A Sugar Cookie and a Dove

img_7187Two things came together in this cookie: a wonderful sugar cookie recipe and a rose geranium plant that had gotten wildly out of control.

The sugar cookie recipe itself is a classic that pops up in community cookbooks–the cookie is made with oil and butter, and melts away and crunches in your mouth with an explosion of butteriness. Can’t ask for more from a cookie!

Then I thought of decorating the cookie with leaves from the wildly out of control geranium, which really likes its southern exposure. So I picked some of the smallest leaves a few days ago, and pressed them in an old book. I used these to decorate each cookie.

I also tried a bad idea, and pressed a gummy cherry candy on the cookie before baking. See below for results! Oh, well.

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But the cookies with the leaves turned out beautifully. By the way, I peeled the leaf off my cookie before nibbling–it left no flavor. (Though I think if these were stored in a cookie jar, the flavor might develop in a day or two.)

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Here is the recipe.

Sugar Cookies

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Out-of-control rose geranium plant.

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
4-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine flour, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt in a bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, beat the softened butter, vegetable oil and sugars. Then beat in eggs until well blended. Then add the flour mixture. I used an electric mixer for this, because it’s a fairly large amount of dough to mix by hand.

Using a small cookie scoop, drop on the prepared baking sheet. Flatten the dough a bit with a pancake turner, and press on a leaf, if desired. The cookies will double in size as they bake. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until bottoms are golden. You can sprinkle with powdered sugar after they have cooled, if you like.

Baking notes: Various recipes for this cookie have different baking temps and times, but what I’ve given here (350 degrees for 12 minutes) works well. I used a mild vegetable oil that is a combination of sunflower and canola.

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A Mourning Dove

Mourning doves are so common that we almost don’t notice them. But I love their soft mournful cry, and was glad to take this elegant bird’s picture.

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img_7068 img_7069Keep the faith. Fran

 

Swedish Biscotti and a Movie Star Cardinal

img_7166I’m trying to ease myself back into the new year, and having overdosed on rich Christmas fare, I’ve been looking for a cookie that’s tasty, but light. Right on cue, I ran across a basic biscotti recipe on allrecipes.com that looked promising.

The recipe worked well, with an easy-to-mix dough that baked up nicely. The biscotti itself was crunchy, not rock hard. But the flavor and appearance of the cookie were a little plain and sad. So I switched from anise flavoring to a brighter lemon flavor, and topped the cookie with a shiny egg glaze and a sprinkling of Swedish pearl sugar. A pinch of salt also helped. Bingo! A Swedish biscotti! This is a light, crispy, crunchy, toasty biscotti, a perfect go-with for a cup of coffee or even with a glass of chilled Prosecco. Here is the recipe.

Swedish Biscotti

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon lemon extract
3-1/4 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
a pinch of salt
one beaten egg for glaze
Swedish pearl sugar for topping

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

In a medium bowl, beat together the oil, sugar, eggs and lemon flavoring. Beat vigorously with a big spoon for about two minutes. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir this into the egg mixture, mixing with a spoon at first, then kneading by hand. The dough will be a little crumbly, but will come together. Divide into two parts. Shape each part into a roll about twelve inches long. Flatten the roll so that it’s about 2-1/2 inches wide and 1/2 inch thick. Using a pastry brush, spread the beaten egg over the top of the rolls, and then strew with the Swedish pearl sugar.

Bake for about 25 minutes. The bottoms should be golden. Take out of the oven and allow to cool for about ten minutes. Don’t turn off the oven. Using a sharp kitchen knife, cut the baked cookies at a diagonal, about 1/2″ thick. Place the slices onto the baking sheet, cut side up. Put back into the oven, and allow to toast for about 10 minutes. The edges should turn light brown. This made about 32 biscotti.

Baking notes: Don’t hesitate to knead this dough until it’s smooth. The cookie will be crunchy, not tough. You could use any kind of coarse sugar for this to add crunch and sparkle. Also, I added a little speck of yellow food coloring to make the biscotti more golden.

Below: ingredients, the mixed dough, and the dough formed for baking.

Above, cutting the baked biscotti.

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The toasted biscotti.

Movie Star Cardinal

This cardinal landed at the feeder the other day, and I was immediately struck by his movie star good looks. His feather cap was sleek, his eyes soulful. What movie is he starring in? I’m thinking the next Star Wars movie, playing the avian co-pilot of a Wookie. Who knows?

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After the election, many of us have wondered what to do to resist the incoming administration. One way: shop local. Rather then sending your money to factory farms and industrial-sized feedlots who then ship food back to us using lots of gasoline, buy from your local farmer. I was at the Geneva Green Market, in Geneva, Illinois, this Saturday, and for under $25 purchased organic chicken (enough for four), a beautiful loaf of bread, a French cheese, a dozen organic eggs, some pea shoots for a salad, a head of purple garlic, a crispy apple, and some turnips. (See below.) I loved handing my money to the actual farmers and their families. Google “local farmers markets,” to find a market near you.

Peace to you. Fran

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Crispy Crackers and a New Year’s Squirrel

img_7131The word of the moment is hygge, a Danish word for cozy. According to the New York Times, it’s pronounced HOO-gah, and I will take their word for it. Candlelight, hand knit sweaters, homebaked cookies, freshly brewed coffee are all hygge. (My spell checker does not want me to use hygge, but I will persevere.)

A few days ago, I was baking up a batch of crackers with a recipe from “The Swedish Christmas Table,” by Linder and Westman (available on Amazon.com), when I suddenly realized the crackers were hygge! Omigosh. They are whole grain, studded with seeds, and cute, which all adds up to hygge, big time.

I was a bit nervous when baking these, because recipes for tender, crispy homemade whole grain crackers are scarce, and I have made more than a few crackers like cardboard that were immediately given to the birds and squirrels. Also, the book was translated from Swedish, and I know that in recipes things can get lost in translation. But these crackers are tender with a delicious toasty flavor–perfect to nibble with cheese as you nestle in an afghan by a fireplace,  or even just on your living room sofa! So hygge! Here is the recipe.

Crispy Crackers

1/2 cup oatmeal
2/3 cup sesame seeds
2/3 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup rye flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sunflower oil
3/4 cup water

For garnish: more oil, and one tablespoon each of sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds, and some sea salt. Mix the seeds together, separate from the salt.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add oil and water and stir into a dough with a large spoon. Set aside for a few moments while you tidy up–it will help the dough set up.

Divide the dough into halves, and roll each piece at a time on a floured surface to about an 1/8 inch thick. Cut out with a cookie cutter and place on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush with oil, and sprinkle with seeds, and then with the coarse sea salt. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until browned.

Baking notes: I used an oil that combined canola and sunflower oil, and it worked well. Of course, you can vary the seeds you use. I was able to re-roll the dough three times, and the crackers were tender. I patted out the leftover dough and baked it for the squirrels. As you will see, it was popular! Press the cookie cutter down firmly, to cut right through the crunchy seeds, and use a simple cookie cutter, not one with fine detail. (You could cut the rolled out dough into squares or rectangles, but that probably would not be hygge!) I used Hodgson Mill rye flour.

Photos below show rolling and cutting out the dough, and the crackers ready for the oven.

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All brown and crispy!

img_7129When I put out the crackers for the squirrels, one little fellow showed up immediately and spirited the crackers away. Happy new year to the squirrels!

img_7135Happy New Year to all. Keep the faith. Fran

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Moist Chocolate Zucchini Bread and a Dark-Eyed Junco

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Being only a day after Christmas, I can hardly think about cookies or cookie recipes, and something healthy actually sounds good right now! I ran across the following recipe for chocolate zucchini bread in “30-Minute Paleo Meals,” by Melissa Petitto (can be found at Amazon.com.) The paleo way of eating excludes grain and dairy foods, and includes food eaten by paleolithic man. So there is no flour, fat, or white sugar in this bread, and I was curious as to what it would be like.

I was delighted when I pulled a shiny, high-risen loaf from the oven. It slices beautifully, is fine-grained, and tastes mildly of cocoa and cinnamon. The first time I made it, I served it with a butter spread (5 TBS softened butter, 1 TBS maple syrup and the grated rind of one orange.) Yum! The second time, I tried it with a slather of ricotta cheese, apple slices, blueberries, a drizzle of maple syrup, and a sprinkle of cinnamon (see photos). Also yum! Either way, this moist bread is a keeper, and I will be trying more recipes from this book.

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Moist Chocolate Zucchini Bread

1 cup almond butter
3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 large (8″ long) zucchini, shredded with excess liquid squeezed out (about 2 cups shredded zucchini)
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8 x 4-1/2″ loaf pan, line with parchment paper, and lightly grease again.

In a medium bowl, combine the almond butter, maple syrup, unsweetened cocoa powder, cinnamon, salt and beaten eggs. Beat vigorously with a large spoon for about two minutes, or until batter is smooth and glossy. Stir in the shredded zucchini. In a small bowl, combine the vinegar and the baking soda, and add to the batter, stirring just until combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 40 minutes. Take from oven and allow to cool–the loaf will settle down a bit.

Baking notes: I did make a number of changes to the recipe, including making the bread in one loaf pan instead of two, and baking it at a lower temperature. Almond butter is a bit pricey, but worth trying. It has a nice toasted almond flavor. Seen below: sliced bread, shredded zucchini, shredded zucchini after being squeezed in a dish towel, and the ingredients.

Dark-Eyed Junco

When I see juncos at the feeder, I know it’s winter. They are usually seen pecking in the snow, looking for seeds, but this little bird perched long enough for me to take some photos. Juncos are a related to sparrows. I love their little pink beaks!
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With a world in which the rich get ever richer, the following Chinese proverb comes to mind:

A bird can roost but on one branch, a mouse can drink not more than its fill from a river.

Keep the faith. Fran

Glittering Shortbread Stars

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I enjoyed making these glittering shortbread stars this morning–there’s something about glitter that brings out the kid in me! The idea for the cookie started when I rummaged through my cookie cutters and found a little star, no more than two inches wide from point to point. I suddenly could see these stars, made of buttery shortbread. They are both crunchy with the sparkling sugar and melt-in-the mouth tender with the butter. A small tin of these would make a nice gift. Here is the recipe.

Glittering Shortbread Stars

2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

one beaten egg for glazing
gold sparkling sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, beat the softened butter until smooth, and then add the sugar and vanilla. Beat well until fluffy. (This can be done with a large spoon.) Mix the flour with the salt. Add to the butter mixture, and stir briefly, to start to bring it together. Then mix the dough together with your impeccably clean hands. It will be a bit crumbly.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough until it is about 1/4″ thick. (Divide the dough in half, and roll out one batch at a time.) Cut dough out with a star-shaped cookie cutter and set aside. Using a pastry brush, brush each star with the beaten egg. Have the sparkling sugar ready in a small dish. Press the star, face down, into the glitter. Press down each tip so that the glitter is evenly distributed. Place on prepared baking sheet, and repeat with the rest of the stars.

Bake for about 13 to 15 minutes, or when the points of the stars turn golden brown. This makes approximately three dozen cookies, but it will depend on how large your cookie cutter is.

Baking notes: Be sure that the butter is softened. It shouldn’t be separated or oily, but it should be soft enough to beat with the spoon. I used “Star Gold” Sparkling Sugar from India Tree. You could also use a snow flake cookie cutter and silver glitter to make a nice snowflake cookie. This recipe comes from the Fannie Farmer Baking Book.

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You can also use a large star cookie cutter. Crimp the edges with a fork, and prick the center several times.
You can also use a large star cookie cutter. Crimp the edges with a fork, and prick the center several times.

The photos above show the beaten egg and glitter, the stars being cut out, pressing the star face down into the glitter, the unbaked stars ready for the oven, the baked stars, and the bottom of one star showing how brown it should be when done.

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Painting is from an early 15th-century Italian altarpiece by Gentile da Fabriano.

A house finch in the falling snow.

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img_6695When we were in church Sunday morning, we sang this 15th-century hymn, Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming, and its beauty and light brought into relief how dark the world seems right now. Here are two of the verses.

Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming
From tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
As men of old have sung.
It came a floweret bright
Amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

This Flow’r, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor
The darkness ev’rywhere.
True man yet very God;
From sin and death He saves us,
And lightens ev’ry load.

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Fresh Cranberry Pound Cake and a Finch

img_7003There’s a bit of a story that goes along with this delicious cake.

A long time ago, Santa was waiting in a dark, snow-covered pine forest for his team of tiny reindeer. (There were some things to go over before Christmas Eve.) But instead of the reindeer, an enormous Fresh Cranberry Pound Cake appeared, dusted with snow!

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Santa was astounded, as well he might be! But before the Pound Cake left as quickly as it had come, he tried a slice and was delighted with the delicately crunchy crust, buttery crumb, and tart cranberries. “By Dancer and Blixen, this is delicious!” Suddenly the Fresh Cranberry Pound Cake vanished, and, in its place, a ghost deer with golden antlers appeared. “What next!” cried Santa. But the mysterious ghost deer vanished, and, to his relief, he heard the jingling bells of his reindeer as they flew across the dark starry sky. Christmas was almost here! The End

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Santa was right, this is a delicious pound cake, perfect for the holidays. The recipe is from “The Best of Gourmet 2004.” I like it because it’s festive without being overly rich and gooey, and it’s so dramatic when it’s sliced. Here is the recipe:

Fresh Cranberry Pound Cake

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Picture of the pound cake in Gourmet. It was featured as part of a brunch, but it said “Christmas!” to me.

2 cups fresh cranberries
1-3/4 cups sugar, divided
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 5″ loaf pan; line with parchment paper, and grease again.

Place about half of the cranberries with a 1/4 cup sugar into a blender, and grind until finely chopped. Repeat with the other half of the cranberries with an additional 1/4 cup sugar. (A half cup of sugar is used in this process.) Transfer the chopped cranberries into a strainer over a bowl to let the cranberries drain. (Note: I cut each cranberry in half before grinding. It’s a bit tedious, but it makes the chopping in the blender much easier, and if there are any mushy cranberries, you will find them.)

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Using an electric mixer, beat the softened butter and remaining 1-1/4 cups sugar until light. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until very light, pale and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla.

Reducing the speed of the mixer, add flour mixture alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour, and mix just until incorporated.

Spread one-third of batter in prepared loaf pan, then spoon half the ground cranberries evenly over batter, leaving a 1/2-inch border along sides. Top with another third of batter, and then remaining cranberries. Cover with remaining batter.

Bake until golden brown–about one hour. Cool on rack for 30 minutes, before removing cake from pan.

Baking notes: Gourmet says you can make this with frozen berries, but I haven’t tried it. Just be sure to drain them!

Seen below, fresh washed cranberries, sliced cranberries, ground cranberries, an old flour sifter, the beaten batter, the pan with layered cranberries, the finished loaf, and a closeup of the cut loaf.

Looking a bit Christmas-y, here is a house finch, his feathers gleaming.
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In the coming days, keeping a sense of what’s right and wrong, good and bad, and what it true and untrue, will be hard as we are buried under an avalanche of chaotic events. For some reason, the following hymn of St. Francis of Assisi flew to my mind today–it’s “The Canticle of the Creatures.” Its simplicity calms me as I read it, and I hope it might add to your day, as well. (A canticle is a hymn or chant. This is not the whole song, which can be found at the above link.) Peace to you. Fran

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and stars,
in heaven You formed them clear and precious and beautiful.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene, and
every kind of weather, through which you give substance to your creatures.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
who is very useful and humble, and precious and chaste.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night,
and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit
with colored flowers and herbs.

Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility.

Cloud-Soft Ricotta Cookies

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I ran across a recipe for Ricotta Cookies in an old Woman’s Day magazine, and immediately thought, “must bake!” as I love the delicate, creamy flavor of ricotta. As I researched the recipe, though, I found many versions, all varying slightly from one another. I settled on a recipe from “One Sweet Cookie,” by Tracey Zabar, as its use of cake flour signaled a tender cookie. (If you are a cookie lover, this book is for you, as it’s a compendium of recipes from “celebrated chefs,” and it has lots of tips and tricks from the pros for making great cookies. It’s available on Amazon for a few dollars.)

As it turns out, this cookie is as soft as a cloud, with a tender, moist crumb, and just a hint of creamy ricotta flavor. The glaze is tart with fresh lemon juice, and, sprinkled with some crunchy Swedish pearl sugar, Ricotta Cookies are perfect for the holidays. Here is the recipe.

Cloud-Soft Ricotta Cookies

3 cups cake flour
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla
one 15-ounce container ricotta cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder and baking soda in a bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the softened butter with the sugar, then add the eggs. In a separate bowl, stir together the ricotta and the vanilla. Alternate adding the ricotta mixture and the flour mixture into the butter mixture. This will make a moist but rather firm dough, and you may want to finish mixing the mixture with your impeccably clean hands.

Using a small cookie scoop, drop the batter onto the prepared baking pan. Bake for about 8 minutes, or until bottom is golden brown. The tops will be puffed but not browned. Frost with the glaze, and sprinkle with pearl sugar or sprinkles of your choice. Makes about 65 cookies.

For frosting: Mix three cups of powdered sugar with the juice of one lemon and about 5 to 6 tablespoons milk or cream. Stir until smooth. Depending on how much milk you use, this can either be a thin glaze, or a thick frosting.

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As long as I have my cup of coffee and my glasses, I’m ready to bake!
When done, the bottom of the cookie will be golden brown, and the top will be uncolored.
When done, the bottom of the cookie will be golden brown, and the top will be uncolored.

img_6966 img_6967img_6970Baking notes: I do recommend mixing the dough with your hands at the end of the mixing process, because what with the flour and the ricotta, it may seem like it won’t go together. As you mix, scoop up from the bottom where flour may lurk–the dough will seem firm but moist.

Victorian Tinsel

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img_6977At a resale shop the other day, I found a container of “Victorian Christmas Tree Tinsel.” I was thrilled to find it filled with actual tin tinsel, such as they used way back in the old days. I went online and found that it still can be purchased–just Google ” Victorian Tin Tinsel,” and a number of sources will appear. This tinsel is solid tin, and will not bend or drape, but has a wonderful old-fashioned feel to it.

Sparrows

Bird life goes on in the forsythia bushes out behind our backyard. The bushes were alive with twittering the other day, and I took pictures of a sweet little dumpling of a female sparrow, and a distinguished male bird.

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I was reading an op-ed piece by Timothy Egan, in the New York Times, called “Fake Cowboys and Real Indians,” about the native Americans and their fight against the pipeline. The piece closed with a quote from a young Native leader named Lyla June Johnston, regarding the conflict. It has given me a lot to think about.

 “In the face of this we pray,” Johnston told Egan a day after the blizzards blew in. “In the face of this we love. In the face of this we forgive. Because the vast majority of water protectors know this is the great battle of all: to keep our hearts intact.”

I thank her for her wisdom. Peace to you. Fran