Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Birds, Snow, Snow, Snow, Birthdays and Poison

The cardinals met this morning.  No, not those cardinals!  The brilliant Northern Orange Cardinals.  There are five of them in this photo.  Every time I try to raise the blinds to get a clearer view, they hastily fly away.  Yesterday, we counted nine of them on the branches and more on the ground.  They were joined by wrens and finches.  They seem oblivious to the lake-effect snow and howling winds!

Even more of the birds gathered for my birthday last week.  The weather was the same:  snow and wind shrieking and howling off Lake Michigan.  The Baker had plans to take me out to dinner.  I had plans to curl up under a blanket and read.  It was bridge day, though, and I wanted to play. My dear friends and players had other ideas.  It was, after all, my birthday and they were going to make it special.  My sweet friend, Thelma, decided the night before to make a big pot of soup for us.  She also had spanakopita in the freezer and time to make a delicious chocolate and nut bar cookie.  Andrew drove me from our garage to the Brown's garage.  Then he picked up Thelma and drove her and the food back to the nice, dry garage.  Jane had set a lovely table for our feast.  After many hands of cards, we tucked into that tasty soup.  Thelma called it "everything but the kitchen sink soup".

Yesterday, it snowed from sunup to sundown--a beautiful snow.  It was a perfect day to enjoy a couple of my birthday presents.

"Bitten by Witch Fever:
Wallpaper & Arsenic in the Nineteenth-Century Home"
Lucinda Hawksley

and a lovely new Liberty of London teacup from

Now to sip tea and read about "the fatal story of Victorian home decor".  I've long been a fan of the Arts and Crafts movement and especially like the wall papers of William Morris.

Tucked into the pages of lovely wallpaper designs, are small booklets that give the history of arsenic and arsenic-based dyes.  Thanks Elyssa and Stefan!!

Now I'm headed out to another birthday celebration.  It is one of the perks of having a winter birthday.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Let Them Eat Cake!

"Come said the wind to the leaves one day,
come o're the meadows and we will play.
Put on your dresses scarlet and gold,
for summer is gone and the days grow cold."
A Child's Song from the 1880s

A gaggle of geese, franticly honking, just flew over.  They were headed south.  I guess they were as surprised as I was to wake up to 35 degrees this morning.  This gorgeous tree, just outside our front door, will soon drop those colorful leaves.  The patio fern will have to be brought inside where it hates to spend the winter.  

We had friends over for dinner on Saturday.  The menu was a nod to early autumn.  We started with
Brunswick stew, a dish I claim started in Virginia.  The Baker offered to do dessert.  I gratefully accepted and asked for a southern sweet.  He obliged with a ten layer white cake with chocolate frosting.

No, the crow did not have a crumb of this delicious concoction!

It was a good evening with dear friends.  So dear that we sent each couple home with a few slices of cake for their future enjoyment.  

I love cozy fall evenings with good friends and good food!!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Power Breakfast

Unlike a squirrel who can stash away acorns for winter dining, I can't do that with homegrown tomatoes straight from the vine.  Therefore, I am eating them as fast as I can.  Thus far, I have not copied my mother's habit of keeping a tomato and a sharp knife in her purse when going out to eat.  She'd probably correct me by saying she was going out to dine but does one stash a tomato and a knife in their purse for dining?  Mother felt that any meal was enhanced by a few tomato slices.  I agree.  

Sunday breakfast showcased green heirloom tomatoes, scrambled eggs and bacon on a toasted brioche bun.  It doesn't get much better than that!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Summer, Tomatoes and Lightning Bugs

There are a few things I like about summer.

Fresh flowers in the garden

Lightning bugs


Freshly picked corn



First tomato simply sliced, sprinkled with salt and pepper
7-grain bread slathered with mayonnaise
Joy at the table!

Heirloom cherry tomatoes quartered
Sprinkle with a little salt and let stand for at least an hour
Thick slices of fresh mozzarella on a plate
Top with tomatoes and their juices
Sprinkle with fresh basil.

Yes, that's what I like about summer!

Oliver had fun with an errant lightning bug that got in the house,
finally chasing it out the patio door.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Irish Soda Bread

One more week of winter and we've had our first, almost-measurable, snow.  There is more snow in the forecast for today and tomorrow.  The bad weather didn't stop the dying of the Chicago River green a few days ago.  I never quite understand why they don't do that on St. Patrick's actual day.  I'm not doing corned beef and cabbage as we have plans to eat out.  I am baking Irish Soda bread.  I've combined a few recipes to come close to my grandmother's delicious loaf.  This is part Ina Garten and part Nanny's.  It is wholly delicious slathered with a little butter and a little jam with a steaming mug of coffee (or tea).

Happy St. Patrick's Day to all whether you are Irish or not!!

Irish Soda Bread

4 cups flour, plus extra for raisins and candied orange peel
5 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
4 Tbsp cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp grated orange zest
1 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup candied orange peel
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper

1.  Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Combine on low speed for 30 seconds.  Scatter the butter in and mix, on low speed, until the butter is crumbled into the flour.
2.  In another bowl, lightly beat the buttermilk, egg and orange zest together.  With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture for about 1 minute or until flour is incorporated.  Combine the raisins and candied orange peel with one tablespoon of flour and then mix into the dough.  The dough will be very wet and sticky.
3.  Liberally flour a wooden board and scrape the dough out onto the board.  Using well-floured hands (I used a dough scraper too), knead the dough a few times and form into a rough, round loaf.  Place the loaf onto the prepared sheet pan and cut an X into the top (not easy with the soft dough--I ended up cutting a rough X with kitchen scissors).  Bake for 45-50 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.  The loaf should sound hollow when tapped.
4.  Cool on a rack.  Delicious served warm or at room temperature.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Birthday Party 2017

What were my parents thinking by giving me a January birthday?  Obviously not the weather!!  Unknown to each other, the parents of two of my best friends weren't thinking by welcoming them to the world in January either.  I'm so glad it worked out though.  There have been times during the twenty-five plus years that we've celebrated together that we've changed the date several times.  This year started out to be a travel challenge.  Our area has had little to no snow this winter.  However, on the eve of our celebration (a month after the actual date), a thin sheet of icy snow fell.

We conferenced and I offered to do our luncheon.  Yes, about three hours before the event, I agreed to be the hostess!!  Instead of meeting at Gamba's, our delicious restaurant of choice, we'd be dining at my house.  Having forewarned them the meal would be assembled from my freezer, I got busy setting the table.  It turned out to be the easiest entertainment ever!!  I didn't spend days deciding on the menu, grocery shopping, etc..

Minestrone Soup and Cornbread

I made a big batch of this delicious soup several weeks ago.  It was perfect for a very cold day.  There were five generous portions of homemade cornbread tucked into the freezer as well.  

Evolution's Poppyseed Cake

The Baker had made peanut butter cookies for a friend's children the day before.  I announced they would be dessert.  He didn't think them worthy of a birthday celebration so he headed out to a local sweet shop and came home with this cake.  The bottom layer is poppy seed.  That is topped with a vanilla cream, topped with a fruit gelatin.  Perched on top was a raspberry macaron.  Oh my!!

Of course there were presents
and good conversation.
It was another successful celebration!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Cookies For Your Valentine

It was a bit of a shock to glance at the calendar this morning and see that Valentine's Day was only a week away!  To be honest, I haven't felt winter yet.  I don't think we've had an inch of snow so far this winter.  We've had a lot of rain.  The grass is green.  The trees are leafless but the birds don't seem to mind.  Cardinals and finches are our main visitors right now.  I don't know who their choreographer is but they put on quite a show.  They swoop and land, swoop and land spreading out on the branches.  Sometimes they seem to line up for the feeders.  At other times, they don't always wait their turn and roust those who take too long dining.  One particularly delightful species is the Northern Orange Cardinal.  I'd never seen one until we moved here last year.  Flashes of brilliant orange kept capturing my eye.  I knew the bird was a cardinal but had never seen such brilliance.  I Googled "orange cardinal" and there he was--the Northern Orange!!

Back to Valentine's Day.  These cookies are delicious, package well and keep well.  Well, if one doesn't eat them right away.

Almond Butter Cookies adapted from the Chicago Tribune

1 cup brown sugar

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup almond butter (or creamy peanut butter)
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 Tbsp granulated sugar

1.  Beat the brown sugar, butter and almond butter together until light and fluffy.  Add the egg, vanilla and almond extract and mix in.  Add the flour, baking soda and salt.  Stir only until combined.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill at least an hour to overnight.

2.  Preheat the oven to 350.  Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and coat in the sugar.  Transfer to a lightly sprayed cookie sheet and place 2 inches apart.  Using a fork, press the cookies down slightly using a criss-cross pattern.

3.  Bake until firm with golden brown edges, about ten minutes.  Cool slightly on baking sheet and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container.

To be really decadent, dip half of each cookie into melted chocolate.