Old Photos & New Shortcake

perfect 4th of July dessert

perfect 4th of July dessert

Looking through old photo albums this week I am reminded that William was surrounded by some loving friends his whole life. How lucky was he to grow up such a happy and loved child.

Brian & Will

Brian & Will

I marvel at how huggable these guys were back in the day. Do boys these days still hug like this? Or has the bully thing really gotten out of hand as portrayed in the media?

Tyler & Will

Tyler & Will

And it just wasn’t the guys who were hugging…..

Haley & Will & the usual frog that hung out with them

Haley & Will & the usual frog that hung out with them

Taking a walk down memory lane brings smiles and I won’t lie…a few tears. His friends for life continue to be my friends. They take care of me in so many ways because they love him. Yes, they love him. That makes me smile. Old photos remind me to be grateful for small things like hugs and friends and even frogs. I miss everything about the old days, but I am still able to marvel over all the fabulous things his friends are doing today. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Tommy & Will

Tommy & Will

On to something new. This is not your grandma’s strawberry shortcake. Recently, I saw a recipe in a Cuisine At Home Magazine called “shortcake bars” and I immediately knew I wanted to mess with it. Everyone loves strawberry shortcake this time of year, but the truth: it’s difficult to get the shortcake (and the berries for that matter) part right…First, freshly baked shortcakes can’t sit. If they are not eaten warm from the oven just forget it. They dry out quickly. Naturally the solution to fixing a dry shortcake is to top it with…. a ton of sugary, syrupy berries which then creates an overly sweet, soggy mess…the pitfalls are endless when it comes to this dessert.

notice the borage flowers-they taste like cucumbers

notice the borage flowers-they taste like cucumbers

So here is your new 4th of July dessert. It is perfectly portable and can be made a day ahead. If you would like it a bit saucy go ahead and mix the fresh berriess with some melted jam or preserves or go all out and make a fresh berry coulis.

Very Berry Shortcake Squares

1½-cups all-purpose flour

½-cup white whole wheat flour

¼ cup sugar

1-tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon sea salt

½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter

1-cup fresh blueberries

½ cup small stemmed strawberries*

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

½ cup heavy cream

1 egg, lightly beaten

¼ cup chopped almonds, optional

1-cup strawberry-blackberry jam (I use Smucker’s)

2 teaspoons sparkling sugar, optional

Toppings: fresh berries, sweetened whipped cream

Heat oven 375F. Line a 9-inch square pan with parchment leaving a 2-inch overhang for easy removal. Spray pan and parchment with non-stick baking spray. In large bowl, stir flours, sugar, baking powder and salt; cut in butter with a pastry blender or your fingers until crumbly. Stir in berries and zest. Mix heavy cream and egg together; add to flour mixture, stirring with a fork until dough comes together. Divide dough in half. Pat half the dough over bottom of prepared pan. Spread jam evenly over dough in pan. Mix almonds (if using) into remaining dough and crumble dough evenly over the top. Sprinkle with sparkling sugar, if desired. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown. Cool. Cut into 3-inch squares. Top with berries and whipped cream.

*I grow a French strawberry variety called fraise. The berries are sweet, but maybe only ½-1-inch long. If you use regular strawberries dice them up into smaller pieces.

From Field to Fork Lessons in Gratitude

growing goodness

growing goodness

Today’s grief lessons are brought to you courtesy of a visit to Manhattan, KS (aka-Man-Happiness) and the 2015 National Festival of Breads sponsored by among others Kansas Wheat, King Arthur Flour and Red Star Yeast. It was a whirlwind of activity for us 8 bread baking finalists starting with an educational farm to flour tour of the area.

best stuff on earth

best stuff on earth

It was fascinating to spend the day in the life of the Kejr family. I have a whole new appreciation for how hard wheat farmers work and how dedicated they are to grow quality grain to not only feed people like you and me, but people all over the world. Did you know that 50% of the wheat we grow is exported? Wheat farmers feed the world and as well-educated scientists have invested in themselves to develop better crops with less impact on the environment.

what beautiful country

what beautiful country

From the farm we followed the wheat trail to a grain elevator operation where the wheat is stored and then on to the flour mill where 30-inch granite wheels grind the wheat and fill the bags that we so conveniently pluck off our grocery store shelves.

mill stone

mill stone

Did you know that King Arthur Flour bags are coded so that the flour can actually be traced back to the individual farm where the wheat was grown? Yeah-me neither, but we know now and isn’t that amazing? So much care and quality goes into each and every bag. Our final stop of the tour was the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center where we witnessed wheat science in action and the gorgeous kitchen (yes, I have kitchen envy) where our recipes were tested.

use quality ingredients to make tasty winning recipes

use quality ingredients to make tasty winning recipes

Competitors start your ovens. Every bake-off I learn something new and this one is no exception. I am so very grateful to have Ann Domsch as my hostess and baking assistant. Ann is “my rock” as a fumble through my first attempt at baking my bread. She supports me and encourages me on. With every visitor to my table (about 1000 people visited the event) I hear her say, “This is a great recipe. I have sampled it many times.” I realize this is no longer my recipe, but our recipe. We are a team. We are in it together and I am so very honored and humbled to be in her presence. Thank you co-champion!

co-champs

co-champs

If I have learned one thing from my son’s death it is to embrace gratitude. I have so much to be thankful for especially the fact that I can share my inspired and spirited recipes across this great nation. Celebrating William and my dear mother in law, Renetta Keys, through my Smokehouse Cranberry Cheese Bread was an emotionally charged celebration of goodness. How lucky am I to have had such a loving woman in my life and to honor her as the 2015 National Festival of Breads Grand Champion? See the winning recipe: Smokehouse Cranberry Cheese Bread

This loaf was auctioned off for $600.00.  Thank you Red Star Yeast

This loaf was auctioned off for $600.00. Thank you Red Star Yeast

To top it off my recipe is going in to mass production and going to be sold at the Hy-Vee grocery store in Man-Happiness. Folks out there will be breaking “my” bread over dinner and hopefully slicing it up for a killer post Thanksgiving turkey sandwich.

A View From Will’s Bench & Fresh Strawberry Limoncello Martini

Congratulations, Julia and Van Sant Family

Congratulations, Julia and Van Sant Family

Every now and then it is a blessing to see the view from Will’s Bench though someone else’s lens and heart. Today’s photos are from a dear friend and one who William loved very much. Thank you, Liz, for stopping by Lake Elise on Memorial Day weekend and sharing these photos with all of us.

initial rock from Will's favorite spot in the Adirondaks

heart shaped initial rock from Will’s favorite spot in the Adirondaks

as she sat a fish came to visit---the perfect sign from him

as she sat a fish came to visit—the perfect sign from him

Will's Bench

And for Julia, his “little sister” this celebration drink is for you. Congratulations baby girl in a job well done at Washington & Lee. I know William would have been super proud of you and all your accomplishments. Cheers! “Oh, the places you will go” ~ Dr. Seuss

fresh berries from the garden

fresh berries from the garden

Frozen Strawberry Limoncello Martini

1½ oz Vodka (Grey Goose/Ketel One)

1½ oz Limoncello

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

2 tsp agave or sweeten to taste

½ cup frozen strawberries

Buzz it all up in the blender*

Note: to freeze fresh strawberries, wash and stem them and lay out in a single layer on a foil lined tray. Freeze and then store in a zippered plastic bag.

*Vitamix has changed my life