Monday, February 28, 2011

And The Award Goes To. . .

Me!!  I don't have one of those gold statues, but my awards mean the world to me, simply because someone was so kind hearted to give them to me.

I not only still have the two here, that were bestowed upon me (almost a year ago!!! I'm SO embarrassed!!), but a new one too. .so while you don't have to watch me drone on, thanking everyone that has ever touched my life in some way, after I answer all of the required questions, you will probably know more about me than you ever wanted to know.  

And if you are a true masochist, you can head on over to my Halloween blog, where I got two more awards, and have to dish on myself some more. .this is going to be tough. .I'm just not that interesting!

With that kind of build up, I know that you are bouncing off of the walls for me to get started. .anticipation is everything. .so let's get started.

Becca over at Magikal Seasons, gave me two awards last Spring.  The first is the beautiful, Life Is Good Award.

And I'm supposed to answer these questions:

1. Besides friends and family what makes you happy?  I was going to say my kitties, but they are family.  I love baking, I love creating, and I would still love to be out taking photos in nature.
2. What is your favorite thing to do for me time? Read
3. If you had one wish what would you wish for? That my hubby be cured
4. What was your favorite thing to do as a child that you still enjoy? Hmmm, toss up between creating art and reading
5. What is your favorite most item that you've made? Dolls for my daughters
6. How many kids do I have? 3
7. Grandkids?3
8. Favorite season? Autumn
9. Job I loved? Photographer & working in the darkroom
10.City or country? Small resort town

The other award she gifted me with, is the, just as meaningful, Beautiful Blogger Award.  

I'm supposed to share 7 things about me. .hmmmmmm, 

1. In 1989 I shattered my right wrist, and broke the bones in my arm lengthwise while photographing ice fishermen out in a winter storm.  Forgot my crampons, and the wind had polished the ice. .saved my camera though! 
2. I can never stay outside in the winter, without toe & hand warmers, and a scarf over my nose because I never wanted to come inside from ice skating when I was a kid. .every day after school, and all day long on weekends.
3. Loved roller coasters, never liked Ferris wheels.
4. Life-long love of walking on the beaches, in all seasons, and will frequent the beach to watch the sunset, and to watch approaching storms.  Used to go to the beach daily in warm weather, from after breakfast (weekends, we had breakfast at the beach), until dinner. then would return in the evening. (this was in the pre-skin cancer awareness days, when we doused ourselves in a homemade blend of iodine and baby oil)
5. I believe in reincarnation (so I can rethink all of the dumb things I did when I was a kid in my previous life )
6. My first car was a Corvair convertible, 5 on the floor. .(I can hear you laughing!)
7. Now I have a Black VW Beetle, which I love, and only drive in the summer.

And now, just a few days ago, Pam, over at Queenie's Beads gave me an Awesome Blog Award!  Not only here, but on my Halloween blog as well.  I accused her of making me think up twice as many things to share, and she hasn't denied it. .I've known her for a looong time, and know how she thinks! :-)  Gosh. .what else can I think of? This is harder than it should be. .makes me realize what a mundane life I lead!

1. I got my first, and only black eye at a slumber party when I was in Jr. High (and it was a beaut!)
2. Hubs and I used to go "canoe camping" a lot. .paddle lakes and portage through woods across islands to get to a campsite.
3. We used to camp in the wintertime. .in deep snow
4. As a kid, I took horseback riding lessons (English) at a riding academy every Spring and Fall.
5. I love archery. .targets only, no animals
6. I read cookbooks like I read fiction & non-fiction
7. I've always wanted to learn to play a bass clarinet, an oboe & a bassoon. 

Ok. .I'm supposed to pass these awards on to 15 other people, but not only am I months late with Becca's awards, but figure that if you are kind enough to come here and read my blog, then you are most deserving of all of these awards. So please, take your pick, take them all and decorate your own blog with honor!  Enjoy them. .that is what truly gives them their value.

Thank you Becca, and thank you Pam!  It truly means a lot to me that you would think of me.  

And thank you everyone, for hanging in here with me, even when I am unfortunately not here to post as often as I would like.  Knowing that you understand, and are here when I return, touches my heart.

Huge Hugs,

Friday, February 25, 2011

Do You Know What? We're Going To Seduce Them. . . .

"We're going to seduce them with our square footage, and our discounts, and our deep armchairs, and... Our cappuccino.
That's right. They're going hate us at the beginning, but... But we'll get 'em in the end.
Do you know why?. . .Because we're going to sell them cheap books and legal addictive stimulants. In the meantime, we'll just put up a big sign: "Coming soon: a FoxBooks superstore and the end of civilization as you know it." 

Do you recognize those lines?  Of course you do.  Who didn't fall in love with the little Shop Around The Corner. .it was, as the line in the movie says, "Enchanting". I would have loved to just sit in it, and absorbed the atmosphere, or even better have owned such a dream little shop!

And who among you didn't get a little misty-eyed when they showed this scene?

I loved this movie, not so much for its story line, but the scenes. .the warm lighting and of course, Autumn!!  And it always made me sad that she had to close her shop. . oh, I know. .it opened up new doors for her as a writer, but in my mind, I'm thinking that she could have done both.

What made it even more bitter was the fact that at the very same time, that this movie came out, some of my favorite independent book shops were facing closure due to the big bad Barnes & Noble was opening within blocks, and no matter that I traveled over an hour, twice a month to frequent my favorite bookstores (that those trips happened to be the next day after I got paid, was pure coincidence!), my armloads of purchased volumes, failed to keep their doors open.  I was more than misty-eyed.  I felt such a sadness watching the shelves clear, and knowing that a store that had been SO successful for decades was going to be no more. I was SO angry at the "Big Bad Bookstore".

And that created a huge problem for me. Being the admitted bookaholic (started waaay before I could read, and yes, I even loved my textbooks, often reading them through before school ever started) that I am, I now faced the choice of going through those dreaded enemy doors, or live a dreary existence, book free. .so I straightened my shoulders and marched in to face the foe, somehow justifying that as long as I didn't actually like them, that I was still being loyal to a now deceased shop (even though they were taking my money. .I didn't say it was logical!!). . .and, it did take a while, but yes, they lured me with scents of fresh coffee and baked goods, and row after row of books. .gorgeous tomes of every subject imaginable, warm lighting, just-right aisle widths. .not to crowded, not to open, but just cozy enough for that warm, "book shop" feel, complete with deep, luscious chairs, cool music, and no high pressure sales people. .plus late hours!  What can I say. .they hit me in one of my weakest points. .books. .I'm not proud.

Every time my hubs, younger daughter and I would head off for an evening of shopping in the "big city", we would cap off our adventure stopping at usually both Borders, which had built a store right down the street from the bigger B&N.  And walk out with all of arms full of loaded bags. .yeah, we bought the canvas ones, and kept them in the car. .you never knew when a drive might take you near one of their stores.  And my B&N membership card is peeling at the corners, so old, that some of the younger sales clerks are amazed to see a well used vintage card.

Yes, in-between actual trips to the bookstore, my mailman regularly drops those slim, and sometimes not so slim book cartons onto my front steps, but nothing beats hunting for books in person.

But a little over a year ago, things began to change. B&N moved from a free standing building, to a mall that already has problems with traffic flow and parking, and even with a huge remodel, the parking problem is even worse now.  The comfy chairs disappeared. Their coffee area went from being a huge open room, with dozens of tables, and a bar all around the windowed walls, to a postage stamp size floor of 4 tables. The lighting got brighter and more stark. The chess clubs, cribbage nights, book clubs and other groups disappeared from their newsletters. .then the newsletters disappeared. Their high volume, big box store attitude became more apparent.

And nearby Borders got rid of their movie and music sections, but opened up their coffee area, inviting the clubs, having acoustic music nights, bringing the feeling of community into their walls, much like an independent book shop would do.

Some former B&N patrons, upset with the logistics of their move, fled to Borders. But, apparently, it was still not enough, because with the recent announcement of Borders filing bankruptcy, came the announcement that the store that we frequented, is one that is closing. And on their heels, B&N announces that they are in trouble too. .seems that the threat of e-books is their nemesis.

I may change my mind some day. .I've learned to never say never, but I'm a holdout for the real deal. .I love the feel of a book in my hand.  Yeah, I don't like the idea that trees are losing their lives to become a book, so I really applaud when books are printed using recycled paper, and I cherish my books. .I don't throw them away, I treat them with respect.

But am I as upset with Borders closing as I was 20 years ago when my favorite local bookshops closed?  Am I going to get mysti-eyed when I see those empty shelves, and the wasted, empty store standing there? I feel badly for the employees losing their jobs, but overall, I can't say that I am. Maybe it is because I have other choices to get my book fix, but I did back then too. .have I become less of a romantic? Maybe a little more cynical in some aspects, but not really.

I think it is because I see something on the horizon that excites me. .I think that we are going to go full circle.  As so many small privately owned businesses have opened up in the past few years, I'm seeing an emergence of privately owned, independent booksellers opening their doors too.

One started out selling used books, and has been so successful, that they have now opened another shop in a neighboring shore side town down the road a few miles.  Another is a specialty book shop, aiming at young readers. What exciting news!!  

In going through a neighboring town, I've discovered a sliver of a bookstore set up in a vintage building, focused on history books, and travel. .another a mystery book shop!  Discovering these gems, to me, is like finding another antique shop, where I can browse for hours!! These are all small shops with individual personalities, where you pour your own complimentary small cup of coffee in a cup, and sip as you browse the aisles.  And look at who greets you when you walk in the door of our own local book shop?  You don't get this kind of welcome at a huge big bookstore!

It feels SO good to be "home" again!

Do YOU have a favorite local bookshop?  

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Browned Butter Cardamom Cookies

I love to try new-to-me cookies throughout the year, 
as a sort of taste test run for holiday baking. 
If we like them, then they go into my personal 
baking book.  This is one of those recipes. 

The browned butter adds a new dimension to the 
flavor of cookies, and I'm going to be experimenting 
with it more in "everyday" cookies, like 
Chocolate Chip, and our personal favorite, 
Oatmeal Raisin Spice. 

In the meantime, give these a try. 
They are easy to make, and would 
be a wonderful addition to have with your cup
of tea, any time of the year! 

(word of warning: the confectioner's sugar can be
a mite messy after the cookies are first rolled, 
but will "settle" down after the cookies have
had time to mellow. But the flavor makes 
putting up with a dusting of
white, well worth it!)
Browned Butter CardamomCookies

1 Cup Unsalted Butter, softened                                              
3/4 Cup Sugar
1 Egg Yolk                                                  
1 Tblsp. Vanilla       
1/2 Teasp. Ground Cardamom
2 Cups Flour
2 Tblsp. Milk
1 Spicy Memory
1 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar
1/2 Teasp. Ground Cardamom

Melt butter in a 2 quart heavy saucepan over medium heat. Continue cooking, stirring constantly and watching closely, until butter just starts to turn golden brown (3 - 5 minutes). Butter will get foamy and bubble. 

Immediately remove from heat. Pour into bowl and refrigerate until cooled, approx. 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine cooled browned butter and sugar in large bowl. Beat at medium speed until well mixed. (those little brown specks are the browned butter solids that have taken on a slight nutty, toffee flavor.)

Add egg yolk, vanilla and cardamom. Continue beating until well mixed. Reduce speed to low. Beat, gradually adding flour, until mixture is no longer crumbly and forms a dough.

Shape dough into 1 inch balls. Place 1 inch apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. 

Bake for 10 - 12 minutes or until cookies puff and start to turn light golden brown. (Cookies will have cracks in them).

Immediately remove from cookie sheets. Cool 1 minute. Blend the confectioner’s sugar and remaining 1/2 teasp. ground cardamom.  Roll cookies in the sugar mixture while warm, and again when completely cooled.  Store between sheets of waxed paper in loosely covered container.

Makes approximately 4 dozen cookies  

Monday, February 21, 2011

Chicken Provencal

We had to head back to Rochester for a few days, and I for one, get so tired of restaurant food, it is fun to cook and have something truly good to eat, once we get home.

This dish is SO good, I do hope that you will give it a try. The chicken literally melts in your mouth!  And don't let all of the steps discourage you, it really does come together quite smoothly.

Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 300 degrees.

*A note about the chicken. You are going to need 3 lbs. of boneless, skinless Chicken Thighs, trimmed and cut into approx. 1 inch pieces.  Don't use chicken breasts because you will wind up with dry, chewy meat.  Also, if you can't find boneless, skinless chicken thighs, then you are going to have to do what I did. I took off the skin, then lightly browned the whole thighs. I then removed them from the pot, let them cool a bit, and sliced the meat off of the bone. It is a lot easier that trying to cut it cleanly off when it is still completely raw.

Before you begin cooking, 

Trim and quarter 1 lb of White Mushrooms, that have been wiped clean.
Chop 2 medium Onions, and mince 6 cloves of Garlic. (note to self. Don't use yellow bowls next time. Garlic got lost in the photograph)

Rinse and mince 1 Anchovy Fillet. (Don't omit, unless you are on a low sodium diet. You won't be able to taste it, but it enhances the flavor of the meat)

Heat 1 Tblsp. Olive Oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add the minced anchovy, and stir it around until it becomes little glazed bits in the bottom of the pan.  

Add your chicken pieces, stirring frequently to brown on all sides. Remove chicken and place in a bowl.

Turn the heat down to medium. Add another Tblsp of Olive Oil, and add the mushrooms and onions. Cover and cook until the mushrooms release their liquid, and the onions have softened, about 5 minutes.  Uncover and continue to cook until the mushrooms have lightly browned. Scrape up any bits on the bottom of the pot.

Stir in the garlic, and add:

1 Teaspoon Herbes de Provence (the fragrance is heavenly when it hits the heat!)

1/8 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper

Stir thoroughly, and add:

2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste (I use the paste you find in a tube, but you can use the can variety if you prefer), and

2 Tablespoons unbleached, all purpose Flour.

Cook for 1 minute.  Slowly stir in:

1/3 Cup of your favorite Dry White Wine.  Continue to stir, scraping up any browned bits.

Gradually stir in 2 1/2 Cups Chicken Broth, either home-made, or low sodium commercial brand.

Stir in 1 - 14.5 ounce can of Diced Tomatoes that you have drained, and 2 Bay Leaves.   Add the browned chicken.  Bring to a simmer.  Cover and place the pot in the oven, for and hour, or until the chicken is very tender.

While the chicken is cooking, drain and rinse 1 - 15 ounce can of Cannellini Beans, otherwise known by some brands as White Kidney Beans.  You can then set them aside in a bowl.

Rough chop 1/2 cup pitted Nicoise Olives.  These are a dark, slightly sour olive, and if you can't find them, you can substitute Kalamata Olives,  Please don't use the commercial black olives that you find in a can. You need a more subtle flavor for this dish.

Also, chop 1/4 cup fresh Parsley, and grate 1/2 Teaspoon fresh Lemon Zest, being careful to not get the bitter white pith underneath.

Remove the pot from the oven, and remove the bay leaves.  Stir in the beans and olives, cover and let stand for 5 minutes.  

Stir in the parsley and lemon zest. Season with freshly cracked Black Pepper, and Sea Salt, to taste before serving.

We enjoyed our meal with some crusty bread and a nice glass of wine!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Awards Season

Last Spring, I was the fortunate winner of a number of awards from some very thoughtful people. Unfortunately, it was a very difficult time for me to be able to post them with any sort of honor that was due. so I postponed my thanks.

But that didn't mean that I was not touched by everyone's thoughtfulness. I've been carrying those good feelings around with me for almost a year now!

So I thought that this, being the season of one award after another, would be the perfect time to blow off the dust, and bring these beauties to light!  I won't post them all at once, but will share them over a couple of days.

The first one that I received, was from The Antics Of A Tameran Witch.  She bestowed upon me the Beautiful Blogger award, and when I went back to see what questions she asked, found that she has waved her wand, and made her whole blog disappear.  I'm now SO sorry that I didn't acknowledge her gift here sooner.  If anyone knows if she has started a new blog, or how to get in touch with her, I'd greatly appreciate it.

And right on the heels of that award, a dear sweet person, Sherry Byrum gave me a very special award, created by Byrum Art. (And why is it pulsating perfectly to the song playing? How lovely!!)

Sherry has had more than her share of major challenges this past year, and yet she is still always thinking of others, lending her emotional and spiritual support.  She may be small in physical stature, but her heart is as big as the Universe.  I'm so humbled that she would give me this honor.

Thank you SO much Sherry!!

I thought that I would have to share a number of things that you never knew about me, or answer some other revealing questions, but neither of these award requested any. .so, I'm off the hook for now, and you won't know more about me than you ever cared to know. .but be prepared. .there are a couple more awards coming up very soon!

Wishing everyone a most beautiful evening!!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Mmmmmmm, I Smell COOKIES!!!

I love to cook, but I love baking even more. And I love making delicious desserts that have an element of elegance, and/or a surprise ingredient that you wouldn't necessarily think of using in a treat . .like Rosemary.

Please don't turn away from these cookies, until you actually try them.  They are very light crispy/chewy buttery layers of shortbread cookie infused with the comforting fragrance and subtle flavor of Rosemary.

To begin, strip the leaves of some fresh Rosemary, and chop them into little pieces. You will need 2 Tblsp. You don't need to worry about finding leaves in your mouth when you are eating the cookie, because the Rosemary crisps up in the oven. You won't even know by feel, that they are in the cookie!

In a mixing bowl, cream together 1 1/2 Cups of Unsalted Butter and 2/3 Cup of Sugar. Beat until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl periodically.

Stir in 2 3/4 Cups of All Purpose Flour, 1/4 Teasp. Salt, and the 2 Tblsp. of chopped Rosemary.  The dough will be soft.  Form into a ball, cover directly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for an hour.  If you leave it longer, or over night, bring it back to almost room temperature before attempting to roll out the dough.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into 1/4 inch thickness. The original recipe calls for cutting the dough into 1 1/2 inch x 2 inch rectangles, but I have a 2 inch square biscuit cutter that works just fine.  

Put the cookies on the parchment lined cookie sheet, 1 inch apart. Sprinkle the tops with granulated sugar.  If you have little bits of Rosemary sticking out from the cookie edge, leave them until after the cookies have baked. More than likely, they will fall off when they crisp up in baking, but if not, they are easily crumbled away from the finished cookie, leaving a nice edge. 

Bake for 8 - 10 minutes or until golden brown at the edges. (The light browning actually intensifies the buttery flavor).  Cool on wire racks, and store in an airtight container at room temperature.  One batch produces about 3 dozen cookies.

IF you can leave them alone for a day or two, the flavors have a chance to blend, producing a very delicate, but flavorful cookie.  They keep about a week.

I do hope that you try them, and enjoy them as much as my family does!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

This Is Soup Weather!

Well, we made it through the blizzard with a minimum of damage and a maximum of snow. But we didn't have the ice, we kept our power and heat, so for that, I'm very thankful. I hope that you all fared as well.

The minute that the winds shift into Autumn mode, the soup cravings start stirring, and when the temps dip into the minus range, it is time for some stick to your ribs bowls of delicious creaminess.

So I offer you today, the recipe for a Cheddar & Ale Soup with Pumpernickel or Rye Bread Croutons.  This soup goes extremely well with a crisp salad.

First, make your croutons. If your bread if fresh, spread the slices of 1 loaf of your favorite Pumpernickel or Rye bread out onto jelly roll pans the day before, to dry out a bit. (the Pumpernickel is a fantastic flavor with this soup!) Turn them over to dry on both sides. (but don't let them get rock hard)  It is easier to cut into cubes without crushing the bread. Put all of the bread cubes into a large mixing bowl.

Crush 1 Tblsp. Fennel Seed with a pestle & mortar, and pour it over one softened stick of butter.  Slowly melt the butter, then slowly drizzle over the bread cubes, stopping frequently to stir and distribute the coated bread.

Spread bread cubes on a jelly roll pan and bake at 300 degrees F. for 1 hour, stirring them every 5 - 10 minutes to insure even baking and toasting.  Let them cool completely, then bag them in a storage bag, so that they stay crispy.

While the croutons are baking, dice:

1 1/2 Cups Carrots
1 1/2 Cups Onion
1 1/2 Cups Celery

And mince
2 Cloves of Garlic

Put 1/2 Stick of Butter into a large stock pot, along with all of the veggies and cook slowly, until all of the veggies are soft.

Add 3 Cups of Chicken or Vegetable Stock,  and 2 Bottles of English Ale (use one that has a robust flavor. .New Castle is a personal favorite) stirring well, to make sure that none of the veggies are stuck to the bottom of the pot.


1 Tblsp. Dijon Mustard
1 Teasp. Dry Mustard
2 Teasp. Worcestershire Sauce
1 Teasp. Tabasco Sauce
1/8 Teasp. Cayenne Pepper (I use Ancho Pepper Powder instead, for it's milder, smokey flavor)

Mix and reduce heat to let the soup simmer.

While the soup continues to simmer, cube 16 Ounces of a fine Cheddar Cheese. Please try a nice block of cheese, not the pre-packaged shredded variety. You won't believe the difference in flavors.

In a heavy saucepan, melt 1/2 Cup of Unsalted Butter. Add 1/2 Cup of flour, and using a whisk, keep stirring it over medium-high heat until the flour takes on a light golden brown color. (sorry that I don't have photos of this step, but I needed to keep a close watch on the pot. .it can burn very quickly!

Reduce the heat, and slowly add 1 Cup of Heavy Cream. Continue stirring with the whisk until the mixture thickens.  Remove saucepan from the heat and add the cheese cubes.  Stir with a spatula, melting the cheese completely.  Turn the heat down to warm, and return the pot to the burner, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.

Using a stick (immersion) blender, puree the veggies in the beer stock.  Once it is completely smooth, slowly add the cheese sauce to the stock, blending it well with a spatula.

Heat through, adding sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste.

Garnish with snippets of green onion or chives, and the freshly toasted croutons.