Friday, November 23, 2007

A Local Thanksgiving

Amy's beautiful Thanksgiving Table

Yesterday, we had the pleasure of sharing Thanksgiving with our good friends, Geoff and Amy, their son, as well as Amy's parents, and a couple new friends too. Our families made our best effort to have a "mostly" local Thanksgiving dinner.

We started with the produce that came in our CSA basket. From it we made mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, acorn squash, and a mixed green salad for the main course. In our basket we also received, sorghum molasses which was made into a gingerbread cheesecake, persimmon pulp which became persimmon pudding, and apples for an apple pie. We also bought local wine from Oliver Winery.

Our turkeys came from Schacht farm, a local farm only seven miles from our home. On Wednesday Amy and I went out to the farm to to pick up our Burbon Red turkeys, who Amy decided to name Fred and George after the Weasley twins. Fred and George were happy turkeys that enjoyed roaming freely on the farm and hiding in its trees, that is until early morning when they were processed and brought home to be cooked for our Thanksgiving dinner.

It was a little more challenging to keep other food items "mostly" local. For example, there wasn't anyway to buy flour that was produced locally, so I settled for buying bread from a local bakery to make croutons for the stuffing. And one of our dinner guests had a wheat allergy so I made a gluten-free chocolate cake. It's sometimes difficult to use local ingredients when baking gluten-free. However, I did manage to use 8 farm eggs from our CSA basket in the cake. All in all I think we did a fine job keeping our dinner "mostly" local.

The food was wonderful but spending the afternoon in the company of good friends and family was even better!

Turkey place cards made from card stock and yarn.
Gingerbread cheesecake
Gluten-free chocolate cake
Thanksgiving hike at Griffy Lake

Monday, November 19, 2007

Nifty Songs

This is a video clip of the Veteran's Day program at school. During the program, each grade performs a song. The first song, You're a Grand Old Flag, is performed by the second-graders. If you look closely you can see Ethan standing behind the boy in the yellow shirt. The second song, Fifty Nifty United States, is performed by the fifth-graders. Mac is easy to spot since he's standing in the front row.

The Lyrics to Fifty Nifty United States By Ray Charles

Fifty nifty United States from thirteen original colonies;

Fifty nifty stars in the flag that billows so beautifully in the breeze.

Each individual state contributes a quality that is great.

Each individual state deserves a bow, let’s salute them now.

Fifty nifty United States from thirteen original colonies, Shout'em, scout'em. Tell all about 'em, One by one till we've given a day to every state in the USA.

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut(Clap 3 times);Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana,Go Hoosiers (If you live in Indiana);Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan;Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada;New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, O-hi-o;Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas; Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wy-o ming.

North, south, east, west, oooh… In our calm, objective, opinion, (name of home state) is the best--of the

Fifty nifty United States from thirteen original colonies,Fifty nifty stars in the flag that billows so beautifully in the breeze.Each individual state contributes a quality that is great. Each individual state deserves a bow, let’s salute them now.Fifty nifty United States from thirteen original colonies,in the good old U-S-A!

Edited by Mac

Violin and Cello Duet

Below is a video clip from last Friday night when Mac and his friend preformed a violin and cello duet at a school event. Hopefully you'll be able to look past my poor video taping as I wasn't able to turn the camera on in time for them to start their piece, and there is quite a bit of background noise. All in all the kids did a great job, especially considering they only practiced together twice.

Mac and Gabe playing, Zwei Tanze Bouree by Johann Adolph Hass

Fall Piano Recital

The past week has been a week full of performances for our family. We started off the week with the boys' piano recital. They have been learning the Suzuki method for a little over a year. Ethan is at the end of Suzuki Book 1 and is preparing for his book 1 recital. Mac also takes Suzuki violin and because he is familiar with most of the songs, and because he can read notes, he has advanced a little further than Ethan and is in Suzuki Book 2 for piano.

Ethan played two songs (right-hand only) for the recital, Allegro by Suzuki and Christmas-Day Secrets by T. Dutton.

Mac played Ecossaise by J.N. Hummel.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Community Supported Agriculture

Since May of this year we have been members of the Core Farms CSA. CSA is the acronym for Community Supported Agriculture. Core Farms CSA consists of three farms: Heartland Family Farms, New Growth Gardens, and Musgrave Orchard. In return for purchasing a share of the farms, we recieve a weekly basket of local, organic produce. We split the basket with our friends, Amy and Geoff, who purchased the other half of the CSA share. This works out nicely because we take turns picking up the produce, and if one of our families happens to be out of town, then that weeks produce won't go to waste. The season typically runs May through October. However, for the first time this fall, Core Farms added a ten week winter share.
Once a week, the kids and I make the 20 minute drive north to Musgrave Orchard where we pick up our share. It's always very exciting to see what we will be getting in our basket.

During the summer's peak harvest months, our basket is most plentiful and overflowing. One week in July, we received 18 ears of corn! Some of the other vegetables that we received this summer are, beets, eggplant, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, endive, cucumber, green beans, kale, leeks, salad mix, fall greens, peas, radish, onions, spinach, summer squash, summer melons, winter squash, chard, peppers, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, potatoes, garlic, fresh cut flowers and herbs, apples and cider. This week we picked up our 5th week of produce from the winter share and I've been very impressed by the things we've received in our baskets so far. We've gotten persimmon pulp, sorghum molasses, butternut squash (my favorite), sweet potatoes, cider, apples, pumpkins, lettuces and eggs.
When we arrive at Musgrave, we make our way down to the back of the store to what they call their cellar. Once inside the cellar we are usually always greeted by Amy or Andy, the owners of Musgrave Orchard. They have all the produce spread out on big tables with signs indicating how much of each vegetable we should take. Amy always has a handout telling us which vegetable came from which farm, and on the bottom she's included a couple of recipes for some of the produce. Here is this weeks basket. Inside are sweet potatoes, apples, baking potatoes, lettuces, butternut squash, persimmon pulp, sage, local honey, cider and not pictured - eggs.

This should all make for a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner. Which by the way, we will be sharing with Amy and Geoff. Our goal is to have a "mostly" local Thanksgiving dinner. Even our turkey is coming from a local farm, Schacht Farm (written about in an earlier post). Stay tuned for a future post about our "local" Thanksgiving dinner.

Happy Birthday, Mac!

Today is M.'s birthday. He doesn't like being referred to as M. and insists that we use Mac in our posts instead. So in honor of his birthday M. has officially changed to Mac.
Wow, 11 candles in 1 little cupcake!
Mac invited 3 of his friends over yesterday for a movie, Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, pizza and a sleepover. Everyone gave the movie a thumbs up, and seemed to have fun. After the movie we came home and ordered pizza. The kids played Apples to Apples, did some breakdancing, and Webkinz tossing. No one got much sleep, especially Mom, but we all survived the night, and were treated to some of Dad's homemade waffles in the morning. Yum!

S'more Cupcakes

For Mac's birthday I decided to create a new cupcake recipe. This was my first attempt at making S'more cupcakes and I think they turned out pretty good. I wanted the cupcake to be a graham cake, and was going to use graham flour but decided it might be too heavy. So I used graham cracker crumbs instead. I also made a graham cracker crust on the bottom of the cupcake. I iced the cupcakes with chocolate ganache and topped that with marshmallow butter cream and a piece of a Hershey bar. I think using 7 minute frosting would have also worked but decided on butter cream so it wouldn't have to be refrigerated. These were a little labor intensive but definitely worth the effort. I've posted the recipe below.

S'more Cupcakes


1 cup of graham cracker crumbs

1/4 cup of butter, melted

Mix these together and press 1 TB in the bottom of each cupcake liner.


1 cup butter

3/4 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup sugar

3 eggs

1 1/2 cup of flour

1 1/2 cup of graham cracker crumbs

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 1/3 cup milk

Chocolate Ganache

1 cup of bittersweet chocolate chips

3 tablespoons of heavy cream

2 tablespoons of butter

Melt the chocolate chips and the butter, remove from heat and add cream, mix until smooth.

Marshmallow Butter cream

1 cup of butter

1 cup of powdered sugar

1 tsp of vanilla

7 ounces of marshmallow fluff

Beat butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla until creamy, add fluff and mix until smooth.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


I have the good fortune of having wonderful, generous friends. My Latina friend, Micaela was kind enough not only to spend a day showing me how to make tamales, but also shared her recipe and tamale making secrets. This was actually training day two. Micaela first showed me how to make tamales about a month and a half ago, when we made 13 dozen for my freezer. Well, needless to say, those 13 dozen are long gone. So we got together yet again for another tamale making. This time our friend, Lisa joined us and we made a triple batch. Wow, that was a lot of masa, as you will soon come to realize.

These are the flours that we used: 3 bags of tamale maseca flour (4.41lbs each) and 1/2 bag of tortilla maseca. Each of us prepared chicken in advance. We used about 25 lbs of chicken meat, mostly thighs and legs. I boiled mine in water, garlic, onion, spicy peppers, salt and peppercorns. Once the chicken was cooked, we removed the meat from the bone and shredded it. Micaela also prepared the chili sauce ahead of time. She used one big bag of dried guajillo peppers and another big bag of dried ancho chilies. She prepared the chili sauce by reconstituting the chilies and cooking them in water. She pulled off the tops, and shook out the seeds. Then she added a handful of cumin seed, some garlic, 1/2 an onion and ground pepper. All ingredients get blended and strained.
Spicy tomato sauce that is added to the masa.

Corn husks

These must also be prepared ahead of time by soaking them in water, and cleaning out the silk. M. separates them into bundles of a dozen.

Here is Micaela mixing all the masa flours and 17 ounces of baking powder that we added. We had to use a big tub in order to fit it all. After the flours are mixed, the chicken broth is added. We used 32 cups in this batch.

Next we added 8 cups chili sauce. Notice the deep red color. After adding the chili sauce, we also added 3 pounds of melted vegetable shortening.(And you thought these were heathly!) You can also use lard, in fact Micaela thinks that using lard gives it more flavor.Micaela is mixing the chili sauce and tomato sauce into the masa.

Micaela mixed and kneaded the dough over and over. She got quite the workout! The way to tell if the dough is ready is by making a ball and flattening it on the back of your hand. If you can see a shiny spot on your hand where the dough was, then it's ready.

These are the finished masa patties.

Next, the patties are placed inside the corn husks and flattened in this cool tortilla press. This one is homemade and was given to Micaela from her mom. Once the masa is flattened, a tablespoon of chicken (which has been mixed with the remaining chili sauce) is place in the center of the masa. The ends are folded over each other, and husk is closed and folded as well. Below is the finished product.
We wrapped the tamales by the dozen in foil so they are ready to freeze. We ended up with 26 dozen tamales. However, we ran out of chicken and had about 150 dough patties left over. Micaela took them home and made another 13 dozen tamales. So the grand total was 39 dozen tamales! Phew! That was a lot of work!

Before eating the tamales, you must first steam them for about 45 minutes until they solidify. They are absolutely delicious and definitely worth all the time and effort! Thanks Mica!

Mountain Climbers

On a recent visit to Arizona we attended a Harvest Festival at the school where my sister teaches. At the festival there were several games that the kids participated in such as a jumping house, ring toss, beanbag toss, and miniature golf. However, the highlight of the evening, especially for E.G. (pictured above), was the rock climbing wall.

Mountain climber M.

I think M. was a little more apprehensive but decided that if his brother was going to attempt the climb, he would too. This was a first time experience for both of them.
E.G. reaches the summit

As you can see E.G. has made it to the top and M. was not far behind.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Teavana and Tea Gschwendner

Getting back to my Chicago trip ..............

During our whirlwind tea tour of Chicago, we stopped at two tea stores. The first was Teavana. A good friend of mine gave me a Teavana gift certificate for my birthday, and I had lots of fun deciding what to use it for. I ended up buying a glass teapot warmer that you set your teapot on. I also bought a tea mixture of a Mate tea and Rooibos Chai. Very Yummy! As you can see the store is very colorful and there are lots of pretty things to look at.

Next up was my favorite little gem of Chicago, Tea Gschwendner. I loved this store from the moment I walked in it! A very classy store with definite European flare! The tea wares were stunning and the tea was delicious! The manager, Michelle (pictured below with S.) was very helpful and friendly. The whole experience was a tea lovers dream! The tea that I bought here was a Oolong tea, Bossa Nova. It has a slight nutty flavor--perfect for this time of year.

Notice the pretty stainless steel boxes of tea on the shelves, rows and rows of them!

Homemade Doughnuts

I haven't made doughnuts in awhile, so last night when I knew I would be up late working on my wedding cakes, I decided to go ahead and make a batch. Doughnuts are not difficult to make; however, they are a little time consuming. Doughnuts are made from a yeast dough and need two risings.

Last night when I finished my cakes I made the dough and decided to let it rise over night. Since my night was short, it worked out perfectly. Bright and early this morning, I rolled out and cut my dough and let it rise one more time. After they were done rising, I fried them in oil and rolled them in cinnamon-sugar. And by the time M. woke up at 7am, he had some nice warm doughnuts to eat for breakfast. Forty-five minutes later, E.G. said he was awoken by the yummy aroma coming from the kitchen, and he too enjoyed a sweet treat! Yum! Below is the recipe that I used.

9 ounces whole milk
2 tsp active dry yeast
5-6 cups white bread flour (not all-purpose)
6 TB ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 large eggs
2 cups peanut or vegetable oil
cinnamon-sugar for dusting

Warm milk over low heat until it is warm too touch. Add yeast and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Let sit a few minutes until foamy. Using the dough hook attachment, turn the mixer onto the lowest speed. Add the eggs and butter to milk. Mix for 2 minutes. Add 2 cups of flour and turn up to medium speed, adding the remaining flour one cup at a time until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. Gently remove the dough from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Form into a ball. Place into a lightly floured bowl and cover with a lint-free towel and set in draft-free spot to rise for 1 hour. Gently remove the dough from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Cut into two equal pieces. Gently roll out to about 1/2 inch thick, turning and using flour only as needed. Cut out doughnuts and their holes using a circular cutter and a large pastry tip, respectively. Set on a lightly oiled baking pan with sufficient space between each. Cover with a towel and set in draft-free spot to double in size or for 45 minutes. Heat the peanut oil in a high-sided, 8″ diameter pan to 350 degrees. Using a slotted spoon gently add about 5 doughnuts to the oil. Allow them to fry on one side until golden, about 45 seconds. Flip and repeat on the other side. Remove doughnuts onto a sheet pan covered in paper towels to drain. Continue in the same fashion with remaining doughnuts. Roll drained doughnuts in the sugar. Eat.

Wedding Cakes

Pictured are 2 of the 5 cakes I baked this week.
The bride's colors are red and silver,
She will place red roses on the top.

This week I spent many hours in my kitchen creating a wedding cake for a customer. I have made several wedding cakes over the years, and every time that I'm in the middle of making one, I'm always asking myself, why?! I don't particularly enjoy making wedding cakes. They are a ton of work but somehow I always manage to agree to make them. It must be a little like giving birth, you forget how bad it was at the time so you agree to do it over again.

On Tuesday, I spent the day baking the five chocolate cakes--four 12inch cakes and one 8inch cake. I started around 11:30am and finished about midnight. Once my cakes are baked, I always freeze them over night. (It is much easier to assemble and frost a frozen cake versus a room temperature one.) Yesterday was assembly day. Again, I was in the kitchen from 11am until midnight. When I finally went to bed, my feet hurt so much that I couldn't get to sleep.

When I bake I never take shortcuts. I prefer use the finest ingredients. That includes butter--I'm of the schooling that you should always use butter when baking. Butter is better! Just to give you an idea of went into this cake (besides all of my time and effort) I will list a few ingredients, but be careful not to to have a heart attack while reading.

12 pounds of butter
6 1/2 dozen eggs
23 ounces of cocoa
1 pound of bittersweet chocolate
6 pounds of confectioners sugar