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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Life today pulls us in so many directions; sometimes it seems the stress just keeps coming, doesn’t it? And sometimes, we have to stop the world, get off and just do something nice for ourselves.

With a window of time in front of me Sunday, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the myriad of things I should be/could be doing. My list, as I’m sure is the case with your own, was endless. Know what I did? (In case the photos hadn’t given me away.) I baked. For me. That’s right. Not for someone else, not to take to an event, not to bring to someone else’s house … just for me. Something I almost never do.

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Just out of the oven …

I know, shame on me. I picked up a recipe I’d clipped recently from one of the magazines my neighbor and I swap with one another regularly, (like getting free subscriptions for both of us!) Muffins are easy and make me happy during the week, too.

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Cooling off

The recipe I chose was from Cooking Light called Jammin’ Oat Muffins – made with steel cut, quick-cooking oats, (I only use McCann’s Irish, non-GMO oats), low fat milk and canola oil, both organic – all good choices. How did they come out? I’d say they were better than OK, but not ones I’d bake again. You know … so many recipes, so little time. I only save recipes now if they are fabulous and I would definitely make them again.

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The muffins were a tad heavier than I would have liked. In this photo, I wanted to also show off these gorgeous, kind-of-jacquard autumn placemats I found, too.

But the most important thing was I put a stop to the overwhelming demands in  my head and did something nice for myself. That, in fact, made them taste even better. The moral of the story is … don’t forget to take a little time doing whatever it is that makes you happy and be nice to yourself.

You can find the recipe here.

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It seems almost everything I start to write about lately is so serious, (and I have the drafts to prove it), so I decided to write instead about my latest baking experience. Or should I say (unintended) baking experiment.

Each year I volunteer at, and bake for, the annual Open House at the equine rescue I help. Last weekend I pored over recipes looking for something fabulous and Fall-ish to bake, and settled on a gorgeous cranberry-orange cake with orange glaze. I usually bake a Bundt cake of some kind, and then wrap individual slices for them to sell at the bake sale. I make a sign that says “From Scratch” and “All Butter” and between the two, my cake goes pretty quickly. I’d thought about making something vegan, but I’m not practiced enough, so I’ll stick with what I know best, traditional baking.

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Well, it started with the food shopping. I’d gotten almost all the week’s groceries on my list and went to get the butter. Crap. I’d looked at so many recipes, I couldn’t remember if I was supposed to use salted or unsalted. I decided on the latter. After I’d loaded up on my own fruits and veggies, I searched for the cranberries. No fresh to be found — not organic or otherwise. Hmmmm. I headed over to the frozen section — no organic, looked for regular. Nothing. I asked the fellow in the frozen fruit section and inquired. He says, “We used to have the frozen all year `round, now they come in the same time as the fresh.”

Cake-Batter2Really? REALLY? My whole cake idea is now shot. I decided to go with blueberries, because they’ll be good with orange, but because I’d already been in the store so long, I grabbed the frozen in front of me instead of schlepping yet again to the fresh section. (And I just heard all you bakers groan.)

Saturday morning I got out all the ingredients, including those that needed to come to room temperature. Oh yeah, another recipe with frozen blueberries tells me to thaw them and drain well. So they’re in a strainer over a nice deep bowl.

Okay, now I’m starting to bake. I put Loreena on my CD player, (Mask and Mirror), and happily begin mixing my dry ingredients. I can already see the blueberries may be a problem. But what can I do? Cake-DoneInPan2I proceed with the recipe, make a little salt adjustment because it was salted butter it called for, (of course it was), and everything else goes smoothly. I try some extra gentle blotting of the blueberries before adding them, but it makes no difference. My batter is turning blue. At best, marbled blue. The great cake I had such high hopes for has officially turned into a science project.

Well, I know it will taste good, because a sampling of the batter tells me so, and into the oven it goes. I now find myself hoping that some kids at Open House will see the blue cake and think it’s real cool and beg Mom to buy it. After 50 minutes, I test with a toothpick. It says it’s OK; I don’t believe it, and put it back in for another 10 minutes. And below, when I went to turn it out, is what I got. * Sigh* Pretty depressing, eh?

Cake-TurnedOut2I feel badly as now I’ll have nothing to bring, and badly because I just wasted a lot of time and money. I must say, in all my years of baking, that never happened! Guess there’s a first time for everything.

If you’d like to make the cake I’d planned, and see a photo of what it should look like, here’s the recipe. No substitutions, please.

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