Lemon Sugar Crisp Cookies, Vintage Mitttens and a Stalwart Sparrow

IMG_2270Browsing through my cookbook collection, which is pretty big, is one of my favorite ways of relaxing. A pile of cookbooks, a cat on my lap, a cup of coffee, and I am a happy women. This is by way of explaining how I came across Lemon Sugar Crisp Cookies in the Hay Day Country Market Cookbook. (This is a wonderful cookbook, and can be purchased at Amazon for one penny plus shipping.) I made up a batch and was instantly smitten. They are buttery, crispy and lemony. Or lemony, crispy and buttery. Or–well you get the picture. Any way you phrase it, these are keepers–modest in appearance, but with a fabulous lemony crispness. These could become your favorite cookie recipe, so be forwarned!

Here is the recipe, which makes about 32 cookies:

Lemon Sugar Crisp Cookies

IMG_22678 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup superfine sugar
1 egg yolk
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon lemon extract
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a cookie sheet, or line with parchment.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk, lemon zest and lemon extract. Mix well. Add the flour and salt, and blend until mixture is moistened. Roll the dough into little balls–about a heaping measuring teaspoon in quantity or about one inch across. Place them on the prepared cookie sheet at least 2 inches apart. Bake, rotating the sheet once until cookies are golden brown around the edges, about 12 to 15 minutes.

Baking notes: Superfine sugar can be purchased at the grocery store, or you can make it yourself in a blender. Just add the sugar to the blender, whizz for a few seconds, stop to stir it a bit with a spoon, and then whizz and stir two more times. The sugar will become powdery. Why use the fresh lemon zest and the extract? Both are just a little bit different, and together deliver a fresh lemony punch. You can use a larger amount of dough for each cookie, but the cookie will be soft and chewy. Also, the first time I made these, I was watching a special on TV about the space probe landing on the comet. I was so interested that I forgot about the cookies. They came out a deep golden brown, and were incredibly delicious, with a lemon toffee flavor. It’s hard to go wrong with these!

Here are the cookies on a flow blue platter I purchased at an antique store this weekend–it was a steal! I love flow blue, and it looks nice with the cookies.


I probably don’t have to explain to the knitters among you why I have picked up my needles and am working on a pair of mittens. With the brisk weather, I can hardly wait to wear them! I found the pattern in an old booklet I have from Bucilla–it has some really nice old-fashioned mitten patterns. To my joy, I found a wonderful website called Free Vintage Knitting, which has the pattern for these mittens. They are called Classic Mittens. I am knitting the mittens in a decidedly un-vintage color called Boysenberry, which is a luscious purple-red. The yarn is from Red Heart. This mitten is knitted in a circle on four needles, and I urge you to give it a try. Once you see your beautiful, seamless mittens forming, I think you’ll be delighted. However, they offer a two-needle version, which is also very nice and will keep you just as warm.


Here is the little antique hat box I use to store knitting paraphernalia. It’s covered with wallpaper, and lined with the pages of an old dictionary.


There is a bank of forsythia bushes across the alley, and birds congregate there and make quite a racket. I know if I stand quietly, hiding near a juniper tree, that I can catch a few photos. This time there were sparrows of all kinds, and I particularly enjoyed seeing this stalwart sparrow. I usually try to avoid anthropomorphizing birds, but it has occurred to me that perhaps all of us living creatures share qualities of bravery and fortitude, and that these impulses are not confined to human beings. At any rate, here is the stalwart sparrow.



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It was a windy, feather-ruffling sort of day.

Perhaps he ttys to defend the younger, more clueless sparrows.

Perhaps the stalwart sparrow tries to defend the younger, more clueless sparrows.

A trio on watch.

A trio on watch.

But here, a cardinal shows us why he is the king!


Peace to you! Fran


Apricot Gold Bar Cookies and a Lady Cardinal


No, I am not an alchemist who can change dross into gold bars suitable for depositing into Fort Knox. (If only!) I’m just a baker presenting these delicious Apricot Gold Bars, suitable for munching on. Anyway, some would say a really good cookie recipe is worth it’s weight in gold, and these are really, really good. A tender, melt-in-the mouth bar cookie veined with golden apricot jam, crunchy with walnuts, and tasting of butter–almost with a shortbread flavor–these merit an A++. I will definitely be thinking of these come Christmas. Dusted with powdered sugar, and presented in little paper cups, they would be suitable for the richest holiday table. Here is the recipe. By the way, the golden pears in the above photo are from my friend Susan, from the pear tree in her backyard. Thank you, Susan!

Apricot Gold Bars

1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-3/4 cups flour
pinch of salt
1 cup chopped walnuts (see Baking Note)
1/2 cup apricot jam

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9″ square pan, and line with parchment paper. Grease again.

Thoroughly beat together the sugar and softened butter. Add the egg and vanilla, and beat until totally incorporated. Add the flour and pinch of salt (mix together beforehand), and mix thoroughly. (This is most quickly accomplished by using your impeccably clean hands.) Then stir in the nuts. The dough will be a bit stiff. Pat half of the dough into the bottom of the pan. Stir the apricot jam until smooth, and spread it across the dough. Drop blobs of the dough over the top, covering as best you can–the dough will spread and cover the bare spots. Bake for 50 minutes. Allow to cool before cutting.

Baking notes: The dough will seem stiff, but it bakes up tender and crunchy. I only used 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts, since they are becoming almost as expensive as gold themselves. This worked fine. Be sure your butter is well softened. I do this in the microwave, microwaving them on a very low power for a minute.


The birds have been flocking to the feeder, getting ready for the winter. I love this female cardinal, whose sweetness of expression is so endearing. Again, I wonder–what is she thinking?




It was very windy when I took this picture, and the wind is ruffling her feathers!



Glamour shot!

Just wanted to share a picture of these “flowers” with you. My sister-in-law Leah brought them over for Jim’s birthday. I thought they were real roses, just for a moment, before realizing that they are an ornamental kale! I will definitely be seeking out more of these next fall!


This little fellow is getting ready for winter, too. Peace to you. Fran



Brown Sugar Blueberry Banana Bread and a Sweet Little Finch

IMG_2098I had blueberries–I had bananas–I was in the kitchen near a stove–I was dangerous. Soon I found myself baking up a recipe for Brown Sugar Blueberry Banana Bread. As it turns out, it’s a wonderful combination, and I don’t think I’ll make plain banana bread again. The tart blueberry flavor plays off the bland banana sweetness in such a nice way, and I subbed brown sugar for plain white for more flavor. The crumb is moist and velvety. Here’s the recipe . . .

Brown Sugar Blueberry Banana Bread

IMG_21002 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup softened butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup mashed banana (about 3 smallish bananas)
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

Grease a 9 x 5″ loaf pan. (You can also grease and line it with parchment paper.) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. (325 if you are using a Pyrex pan.)

Mix together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.

Cream the softened butter with the brown sugar and add the eggs, one at a time. beating well. Add the flour mixture and stir until nearly completely incorporated–it will seem a bit floury. Then add the banana and blueberries; stir just until combined. Scrape into the prepared pan, and bake for 60 to 70 minutes.

Baking notes: I made this using a big spoon, not a mixer, and it turned out fine. Just be sure to really vigorously stir the batter after the eggs have been added–aim for about 100 stirs. This recipe came from a community cookbook, and I always like to check baking times and temperatures with a standard cookbook like Betty Crocker’s. Turns out, this recipe is the Betty Crocker banana bread recipe, just with blueberries added! With the brown sugar, the blueberries, and the added vanilla, though, this has morphed into something else altogether.


Finches, both gold and house, have been spending long sessions at the feeder. The goldfinches especially, sit quietly nibbling for long stretches of time. This little finch perched on the suet cage long enough that I could take her picture. I love her little claws!





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Lastly, I haven’t been seeing many robins lately, until today–they were on the roof and the birdbath, perhaps getting ready for the trip south. Peace to you. Fran




Baking and Birdwatching

IMG_2010Hi–I’ve been baking and birdwatching–in other words, the usual! I’ve found a great recipe for a Chocolate-Hazelnut Swirl Bread that I’d like to share. It’s a variation on a common sour cream coffee cake recipe, but adding the hazelnuts and milk chocolate  chips makes it especially delish. It’s moist and buttery and easy to make, but it looks like you found it at a fancy bakeshop. This is another recipe to bookmark for the holidays!


Chocolate-Hazelnut Swirl Bread

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
1/3 cup finely chopped hazelnuts
1/3 cup milk chocolate chips
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9 x 5″ loaf pan by greasing with shortening, or by using parchment paper (grease pan, cut parchment paper to fit and smooth into pan, grease lightly again). Prepare the TOPPING and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in extracts. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; add to the creamed mixture alternately with the sour cream.

Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle with two-thirds of the topping, and top with remaining batter. Sprinkle with remaining topping. Bake for about 60 minutes or until skewer inserted comes out clean. Cool in pan for about 15 minutes before removing and slicing.

Baking notes: I recommend baking this in a light-colored metal loaf pan. There are a lot of pans out there that may be more decorative, including ceramic and stoneware, but they are best for bread recipes. Dark-colored metal pans allow the crust to brown too quickly. The hazelnuts I purchased were in a small bag that contained only 1/4 cup. More hazelnuts, which are delicious, would be nice, but the 1/4 cup amount worked. One trick to having a light coffee cake is to set your eggs, butter and sour cream out an hour before baking. You will have a higher, fluffier loaf.


In one of the pictures above, a crocheted pot holder peeks out. I had picked up an old potholder at a garage sale and decided to make a few more like it. It’s crocheted with medium-weight crochet cotton using a few simple stitches. It’s the perfect project to work on while watching tv–there’s nothing complicated to distract you!


Cotton Crocheted Potholders

These directions are for the beige potholder above. Use a medium-weight crochet cotton (size 3) and a Size E crochet hook.

Crochet a chain of 33 loops. Turn, skip a loop, and double crochet across. Continue this until you have a 5″ square. Make one more square, so you have two squares. Hold squares together and crochet them together by doing a single crochet through the edge loops of both squares, crocheting three single crochets in all four corners. Cut off the beige crochet thread, and pick up the cream colored thread in a corner.

To make scalloped edging: Skip one single crochet and make five double crochets in next single crochet stitch, skip one single crochet and slip stitch into next single crochet. Repeat around.

The cream-colored potholder was made in a similar fashion, only I used single crochet, and crocheted in the back loops to create a ridged pattern.


Original potholder.

Back to birds! I was sitting out in the garden when I saw this sparrow sitting in the sunshine.

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Lastly, a noble cardinal, and some beautiful clouds. Peace to you. Fran








Seeing Red

IMG_1959It’s a beautiful fall day, and I’m seeing red leaves and red birds, and in this case, the red cranberries in this recipe called “Cranberry Marzipan Bars.” I’d been meaning to try this for quite awhile, and today finally saw fresh cranberries for sale at the local grocery store. Marzipan is made of almonds crushed to a paste and mixed with sugar–it’s a luxury item and quite expensive. So you may be glad to know that there is no actual marzipan in these bars–it only tastes like it! It’s also incredibly easy–you make it in a saucepan–and delicious and buttery. It cuts beautifully and needs no frosting, except for a sprinkle of powdered sugar. I will be mentally bookmarking this recipe for the holidays–it’s a gem. It would be nice served with pistachio ice cream for Christmas.

(Have you ever heard of a recipe that is too good? Well, this is it. I have packed up the bars and sent them off with Jim to the art studio where he is a member. Artists are always hungry, and I  know that I would be in serious danger if left alone with them!)

Cranberry Marzipan Bars

1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup chopped fresh cranberries
Confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Then add the sugar, beaten eggs, vanilla extract, almond extract, flour and baking powder.  Stir in the chopped cranberries. Pour into a greased 9 x 13″ pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown on top. Let cool and sift confectioners sugar on top. Cut into squares to serve.


Golden brown and fresh from the oven.

Baking notes: Preparing the fresh cranberries is the most time-consuming part of this recipe. I washed about a cup of whole cranberries in a colander and shook the colander well to shake off excess water. Then I took a fresh kitchen towel and used it to scoop up the cranberries to dry them. Then chop coarsely. The result will be about a cup of chopped cranberries.

I lined the pan with parchment paper. When you do this, first lightly grease the pan. Then line with the paper, smoothing it down. Then lightly grease the paper. This sounds involved, but it only takes a few moments, and it guarantees that the bars will cut beautifully, and not stick to the pan.


A vivid red cardinal visited the feeder this morning.IMG_1949 IMG_1952 IMG_1953 IMG_1954 IMG_1955


The lovely female cardinal.

On the way home from the grocery store this morning I picked up some leaves to press. When they are dry, in about two weeks, I can frame them.

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Continuing in the red vein . .


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Peace to you. Fran

Fall Day

Photographing a bird brings me into the bird’s world–I find myself wondering what they are experiencing or thinking. I don’t know what this little house finch is thinking, but I do see the spirit of life in her eyes.


Seeing the smallness and fragility of birds has done more to make me care about our environment than any statistic. We are all in this beautiful world together.


Two friends. Well, maybe not friends, exactly, but they are coexisting peacefully!


Not sure how to segue from birds to chocolate cake, but here goes . . .

Fall means apples to me, and I guess it means chocolate, as well, because yesterday I found myself baking a Chocolate Applesauce Cake, from an Italian cookbook called The Golden Book of Chocolate, first published in Florence, Italy. Books like this can be treacherous, because stuff can get lost in translation. But in this case, the cake was molto delizioso! It’s moist and fine textured with a mild chocolate flavor. And, it’s easy to make with just a spoon and a bowl, and calls for ingredients you may already have on hand. And, sprinkling it with almonds and chocolate chips finishes it off nicely, with no need for frosting.


Chocolate Applesauce Cake

IMG_18891 cup flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup semisweet pieces
1/2 cup sliced almonds, walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8″ square pan, and then line with parchment paper. Mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Beat the softened butter, sugar and vanilla in another bowl until creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Gradually beat in the dry ingredients, alternating with the applesauce. Soon the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle with the chocolate chips and nuts. Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cake completely in the pan before cutting.

Baking notes: This cake really is easy and good. If I had one quibble, it’s that for a chocolate fiend like myself, the chocolate flavor could use amping up. I will add another tablespoon of cocoa powder the next time. Or, you could keep the cocoa quantity the same, and add a half teaspoon of cinnamon.


I have been taking photos of fallen leaves . . .  kind of amazed at how profligate nature is. Peace to you. Fran



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Shortbread Fans and a Ball of Fluff

IMG_1858From a January 1969 issue of Gourmet comes this wonderful recipe for Shortbread Fans. They are easy to make, have buttery shortbread flavor, and are a bit of a conversation piece! They would be wonderful for a tea party. Here is the recipe . . .

Shortbread Fans

In a bowl sift together 1 cup flour, 1/3 cup sugar, and a pinch of salt. Add one stick or 1/2 cup of soft butter, broken into pieces, and work the mixture with the fingertips until it is mealy. Continue to work the dough until it forms a ball. Wrap it in waxed paper and chill it for about one hour.

Roll out the dough about 1/4 inch thick on a lightly floured board and cut out circles about 3-1/2 inches in diameter. With a sharp knife cut each circle into quarters and score each quarter with the back of a knife in several places to resemble the ribs of a fan. Place the cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 12 to 14 minutes, or until they are lightly browned. While the cookies are still hot sprinkle them with sugar.

Baking notes: When you are rubbing the butter into the flour/sugar mixture, you may wonder if it will come together, but proceed! Kneading it a bit right at the end will bring it all together. Rolling the dough to 1/4″ will result in a slightly soft cookie; rolling to 1/8″ will yield a crisper cookie.

Make this cookie your own: These are small cookies; use a larger cutter for bigger fans. Using lightly tinted pale rose sugar could be beautiful. Mix one tablespoon of sugar with a tiny bit of red food coloring until the sugar is a pale pink. If you have a rose geranium plant, bury a leaf in a jar of sugar for a week or so, and use the scented sugar for sprinkling. Or you could use edible glitter. Or, you could dip the curved edge of the cookie in melted chocolate. Or, make the cookie bigger, and when its done baking, poke a hole near the handle of the fan. Thread with silk ribbon and hang it on the Christmas tree. Also, a couple of these would be perfect to adorn a scoop of ice-cream for dessert. Or (!), dip the edge of the cookie in melted white chocolate and then into sanding sugar (a coarse, sparkling sugar). Oh, yum! Just thought of something else–sandwich two fans together with lemon curd or melted chocolate.


Butter cut into chunks before rubbing in.

Below–You really don’t need lots of fancy utensils to bake. I am using a recycled beer bottle here to roll out the dough. This is not such a crazy idea–it works perfectly. (I have left the label on here just to show where it came from–you should remove the label before rolling.) In the old days there were porcelain rolling pins that could be filled with cold water to help keep the dough cool as it was rolled out. You could do the same with this bottle, using a cork as a stopper. If you don’t have a 3-1/2″ round cutter, a tuna fish can works well. This one was 3-1/4″–close enough!


Use the dull side of a dinner knife blade to score dough. Score as deeply as you can without actually cutting through the cookie.




This little ball of fluff is a young sparrow. Couldn’t be sweeter!

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IMG_1791IMG_1789 IMG_1790Peace to you! Fran