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We can be so hard on ourselves sometimes. As if a small amount of a delicious cheese would really push our cholesterol seriously over the edge. Or that we don’t deserve an occasional taste of the sublime.

My friend and I were enjoying a petite celebration in Frenchtown today. After a wonderful meal at Pulp, a vegetarian restaurant and juice bar known for its cleanly grown food and fabulous smoothies, I’d wanted to make two stops, one at Minette’s, a chocolatier, for a gift, and Olive with A Twist, a store that specializes in the most vast array of oils you could imagine, specialty cheeses and other delights. Minette’s was closed for vacation, so we moved on to our next stop. The sandwich board out front advertised “Watermelon Balsamic” and “Coconut Gouda”.  An unusual combination to be sure, but how bad could it be?

The shop owner happily shaved us each a sample and I was immediately in love. The coconut was bright but subtle, and the gouda smooth and a tad on the sweet side. Did I – do I – really need a cheese high in fat and at a price that made me gasp to myself and momentarily think of starving children in the world? Before I backed down, I requested between 1/4 and 1/2 pound.

I reminded myself that life is short and to be enjoyed, and small treats here and there are good for the soul. Besides, I would hate to think, in my final moments on earth, “Why didn’t I buy some of that coconut gouda?”

The moral of the story? Be good to yourself. You deserve it.

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Some guilty part of me feels that I should be writing something patriotic as it’s the anniversary of our wonderful country – Happy Birthday, America! – but alas, I finally have a bit of time to write and I have some other rambling thoughts. Like about the nectar of the gods.

Coffee. And how it’s made.

Not everyone feels that a cup of joe is the nectar of the gods, but as far as I’m concerned, you can keep your wine, beer, aged scotch, tea and (heaven forbid) soda. I’ll take coffee.

It’s not the caffeine, it’s the flavor. I like good quality coffee, and I like making it the same way I’ve been making it since I first began brewing my own – with a Chemex coffee pot. Years ago, long before Keurig and the vast array of coffee makers that electronically brew your coffee on a timer, there were some simple coffee makers, drip coffee pots, and a few other options. At the time, Consumer Reports evaluated all the means of making coffee and ranked the Chemex number one for flavor with the French press right behind.

With special filters manufactured by Chemex, all bitterness is removed from the coffee as you pour boiling water over the measured grounds. People have commented on how good this coffee is which I credit to the Chemex method. (OK, and the fact that I’m willing to spend a bit more on well-crafted and sustainably-sourced coffee.)

But here’s what’s funny. Like so many other things in life, this method is now having a revival! Having once fallen out of favor except with its many devotees, and having been (unintentionally) kicked to the curb by Keurig, this method of brewing can now be found in restaurants all over, and it’s known as “pour-over” coffee. Uh-huh. Rewind! Welcome to my world, guys. Live long enough – and I’m not that old – and you will see everything come around again from platform shoes to tie-dye shirts to troll dolls.

But in this case, it’s a real benefit to those of us for whom our cuppa joe will always be the nectar of the gods. Cheers!

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applebars-squaresdone-small2It’s no revelation to say that routine can be a real buzzkill. And that can be true in any area of our lives. And yet, many of us are confined by the strictures of work, family, chores, etc. A fair amount of our scheduled days is necessarily and simply unavoidably routinized.

But what about some of that other time? I have been noticing lately how much of certain nights is all packaged up ever-so-neatly around the TV. Very American, yes? Truly I am not all that into TV the way I realize a lot of people are, but still … I have my favorites that I like to catch. However, I will find myself parked there, watching something relatively inane that has been sandwiched in between some things I really like. Why am I watching it?

I decided to take a harder look at what I’m watching and … decided to skip a bunch of it. Dumping the telly for a good book. Yeah, I remember that. Sunday afternoon I came home from a picnic with the plan of baking something – had all the ingredients already on the counter and everything. (Ergo the photos you see.) But I wasn’t feeling it, so did some other things, yet was still aware of he clock ticking. Who starts baking after 7 p.m. with work looming on Monday? Well, I guess that was me.

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The dry and other basic ingredients are gathered; the butter and egg at room temperature. Ready to start.

And that’s what made me think of/remember the importance of mixing it up. Even on the small stuff. Was there really anything so pressing on TV? Did I feel like watching the Netflix movie that was waiting? No and no. Why not go ahead and bake even if it’s getting late? Who cares how long it takes? (It was cooled off by 10:00 p.m. – Double Apple Bars. Yum.)

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The apples are pared and cubed. There are 2 cups of apples to about 1-1/2 cups of batter. Very apple-y.
I gave my favorite Macouns a try in this recipe.

We all get so comfortable doing what we’re used to. I’m at the point where I really need to mix it up more – need to feel inspired, have fun, try some new things, go back to some old ones I haven’t done in a while. I don’t know that I’ve actually been bored, but I do know that I have, in too many ways, succumbed to routines. How about you?

I just got a funny image of Bugs Bunny. “What’s up, doc?” he always said. What’s up? Well, I don’t know – what say we go find out.

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They taste like apple pie in a bar – moist, spicy and full of apple flavor. The pecans are yummy as an addition.

 

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Do you ever find yourself missing you? And by that I mean a part of you that you have always enjoyed but for which there seems to be little or no time nowadays?

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On the rare occasions that I bake these days, I am reminded of times when I really used to cook and bake a whole lot more … and loved it. So when I do get in the kitchen, and take my sweet time baking a cake, (which may be to raise funds for the local equine rescue I help or when I’m a dinner guest and have offered to bring dessert), I not only enjoy it, but feel like I’ve re-found a part of myself. I call her the “domestic dolly” part of me.

Dolly likes to cook and bake – from scratch, of course – likes to sew, paint stuff – walls, furniture, do crafts – and yes, sometimes, actually enjoys cleaning … or at least the result. But as our lives get busier and stay busier, other things demand our time and attention, and these may fall to the wayside,  and hey, I’m not 28 anymore. Yeah, then there’s that.

So we pick and choose, and try, somewhere along the line, to occasionally rediscover the parts of ourselves that sometimes get lost in the shuffle. It’s a challenge. Life has different demands than in the past. We have different goals. But it’s good to remember ourselves, even if for a little while.

What about you – are you a cook or baker with no time? Love to go out dancing? Travel? Play music? Hike? Just curl up with a good book?

My suggestion? Dust off that `you’ and take her or him out for a spin. Find that time or make that time. If it’s something we love, we can’t afford to go missing.

 

 

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There are just times in all our blog-posting lives that other demands pull us far off in some other direction. This is one of those times for me and I am just trying to keep up with them, while still noticing how long ago it was I last posted. Okay, so here’s something on the light and fluffy (and delicious) side.

Like some of the sweeter things in life? Enjoy a little celebration every now and then? Well, here’s your chance to pair them up.

Frenchie-BananaSplit4Blog2Because I design/create calendars for some of my clients, I also research holidays that apply to their businesses. I had reason to visit a particular site today to read more about “National I Love Horses Day” (July 15th) and what did I find? A veritable cornucopia of food celebration days!

So just in case you needed some justification to celebrate … or eat … here are some holidays through the end of August:

August 20th – National Chocolate Pecan Pie Day
August 21st – National Spumoni Day
August 22nd – National Pecan Torte Day
August 23rd – National Sponge Cake Day
August 24th – National Waffle Day
August 25th – National Banana Split Day
August 26th – National Cherry Popsicle Day
August 27th – National Pots de Creme Day
August 28th – National Cherry Turnovers Day
August 29th – National Chop Suey Day
August 30th – National Trail Mix Day
August 31st – Maybe you should think about getting out of the kitchen and walking off some of those calories … day (I made that up.)

Who’d imagine, right? Should you want more you can visit the holiday listing website. And if you like my cutie little Frenchie banana split, you can order her in a blank notecard along with three other Frenchie Sundae pups

Like I said – light, fluffy and delicious. I’m sure my brain will return soon.

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Baking for some of us is an expression of creativity, a passion, or a simple pleasure. Personally I wish I had more time to bake, but when I do, I am reminded of the numerous perks of baking besides the obvious. Here are a few:

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5. Baking is a license to make a mess. We sometimes need permission to let that super-neat side go, (or that hyper-critical side that’s always complaining that we’re not being neat enough.) There’s nothing like poufs of flour and drooling egg whites on the counter to remind us that messy can often serve the higher power of creativity.

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4. It ends up being a great time to give our prep counters a thorough cleaning, a corollary to #5 above.

3. Baking is also an ideal opportunity to take stock of our pantry and insure that we don’t run out of the staples we need when our next baking impulse strikes.

2. Baking makes the house smell fabulous.

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1. The most obvious reason why baking is cool:

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Yum! We get to enjoy something truly delicious that came from our own two hands which is wholesome and free of all the extra and unnecessary additives of store-bought.

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Pictured here are Apple Buttermilk Muffins. I made 6 large muffins rather than 12 small, used pecans instead of walnuts, and I used the Macoun apples I already had in the house. It all added up to a treat worth savoring.

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MacounOnPlate2One would always hope that we have reasons to love where we live. As mentioned in previous posts, living in my county in New Jersey provides such simple joys in its natural beauty all year long. Similarly, I love living in the Northeast where we have the largest concentration of deciduous trees, giving us the fabulous Fall colors we love, and four distinct seasons as well. But there’s another simple pleasure …

Apples. We have apples. Beautiful red, gold, green and blushing apples. And farmstands aplenty selling them right from their own orchards. Pictured here is the apple that rose in ranks to my favorite eating apple, the Macoun. Before I’d moved to this side of the state nearly 20 years ago, I’d never heard of it, and up to that point my favorites had been Macintosh and Granny Smith. I loved the tart- sweet flavor of them both, but the Macoun topped all. It has a very specific appearance in contrast to MelicksCider2other apples, a grey “bloom” which you can see in the photo. (One might think it needs a washing, but that is the apple coloration.)

About a mile down the road from where I lived in Pattenburg was Tradition Farms. They had a small farm stand which sold produce from early summer right through Thanksgiving, and it was there I discovered the delicious Macoun. And along with that, their own apple cider which amazingly enough, tasted different each week because the farmer was pressing different apples depending upon what was ripening. I drank a lot of cider during the time I lived there! In addition to that, the farmer offered – and still does – a chart with all the varieties he grows, 32 in all, and their taste, what they’re best for, (eating, pie, sauce, salad), and what time they’d be ripening and at the stand. Want some Ida Reds for pie? Come in late September. Some Gold Rush for applesauce? They’re in in late October.

Pictured in this post are Macouns and cider from another nearby farm, Melick’s, practically an institution in this county. Their cider is also delicious and featured not only at their farm in Oldwick, but also in many local supermarkets.

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We are all fortunate to have such little pleasures around us, whether they be apples or anything that reminds us that the simplest things in life can also be an abundance of riches.

 

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Top on my list today? Jersey tomatoes!

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Slice into one of these ruby red gems and it’s pure heaven. What’s for lunch? A Skellig sweet cheddar from Ireland, Vegenaise and organic sprouted grain toast – yum!

And I don’t care what anyone says – I’ve had tomatoes from other places and they just don’t measure up to real Jersey tomatoes. They don’t call us the Garden State for nothing!

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And the best part? In my part of the state there are farmstands and farmers’ markets dotting the back roads and main roads, so you never have to go too far to be absolutely delighted with these sweet, juicy, delicious tomatoes. (Corn, too!) Gratitude for little things comes easy out this way in summer.

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Those of you who stop by with any regularity often see at least one photo of the stash I garner after the Annual Library Sale. Not this year, but I did bring home some wonderful selections, adult, MG and YA, which were accompanied by another bunch of tantalizing books which my Library Sale Buddy offered me. (She opened her trunk like she had hot merchandise in there – dozens of books she’d read over the year, and was offering to me and other friends. It was pretty funny.)

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A few days ago, I was ready to dive in to one of those picks and chose a book by John Irving, Cider House Rules. I’d seen the movie years ago, which was fabulous, but as I CloseToFamous-JoanBauer2began the book, it didn’t seem right. I wanted something that would feed my creative self, the me that wants to work on my Middle Grade novel. I put it back on the shelf and drew out the Joan Bauer MG novel I’d picked up, Close to Famous.

I like Bauer’s style – her characters are believable, palpable people you might know or like to get to know. No high drama, but real life in a compelling way. This would both feed my creative self and provide an enjoyable read.

 

For those of us who create, who aspire to bring something new and of value into the world, feeding that part of ourselves is so important. I know, for myself, it can also get sorely neglected when life’s demands are peaking, and Creative Me can get tossed into a corner like a shucked-off backpack, full as it is of wondrous things.

VictorianHome2

What writer isn’t enriched by reading, what artist by looking at art that inspires? Imagine a baker who doesn’t sample fabulous cupcakes, tasting every nuance of flavor, checking the texture for mouthfeel – how could she possibly produce truly delicious cupcakes herself without knowing what really good cupcakes taste like? It’s no different with us.

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Another way to feed our creative selves is to get out in nature — take a walk, take a drive to a nearby park, sit in your garden, watch a bird, a bee, a squirrel. Nothing fancy. Let the wonders of nature inspire you, help you feel at peace, connected. In that serenity, our creativity can come out to play.

I took the photos you see here on a recent walk – blue sky, sunny day – reminded me of the me that longs to create despite the daily demands of life. It was like a cupcake for my creative soul.

PathInWoods2

Take a little time for yourself, especially when you most think you have none. Treat yourself to a creative cupcake. Add extra sprinkles; be inspired.

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PastryDough2You know … I was once quite the baker. That was back when I had the time, and was able to bake – and cook – with some sort of regularity. (I even have a little recipe box to prove it!) But how frustrating is it to finally set aside the time to bake, and have what you were going to bake be a disaster!

I know – this isn’t the first time I’ve spilled some baking tears on this blog, but I also know that those of you who do bake share my frustration when you spend the time with such a gorgeous end product in mind and it comes out wrong, or not at all. (Insert huge sigh here.)

So there you see the photo. That wasn’t what I was planning on making. At all. What I’d planned on making was Hamantaschen, those wonderful little triangular pastries with delicious fillings of fruit, poppyseed or almond. And I had the recipe that I had made them from  in the past. I went online and checked some recipes to see that my older one was in the range of what was still being done and all looked good. (By the way, if you want to see what beautiful Hamantaschen look like, their history, and how to make them, take a peek here. This is where I’ll be getting my next recipe from.)

So this morning early, I prepped my pastry dough so it would have at least 3 hours to chill and went about my other chores. Long story short, the dough was terribly crumbly, and was not pulling together any better with some ice water. I’d rolled out 1/4 of it and saw that this was not going to work; there’d never even be enough dough to make what the recipe said. So I made some cinnamon and sugar strips, (above), just to have something come from my efforts.

I brought out the next quarter of the dough and knew I was just wasting my time, and sadly, I chucked it. Half of it still sits in the fridge, why, I’m not sure, but there won’t be any Hamantaschen coming out of this kitchen today. And I wonder … could using organic ingredients make a difference? Are the ingredients used today sufficiently different from those on hand when I originally made that recipe to have this result?

Or … (insert very deep sigh here) … have I lost my touch? I won’t accept that, maybe just a little out of practice. That recipe has followed the too-crumbly dough into the great beyond, and when I next feel Hamantaschen-ish, I’ll check the recipe linked to above. Such is life.

p.s. This is not at all what I’ve been wanting to post about, but there you have it …

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Soup-CloseUp2Actually, to me, almost any winter day is a soup day, but it’s been way too long since I’ve made a big pot of homemade soup. I think about it; sometimes I even buy the ingredients, but end up using them for something that takes less time. Sometimes I’m sure I’m going to make the soup at the end of the work day, and that never happens. So, today, (Sunday), I just got started earlier. My soup? A (vegan) Russian Potato and Bean Soup.

I’d been looking and looking among my many cookbook and recipe sources and wasn’t finding what I wanted. Then I remembered – and was staring right at it! – that I had this great recipe box from years ago from Vegetarian Times. It was a freebie for taking a subscription, I think. There are nice little divider sections and each group is color coded, as you can see below. Definitely a handy item to have.

Soup-RecipeBox2

They had so many yummy soup recipes, and I picked this one. It was already vegan except for the sour cream, and I had a plan for that.

I used all organic produce, and scrubbed and cubed some nice Russet potatoes, thin-sliced some onions, trimmed the green beans, and got ready to cook. I used Imagine brand vegetarian “No-Chicken Broth” which is quite tasty. The recipe called for 5 cups of broth, and this broth comes in quart containers, but, aha! I have a fabulous vegetable base for making soups, and I whipped up a cup of that.

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The basic soup ready to bring to a boil.

I sautéed the onions in the broth and a teaspoon of canola oil, then added the potatoes and beans for a bit. I added the rest of the broth, brought to a boil and simmered for 1/2 hour.

The next addition was a mixture of 1/3 cup of sour cream mixed with 2 T. of flour. I had some concerns here because I had vegan sour cream, which has a tofu base, and I wasn’t really sure how that would work out. The recipe asks that you add the mixture to the soup by the spoonful and blend in. Here’s where, if you’re not vegan, I’d go with real sour cream; if you are, go with the time-honored way of blending some of the stock with the flour separately and then mixing it back into the main pot. That’s what I’ll do in the future. Add in 3/4 cup of sauerkraut, 1 T. of dried dill and simmer another 15 minutes. While you’re invited to add seasonings at the end, I found the sauerkraut and dill provided plenty of flavor on their own.

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Bon appétit!

The recipe for this soup is not available on the Vegetarian Times website, however, I did a search and found it on another site. If interested, here’s the recipe — enjoy!

 

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It starts with something quite simple, same as every year … with the arrival of the Dollar Store Christmas plates and the German Christmas mugs. This year, you will see something different, in addition. Mmmmmm … a sfogliatelle!

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It took great restraint to wait until I could take this photograph and not consume the pastry right away, but I made it. Only after I had, indeed, eaten most of it and looked at the photos I took, did I realize that it appears that the sfogliatelle has landed on and crushed the gingerbread man! Ooops. Sorry, Gingie!

So we see I am occasionally a sorry excuse for a vegan, even if I am trying. But who could resist that flaky pastry and ricotta cheese? And really, what kind of person would I be if, having purchased some office supplies at Staples, I failed to help support the Italian bakery just 5 doors down? So rather than suffer the guilt of ignoring this veritable mecca of delights, I bought a sfogliatelle.

Rather a nice way to start off the holidays, don’t you think? Salute!

 

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