting you can make flowers, balloons, birds, any image you want, for future useage.


To use the transfers, I piped and flooded the cookies and, using tweezers, placed the transfer on the wet cookie. Once the cookie was dry, I used a food-safe marker to make the eyes and a little dark yellow icing to make the beak. I will definately be using more royal icing transfers in the future!

My granddaughter was pleased with her Nana's efforts and I got a big hug. She asked to keep the birdhouse for her bedroom. Now her little sister wants one, too! It just so happens I have another birdhouse in the closet, and more fabric and ribbon...

Please join me at Metamorphosis Monday!
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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mother's Day Brunch

I've hosted Mother's Day Brunch for 4 or 5 years now. It's on the Saturday before Mother's Day. That way there are no conflicts with kids' in-laws or their own family plans. This year we had 11 in Mom, my sister, my two nieces, two great-nieces, my step-daughter, daughter-in-law and two of my grandaughters. It was an age span of 17 months to 74 years!  Unfortunately, the 3 a.m. "crud" hit my daughter's house so she and my 2 1/2 year old granddaughter were unable to attend.

I try to keep the brunches to a theme, I find it gives me a direction for my decorating and food choices. This year the theme was "cherries". As cherries are now ripe in our area it's a timely theme, too!

I set two tables; one for the children and one for the adults. I kept the kids' table very basic and kid-friendly using paper plates, napkins, paper placemats. I included color crayons, some games, cherry-flavored popcorn. Also, at each place setting, were cherry-themed necklaces my niece made.

For the adult table I found some vintage-looking fabric and made a table runner. Again, I kept things pretty simple but it was still pretty. I found cute red pots at Beverly Fabrics and had a local floral shop put flowers in them. Each of my guests got to take an arrangement home.

I also made some cherry bath scrub that was set at each place setting.

I saw napkins similar to these on Pinterest so put my spin on them.  I used one of my rubber stamps to make the outline for the stem & leaf, emroidered them with a simple backstitch, then added buttons to make the cherries.  My Napolean Bee silverware adds to the springy theme.

We had a nice lunch of chicken salad (with dried cherries), fresh fruit salad & sour cream muffins.  Desserts were sugar cookies and chocolate cupcakes, filled with cherry filling, topped with cherry buttercream and chocolate ganache.

One of the gifts for my Mom was also cherry-related.  Again, a Pinterest-inspired creation.

 Here is my Mom and 4 of her 6 great-granchildren.  I think the smiles show that we had a wonderful brunch and many memories were made!

It's Thursday and I'm joining the group at Tablescape Thursday!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Craft Room

I’ve sewn since I was young, pre-junior high days.  My Grandma was a wonderful seamstress and my Mom isn’t half bad herself! In high school I sewed a lot of my own clothes, especially pants (remember bell bottoms and hip-huggers?) as it was hard for me to buy pants long enough for my 5’10” frame. Once I had children I sewed dresses, doll clothes, Halloween costumes and a few outfits for me every now and then.   The only place for my sewing machine was a corner in my bedroom.  I couldn’t sew at night with my Hubby trying to sleep, couldn’t supervise the kids playing outside so, gradually, my sewing projects became few and far between. I eventually gave away my sewing machine cabinet and the sewing machine got relegated to a shelf in the closet.

Three years ago my daughter bought a house and wanted black toile curtains for her kitchen window. She was on a budget, we couldn’t find any that she liked and could afford.  One day I told her “I think I can remember how to make curtains!” So we bought fabric and I grabbed my trusty Singer out of the closet! The curtains were a success and I discovered how much I had missed sewing.  

My first venture back into sewing! Of course they look better in the kitchen window than hanging from my cabinets!
I went back to the fabric store that same night and bought fabric, then made my granddaughter a dress (wow, did my back hurt after that marathon sewing session!)  Soon, fabric was coming home on a regular basis! It was a hassle, however, to get my sewing things out of the closet, having my sewing supplies stored here, there and everywhere, having to set things up on the dining room table then put them away  again. This was also true for any other craft project I started. I had no set place to organize and store things and no set place to be able to work.

One day my Hubby told me “why don’t you make our son’s room (he’s married, won’t be coming back home!) into a craft room?” My first response was no but the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea.  Soon I was at Home Depot ordering cabinets & countertops, having an electrician put in counter-top outlets and canned lighting over the workspaces, removing the carpet and having wood floors installed! 
Looking into the room from the hallway at my sewing area.
Second work station.
Cutting table (along with Harley, his bed & toys!)


Ribbon storage.

Marking pen storage.

I’ve had my craft room for a year now and haven’t found anything I would change in its design.  I have two workstations; one that I keep my sewing machine at, the second for other crafts.  I have tons of storage, a cutting/work table, bar stools for the granddaughters to sit at while we craft. If I want to sew or craft, for even a few minutes, I can come in, sit down, leave the mess when done and close the door on my way out! My Hubby has his “man cave” in the garage, I have my “woman cave” inside!

Join in at Metamorphosis Monday to see many more changes!