Let’s start with cake…

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We usually drag birthdays out as long as possible around here. The day you were born is an important day to celebrate so why not do it over several days or even a week!

Although Hannah doesn’t turn 12 until Tuesday, we began the festivities with a birthday cake with friends last night. I made this cake and it was to die for!
I am usually a chocolate cake with buttercream or cream cheese icing kind of gal but this cake spoke to me when I read the icing was made with sour cream and bittersweet chocolate.
The tangy to sweet ratio was perfect! Warning: make enough icing to ice your cake and eat it too. It was hard to stop tasting!

When I came home from the store to unpack the cake ingredients I was disappointed to find that I had overlooked the bittersweet chocolate I had bought contained almonds. Chris was nice enough to run back out for me. He couldn’t find plain bittersweet but did come home with both dark chocolate and milk chocolate. He thought combined it would do the job. And he was right. It was perfect.

And there is still cake left over. Cake counts as breakfast right?

Happy Valentines Day

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i love valentines day.
a low stress holiday spent with the ones you love. a day to indulge just a bit.

we made some of our favorite treats today to celebrate.
a dutch baby for breakfast.
soft pretzels for lunch.
and clementines and strawberries dipped in chocolate fondue for an after dinner dessert.

my heart (and belly) is happy and full.
i think tomorrow we will start the day with a green smoothie.

snow day

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we woke up to almost a foot of snow this morning. this has been the snowiest winter i can remember and there are no complaints here.

activities on a snow day may vary but a few things always remain the same.

recipe for a snow day

hot chocolate
makes 4 mugfuls
whisk together in a saucepan on low heat and steep until fragrant and steaming hot
5 cups whole milk
1/2 cup good quality cocoa powder
1/4 cup raw sugar
vanilla bean
cinnamon stick
sea salt
for a extra kick to warm your insides add a pinch of chile powder.

snowman
2 parts snow
1 part nature finds, hat, scarf and mittens.
don’t forget eyebrows, mustaches and eyelashes.
dot cheeks with beet juice or watercolors.

fire

always keep firewood and kindling in a dry protected place.
the night before a storm stack enough indoors on the hearth to get you started in the early morning.
hardwoods like ash and oak both burn hot and slow.
due to it’s resin, pine is a powerful fire starter.
hang your wet mittens and hats nearby to dry toasty warm for your next adventure outdoors.

bath
to sooth muscles from hauling firewood and shoveling, there is nothing like ending the day with a hot bath. fill tub with water. pour in Epsom salts and your favorite essential oils, light a few candles and submerge.

applesauce cake

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we had just a smidge of our homemade applesauce left so i thought i would do it justice by turning it into cake. craft circle was this evening and i served it up with chai tea.
it’s a deliciously moist cake made with warm spices, brown sugar and pecans, tasting a bit like gingerbread. it tastes best warm out of the oven with a dollop of homemade whipped cream but is also the perfect breakfast drizzled with a little yogurt and honey.


applesauce cake

preheat oven to 350 degrees
grease and flour one (6 cup) fluted or bundt pan

1 1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon round ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 cup applesauce
1 cup chopped pecans

sift together flour, baking soda and spices.
cream butter and sugar. add egg
alternate adding flour mixture and applesauce.
add nuts.

scrape batter in to pan and bake for 30 minutes.
cool and dust with confectioners sugar.

adapted from the joy of cooking. i added ginger to the recipe.

Tuesday Nights with Izzy

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i look forward to tuesday evenings with my sister elizabeth (or izzy as my girls call her).
being my only sibling i feel so lucky that she only lives 5 minutes away.
over the last year we have enjoyed dinner together almost every week.
it usually falls on a tuesday night and we alternate hosting each week.
there are no specific rules. no pressure, no stress.
sometimes we eat pancakes for dinner. and sometimes there is a roast chicken and scalloped potatoes.
the kids play while we cook and chat.
and the night is never complete without lots of giggling. usually resulting in me getting the hiccups.
some things never change.

The Presentation of a Meal

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i grew up in a house where the presentation of a meal was just as important as the meal itself.
i don’t remember ever a bottle of ketchup or dressing on our dinner table. my mom would squeeze condiments into etched glass bowls with tiny silver spoons. we would make fun of her and i admit to sometimes being embarrassed when friends came to visit.
when chris and i first started dating he pulled me aside one night after dinner and said “your mom doesn’t have to make things so fancy just for me every time.” i didn’t have the heart to tell him at first that this was just the way things were.
little did he know what he was getting himself in to.

i am not sure if it was ingrained in me or if it’s in my blood, but i too love to present a meal.
i sometimes think i like it better than cooking. i love the process of it and the mood it sets.

tonight was salad bar night, a meal that we all love and with a little creativity, can satisfy everyone’s taste buds in our household. it’s a simple meal actually, that can pack a punch with proteins such as sunflower seeds, hard boiled eggs, chopped up bacon and feta cheese to compliment the greens and other veggies. fruits such as sliced up apple or pear, pomegranate seeds and grapes are favorite toppings as well. i like to experiment with making a new and different dressing each time. tonight’s was cilantro-jalapeno-lime. i toasted up some pita and served it with some olive oil for dipping. there are so many variations to this meal especially as the seasons change. it’s a great “clean out the fridge” kind of meal where all sorts of left-overs can act as toppings.

i feel lucky that my girls have always liked a variety of vegetables. but i think their love was born out of the freedom and fun to create their own salads. chris always says “you don’t make a sandwich, you build one!” well i believe this speaks true for a salad too.

no matter what i am preparing for dinner, even if it’s a pan of scrambled eggs, i like to follow a few simple guidelines ….

:: before i pull anything out of the fridge, start chopping or mixing, i light a few candles and turn on some music. i love our local jazz station. i pour myself something special, i deserve it. tonight was a glass of red wine. but even a glass of seltzer with a squeeze of lemon is nice.

:: i don’t believe that your best china, glassware, linens and silverware are meant for dinner parties and guests. beautiful things are meant for every day. sometimes sitting at a table with a thoughtful presentation of your favorite things can enhance the flavors of meal. a beautifully set table can feed my soul just as much as the food can satisfy my appetite.

:: although the table where we sit down to meals is used for many other activities, i try to always keep it clean and free of debris as much as possible. this allows to easily set it for each meal.

:: fresh flowers on the table at all times is a must for me. whether it be a store bought bouquet or a bundle of weeds from the backyard, it sets a mood and creates a sacred space.

:: cloth napkins make me happy. they are pretty and can brighten up a table. they can be used over and over and come in all different patterns and colors. i am always on the look out for them while thrifting. it’s nice to have several sets to use throughout the week.

:: even though we are not religious folk we do like to say a few words of appreciation before we dig in. a prayer, refection or even a moment of silence before a meal is a nice way to connect with each other, your home and the food that was prepared.

::digest! i used to be one to eat and run. i would immediately begin to clear the table and clean up after a meal. what’s the rush? sit and linger i say! pour a pot of hot herbal tea and continue the conversation.

Saturday Scenes

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a few scenes from our saturday. a wonderfully lazy one.
1. i have been lighting candles every night. today was snowy and a bit grey which called for some afternoon candlelight.
2. i turned 41 this week. gifts from my sister are always my favorite.
3. today was a nachos kind of day. i pulled out a jar of pickled sweet and spicy peppers we canned this summer.
4. chris is away on retreat this weekend with my pop. nan came to stay with us.
5. i cannot get enough of pomegranates these days. i put the seeds in salads, oatmeal or just simply eat with a spoon.

how was your day?

Soup

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So let’s talk soup!
We eat a lot of it in the winter months and I can honestly say it’s one of my favorite meals.
I even eat it for breakfast.

I love the versatility of soup. I am not a rule follower and usually never refer to a recipe when making anything except baked goods.
I think that’s why i like soup so much. It’s a simple meal that allows for some creativity but there are no strict rules. Soup is pretty hard to get wrong. Especially if you follow a few simple guidelines.

I usually cook a whole chicken in the crock-pot once a week at this time of year. It provides us several meals including stock for soup. After we pick the meat off we immediately throw all of the bones and excess into a pot and cover with water to boil and then simmer for a few hours. We then strain the golden juice into a jar for the next batch of soup. Although I often use store bought chicken broth, there is nothing like homemade. It’s like liquid gold in any soup.

If you have a good quality broth, olive oil, onions, garlic and a few vegetables (especially those stragglers in the fridge that are a little past their prime) you are ready to make some soup!

a few simple soup tips…

:: Always have onions and garlic in the pantry. All other veggies can vary but these two will really enhance the flavors of the other veggies you use especially when sauteed all together in olive oil or butter.
:: Clean out your fridge. Yes, you can use rubbery carrots, limp parsnips and wilty greens. When cooked up with other ingredients they will still taste good. Soup is a great way to reduce waste in your kitchen.
:: Experiment with herbs and spices. I admit to being a curry-aholic and make a lot of curry based soups but there are so many herbs to choose from. Don’t be afraid to use fresh herbs too, especially sprinkled on top of individual bowls of soup. I love fresh chopped parsley or cilantro.
:: Condiments can add flavor. Things like ketchup, sriracha, worcestershire and soy sauce have made their way into many of my soups.
:: Tomato sauce, tomato paste and canned tomatoes are a soups best friend.
:: Add greens. Swiss chard, kale, collards, bok choy, spinach, turnip greens…. they all taste great in soup. I always have a sad looking bunch of greens sitting in my fridge that can quickly be rescued in to soup.
:: Broth heavy in roots and squashes can be pureed into a creamy flavorful soup. Save the last few cups of the batch and freeze to add to your next soup’s broth to provide a rich texture and flavor.
:: Boost your broth with a Parmesan rind. It will add substantial flavor to your soup.
:: If not adding meats to your soup, add lentils or beans for a boost of protein. Lentils can be directly added to simmering broth and other ingredients. Other hardier beans will need to be cooked ahead of time.
:: Taste, sip, sample while you cook. I am a big supporter of adding ingredients and then tasting. There is nothing more disappointing than making a meal without tasting as you go along to find that the is just too salty or spicy. Although there are a few tips to reverse these mistakes I still recommend getting out a spoon and sipping as you go.
:: If you have a husband like me who doesn’t accept soup as a meal unless bread is involved, try other alternatives to store bought. Homemade biscuits or cornbread are really simple to whip up and with a nice hunk of cheese you have a complete meal.

Next week I will offer a step by step guide to my weekly soup.

Hannah and Norah

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hannah: you love sweets and tea. not a week goes by where you don’t make us all a tea party. i surprised you with applesauce cake for breakfast. you thanked me at least ten times.

norah: you came down with a dress, stockings and maryjanes on. not your typical attire. i couldn’t stop looking at you all day. i saw who you will be in 5 years over and over.

Dessert and Drinks

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one of my goals for 2014 is to have friends over more.
and to make gatherings simple, enjoyable and affordable.

yesterday i woke up and said “i’m going to invite a few people over”. it was last minute and i had a workshop to attend that would take half of my day so i decided on desserts and drinks.

i made a huge batch of chocolate covered strawberries and a chocolate almond torte from 3191Q issue 9 that i had been itching to try. there was some cheese and bread, wine and brew and a bouquet of yellow tulips.

we sat around the fire nibbling on sweets until midnight.

recipe for a simple, stress free, last minute dessert party.
:: don’t hesitate to bake something new when having guests over. but choose something with a few simple steps and ingredients to keep the stress level down.
:: serve something a little savory like cheese or spicy nuts to go along with the sweets.
:: serve some fruit like strawberries and clementines. easy, peasy and who doesn’t like fruit?
:: fancy up fruit by dipping in chocolate or break out the fondue pot and make it a fondue party!
:: if you aren’t a baker or have run out of time don’t cancel the party! buy a batch of cookies or cake at your local bakery. i don’t know what i would do without the selection of yummy sweets at trader joes.
:: keep a set of decorative paper napkins and tea lights tucked away to be ready for last minute gatherings.
:: say yes to guests who offer to bring something. a extra bottle of wine or snack can help with your budget and time.
:: offer a fun cocktail, punch or wine that pairs well with dessert. i like to serve drinks that align with the seasons. warm up your guests in the winter months with irish coffee, a hot toddy or mulled wine.
:: a bouquet of flowers and candles is all you need to spruce things up.