RSS Feed

Category Archives: Recipes and Cooking

2017 Christmas Cookies

Posted on

Yes, Christmas has happened, and the cookie party was a couple of weeks ago, but better late than never. I couldn’t not have a recap of the annual Christmas party because I do love to look back on them. So this year we had the same setup as usual-cheese ball, punch, music, and cookies cookies cookies. I was very undecided about what I wanted to make right up until a few days before. I decided to make a citrus spritz cookie, for which there was a recipe in a new cookbook I had bought. Spritz cookies (we just called them “cookie press cookies”) were a regular part of my mom’s Christmas baking. I loved them-a butter cookie that tasted great straight from the freezer, delightfully decorated with red and green sugars, silver dragees, and cinnamon red hots (for the wreaths!) This recipe was citrus, which meant it had orange/lemon zest in the dough and then you dipped it in a citrus glaze.  I basically never make cookie press cookies because they are a pain and never seem to work. True to form, these would go along great and then 12 in a row wouldn’t stick to the pan. So aggravating! I didn’t feel these looked very Christmassy because I used orange sugar to decorate (atop the glaze) to go with the citrus flavor. That said, they tasted delicious. Tabby made a cookie this year and it was most attractive–a pinwheel sugar cookie. It was a regular sugar cookie recipe.

Offerings from our guests included:
Hot chocolate mint cookie ( I had seen this recipe online myself and thought about doing it!)
Pretzel caramel (tasted like a chocolate chip cookie dough base with addition of pretzels and caramels, which I love.)
Vanilla Polka Dots (a Dorie Greenspan recipe which exceptional vanilla taste and crunch. The pearl sugar was pretty.)
Gingerbread Men (it was so nice to see cute traditionally decorated gingerbread men!)
Christmas Trees (adorable sugar cookie trees)
Oatmeal Chocolate Chip
Lemon Bites (very similar to the “orange brownies” I sometimes make in the winter. Brownie texture, not really a cake, but very pure lemon flavor. These were a hit.)
Cranberry Pumpkin Bites
Peanut Butter Crunchies (I felt like these deserved a special prize because it’s a vintage recipe my friend made after seeing it on over at MidCentury Menu.  This was kind of gross looking, and pretty weird (as one expects from vintage recipes) as it had chow mein noodles in it. But guess what? It was delicious!)
Reindeer Bites (a smushed up Oreo ball concoction decorated to look like a reindeer. The baker (except they are no-bake) fully admitted to making these in a bid for an appearance win, a strategy which totally worked.)

The winners were…..

Most Christmassy: Reindeer Bites

Best Appearance: Gingerbread Men

and the overall big winner was….Melissa and her Vanilla Polka Dot cookies.  Melissa is multiple times winner, but it’s been a few years since she won first prize. She used the collected winnings to purchase and donate to Chimp Haven, which is awesome.




Snow Day!

Posted on

Snow Day!This week we had our first, and likely last, snow day of the year. It was so strange because Wednesday was incredibly unseasonably warm (62 degrees in February?!) but we knew snow would be starting overnight and the temperature plummeting 30 degrees. We were all thrilled to have the snow day announced even before it started snowing so we could turn off our alarms and sleep in. This is probably the first snow day I didn’t feel the need to go outside and actively enjoy the snow. Instead it was all about being cozy and doing all cozy snow day things crammed into one day. And that, of course, involved many special snow day meals. It all began with blondies made the night before. For Christmas Paul got this enormous bar of milk chocolate from Trader Joe’s. Truly enormous. Pounds worth. I shaved off some of it and folded it into the batter and oh my, it was perfect.
Snow Day Menu
Snow Day breakfast begins with an option of ice cream, a fun tradition from our friends. I didn’t want any, but both Clark and Tabby had some. Atop their delicious homemade waffles.
Snow Day Menu
Afternoon saw a favorite winter special lunch/snack that I haven’t done yet this year (even though this item requires planning in the summer and canning of the salsa.)–Nachos. A great big tray of them.
Snow Day Menu
And for dinner we had homemade pizza, including one big one made with homemade meatballs which had been in the freezer tantalizing labeled “homemade meatballs in pizza sauce-put on pizza.” Basically, opening up the freezer and seeing that bag so often made me want to make that.

It was a double feature day-Groundhog Day and Iron Man, both of which were well received by the kids. They were really delighted with Groundhog Day, which pleased me very much because I love that movie and hadn’t seen it in a long time.

I also read a book, which was wonderful, and it felt great to just spend the morning on the couch in my pajamas reading it right through to the end.

All in all, it was a wonderful snow day!

In other news: our new furnace installation is almost done and PSEG has connected us to the gas line (two days of digging because apparently everything is solid shale.) We have not had heat (from a furnace) at all this winter, making do with our extremely hard working fireplace/blower. For the most part it has kept us plenty warm, but I can’t wait to be able to just turn on the heat.

In saddest news (this is called burying the lead because I didn’t want to do a whole post about it), our darling cat Sweetie is gone. I can’t say died because we don’t know what happened to her. She was just missing. We’re assuming she stepped outside (our front door doesn’t have a good latch and there’d been a lot of going in and out with firewood) and the door closed behind her and she was frightened and darted off. Two people in the neighborhood said she saw her, but we haven’t. We’ve done everything you do to get a lost indoor cat back, but to no avail. (I still can’t believe we couldn’t trap her in the havahart with enticing wet cat food–we did end up trapping the neighbor’s barn cat both in there and in our garage.) I know everyone thought Sweetie was our unfriendly cat, but she was extremely affectionate and loving with Paul and me. Her purr was so noisy and enthusiastic, she loved being brushed and petted, and although the love was not completely returned, she adored Liesl.2016-12-21-22-18-38 I hope with all my heart that I’m proven wrong and get to write some amazing story of her return weeks after vanishing, but I don’t really think that’s going to happen.

In other animal news our flock has a dangerously and annoyingly large number of roosters in it. SEVEN. Seven! It was six, but get this-some jerk snuck a rooster into our coop when we weren’t home! That was not cool to make it be our problem. He is extremely handsome and seems happy to be with us (he’s the big white one),The Chicken Apartment but the days are getting longer, spring is coming, and the young roosters are getting randy, which means fighting.
The Flock
This past week I celebrated my first anniversary at work. It’s been quite a year of changes, adjustment, good days, and bad days. It was a pretty fast year, I have to say, and I’m still so happy to be there.
Sugar cookies

Happy Fall Holiday!

Posted on

Let’s pretend it’s a couple months ago….
Happy Halloween! I have to say that this year I was looking forward to celebrating Halloween especially now that I work in a school. And indeed, it was super fun to see all the kids in costume and to dress up myself.

The library assistant and I planned to have coordinating costumes (as that had been tradition there, plus it’s fun.) We decided to go avant garde and be two actual books-the popular books in our library, Smile and Sister by Raina Telgemeier. We made the front and back covers be like a sandwich board. Paul ended up doing all the drawing, freehand, copying the actual book covers exactly. 2016-10-27-22-06-56
I used coarse silver glitter to be the sparkly braces. 2016-10-27-21-55-19They looked great and the kids were delighted to recognize their favorite books, and very impressed when they heard that Paul had drawn them (including the barcodes!)2016-10-31-10-24-47


At home I didn’t wear it trick or treating because it was just too big. Tabby was a spider witch, which was adorable, 2016-10-31-07-40-27and Clark was Link again, except better this time because he wasn’t on crutches. This is the first year that Clark chose to go trick or treating with a friend in another section of town.
and now….
Happy Thanksgiving! We spent a lovely Thanksgiving at my aunt and uncle’s. This year I made a classic apple pie, except it was an apple pie with cheddar crust. I am not a fan of a slice of cheddar with a slice of apple pie not because of flavor, but the texture combination. This recipe solved that problem completely. 2016-11-24-10-27-00The crust was so sharp and short, it was like a delicious cheese straw. It was a delicious contrast and completely complementary to the apples. I also made salted caramel pumpkin thumbprints. A friend made them for the cookie party last year and I thought they were great. Unfortunately, I didn’t love them this time, finding the texture of the caramely pumpkin to be off-putting. I also baked lemon rosemary potato rolls, which are a very nice yeast roll.2016-11-24-10-26-14

Since we had ample time, we also went for a damp drizzly hike in the Sourlands. Since Clark has done a fair amount of Appalachian Trail hiking with scouts this fall, he’s been eager to show us just how great he is at it, which was nice. 2016-11-24-11-48-03

Here’s a picture of me and Tabby in front of the one last tree with leaves on it, a striking yellow in a forest that was now bare.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Christmas Cookies 2016

Posted on

I haven’t written a post since school started, but have written many many in my head. I’ll admit I’m pretty sad to have not kept up or written about things like Tabby’s birthday, Halloween, Thanksgiving, goings on in the coop (depletion), a statement about the lack of Garden Review (we didn’t do one this year), and more. Do I do a post for each of those things? One giant wrap up? Nothing? Yesterday was our annual Christmas cookie party and one of the guests remarked how she likes to read the post about it each year. Well here it is the morning after and you know what? That seems as good a place as any to start. So……

Paul made two kinds of cookies this year, both recipes (I think) that he got from Mary Berry, as we are fans of the Great British Bake Off. I swear the one cookie was like being in a technical challenge and missing instructions. The chocolatey minty “dough” had a delicious taste but was so much like crumbly sand it couldn’t stick together. Eventually he added a couple eggs to make it a wet dough and shaped them up into balls with a depression in the middle. He topped them some melted chocolate and a crushed candy cane garnish. They were delicious. The other cookie? ehhhhh It was meant to look like a little Victoria sandwich and there were some issues with size and so on. A plain sandy biscuit (so dry it sucked all the moisture out of your mouth immediately) sandwiched with jam and buttercream frosting. He just called them a sweet mess.
I made a new-to-me recipe from this month’s Family Circle. It was a pinwheel cookie made from a basic sugar cookie dough. One half was dyed and flavored with lime zest, the other half was flavored with coconut extract. They were rolled up and the log rolled in sparkling green sugar. The only problem there was getting the sugar to stick as I’d floured my surface so well. That said, check out how it looked when I sliced into the log:
Beautiful! Perfect! I couldn’t believe it.

They baked up beautifully.  I was apprehensive about the flavor (I thought the coconut extract scent was very strong) but it was quite good. A crispier cookie than I would have liked, but quite good.

For savory I made the now traditional cheese ball, as well as a warm broccoli cheese dip. I’m glad I made a double recipe of that because people hoovered it up. All browned and bubbly and cheesy, I highly recommend this recipe for an appetizer. Here’s the original recipe:
1 c finely chopped broccoli
2 T finely chopped onion
2 T finely chopped red bell pepper
1/4 c grated parmesan
1 garlic clove, pressed
1 c sharp cheddar, grated
1/2 c sour cream
1/2 c mayonnaise
pinch black pepper.
Mix everything up (do the creamy stuff separate and fold in.) Spread in a baking dish, sprinkle more parmesan over the top and bake at 375 until browned and bubbly. I include plain Greek yogurt in the mix-either a combo of all 3, or a substitution for the mayo or sour cream.

This year’s party featured some very festive Christmassy entries. It seemed like everyone was gunning for the “Most Christmassy” or “Best Looking” prize (The grand prize is the overall best cookie. One you want to eat a lot of.)

There were:
Christmas Wreaths: Wreaths made of cereal and gooey marshmallow, these were extra festive and Christmassy.
Christmas Presents: Bright red and green checkerboard sugar cookies with a candy bow. Beautiful presentation!

Snowmen: Darling! two thick circles of sugar cookie, decorated to be snowmen.
Salted Peanut Butter: Apparently this cookie only has something like 3 ingredients in it (peanut butter, sugar, eggs??) It had a great flavor.
Molasses Pumpkin Pecan: I love a molasses crinkle or a soft molasses cookie and this cookie was the exact right texture. Nice and soft and with lovely lumps of pecan. I must get the recipe from ML!
Millionaire’s Shortbread: a delicious 3 layer bar cookie of shortbread, caramel, and ganache.
Cocoa Crinkles: The baker of this cookie said she was going for appearance not taste, and even said “#notgonnawin”. She was correct and we agreed the flavor was….off.
Buckeyes: The classic peanut butter-confectioner sugar-dipped in chocolate confection. This was never anything we made at my house growing up, but something I always liked to have at other people’s Christmas things, so I was really happy to see it this year!

The Christmas presents won for best looking and the Wreaths won for Most Christmassy. The overall, Grand Prize winner was……Millionaire’s Shortbread! The winner will donate the $80 to a Kidney Foundation, which she she had seen at work this year and all they did, when her sister-in-law received a kidney transplant from her brother. So, well done bakers and charitable givers!


Merry Christmas to all!

Spring Celebrations

Posted on

This weekend we had two special events-my mom’s birthday and Clark’s Arrow of Light ceremony from Cub Scouts.  The latter was a pretty big deal-he started Cub Scouts in 1st grade. He’s continued on and is now moving on to Boy Scouts.Arrow of Light//’ve had a lot of fun with other families in the pack, camping and other crazy events, and Paul enjoyed being the Cubmaster for the past 2 years. Lots of great memories were made, so this farewell was bittersweet. It was quite a ceremony and as the boys walked over the bridge they were welcomed by their new Boy Scout troop. Clark is quite excited to join his new troop and looking forward to good times and making new friends.IMG_5945

2016-03-04 19.40.58

My mom’s birthday was also this weekend and I always see it as a sign of spring and enjoy coming up with a good menu for a special birthday dinner. I made cherry chicken spirals (chicken with cherries and some other stuff, rolled up), rice pilaf, asparagus, and a delicious salad of Boston lettuce, red onion, and avocado. Of course it’s really the cake we were all looking forward to. Happily my mom likes coconut, so things for her are always a good opportunity to make coconut things.  I made the Tropical Carrot & Coconut Cake from Baking by Flavor. Happy Birthday, Mom!// I had not made this before and it’s definitely a keeper. Super delicious. The cake had shredded carrots, coconut, and crushed pineapple in it. Happy Birthday, Mom!// better it had lots of fresh nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and cinnamon it. So much that those flavors really came through. There was even a tiny bit of freshly grated nutmeg in the cream cheese frosting. The frosting was delicious, though there was a lot of it. Actually I thought this cake would be fine with just a little powdered sugar on top. Happy Birthday, Mom! Happy Birthday, Mom!//

The final spring celebration was the now annual Midwinter Stitchathon with Liz and Eleanor. This lovely event is an afternoon spent stitching, watching tv, and eating special snacks and seasonal candy together. Midwinter Stitchathon// menu this year was tea brack (an Irish tea cake with lots of dried fruit and demands to be eaten with butter), apricot turkey pinwheels (forever known now as “Yoshi Wellingtons”), cherry cola cake, and, as always, carrot dip and prosecco (not mixed together. Carrot dip eaten up with pretzels, prosecco guzzled down.)
Midwinter Stitchathon//
Midwinter Stitchathon//
My stitching project is an embroidery pattern I’ve had a couple of years and have decided would be just the thing for when I have a little time to want to do something stitchy. I actually went and bought all the suggested color flosses for this. Midwinter Stitchathon// was a grand time! And, oops! This is indeed quite a catchup. I’ll also mention another special event-the Father Daughter Dance for Girl Scouts. Tabby was so excited, felt so glamorous and excited to be going with Paul to this dance. It was a lovely event for them. Father Daughter Dance 2016So many special events!


Pie Day 13

Posted on

Yesterday was our friends’ annual Pie Day party (in celebration of National Pie Day) and we sure couldn’t miss it. In the past I’ve spent the entire week leading up to it thinking of pies, but this year (more on this later) I didn’t get around to thinking about it until the morning of the party. I browsed through some of my recipe collections and decided to make  one from my Mary Engelbreit Sweet Treats cookbook that I’ve had for many years. Many years, but I’ve never made the Chess Pie. (or, maybe it’s a Lemon Chess Pie.) A rather simple and plain looking pie with an intriguing self forming crunchy golden crust on top.  After having made the pie I can tell you that the crust magically forms out of the loads of sugar in the pie. It was a usual pie crust and then a sweet filling of basically eggs, sugar, bit of flour, pinch of salt, lemon zest and fresh lemon juice. As it bakes this golden thin crunch crust appears on top of the filling.2016-02-13 13.57.21 Despite all the sugar this was not overly sweet. The lemon just enough to keep it from being so and it tasted very fresh and sweet. Definitely a pie I’ll make again. (and it was completely and quickly eaten up so I know others liked it too.) 2016-02-13 17.36.28
Paul’s pie this year was also a raging success. He had been feeling very inspired by the Great British Bake Off and ended up making a Steak n’ Ale Pie, using the hot water crust technique we saw on the show. Basically it was a rich thick beef stew put into a top and bottom golden crust. The scent of this was amazing and would be the most welcoming smell to ever walk in the house to. It tasted delicious as well and since I only got a couple bites for myself I’ve demanded he make this for dinner for us soon. This did not fit in a usual pie dish, but a larger casserole style dish.2016-02-13 17.25.14

There were loads of other tasty pies, especially all the pizza variations. I especially liked one with bacon on it and the chicken parm pie which had plenty of parmesan and romano cheese in both the crust and the breading for the chicken on the inside.
2016-02-13 17.33.23

So, I know I said I wouldn’t post much anymore, but there was no way I could pass up getting in my Pie Day post.  And here’s a quick check-in from me: I have finished my first week of work and it’s going really well. I’ve had many moments of feeling very happy and glad to be back doing something I love and remembering how good it made me feel. And the students mostly seem really happy to meet me.
2016-02-09 16.20.33I’ve also had many moments of thinking “good grief I’ll never remember everyone’s names and what on earth is the procedure here?”  But overall, the job is good and we’re all adjusting.  And hey, I even got paid already so that’s even better. Also, no one starved or went naked this first week, so that’s good. Though Willow is insane when I get home and also I fall asleep as soon as I lie down at night and then wake up too early.  I’m definitely feeling really overwhelmed and anxious, but that’s mostly related to the online graduate course I’m taking. Which is, frankly, a ton of work. I’m going to say more work than if the class was in person. I also realize how great it was to have done graduate school before when I was young and lived on my own and could spend hours at the coffee shop with my friends working on assignments, or while away a Saturday finishing up a paper early because I had nothing else going on. I am finding it hard to fit it into my life now, though I know millions of people do. So, we’ll have a Valentine’s Day breakfast and card exchange and then I’m going to try to buckle down and work on my research paper due in one week. I haven’t written a research paper in 20 years and have it pretty built up in my head as a task that will get the better of me, so let’s all hope that’s not the case.
Oh, and life does go on in the midst of all this new job stuff–Tabby and I went with our Brownie troop to a really cool pottery class, so that was fun to do together. 2016-02-06 15.20.57And Paul and I went to…a concert on a work night. Richard Thompson, whom we’ve seen a few times before, at the McCarter Theater. He is such a talented musician and it was wonderful. Solo, acoustic, so I was afraid I’d fall asleep and I did have to close my eyes a few times, but that was ok. We had awesome seats-absolute center in front of RT and 7th row.
In news around the yard, our elderly rooster, President, has finally died. He had a fantastic life, really. What other rooster gets to live until 6 enjoying walking around with his ladies and being fed treats? And despite the BITTER cold the coop behavior tells me spring is on the way.  Gordon has been enjoying renewing his acquaintance with tree bird and his ball. And the young chicken who has turned out to be a rooster is enjoying crowing and trying to mate (fairly unsuccessfully so far) with all the young hens. We’re also getting more eggs now. Nature says spring is coming and it can’t be stopped!


Merry Christmas!

Posted on

The big day. Here and gone, because despite its magic Christmas has the same number of hours in its day as does every other day of the year. If only it could last longer! Though this year Christmas comes with the added benefit of being followed by a Saturday and Sunday, so it does feel a bit like it’s lasting longer as we’re all at home together still.
We had a very merry Christmas Eve and Christmas, made extra special this year by having my brother and his family visiting. On Christmas Eve they all came to our house and first we went to church (would you believe I’ve never been to church on Christmas Eve before?) where Tabby was singing and playing chimes with her group there. She did a great job!2015-12-24 16.35.01
From there it was home to a big dinner. I made ham, macaroni and cheese, peas, spinach salad with oranges and poppy seed dressing, and for dessert cranberry trifle. I love this trifle-the cranberry compote is such a beautiful color and rather than a custard layer, the other component is cream cheese and heavy cream whipped together until fluffy.Christmas Eve Menu// also, at last, cut into the fruitcake. We were very curious to see how it would turn out. Would it be so alcohol laden we could set it on fire? Would it be tasty? Soggy? Dry? It’s super full of raisins, which I like, and overall it was pretty good. Christmas Eve Menu// couldn’t taste alcohol at all. My criticism is that I think it was overcooked and a little burnt around the edges.  Although the recipe didn’t call for it, I think it would have been better cooked in a water bath.  Still, it was nothing a little butter couldn’t cure and  a slice with a cup of tea has proven to be a nice thing. And I got this nice cake tin for Christmas so there is a lovely place to keep it for a while.



After everyone went home and the kids off to sleep (unlike me as a child, my kids seem to have no problem falling asleep on Christmas Eve) it was time for Paul and I to put on our traditional Christmas viewing of Undercover Brother while we set out our gifts. And then, off to sleep until the appointed time (6:30am.)
I went downstairs first because I had to let the dog out, and I turned on the tree lights and took a picture and enjoyed for a moment seeing everything all at the ready and twinkling. Merry Christmas// then we all turned on the lights, ran in, and opened our stockings. And then our gifts. And then a break for our traditional breakfast of sticky buns, bacon, and eggs. [A sticky bun side note. My mother made these every year for Christmas, and thus I make them. I use the recipe she used and make them as she taught me. That said, I’ve always thought mine come out a little bit better. And this year I found out that she has been making her differently than the recipe! Or, rather, that she interprets it differently and thus uses 3 cups more flour than I do. That’s a pretty big difference. Anyway, my buns were GREAT 2015-12-25 08.45.08and this year I made the filling on one of them different-apricot jam and pecans, instead of just walnuts and brown sugar.] And then back to our gifts. Everyone was very happy with his or her gifts. (Below: an assortment of things. Paul is posing with a toilet item. Because it made me laugh and laugh in the store that it was displayed as a great stocking stuffer. Because who wants something for the toilet in his or her stocking? But then I got it for Paul because although we’d laughed about it, he is constantly battling hard water build up in our toilet, and these pumice wands take care of it. Rest assured he got other nicer gifts.) mosaicaf9bd7ba751bbfbb08b2b51367fc8fac8d56d71c Clark is enamored of his black balaclava, which makes him look sinister.  IMG_5324Tabby got the powwow dress for Molly and matching pajamas. 2015-12-25 21.39.57And for the just got her ears pierced girl, lots of earrings. In the afternoon we headed over to my mom’s to spend the rest of the day with them. This was a huge change for us. In fact, we have not left the house on Christmas Day in 12 years. I was startled to see how much traffic there was. But it was lovely to get to spend more time with Ben and Crissy and Esther and Wylie and there was so more present exchanging, a big dinner, and game playing. I made us do some family pictures, which Clark hated. Obligatory Family Portrait//
Cousins// in all it was a lovely Christmas. And now we are looking forward to settling in and playing with all our new things, and with having a lengthy Game Night, Boxing Day edition. (That said, as I write this the kids are watching Teen Titans Go on tv, which they do every morning. Lame.) Merry Christmas! Glitter Christmas//