From the Heart

Today, I could not help but want to repost this old Valentine’s day blog. It truly is one of my fondest memories of William. Thinking back on that visit with him always makes me smile. He was the master of fun surprises.

I continue to be inspired by his amazing brave and caring energy which brings me to this weekend’s TEDx talk. Truth be told I wasn’t exactly sure what a TEDx talk was when I accepted the invitation. I just knew it would be one more way to celebrate Will’s life, so of course I said, “yes”.

Little did I know that being invited to do a TEDx talk is kind of a big deal. Little did I know just how terrified I would be as I prepared for it. In between panic attacks over the last several weeks I prepared 7 pages of my thoughts. Too much I fretted, so whittled it down to 4. I attempted to memorize a speech. Practice, practice, practice. It felt like I was jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. It felt all wrong.

Several supportive friends suggested, “just speak from your heart”. I am taking their advice and feeling less anxious. To just simply speak from the heart feels right.

To further ease my anxiety I thought it a good idea to bake cookies for all 300 people in the TEDx audience. Baking cookies is much more therapeutic than public speaking. Just sayin’. I’m bringing the original Sweet William’s Inspired and Spirited Chocolate Chip Cookie and a Salted Chocolate Whiskey Shortbread because I wanted a heart shaped cookie.

The cookie dough for the shortbread contains no salt, so don’t hesitate to generously top each cookie with a good sprinkle of finishing salt. I highly recommend The Spice & Tea Exchange Chocolate Sea Salt for its sweet smokey flavor.

Salted Chocolate Whiskey Shortbread

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon whiskey (Jack Daniel’s recommended)

4 cups all-purpose flour (King Arthur Flour)

1 cup chopped bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate

Chocolate Sea Salt or your favorite finishing salt

In large bowl, beat butter and sugar for 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. On low speed, add egg, vanilla and whisky; blend well. Gradually add flour until fully incorporated. Stir in chocolate. Dump dough out onto some plastic wrap. Gather it up into a flat disk. Wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. Heat oven to 350F. On a silicone mat or lightly floured surface roll dough to 1/8-1/4-inch thickness. Cut out desired shapes with cookie cutters. Re-roll dough scraps as needed to cut out more cookies. Sprinkle cookies generously with finishing salt. Gently press salt into cookie with your fingertips. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes for 1 1/2-inch size cookies or until edges brown. Cool. I made about 200 cookies with a small heart shaped cutter.

On this Valentine’s Day I hope you are surrounded by those you love most. ❤

Fresh Picked Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

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Warm, but overcast, yesterday was the perfect day for strawberry picking with my family. Highland Farms in West Chester, PA is the place to go for all sorts of fruit picking throughout the year. The scent of strawberries was in the air as we approached the field.

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photo by Caitlin

Do your littles watch the show Daniel Tiger? Annabelle loves the animated Mr. Rodgers version and on one episode Daniel and his friends go “fruit-picking”. My Annabelle could not wait to try it. She ate as much as she picked and was covered in warm strawberry juice by the time we were done. Want to have some fun? Go pick some berries!

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photo by Caitlin

Fresh picked berries are at their peak of sweetness compared to the more tart berries found in the grocery store, so less sugar is needed for the perfect pie. Make sure your filling is really bubbling (see video below) before you pull it from the oven to insure all the juices gel and don’t leave a soupy mess when the pie is cut. If the crust edge is over-browning then cover it with a pie shield or foil.

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Find a pie dough recipe here. It’s my favorite go to recipe and enough for a double crust, so wrap and freeze half of it for another time or just bake two pies.

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best baking buddy ever

Fresh Picked Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Pie dough for a single crust pie

2 tablespoons gingersnap crumbs

Crisp Topping

½ cup all purpose flour

¼  cup brown sugar

¼ cup old fashioned rolled oats (not instant)

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

4 tablespoons salted butter, cut into cubes

Filling

4 cups of fresh picked strawberries, slice large ones in half

2 cups sliced (1/2-inch thick) fresh picked rhubarb

2 tablespons heavy cream

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

½ teaspoon vanilla

½ cup sugar

¼ cup all purpose flour

Heat oven to 400F. Line 9-inch pie plate with dough. Trim and flute edge.  (Roll out dough scraps and cut shapes for decoration. Sprinkle shapes with sugar, if desired.)

Sprinkle cookie crumbs over bottom of pie shell and chill while preparing topping and filling. For topping: combine all ingredients in a bowl working the butter into the dry ingredients until clumps form. Chill it. For Filling: Place berries and rhubarb in a large bowl. Drizzle with heavy cream, lemon juice and vanilla; gently toss to coat. Add sugar and flour; toss again. Spoon into pie shell. Sprinkle crisp mixture over the top. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until pie is bubbling and crust and topping are golden brown. Let cool to room temperature or serve just slightly warm. 

 

 

Winner of an Applesauce

 

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This week I am happy to announce that I won third place in the Our Family Garden Applesauce recipe contest. Now, you might not think 3rd place is a big deal, but this contest was such a joy to participate in for so many reasons other than winning.

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First of all this is a real family business headed by a man named Darvin. Everyone including the children are involved in making the best applesauce I have ever eaten. The applesauce, made from a variety of apples, comes unsweetened or with a touch of honey +/or cinnamon. Darvin sent each participating contestant 6 full size jars of his well-made product plus a gift of a jar of jam….just because his is a kind and generous business. I already felt like I won and my recipe testing had not even started, yet.

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Inspired by such kindness and the perfect balance of fresh applesauce sweetness I went on to create 12 new recipes. (These days for most contests I only create 1 or 2 recipes at most.) Truth is this applesauce is so good on its own that it’s almost a crime to transform it into something else, but, my oh my, did it make every recipe I developed taste not only fantastic, but so much healthier to eat. I eliminated sugar and lots of fat without sacrificing any flavor in everything from baked goods to soups to a Korean style BBQ sauce. Win-Win-Win!

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The icing on the cake is that one of my recipe photos was chosen to dress the cover of the cookbook Darvin and his family are putting together. I am just thrilled the family liked my food photography and styling, too.

Here is my winning recipe which was a huge hit at Easter dinner. It’s a healthy carrot cake cupcake makeover utilizing a touch of honey for sweetness and some white whole wheat flour for a wholesome boost in nutrition. Try them for Mother’s Day.

Honey Frosted Carrot Cupcakes

  • Servings: 14
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1 cup all purpose flour

1/3-cup white whole wheat flour

1-teaspoon baking soda

1-teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon fine salt

2 eggs

1/3-cup honey

½ cup canola oil

1-teaspoon fresh lemon juice

2/3-cup Our Family Garden Applesauce Touch of Honey

1 1/3 cups finely grated fresh carrots

Frosting

1 (8 oz) container mascarpone cheese or cream cheese

¼ cup honey

½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 14 muffin cups with paper liners.

In a large bowl, whisk all purpose flour, white whole wheat flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; set aside. In another large bowl whisk the eggs until lightly beaten. Add honey, oil and lemon juice; whisk until slightly thickened. Stir in the applesauce and grated carrots. Add wet ingredients to dry mixture blending until dry ingredients are moistened and well mixed. Evenly fill the muffin cups with the batter. Bake about 20 – 22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Remove from the oven, place on a wire rack, and let cool completely before frosting. For frosting, beat mascarpone, honey and vanilla until well blended. Pipe or spoon the frosting on the top of each cupcake. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate the cupcakes until serving time. Can be stored in the refrigerator for several days.

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My favorite jelly bean and now taste tester in her Easter dress