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It’s summertime!  The living is easy.  Pools, picnics, concerts in the park, BBQs, beaches, homemade ice cream and movies under the stars.  When you see me drinking iced instead of hot chais, reading a book instead of cooking dinner, indulging in an ice cream cone every evening and dreaming of a California coast vacation, it’s safe to say that it’s summer.  Best summer activity ever:  movie under the stars at the Big Sur library.  Cool breeze, redwood trees, popcorn made in a pot, not a machine, international short film screening and hot chocolate.  Heaven.

Nuts3

Here’s an easy snack to make and pack for your summer adventures.

Sugared Spiced Almonds   adapted from Gourmet 1999

  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • 4 cups almonds, toasted in a 350 oven for about 5 minutes, then cooled
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon

Preheat oven to 250°F.

Whisk together egg white and water in a large bowl until frothy and stir in nuts. Stir together sugar and cinnamon and stir into nuts, coating well. Spread nuts in a lightly buttered large shallow pan and bake in middle of oven until dry, about 40 minutes. Cool and break into bite-size chunks.

Nuts keep in an airtight container at room temperature 5 days.

 

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My love for Valentine’s Day started in elementary school.  Is there anything better than a shoebox embellished with construction paper hearts brimming with miniature Valentine’s cards?  Opening each of the tiny cards was always such a thrill.  Now my Valentine’s Day cards come in the mail.  While I love the fancy greetings, I can’t help but wish for a shoebox stuffed with little love notes.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Read enough articles about restoring stately old houses in San Francisco, and you will certainly come across a reference to Urban Ore.  I’d heard about it for ages. To tell you the truth, in my mind, it was a hipster haven.  It was where cool people went to shop – the stuff of legends.  Jennifer and I finally decided to check it out.

I was a little surprised by the condition of the exterior but decided that it was gritty-cool.  I was hip enough to understand that!  As I sat in my car waiting for Jennifer to arrive, I noticed others arriving.  Most were carrying things in, not out.  Hmmm.  That was not what I expected.  But, then, I supposed, Urban Ore had to get the items it sold somehow.  Oh, o.k.  I get it.  Then I noticed what they were carrying in.  An old adding machine?  A box of clothes?  An old shovel and bucket?  Rebar?  Now, I pride myself on being able to find something to buy no matter where I go, but this wasn’t looking good.

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We ventured in, and truth be told, we had entered into the king of the thrift stores.  Good, bad and odd, it was all there, and in multitude!  We thought this painting was lovely.

ImageThese simple light bulbs became art when hung with twine and string.

ImageAnd there was no denying that we were in a unique place when we spied this dragon and pig.  Can you tell they are extra large?!

ImageMy expectation of a hipster haven was dashed.  But, we discovered an emporium filled with the weird, wild and wonderful.  And, if I ever need a large papier mache pig, I know where to go!

Urban Ore is located in Berkeley, CA.

Season’s greetings!  Happy day 6 of the Twelve Days of Christmas.  Six lords a leaping.

For many years, I believed the Twelve Days of Christmas preceded Christmas.  It was only a few years ago that I learned the truth.  The “Twelve Days of Christmas” begins on December 25.  Here’s wishing you a wonderful few more days of the holiday season!

Christmas dome

Baking is one of my favorite things to do during the holidays.  On Christmas Eve this year, I finally made a Buche de Noel.  Baking one was always in the back of my mind.  It seemed like the perfect ending to a festive holiday meal.  I picked one up at Whole Foods earlier in December for a little dinner party we had.  It was delicious and didn’t look too terribly complicated.  Here is a gift for you – a recipe for a delicious and easy Buche de Noel.

Buche de Noel

Bûche de Noël by Betty Crocker

Cake

3 eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup water

1 teaspoon vanilla

3/4 cup Gold Medal® all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

Filling

1 cup whipping cream

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons instant coffee granules or crystals

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

1/3 cup unsweetened baking cocoa

1/3 cup butter or margarine, softened

2 cups powdered sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1 to 2 tablespoons hot water

  1. Heat oven to 375°F. Line 15x10x1-inch pan with foil or waxed paper; grease with shortening or cooking spray. In small bowl, beat eggs with electric mixer on high speed about 5 minutes or until very thick and lemon colored. Pour eggs into large bowl; gradually beat in 1 cup granulated sugar. Beat in 1/3 cup water and the vanilla on low speed. Gradually add flour, baking powder and salt, beating just until batter is smooth. Pour into pan, spreading batter to corners.
  2. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Immediately loosen cake from edges of pan; invert onto towel generously sprinkled with powdered sugar. Carefully remove foil. Trim off stiff edges of cake if necessary. While hot, carefully roll cake and towel from narrow end. Cool on cooling rack at least 30 minutes.
  3. In chilled medium bowl, beat all filling ingredients on high speed until stiff. Unroll cake; remove towel. Spread filling over cake. Roll up cake.
  4. In medium bowl, beat cocoa and butter on low speed until thoroughly mixed. Beat in powdered sugar until mixed. Beat in vanilla and enough of the hot water until frosting is smooth and spreadable.
  5. For tree stump, cut off a 2-inch diagonal slice from one end of cake. Attach stump to one long side using 1 tablespoon frosting. Frost cake with remaining frosting. With tines of fork, make strokes in frosting to look like tree bark. Garnish with chocolate leaves, meringue mushrooms, and other decorations.

Makes 10 servings

And, now on to 2013…

Auld Lang Syne

Little trophy vase with sentiment

It all started with “Fun Night.”  It was the biggest night of the year at Vandalia Elementary school, and it was magical.  My sister and I looked forward to it all year.  Forget trick-or-treating, the highlight of Halloween was Fun Night!  The drama, the intrigue, the suspense!  It was an evening affair, and for kids who spent the other 364 nights at home, it was quite exotic to be out at night.  The biggest draw of the carnival, and my favorite, was the Cake Walk.  Is there a better prize than a homemade cake?  I don’t think so!  So, now you know why I love Halloween. Here is my treat for you – a very easy, delicious caramel corn recipe.  No oven time required for this.

What’s your favorite Halloween memory?

Happy Halloween!

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Caramel Corn Clusters   adapted from Gourmet magazine

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup popcorn kernels
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 11/2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup salted peanuts (5 oz)

Heat oil with 3 kernels in a 3-quart heavy saucepan, covered, over moderate heat until 1 or 2 kernels pop. Remove lid and quickly add remaining kernels, then cook, covered, shaking pan frequently, until kernels stop popping, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and uncover.

Line bottom of a large shallow baking pan with foil. Lightly oil foil. Melt butter in a 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat. Add brown sugar and corn syrup and bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring, then boil, without stirring, until syrup registers 285°F on thermometer, approx. 8 minutes. Remove pot from heat.

Using a wooden spoon or a heatproof spatula, stir salt and baking soda into syrup, then quickly stir in peanuts and popcorn to coat. Immediately spread mixture in baking pan as thinly and evenly as possible. Cool completely, then break into bite-size pieces.

It is Labor Day, and that means “Back to School” for me.  Time to buy school supplies!  I love when the school supplies arrive at Target.  The sights, smells, colors.  It is one of the highlights of the year in my book.  I guess I should say I don’t need any school supplies.  Both boys are in college so don’t require the elementary school component of colored pencils, markers, glue sticks, pencil sharpeners, etc.  For them, I only stock up on the 32 cent college-ruled notebooks.  But, that doesn’t stop me from digging into the offerings.  The notebooks these days are so cute.  And, one can never have too many colored pens.

My friend Jennifer gave me the nicest “Back to School” surprise ever.  It is a little lunch box filled with treats.  Hidden under the journal are apple napkins and a granola bar.  Thank you, Jennifer!

And, we can’t go “Back to School” without an after-school snack!  These Oatmeal Butterscotch bars are perfect for that.

Oatmeal Butterscotch Bars  from America’s Test Kitchen Baking Book

Makes 24 bars

Bars

1 ¼ c flour

2 c oats

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

¾ c butterscotch chips

2 sticks butter

1 c dark or regular brown sugar

1 lg egg

2 tsp vanilla

Glaze

¼ c butterscotch chips

2 Tbs reg or dark brown sugar

1 Tbs water

1/8 tsp salt

  1. For the bars:  Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 350.  Line a 13×9 in pan with foil and spray foil with Baking Pam.  Whisk the flour, oats, baking soda, and salt together in a med bowl.
  2. Place the butterscotch chips in a large bowl.  Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and continue to cook until golden brown in color, about 12 minutes.  Pour the hot butter over the butterscotch chips and whisk until melted and smooth.  Whisk in the brown sugar until dissolved.  Whisk in the egg and vanilla until combined.  Stir in the flour mixture, in 2 additions, until just incorporated.
  3. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Bake the bars until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached, 16-20 minutes,  rotating the pan halfway through baking (I baked them for 18 min).
  4. For the glaze:  While the bars bake, place the butterscotch chips in a medium bowl.  Bring the brown sugar, water, and salt to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium-high heat.  Pour the hot sugar mixture over the butterscotch chips and whisk until melted and smooth.
  5. Drizzle the glaze over the warm bars.  Let the bars cool completely in the pan, set on a wire rack, about 2 hours.  Remove the bars from the pan using the foil, cut into squares and serve.

Happy “Back to School” time to you!

My friends Mary, Danielle, Julie and I snapped up the Edible Excursions Groupon for a SF Ferry Plaza food tour without hesitation.  So glad we did!  After fretting over whether or not our shoes would be comfortable enough and our jackets warm enough, we were ready for our trip to the City.  In a way, I think we all felt pretty cool to be embarking on a food tour of what is one of the most famous food emporiums in the world.

First stop before the tour started:  Blue Bottle Coffee.  I am not a coffee drinker but I love Blue Bottle decaf lattes.  Must be the light roast.  And, the cute logo (wink!).

After meeting our tour guide Quin, a young writer originally from the east coast, we ventured out to the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market and stopped to meet Farmer Al from Frog Hollow Farm.  We had to know his secret after tasting the most delicious peach on the planet.  He shared it willingly:  pick the fruit when it is ripe, not a minute before that.  But, what if they don’t sell all the fruit that day?  No problem, Mrs. Farmer Al will whip up some delectable fruit tarts!  They are sold inside at the Frog Hollow store.  We were expecting nibbles during the tour, so were quite (happily) shocked when Quin produced magic – heavenly warm peach tarts.  One for each.  No need to continue the tour, we were more than satisfied.

But, on we continued.  Didn’t think anything could match our delight at Frog Hollow Farm.  But, the fun continued.  Oh, delicious Acme bread with Cowgirl Creamery cheese.  Is there anything better than a baguette and cheese?

There were many stops on this tour.  Eleven in all.

Frog Hollow Farm – that divine peach tart

Happy Girl Kitchen – fresh jam and pickles

Acme Bread – fresh from the oven baguette

Cowgirl Creamery – award winning triple cream cheese

Out the Door – spring rolls from the famous chef of the Slanted Door, Charles Phan

Prather Ranch Meat Company – chili made from humanely raised beef

Boccalone Salumeria – meat cones (more later)

Scharffen Berger- chocolate

Recchiuti Confections – more chocolate

Mariposa Baking Co. – gluten free empanadas

Miette – macarons

Here are the meat cones.  We had never heard of meat cones before.  I must admit that we approached the Boccalone Salumeria with some hesitation after learning that we would be served meat cones there.

We skipped to Miette.  No hesitation at all!  We were treated to macarons there.

Our plans for lunch after the tour went out the window about two stops into the tour.  What a fun, delicious day!

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