Israeli White Cheese and Green Olives

I briefly thought of making cookies today and then came to my senses. The temperature is soaring, and I feel like eating something light and cool. I had been looking last night at a cookbook called “Jewish Cooking,” by Marlena Spieler, and had come across  this Israeli White Cheese and Olive spread. It looked as fluffy and cool as snow, I have the fresh thyme, so all systems were go.

The recipe did call for farmer’s cheese and I wondered if I could find it. Here’s the thing: a lot of stores nowadays have two separate areas for cheese–the fancy schmancy expensive cheese area, and the regular old cheese area. The farmer’s cheese will be in the regular old cheese area, probably under the grated cheese. If you can’t find it, ricotta will serve, but is not quite the same. Otherwise, the ingredients are simple and easy to locate. We will be having this for lunch. (Update: It’s gone! Totally.)

Israeli White Cheese and Green Olives

1 cup farmer’s cheese
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
20-30 pitted green olives, some chopped, the rest halved or quartered
2-3 garlic cloves, put through garlic press
sprigs of fresh thyme, if available
kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

If you don’t have fresh thyme, a quarter teaspoon of dried thyme can be sprinkled over the spread.
I used about about 20 olives, but if you like a more olive-y flavor you could use more. This recipe will be very interesting to try with different kinds of olives.
This shows the texture of farmer’s cheese. While you can use ricotta, farmer’s cheese is fluffier and tangier. Actually, it’s amazingly delicious, and I am already thinking of more ways to use it.
The crumbled feta.
Mix to combine and to break up any large chunks of feta, but the mixture won’t be smooth.
Add the olives, thyme and chopped garlic to the cheese mixture, along with a sprinkling of kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Mix and spoon into a bowl. Sprinkle with more thyme. I also sprinkled on some Aleppo red pepper. If you are interested in Middle Eastern food, you have to try Aleppo red pepper, which can be found at the World Market. It’s somewhat hot, but not blisteringly so, and it has a a delicious red pepper flavor.

Serve with crackers and fruit, if desired.

Notes: Don’t skimp on the olives, as the olives, fresh garlic and salty feta are in the ring duking it out with each other, and the creamy taste of fresh cheese brings it all together. I briefly thought of making fresh pita bread for this, and, again, came to my senses. These Town House Pita Crackers worked perfectly. The fluffy cheese mixture on the crackers, topped with a few thyme leaves is so pretty that a platter of them could be prepared as an appetizer.

You will have left over farmer’s cheese and feta–enough to make another batch in a few days.


Last summer,  out at a local nature area, we saw our first Baltimore oriole, amazed at its neon orange breast. So we were astonished to see an oriole at our hummingbird feeder last week. Since then orioles have been showing up every day. An amazing bird.

It dive-bombed the hummingbird at this feeder, and took its place.

This shows the soft beauty of his feathers.
Then he flew away!

And it’s iris season.


Since my Mom died ten days ago, I feel as though I had been riding steadily in an airplane for years, and have suddenly fallen out and am still falling. But this poem makes me think of her, how much she loved life. It’s called “I Thank you God for this Most Amazing,” by e.e. cummings.

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

e.e. cummings

Peace to you. Fran


In Memory of my Mom

Me and my Mom on my fifth birthday.

I am writing this post in honor of my Mom, Gwyneth Lyon, who passed away on Wednesday, May 16. She was 97. She died peacefully, between one breath and the next.

Anyone who has lost a parent knows of the avalanche of memories that pour forth upon their passing. Vivid memories, both painful and joyous, spring up in our hearts. I find myself returning to our summer vacations in Wisconsin and Michigan, when we went berry picking. Right now, I am thankful to her.

Galewood Community Church, Chicago, Illinois

I am thankful to my Mom for bringing us into the Church, in particular, the Galewood Community Church, in Chicago, Illinois. It was a Congregational church, and it was where I was confirmed and married. I took so much of what I was given there for granted! The kindness and good wishes of so many people, now scattered and gone.

Last night I found my copy of the 75th Anniversary Cookbook of Galewood Community Church (from 1987)—more memories! I love church cookbooks: they are about so much more than recipes. They represent communities of women who supported each other during the harrowing experiences of so-called ordinary life, including dealing with recalcitrant children. I myself was nearly lost to alienation–I am still recovering. I think the anchor of those church years and the presence of those good people in my heart saved me.

Here is one of my Mom’s recipes, called a Mystery Cobbler. I have to say, I don’t remember her actually making it! But this was, like so much of my life, a long time ago. Here is the recipe.

The ingredients. The can size of the peaches has only gone down an ounce in the intervening years.
Melt the butter in a battered old pan.
Whisk the batter for about one minute.
The batter poured into the pan. Looks unpromising, I know.
I neatly arranged the peach slices in rows, not knowing if they would sink or not.
The peaches sank! You can put them on any way you want. Jim and I ate two big spoonfuls of the cobbler, with some cream. The peaches melted in your mouth.

When we were done eating, we said a toast to Mom. An unorthodox ceremony of remembrance, but I think she would understand.

When we came home from the nursing home and being with her, I looked outside the front door and saw this . . . our heavenly Earth.

I thank my Mom for all that she gave me. Peace to you. Fran

Sour Cream Chocolate Chunk Cookies

When I first pulled these cookies out of the oven, I was every so slightly disappointed. Not crushed, just a little let down. The recipe, from Baker’s Book of Chocolate Riches, was a chocolate chip cookie that included sour cream in the ingredients, along with chunks of chocolate, not chips, and I was interested to see how they would turn out. In my mind’s eye, I saw them as swirling pools of brown sugary deliciousness, with mountainous crags of chocolate, and when they turned out to look like yer average chocolate chip cookie, I felt a little let down.

So I let them cool, and took my first bite. Whoa, mama! Are these the best chocolate chip cookies ever? Maybe, if you like very soft, moist, cake-like cookies, that contain a motherload of melty chocolate. When you take your first bite, you will see a wall of chocolate. I’ve had to restrain myself.

They are actually like chocolate chip cookie/cakes, and with their slightly crispy surface and soft interior, they are right up my alley. And, as you can see, they are extra large. I mean, if I had a dream that my pillow had turned into a giant chocolate chip cookie, it would be this cookie.This is another cookie that would be so good for a picnic, or in lunches or just for munching on. Here is the recipe.

Sour Cream Chocolate Chunk Cookies

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1/4 cup sour cream
1 package Baker’s semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped or
Nestle’s chocolate chunks (about 3/4 of 11.5 oz. bag)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Mix flour, soda and salt. Cream butter. Gradually beat in sugars and continue beating until light and fluffy. Blend in vanilla, egg and sour cream. Gradually add flour mixture, beating until smooth. Stir in chocolate chunks. Drop by quarter cupfuls onto baking sheet, leaving at least two inches between. Bake for 12 minutes or until browned. Makes about 18 cookies.

Baking notes: You can also add one cup coarsely chopped nuts.

Using the dark brown sugar makes a difference, resulting in a pronounced caramel flavor in the cookie.
Take the time to beat the butter and sugar thoroughly. Any streaks of butter may result in a misshapen cookie.
Adding the sour cream, vanilla and egg.
Adding the chocolate chunks. Use as many as your conscience allows.
Let the mixed dough sit for a few minutes while you tidy up. It will become more cohesive.
If possible, use a large ice cream scoop to form the dough. Five to six cookies will fit on the sheet.
Fresh from the oven.


Just a Robin

Just a robin, skulking in the fresh green grass. I can only imagine what he is thinking. Something about worms, probably.


Another Nature Journal Page. Last week, a number of unusual birds flew through, including this Yellow-rumped Warbler. I learned a lot about this little fellow as I drew. Hope you enjoy. Peace. Fran




Fudgie-Wudgie Brownies

Do we need another brownie recipe? If their name is “Fudgie-Wudgies,” the answer is “yes,” of course! These are easy (made in a saucepan), and have just the right balance of chocolate and butter to create the perfect brownie flavor. And then there is the fudgie-wudgie-ness of them (spell check is smoking here), with their shiny, crackly crust and chewy interior.

I have to say, these are the perfect brownies for summertime–I will be freezing some, and when we go birdwatching, I can throw a few into a brown bag along with some sandwiches and fruit, and have an easy picnic. Or, they can be served with cut-up watermelon or bing cherries for a nice summer dessert. Here is the recipe.


Recipe is from “The 55 Best Brownies in the World.”

1/2 cup butter
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups flour
dash of salt
1 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and grease and line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper.

Place the butter and chocolate in a saucepan and heat over a low flame until melted. Remove from heat. Beat in the sugar and then add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in vanilla, flour, salt, and nuts. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for about 30 minutes. Cool completely before cutting into 2-inch squares.

Ingredients. The bottle has homemade vanilla that my sister gave me for Christmas. The fragrance is unbelievable.
Measuring the chocolate. Each square is only a 1/4 ounce. So you will need 12 squares to make 3 ounces.
Melt the chocolate and butter over low heat. Chocolate burns easily!
When you add the sugar, the mixture will be grainy.
Batter with eggs and vanilla added.
Ready for the oven.
Straight from the oven. Do not be tempted to overbake. The crust will be shiny and cracked here and there. These will continue to bake for a few minutes out of the oven.
When cooled, cut into 16 two-inch squares.
Brownies at their fudgiest.

Baking notes: It may seem that there is too much batter for the 8-inch square pan, and the brownies may seem underbaked when taken out of the oven. As they cool, though, they transform into cubes of fudgy deliciousness. If you are a cake brownie lover, they will be downright disturbing. Also, the original recipe called for margarine, but butter is so much better here.

Suddenly, robins are everywhere, and I have been taking many photos. Here is a lovely robin in the redbud tree.

Robin glamour photo.
Robin not-so-glamorous photo, but still adorable.

I am still posting to the Facebook Nature Journal Club site, and really loving it. So much fun to see what everyone is doing. Here is my page from May 3. Peace to you. Fran


Butter Pecan Chocolate Bars

One of my favorite chocolate cookbooks of all time is Farm Journal’s Choice Chocolate Recipes, with its recipes contributed by farm wives. I may leaf through hipper and cooler chocolate cookbooks (I’m reading one now that has 200 pages on the growing and processing of cocoa beans, with advice on choosing the correct origin of beans for your recipe. Not sure I’m up to it.), but when I want a good, reliable recipe, I go the Choice Chocolate Recipes. 

So feeling in a chocolate mood, I leafed through the recipes, and chose these Butter Pecan Chocolate Bars. Be forewarned that they are in the “too good,” category. I ate two even before I realized it. A buttery crust is patted into a pan and is sprinkled with pecans. Then you boil up a caramel sauce and pour it over the pecans. And then . . . well, you’ll see.

Butter Pecan Chocolate Bars

2 cups sifted flour
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup butter
1 cup pecan halves
2/3 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
6 oz. milk chocolate pieces

Combine flour and one cup of brown sugar in bowl. Cut or rub in 1/2 cup butter, until crumbly. Press mixture into an ungreased 13 x 9″ baking pan. Sprinkle pecan halves over crust.

Combine 2/3 cup butter and 1/2 cup brown sugar in small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture boils. This will happen quite quickly. Boil one minute, and pour mixture over pecans.

Bake in 350 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until caramel is bubbly. Remove from oven. Sprinkle chocolate pieces over all and let melt slightly. Swirl chocolate through caramel layer with a knife for marbled effect. Cool in pan on rack. Cut into 3 x 1″ bars. Makes 36.

My battered old copy of Farm Journal’s Choice Chocolate Recipes.
Endangered otter chocolate. It cost more than morsels, but I couldn’t resist the otter. Who could?
I use my fingertips to rub the butter into the flour.
The mixture will look like sand.
Pat the mixture into the uncreased pan. I use a non-stick pan made especially for bar cookies, and it works well–bars are easy to remove after baking. It’s from Calphalon.
I was in a quandary at the grocery store when looking at the pecans. They have become very expensive, so I purchased just a small bag of them, and hoped it would be enough.
I added some chopped walnut I had on hand to the rather meager amount of pecans.
Measuring the butter for the caramel sauce. Two-thirds cup of butter is 10-2/3 teaspoons.
Melting the butter and brown sugar. The edges will start bubbling almost immediately.
The bubbles will start from the edge of the pan, and quickly converge on the center. Immediately start timing the boiling for one minute.
Pour the caramel over the pecans.
Ready for the oven.
While the bars were baking, I chopped the chocolate, though you can use morsels. The three ounces of chopped chocolate proved to be plenty.
Remove from the oven when the caramel is a bubbling cauldron of deliciousness. For me, this was 16 minutes.
Sprinkle the caramel with the chopped chocolate or morsels, and allow to melt.
Swirl the chocolate into the caramel.
I had been at our Church’s rummage sale in the morning, and found this battered, but pretty old tin to pack the cookies in.
Cutting up the cooled bars.
I think these were the two that disappeared.
The tin was from Mrs. Steven’s Candies. Turns out she was an actual farm wife who sold fudge for $1 for three pounds during the Depression, and who went on to become very successful. Her tins have become collectibles, and there are whole Pinterest pages devoted to Mrs. Steven’s Candy tins. Who knew?

I almost got up to eat another Butter Pecan Chocolate Bar, but before I do, I’d like to share some robin photos. They have been coming to the suet feeder during this cold spring. Peace to you. Fran

Dirt Bombs and More

I kind of hesitated as to whether I should call these delicious cinnamon butter muffins Dirt Bombs, but that’s the name they are known by. I guess it’s because they are round like bombs (though I’m fortunate enough not to really know what a bomb looks like) and sooty with cinnamon. I found the recipe in an old Bon Appetit magazine–the recipe had been requested by a reader.

The name drew me magnetically. As it turns out, Dirt Bombs taste a bit like cinnamon donut holes, but think of the most delicious possible donut holes, soft, moist and fluffy in the interior, crunchy and buttery on the outside. You will notice that one is already gone from the plate above. Here is the recipe:

Dirt Bombs

2-1/4 cups sifted flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup (one stick) butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup whole milk

1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
6 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease the molds of a 12-cup muffin pan. Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg in a bowl and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg, beating for at least two minutes. With mixer on low speed, add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with milk in 2 additions, starting and ending with dry ingredients.

Divide the batter among the muffin cups and bake, rotating pan halfway through for about 30 minutes. Let cool five minutes in pan.

Mix sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl, and have melted butter ready. Dip tops of muffins into melted butter, and then into cinnamon sugar. Let cool completely. They are ready to eat! Makes 12 Dirt Bombs.

Baking notes: Be sure to sift the flour, and to use whole milk. You will have cinnamon sugar and butter left over, but smaller amounts would make it difficult to dip the muffin. Also, some versions of Dirt Bombs contain a bit of ground cardamom, so feel free to add some, if you would like.

I grated some nutmeg, and crushed a few cardamom seeds to add to the mix.
Butter and sugar beaten until fluffy.
After adding the egg, beat well for two minutes.
Batter after adding the milk and flour mixture. It should be light and silky in texture.
Muffin cups filled with batter. There is just enough batter for twelve muffins.
Fresh out of the oven. Already a bit bomb-like in appearance.
The melted butter and cinnamon sugar mixture ready for dipping.
Dipping the top of the muffin into melted butter.
Then dip into the cinnamon sugar. This will create a butter/cinnamon sugar crust.
Four down, eight to go.
The muffin interior is soft and light.
These are best when totally cooled off-the crust becomes crunchy.


I’ve been thinking about cardinals lately, because we have a cardinal couple that has lived in our garden for years. I’ve read that cardinals can live for up to three years in nature, but I know this couple has been here longer than that. For my Nature Journal Club page, I painted the female cardinal, because even though her crest and head feathers have been nibbled by mites, she is still a noble bird, a survivor. I can identify with her. So, first the photos and then the journal page.

I haven’t gotten to the point where I can paint directly from nature, and I do see things in the lens of my camera that I don’t see with the naked eye. So I work back and forth. Hope you enjoy. Peace to you. Fran

Sconalahs and more

What’s a sconahlah? You may well ask. I found the recipe when I was browsing through what is rapidly becoming a favorite baking book: “A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking,” by Marcy Goldman, (It rates lots of five-star ratings from readers, and I see why.) Goldman describes a sconalah as a cinnamon toffee scone that tastes like a rugelach (a moist cookie usually made with sour cream or cream cheese) only better. If you’ve ever tasted a rugelach, you know this is high praise.

So I went to the store, bought my butterscotch chips and was soon back home making sconalahs. First, be forewarned that these cookie/pastries fall into the “too good,” category. Moist and oozing caramelized brown sugar with nuggets of butterscotch, you will consume one in a daze. Give them away quickly to neighbors, or stash in the freezer to dole out, or you are in danger.

How do you pronounce sconalah? I have no idea, but have been putting the accent on the “scone.” Also, a “smear,” is a spread, usually of butter or cheese. (Sometimes it’s spelled “shmear” or “schmear.”) Here, the “smear,” is marbled throughout the sconalahs. Here is the recipe.


Cinnamon Smear
1/2 cup butterscotch chips
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

In a food processor or blender, blend the above ingredients until a crumbling mixture is formed. It doesn’t have to be even textured. You may have to stop, stir down, and start your blender a number of times. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.



3 cups sifted flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (one stick) butter, cut into chunks
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup half and half or evaporated milk

Before we go any farther, be sure to sift the flour. I sifted the flour right into my measuring scoop, and leveled it off with a knife. Did this three times.

In a bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the butter chunks and mix in with your fingertips to form a mealy mixture.

Combine the egg, vanilla, and half and half or evaporated milk, than add it to the dry mixture. Stir with a fork until the dough just comes together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, and knead just until it comes together. Then turn out the smear onto the dough and knead in. It will look marbleized.

Pat the dough into a 10 x 6″ rectangle and cut into 12 squares. Place on baking sheet. Brush each sconalah with beaten egg white, and strew with a mixture of 1/3 cup sugar mixed with 2 teaspoons cinnamon. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Cool.

Baking notes: The original recipe called for unsalted butter, but you could use salted, as well. I used the evaporated milk, because I had it on hand. The half and half will make the sconalahs even better, if that’s possible! I probably could have kneaded the smear in more thoroughly, but it’s hard to know if the oozing, caramelized brown sugar is a bug or a feature. I’m thinking it’s delish.

Butter rubbed into flour mixture. It will look mealy.
Dough with liquids being mixed in.
Dough gathered on working surface, ready to have smear kneaded in.
Here is the smear, dumped out onto the dough, ready to be kneaded in. This is a messy process, but if you loved playing in the sand when you were a kid, you will enjoy this!
Here is the kneaded dough, patted out and ready to cutting.
Dough cut into 12 pieces, using a dough scraper, if possible (it won’t stick like a knife.).
Sconalahs on the baking sheet, ready to be brushed with egg white, and topped with cinnamon sugar mixture.
Ready for the preheated oven.
Some lumpy, raffish sconalahs oozing brown sugar.
Sconalahs in action, ready for butter. (They are also delicious without butter, if that makes you feel any better.)

Spring Snow

It’s snowing today, and the robins seem a bit discombobulated. It’s pretty, though (both the robin and the snow.)


Nature Journal Club

Recently I joined an online Facebook group called the “Nature Journal Club,”  which is associated with author John Muir Laws, who has written a wonderful bird drawing book. Members keep nature journals, painting and writing about things they see in the natural world. Everyone from total beginners to pros post pages, and it’s fun to see what is posted. Keeping a journal is a good way to become more observant, and to further watercolor and drawing skills.Also, fellow members are very kind and encouraging, which is good! Since I have lots of grackles in my garden, they are the topic for my first page.

Peace to all. Fran