Friday, October 21, 2011

Birthday Cake Extravaganzah!

Today is Greg's birthday.  He loves pineapple upside down cake, so I usually bake him one for his birthday.  This year as I was cruising Tastespotting for a recipe to try, I found a double-decker version.  If he loves the original version that's only one layer, two layers is even better.

As usual, I didn't keep track of the name of the blog; as usual, I changed the recipe a little, and the instructions a lot, so technically it's not the same cake anyway. Besides, the blogger had adapted it from Betty Crocker so it wasn't even her recipe, either.

Here's the recipe:

Pineapple Upside-Down 2-Layer Cake
Makes 10 servings

1/4 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 20 oz can pineapple slices, drained reserving juice (10 slices of pineapple)
16 maraschino cherries without stems
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cups wheat flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 stick of unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3 teaspoons baking powder (I use a sodium-free version)
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cup almond milk
2 eggs
3 Tbs. reserved pineapple juice


Heat oven to 350°F. Divide 1/4 cup butter between two 9" round cake pans, place in oven and allow butter to melt. Remove pans from and divide and sprinkle brown sugar evenly between pans over melted butter. Slice pineapple rings in half to fit around edge of pan on top of brown sugar mixture. Place remaining whole pineapple slices in middle of pan. Place cherry in center of each pineapple slice.

Sift together the flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt

In mixer bowl, cream butter and sugar together.  Add the eggs, almond milk, and pineapple juice.  Mix to combine.

Add the dry ingredients, and beat on high speed 3 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally.

Divide batter between cake pans and pour batter over pineapple and cherries.

Bake 45-50 minutes or until cake tester or toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Immediately place heatproof serving plate upside down over pan; turn plate and pan over. Leave pan over cake a few minutes so brown sugar mixture can drizzle over cake; remove pan.

Loosen edges of cake in second pan by running a knife carefully along edge. With the aid of an offset spatula (or any wide long handled spatula) quickly but gently flip second cake over, bracing with spatula, and place on top of first cake. Make sure second layer is centered before removing spatula. Allow cake pan to rest for a minute or two on top of cake so that the brown sugar mixture can drizzle onto cake.  Remove top pan.  Cool thoroughly and serve.


The original recipe called for milk; I substituted almond milk.  The original recipe also used all-purpose flour only but I substituted 2/3 cups of wheat flour for 2/3 cups of white.

Since it's a 2-layer cake, I made the top layer pretty.

In the past, when I've taken a pineapple upside-down cake out of the pan, I've flipped it onto a plate and pulled the pan off.  This time I left the pan on for a few minutes so the brown sugar mixture could drizzle down a little.  When I took the pan off, 3 of the pineapple pieces stuck to the pan; I just put them back on the cake. Sadly, I put them on upside down so they didn't look as carmelized as the other slices.  It's the bottom layer, nobody will know.

The top layer was a little tricky; I didn't get it on straight but it's close enough.  It's a homemade cake, after all.  I left the pan on the top layer for a few minutes after I flipped it, and this time when I took the pan off, everything stayed on the cake.


Still steaming!

Before you get all excited and bake this cake, you should know this:

nutrition facts

Happy 57th Birthday Greg Davis!  I love you and wish you at least 57 more birthdays and pineapple upside-down cakes handmade for you by me.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Tabbouleh. I could live on this.

Many of you on NutriMirror have read my posts about the Mediterranean restaurant that my friends and I love to visit for lunch.  The food at Azars is wonderful, and their hummus is available in local grocery stores.  I always have some in my fridge. 

One day on a lunch date at Azars, I ordered the tabbouleh salad.  I was hooked with my first bite.  Lemony and scrumptious, it's one of my favorite things now and I always order it, either as an entree or as an appetizer.  I could seriously eat this every day.  So, I'm going to.  I'm making a batch of it today, using Ina Garten's recipe.

Copyright 2001, Barefoot Contessa Parties!, All Rights Reserved
Rated 4 stars out of 5
Total Time: 31 min.
Prep   30 min.
Inactive   1 min.
Yield:  8 servings


1 cup bulghur wheat
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
1/4 cup good olive oil
3 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup minced scallions, white and green parts (1 bunch)
1 cup chopped fresh mint leaves (1 bunch)
1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley (1 bunch)
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and medium-diced
2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Place the bulghur in a large bowl, pour in the boiling water, and add the lemon juice, olive oil, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Stir, then allow to stand at room temperature for about 1 hour.

Add the scallions, mint, parsley, cucumber, tomatoes, 2 teaspoons salt, and the pepper; mix well. Season, to taste, and serve or cover and refrigerate. The flavor will improve if the tabbouleh sits for a few hours.
Luckily for me, the flat-leaf parsley I planted last Spring is still going strong.  On the other hand, my mint, which I planted in a big pot to keep it from taking over the world, has died back and there isn't enough new growth for this recipe.  I am headed to the grocery store and have high hopes of finding bulghur wheat and mint.  I don't recall seeing either of these at the store in the past, but then again, I wasn't looking for them.

My plan was to go to the beach, take a nice long power walk on the boardwalk, then go to the grocery store.  Unfortunately, black rain clouds were everywhere - the last thing I want is to get drenched on the boardwalk 28 blocks from my car, and then go shopping.  I cancelled the beach walk plan and went straight to the grocery store.

Two hours later, and I'm home from the grocery store.  The store did have mint, but a bunch of it was $2.49!  I cursed as I put it in my shopping cart.  I should have checked the price of parsley to make myself feel better about having it in my garden, but didn't think of that as I headed for the bulghur wheat department.  Harris Teeter has a pretty good selection of beans, grains, rices - but the only bulghur I could find proudly proclaimed "with added soy flakes!"  Since this was my only option, I bought a box.

After I left the store, I decided to check the local health food store for real bulghur.  I headed there, only to find they wouldn't open for another 20 minutes.  I decided I could go to the bank while I waited for Heritage to open.  I turned on a little back road, thinking I'd take the short cut.  Apparently I need to pay better attention when I take the short cut.  The road I took went through a very ritzy area, with giant mansions on the water and yachts floating around, then by the golf course, and then to a dead end.  I turned around, headed back out, and remembered a new branch of my bank, closer than the one I had attempted to short-cut to. 

I went to the new bank, pulled into the parking lot, and parked where it said "temporary parking for walk-up ATM customers."  I got out, walked to the ATM, and the screen apologetically told me that the ATM was currently unavailable.   To get out of the bank parking lot (which I also noticed was being paved - apparently this branch isn't open for business at all!  A SIGN WOULD BE NICE, PEOPLE) it was much easier to take a right out of the parking lot than to try to take a left across 4 lanes of traffic.  This gave me the chance to turn around in another parking lot and head to the nearby Starbucks, where I could get a chai latte and simmer down for a while. 

On the way to Starbucks, I passed Fresh Market and remembered that they have bins of nuts and seeds and stuff, and decided to check there for bulghur.  They had it!  (Thank you, Universe)  They also had honey crisp apples, which I have been waiting for since last Fall.  I walked out of Fresh Market with 4 honey crisp apples the size of softballs, 2 things of bulghur wheat, some asiago cheese baguettes, a clif bar, and at the check out stand, an impulse buy of felafal chips, which will go great with tabbouleh!  Score!

At this point I was starving, so I got in the car and ate my clif bar.  This got me past my Starbucks chai latte urge so I came home.  As I unpacked the grocery bags, I remembered that I'd bought yogurt and it had been sitting in my trunk while I wandered around town not going to the bank or buying bulghur.  Now I'm not even in the mood to make tabbouleh.  The ironic thing is, I was on the same block as Azars when I was at Fresh Market and could have saved myself time and about $60 if I'd just gone there in the first place and ordered some take out.

NEW PLAN:  Drink a bunch of water, surf the net, and try to get back into the mood to cook.

Afternoon Update!  I made tabbouli.  It's delicious, but I only licked the spoon.  I covered it and put it in the refrigerator to age for a while. 

I have to say that as much as I like Ina Garten, I've always felt she has a heavy hand with the salt.  This recipe called for 3.5 teaspoons.  I put 1.5 and it's borderline too salty!  Next time, I will only use .5 teaspoon.  I hate adding salt to recipes.  Over time, most of my recipes have had the salt reduced, then when I got used to that saltiness I would reduce it again. My granola recipe has gone from 1 teaspoon to just a grind or two of the salt grinder.

Anyway, here's a picture of the tabbouleh:

Looks delicious, right?
I'm so happy my parsley is still doing well.  It's growing at the peahouse.  Now that all the cucumbers and melons have been removed from the peahouse, and sun can get in, the parsley really took off.  Come to think of it, ever since that 30-foot tree blew over in hurricane Irene and we replaced it with a 4-foot Japanese maple, the flowers out front are growing a lot better too.  Amazing what sunlight can do.

Parsley Patch
So now a word about the mint.  It was a little bundle when I bought it, but when I took the rubber bands off of the bundle to wash the mint, the mint expanded into a huge amount.  Admittedly, I did not use a whole cup of chopped mint in my tabbouli.  I used about 1/4 a cup.  I also didn't use an entire European cucumber, I used half of a regular one.  And I only used 1/4 a cup of parsley.  I want to notice the bulghur wheat when I eat it.

Seriously, I've got enough mint left to make several more batches of tabbouleh.  Oh boy!  I hope it doesn't wilt.  I'm going to wrap it in a slightly damp paper towel and put it in a freezer bag and into the refrigerator, because I think I saw that on TV somewhere once.  I've never had leftover mint before.

Leftover mint and leftover 1/2 lemon
 See those Falafel Chips in the background?  They are DELICIOUS and I urge you to try them if you ever see them in the store!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tomato Cheese Pie

Seriously, what is better than a tomato plant right outside the back door, loaded with fresh ripe tomatoes?  Browsing through Tastespotting led me to a recipe for tomato and cheese pie.  Normally I would direct you to the blog it was on, but in my excitement over how awesome this pie sounded, I printed the recipe and forgot to bookmark the blog.  I changed a few things from the original recipe based on comments, and I'm happy to report that this pie is one of the most delicious things I've eaten all summer.

Here's the recipe:

Tomato Cheese Pie        Serves 8.

• 1 9-inch pie shell (I used a thawed-out frozen pie crust)

• 1/2 yellow or red onion, chopped (I used 2 little red onions from the garden, and   caramelized them)

• 3-4 tomatoes, cut in half horizontally, squeezed to remove excess juice, roughly chopped, to yield approximately 3 cups chopped tomatoes

• 1/4 cup sliced basil (about 8 leaves)

• 1 T Dijon mustard

• 2 cups grated cheese (combination of sharp cheddar and Monterey Jack, or Gruyere or Mozarella)  (I used sharp cheddar and provolone; I don't think it really matters what you use as long as you like it)

• 3/4 cup mayonnaise (I used olive-oil-added mayo)

• 1 teaspoon (or more to taste) of Frank's Hot Sauce (or Tabasco)

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper (I didn't use salt-there's plenty in the cheese)


Preheat oven to 350°F.  Prebake the pie crust until it's a light golden brown; mine took about 12 minutes

Squeeze as much moisture as you can out of the chopped tomatoes (I put paper towels in a colander and let the tomatoes sit for a while, then squeezed them with the paper towel)

Spread the Dijon mustard on the bottom of the pie shell

Sprinkle pie shell with chopped onion.

Spread the chopped tomatoes over the onions.

Sprinkle the sliced basil over the tomatoes.

In a medium bowl, mix together the grated cheese, mayonnaise, Tabasco, a sprinkling of salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Spread the cheese mixture over the tomatoes.

Place in oven and bake until browned and bubbly, anywhere from 25 to 45 minutes. (Mine baked for 50 minutes and wasn't browned enough so I put it under the broiler for a couple of minutes)

A piece of tomato cheese pie, and some fresh cantaloupe from the garden, were dinner. 

I logged my dinner on NutriMirror and was happy to see that my day was still green!  Here are the stats; look at all that calcium!  (I know, look at all that FAT!)

nutrition facts

Daydream Believer

I was recently telling a friend about one of my frequent daydreams.  Years ago, I heard or read someplace that it's good to have a happy place to go to mentally.  I mentally invented a house in the woods, and I'm sitting at a big heavy wooden table next to a stone fireplace, with a fire blazing in it.  The firelight is the only light in the room, and it's very cozy and private.  I can see into my kitchen, a beautiful gourmet space that is open to the living room.  The living room faces a curved wall of windows that look out into the trees.  I invented this sanctuary space about 15 years ago, and have spent lots of time sitting at my table, in my head. 

This fireplace space is so real to me now that I now find myself looking around while I'm there, and either further inventing or finally noticing some details.  Now, the kitchen is a sunny yellow, with a big white island.  In contrast to my fireplace area, the kitchen and living room are very bright.  It's dusk outside, and I can see through the living room windows into the trees.  There's a big full moon and it's all just beautiful.

I'm the kind of person who needs lots of alone time.  Thankfully, I married a man who understands that and doesn't get offended when I tell him I'm going into my cone of silence for a while.  When I can't find time physically to be alone, I often go to my fireplace sanctuary and recharge.

I wonder if I will ever end up living in my daydream house.  We have never discussed living in the woods, and I'm not sure I'd like that anyway.  I need quick access to grocery stores and gas stations, and paved roads.  Maybe one day this will be a vacation home.  I don't really know, but I do know this.  You get what you focus on, wanted or not.  I'm not going to be surprised if I do one day find myself actually sitting at my big table next to the fire.

It's so important to notice what we think about.  For every "this job sucks" we put out there, the Universe goes "this job sucks - you got it!" and continues to give you that.  As with most things, awareness is key.  It would be good to have a place to log your positive/negative thoughts so you could see them right in front of you and consciously change them. 

Which would you rather create?

"I am sitting at a beautiful, heavy wooden table, next to a roaring fire in a stone fireplace, gazing out into my beautiful living space and feeling such contentment."


"My job gives me panic attacks, I'm fat, nothing good ever happens to me, I'll never get anywhere, I'm useless, I'm worthless, I'm a failure, I suck."

How about this one?

"I am financially independent and spend my time on hobbies I love, and eat wonderful healthy food, and travel wherever/whenever I want; I am able to be philanthropic to causes I am passionate about.  My life is filled with caring, kind, irreverent, supportive awesome people who know who they are and can be counted on to tell me the truth."

Guess which two I am creating?  And manifesting into my life more and more, every day. 

Pay attention to your thoughts.  It's really important!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Almond Blueberry Coffee Cake

TasteSpotting.  If you haven't been on their website, you need to look at it.  So many beautiful pictures and such variety of recipes.  Today I have fresh blueberries to work with.  A search on TasteSpotting gave me lots of options.  I clicked on a muffin recipe, and from that link I clicked on a couple more, only to end up with a recipe I'm not sure where I got.  No matter, really, because I made so many changes to the recipe. 

The original recipe called for 4 eggs; I used 2 eggs, and 2 tablespoons of ground flax seed mixed in 6 tablespoons of warm water.  I am not sure I care for the flavor that flax seed adds, but I do care for the good nutrients it contains.  The recipe also called for 3/4 cup of sugar; I used 1/2 cup of honey and 1/4 cup of sugar.  I also added blackstrap molasses, which isn't called for in the recipe but I look for any opportunity to add it to a recipe.

Also, the original recipe called for sprinkling 2 teaspoons of sugar over the top before baking.  I forgot that step, and about 10 minutes into baking I remembered it.  I pulled the cake out and put 2 tablespoons of sugar on it.  Then I read the recipe again and saw that I had gone way overboard on the sprinkly sugar.  Still, considering the flax seed issue I have, maybe that was a lucky accident.
Finally, the recipe called for almond extract.  I don't have any on hand, so I used vanilla extract.  I'm sure almond extract would have given it a stronger almond flavor.  The finished cake has a nice almond flavor even using vanilla extract.

Here is what the recipe looked like after I got finished messing with it.  It hit a few wet spots on the counter, too.

I still have plenty of blueberries left and can't wait to eat them.  Enjoy!

Almond Blueberry Cake
Serves 10


1 cup almond meal
1 ½ cups white whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp sea salt
2 eggs
½ cup honey
¼ cup sugar + 2T sugar for topping
2 T ground flax seed mixed with 6 T warm water
½ tsp vanilla extract
¾ cup unsalted butter, melted
1 T blackstrap molasses
½ cup fresh blueberries

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9 inch spring-form pan.

In a medium bowl, combine the almond meal, flour, baking powder and salt. Stir to combine and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl add the eggs, the flax seed in water, the honey and sugar. Using the whisk attachment beat for about 3 minutes until it is light and fluffy. It should increase in volume as well. Mix in the molasses and vanilla extract.

Slowly alternate adding the butter and flour mixture, blending after each addition just until combined. The batter will be thick.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Evenly distribute the blueberries on top of the cake, gently pressing each into the batter. Sprinkle on 2 T of sugar.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out of the center with very few crumbs and the sides pull away from the pan. Place on a cooling rack and cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Remove the spring-form pan and cool to room temperature.

nutrition facts
based on a 2000 calorie diet

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Garden Pictures

I love our gardens.  We have 3 huge flower beds, a largish vegetable garden, the peahouse (now featuring cucumbers and cantaloupes), and random melon plants by the shed.

The yellow and orange cosmos came up this year from seed spread by the cosmos I planted last year.  To the right, on the pergola, are the zucchini plants.  I trimmed them way back today and pulled out one of the plants.  The leaves that were covered in mildew all had to go.  We've had 2 zucchini off these plants; today I saw another one coming along!

To the left, peeking into the picture, is the big shade garden under the Bradford pear tree.  I've put lots of plants in there - astilbe, hosta, bleeding heart, forget me not, ice plant, and a few more.  One day that garden will be filled completely with flowers.

More cosmos, chrysanthemums, and a little more of the shade garden.  The gardenia bush on the right is in full bloom but I can't prove that by this picture!

Gladiolas coming up, gerber daisies, random volunteer yellow flowers that I've forgotten the name of, snapdragons, and my giant red poppy seeds went in this garden too.    To the left you can see one of the broccoli plants that turned out to be a cabbage.

 I have two tiny poppies that never seem to get any bigger.  This is, however, my most successful attempt to grow poppies from seed.   The most I've ever had before were stringy seedlings that died almost immediately.  They are right in front of the white plant stake in the bottom left-hand corner.  You can sort of see one of them.  I have high hopes for these two little plants!

Down the fence from the poppies and cabbage is this eggplant.  We have a fruit on it now and several flowers!

The cucumbers love their location on the front fence.  The roses need serious pruning.  The idea horrifies Greg, but it must be done.  I'm gradually trimming them back and trying not to draw attention to myself.

A better view of the shade garden.  I planted some tulip bulbs in there, given to me by a neighbor.   I can't wait to see what color they are when they come up next Spring. 

These pretty petunias hang right outside my office-room window and I can see them from where I sit. 

After we pulled all the peas out, the cucumbers and melons went crazy on the peahouse!  That cucumber in the middle is hanging on the inside.  I'm trying to poke all the babies through, so they'll hang inside.  So convenient for picking!

These are some melon plants on the peahouse, with cilantro along the bottom.  The baby melons are tiny and fuzzy, very cute.  I can't wait to eat them.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

It's A New Dawn and We've Got Peas

One of my soul mates, Jamie, is a psychic and she has her own online radio show.  She is a natural for radio, with her confident voice and happy laugh.  Every week she brings new insight, and sometimes guests, to her broadcast.  This week, I was one of her guests.  My NutriMirror BFFs Lynn and Kel were guests, too.  We talked about NutriMirror and had a wonderful time getting the message out.  Being on the radio was a fun experience.  It was not only fun; after the show, the three of us were all buzzy from the incredible energy of doing something new and wanting to do it some more!  Based on Jamie's reading for me this week, and previous readings, we three are going to become even more familiar with online radio when we launch our own show.  Right now we are in the mulling it over stage.  If you'd like to hear us on It's A New Dawn, click here:  12Radio It's A New Dawn   Our show was on May 24 but I encourage you to listen to all of Jamie's shows - they are worth it!

The garden took a hit this week when hurricane-force winds blew through on Tuesday evening.  There has been very little rain around here this spring; the weather maps show rain all around us but we have only had a couple of cloudbursts.  On Tuesday we had the high winds and a splattering of rain, not enough to really benefit the garden.  The winds knocked over our big tomato plant and the peas that were taller than me.  We got them all stood back up, and Greg rigged up a network of twine that's keeping things upright.  We have peas now!  Not enough to pick for a dinner of peas, ham and shrimp, but we will be there soon.

Peas!  May 27, 2011
 The peahouse is progressing.  Next year we will reconfigure and plant the peas inside instead of outside, so they will naturally cling to the chicken wire as they grow right up to it.  This year we've been training the peas onto the chicken wire, hooking the little tendrils on and in some cases tying the plants on.  These are about thigh-high now, and have peas on them too!

2011 peahouse, the first of many
 The thing is, we planted two kinds of peas:  English peas, and sugar snap peas.  We didn't bother keeping track of what was planted where, so at this point I'm not sure if we are supposed to eat the pods or shell them.  Greg says we will know when the time comes.  I hope he's right.  (He usually is, as I've learned over our 23 years together.)

Our gardenias are starting to bloom now, too.  I would love to chop these bushes down to about a foot tall after they finish blooming.  I am a big believer in pruning.  Many people consider pruning to be bad, because they like the look of overgrown ungainly plants.  I prefer the way things get all lush after they've been pruned.  Right now we will just enjoy the heavenly fragrance of the gardenias.  Between the gardenias and the roses, when the breeze is just right it smells like heaven in my front yard.

The blossoms only last a couple of days but the bushes are loaded with buds
 Every year we like to grow a vegetable or two that we've never grown before.  This year we have beets, broccoli and onions.  The beets are leafed out and looking good, but not near ready to harvest.  We assume we will know when the broccoli is ready; not yet, but the plants are big and healthy.

Always wondering what the next unraveled leaf will reveal!
The onions were weeded this morning after I saw this picture!
 I've already picked one onion, to use in a delicious tomato and cucumber salad.  The recipe was posted on NutriMirror by Christinediane and it was so good I'm going to link to it.  I hope she doesn't mind!

Tomato, cucumber and feta salad

The recipe didn't call for onion, but since I knew my onions were big enough to eat I decided to add one.

This year we have a lot of volunteer plants coming up from ones we planted last year that seeded for this year.  Nasturtium, cosmos, and zinnias are everywhere.  I noticed something growing by our rosebushes that was not there last year, and that I did not plant.  I don't know what these sweet little purple flowers are!  If anyone does, please let me know!

Mystery Plant
 When we had to move our fence last month, I dug out the cucumbers and moved them to the front yard.  They are really happy there and we have a few tiny cucumbers already.

See it?  Right under the yellow flower.
 We have zucchini and a cantaloupe about the same size.  So cute!

Sadie stays in the yard with me while I'm puttering around.  She wanders around smelling everything and randomly barking.  My sweet Sadie is 13 now.  I hope she'll be around for a few more years; in the meantime, I am cherishing every minute with her and taking lots of pictures.  She fills a very large spot in my heart.  One of these days I'll get around to writing her story.  It's very interesting, involving the front page of the Bristol, Virginia newspaper and a journey from golden retriever rescue in North Little Rock, Arkansas to Leesburg, Virginia, at the tender puppy age of six months. 

Sadie on Patrol
 It's Memorial Day weekend, the start of beach season here and the end of my trips to the oceanfront until September.  I can't take the crowds, the parking meters, and the drunken revelers everywhere.  The beach is so awesome in the off-months, when it is possible to be the only person on the beach for miles around.  Happy weekend everyone and thank you to all of our service men and women.  It is great to be free and I am grateful to everyone who keeps that possible.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Strawberry Pickin' Day

When the strawberry farms tell us it is time to pick our own, Greg and I are usually the first people out there, the minute they open on a Saturday morning.  We drive out to a part of Virginia Beach that is still country, good old Pungo.  Pungo has an annual Strawberry Festival.  We attended the festival one time and vowed never to return.  Too crowded, too hard to park and unpark, just too much.  We have yet to go to the Peanut Festival in nearby Suffolk and we have lived here for 11 years.  I have a love/hate relationship with Mr. Peanut and should probably go to the Peanut Festival at least once.  I'll put that on my bucket list, right after "learn to speak Spanish."

So today is Strawberry Pickin' Day.  I had a hair appointment this morning, and Greg was helping a friend decide if his bathtub is cracked, so we didn't get out to Pungo at our  normal early hour.  We didn't get out to Pungo at all.  We drove down the street about 2 miles to a little farm stand and bought 5 things of strawberries.  I don't know how big the things are - a pint or a quart or something.  You can see them in the picture.  We also bought some fresh-picked asparagus, which I will roast to go with dinner tonight.  Yum.

Locally grown strawberries and asparagus
 Then we went to the grocery store to buy ice cream and whipping cream and some kind of cake-like item to put the strawberries over.  We usually buy the little spongecake cups; last year they came in chocolate too.  We discussed the possibility that there would be no little cakes at the grocery store, much less chocolate ones.  Greg said his mom always served strawberry shortcake over big Bisquik biscuits.  I said yes, and I could never stand that.  I told him I realized he grew up eating strawberry shortcake that way, and I grew up having it over pound cake, or the little spongecake cups, so I understood how you get attached to a childhood favorite.  I offered to make a sponge cake, even a chocolate one, but in the end we just went to the store.  We bought a pack of the little spongecake cups, and a pack of little angelfood cakes for me. 

Greg has been working like a lumberjack all morning.  When we got home with the strawberry haul, he wandered off to take a nap.  I got started getting all these strawberries organized.  First, I made some chocolate-covered ones.  I just picked some big berries, and melted some Ghirardelli chips in the microwave, and went to work.  Look!

Guess how many are left?
After making the chocolate covered strawberries, it was time to make strawberry shortcake sauce.  I filled a big bowl with water and put the strawberries in it, to rinse off any bugs.  One bee and two inchworms came off, and I hope that was all of them.  Sadly, they died, and I feel guilty about that.

Years ago, one fine evening when I served strawberry shortcake to my father-in-law, he went off on a rant about how there's never enough sauce.  Not just  my sauce, nobody made sauce right.  There's just never enough juice and the berry-to-juice ratio is always wrong Wrong WRONG.  My usual method was to clean the strawberries, slice them into a big bowl, and sprinkle sugar all over them, stirring them occasionally until a sauce formed.  To my knowledge, that was the accepted way.  After his dad's rant, Greg and I decided we were going to make the sauciest strawberry shortcake sauce the world has ever known.  Our first attempt was a winner.  We sliced half of the strawberries, and put the other half in a blender, pureed them, and poured them over the sliced berries.  Over time I've perfected this method and now when I puree the strawberries, I add a cup of simple syrup.  Luscious, plenty of sauce, never any complaints.

Oh, anyway, after washing all the strawberries I laid them out on clean towels on the counter, dried them pretty well, and got to work cleaning them.  Really dark ones went into the blender.  Pureeing them makes kind of a light pink colored sauce so I try to use the darkest ones to get a darker sauce, because I think it's prettier.

Beautiful clean strawberries
 While I was prepping the strawberries I made a simple syrup of 1 cup sugar in 1 cup water, over a low heat until the sugar dissolved.  That needs to cool down before I can make the sauce.

When I had cleaned most of the berries, and had a blender full and a big bowl full, I put the remaining berries on a sheet pan and they are in the freezer.  They will go into a plastic bag and be used in a future recipe.  I love that there is no waste with this purchase.  The strawberries will be eaten, the tops will go into the compost, the little blue pints or quarts or whatever are biodegradable so I can use them in the garden. 

Nothing is wasted
There is a skylight right over the counter where I usually take pictures.  The sunlight on the sliced strawberries makes them look like orange peppers.  Just as a little reminder, this is not a photography blog.  We have two digital cameras; one of them, the battery is always dead soon after I recharge it; the other one, I somehow turned off the flash and don't know how to make it come back.  The manual is around here someplace (note to bucket list: learn how to turn the flash on and off).

Puree the strawberries and simple syrup
Now comes the fun part. Put about 1/4 a cup of the simple syrup over the sliced strawberries and stir; put the rest of the simple syrup into the blender. Puree the strawberries, and pour over the sliced strawberries. (Helpful Hint:  Make damn sure the bottom is screwed onto the blender correctly.  I wasted a bunch of time cleaning up the blender and the countertop after I blended the strawberries.)

Stir, taste, swoon. These will sit in the fridge until time for dessert tonight, and the berries will soak up a little of the sauce while they sit there.
Saucy enough?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Sundried Tomato and Feta Scones

It's 7:30am, and we've been to the grocery store, I've made Scottish Oatmeal Cakes, homemade Frosty Paws for Sadie, and Sundried Tomato and Feta Scones.  My house smells like a pizza parlor.  My kitchen is trashed. 

A dear friend of mine is turning 45 this month.  I was on, one of her favorite websites, browsing around to see if anything caught my eye that was worthy of a 45th birthday present.  As usual, I got sidetracked when I saw a picture of scones.  I had no idea that etsy also published recipes!  Next thing you know every website out there will have recipes on it.  Yay!

I printed the recipe for the scones, entered it into NutriMirror to see what the nutritional stats were going to be like, and just about fell over.  The sodium alone was enough for an entire day.  So I got to work revising the recipe.  This involved an email, text, and phone call to the Country Tart for advice.  Is Greek yogurt a good substitute for heavy cream?  Is wheat flour ok to use when it says to use all-purpose flour?  Can I use sundried tomatoes instead of roasted tomatoes?  Is she talking to me naked in the shower?  After confirmation that I was fine with all the substitutions, I carried on with my day. 

First I went into the post office and mailed off one of my media copies of Balanced Days, Balanced Lives to the local NPR lady who does a lunchtime show that many times involves health and nutrition issues.  Then off to the health food store, where I dropped off another media copy, and purchased some no-sodium baking powder, scallions, and feta cheese. 

This morning I made the scones.  Look!

Since I changed the recipe so much I am hereby dismissing the etsy recipe and claiming this as my own. 

Here's the recipe, with my adjustments:
Sundried Tomato Feta Scones
Makes 8 scones


1/2 cup wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sodium-free baking powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
4 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
3/4 cup Greek yogurt
1 egg slightly beaten
4 oz feta cheese
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes in olive oil
2 green onions, finely sliced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place the flour, baking powder, garlic salt and butter in a food processor. Pulsate everything in 3-second intervals until the mixture resembles coarse meal. If doing this by hand, use 2 knives, a pastry blender or your fingers.

Transfer everything to a large bowl. Stir in heavy cream and egg, mixing the dough by hand until it comes together.

Add feta cheese, roasted tomatoes, and green onions. Gently mix the ingredients by hand until the savory ingredients are evenly distributed.

On a floured surface, form a big dough ball. Flatten the dough into a 1 inch disk and cut it in 8 equal pieces.

Bake for 15 minutes on a baking stone or a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Remove scones from baking sheet and cool on a wire rack.

I did not bother with pictures of every step.  My hands were all yucky from mixing the dough by the time I realized that a blog works better when you put pictures on it.   

First I went into the pantry for my wheat flour.  I had forgotten that I used most of it recently on another scone recipe, and only had 1/2 cup left.  So much for lowering the sodium substantially.  Next time I will make sure I have wheat flour on hand. Wish I'd checked before we went to the store.
The sodium-free baking powder did help considerably, though.  Did you know that one measley teaspoon of regular baking powder contains 488 mg of sodium?  Also 23% calcium, so it does have that to say for itself.  Since they lowered the sodium limits for people 51 and over, to 1500 mg/day, 488 mgs of sodium in one tiny ingredient in one recipe, even when you divide it by 8 servings, just isn't very appealing.  Even without the sodium-laden baking powder, this is kind of high per serving. 

nutrition facts
Anyway, these smelled incredible as they baked, and they look like they are going to rock me jailhouse rock.  We will have them later with some Beach Baked Beans I made yesterday.

Between the Frosty Paws, Scottish Oatmeal Cake, and Scones, my kitchen looks like a tornado blew through.  So I'm off to clean up now.  Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

ps:  for the Frosty Paws, I use a big container of vanilla yogurt, 2 bananas, and about 1/2 a cup of water.  Blend in the blender, then put in little tupperwares until frozen.  Like most other things, it is a whole lot cheaper to make your own than to buy the fancy ones from the store.  Also, no added chemicals.  Sadie adores them.

pps:  so much for waiting until later to try them.  I couldn't stand it anymore so I ate one.  Please make this recipe - you will not be sorry, I promise you.  They are awesome.  AWESOME!!!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Beach Baked Beans

I am craving baked beans.  Probably because I've been low in fiber recently and my body is not in the mood for that.  Tastespotting had lots of recipes that I looked at, and settled on one for Boston Baked Beans.  I'm not even going to refer you to the blog because I ended up changing the recipe so much the blogger would never recognize it!  So I have changed the name to Beach Baked Beans (copyright Serenity Swamp).

I used the following ingredients:

  • 232 grams Jacob's Cattle beans (I logged these as Great Northern beans, because I can't find the nutritional information for Rancho Gordo beans, even though it might be on their website)
  • 4 slices of thick bacon, cut into about 1/2 inch pieces
  • 114 grams sweet onion, chopped
  • 12 grams fresh garlic, chopped
  • 2 T honey
  • 1 T brown sugar
  • 1 t of fantastic chili peppers in a tube that I buy at Harris Teeter in the produce department
  • 1/2 cup blackstrap molasses
  • 2 t hot/sweet mustard (from a Hickory Farms gift set Greg got for Christmas)
  • 1 t yellow mustard
  • 1/8 t Kosher salt, dash of black pepper
Soak the beans, drain and rinse them

Bring the soaked beans to a boil in a large pot filled with 8 cups of water.  Reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the beans are softened but fully intact, 45-60 minutes

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees

In a dutch oven, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp

Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent

Add 3 cups of the hot bean liquid, honey, brown sugar, chili peppers, molasses, mustard, salt and pepper

Bring to a boil

Drain the beans and add to the bacon/onion mixture

Cover and put in the oven for 4-5 hours until the beans are completely soft and the liquid is thickened

Alrighty then.  One thing I changed from the blog recipe I copied was I decided to mention that you have to put the beans in with the bacon/onion mixture before you put everything in the oven, unlike the blogger, who said nothing about it (see Lynn?  It's not just you).

While the beans cooked, I made the rest of the recipe.  First, cook the bacon until crisp.

cooking the bacon

This, my friends, is my Aunt Betty's famous cast iron baked bean pot.  Aunt Betty was one of my grandfather's 11 siblings, and she was the last of them when she died just a few years ago.  Aunt Betty made the best baked beans anyone has ever eaten.  Every year at the family picnic at her house, we could count on them being there.  Not to mention her incredible macaroni and cheese.....    After she died, the family was asked if they would like anything of hers, as they were cleaning out the house in order to put it on the market.  My brilliant sister Robin asked for Aunt Betty's bean pot for me (wait a second while I cry - that just got me all choked up.  Thank you Robin - I love you).  Robin also gave me a copy of Aunt Betty's baked bean recipe.

Come to find out, it was canned beans that Aunt Betty doctored up quite a bit, and the instructions were very unclear as to how long you were supposed to cook them.  It could have been days; there was no way to tell.  I haven't made Aunt Betty's baked beans, but I have had her bean pot on the shelf in my new kitchen on top of the cabinets.  It looks so nice up there, along with some other cast iron items like my fried chicken dutch oven and an Asian style lantern. 

Shelf decor
Today since I was already using my regular bean dutch oven to simmer the beans, I asked Greg to get Aunt Betty's bean pot down from the shelf so I could start the other ingredients cooking in it.  I had to pry the lid off of it with a butter knife and was kind of afraid to open it, but when I did, there was nothing bad in there.  This pot is so nicely seasoned!

OK - back to Beach Baked Beans. Where was I.....  right.  When the bacon is crisp, add the onions and garlic and cook until the onions are translucent.  Then put in 3 cups of the hot bean cooking liquid.  The recipe I found said to add 3 cups of water, but I had a whole lot of bean liquid so decided to use that instead of water.  Then put in all the other stuff.

Drain the beans

I drained the beans over a bowl so I could reserve the liquid in case I needed it.  It's a good thing I didn't need it, because right after I mixed the beans into the bacon and onions, I squeezed out my dish cloth right over the bean liquid bowl.  Oops.

Mix the beans into the bacon and onion mixture:

I think I have way too much liquid in here but time will tell.  I didn't use a whole pound of beans like the blog recipe did; I used the end of a bag of Jacob's Cattles I had opened a while back.  Oh well.  If it doesn't all soak up and get thick, I will remove the lid at the end and leave the beans in the oven for about 20 minutes that way.  Plus, we have honey wheat bread to go with dinner, so who really cares if they are too juicy.

Now put them in the oven for 4-5 hours.  After about 3 hours, start feeling happy because these smell so good!

They have been in the oven for almost 5 hours now, and the beans aren't quite done - very close.  I ate a bean and a tiny piece of bacon - these beans are going to be delicious!! 

There is still too much liquid in the pot so as soon as the timer goes off, I will take the lid off and put them back in the oven.  Greg will start the charcoal for the grill, and by the time the steaks are done the beans will be perfect.  That is my plan, anyway.

It's been 5 hours and I declare it time to take the lid off.  I'm getting hungry!  This is what they looked like when I took off the lid.

I wish you could smell them

nutrition facts

Yes, this will help my fiber immensely!

Well, the verdict is in.  After cooking the beans for another 1/2 an hour without the lid on, they were delicious.  A couple of things I would do differently next time: 
  • take the bacon out after it's cooked and only add it in when I add the beans
  • remove some of the bacon fat before I cook the onions
  • use an appropriate amount of liquid (or more beans in the first place - Greg said I should have doubled the recipe, they were that good!)
  • cook the beans a little longer before adding them to the recipe
Other than that these were freakin' awesome.  Slightly sweet, slightly spicy (slightly too firm beans).  I did not take a picture of the final product - it looked just a little darker and thicker than the picture above.