What Is the Greatest Gift?

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Chocolate Espresso Lemon Crusted Tart

What is the greatest gift?

by Mary Oliver

What is the greatest gift?

Could it be the world itself — the oceans, the meadowlark,

the patience of the trees in the wind?

Could it be love, with its sweet clamor of passion?

Something else — something else entirely

holds me in thrall.

That you have a life that I wonder about

more than I wonder about my own.

That you have a life — courteous, intelligent —

that I wonder about more than I wonder about my own.

That you have a soul — your own, no one else’s —

that I wonder about more than I wonder about my own.

So that I find my soul clapping its hands for yours

more than my own.

Will & Cait

My children will always be my greatest gifts and forever Valentines. Here is a recipe for the love in your life.

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This tart is rich and brings me back to a most wonderful trip to Italy and another reason to indulge in the exotic Fiori di Sicilia flavoring. Chocolate-lemon-espresso seems strange, but strangely it works in a most complimentary way.

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Chocolate Espresso Lemon Crusted Tart

2 cups lemon snap cookie crumbs

6 tablespoons melted butter

¾ cup sugar

¼ cup cornstarch

2 teaspoons instant espresso powder

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 cups milk

4 egg yolks

2 ounces 90% cocoa chocolate squares (I used Lindt)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia

Garnish: fresh whipped cream, chocolate covered coffee beans, lemon zest strips

Heat oven 350F. Mix cookie crumbs and melted butter. Press thickly up sides and then onto bottom of a 9 to 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Bake 10 minutes. Cool to room temperature and then place in freezer. Prepare filling. In medium saucepan, whisk sugar, cornstarch, espresso powder and salt. In a bowl, whisk milk and egg yolks until well blended. Pour milk mixture into saucepan whisking well. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Drop chocolate squares on to surface of hot filling; let stand 30 seconds. Add butter and flavoring and whisk until chocolate and butter are melted and mixture is smooth. Pour into well-chilled pie shell. Cover surface of pie with plastic wrap to avoid skin formation. Chill. Garnish as desired.

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Happy Valentine’s Day and thank you to Doreen who so kindly found me and shared this most beautiful poem.

Truth or Dare Macarons

IMG_8941It’s been 1,750 days since I lost my son. Nice round number. You would think in all that time that someone or some book would have set me straight on this grief experience. Many said it would get better with time. Others said maybe around year 3 you will start to feel some peace. And still others said you will feel joy and happiness again. Yet, not a one dared speak the additional real truth. Honesty around this subject is difficult. Who wants to be the barer of more bad news?

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Before I reveal my truth there is clearly something about it I don’t understand and so I continue to write this blog hoping to reach some clarity. You see there have been many deaths in my lifetime attending funerals since I am a little girl. In Italian families, back in the old days, all the kids went to the funerals to show “respect”. We were close knit. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, a nephew, friends and my parents. Kneeling and praying over open caskets. Tearful. I loved them all dearly, but the grief associated with their loss dissipated quickly and rarely visits me now. When it does it is usually in the form of a fond or funny memory and gone again in a spit second. Why is it so painfully different for me with my son?

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Maybe that is the answer. He is my son. Is there something different about a mother and her son vs a daughter and her dad or her mother? Is it because he is gone too soon or was it because it was a preventable accident? I don’t know, but with William I carry a different kind of grief. It grips me when I close my eyes at night and even tighter when I open them in the morning all these days. No one told me it would be like this. The truth is it will always be this way. The truth is I have the strength to carry it. The truth is I will follow in his light. Harness your Will.

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Did you notice the black and white photo disaster above? My attempt at making the very temperamental French confection known as macarons was quite the disaster. What a waste of some expensive ingredients. Goodness has its price. I had to get my “William on” and double dog dare myself to try it again and then one more time for good measure.

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perfect Valentine’s Day dessert

This first recipe is inspired by a bottle of citrus vanilla flavoring called Fiori di Sicilia that I purchased on a visit to the King Arthur Flour baking school in Vermont. It just seemed right to add some vanilla bean powder in both the shells and the filling and then team it with a citrus curd. With an adjustment of oven temperature and baking time my second attempt at these shells came out pretty good, but not perfect. I think I under-mixed the batter. Folding the ingredients together until the batter is a bit runny is needed so the shells do a little spreading. As you can see my shells did not fill the circles. I also recommend weighing the ingredients, but if you don’t own a scale I did provide some equivalent standard measures.IMG_8959

Vanilla-Citrus Macarons

65 grams (3/4 cup) almond flour

115 grams (1/2 cup) confectionary, powdered or icing sugar

65 grams (2 large) egg whites

32 grams/2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/8 teaspoon vanilla bean powder

1/8 teaspoon fiori di Sicilia flavoring

In small bowl, sift almond flour and powdered sugar; set aside. Beat egg whites and half the granulated sugar to soft peak. Add remaining sugar, salt, vanilla bean powder and flavoring; whisk to stiff peaks. Add almond flour mixture to meringue; gently fold until the mixture is smooth, shiny and slightly runny. Pour the mixture into a piping bag and pipe out ¾-inch mounds on either parchment paper or a silicone mat. Tap the pan a few times to remove air bubbles. Let them rest for 30 minutes or until they appear dry on top. Heat oven to 400F. Turn oven down to 300F and place macarons in oven. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until puffed and appear dry but not brown. Let cool on pan for 15 minutes before transferring to cooling rack. Pipe or spoon cooled citrus curd on flat side of half the shells. Gently place second shell on top.

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Vanilla-Citrus Curd

2 egg yolks

1/3-cup sugar

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

¼ teaspoon vanilla bean powder

pinch sea salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Whisk egg yolks, sugar, zest, vanilla bean powder and salt in a heat-proof bowl or double boiler. Place bowl over simmering water (do not let bottom of bowl touch the water) and continue whisking until thick like pudding. This will take 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in the butter. Cover surface of curd with plastic wrap; chill.

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Runny batter fills the spaces

So with Valentine’s Day on the horizon I thought I might try a hubby favorite combo of chocolate and peanut butter with my third attempt at macarons. To make the chocolate shells all I did was use the same recipe above except to sift in 1 tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder with the almond flour and eliminate the fiori di sicilia. Here is the recipe for the filling.IMG_9021

Peanut Butter Filling

1/2 cup well-stirred creamy natural peanut butter or salted caramel peanut butter spread

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

3 teaspoons buttermilk

Beat all the ingredients together until smooth and creamy.

The truth is it is best to have courage and not be destoyed by life’s injustice. Find your strength and carry on. Oh, and by the way, I found Doreen…….

The Cleanse Continues with Unexpected Shrimp Tacos

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Continuing “the cleanse” I decide to head down to the dungeon, oops, I mean the basement, to see what I can toss out. I dread it because 99% of what is down there belongs to the husband and I try not to touch his stuff. He does not aspire to my minimalist personality, but I note his piles are very organized. Maybe he is coming around to my philosophy about stuff. As he sorts through his piles may he remember my mantra: “you got to love it, you got to need it and you got to use it otherwise get rid of it.” I just close my eyes and head off to a corner of the room.
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Can’t complain about a husband who is willing to forage for mushrooms. He’s a Keeper.

Tackling the “mancave” fridge/freezer is always fun. I never know what I am going to find in there because husband stocks it with groceries I would never buy and usually when I am away. Finding some brand name creamed chipped beef is no surprise (husband loves it), but a big box of breaded shrimp caught me completely off guard. What the heck am I supposed to do with that version of fast food? Can I make it healthy?

"all natural" small but tasty shrimp with a simple coating

“all natural” small but tasty shrimp with a simple coating

With little effort and some help from fresh kale, tangerines and my favorite Saucy Mama products dinner is served. Cooking good food isn’t complicated as long as there are some great condiments and fresh ingredients around to toss into the pot. It occurs to me lately that when I am cooking a savory meal I am simply combining a bunch of compatible ingredients together in no particular order or fashion. Unlike baking, there is no formula to follow. I can mix and match ingredients and cooking techniques any way I want. You can do it, too. Don’t be afraid to try. Fast food can be good and good for you. Next time I am going to mash some avocado with the poblano ranch dressing for a “crema” drizzle over the top. IMG_8571

2 plum tomatoes, seeded, diced

1 tangerine or small orange, seeded diced

¼ cup small diced fresh pineapple

1 jalapeno, seeded, minced

2 scallions, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

2 tablespoons Saucy Mama Orange Habanero Wing Sauce

Toss all ingredients together. Chill until ready to serve.

1 bunch fresh kale, leaves removed from stalk

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 teaspoon lemon or lime juice

Toss kale with olive oil and citrus juice; massage kale with your fingers for two minutes.

Frozen breaded shrimp (as many pieces as you will eat) baked according to package directions.

Flour or corn tortillas, warm

Saucy Mama Poblano Ranch Dressing

Crumbled or shredded cheese of your choice

To build your taco:

  • Spread warm tortilla with some poblano ranch dressing
  • Top with kale
  • Layer on the shrimp
  • Spoon on the salsa
  • Sprinkle with the cheese

Open wide and take a nice healthy bite.

morning snow shadows

morning snow shadows