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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Take a Walk on the Sweet Side: My First Cakewalk

Until this week, my only knowledge of a cakewalk came from one of the Junie B. Jones books that I used to read over and over again to our youngest daughter.  In the story, Junie B. skipped around with other children until the music stopped and a number was called.  The numbered square she was standing on just happened to be the winner, and Junie B. proceeded to choose a cake from the table.  There was one rectangular cake wrapped in shiny aluminum foil, and that was the one she insisted on taking home.  It turned out to be a fruit cake.  A very dense, heavy fruit cake that her parents tried to dissuade her from picking, but she insisted.  It turns out that she didn't like fruit cake after all, but it was so sturdy that she used it as a booster seat at her kitchen table, so all ended well.  

Our children's elementary/middle school had a Back-to-School Picnic last evening and one of the activities was a cakewalk.  Another dynamic mom and I co-chaired it because it sounded like so much fun.  She had cakewalk experience, unlike me, so she knew what to expect.  She and I both did a little bit of baking (the cupcakes, mini-cherry cheesecakes, and brownies above were mine,) but she was bold enough to ask for donations from a couple of the local supermarkets.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures until we were almost finished, but I think we started out with 21 different containers of cakes/cupcakes/cookies/brownies and some boxes of Skittles for those with nut allergies.  There were no fruit cakes though.  I don't think most of the children there had ever done a cakewalk before, so we initially had to practically beg kids to start playing.

But once children saw that they could walk away from our table with free cakes, they started lining up to play.  We duck taped numbers on 12 circular stones, and placed a child on each one.  Once the music started, they hopped, skipped, ran, and jumped in a circle from one stone to the next.  One toddler marched to her own beat and repeatedly wandered off the path, but she always ended up on a number once the music stopped.

My friend's husband drafted children to help him call out the winning numbers, and each winner came to the table to eye up the loot.  The younger ones were reluctant to choose anything without a parent's input, but the pre-teens jumped right in there with no hesitation.  Interestingly enough, they chose all the store-baked products first...and the Skittles.  Go figure.  After about 70 minutes, we ran out of cakes, so we called it a night and finally got to go mingle with the other 350 school family members who were there.  I would call it a success, and it was definitely a lot of fun.

I have to admit though, that I had my eye on this cookie dough cheesecake that our grown son baked from scratch and donated.  It was very tempting to keep it at home in my refrigerator, but I didn't think that would be very charitable.  So instead, I persuaded my youngest two to play the cakewalk over and over again.  
 And I kept the cheesecake under the table in a cooler with ice. 
Because it was almost 90 degrees out, and I didn't want it to go bad, you know.
And my 10-year old son actually landed on the winning number during the first half hour of the cake walk.
So he really did win fair and square.  Honest.
...and he just so happened to choose that cookie dough cheesecake over the Skittles and the numerous store-bought cakes on the table.

So guess what I'm having after breakfast this morning?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Weekend of Firsts

We're wrapping up summer and getting ready to start new fall routines, but this weekend was full of many first-time events for us.  

A new Mexican restaurant opened up not too far from us, so my husband and I decided to give it a try Thursday evening.  I had a delicious chicken fajita salad, and my husband had an enormous burrito topped with a mango salsa.

But what we really enjoyed was the extensive margarita list they had.  We tried some varieties we've never had before; Pama Margarita for me, and Caliente Margarita for Hubby.  They were perfect for a late summer dinner, and we're looking forward to returning and trying some of the others.

The next day after cross-country practice, I took our new high school freshman to finally get her first professional manicure.  She chose her new school colors to show her school spirit.  

On Saturday, my son and I visited the grounds of the Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg, PA.  I have been here before...

...but it's been years...

...and I really went to walk these beautiful walking paths around the grounds for a change of scenery from our mountain trails.  I couldn't help myself and had to stop frequently to take pictures.  What a beautiful place.

Afterwards, my son ran in a race to benefit a local food pantry.  The first mile he ran in a little over six minutes and came in second place.  The second mile he ran while carrying a full gallon jug of water along with all the other participants.  The water jugs were then donated to the food pantry.  This was his first one-mile race and definitely the first time he's ever run while carrying an additional 8 pounds in his arms.  Since I've done my share of running while carrying extra pounds each time I was pregnant, I sat out this part of the race and talked to another mom.

Saturday night my husband and I tried a new distillery and tapas restaurant.  We had already eaten dinner earlier at home, so we decided to sample a dessert after drinks.

We had never seen or heard of semifreddo before.  I sat at the table and googled it to determine whether or not it was something I wanted to try.  This was a saffron semifreddo topped with cherry cardamom syrup, salted chocolate hazelnuts, and whipped cream.  It was delicious, and I scraped every last little bit out of that bowl.

Our weekend culminated with a visit from our new grandson who will be one month old tomorrow.  What was so great about this visit was that he actually had his eyes open for awhile, which is the first time that has happened when we've been together.

I find this time of year so exciting and full of hope and new beginnings.  I can't wait to see what life brings our way next.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Using Up Your Zucchini in a Chocolate Cake

We finally used up all but one of our zucchini squash today.  My mother-in-law sent me a recipe over a month ago for chocolate zucchini cake, and my daughter and I took some time this morning to try it out.

All you need are a boxed chocolate cake mix, an instant chocolate pudding mix, and 3 cups of shredded raw zucchini.

Once you get that mixed up, you just pour it in your floured/greased cake pans and bake for about 30 minutes.

Once the cake has cooled sufficiently, and you are ready to frost it, simply whisk together a can of chocolate frosting and a container of cool whip.

The end result is this slightly-flatter-than-normal moist chocolate cake with a chocolate whipped frosting.  I had to add a few green and pink confetti candies to mine since I'm feeling especially preppy these days.  Can't wait to taste it after dinner tonight.

For the full recipe and a prettier picture, go to:

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Delicious Peach Custard Pie

We've been buying up peaches at the local farmers' markets, and last week I made one of my favorite peach desserts: Peach Custard Pie.

Pie Crust:

Stir together 1 1/4 cups unbleached white flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Cut in 1/3 cup softened butter until the dough is in little crumbly balls.  Sprinkle 1 Tablespoon cold water in at a time and toss with a fork (do 4 times for a total of 4 Tablespoons of water.)  Form the dough into a ball.

Generously coat your counter top and rolling pin with flour and drop your dough ball onto the counter.  Start rolling from the center of the dough out toward the edges.

Keep rolling until your dough is approximately 12 inches in diameter (or will cover the bottom and sides of your pie plate.)  I always have plenty of volunteers who want to help with this job.  Too bad they scatter when it's time to do the cleanup.

Carefully drape the crust over your rolling pin, and gently unroll it into the pie plate.  Then trim and "flute" the edges.  Any dough left makes a great "dough cake."  We didn't have enough for that, however, so some of us had a taste of raw dough.

Peach Custard Pie Filling

Peel and slice enough peaches to fill your pie shell.  I think I used 6-8 average sized peaches this time.  In a bowl, mix 1 Tablespoon flour with 1 cup sugar.  Add 3 beaten eggs and stir.  Pour this mixture over the peaches in the pie pan.

Sprinkle cinnamon over the top and dot with a little bit of butter.  Bake for 10 minutes in a 450 degree oven.  Then reduce the heat to 350, and bake for approximately 30 more minutes, or until it is no longer jiggly and a knife comes out clean.  (This might be closer to 40 minutes; I can't remember.)

Out of the oven comes this fabulous tasting pie, and your entire kitchen will smell of cinnamon and peaches.  Good enough for dessert, and I contend it's healthy enough for breakfast!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Loving These Preppy School Uniforms

Our teen daughter will start a new school in just a couple of weeks at a Catholic prep school, and she needed all new uniforms.  She and I had fun yesterday afternoon with a short impromptu photo shoot where she got to try on---and model for me---her new wardrobe from Land's End.  When I was a teenager in the eighties, these are the same types of clothes we wore every day, even in the public schools.  I love that preppy clothes just never go out of style. 

The navy blue blazer (from Land's End) is a must-have at her school this year, and it will get lots of use over the next few years.

With the exception of time spent at chapel and school assemblies, she can hang the blazer in her locker throughout the school day, which is good because many of the school buildings here in the Northeast still don't have air conditioning.  This white blouse and slate gray skirt with ballet flats are what she will wear most days of the week.  I can't remember where we bought the shoes, but the skirt is from Land's End.  And she's borrowing my blouse for this photo because we're still waiting for some of her Land's End oxfords to arrive in the mail.  Some serious ironing needs to be done, as you can see! 

The blazer can also be paired with a light blue oxford cloth shirt and khaki pants (all from Land's End) with a pair of Sperry Topsiders to mix things up a little throughout the week.

Here's the same outfit sans the blue blazer.  That apple came from the tree over her head, by the way, but they are far from ripe.  And no, she shouldn't be biting into it with her braces!

And for the days she feels like packing her lunch from home, she has this Vera Bradley blue plaid lunchbag we picked up in Bedford.  I hadn't really thought about it matching her school uniforms when I bought it; I just liked the plaid.

As a mother, it is a relief for me to have our school-aged children go to schools where uniforms are mandatory. It prevents many headaches and arguments about what is and isn't appropriate to wear each morning before school.  It also greatly reduces the comparing and "sizing each other up" that seems to inevitably occur in middle and high school.  The fact that the dress code just happens to appeal to my preppy tastes is an added bonus.

Even though I'd like another month or two of summer, I'm beginning to get back in the school spirit.  If only that didn't mean waking up at 5:30 each morning.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

August Snapshots

This post is a potpourri of totally unrelated images except that they all have to do with life at our farmhouse in August.  

Don't you love this time of year with all the fresh produce from your own gardens, neighbors' and coworkers' gardens, and the local farmers' markets?  The onions, tomatoes, purple tomatillos, and zucchini are ours.  The cucumbers were from elsewhere, and a bag of freshly shucked corn was mysteriously found on our front porch last night.  If it came from any of you local readers, thank you.  We're having it with barbecued ribs for dinner tonight.

Tomatillos weren't the only purple vegetable we grew this year.  My husband loves to grow out-of-the ordinary produce, so this was his new exotic experiment for the summer.  Our daughter turned them into mashed potatoes earlier this week for dinner.  The coloring hasn't been enhanced in this photo either; they really are this beautiful shade of violet.  Oh, in case you're wondering, they do taste like normal potatoes.

We've been going on evening hikes when the temperatures are a little cooler.  It doesn't matter what the month or season, I think it's beautiful up here in the Alleghenies.

While hiking up the mountain, we discovered the blackberries have ripened.  Time to don the insect repellant and start picking so we can make some blackberry cobbler.  First I need to pull my daughter away from the new Harry Potter book we picked up at Target this morning so I have some help.  

As we came down the mountain and got near our house the other evening, this is what we saw in the pasture.  Our little male goat kids love to hop on the back of our large ram and ride around on him like this. 

Asiago kept his balance on top of Snowflake as they ran up through the pasture to me.  There is always something ridiculous and crazy going on around here.

This really has nothing to do with life on our mountain farm except that it's now sitting in our farmhouse kitchen.  I've had my eye on these metal cork holders since I saw a jumbo sized one at Revival Kitchen.  Kohl's has had them on their shelves throughout the summer, but I held off because with five kids at home, there's always something more pressing to spend your money on than a cork holder.  But today they were 70% off.  From the picture I can see that we either don't drink as much wine and champagne as I thought, or we've thrown some corks away over the past year.

I'm going to end on a more serious note and a snapshot from July, not August.  But I haven't seen our newborn grandson in a week because he's been having digestive problems and has been hospitalized.  I usually keep these things to myself, but I do believe in the power of prayer.  So to all my praying readers, I ask that you keep him in your nightly petitions.

Thank you and God Bless!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Bread Making 101

Today I finally made homemade bread again after a three-year hiatus.  And it felt good.  And it smelled great.  And it tasted delicious.  Here is the step-by-step process that used to come second nature to me as I did this several days every week for two straight years.  It takes some time, but nothing in the stores or even farmers' markets can compare to the bread you mix, knead, and bake yourself in your kitchen.

White Bread

Stir one package (1 Tablespoon) of dry yeast into 1/2 cup warm water and add 1/2 teaspoon of honey.  Let sit and get foamy.  Make sure the water is not too hot and not cold.

In a large bowl, add 4 cups hot water, 3 Tablespoons of shortening/lard/butter (you decide), 1 Tablespoon salt, and 3 Tablespoons honey.  Stir until honey is dissolved and your fat source has melted.  

Add 5 cups of unbleached flour and stir with large wooden spoon.  Once the mixture cools to a lukewarm temperature, add the yeast mixture.  Beat well.  Add 5 more cups of flour, one at a time and mixing well after each.

Once the dough is no longer sticky, flour your counter well, and turn out the dough onto the floured counter.  Also, flour your hands so the dough doesn't stick to you.

Begin kneading the dough.

Add more flour to the counter as needed.  I used some buckwheat flour because I ran out of the white.

And keep on kneading until the dough feels elastic and springy.

Keep kneading for about 10 minutes.  A willing helper is a definite asset.

Wash your mixing bowl and then generously grease the inside with oil or butter.

Plop your dough ball in the bowl and roll it around so it's coated with the oil.

Then cover it with a warm, damp cloth, dish towel, or a child's apron like I used here.  Place it in a warm, sunny area to let the dough rise.

It takes several hours for the dough to rise.  You get to leave the kitchen for awhile and do something else!

Once the dough has risen to about twice or thrice its original size and has air bubbles in it, you get to take out all of your frustrations in life on that bread dough.

Punch, punch, punch until all those air bubbles are gone.

I usually have several little people volunteering to participate in this part of the process.

Now you need to grease your bread pans, separate the dough into two or three balls, and put them in the pans.  Mine look a little lumpy because I didn't take the time to shape nice smooth loaves, but you might want to do that.  This recipe makes enough dough for 2 long loaf pans or 3 normal sized ones.

Cover them with that warm, damp cloth again and let them rise some more for another hour or so. 

Then bake them in a 400 degree oven.  The smaller loaves bake for about 30 minutes until they're slightly golden brown, and you tap on the tops, and they sound hollow.  I like to spread a little butter across the tops.

The large loaves bake a little longer.  35-40 minutes should suffice.  Let them cool for a few minutes before you turn them out on a cutting board.  Let them cool a little bit more before cutting, and if you turn them on their sides, they get less mangled when slicing. 

Ten minutes after pulling them out of the oven, one of the smaller loaves was devoured by my crew.  Mouths literally water around here when homemade bread is baking.  Give it a try this weekend.  Your family won't be disappointed.