Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Marriage Samplers

I've been married over 37 years now (wow, does time fly!) and over the years I've stitched a few marriage-themed pieces.  I had them interspersed throughout our home. I decided to put them all together on a display wall in our bedroom and I love how it turned out. Having similarly-themed items in one place seems to call attention to them more. It's also turned into a display of how my stitching has evolved over the years. My first piece was a stamped cross stitch pattern, then I graduated to doing counted cross stitch on Aida cloth.  Now most of my pieces are some sort of evenweave or linen. It continues to be a very relaxing hobby for me.

This is my first cross-stitched piece, a stamped piece.  I remember doing this right after we were married!

I love these "marriage rules"!

This one has special meaning for me, I finished it in the hospital while my Hubbers recovered from a stroke.


Thursday, April 25, 2019

Strawberry Pavlova

Besides looking forward to the end of tax season and a more manageable schedule, mid-April is also when my favorite local strawberry patch is open for the season. This fruit stand is about 1/2 mile from my house, I often ride my bike there.  It's a small husband-wife operation, every time I go out there he is usually in the field picking berries and she is assembling baskets.  There is nothing that compares to fresh, locally grown strawberries!

My first after-tax season desserts usually consist of these fresh strawberries.  We had guests over for dinner and I decided to make individual pavlovas rather than a shortcake, something a little different.  A pavlova is a dessert made of meringue-like shells.  The edges are crispy and airy and the centers are softer, almost like a marshmallow. The center is smoothed out so that the meringue will hold a whipped cream filling, forming a little indentation. They are very easy to make, impressive to serve, and are suitable to making ahead of time.  When it's time to serve dessert it's just a matter of adding the whipped cream and topping them with the fruit. Any kind of fruit can be used but I especially like them with any sort of berry, or combination thereof.

They can be filled with a simple sweetened whipped cream or embellished with more flavor.  On this night, I added a few dollops of lemon curd as I love the flavor combination of lemon and strawberry.  A strawberry puree can be mixed in and the berries drizzled with chocolate. Cinnamon flavored whipped cream is a great base for an apple topping.  Mix and match to whatever fruit you have on hand!

You can make a big pavlova and serve it like a pie or individual ones.  You can spoon the mixture into a piping bag and pipe the circles or spoon mounds of the egg-white mixture onto the parchment paper and shape with a spoon.  It's all in how fancy you want to get!  Either way, it's best to draw the desired sized circles onto parchment paper.  I used a ramekin.  Once the circles are drawn, turn the paper over so that the meringues aren't on the penciled side of the paper. Pipe or shape the meringue onto the marked paper and bake.  Easy, peasy!

Before baking!

After baking!  Cracking of the shells is normal.

Pavlova Shells

4 eggs whites
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon white vinegar

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.  Trace 6-8 circles (or one 9-inch circle) onto a piece of parchment paper with a pencil.  Flip paper over and lay on baking sheet.

Place sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl and whisk together.  Place egg whites in a stand mixer with whisk attachment.  Beat for 1-3 minutes, until soft peaks form.  With mixer running at medium-high speed, slowly add the sugar mixture, until all is incorporated. Increase speed to high and continue mixing 3-4 minutes longer, until mixture is smooth and glossy and holds stiff peaks.

Add the vanilla and vinegar to the mixture and mix to combine, scraping down edges of bowl with a spatula.  Place mixture into a piping bag and pipe rounds onto the prepared sheet (or spoon mixture onto the marked rounds and shape with a spoon).

Use a spoon to make a little indentation in the center of each mound.

Place pan in oven and decrease temperature to 250 degrees.  Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the edges are set and sound hollow when tapped.  Turn off the oven and crack the door open, let pan cool completely.

Spoon freshly whipped cream (lightly sweetened) into center of each shell.  Top with desired fruit.

Pavlovas can be stored in an air-tight container for a day or two.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Tax Season 2019 Projects

My 42nd tax season (yikes!) is in the books.  It’s been a tougher than usual one this year; our partner retired so we took over most of his accounts and the additional workload, we had a major tax law to learn, explain to our clients, as well as the changes it made to our tax software.  We had to put down my beloved 16-year old cocker spaniel, Harley, on March 19.  It’s just been a rough tax season but we have made it through another one!

I haven’t had a day off since February 4, literally worked seven days a week, long hours. I’ve done just basic cooking, no baking, and I’m behind on keeping up with the weeds. The laundry, thankfully, is not behind! The tendency is to come home from work and just crawl into bed.  But, that’s so unproductive! In the past I tried to keep up with my cross stitching and did a lot of reading.

Four years ago I decided to learn how to quilt with an online weekly sew-along.  It started in January and I found it to be a great stress relief from the daily grind of dealing with numbers.  Sewing, even a few minutes a night, was a great way to unwind.  My first quilt was a success and I was hooked on the hobby!  The second and third year I did a sew-along with the same instructor but they were appliqued quilts.  By the end I was pretty much over applique. In 2018 I got ambitious and did a quilt of pieced birds. In retrospect, it was over my skill level but I persevered and finished, though not until June.

This tax season I picked a much easier quilt, just some squares and rectangles to sew together in a cross tile pattern.  My goal was to finish the 20 blocks by April 15.  I finished those mid-March. 

My buddy, he was always "helping" me. This was a few nights before he passed.
I also joined a mystery block of the month club whereby material and pattern for that month’s block(s) arrive about the first of the month.  I’m loving the colors and designs of the fabric but the blocks are quite detailed, lots of points and half-square triangles. It’s testing my novice piecing skills.  I’ve not started April’s blocks yet but the fabric is ready to be cut out.  I still have two weeks of April left!

This quilted flower and pitcher has me so intimidated but I will jump in!
A few weeks ago another blog started a project doing a two-color quilt using instructions from a book I already had.  Yes, I caved and am now doing that sew-along (I already have it ear-marked for a birthday gift later this year).  I am on schedule, finished the second block yesterday.  The third block will be released on Thursday.
Though I wasn't home much the past three months I feel very accomplished in all I was able to get done creatively.  I can't wait to get back in the kitchen, especially to bake some goodies.  My hands long to feel some dirt instead of a computer keyboard. It's good to have free time once more!



Thursday, January 17, 2019

Orange Cheesecake

I know it's January and we're all supposed to be doing our after-holidays dieting, right?  My son has a wonderful orange tree and he brought me a big plastic garbage bag full of them.  My first inclination, after making a big pitcher of fresh orange juice, was to make something healthy and low-calorie.  Then I said to myself, "life is too short, make some dessert!" My granddaughter loves cheesecake so I surprised her with this one evening.  We all enjoyed a slice (ok, maybe two!) then I passed the remainder out to neighbors and family.  In my mind, that's a perfect diet technique! I get to experience the joy of baking but the sinful calories are at someone else's home!

As I shared recently, I used some of my citrus bounty to make infused sugar. A cup of this sugar was perfect in this cheesecake, providing an intense burst of orange flavor in the cheesecake. I love the combination of oranges and chocolate so made a chocolate cookie crust.  Graham crackers, gingersnaps or vanilla wafers can be substituted, depending on your taste buds.

The orange topping gave each slice an additional punch of orange flavor. I used fresh orange juice and the color was more yellow, than orange.  Frozen juice would probably provide a deeper color.  My husband thought it was a lemon cheesecake until he took a bite! Orange food color could be added if that is a concern, I don't think it's necessary.

It's January 17 and I've not made a dessert since this cake 2 weeks ago.  That's another effective diet tip!

Orange Cheesecake

24 Oreos
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon grated orange peel

1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Securely wrap 2 squares of aluminum foil up and around the sides of a 9-inch springform pan.  (The crust is very buttery and the aluminum foil will prevent butter from seeping out of the pan onto your oven floor.  It will also be extra insurance against water seeping into the crust when it's baking in its water bath).

Crush Oreos into fine crumbs using either a food processor or placing the Oreos in a Ziploc bag and crushing into crumbs, using a rolling pin or heavy cup. In a medium bowl, combine the crust ingredients and mix well.  Press in bottom and 2 inches up sides of an ungreased 9-inch springform pan. Bake in preheated pan for 8 minutes.  Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack. Let cool before filling.

Reduce oven to 325 degrees.

To make the filling, in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy.  Gradually add the sugar and beat well.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating just until blended.  Add orange peel and blend well (I left out the orange peel and used 1 cup of orange-infused sugar).  Pour into the crust-lined pan.

Place the crust-lined springform pan in a larger baking pan and add 1 inch of  boiling water to the baking pan. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until center is almost set.  Cool 1 hour or until completely cooled.

In a small saucepan, combine all topping ingredients; mix well.  Cook over medium heat until bubbly and thickened, stirring constantly.  Cool 5 minutes; spoon over cheesecake.  Refrigerate at least 3 hours before serving.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Infused Sugar

I love making and using infused sugar. The wonderful uses of infused sugar are endless. It adds a depth of flavor to baked goods, whether that be a poundcake, scones, or cookies. A teaspoon in a cup of tea or coffee adds a little hint of flavor to the drink. It can be used to garnish the rim of a cocktail. They are easy to do and make wonderful gifts for your favorite baker.

For years I have kept a canister of vanilla sugar on my counter.  I make homemade vanilla extract.  I dry the used vanilla beans and put in my sugar canister.  Anytime I am making a recipe that calls for vanilla and sugar I almost always go to my canister.  When it starts getting low, I just add more sugar.

There are many kinds of infused sugars to be made; lavender, citrus, herbal (salt can also be infused!)  Recently I was given a lot of lemons and oranges.  Some of them went into lemon and orange infused sugar. Oh, they smell so good! I plan to use some in a few baked goods this weekend.

Below is the basic recipe to create citrus sugars; zest amounts can be adjusted depending on the size of your produce. I always seem to go by "more is better", but adjust to your taste buds.

Orange sugar: 2 cups of sugar + the zest of one orange

Lemon sugar: 2 cups of sugar + the zest of 2 lemons

Lime sugar: 2 cups of sugar + the zest of 3 limes

Use a zester to zest the outer part of the skin, being careful not to get into the white pith area. Toss into a food processor bowl with 1 cup of the sugar, pulse a few times until you have uniform pieces of zest in the sugar. Add the rest of the sugar and pulse until combined.

Lay the sugar mixture out on a baking sheet for a few hours until it has dried out.

Store in a jar (I use my favorite mason jars).

I was knee-deep in oranges the other night, orange infused sugar is drying on the cookie sheet.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Stollen with Rosa

In the early 80's my husband made the acquaintance of a German woman, Rosa, who lived in his apartment complex.  Rosa was a WWII bride, coming to America in her early 20's. (Oh, the stories she tells of war time, especially of her father who went away to serve and was one of the missing, never to return home). She soon found herself with a husband who was abusive and 5 young children to raise. After 25 years she left the husband and was on her own, with little job-ready skills.  But a hard worker she was, as well as a wonderful seamstress.  She sewed and did alternations for people and house cleaning. In 1990, with a full-time job and two children under the age of 5, keeping my house in the shape I wanted it to be was becoming a problem.  We hired Rosa as our housekeeper.  She worked for us for almost 20 years and, during that time, became family to us. She would show up early on the days she had set aside for us, just so we could visit. She has attended our family birthday parties, weddings, and shared in so many of our family's up and downs.  We all have a soft spot in our hearts for her.

Rosa will be 84 in February, not as spry as she once was, but still a busy and industrious woman.  She lives about 20 miles away so we don't see her as frequently as we once did.  I always make a point to see her sometime during the holidays.  She usually makes us something to nibble on, we drink tea or coffee and catch up.  For years she has made me a loaf of German stollen bread, a slightly sweet bread filled with candied fruits, nuts and lemon zest.  This year she asked when I could come by for lunch and to get my stollen.  I replied that I wanted her to show me how she makes it instead.  We set up a time and we recently got together for our lunch and my baking lesson. It was a fun day.  I came home with a loaf of still-warm stollen (I couldn't resist and ate some in the car as I drove down the freeway!) and the recipe. Most importantly, I came home with memories of a day spent with a sweet woman.

Except for the fruit added, the stollen dough is actually quite low in sugar.  The finished bread is sprinkled with confectioners' sugar or drizzled with a glaze.  Rosa is not a fan of real sweet things so she usually just slathers the bread in butter as soon as it comes out of the oven.

Citron, a dried lemon, is not easy to find here and is pricey so we didn't put that in the stollen this time.  Instead we added more lemon zest to the dough. Orange zest can be substituted for the lemon. It's a versatile dough, you can add or subtract the sweet ingredients that are available. This recipe calls for the dough to be refrigerated overnight. Rosa no longer does that, she completes the stollen in one baking session.  Either way works!  Stollen is most commonly considered a Christmas bread, similar to panettone.  I like it any time of year.  It makes a big loaf; I usually cut mine in sections and place in freezer bags.  During tax season, as now, a slice or two of stollen with my morning coffee is a nice treat!


1 package active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 whole eggs
1 egg yolk (reserve white)
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
3 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup chopped blanched almonds
1/4 cup cut-up citron
1/4 cup cut-up candied cherries, if desired
1/4 cup raisins
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind

In mixer bowl, dissolve yeast in the warm water.  Add sugar, salt, eggs, egg yolk, butter and half of the flour.  Beat 10 minutes on medium speed or by hand. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl frequently. With a spoon blend in remaining flour, nuts, fruits and rind. Scrape batter from sides of bowl. Cover with a cloth and let rise in a warm place until double in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.  Stir down batter by beating 25 strokes. Cover tightly and store in refrigerator overnight.

Turn dough onto well-floured surface; turn to coat with flour.  Press into an oval, about 12/8".  Spread with soft butter.  Fold in two the long way.  Press only folded edge firmly. Place on greased baking sheet.  Brush with mixture of 1 slightly beaten egg white and 1 tablespoon water.  Let rise until double, 45 to 60 minutes. 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden brown. Frost while warm with the white icing or dust top of stollen with confectioners sugar.

White Icing:
Mix 1 1/2 cups sifted confectioners sugar and 1 1/2 tablespoon milk with a fork or whisk, until smooth. Decorate, as desired, with pieces of citron and candied cherry halves.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

2018 - Tea at the Christmas Tree Farm!

The girls in my family recently met for our 12th annual Christmas tea in my home. This year we only had 8 in attendance. In prior years we had attendance as high as 18.  Family issues, illnesses, and busy sports schedules meant I originally had RSVP's for 14, but it kept dwindling down, even on the day of the tea. This was disappointing to me as I spend a lot of time and money trying to make a memorable tea for everyone.  I'm not sure I will have the enthusiasm to tackle this next year, only time will tell.

Those of us in attendance had a nice time. The youngest to attend was my 7-month old great-nephew.  He was so good, just smiled and played the entire time. The oldest was my 80 year old mom.  Mom has dementia and it's becoming increasingly hard for her to do even the most basic tasks. She has always loved our tea parties and she had a wonderful time. Next up was my 79 year old aunt.  She, too, has health issues but was a trooper and carried on. The main purpose of our annual tea is to keep the generations together.  My 8 year old granddaughter was able to spend time with her older relatives as well as the baby. Family is everything, right?

Red farm trucks and black and white buffalo plaid is very "in" right now.  I chose my theme a year ago and started picking up items during the after-Christmas sales last year.  Originally I had planned to do a gingerbread farm scene for the large table but I came to my senses about a month ago!

The format of our teas is very traditional.  I make scones, lemon curd & strawberry jam for our first course and serve them to the guests.  Everyone brings a savory or sweet, some bring both (thank you!) We set these items on my kitchen island and serve them potluck style. My family can cook and bake, we always have plenty of good tasting items to choose from!  We share the leftovers, too!

My granddaughter always spends Friday nights with me so she helps me set the tables and decorate, as well as assist with the baking.  Earlier in the day I made Rice Krispies treats.  We cut them in rectangles and, using melted chocolate, M&M's and candy eyes, she turned them into reindeer.  It is fun to watch her confidence in her baking skills grow.

Here is a summary of prior teas:

2017 - Peppermint and Roses Tea

2016 - A Woodland Tea

2016 - A Valentine's Tea

2015 - Let It Snow Tea Party

2013 - A Gingerbread Tea