The Honey Search

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A.A. Milne’s Christopher Robin and my son had a few similarities. First of all, William had an entourage of stuffed animal friends that came to life every night before bed time. He especially loved the stories of the bossy, but often ignorant cat named “Kitty”, the sweet, loving and naive dalmatian dog, “Goodley” and the brilliant voice of reason, “Mack” the dolphin. I cannot help but laugh as I recall the banter of Kitty and Goodley referring to Mack as a fish and Mack feeling so insulted. And then a time when the tooth fairy left a note requesting that “the mean cat be crated” on the nights of her visits.

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Will’s Room

The similarities don’t stop there. For those who knew Will doesn’t this passage from the book describing Pooh and Christopher Robin’s search for honey remind you of him?

“Well, you both went out with the blue balloon, and you took your gun with you, just in case, as you always did, and Winnie-the-Pooh went to a very muddy place that he knew of, and rolled and rolled until he was black all over; and then, when the balloon was blown up as big as big, and you and Pooh were both holding on to the string, you let go suddenly, and Poor Bear floated gracefully up into the sky”

A change washed over me this week. Call it a divine intervention and a lifting up of my heart. It started with me waking up in the middle of the night laughing out loud. This kind of dream has never ever happened to me before. In the dream, I was simply recalling a very funny story from years ago. The kind that makes you laugh so hard it takes your breath away and the tears begin to trickle down your cheeks. I haven’t laughed like that in…well you know. For the record it felt good to wake feeling so light-hearted. It was indeed bittersweet as I felt that bear hug coming around my shoulders, but this time I was being held by more than him.

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William on his 4th birthday with his new friend, Kitty

Bitter and sweet is a great combination when it comes to cooking. I do believe I promised you a recipe using honey, so here we go. Combined with the bitterness of espresso this crispy baklava drenched in a honey syrup is just right for sharing and making sweet memories with someone you love.

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Don’t be afraid of the fillo dough. It’s easier to use than you think as long as you follow the box instructions for thawing and keeping it covered as you prepare the recipe.

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Chocolate Espresso Baklava

8 ounces roasted & salted pistachio nuts

8 ounces chopped almonds

1 (12 oz.) bag semisweet chocolate chips

2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

grated zest of 1 lemon

1 roll (20 sheets) Athens Fillo Dough, thawed

1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, melted

1 ¾ cups water

2 teaspoons instant espresso powder

juice of ½ lemon

¾ cup honey

Heat the oven to 350°. Place pistachio nuts in food processor; pulse until chopped. Add almonds, chocolate chips, ½ cup of sugar, cinnamon and lemon zest; pulse until nuts and chocolate are finely chopped and same size. Unwrap fillo dough and cover with a damp paper towel. Butter a 9-by-13-inch metal baking pan. Butter and stack 10 sheets of fillo into the pan. Sprinkle about 2 cups of the filling over the fillo. Gently shake the pan to even the layer of filling. Butter and stack 4 more fillo sheets and place over the filling. Sprinkle on another 2 cups of the filling. Top with 4 more buttered and stacked sheets of fillo and 2 more cups of filling. Butter and stack remaining sheets of fillo dough and place over the filling. Brush top generously with butter. Cut through all layers into about 3-inch squares and then cut each square into 2 triangles.

Bake for 25 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 300° and bake for 50 minutes longer or until until golden brown.

Meanwhile, in medium saucepan, bring the water, espresso powder, lemon juice, honey and remaining 1 1/2 cups of sugar to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Carefully pour the hot syrup evenly over the hot baklava and let stand for several hours or as long as overnight until completely cool. Makes 36 pieces.

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Joy To Daughters, Carrot Cake Pancakes & Buttermilk Syrup

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Last weekend I enjoyed the pleasure of my daughter’s company. Selfishly, I love having her all to myself as we roam around Chester County (fabulous mani-pedis at Polished) and search for treasures at some of the local antique shops. The girl has an impressive decorator’s eye which most likely came from her Grandma Keys. Back home, in my kitchen, we cook a fabulous crab cake salad with a buttermilk ranch dressing using recipes from the latest edition of Cooking Light. She likes cooking healthy and has creative mad skills in the kitchen, too. It brings me back to younger days when the two of us would enter our art and baking projects at the Bethlehem Fair. It’s actually how we were first introduced to King Arthur Flour who sponsored the state level competitions.What I love about these fairs is NOT everybody gets a ribbon. The win actually means something. It signifies learning and hard work pays off. It’s a joyful and proud moment to see the blue on your kid’s entry.

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1992 we each take a grand state blue rosette me for sewing and Caitlin for muffins

As we discuss the merits of buttermilk and value of USA wild-caught seafood, Caitlin mentions that lately she has been craving pancakes, but not enjoying them as she has cut back on carbs. Hmmmm,  I tuck that thought into the back of my brain only to pull it out this week with the caveat…life’s too short not to enjoy a delicious pancake.

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Easter Sunday brunch is on its way and I thought I could come up with a holiday inspired menu that included healthy pancakes. I won’t lie…I was looking for a way to use up the rest of the buttermilk, too. I love you, dear daughter, thanks for ever inspiring me and very proud of the woman you have become. Joy to you always.

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So, I never order pancakes unless the restaurant is offering real maple syrup to go on top. I am a syrup snob and refuse to eat the maple “flavored” stuff. However, this brown butter buttermilk syrup is a fabulous something different to pour over pancakes and French toast as well as ice cream or a cake. It’s like a luscious buttery light caramel.

Brown Butter Buttermilk Syrup

½ stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter

½ cup buttermilk

½ cup sugar

1-tablespoon corn syrup

1/8-teaspoon fine sea salt

½ teaspoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon baking soda

Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook butter, swirling pan occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until it begins to brown. Whisk in buttermilk, sugar, corn syrup and salt; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 8 to 9 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until mixture is a golden brown. Whisk in vanilla and baking soda (it will foam up). Remove from heat and keep warm while making pancakes. Can be made ahead and re-warmed. Also delicious over pound cake and ice cream.

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Lightly spiced whole grain pancakes are a great way to get your little bunnies to eat and enjoy their carrots.

Whole Grain Silver Dollar Carrot Cake Pancakes

¾ cups white whole wheat flour (I use King Arthur)

1-tablespoon ground flax seed meal (Bob’s Red Mill)

½ tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon fine sea salt

½ cup grated carrots (use medium hole on box grater)

¾ cups buttermilk

1 egg

2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In medium bowl, whisk flour, flax, baking powder, cinnamon and salt; set aside. Spread carrots over a paper towel. Top with a second towel and gently press together. Microwave carrots on HIGH for 2 minutes to remove moisture and soften. In another bowl, combine carrots, buttermilk, egg, butter, brown sugar and vanilla. Add wet ingredients to dry; mix just until dry ingredients are moistened. Do not over mix. Spoon batter (about a heaping tablespoonful for silver dollar style pancakes) onto a lightly greased non-stick skillet or griddle over medium-low heat. Cook about 2-3 minutes per side or until golden brown. Makes 12 to 14 pancakes. Serve with buttermilk syrup.

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What Every Mom Knows….About Pie

just bake it

just bake it

Every mother knows that at some point they’ve got to set their kids free. Untying the apron strings is never easy and letting them fly is even harder, but that is what moms do. It starts with the first day of school. A series of good-byes and long days hoping for the best. Suddenly, those long days have turned into years. The kids are ready to fly solo. Gently nudged from the nest we proudly watch them soar. It’s the beginning of a new relationship, but one thing has not changed. No one will ever love you like your mom.

my favorite sandwich

my favorite sandwich

There comes a point in the grief process that one realizes it is time to let go, too. It is the beginning of a new relationship with the one you have loved and lost. This is about the griever who can finally think about their loved one and not feel pain. This is about the griever who can talk about their loved one and not burst into tears. This is about the griever who is ready to take that emotional attachment and invest it in the living. If you are new to your grief this is not about you. In time you will get here because every day is a series of long good-byes.

A visit to Chicago's Navy Pier

A visit to Chicago’s Navy Pier

My William is gone. I recognize that. He can’t hug me or flash me a smile. He can’t call me on the phone at 9 pm or pay me a surprise visit. I can’t yell at him for doing something stupid (isn’t that what moms do) and I can no longer protect him or offer him advice. I can’t cook him his favorite meal or watch him enjoy Sunday morning crepes filled with his favorite strawberry jam. I will never forget him and I will always love him, but I have to let go of all this emotional energy and direct it towards living. Still safe in my heart this letting go of his hand is not a betrayal, but a healthy step forward. It is a Mother’s Day gift.

cutting the first slice is always the hardest

cutting the first slice is always the hardest

Another gift I have is a rolling pin from my mom. I have used a variety of rolling pins over the years, but hers is my favorite. It has comfortable handles and a weight that is perfect for rolling out her buttery pie dough recipe. I love to bake and as the days are getting longer and warmer, baking time is getting shorter. Don’t you just hate when it is too hot to turn the oven on? Yeah, me too. Baking has gotten me through some of my sadder moments. It’s great therapy plus in this case you get to eat pie.

mom's buttery crust

mom’s buttery crust plus her old rolling pin

Strawberry Rhubarb Lattice Pie

Crust

3 cups all purpose flour

1-tablespoon sugar

1-teaspoon salt

10 tablespoons unsalted butter (my mom only bought Land O Lakes)

6 tablespoons vegetable shortening

8 to 10 tablespoons ice water

Whisk flour, sugar and salt; cut in butter and shortening forming coarse crumbs with butter bits about the size of small peas. Using a fork, toss in just enough ice water until the dough sticks together forming a ball. Divide dough in half, wrap in plastic and chill at least 30 minutes.

see the bits of butter

see the bits of butter

Filling

3 1/2 cups diced rhubarb (1/2-inch thick slices) reddest stalks are best

1-(16 oz.) container strawberries, hulled, halved (about 3 1/2 cups)

½ cup sugar

1/3-cup (packed) golden brown sugar

¼-cup cornstarch

2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger

½-teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼-teaspoon salt

that's my mom's old pasta bowl

that’s my mom’s old pasta bowl

Prepare pie dough. Toss all filling ingredients together; let stand 30 minutes. Heat oven 400F. Roll out half of pie dough and fit into 9-inch pie plate. Roll out remaining pie dough into 13-inch circle; cut into fourteen 1/2-inch-wide strips. Drain juices from filling into a microwave safe 2-cup measure. (you should have about 1/3rd cup of cloudy pink juice). Microwave the juices on high for 1 minute; it should come to a rolling boil and thicken. Spoon filling into crust. Pour juice over filling. Arrange 7 dough strips atop filling, spacing evenly. Form lattice by placing remaining dough strips in opposite direction atop filling. Trim ends of dough strips even with overhang of bottom crust. Fold strip ends and overhang under, pressing to seal. Crimp edges. Transfer pie to foil-lined baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Bake pie until golden and filling is bubbly and thickens, about 65 to 75 minutes. Transfer pie to rack and cool completely.

from Penzey's

Finally, thanks to every one who commented on last weeks blog post. Happy thoughts are always good.  Congratulations to “Tracy” the winner. Your gift is on the way. Happy Mother’s Day.