‘Tis the Season for Taxes & Lavender Scones

taxes_04What can I say? The sky is the color of dirty snow. One last pile of dirty snow still clings to the edge of the driveway. Rain is not just in the forecast; it is imminent. Step outside and it feels like your thermometer is off by at least five degrees. Could it get any worse? Yes, of course, our taxes are due next Monday. (No, that’s not a typo. April 15th is a holiday in Washington so the deadline has been pushed back.)

While paying taxes is no picnic, filing is even worse. I assume that there are people who embrace the process as a fascinating puzzle or mystery to unravel. Not I. Running through all those numbers is pure drudge. I suppose that if I was a clever accountant, I would appreciate the finesse and creativity it takes to master the tax code. But I’m not. I’m just an ordinary person with a mountain of forms and receipts and a not-quite-as-easy-as-advertised software package to navigate. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not complaining about the software. For years I did my taxes with a calculator and pencil, this way is much, much better.

I’m not alone. None other than Albert Einstein said, “The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.” If the dreaded tax season has you down, here are a few quotes to perk you up. If you like, you can use them to make refrigerator magnets. (You can sell the magnets to help pay your tax bill. Don’t forget to include your sales as miscellaneous income next year.)

Perhaps these lines will cheer you up, perhaps not. Anyway, here goes:

“No taxation without representation” was a popular slogan during the mid-1700s. The quote summarized the American colonists’ primary grievance against Mad King George. The notion of taxes without a voice in government led to the American Revolution. We have since learned that taxation with representation isn’t all that much fun either.

Benjamin Franklin shared the rather distressing truth that, “nothing is certain except death and taxes.” However, he failed to add that if you are hard pressed for time, the IRS will give you an extension. You just need to ask.

Too bad Richard Nixon didn’t heed his own words, “Make sure you pay your taxes; otherwise you can get in a lot of trouble.” The Watergate scandal, political corruption, dirty tricks and, yes, tax evasion landed Nixon in a whole heap of trouble and forced him to resign. Charges were not restricted to the president. Pleading no contest to tax evasion, Veep Spiro Agnew left office in disgrace ten months before Nixon stepped down.

Nixon and Agnew are not alone. Perhaps Leona Helmsley summed it up best, “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.” That was before the Queen of Mean was sentenced to four years in prison and fined $7 million for tax fraud. Al Capone must have been similarly deluded when he said, “They can’t collect legal taxes from illegal money.”

I guess Barry Goldwater knew what he was talking about when he said, “The income tax created more criminals than any other single act of government.” Will Rogers didn’t go quite so far. His take on our annual calculations and filing was, “The income tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf has.”

If your W-2 and myriad of other forms are signed and sent, well, good for you. If you are still busy calculating; my sympathies and best wishes.

Either way, with any luck, you’re due a refund. Bon appétit!

Lavender Scones
After your taxes are filed, clear your head of convoluted instructions and calculations with a leisurely cup of tea and a scone. Enjoy!
Makes 16 scones

3 cups all-purpose flour plus more for your work surface
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon dried lavender buds
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Lavender Honey Butter, recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with non-stick silicon mats or parchment paper.

Put the flour, sugar, lavender, lemon zest, baking powder, salt and baking soda in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer the buttery flour mixture to a bowl.

Stir the vanilla into the sour cream and then add the wet ingredients to the buttery flour mixture. Stir to combine.

tea_scones_04Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface, pat together and knead for 10 or 12 turns. Pat the dough into a 10×5-inch rectangle. Cut the dough in half lengthwise and then cut each half into 4 squares. Cut each square diagonally into 2 triangles.

Arrange the scones on the baking sheets and brush the tops with cream. Bake the scones at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until golden. A tester inserted into the center of one of the scones should come out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for a few minutes. Serve warm with honey butter.

Can be made ahead and reheated in a 350 degree oven for 5 minutes.

Lavender Honey Butter
2 tablespoons lavender* honey
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
8 ounces (2 sticks) butter, softened and cut in 1-inch pieces

Put the honey, lemon zest and juice in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed to combine. Add the butter and beat on low speed to break up the butter and begin mixing. Gradually increase the speed to medium-high and beat until well combined, about 5 minutes.

Spoon the butter onto parchment paper or plastic wrap, roll into a log and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

* Don’t worry if you can’t find lavender honey. Your favorite honey should work almost as well.

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One Year Ago – Calzones with Marinara Sauce
Two Years Ago – Chocolate-Espresso Cheesecake
Three Years Ago – Runners’ Chicken with Pasta
Four Years Ago – Steamed Artichokes with Bagna Cauda or Warm Lemon-Garlic Sauce
Five Years Ago – Death by Chocolate Cake
Six Years Ago – Filet de Perche Meunière
Seven Years Ago – Chicken Provençal
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

Yippee! I finished my taxes yesterday afternoon. How are doing with your calculations? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2016

Easter Brunch Special

rabbitts_easterWould you rather brunch than lunch or dinner for Easter? After today’s icy rain, it’s not a bad idea to free up the afternoon for some outdoor fun. Hike, bike or work in the garden – however you choose to spend the day – I’ve got a great brunch menu for you to enjoy with family and friends.

What to serve? Traditional or not, hmmm! Well, it is Easter. You and your guests will love my Quiche Lorraine. If you prefer to play it a little fancy, you’ll want to serve my Asparagus & Goat Cheese Tart. (Asparagus is on special at my local supermarket.) If there are children coming, you might want to add a pan of my Baked French Toast.

Don’t forget to add some fresh fruit. My supermarket is also having a sale on strawberries. Pick up a quart and enjoy my Strawberries with Yogurt Cream. Or go crazy and enjoy your berries with my Creamy Lime Custard. Next add a scone, maybe two. You’ll love my Lemon Scones or Ginger Scones.

If your sweet tooth is not quite satisfied with the fruit and scones, feel free to pass a plate of absolutely wonderful, homemade Chocolate Truffles or tiny cups of Pot de Crème or both!

Have a lovely Easter and bon appétit!

What are your plans for Easter? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? Click here for more seasonal menus! For a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog Click Here!

© Susan W. Nye, 2016

Holiday Special – New Year’s Brunch

New_Years_EveAre you thinking about seeing in the New Year in with family and friends and a cozy brunch. Sound daunting after a week of cooking? Make it a potluck.

Here are few dishes to help you get motivated.

If it’s quiche you want, try my almost traditional Quiche. If you prefer some variation of brunch’s favorite cheese and egg pie, turn to my Spinach Ricotta Pie or Tarte à l’Oignon (Onion Tart).

For fun, why not try a different kind of pancake? How about my Tostadas with Avocado Crema & Black Bean Salsa. If you haven’t had enough smoked salmon or Gravlax, then try my Savory Blinis or Latkes with a dab of sour cream, a sliver of salmon and a bit of caviar. Then again, you can trade the pancakes for a toasted bagel with that lox.

A baked good or two is nice touch. Irish Soda Bread is quick and easy. Then add something sweet with my Cranberry Coffee Cake, Ginger Scones or Pumpkin-Ginger Muffins.

For the finishing touch, brew some coffee, whip up a batch of Mimosas or Mango Sparklers and have a lovely brunch.

Happy New Year and bon appétit!

For a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog Click Here!!

How will you celebrate the New Year? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? Click here for more seasonal menus! © Susan W. Nye, 2015

Ho Ho Ho – Good Christmas Morning Special

Christmas_Stocking

When I was a kid we were up and out of bed by five o’clock on Christmas morning, Mom and Dad were fortified with multiple cups of coffee. My sister, brother and I made do with the chocolate coins and oranges in our stockings. I suppose that we eventually had breakfast but I don’t remember that part.

Would you like to serve a memorable breakfast this Christmas? Well, hmmm, I think I can come up with a few ideas.

The simply delicious continental breakfast, s my choice. Start with a big bowl of fresh fruit or something fancier like Mojito Melons, Strawberries with Yogurt Cream or Fresh Berries with Creamy Lime Custard.

apple_muffins_01Then relax with another cup of coffee, tea or Spiced Chai. Add a muffin, scone or lovely slice of coffee cake. Your family will love my moist and delicious Apple Muffins. For a very Christmas-y treat try my Very Ginger Gingerbread Muffins. Or skip the muffins and try my Applesauce Scones or Ginger Scones. Or break out the bagels and cream cheese and enjoy them with my wonderful Gravlax or smoked salmon. They are all delicious but I think I’ll go with a Cranberry Coffee Cake this year.

eggs

Perhaps you prefer a hearty morning meal. Again, start with fruit and then move on to a fabulous breakfast casserole. Baked French Toast is a favorite with kids. You can’t go wrong with a traditional Quiche if you’re having a crowd. Unless you rather have a not so traditional Spinach Ricotta Pie.
Sound like too much work? Try scrambling up a few dozen eggs and don’t forget the bacon or sausage and some toasted Irish Soda BreadIf your Christmas morning is small and intimate, make it special with a couple of Brie with Sundried Tomato Omelets.

Wishing you a joyful and delicious Christmas morning!

For a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog Click Here!!

What are you cooking Christmas Day? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below.

Want more? Click here for more seasonal menus! © Susan W. Nye, 2015

Countdown to Christmas & Cranberry Coffee Cake

evergreen_basketThree days! Yes, there are only three days until Christmas. I don’t know about you but it has sort of caught me unawares. Yes, I’ve seen all the signs. The Christmas lights twinkle on Main Street. There are rows of evergreens at the farm stand. The barrage of holiday ads is relentless. The only thing missing is the cold and fluffy white stuff.

Who dreams of a green Christmas? Not me. At least for this New England girl, it’s hard to get in the spirit when it feels more like April than December. One excuse is as lame as another so I blame this year’s somewhat tenuous grasp of the holiday spirit on El Niño. I guess it is only fitting that this meteorological phenomenon arrives in the weeks leading up to Christmas. El Niño means the boy in Spanish and refers to the birth of Christ.

But what the heck; we’ve had green Christmases in the past and we’ll have them again in the future. It’s time to pull myself together. Anyway, the last few days before Christmas are really the best! With no time to spare, I’m making my final lists and checking them twice.

One last decoration? Looking around the house, there might be a few spots still shouting for attention. Nothing over the top mind you, just an additional bowl (or three) filled with greens or shiny ornaments. Do I need another wreath? (If you have to ask, the answer is probably yes.) The stockings are somewhere but where. And, didn’t I already get mistletoe?

Last minute shopping. Whether it’s special ingredients for the holiday feast, stocking stuffers or that impossible-to-buy-for rellie, there is always at least one last mad dash around town. I don’t mind; it only adds to the excitement. The shops bustle with activity and everyone smiles.

Wrapping. I rarely, maybe never, wrap as I buy. A day, maybe two, before Santa climbs down the chimney, I get into gear. First, I crank up the Christmas music or tune into It’s a Wonderful Life. Then, I take an assortment of fancy paper, bags and bows and turn plain packages into presents. I confess to using gift bags whenever possible but there are always a few present that require scissors, tape and wrapping paper.

Cooking with the girlies. The twirling girlies are not so little anymore. All three are taller than their auntie. Two are away from home and living on their own. Lucky for me, they have discovered that they like to cook. Emily played sous to my chef at Thanksgiving. Kaela has signed on to help with Christmas Eve dinner. I suspect Emily will join us. A good thing, since I may want to add a coffee cake for Christmas morning to my to-do list.

Rein it in. I’ve been known to go a bit nuts in the last day or two before Christmas. One year it was pinecone wreaths and mini-trees. Another time it was scarves. (I was still knitting at midnight on Christmas Eve.) Who knows what holiday treat will try to tempt me this year. It might be difficult but, with only three days to go, I’ll do my best to resist the urge to make dozens of lavender sachets, turn tiles into coasters or bake a gingerbread village.

Have a wonderful holiday! Bon appétit!

Cranberry Coffee Cake
What could be better on Christmas morning that a sweet and tangy coffee cake? Enjoy!
Serves 8

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder


1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
2/3 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup fresh or frozen (do not defrost) cranberries
Crumbly Nut Topping (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan, line the pan with parchment paper, butter the paper, dust with flour and tap out any excess.

Put the flour, baking powder and spices in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the orange zest and whisk again. Set aside.

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg, sour cream and vanilla and beat until smooth. With the mixer on low, gradually add the dry ingredients. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until just smooth. Do not overbeat.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle first with the cranberries and then with the Crumbly Topping.

Bake the cake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake until the cake is golden and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 10-15 minutes. Remove the springform collar and continue to cool. The coffee cake can be baked ahead and stored, loosely covered, at room temperature overnight.

Crumbly Nut Topping
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch allspice
3 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut in pieces
1/2 cup roughly chopped pecans or walnuts

Put the flour, sugar and spices in a small food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the topping comes together in lumps. Add the pecans and pulse once or twice to distribute the nuts evenly in the topping.

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One Year Ago – Fish Stew Provençal
Two Years Ago – Twice-Baked Potatoes
Three Years Ago – Oh my gosh, my golly – we were too busy celebrating to post!
Four Years Ago – Braised Lamb with Artichokes and Mushrooms and Creamy Polenta
Five Years Ago – Beef Tenderloin with Red Wine Mushroom Sauce
Six Years Ago – Potato, Leek & Kale Soup
Seven Years Ago – Salmon & Lentils

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What about you? How do you get in the holiday spirit? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2015

Fall Breakfast & More Special

Autumn_Pleasant_lakeWith the official start to fall, the sun is coming up a little later every day. All the more reason to have a bit of a lazy start to the day. Sleep in and then invite a few friends over for a mid-morning feast. Enjoy some great food before you all head out for a walk around the lake, a long bike ride or a hike in the hills. It’s all good!

So, what’s for breakfast? Here are a few ideas:

Quiche or something like it, is always a good bet. You’ll be a winner with my Quiche or any one of my variations on the cheese and egg pie. Perhaps you’ll cook up my Spinach Ricotta Pie, Tarte à l’Oignon (Onion Tart) or Asparagus & Goat Cheese Tart.

Round out your breakfast something fruity. Give my Honeyed Apricots with Creamy Yogurt or Strawberries with Yogurt Cream. And by all means, you must include a batch of my Applesauce Scones or Apple Muffins!

For an after exercise pick-me-up, a steaming kettle of Roasted Tomato Soup with Fresh Corn or Roasted Butternut Squash Soup sounds perfect. Especially if you add either The Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich in the History of my Kitchen or my All Grown Up Grilled Cheese to munch!

End the fun with a cookie. My Root ‘n’ Tooty Good ‘n’ Fruity Oatmeal Cookies are nothing short of wonderful.

Have a great weekend and bon appétit!

What are your plans for the weekend? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? Click here for more seasonal menus! For a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog Click Here!

© Susan W. Nye, 2015

Slipping into Fall & Applesauce Scones

gnarly_gourds
I lived in northern California for a short time and complained bitterly about the lack of seasons. My dear friend Julie, a native of the area, suggested patience. She assured me that before too long I would come to appreciate the subtle changes in the California calendar. I didn’t wait. Instead, I returned to my New England roots.

Ah, New England where winter is gorgeous but beyond cold. Spring is muddy and slow in coming. Summer is wonderful but short. And then there is fall! New Hampshire comes into its own in the fall. There are those delightful weeks of Indian Summer in September when the leaves are still green. Next, come the bold and brilliant days of October. In spite of a chilly start and end, the days are warm and filled with golden sunshine. Even the austere and dark days of November, have a certain elegance. If you are not into austerity and elegance, well, there’s always Thanksgiving weekend with lots of family, friends, food, football and, of course, shopping.

The autumnal equinox on Wednesday signals the official start to fall. If you’re feeling gloomy about the change in seasons, cheer up. As far as I’m concerned, autumn has a lot going for it. What you ask? Well, how about:

Layers, layers and more layers. My fashionista friends tell me that layers are back in style. No matter what the trend, I’m a layer-er. Scarves, turtlenecks, that old flannel shirt and a pile of wooly sweaters! It’s almost time to pull them from storage. It’s nice to know that, at least for a season, I’ll have a passing chance at something akin to stylish. Then again, my scarves will be too long or too short and the turtlenecks and sweaters the wrong shade of gray or beige. I think it’s been decades since flannel became passé for anyone other than lumberjacks. Like I said, a passing chance.

Snuggling up by the fire. Whether it’s a rainy Sunday or a crisp evening, I love a fire in the fireplace. Sure, they sing about the lazy days of summer. However, an afternoon on the sofa, in front of the fire, with a cup of tea and a good book; you can’t beat it … especially when you add a little snooze in the middle.

Pumpkins, squash and apples. It’s time to stock up on my favorite fall fruits and vegetables. How about a road trip to an orchard? Are you in? We’ll pick apples and buy a jug of cider. If you’ve never tried it, I recommend you add a bottle or two of hard cider to your basket.

Why not make a day of it? We’ll bring a picnic and take a nice, long walk through the orchard or surrounding countryside. Before heading home, we’ll need to make one final stop at the farm stand. I need a big, fat pumpkin for the doorstep and a butternut squash for dinner.

Cozy cooking. All that exercise and the crisp evening air will work up an appetite for the kind of cooking New Englanders love. I need to dust off my soup kettle, stew pot and roasting pan. I’ll fill the house with the wonderful aromas of bubbling apples, roasting squash and much, much more. You can’t beat the first tastes of the autumn kitchen.

Here’s to getting out, staying in and enjoying all that fall has to offer. Bon appétit!

Applesauce Scones
These scones are perfect for an autumn breakfast, teatime or anytime you want to settle back and relax with a good book or a good chat. Enjoy!
Makes 12-24 scones

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch cloves
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries
1 cup homemade applesauce
1/4 cup maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silicon mat or parchment paper.

Put the flour, baking powder, salt and spices in the food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the walnuts and raisins and pulse to combine.

Whisk the maple syrup into the applesauce, add it to the dry ingredients and pulse until the dough comes together in a ball. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface, pat into a ball and gently knead until smooth, 8-12 turns.

Pat the dough into a 3/4-inch thick round or divide in half and pat into two rounds for mini scones. Cut into wedges and place them about 1-inch apart on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake the scones until light brown, 15-20 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature.

Old Fashioned Applesauce
Makes about 3 quarts

8 pounds McIntosh or a mix of your favorite apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1 cup apple cider or juice or water
1/4 cup or to taste maple syrup or brown sugar (optional)
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Put the apples, cider, maple syrup and cinnamon in a large pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and, stirring occasionally, simmer for 30 minutes or until the apples are very soft and falling apart.

Let the applesauce cool for 10-15 minutes. For chunky sauce, give the apples a rough mash with a potato masher. For smooth sauce, run the apples through a food mill or whirl in the food processor.
Serve warm, cold or use the applesauce in scones and other recipes.

Cover and store extra applesauce in the refrigerator or freezer.

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One Year Ago – Roasted Beet Tatin with Goat Cheese & Walnuts
Two Years Ago – Fettuccine with Fresh Corn & Tomatoes
Three Years Ago – Chicken Parmagiana with Spaghetti Marinara
Four Years Ago – Lemon Roasted Salmon with Beurre Blanc
Five Years Ago – Wild Mushroom Soup
Six Years Ago – Rustic Apple Tart
Seven Years Ago – Oktoberfest Sausages & Sauerkraut

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What do you love about the fall? Feel free to share. Let’s start a conversation.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2015