What Now? What Next? & Strawberry Tort

It will be all pomp and circumstance at the local high school on Saturday. Bright-eyed teenagers will collect their sheepskins in front of beaming parents and grandparents. Many will continue their education in the fall; others will head straight to work. There will be plenty of sage words and glib platitudes but here are a few more…

Dreams are like an early morning mist. They float and surround you but there is little to grab and hold. Work is real and makes dreams come true. No one said it would always be easy; make a plan and persevere.

Don’t settle. Life is too short, too tough and too much fun to settle for dull and boring. It is much too short for cruel and meaningless.

Don’t wait for stuff to happen to you. Create your own next best thing. Achieve something; learn a new skill or take an old one to new heights. Perhaps you will write a sonnet, unscramble a piece of jumbled code or build a birdhouse. Go ahead – take a step, then another and make life happen.

Of course, accidents happen and luck can be hit or miss but the future is by far and away a product of the choices you make. Good, bad or indifferent, own your choices and move on to the next.

Don’t just pick your battles; pick the outcome. If you find yourself in the middle of an angry feud, you can choose to fume, forgive or forget. More often than not, being at peace is better than righteous indignation.

Life is better when you are happy. Happiness is not a deep secret or a profound mystery. You can find happiness by smiling more, laughing more and singing more. And don’t forget to dance.

Given a choice between an adventure and the same old-same old, choose adventure. No matter what happens, you will learn a whole lot along the way.

Don’t be an idiot. Open your mind to new people, possibilities and ideas.

Change is constant and all around us. If it wasn’t, you’d still be using a rotary phone. Heck, you’d know what a rotary phone was. Technology, fashion and opportunities change but love for family, for friends and a favorite place is constant. So embrace the latest smart phone but use it to call your grandmother on Sunday morning.

Keep kindness as a core value. Throughout your life, you will experiment and explore. You may investigate different beliefs or try new approaches to life. Through all those changes and evolutions, practice simple acts of kindness to connect to the people around you.

Hug your parents. Hug your grandparents. They won’t be here forever so appreciate them while you can.

Enjoy the ride and bon appétit!

Strawberry Tort
June is the month for graduations, weddings and strawberries. No, this tort can’t replace a five-tier wedding cake but celebrants will welcome it at almost any other festive feast. Enjoy!
Serves 8

1/2 cup butter, plus more for the pan, at room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
About 1 pound strawberries, hulled and cut in half

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter and flour a deep dish pie plate.

Put the flour, baking powder and spices in a bowl and whisk to combine.

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until well combined.

Add the dry ingredients and beat on low until just combined. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.

Arrange the strawberries cut side down on top of the batter. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool for at least 20 minutes, the tort can be served warm or at room temperature. Cut into wedges and serve plain or with a dollop of whipped cream or scoop of ice cream.

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One Year Ago – Grilled Potato Salad
Two Years Ago – Grilled Salmon with Lemon-Herb Quinoa Salad
Three Years Ago – Chocolate-Peanut Butter Tart
Four Years Ago – Salsa Verde
Five Years Ago – Blueberry Crumb Cake
Six Years Ago – Peanut-Sesame Dipping Sauce
SevenYears Ago – Strawberry Gelato
Eight Years Ago – Asparagus Soup

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

What about you? Do you have a favorite piece of advice for graduates? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017

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Merry Christmas Mom & Bûche de Noël

mom_xmas_11My mother loved Christmas. As far as I can figure, she loved everything about it. She loved decorating the house, shopping for her family and gathering that family around her. Not too long ago, Mom lost her long fight with Alzheimer’s disease. Her battle gear was her beautiful smile, her infectious laugh and, most important, her kind heart.

I will keep my mother in my heart at Christmas and throughout the year with memories and stories. Here are some of my favorite images of Mom at Christmas:

Baking cookies. I’m sure that other mothers on Jackson Road baked dozens and dozens of cookies in a multitude of varieties. At our house, Mom, my sister Brenda and I rolled out and baked a batch of sugar cookies. If one existed at the time, we probably made them from a mix. We did not turn out a cornucopia of magnificent cookies but the afternoon was filled with laughter and singing. What Mom lacked in enthusiasm for baking, she made up in her enthusiasm for life.

Tree shopping. Mom was quite particular about our Christmas tree. Most years we went tree shopping as a family. The year my brother John was born, she decided to stay home with the baby. She entrusted this critical task to her husband and two little girls. The three of us bought and returned not one tree but two before she gave up. She bundled Johnny into his snowsuit and back we went to the garden shop. She perused, she studied, rejected and perused some more, until, she did indeed find the perfect tree.

The annual lights tour. Dad strung lights in and around the rhododendrons and Mom hung a wreath with a big red bow on the front door. As displays go it was pretty simple; no sleighs on the roof or flashing lights. For that, the Nye family jumped in the car for a rambling tour of the neighborhood. A week or two before Christmas, usually on a Sunday evening, we would twist and turn down one street and then another in search of spectacular lights. Without a doubt, Mom was the world’s best audience. I can still hear her enthusiastic oohs and aahs.

Santa_bookChristmas story time. In early December, Mom pulled out The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus to read to Brenda and me. Worn from countless readings, my mother was a tiny girl when Santa left the book under her tree. Its sixteen wonderful chapters chronicle the life of Nicholas the Woodcarver. The story is filled with love, kindness and generosity. It will make you cry, make you smile and fill you with goodwill. At five, I was convinced that it was all true. I still am.

Lipstick and coffee. We were that family. On Christmas morning, our lights were on before the sun began to think about rising. In spite of or maybe because of our predawn start, Mom insisted on two things – lipstick and coffee. Hopping from one foot to the next, we impatiently waited for Dad to make the coffee and Mom to put on her bright red lipstick. It seemed like forever but, finally, we could pile down the stairs.

Dancing with delight. Bows flew, paper ripped and tags were lost. Finally, it was Mom’s turn and Dad handed her an enormous box. She tore in (we were not a save-the-paper family) and let out shriek. Inside, swathed in a thick layer of tissue was a mink stole from Alfred M. Alexander Furs of Boston. It was another time, before it was politically incorrect to wear fur. Mom immediately pulled it from the box, threw it over her shoulders and danced around the living room – red lipstick, bathrobe, slippers, mink stole and all.

I wish you a holiday season filled with peace and wonderful memories. Bon appétit!

Bûche de Noël
I baked my first Bûche de Noël in high school. With little interest in baking, Mom limited her participation to wholehearted encouragement and enthusiastic appreciation. Enjoy!
Serves 12buche_de_noel_06

Parchment paper, butter and flour for the pan
2-3 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup cocoa powder
4 eggs, separated
1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon espresso or instant coffee powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
White Chocolate Cream Frosting (recipe follows)
Chocolate Cream Frosting (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a 15-1/2×10-1/2×1-inch jelly-roll pan with parchment paper and butter and flour the paper. Sprinkle a clean dishtowel with 2-3 tablespoons cocoa powder.

Beat the egg whites in large bowl until soft peaks form, gradually add 1/2 cup sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form.

Beat the egg yolks and vanilla in bowl on medium speed for 3 minutes. Gradually add the remaining sugar and beat for 2 minutes more.

Put the remaining cocoa into a bowl, add the flour, espresso powder, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, and baking soda and whisk to combine.

Add half the dry ingredients to the egg yolk mixture and beat on low speed to combine. Add the orange juice and beat until smooth. Add the remaining dry ingredients and beat until smooth.

Add 1/4 of the egg whites to the batter and stir to combine. Gently fold the remaining egg whites into the bather. Evenly spread the batter in the prepared pan.

Bake the cake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes or until the top springs back when lightly touched in the center. Carefully invert the cake onto the prepared towel and peel off the parchment paper. Immediately roll the warm cake and towel from the narrow end and cool completely on a wire rack.

While the cake cools, make the White Chocolate Frosting.

Carefully unroll the cooled cake and remove the towel. Spread White Chocolate Cream Frosting on the cake, leaving a 1-inch border on all edges. Reroll the cake, cover and refrigerate for about an hour.

While the cake sets, make the Chocolate Cream Frosting.

Use a serrated knife to cut a 1-2 inch slice of cake from one end. Arrange the cake, seam side down, on a platter. Spread Chocolate Cream Frosting on the cut side of the slice and place it frosting side down on the log. Cover the cake with frosting. Smooth the frosting on the ends and then use a fork to draw concentric circles. Use a spatula or fork to create a bark-like texture on the rest of the cake.

The cake can be made 1 day ahead, covered and refrigerated. Remove from the refrigerator about 1 hour before serving.

White Chocolate Cream Frosting
1/2 cup heavy cream
Grated zest of 1 orange
Pinch salt
6 ounces white chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon Grand Marnier
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Heat the cream, orange zest and salt in a heavy saucepan over low heat until it is almost a simmer. Remove from the heat and immediately add the chocolate to the warm cream to and let it stand for a few minutes. Whisk until smooth, add the Grand Marnier and vanilla and whisk again to combine.

Transfer the chocolate to a bowl, cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate until cold.

With an electric mixer, beat the chocolate cream until thick and fluffy.

Chocolate Cream Frosting
2-3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon espresso or instant coffee powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch salt
1 cup heavy cream
6 ounces dark chocolate (or a 50/50 mix of dark and milk) chopped
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Put the sugar, espresso powder, cinnamon and salt in a heavy saucepan and whisk to combine. Slowly whisk in the cream. Whisking frequently, heat the cream over low heat until it is almost a simmer and the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and immediately add the chocolate to the warm cream to and let it stand for a few minutes. Whisk until smooth, add the vanilla and whisk again to combine.

Transfer the chocolate to a bowl, cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate for about 1 hour.

With an electric mixer, beat the chocolate cream until thick and fluffy.

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One Year Ago – Roasted Beets with Sautéed Greens
One Year Ago – Very Ginger Gingerbread Muffins
Two Years Ago – Ginger Shortbread
Three Years Ago – Baked French Toast
Four Years Ago – Braised Lamb with Artichokes and Mushrooms and Creamy Polenta
Five Years Ago – Mixed Greens with Roasted Grapes
Six Years Ago – Savory Bread Pudding
Seven Years Ago – Triple Chocolate Parfait

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

What about you? What are your favorite family traditions? Feel free to share!

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

‘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

Holiday Special – Baking Christmas Cookies

bakingAre you a holiday baker? Looking for a change to the same old-same old. If yes, then I’ve got some suggestions that can easily fill your Saturday and/or afternoon this weekend.

Start with a twist on tradition! You’ll love my Citrus & Spice Sugar Cookies. Or try my Peppermint Bark Cookies for a chocolaty treat.

Shortbread is great for the holidays, so how about my Ginger Shortbread or Macadamia Nut Shortbread. And for buttery deliciousness, you can’t beat my Snowy Pecan Balls.

You also might like to add a few savory bites for cocktail hour. Gorgonzola & Walnut Shortbread with Savory Fig Jam or Savory Parmesan Shortbread with Tomato Jam.

For a couple of years I did a baking party with my mom and her buddies at our local assisted living facility. Favorites included Root ‘n’ Tooty Good ‘n’ Fruity Oatmeal Cookies and Peanut-y Chocolate Chip Cookies. Both are the perfect cookies to help Santa keep up his strength on his long route. Want a more grownup cookie? How about Cherry-Pistachio Biscotti.

If you are feeling rushed (and who isn’t), Sweet Dream Bars are quick and easy. Chocolate lovers can’t miss with my Triple Threat Brownies or Cheesecake Brownies.

Then there are lovely homemade chocolates and candies! I need to get my act together and send off a batch of my Chocolate Almond Buttery Brittle to my niece in California. Be careful with this one, it is positively addictive. No less delicious, are my Chocolate Dipped Orange Caramels. For a luxurious treat, try my Chocolate Truffles. Christmas candies are a wonderful addition to your holiday buffet table and make great gifts.

If you are thinking of something sweet as a hostess gift or stocking stuffer, don’t forget my Death by Chocolate Sauce, luscious Maple Sauce or Caramel Sauce.

Just be sure to save some time for yourself! Enjoy everything the holiday season has to offer and bon appétit!

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

What sweet treats will you be making during the holidays? 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

Holiday Special – Christmas Cookies

christmas_cookies_04Have you finished your holiday baking? If not, the meteorologists are forecasting rain for the weekend so the timing couldn’t be better. Here are a few ideas!

Shortbread is great for the holidays, so how about my Ginger Shortbread or Macadamia Nut Shortbread. And for buttery deliciousness, you can’t beat my Snowy Pecan Balls.

Once a month I bake with my mom and her buddies at our local assisted living facility. Today I baked Root ‘n’ Tooty Good ‘n’ Fruity Oatmeal Cookies with the girls. They are the perfect cookies to help Santa keep up his strength on his long route.

If you are feeling rushed (and who isn’t), Sweet Dream Bars are quick and easy. Chocolate lovers can’t miss with my Triple Threat Brownies.

Then there are lovely homemade chocolates and candies! I just sent off a batch of my Chocolate Almond Buttery Brittle to my niece in California. But be careful, it is positively addictive. No less delicious, are my Chocolate Dipped Orange Caramels. For a luxurious treat, try my Chocolate Truffles. Christmas candies are a wonderful addition to your holiday buffet table and make great gifts.

If you are thinking of something sweet as a hostess gift or stocking stuffer, don’t forget my Death by Chocolate Sauce. Just make sure you save some for yourself!

Enjoy everything the holiday season has to offer and bon appétit!

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

What sweet treats will you be making during the holidays? I’d love to hear from you. Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? Click here for more seasonal menus! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2011

In the Kitchen with Silicon!

No, not the enhancements favored by fading starlets, not the spray your manly men use to stop the hinges from squeaking … Today I’m talking about silicon kitchen tools!

At least ten years ago I heard about something called a Silpat. Made in France, these nonstick silicon baking mats promised to keep my cookies from sticking and sheet pans clean. Being a gadget girl, the next time I found myself in the mall (I lived near a mall in those days), I wandered into the nearest kitchen store to buy two or three. At $25 a pop, I figured I could wash the pans. It wasn’t as if I was baking cookies every week. Since I was still working a five-to-nine (no, that’s not a typo) day job, homemade cookies were a rarity in my house.

Since I was already there, I spent at least an hour meandering through the store, (drooling) and coveting more or less everything on the pricy shelves. A certified gadget girl, I am also a certifiable bargain hunter. Imagine my delight when I bumped into a pile of silicon spatulas and spoonulas. A spoonula is a spatula shaped like a spoon. Delight because the two cheap rubber spatulas in my kitchen drawer were definitely on their last legs and  barely usable. AND these sale corner specials were a buck a piece. Although I was tempted to belt out a big woot! woot! I managed to contain myself.

So I bought four each, spatulas and spoonulas. I didn’t think I really needed that many but at a buck, I figured they would make good stocking stuffers. But no, they never made it into anyone’s stocking. I use them every day for everything from scraping a bowl of batter to moving veggies around a sauté pan (they’re good to 500 degrees) and stirring soup. Nonstick they clean up in a flash and go in the dishwasher. I’ve had them for about ten years and they are starting to show the worse for wear so I’m on the lookout again.

Back to silicon baking bats, I’ve got more good news. About five years ago I wandering through HomeGoods and came across two no-name silicon mats. They come in very handy during the holidays when I do most of my cookie baking and candy making.

Happy cooking and bon appétit!

More Tips, Tricks & Tools

What’s your favorite kitchen gadget? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below. I’d be delighted to add you to the growing list of blog subscribers. To subscribe: just scroll back up, fill in your email address and click on the Sign Me Up button. You’ll get an email asking you to confirm your subscription … confirm and you will automatically receive a new story and recipe every week.

Want more? Click here for lots more to read, see & cook! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. ©Susan W. Nye, 2012