Monday, December 31, 2007

Tick Tock Goes the Clock

Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely.
Rodin, (1840 - 1917)

Happy (Healthy, Fun & Free) New Year!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Chocolate Crown Cake, Patriots & 'Man Rules'

This cake is worth the calories! It's a super moist chocolate pound cake. The glaze is pure chocolate-a mixture of white and semi-sweet chocolate melted on top.

My husband says I am invited to the 'Man Shed' to watch the Football game tonight. It's the Patriots final game of the season and they're playing the Giants. Frankly, I was surprised to get an invite to the 'Man Shed'. When I first heard about this place, I assumed it would be a place I would never get an invite to. So it should be fun.

I made this cake to take along. I hope the 'sugar-buzz' doesn't inspire the men to hold any 'man rule' meetings while I am there.

It does make me wonder though if that beer commercial that Burt Reynolds played in about making 'man-rules' actually happens. If so, I'll have to invite the girls over next week for 'woman rules'.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Inspiration for New Year & Bye Bye 07

This piece is called "George". It is a sculpture my husband made years ago. He has made over 200 pieces and it is one of my all time favorites.

He sold it years back and I can't even remember today who bought it. It's a vanity with a mirror, a small table and drawer. I always think of it when I am in need of a little inspiration. If we hadn't been in need of the cash at the time I never would have let this one get away from us.

I'm not big on New Year's resolutions. People seem to talk about them a lot. I was just in the car and the DJ wanted listener's to call with there resolutions.

But they never seem to stick, so what's the point? As I say bye bye to 07 I will think about some of my accomplishments of this past year. Whatever regrets I have I will (try my best to) leave behind.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Changing Tides, Catch Phrase & Cooling Racks

Tides are the rising and falling of Earth's ocean surface caused by the tidal forces of the Moon and the Sun acting on the oceans.

Rainer Maria Rilke in Letter to a Young Poet wrote,

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Do not seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answers.

Changing tides gradually reflect the ebb and flow of the water's edge like answers to questions that may come 'along some distant day'.

Every year, I try to find a fun gift to give to the whole family. This year, I bought "Catch Phrase". It's actually a game my mother introduced us to a couple of years ago.
We had company over for a post Christmas dinner last night and had a blast playing this game. You play in teams and pass an electronic hand held game that displays a word in a category you choose.
You try to get your team mates to guess your word without you saying it-only by offering clues. My three year old was so funny. She demanded a turn. Although, she can't yet read.
She understood the game entirely though! We'd give her a turn and she'd dramatically jump to the center of the room holding the game. She'd choose a word on her own not prompted by what it said on the screen. One time she chose the word 'wheel' and very cleverly acted it out. We guessed it in time.
When I think about her I realize she definitely lives by Rilke's idea that the point is to live everything. Like the constantly changing tides I remind myself to be patient with her.

As for what I received for Christmas- a whole new array of baking dishes, cookie sheets, three tier cooling racks, mixing bowls... I can't wait to get into the kitchen to start baking again.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Seven Swans-a-Swimming

Merry Christmas!

I took these pictures late this morning from my cell phone camera. So, forgive the quality.
After opening the presents Santa dropped by our tree and having breakfast as a family I got to sneak away to my favorite spot for a long walk. I had to dress warm. I had gloves, a hat, my new long winter coat, two pairs of socks and a sweater over my clothes.

In the little pond on the back side of the walking trail there were actually seven swans swimming in the water. I always catch swans on my walks there-but usually there are two maybe three at most. If you look real close at the picture on the top you can (somewhat) make them out in the distance.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Baked Goodies for a Baker, Time Management & Snickerdoodles

Friends and neighbors have been dropping by this week and offering delicious and beautiful baked goods. Every time I receive one of these treats the giver always says, "Well, I hope you like it. Baking for a baker is so hard"-or something to that affect.

The truth is I really love when people bake for me. I am always amazed at how different each recipe is from the next- a little variation can change an old favorite a lot. I also notice that the way someone bakes can reflect the personality of the person who made them!

I never went to school for baking. I have just over the years sampled, studied and explored all types of baked goods, cookbooks and recipes. Not to mention, with an always hungry family- I have spent a lot of time in the kitchen. Experience is a great teacher.

As for time management, I thought I was ahead of the curve this year--finally! I'd finished my shopping, cleaned the house, bought and even wrapped my gifts all before Friday! I felt like saying, Ta-Dah! Partly, because this is unheard of for me.

I was looking forward to having a relaxed, stress free weekend. That is, until my older two kids reminded me they needed to buy there gifts. So much for a weekend with a bit of time on the couch, with tea and a good book, a long walk, hanging out with friends. Instead I had to bring them to shop both Saturday and Sunday for Holiday presents that they can give to there family and friends. People really do get a little crazy at this stage of the game and so much for time management.

Remember Snicker doodles? Those yummy sugar cookies with an attitude of cinnamon? They are in my oven and I hear the timer calling me now...

Saturday, December 22, 2007

'Hot Cockles' & Holiday Humor

"Hot cockles" was a popular game at Christmas in medieval times. It was a game in which the other players took turns striking the blindfolded player, who had to guess the name of the person delivering each blow. "Hot cockles" was still a Christmas pastime until the Victorian era.

As my three year old might say, 'that's weird!'

As for a little holiday humor, that is if the phrase 'hot cockles' isn't funny enough:

What do you call the fear of getting stuck in a chimney?

hee hee ha ha ho ho ho...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Early Christmas Present & Merry Christmas!

A very sweet friend of mine, she is actually a long lost relative that I have recently reconnected with shared this with me a few months back. I love it. Click on the link or paste it into your browser and grab a cup of hot tea, egg-nog or cocoa and enjoy! It is very beautiful. It can best be viewed on a larger screen. I've decided to share it here as an early Christmas present.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

True Confessions of a Cookie-a-'Holic', Ice Capades & My Wish-List

The truth is I have been somewhat of a bad girl today. My youngest and I started baking right after the kids left for school. We promised to make sugar cookies for her holiday party tomorrow. I might just be a little delirious from the stress of the holiday but the cookies are calling me by name today.

The house is warm from the oven. There is a buttery sweet scent that fills the air. What I am trying to say is they are very hard to resist. My count today has been: One for the school, One for me! One for the school. One for me! At this rate I can kiss any more cute holiday outfits good bye!

Falmouth doesn't have a real Ice Capades. It's my own drive-way and the road directly adjacent to it. It was cold this morning and the kids didn't want to walk down to the bus. The baby hadn't woken up yet-she was safe in her bed with the door closed. We only had a minute to spare. The bus stop is right down the street. We decide to hop in the car and try to make it before she realizes I was gone for even a second. The plan was to drop them off then race back.

As we start to pull away we see her in her bedroom window with the saddest look on her face. Naturally, I couldn't just leave. The clock was ticking. My daughter jumps out practically falls on the ice to wait with her. I peel away on the ice to get my son there before the bus leaves. Since we are trying to hurry- naturally we get stuck on the ice. Somehow, I make it there and back to get my other daughter to her bus and wrap my youngest in a warm blanket. I quickly strap her in the back seat of the car almost falling on the ice again. We manage to get my other daughter to the bus stop just in the nick of time. As I drive back home it occurs to me I am still wearing my PJ's.

My Christmas Wish List:
A busstop that is right outside the front door.
Someone who will shovel the snow as it falls.
Sand and Salt to keep it from getting too slippery. (My husband would be really good at this one.)
A little willpower to stop eating more of my delicious holiday cookies.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Women: Amazing & Beautiful!

Last night I stopped by a friends house because they were having there annual holiday open house. At least 200 people must have stopped by there home throughout the night. The woman's house looked gorgeous. The food, desert and punch were all amazing! This is a woman with four children. I asked her if she did all the baking and she said she did. As a baker, I get how much work it all is. As far as decorating I know she has a passion for it so she took care of that too. Not only did she have a cute outfit on she was available for friendly conversation as well. I felt truly in awe of this woman. Her passion, heart and love for her family and friends were obvious!
I took a Feminism class in College. The class explored remarkable women throughout history. At the time, I was still a girl-not quite fully a 'woman'. Looking back, I have such a better appreciation of there accomplishments now that I know what women in general are expected of.
Women have always worked hard. We just haven't always been recognized for it. John Muir said about beauty that everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul. I would say this is especially true for women.
I think women are at there most beautiful when they not only care for others but care for themselves too! The holidays can be challenging for women. We take care of a lot of things that no one else is going to do. Today, in honor of all women I will balance my baking and holiday
shopping with not only a steaming hot bubble bath but candles and a cup of hot tea too.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Ultimate Yankee Swap

"Oh...the weather outside is frightful but the fire is so delightful..." --really it is!

The storm we'd been promised has arrived. It was kind enough to pack its punch well after we returned home from a friend's Christmas party last night. They are the kind of friends that make living on the Cape truly worthwhile. They're fun and they are always up for a good time. They have a tradition at there holiday party to host a 'Yankee Swap'. It's a fun game of passed presents to get everyone in the holiday spirit. The best Yankee Swaps have a mix of hot desired gifts and cool 're gifts'.
My husband decided to make a 'First Aid Tree' as his gift. It stood at about six feet tall! Well at least people noticed us when we arrived.
Twenty minutes before we were supposed to head out for the party I hear him in the basement with a drill and a hammer. He bought all kinds of first aid trinkets from band-aids to gauze to rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide and attached them to a tree made out of scrap wood. He also added a hefty 'hand' for holiday 'hangovers' with things like Advil and a cold compress. If it didn't look so outrageous it really was a great gift idea.
What made this swap 'ultimate' is that the girl who chose it in the swap had a deep gash on her finger. I guess she made a crab dip with sliced bread to share as an appetizer and before she left for the party she sliced her finger while cutting the bread. She said they were out of band-aids at her house so she actually had a bit of paper towel held on with a rubber band to protect the gash. She told us after how perfect the gift was for her. That all the items would really come in handy.
Come to think of it, I forgot to ask her if the large 'tree' would even fit in her car.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Best Recipe for Peppermint Bark & Sunshine

Last year I passed these out as holiday gifts. They couldn't be easier-and it really tastes delicious.

What you'll need:

Crushed candy canes, to yield 1 cup
2 pounds white chocolate
Place candy canes in a plastic bag and hammer into 1/4-inch chunks or smaller. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Combine candy cane chunks with chocolate. Pour mixture onto a cookie sheet layered with parchment or waxed paper and place in the refrigerator for 45 minutes or until firm. Remove from cookie sheet and break into pieces (like peanut brittle.)
Place in decorative bags and tie with ribbon.

The weather forecasts a Nor'easter to arrive after midnight. Right now it is bright and gorgeous and sunny. It's hard to believe we will be hit with another storm before the weekend ends. It looks so pretty right now the way the sun reflects on the snow.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Mourning Doves & Hot Cocoa with White Chocolate

The kids are on their way to school this morning. They were disappointed to hear of no cancellations due to snowy weather. They will have to wait until later to make snowmen, slide down the little hill near the house and invite neighborhood kids over for cocoa.

When we opened the side door so they could more easily make their way across the wintry white yard down to the bus stop three mourning doves immediately took flight from our large evergreen that grows out there. Mourning doves are a medium-sized bird, have a small head and a long pointed tail. It has a light brownish body and the tail has white on the outer edges. There sound is a low mourn. It was fun to be greeted by them.

Later this morning I am venturing out to bring old friends a homemade holiday treat. I promised the kids I would be back in time to have hot cocoa ready for them when they return. We like to make our hot cocoa with milk and drop little bits of white chocolate chips in the bottom of our cups.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Christmas Magic & Recipe for Reindeer Food

I recently got to meet Julia Cameron. I had been reading her books for years. I love the simple magic in her work. It seemed fitting to me to offer her a small token of my gratitude so I gave her a small smooth rock with the word 'magic' engraved at its center. It was a simple gift but it genuinely reflected what I felt her work has offered to me.
Each year, right around this time I find myself wanting to get swept into the magic of Christmas. Having a young child helps-she so readily and whole heartily accepts the idea that Santa not only can fly by the help of his reindeer but also that he manages to get himself in and out of every single house around the world through the chimney no less to bring presents and fill our stockings while we sleep.
I distinctly remember when I realized that the story around Santa was pure fantasy. I was literally heart broken. I was sad to realize the world wasn't as magical as I hoped it was.
When my older kids were in preschool there was a part of me that was genuinely hesitant to promote the Santa story to them because I didn't want them to ultimately be disappointed.
But then I realized it is a gift, a blessing even to have the opportunity (even if for just a short time) to look at the world as a truly magical place. I think it was that same year that I started a tradition with them to sprinkle 'reindeer' food on our front lawn each Christmas Eve.

Recipe for Feeding Reindeer:

1 c oats
1 tsp cinammon
1 tsp sugar

Mix ingredients together. Place in a festive bag and tie with a holiday ribbon. Just before the little ones go to bed on the night of Christmas Eve take them out on the front lawn and sprinkle on the grass (or snow).

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Candy Cane Sugar Cookies & Dancing

As I build my baking empire I try to keep cash flowing with forays into freelance writing. I received a 'call' yesterday-it wasn't an actual call more like an email-does anyone use the telephone anymore? -to write an article about Dance.
When I received that my very first thought was something I did when I was pregnant with my son. When I was a kid my two sisters and I always loved to dance. We never took formal classes but we did hold our mother hostage for many impromptu living room recitals.
One afternoon, while pregnant my younger sister and I were driving and "It's Raining Men" came on the radio. We pulled to the side of the road and blasted the radio. My sister and I jumped out of the car and danced like wild jumping beans right on the side of the road. We laughed a lot. It was a gorgeous day. Cars honked. We didn't care. We were having fun. Since this tale won't find its way into the article I decided to 'share' it here.
As for Candy Cane Sugar Cookies, I am making these for my daughter's christmas party at her preschool. You make a good sugar cookie dough and roll the cookies into long thin shapes. Then you roll the dough in crushed peppermint candies. These are the kind of cookies that make my middle daughter proud to have me as her mom.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Biscotti, Anagrams & Winter

It's almost winter and I am trying to find alternative loves. My first love is long lazy days of summer by the beach when the kids seem happy to play for hours.
I love to make cranberry biscotti. After I learned how to make my own biscotti- I was surprised at how easy it is. I make it with white chocolate chips in the cookie itself and then I drizzle melted white chocolate on top. It's pretty yummy. Biscotti is nothing more than a twice baked cookie.
Earlier today I came across a fun Anagrams are simply when you take the letters of a word and you mix up the letters to create a different word-different meaning. I typed in The West Falmouth Baking Company and the anagram offered was wealthy humpback of not steaming.
I found that interesting because when I dreamt up my little cape cod baking business I imagined that I would sell whale shaped sugar cookies to just about everyone and anyone who crossed over the bridge to Cape Cod. Who knows, maybe by next summer. Who wouldn't want a whale sugar cookie?
For now, it's back to winter. I caught part of a movie over the weekend on HBO called "Catch and Release"-overall the movie was nothing to write home about but there was this cool character whose job it was to choose and place those little quotes on Celestial Seasonings Tea Boxes. I thought now that would be a cool job. I happen to have a box of tea in front of me. The quote reads, "Let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius"~ Pietro Aretino.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Pomegranate Tartlets & Indoor Caves

My living room has been transformed into a large indoor cave-it almost looks like an igloo. Blankets, pillows, chairs, etc have been gathered from places I didn't even know we had and the kids have been making a hideout of their own. It's a private place for their snacks, games and laughter. It's in their nature to just want to have fun. It's been too cold to do much of it outside so I 'surrender' the living room for now to 'higher' causes.

In the meantime, here is a quick recipe for a delicious holiday desert. They look so pretty and they are very easy to make.

Here's what you'll need for the Pomegranate Tartlets:

Three pie crusts, pre-made store bought in refrigerator section are just fine for this recipe
1 whole pomegranate
1 box pudding and pie filling mix (don't use the instant)
1 3/4 c whipping cream
1/2 tsp rum extract
1 tsp powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. With a 2 inch round cutter, cut 36 rounds and press into un-greased mini muffin cups. Bake 7 or so minutes until light golden brown. Remove from tins and place on cooling racks. Cut Pomegranate in half, remove seeds, set aside.
In medium pan stir pudding mix and whipping cream with whisk until blended. Cook over medium heat for five minutes, or until mixture comes to a boil, stir constantly. Remove from heat, add extract. Immediately spoon about 2 tsp. filling into each tartlet shell. Top each with about 1 tsp. of pomegranate seeds. Cover loosely, refrigerate at least one hour before serving. Just before you serve dust lightly with powdered sugar.
Serves well in "Indoor Caves" too.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Mysteries, Gray Days & Baking

What do I have for sale at the Coonamessett Farm this weekend? It's a mystery! But first, it was Albert Einstein who said, The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.

Late yesterday afternoon, just before night crept in I decided to make the super short trip out onto my back porch, down the steps, onto the grass and over to the edge of the yard where my yellow birdhouse rests. I was surprised when I stepped out onto the porch to notice that there were bird tracks in the snow. I wondered when that bird had stopped by simply because I hadn't noticed any birds out and about at all-not a single one.

I hadn't heard them singing or chirping not even a peep. I did have the music on all day and I do live with a very chatty three year old and yet I was still a little surprised to realize I hadn't noticed any birds on my porch. Was there anything else that visited yesterday that I was not aware of? What else might I have missed? Without the snow I wouldn't even have known about the bird.

I am reminded of an essay I read years ago by Alice Walker. She wrote about her journey in writing The Temple of My Familiar and she talked about her wonder at how at the end of a very long day her friends were sitting down in her kitchen to share a meal and a raccoon appeared out the back door to greet them.

When the weather turns gray it's easy to get bored. Maybe looking into the mysterious in something as simple as a birds flight can help. Why didn't I hear any birds? Will that one fly to a warmer climate soon? Why did that raccoon choose to visit them on that night?

Soon the Coonamessett Farm will be closed for the winter. There's no mystery there- the ground is simply beginning to grow dormant. I have a fresh batch of my Supreme Lemon Cake for sale there this weekend. It's a really delicious cake- very moist and of course lemony. Mystery solved.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Mom's Best Banana Bread & Back Yard Birds

This morning the temperature gauge outside the little window over my kitchen sink reads a meager nineteen degrees. A little snow snuck in over night. The painted yellow handmade cedar birdhouse that hangs from a tree in our back yard appears empty. It's too cold for me to run out there and peek in to see if a birdy has taken up residence right now. Perhaps, there's a 'flighty' family that has moved in. We've had that bird house for a lot of years and I know of at least two birds that have called that little house home.

I sell my banana bread at the farm sometimes, but usually that is something that gets gobbled up by my family before it even hits the shelves. I make the mini loaves and package them individually. If I don't get them tucked into their bags before the kids get home from school I can forget about any potential profit from that labor.

It's a simple recipe but if you like banana bread give it a try.

Mom's Best Banana Bread

3 or 4 ripe bananas, smashed
1/3 c melted butter
1 c sugar
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
pinch salt
1 1/2 C flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease large loaf or an eight count mini loaf pan. Mix butter into mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl. Mix in sugar, egg and vanilla. Sprinkle in baking soda and salt over the mixture. Add flour last and mix in gently. If you use the large pans bake for approx. 55 minutes. The smaller loaf pans require less time, approximately 35minutes.

Later this afternoon, I might just drop a few banana bread crumbs at the edge of the entrance to the backyard birdhouse to invite a new 'family' in.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Art of Discernment

I am the most aware of the need for discernment in my life around the holidays. There are so many obligations, expecations not to mention business oppportunities. Christmas is supposed to be fun or at least that's the way I thought about it as a kid.

I think the only way that I can have a merry attitude around the holidays is by using discernment. Some years, I will have fun and festive holiday cards dropped in the mail by December 15th. Other years, I won't send any cards at all. Some years, I will drop Christmas Cookies at the doorsteps of my neighbors. Other years, I will only get the baking done that I have already committed to. Some years, I will throw a hip holiday party. Other years, I will only attend parties that I actually feel like going to.

It's all about applying the art of discernment, especially without added guilt. The times I can't meet all of my own or another's expectations I can remember that all I really want when the New Year rolls around is to have a little money left over in my bank account, a little bit of my sanity still in tact and a continued desire to get in my kitchen to bake.

Discernment is not always easy. But I'm learning it's necessary, especially around the holidays.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Candy Cane Breakfast

My daughter has been part of a fun holiday tradition. This will be it's seventh year. I have continued it with her on Cape Cod because I know she has good memories of those special get togethers.

Girls are invited over on a weekend morning just before Christmas. They wear their pajamas and bring a wrapped Chritsmas ornament of there choice to include in a holiday gift exchange.

The girls usually do a craft-some years it's been decorating a picture frame that will hold a photograph to remind them of that special morning. Last year, I decided to have the girls make Christmas Cards for someone special. This year we've decided to decorate sugar cookies and wrap them in fun holiday packages.

The girls squeeze in next to each other (there were eighteen girls last year) at the kitchen table and have a yummy feast. Last year, I made a delicious sausage egg bake, a cinnamon maple glazed coffee cake, blueberry orange muffins and fruit. One mom arrived with white chocolate dipped strawberries to share. The girls are already looking forward to this year's Candy Cane Breakfast. One of my daughter's friends said, "I hope your Mom makes that sausage egg bake and coffee cake again".

In a world where so much seems just not quite right it's nice to have something that is so simple and innocent but lots of fun. I am glad that we decided to continue this tradition on Cape Cod.

Monday, December 3, 2007

First Snowfall of Season

If we're going to have to live with unbelievably cold temperatures it might as well snow. Snow makes the cold more fun and bearable. On the Cape we only had the tiniest greeting of flurries. Nothing on the ground. Not even a sticking to the windshield.

This first flurry reminds me that last year I personally witnessed the freezing over of Old Silver Beach. I had to see it for myself to believe it. Someone said that if it's 19 degrees for three days in a row it'll freeze. He was right. It did!

It's not that I look forward to or even enjoy shoveling the snow. That's hard work. But when it snows we can make snowmen and snow angels. Snow also offers a quick invite to stay home and make hot cocoa, warm bread and a toasty fire.

The whole ground takes on a glistening brightness when it's covered with snow. To me everything seems a little more hopeful when everywhere you look all you see is white.

I'd better make sure we all have a pair of wool socks, warm mittens and thermal underwear handy. I think we're going to need them this season.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Collecting Driftwood on Cape Cod

Living on Cape Cod offers lots of opportunities for collecting driftwood. I have a number of incredible pieces of driftwood that I have found washed up at area beaches at different times.

My baker's display at the farm has a piece of driftwood. Above the mantle over my kitchen fireplace there's a piece of driftwood hanging that I have transformed into a sculpture. There is another beautiful piece resting naturally on the mantle ledge.

In some ways driftwood resembles baking. The driftwood took time. The weather, wind, rain and even snow was needed to make these pieces what they are. Baking took time too. Not to mention mixing, molding, heating and then cooling. It's a natural simplicity that they have in common. It's what I like most about each of them.