Wild Blueberry Cookies and a Little Brown Bird

IMG_3709These are the most old fashioned of old-fashioned cookies: soft, buttery blueberry cakes with explosions of jammy blueberry flavor in every bite. The recipe comes from John Hadamuscin’s Enchanted Evenings cookbook, a favorite of mine to dream over. In a better world, I would cook the elaborate menus and recipes from this book, and set the beautiful tables. In this world, I can barely manage this one cookie recipe. But it’s a good one! Also, I have a confession to make: Illinois not being the wild blueberry capital of the world, the above cookies are made with just regular blueberries. But the originals were made with wild blueberries, from Blueberry Island in upstate New York. So I am using my imagination. But if you do somehow have wild blueberries, by all means use them. The glaze is my addition. One bite and I knew this cookie was great, but needed a kick in the pants. So I made a glaze with confectioners sugar and fresh lemon juice, and it did the trick.

Wild Blueberry Cookies

IMG_37072-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk or cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups blueberries, wild or tame (1 pint)

Glaze: 1 cup of confectioners sugar, the juice of one lemon, and additional milk or cream to make a glaze.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment. In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices. In a separate large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar, and then beat in the egg. Stir the dry ingredients into the butter mixture alternately with the milk, and then gently fold in the blueberries. Don’t stir a moment longer than necessary.

Drop the dough on the lined baking sheet with a 1/4-cup ice cream scoop. Bake for about 16 to 17 minutes–the cookie should be fully puffed up and lightly browned on the top. While the cookies are still warm, make the glaze and spoon with careless abandon over the tops. Remove to racks to cool.

Baking notes: Wild blueberries are small, and the original cookies were measured out by teaspoonfuls. With the large blueberries, I made larger cookies.


The gardening is exploding–with all the rain, flowers are popping open everywhere and everything is taller and bigger than usual. Even the hostas are shinier. That’s okay!

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I really loved seeing this little brown bird. Lately, I’ve been pretty tired of seeing politicians of all stripe–and I loved seeing this little creature who pretends to be nothing other than what she is–just a little brown bird. I love her for it!

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Toasted-Nut Shortbread and a Kitty


The Toasted-Nut Shortbread is shown on a flow blue platter, in a bed of lemon thyme.

Since I like butter, in or on anything (unfortunately for my waistline), I am a big fan of shortbread cookies, which are basically butter in cookie form. Here is a recipe for “Toasted-Nut Shortbread,” from a cookbook called Gourmet’s Casual Entertaining. It’s basically a giant, crisp, melt-in-the-mouth shortbread cookie with a cute scalloped edging. The toasted nuts and toasty butter flavor of the cookie are. well, both toasty and tasty. This would go well with sugared summer fruits, such as nectarines or peaches, plus some whipping cream whipped with a bit of brandy and powdered sugar. The cookie could be made the day ahead. It’s so crisp, diners can just snap a piece off. Perfect for summer entertaining!

Toasted-Nut Shortbread

IMG_36521 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
1/4 cup chopped assorted nuts, toasted

Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Blend together butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a bowl with a large spoon. Sift in flour and blend with a fork or fingertips until mixtures forms a soft dough. Pat into a rough oval. Transfer to the lined baking sheet, and roll out into a 9- by 4-1/2 inch rectangle. Crimp edges decoratively and prick dough all over with a fork. Sprinkle with nuts and press gently into dough with your fingertips.

Bake in middle of oven until edges are golden, about 15 minutes.

Baking notes: The original recipe called for superfine sugar, but using regular sugar resulted in a wonderfully tender cookie. I used a ruler to check the measurements of the dough when rolling out, and recommend it. The one persnickety thing about shortbread is how soft the butter is–you don’t want it to be melted, but it should be just soft enough to cream with a spoon. Also, if your crimped edge has flattened out a bit when the cookie baked, quickly re-make the indentations with the back of a dinner knife while the cookie is still hot.


And now I come to a bit of shameless self-indulgence. We have adopted a new cat, and have named him Puff. I took a few pix, and can’t resist showing him off! He’s a big cat, so the next photos show first his top, then his middle, then his paws.

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Lastly, it’s daylily season, a joyous time of the gardening year! Take care. Fran

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A+ Brown-Sugar Brownies and a Cute Goldfinch

IMG_3615A favorite cookbook of mine is called “The Picnic Gourmet,” published in 1975. One of the authors is Joan Hemingway, granddaughter of Earnest Hemingway. It’s nostalgic for me, from a time when all things seemed possible for me and for my generation. The cover is intriguing: The diners have apparently dragged a dining room table up the mountainside, along with a Persian carpet, a full set of china and an incredible feast, including a platter of roasted chicken, a carafe of coffee, three bottles of wine, and homemade bread under a starched napkin. Nowadays I feel lucky if we stop at the 7-11 and grab a submarine sandwich and some pop for a picnic. So it was a different world.

I got my copy second hand, and the previous owner has commented on many of the recipes: “Delicious!” “Vince & Susan picnic 4/01,” etc. This recipe for Brown-Sugar Brownies was rated A+, and I had to try it. My first surprise was that these brownies didn’t contain any chocolate. The definition of “brownie” used to be much looser than it is now–almost any chewy bar cookie was called a brownie.

A+ Brown-Sugar Brownies

IMG_36161/4 cup butter
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 9-inch square pan and line with parchment paper. Grease lightly again. Cream the softened butter and sugar until light. Beat in the egg and the vanilla and beat well. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Fold into the sugar mixture. Stir in nuts.

The batter will be thick. Spread in pan and bake for about 18 minutes. The original recipe called for 25 minutes, but my brownies got golden brown at about 18.

Baking notes: Be sure to use real butter. This is a simple recipe, and every ingredient counts. The impulse to add chocolate chips to this recipe is almost irresistible, but the buttery praline flavor is perfect as it is!


Seven Sisters climbing rose

I almost titled this post “A+ Brown-Sugar Brownies and a Punk Rock Goldfinch,” but I was afraid you’d be expecting a goldfinch playing a guitar. It’s his his feathery “do” that seems punk rocker-ish to me–he was leaning over into a bird bath drinking water before I took these pix.


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Flowers are the Keepers of Our Joy

IMG_3563We all go through phases, and right now I’m in the phase of throwing things out. Amvets knows to call me–do I have anything for them? Yes, boxloads! This didn’t stop me, however, from buying this singing wren at an antique store last Tuesday, or the little vase and the plaque, each for a quarter, at a recent garage sale. Flowers are the Keepers of Our Joy . . . love it! So I put everything together in a tableau, along with some rain-dewed roses and a sprig of catmint.

If I don’t bake anything for a while, I get weird withdrawal symptoms . . . must, bake, something. So I found a nice little recipe for cookies made with M&M® mini baking bits. They looked cute and colorful. Only problem, my local grocery store didn’t have mini bits. But I did find some M&M® pretzel bits, and they looked just as cute and colorful, so I used them. These cookies are tender and buttery, with pockets of pretzel-y crispiness. The pretzel bits are big, so the the cookies are lumpy. So don’t bother using a cookie scoop–just roll them as best you can into balls.


M&M’S® Pretzel Cookies

IMG_35741 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
9.90 oz. bag of M&M® pretzel bits
handful of chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl. cream together softened butter and sugars, until evenly combined. Mix in egg and vanilla until fluffy. Combine flour, baking soda and salt, and stir into butter mixture. Then add the pretzel bits and chocolate chips. Form into balls (about a tablespoon of dough) and place onto parchment-paper lined baking sheet. Bake for about 13 minutes, or until bottoms are golden brown.

Baking notes: I through in the chocolate chips just to amp up the chocolate a bit. Also, I overbaked one batch by a few minutes, and they were still crispy and good.

Meanwhile, it has rained, and the irises and roses have posed for their portraits, shimmering with raindrops and looking even more beautiful than usual. Flowers are the keepers of our joy.







Mystery Cat

Lastly, we have missed out dear cat Moose so much that yesterday we went back to the Anderson Animal Shelter and immediately met our new cat. I call him Mister Kitty, but we are mulling over other names. Meanwhile, he has vanished. Cats do this, so I’m not alarmed, but he is a big cat, almost as big as a Jersey cow. So an absolutely enormous cat is here, somewhere, and we are waiting for him to emerge. It will be exciting when he finally appears! Fran




A Robin Singing His Heart Out

Experts on such things say that robins sing to attract mates or to claim territory. I’m sure this is true, but I can’t help but think that a note of joy has crept into the robin agenda. This robin isn’t worrying that he is perched on a crooked old antenna and perhaps should be dissatisfied. So although I wonder about the state of the human world, I can attest that the robin world seems fine! So if you excuse that this is a one-note post, here is a robin singing his heart out.

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Garden Walk

In the past week, the air has been cool, fresh and moist, and you can almost hear the garden growing. Everything seems to be blossoming at the same time, and I hear the cheeping of baby birds everywhere, though the nests are carefully hidden. So I thought I would take you for a walk through the garden–hope you enjoy. The flowers include celandine poppies, mayapples, jack-in-the-pulpit, dame’s rocket, lunaria, wild columbine, wild geranium, and sweet cicely (the white fluffy flower). And, of course, there’s a chipmunk and a catbird!

Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies

IMG_3436Making this recipe for Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies is a sensory joy, not only because they are a delight to the tastebuds, but because the vanilla sugar, which is one of the ingredients, will perfume the whole house. I purchased my vanilla bean at a local spice store, but they can usually be found in the herb and spice section of a grocery store. They seem to vary greatly in price, so you might want to shop around. The cookie is basically a butter cookie perfumed with real vanilla beans and encased in a crackly vanilla sugar crust. The vanilla sugar is made first and allowed to dry. Seeds from a vanilla bean are then scraped into the butter cookie dough for a double vanilla whammy. Yum! Here is the recipe:

Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies

vanilla bean

vanilla bean

Vanilla Sugar
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 vanilla bean
1 egg
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

To make the vanilla sugar, combine 1 cup sugar and 1/2  teaspoon vanilla in a small bowl. Spread onto a piece of waxed paper and let stand while you make the cookie dough.

Heat oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine 1 cup sugar and 3/4 cup butter in a large bowl. Beat until light and fluffy. Split the vanilla bean with the tip of a sharp knife, and scrape out the seeds. They are tiny and moist, and will seem like a paste. Add to the butter mixture and beat in. Add egg, and continue beating. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt together, and stir into the butter mixture.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Dip top of each ball into water, then in vanilla sugar. The sugar may have caked up–loosen by mashing with a fork. Place 2 inches apart onto cookie sheet, and bake for about 12 minutes, or until bottom of cookie is golden.


split bean and seeds


You can see the tiny vanilla seeds, if you look closely.

The scraped bean can be added to the leftover sugar and used in another recipe.

The scraped bean can be added to the leftover sugar and used in another recipe.

IMG_3441Last week I went to Hausermann’s Orchids and purchased a vanilla orchid. Yes, vanilla plants are orchids. They flower and produce vanilla pods. I have seen (and inhaled) pods from Madagascar and Tahiti–one is more flowery than the other, and one is more spicy, though I can’t remember which is which! I doubt that my plant will produce pods, but it’s fun to have, nevertheless.



Meanwhile, flowers are popping up everywhere, including the above forget-me-nots. These are escapees in the alley behind my house.


This is a perennial geranium–Geranium macrorrhizum  (bigroot geranium). Below are the beautiful, jewel-like buds.


And, lastly, a cute little chickadee, stopping by the feeder. Peace to you. Fran