Sometimes, a chore that is simple and often repeated becomes mundane, routine—like washing produce after a trip to the market, or making soup from last night’s left-over chicken. But when the sun suddenly pours through the window, illuminating the commonplace and ordinary, I am quickly reminded of how much beauty there is in those ‘every-day’ things and activities, and that I am blessed and privileged to enjoy such largesse from a generous Creator.
I am not a winter sort of girl—snowy paths and frozen fields are (in my opinion) best suited to Christmas cards and folks who like to ski.
Christmas is past, and I don’t like skiing or any other form of activity that involves snow, unless you consider sitting by a fire with my hands curled around a steaming mug of chocolate (or hot mulled wine) while watching the snow fall outside the window an activity.
Now is when I begin to long for sunshine and more hospitable temperatures. My attitude and outlook on life can begin to cloud over a bit. Sometimes quite a bit. I daydream of long stretches of time spent working in the garden, and of being anyplace warmer than where I am.
But, as much as I love summer (I would love spring too, except here in the Willamette Valley it’s more of a state-of-mind than an actual season) I hate the thought of wasting time by wishing my life away. Each of us is only allotted a certain number of days, and I am not in a rush to see mine come to an end. So I try to be patient, and learn to love the waiting.
I go on walks with the dog and look for things I wouldn’t see at other times of the year—rose hips encased in glittering ice; bird nests blown down in a storm; icy-edged streams with wild mallards splashing in them, jumping up when they see me and flying noisily away—and I wait.
I begin to poke about the garden and look for signs that this season is tiring and the next is gathering strength—the swelling of the buds on the japanese maples; the daffodil spears beginning to lengthen almost as imperceptibly as the lengthening of the daylight hours; and the clusters of daphne buds fattening and pinking up as their bloom time gets closer.
But mostly, I wait for the violets.
After Christmas, I begin to look for them each day, waiting for the tiny purple blossoms to peek out from under their protective canopy of green.
I wait for the violets because I know that when the violets appear, winter will begin to make room for spring—and that my wonderful friends, fills me with hope!
I wait for the violets, because when violets come, it will only be a short time before the daphne opens saturating the air with its citrus-y sweet fragrance. (If ‘hope’ had a fragrance, it would smell like daphne odora.) Then the daffodils will bloom, the quince, the camellias, and…I think you understand.
Today, the violets arrived.
Thanks for coming to see me! Happy Day to all of you…may it be filled with violets, or whatever brings you hope!
Today is the day I’m going to learn to crochet! I’ve knitted up the beautiful English wool into my new favorite scarf,
but now I have that lovely, soft, sunrise-colored yarn that needs to be made into something.
Mostly I’m looking for a reason to while away a couple of hours in front of the fireplace with coffee and something soft and beautiful in my hands. It’s just that sort of day.
And, look for an update soon on the Brownie Challenge…
I just want to bake what could possibly be the most perfect brownie EVER, one more time before I share. I’d do it today, but we need to have something other than brownies for dinner tonight.
Thanks so much for stopping by, and wish me luck!
Everybody is all about challenges right now.
A plank a day.
Fifty squats a day.
Three miles a day.
Seven days of ‘clean’ eating. (And just what the heck is clean eating, for crying out loud!? Are we not supposed to pick MnM’s up off the floor? Are we so starved for things to feel guilty about that we’ve made some foods ‘dirty’ now? Remember when ‘sex’ was dirty? Yeah, that didn’t work so well either, did it?)
Not to open up a Pandora’s Box here, but how about a little challenge we can all agree on…I’m thinking something like a Brownie Challenge!
Yep, not hearing too much criticism now.
How about, “How Many Things Can I Stuff In A Brownie?” Or “A New Brownie Every Week”. Or for the over-achievers, “A New Brownie Every Day”!
I think there are all kinds of possibilities, although I’m not sure about how Brussels Sprouts would work in this one.
Me? I’m going for “A New Brownie Every Week”, although I may average a little more frequently, depending upon how long the chocolate supply holds out. There are just so many delectable looking recipes out there, and with the current sloppy weather, this seems a good time to start trying them out. Well…that, and my post-holiday ‘sugar-free challenge’ has lost its luster.
On a less humorous but still brownie-related note, it’s been a tough couple of days.
Today I was wistfully thinking of my brothers and sisters, all of whom are scattered about the western half of the U.S. The last time we were all in the same spot (three years ago), there were multiple requests for me to make brownies, which I baked multiple times over the course of the few days we were together. Thinking about all of them made me a want to bake brownies—for me and for them—as though somehow in the making, they all (including spouses and children) would miraculously appear in my kitchen. Unfortunately, time travel and teleporting I have no recipe for. Brownies though, I can handle. So I did what I could…I baked.
Since I had some left-over coconut filling* and chocolate butter-cream in the freezer, I decided to throw them all together. If you’re the planning sort—a “30 Days To Organizational Nirvana” type—then you might actually plan on making a German Chocolate Cake with the intention of having left-over frosting and filling to make these. If not, then this recipe for Brownies stands up nicely on its own, without any additions or random bursts of culinary creativity. They are dense and chewy…my kind of brownie.
I hope you find a reason to bake brownies this week. If you decide to join me in my challenge, please let me know what your favorite recipe is. I’m always up for trying a new one!
With love (and chocolate)~Lorrie
Brownies with German Chocolate Filling
3 oz unsw. Chocolate
½ cup butter
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
¾ cup flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Line an 8×8 baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on 2 sides
Coat the bottom and sides with cooking spray, or grease thoroughly
Melt the chocolate and butter in large microwave safe bowl
Stir in the sugar and mix completely
In a small bowl, beat the egg with the vanilla, and then stir into the chocolate mixture
Blend in flour
Spread half the batter in the prepared pan (an off-set spatula is handy for this, but a butter knife will work too)
Carefully distribute the coconut mixture over the top of the batter
Spread the remaining batter over the top of the coconut, spreading it as close to the edge of the pan as possible
Bake for 35 minutes
Remove the pan to a cooling rack. When the brownies are still slightly warm, take them from the pan by lifting the edges of the parchment paper and setting them back on the rack. If you want a glossy icing, frost them with the buttercream, so that it will melt. The icing will harden when the brownies are completely cool.
*My last post contained some mention of a German Chocolate Cake. Since I almost never make a cake with fewer than 3 layers, I always double frosting and filling recipes. Sometimes (if no one is at home when I’m baking) there is left-over, which I freeze to
eat later when I’m by myself keep on hand for last minute desserts.
Sometimes, you just need to bake something. There doesn’t need to be an occasion (like, it’s raining), or a reason, (and there’s a lovely fire in the fireplace and Vivaldi on the stereo), or anyone else there (with sleeping cats and a Labrador Retriever hogging the spot in front of the fire).
Today I wanted to bake. No, today I needed to bake!
I made a quick mental inventory of what was in the pantry—notice I said ‘mental’, I didn’t physically check to see what was there—and started softening some butter. Had I actually checked, I would have noticed that I was out of flour, an ingredient used in abundance in this gluten-full household!
Back to the butter, which was begging to be creamed into some sugar for some sort of delicious something—anything—and I settled on a ‘pumpkin something’. For a couple of seconds I thought about some pumpkin-molasses cookies with crunchy-sparkly, sugar tops that I’d seen on Pinterest, but they were the same couple of seconds that reminded me that I’d accidentally lopped a large piece of my thumb off yesterday, and that cookies might be a little too labor intensive for someone unaccustomed to working with only one hand. Did I mention that “I am not left-handed!” ?
And while I’m on the subject of pumpkin, I’ve noticed some people writing about how they’re NOT doing pumpkin recipes—”pumpkin is sooo overdone these days”—and so forth.
Hey… it’s October! Get over it! Does anyone ever say that about turkey recipes in November? Do they malign peppermint and cranberry recipes in December? Of course they don’t!
Besides, I like pumpkin, so I’m going to write about it, and trends-be-darned anyway!
Now, back to the butter, for real! A pumpkin bread or cake was next on my list (something that didn’t require much manual dexterity, and that I could just pour into a pan), and I plopped that butter into the mixer and then promptly remembered that I’d used the last of the flour yesterday to dredge some eggplant for eggplant parmesan. Ooops!
I checked the pantry. Then I checked it again, just in case. Then I turned off my pre-heated oven and started to sulk.
It was just a little sulk, because it’s hard to stay all pout-y when there’s a toasty fire and Vivaldi on a rainy autumn day.
I still wanted to bake something though, and after a few more minutes contemplating the merits of all of the other grains in the house, and how they might possibly get along with pumpkin and cinnamon, I had a moment of inspiration—or rather, a flash from the past!
I remembered some oatmeal bars that I used to make for my kids when they were little—sweet enough to qualify as dessert, but low enough in sugar to be disguised as breakfast or a healthy snack—and with a little re-imagining (umm, imagine some more sugar and butter) and some pumpkin, I thought it might work!
It worked, beautifully. Not only are they wonderfully moist, spicy, and pumpkin-y (they taste like fall!) they’re easy, fairly fast, and gluten-free to boot! If you leave the icing off, they could pass for breakfast. (As a mom, I have to say that, but I wouldn’t actually do it … leave the icing off, I mean.)
Happy October to you, and happy baking! This is a recipe that I developed, so please make these and let me know what you think.
½ cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 ¾ cups cooked pumpkin (1 15 oz can)
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp each ground nutmeg and cloves
4 cups oats (regular or quick-cooking)
(optional) ½ cup chopped walnuts
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees
Butter a 9” x 13” pan
Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl.
Blend in the egg, vanilla, pumpkin, salt and spices.
Thoroughly mix in the oats and nuts.
Spread the batter into the buttered pan, and bake for 35-40 minutes. The edges should just begin to turn golden.
You can make the following icing after the bars come out of the oven.
1 cup powdered sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp cinnamon
(optional) 1/8 tsp of maple flavoring
1T cream or milk
Mix all the ingredients together an a small bowl, adding a bit more cream or milk as necessary to make an easily spreadable paste
Cool slightly, then spread the icing on while still warm. Let cool, then slice into bars or squares.
I’ve wanted to sit and write all week, but all the reasons not to were too compelling (think, ‘tyranny of the urgent’ here).
All of those tomatoes just kept ripening. The zucchini and crook necks were in a constant state of production. The second cutting of basil—and subsequent day of pesto making—needed to happen as well, but I postponed the inevitable by giving a ton of it away. Then there were those pesky household tasks that could only be ignored for so long, before someone in the household began (justifiably) complaining.
Busy-ness aside, random bits of ideas for blog posts and snippets of things I wanted to write down kept seeding themselves in my head, usually when I was elbow deep in tomato pulp or peeling piles of garlic, or doing something (like driving) that made recording the thought impossible. Well, maybe not impossible but certainly very messy (or dangerous to the person in the lane next to me).
And when I say “random bits”, I’m really not kidding! Here’s part of the hamster wheel I’ve been mentally running on…
~Recipes I want to work on—including something with lamb and Tempranillo for the upcoming ‘International Tempranillo Day’. (You knew that was coming, right?)
~Raising kids on REAL food and REAL relationships (to re-interpret a popular quote from the ‘60’s; a steady diet of processed, junky food and technology is not healthy for children and other living things…).
~Wondering if it’s possible to dialogue peacefully on ‘double-standards’ and gender inequality…
~My (nearly) life-long obsession with cookbooks…
~ Am I really the only woman who is NOT longing to pull out the boots and fall sweaters???
(Are you kidding?! HECK NO!! Was that emphatic enough? I do love fall, but I wait sooo long for summer to arrive that I am not in any hurry to see the season change. I mean, come on! This is Oregon! Once the cold, wet, weather shows up, its nine months of pining for the sun again.)
Wait a minute—am I the only woman who doesn’t own a pair of boots? I do have hiking and riding boots, but other than those utilitarian items, clearly I am a fashionista-failure.
Of course, you do realize that that it is pouring as I write this…
Oh, I just discovered that today is World Cabernet Day, and here I am with nary a cab in the house and NO intention of going anywhere to rectify that. Plenty of Pinot, Malbec, and a Tempranillo or two—even a bottle of champagne—but no Cabernet. Must be time for a trip to Sonoma…
So, my lovely friends, that’s enough time spent on the rabbit-trails of my mind this week. I’m going to go celebrate the Crape Myrtle blooming (and World Cabernet Day) with a friend and a glass of that champagne. I’ll leave you with a glimpse of the week in my garden, and the hope that there is joy—and a reason to celebrate—in your week as well !
Thanks for visiting,
A few years back, ( I don’t remember exactly how many, although a Beatles reunion would still have been do-able) I cooked at a beautiful ranch/retreat center in the western hills of the Sonoma Valley called The Westerbeke Ranch. It was a glowing gem of a place—meandering hills, pungent eucalyptus, wildflowers splashed all over like sprinkles on a cupcake—with a long, red tiled, adobe-walled kitchen perched next to a swimming pool.
A pool that was fed by an effervescent mineral spring…yeah, the place was just that awesome!
Then (and apparently still), it was well-known for the meals that were prepared in that adobe kitchen, with desserts being a specialty. There was a young woman cooking there named Mary, whose place I would be taking after she finished training me. One of her most requested desserts and one of the first things I made there, were lemon squares. I still follow my original hand written recipe bearing her name, although now there is another memory attached to that little 3 x 5 card.
I was making these one day some years later, when my daughter—whose name happens to be Mary—saw the recipe card on the counter and spotted her name written on it. She was about two years old at the time, so her name was all she could recognize on it. She asked me what it said, and I replied simply, “Mary’s Lemon Squares”.
She didn’t ask why they were called that, or if she was the Mary in on the card, and I wasn’t given the chance to tell her. She was two (very verbally so), and so of course there could be no other Mary!
Those Lemon Squares have been hers for twenty five years now (I think she’s even baked them once or twice), and I pity the hapless fool who tries to tell her otherwise. She requests them for every occasion imaginable—her birthday, a job promotion, a bad day at work, the first day of spring, someone else’s birthday (anyone’s…it doesn’t matter who’s), for dinner—however she can get them.
I’m making them for her today just to surprise her.
And, so she’ll stop texting me every day asking for them.
As to why they are called Lemon Squares I don’t really know, because certainly lemon is the least plentiful ingredient in them. None the less, these are the bar by which I (and my daughter) measure all others bearing the name. They are probably also the bar that predisposed my daughter to a life of coconut macaroons and Mounds Bars, but certainly there are worse things…
I hope your friends and family loves these the way that we have! (And Mary from the Westerbeke Ranch of the ‘70’s—if you’re reading this—thank you!!!)
Bake with joy! When you make them, please let me know how they turn out for you, as I’ve been making them for so long I may have skipped something in the directions.
Mary’s Lemon Squares
1 ½ c flour
½ c (1 stick) cold butter
½ t salt
2 c packed brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 t vanilla
1 ½ t baking powder
2 c shredded coconut
1 ½ c powdered sugar
1 T lemon zest
Fresh lemon juice
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
A) Cut butter into flour and salt with a pastry blender, 2 knives or quickly with your fingers, until just blended. (You could use a food processor here too, but that seems like over-kill and more dirty dishes for such a simple step.) Press mixture firmly into a 9x 13 glass baking pan to about 1/8” thickness. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes.
B) In a separate bowl, thoroughly beat together eggs, brown sugar, vanilla baking powder and coconut. (It helps to make sure the baking powder is thoroughly distributed before you mix the coconut in.) Pour over hot crust and return to the oven (still at 375) for 25 minutes. Remove from oven when filling is set, and cool slightly.
C) In a small bowl, mix together powdered sugar, lemon zest, and enough fresh lemon juice to form a thick glaze. Spread over semi-hot baked mixture; cool completely before cutting into squares. (Let me know if you actually do the ‘cool completely before cutting’ part…no one in my family is that disciplined.)
“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
~The Red Queen; Alice in Wonderland~
Unless I am tied into an apron and preparing food for family and friends, I am NOT the woman who delights in multi-tasking. (Truth be told, I think that it is the bane of modern-day existence). I find no glory in rushing to accomplish a herculean list of “to-do’s” only to collapse in a heap at the end of a frenetic day.
Yet for some reason, that’s exactly where I found myself this morning—juggling the needs of home, hearth, garden, family and work, forgetting to breathe and feeling like my life was some giant smoothie in a cosmic blender! Along with that, was an OVERWHELMING need to create something. I’ve been mulling over an idea for a pasta dish using my favorite Sun-gold cherry tomatoes (sweet little morsels of tomato-y goodness) and Artisanal’s crisp and summery Pinot Blanc for the longest time, and I really wanted to get started on it today!
After a particularly strong cappuccino, I had the “well duuhhh, stupid” moment I’d been procrastinating my way around all morning.
Since, despite appearances, I really am actually pretty skilled at prioritizing and setting goals (so easy to forget with the languor of summertime and it’s constantly beckoning ‘come hither’ voice) probably making a list and prioritizing it might be a better option for me than the chaos that had begun in my mind and soul.
So, the list was made, items ordered by importance, distractions minimized, and three hours later…Voila!
I am ready to put that apron on! Even managed to get a run in too.
Wish me luck, my friends! Hopefully I’ll have a new recipe for you to try soon, because I know you all have tons of tomatoes too!
Oh, and since I’m quoting queens, and the blackberry jam that I want to make did not make the list…
“The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday — but never jam to-day.”
The White Queen ~ Alice in Wonderland
Enjoy the day, whatever you do!
I love coffee.
I especially love my morning coffee.
If someone is coming over to have coffee with me—even better!
But, having morning coffee with girlfriends that you haven’t seen in a while? Now that should be a bit of a celebration, and that means a reason to bake!
Okay, so maybe I was looking for an excuse to use some of the lovely lemons sitting on my counter.
Maybe, just maybe, I am a person who is certain that most of the world’s problems could be solved with the proper combination of flour and sugar, held together with a bit of butter. But I’m about to run down a bunny-trail, so back to the baking. And the lemons. And the wild blackberries in the freezer that joined them to make Wild Blackberry-Lemon Scones.
Coffee, fresh scones, and sweet friends. What a beautiful start to the day. I hope your day started beautifully too!
Wild Blackberry-Lemon Scones
2 cups flour
4 Tblsp sugar, divided
1 Tblsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
zest from 1 large or 2 med lemons, divided (Squeeze the juice out after and use it for the glaze)
1 cup wild blackberries (Tame berries will work too, and frozen berries are easier to work with-they don’t smoosh up so badly when you stir them into the dough)
1 egg, lightly beaten
8 Tblsp unsalted butter (1 stick, cut in slices)
¼ cup milk
¼ cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
Place blackberries in a small bowl and toss with 2 Tblsp of the sugar; set them aside.
In another small bowl, mix the egg and the remaining liquid ingredients together and set aside. (I use a glass measuring cup, using the increments marked on the side to measure in the milk and cream. Then I toss in the vanilla and egg and mix it together with a fork to blend it, and it’s ready to go when I need it.)
In a medium sized bowl, mix together the flour, remaining sugar, baking powder, salt, and half of the lemon zest.
Working with a pastry fork (or 2 knives, or your fingers if they’re nimble and not too warm) cut the butter into the dry mixture until it has the consistency of gravelly sand. Stir in the blackberries, then gently mix in the liquid until everything is just combined and holding together.
Place the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and pat down into a circle about an inch high. Cut into 8 pie-shaped pieces, dipping your knife or pastry cutter in flour each time.
Place the scones on a parchment lined baking sheet*, and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until they have browned lightly all over.
When they have cooled, spoon the following glaze over them:
1 ½ cups powdered sugar
remainder of lemon zest
2 Tblsp fresh lemon juice (more or less depending on how thick you want it)
Mix together to make a pourable paste.
*If you prefer a scone that is less sweet (or if you forgot to get powdered sugar the last time you went shopping), you can sprinkle a little granulated sugar on them at this point, and skip the glazing step.
Share with YOUR sweet friends or family, and enjoy!
I love the Pacific Northwest. Really, I do.
It’s just that today, on this lovely Thursday in mid-June, when I’m dreaming of fresh, fragrant, tomatoes and lush basil, it’s RAINING! Not just that little summer drizzle that dampens the ground and then blows over, but a cold-pelting-thoroughly drenching-steady downpour, that drives me to sit in front of the fireplace with a cup of coffee, watching the trees bow under the weight of their dripping leaves. All day.
However, there is still that little matter of dinner to cook, so it’s off to the pantry I go to put together some sort of soup.
I’m thinking that a thick, Tuscan-style bean soup with some crusty bread is just what this day needs –even though I’ll have to risk a soaking to bring chard and onions in from the garden.
Soup and bread.
It’s a good day, this lovely Thursday in mid-June.