Shoofly Coffee Cake and a Vintage Knitted Potholder

IMG_3271Here’s a cake that’s a kissing cousin to Shoofly Pie, which is so-called because its molasses sweetness apparently attracts flies. Perhaps not all that appetizing to think about! I can assure you, though, it’s too early in the season for any buzzing creatures to hover around this delicious coffee cake. It’s moist with sour cream and molasses and would be perfect for a picnic or potluck dinner, or for lunch boxes, for that matter. Here is the recipe:

Shoofly Coffee Cake

Grape Hyacinths

Grape Hyacinths

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup molasses
3 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/3 cups sour cream

Filling: Mix 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup finely chopped nuts and 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a Bundt cake pan. Prepare the filling and set aside. Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, and set aside. Mix softened butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and molasses in a large mixing bowl. Beat until thoroughly combined–about 300 vigorous strokes by hand. Stir in the flour mixture, alternating with the sour cream. Start and end with the flour, and stop stirring the moment it’s mixed in.

Spread 1/3 of the batter into the Bundt pan, and sprinkle with some of the filling. Repeat two times, ending by sprinkling the top with the filling. Bake until a skewer comes out dry–about 50 to 55 minutes. Cool slightly (about 10 minutes) before upending from pan onto plate. This cake can be refrigerated and kept on hand for up to five days.

Baking notes: As with much baking, starting out with well-softened butter is important. It shouldn’t be melting or separating, but it should be soft enough to mash and then beat with a spoon.  You can also bake this in two 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pans.



I’ve been on a potholder knitting binge, something that as a modern woman, I’m not sure I want to admit to. I should be leaning in! Rather be sitting and knitting potholders, though. This pattern came from an old copy (circa 1951) of Workbasket Magazine. It’s quite mesmerizing, like knitting your way around a mandala, and I am on my third one. Must stop! If you know the garter stitch, and how to slip a stitch, and make a yarn over, you can make this. I used Lily Sugar’n Cream cotton yarn, and two #3 double pointed needles.

Here are the instructions. I am hoping that you can highlight them, and run them off on a printer.



Here’s the Goldfinch of the Day–I just took his picture this morning. Goldfinches often seem deep in thought, though I’m pretty sure that’s not the case!


And here are a few more pictures of the grape hyacinths. The white flower is the perennial arabis.



Namaste. Fran

A Spicy Fruit Salad and a Noble Cardinal

IMG_3226And now for something completely different! Not a cookie! I have made this Spicy Fruit Salad several times, and it’s really delicious–juicy, sweet, hot, and tart–all at the same time. It calls for a mango, and while I can’t say I’m a mango expert, choose a mango that’s a bit soft, like a ripe peach or an avocado. In other words, don’t go by color. A ripe mango may be almost entirely green. I have also found that a slightly underripe mango is ok–it will be firmer, but still tasty. So that’s all I know about mangos! Here is the recipe:

Spicy Fruit Salad

1 cup chopped mango or papaya
8.25 ounce can of crushed pineapple, drained
1/4 cup finely slivered red onion
1/4 cup slivered sweet red pepper
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 to 4 teaspoons finely chopped fresh
jalapeño pepper
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

In a medium mixing bowl, toss together all the ingredients. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for several hours before serving to allow flavors to blend. Taste, and add more lemon juice, if necessary.

Notes: The original recipe called for 1 cup finely chopped fresh pineapple, but this made for a lot of chopping, and the well-drained crushed pineapple works well. I used a device called a mandoline slicer to slice the mango, red onion and red pepper (see below). This salad will still taste fresh and good without the ginger, but it does add a zing. You can make it as hot as you like by adding more jalapeño, or by sprinkling with chili powder.

Below is the mandoline slicer. It does a great job slicing and is easier to clean than a food processor.


I love the colors in this salad! It’s a pleasure to make.



I saw a cardinal perched behind our house and took some pictures. Sometimes I don’t know what I’m really seeing until I upload the images to the screen. I think this is an older cardinal who has lived through some winters. His beak is battered, and his crown a bit moth-eaten. Well, we can’t all be young and beautiful, and I admire his nobility and his gentle expression.

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This last picture looks like a cardinal selfie! It can’t be easy holding a selfie stick with a claw!

Jim and I drove across the river and walked through Bennett Park. The grounds were covered with these scilla. It was quite a sight!


It was a beautiful spring day! Namaste. Fran




Pansies and a Topsy-Turvy Banana Crunch Cake


IMG_3147Spring is a sort of delirium, and the last few days have brought roaring winds, including a tornado that flattened a town just fifty miles away, in DeKalb County. Birds have been in a state of twittering excitement and moments of knife-like cold alternate with balmy warmth. I can almost see the single-minded daffodils emerging from the wet earth. I never see Spring as being a sweet and pretty thing, and find it quite unsettling. I am thinking of the people, so nearby, who have lost their homes. The winds, the rains, the tropical warmth, the biting cold–it’s when I become aware of the power of the earth.

Flower-wise, though, Spring makes me think of pansies, and I bought a potful yesterday, just to enjoy their luscious colors. On an even more prosaic note, I had several bananas rapidly turning brown and unusable, and I had a Jiffy Mix for yellow cake, and decided to make the following Topsy-Turvy Banana Crunch Cake. I’ve made this twice, once to see what it was like–as it turned out, moist, fine-grained, utterly luscious–and then the second time to tweak and to photograph. This is the sort of thing that people devour–I found that everyone likes it, even nut haters.


Topsy-Turvy Banana Crunch Cake

One and a half medium bananas yielded 1/2 cup of mashed bananas.

One and a half medium bananas yielded 1/2 cup of mashed bananas.

1/3 cup uncooked old-fashioned oatmeal
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons chopped pecans
1 package (9 ounces) yellow cake mix (Jiffy Mix)
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mashed banana
1 slightly beaten egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-inch square baking pan.

Make topping: Combine oats, brown sugar, flour and cinnamon in a small bowl. Mix in butter with fingertips. Stir in pecans.

Combine cake mix, sour cream, banana and egg in medium bowl. With a big spoon, stir until combined, and then beat vigorously with about 100 strokes of the spoon. Spoon half of batter into prepared pan; sprinkle with half of oat topping. Top with remaining batter and topping.

Bake 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into center comes out clean. Cool completely before slicing.

Baking notes: The second time I made this, I threw in a handful of semi-sweet mini chips, and I upped the cinnamon from 1/4 teaspoon to 1/2 teaspoon. Otherwise, the recipe as it is, is a keeper, and is so convenient with the Jiffy Mix.

Here are the pansies, front and back.




Noticed this robin standing on the fence, looking noble as a king.



Here is puschkinia coming up through the leaves.


And here is a squirrel, also topsy-turvy. Take care. Fran




Making Fresh Chive Cheese

IMG_3061We are just on the cusp of Spring, and the chives are up and robins are everywhere, tussling with worms and with one another. I love seeing the chives, because it means Spring really is here, and, as you may have noticed, it takes a while to get here. Seeing the chives reminded me that I had seen a recipe for “Fresh Cheese with Chives,” in a cookbook called “The Soul of a New Cuisine,” by Marcus Samuelsson. Samuelsson is a chef, and an Ethiopian who was raised in Sweden, and who now lives in New York, so he is truly cosmopolitan! The cheese is an Ethiopian specialty and sounded interesting, because you didn’t need a thermometer or any special cheese culture to make it–just milk and fresh lemon juice. So I laid in a supply of lemons and got going. Making this cheese to so much fun, and it’s truly delicious–creamy, fresh and lemony. Here is how to make it . . .

IMG_3014Fresh Cheese with Chives

2 quarts whole milk (a half gallon)
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped chives

Bring the milk to a boil in a large pot over high heat Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the lemon juice. Reduce heat to low and stir constantly until curds begin to form. Remove from the heat.

By the way, I used two large lemons to make the lemon juice. I washed them, pierced them with the tip of a knife, and microwaved each of them for 30 seconds. Then I rolled them back and forth on the counter. This ensured getting the most juice out of each lemon. If you have smaller lemons, this might take 3 to 4 lemons.


The pan should be large enough to hold the two quarts of milk plus the lemon juice. This cast iron pot worked well.


What does the milk look like when it’s boiling? For one thing, it took about 12 to 15 minutes to come to a boil (stir occasionally), and it doesn’t need to be a full, rolling boil. See below.


The fun part is when you add the lemon juice! The curds start forming immediately, separately from the milky whey. The curds won’t be large.


Line a colander or sieve with cheesecloth. Spoon or ladle in the curdled milk. Take your time to allow the milk to drain through the sieve before ladling in more.


Rinse the curds gently under cool running water until the water runs clear. (I did this for about 3 minutes–my inner Ethiopian cheese maker wasn’t sure how long to do this!)


Place the colander or sieve over a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 8 hours to drain.

Discard any liquid, and stir the chives into the cheese. Chives are easy to snip with scissors. Season with salt to taste.

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I packed the cheese into a shallow can to mold it, but you could use any recycled container or even a small flower pot. Then I held my breath and unmolded it.


Beautiful! And truly delicious. It’s so fresh tasting.


You could get fancy with it.



You can even make little hors d’oeuvres with the crackers. Well, that was fun!


Meanwhile, the little irises continue to bloom . . .


And the robins are everywhere! Take care. Fran




The snowdrops are already on their way out. These have bent over in the rain.









Sour Cream Cherry Scones and House Finches

IMG_2979It’s still cold enough that baking up some scones and nibbling them with a cup of tea sounds appealing, though Spring keeps promising to arrive. I had run across a tasty-sounding recipe for Sour Cream Cherry Scones and decided to give them a whirl. As it turned out, they were delicious–buttery and toasty with tart spangles of dried cherries*. The plate in the above picture is fun–it’s a tin copy of a piece of Sevres porcelain. It’s pretty, but if I drop it, no big problem! And it cost a quarter at a garage sale. It’s my version of the good life!

Here is the recipe:

Sour Cream Cherry Scones

I used this "natural" sugar, which is a beautiful creamy brown, but I can't say it made any different in the scone flavor.

I used this “natural” sugar, which is a beautiful creamy brown, but I can’t say it made any different in the scone flavor.

2-1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
3/4 cups sour cream
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2/3 cups dried cherries*

1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 tablespoon sugar

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine topping ingredients and set aside.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Mix in butter with fork until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Combine sour cream, egg and almond extract and stir into flour mixture just until moistened. The mixture will be rough and shaggy. Stir in cherries.

Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead 8 to 10 times until smooth. Divide dough in half. Pat each into a 7-inch circle. Place two inches apart on baking sheet. Cut each circle into 8 wedges, and sprinkle with topping. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until scones are golden. Cool 15 minutes before separating scones.

Truth in baking notes: *I actually used cherry-flavored dried cranberries here, as the difference in price was considerable, and the flavor of the cranberries is good. Also, the recipe says to mix the butter into the flour with a fork, but I used my impeccably clean hands for this. I pick up a handful of butter and flour, and smear the butter into the flour with my other hand. I cut the softened butter into chunks before doing this (see photo below). I repeat this process until the flour and butter are combined. How you would actually do with a fork, I’m not sure.


Here is the mixture after the butter is rubbed in. It looks a bit like sand.


Here is the dough after kneading, and cut into two halves. Don’t knead it more than necessary, but don’t be afraid to knead it enough to pull it together smoothly.


I used a ruler to roughly measure the 7″, though you don’t have to be too persnickety. A wise chef once told me that if people want food that looks like it was made by a machine, they can go to the frozen food aisle and buy Sarah Lee. There’s a wisdom in this.


Here are the two circles of dough ready to go into the oven.


Out of the oven. Oh, yum.


On its faux Sevre porcelain plate.


The house finches are back, looking good.



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And my little Dutch irises are up, looking like jewels. Love ’em! Peace to you. Fran









Three Berry Gingerbread and the Robins are Back


This is a recipe I had wanted to try for a long time–it was a $400 winner in a Better Homes and Gardens Dessert contest in 1999. So I thought I’d better get to it! It is just as delicious as I had hoped–a moist, velvety gingerbread bursts with tart, juicy berries. It uses frozen berries, which are convenient and economical. (I used a frozen “berry medley” and removed the strawberries, which I think would add too much moisture.) It goes together easily, and would be perfect this summer baked using wild blackberries. Note to myself: Do this!

Here is the recipe:

Three Berry Gingerbread

This is the type of frozen berry medley I used--I removed the strawberries.

This is the type of frozen berry medley I used–I removed the strawberries.

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
a pinch of salt
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup molasses
3/4 cup warm water
1-1/2 cups frozen mixed berries
1 tablespoon additional flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 2-quart square baking dish. In a medium bowl combine the 2 cups flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and pinch of salt. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer and then add the brown sugar, beating thoroughly until well combined. Add the egg and molasses; beat one minute. Add the flour mixture and water alternately to beaten mixture just until combined. Toss the frozen berries (which you have kept in the freezer until the last minute) with the one tablespoon flour and fold into batter. Pour into the prepared baking dish.

Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for at least half an hour before cutting.


This shows the maelstrom of floured berries and batter as it is being stirred. It will only take a minute or so to combine.

Baking notes: This is a wonderful gingerbread recipe, but if I would change one thing it would be to amp up the ginger. Today I was at a nice little spice store in Geneva, Illinois, called the Spice House. They had crystallized ginger there, and if I had been thinking–which I don’t always!–I would have gotten some, chopped it up, and added it to this recipe. I think the spangles of ginger would be sensational, and would turn this from a wonderful recipe to something fantabulous. (While at the Spice House, I purchased a Madagascar vanilla bean, Hawaiian black salt, and something called Sunny Paris blend. This is a blend of shallots, green peppercorns, dill, basil and other herbs and is incredibly tasty.)

The recipe is supposed to be served with a Pudding Sauce, and I will give the recipe here. However, delicious as it may be–and I’m sure it’s ridiculously delicious–it will add a gazillion calories, and I really enjoyed this cake with fresh berries and a sprinkling of confectioners sugar. Still, you might want to go for it and try the sauce: In a small saucepan combine 1/3 cup sugar, 1/4 cup butter, and 1/4 cup half-and-half or cream. Bring to boiling, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and boil gently, uncovered for two minute. Stir constantly. Serve warm.

The robins are back! I’m so glad to see them. Suddenly, they’re everywhere, posing, warbling and fluttering around, and it’s just a joy.

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IMG_2912 IMG_2914 IMG_2916And here is a bird of another feather . . . I saw him as I walked along the Fox River.


And flowers are blooming–at least these flowers of our silver maple! Peace to you. Fran








Roasted Peanut Brownie Drops and a Bird Bath


Oh, yum. Roasted Peanut Brownie Drop cookies were an unexpected wild success for me, even though they came from the Pillsbury Best 10th Grand National Bake-Off Cookbook (circa 1958), and I like the older Bake-Off cookbooks because the bakers often brought time-tested and heirloom recipes to the contest. So I was expecting something pretty tasty. Still, I was surprised by how incredibly good these are. These Brownie drops were a “Bride Second Prize Winner,” and were from a Mrs. Frank Hill. They are soft and chocolatey and full of salty crunchy roasted peanuts. You can make them either with unsweetened baking chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate. Also, they can be made in a saucepan. Very difficult to stop eating these!


Here is the recipe:

Roasted Peanut Brownie Drops

Melt 1/2 cup butter with three one-ounce squares of unsweetened or semi-sweet chocolate in a saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Thoroughly stir in 1-1/2 cups of sugar. Add 3 unbeaten eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Blend in 1-1/2 cups sifted flour and one cup whole salted, roasted peanuts. Chill dough for two hours. The melted butter and chocolate will cool off and re-solidify.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls (or use a small cookie scoop) onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in 350 degree oven for 12-13 minutes or until cookies spring back when touched lightly.

Baking notes: There is no leavening or salt in this recipe. Be sure to chill the dough the full two hours before baking. I made the dough before dinner, and baked afterwards. The chilled consistency is very solid, which is why using a small cookie scoop works well here. If you haven’t used parchment paper yet in baking, this would be a good time to try it. Chocolate cookies are notorious for getting easily over baked or burned, but with the parchment, these baked like a dream. If you are not a peanut lover, giant chocolate chips would be good in these. Or shards of white chocolate. These would make the most fantastic ice cream sandwiches!



Spring is coming. I noticed this cardinal taking a bath in a little puddle–he seemed to be enjoying himself!

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Peace to you! Fran


First snowdrop of the season!