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. ❤

A Marathon Not a Sprint

You’ve heard me say it before. When it comes to the holiday season take one day at a time and just put one foot in front of the other. Take your time. Do what you need to do and if you are able to weave your grief into the holiday spirit by all means do so.

If you are a guest among someone who is having a difficult time I encourage you to share some stories about the person who is gone from the table. If they are funny tales then even better. Don’t be afraid that you might make another cry. Those tears are the glue that mend the broken heart. The stories are priceless and allows the grief to be public, to be normal, to not be alone. Your courage to speak out loud is the best gift under the tree. Be the comfort and joy.

linzer tarts with Norm’s Farms elderberry jam

Baking brings me comfort and joy. At this time of year it is absolutely a marathon of cookies. So many recipes on this run to Christmas Eve. Some are traditional family favorites like linzer tarts, thumb prints and pressed spritz cookies, but if you know me I have to have some new creative additions, too.


Spritz cookies are the perfect holiday bite. Sweet, crisp and buttery nothing dresses up a cookie tray like these pressed cookies. With a rainbow of colors and sprinkles the fun and festive designs are endless. If you don’t already own a cookie press I highly recommend the Marcato Biscuits Machine as it is so easy to use and every cookie presses out perfectly. 

If you must know nutty thumb print cookies are my absolute favorite. The very best recipe comes from Sweet Maria’s Italian Cookie Tray book. I never tinker with her recipe because it truly is the perfect cookie. This year I tried Norm’s Farms elderberry jam with roasted and salted pecans in one batch and almonds and mango fruit spread in the other. Fantastic, melt in your mouth sweet sensations with just enough salty crunch.

Sweet Maria’s Italian Cookie Tray Thumb Cookies

 

2 sticks butter, softened

½ cup sugar

2 eggs, separated

2 teaspoons vanilla

½ teaspoon salt

2 cups flour

2 cups chopped nuts

¾ cup jelly

Heat oven 350F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. In an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light. Add egg yolks and vanilla; blend well. On low speed, gradually add salt and flour; mix just until soft dough forms. Shape into 1-inch balls. In small bowl, beat egg whites until fluffy. Place nuts in another small bowl. Dip dough balls into egg white and then roll in nuts coating well. Place on baking sheets two inches apart. Using your fingers, press tops of cookie balls to flatten. With your finger, make a dent in the center of each cookie. Spoon ½ teaspoon of jelly into the dent. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Transfer cookies on parchment paper to a rack to cool. Makes 3 to 4 dozen cookies. Store in an airtight container.

Talk about comfort and joy. Invite a child into your kitchen to bake this year. Don’t worry about the potential mess. That is why God invented vacuum cleaners and other assorted cleaning supplies. Oh, what fun……bake some memories.

Quite a lovely gingerbread house for a 2 1/2 year old

French Toast Muffins

muffins

French Toast Muffins

I am reposting today because on occasion I need to update winning recipes. This one is from my May 2014 blog post HERE. Betterrecipes.com was the original host of my recipe, but that site now seems to be undergoing changes and the link I had posted to the site is no longer working. I include my original recipe here now for comparison.

Here is the original recipe that won the contest.

French Toast Muffins

Ingredients:

1/4 cup Milk

3 Eggs, divided

8 slices Cinnamon Swirl Bread, crusts removed and cut into 1/2″ cubes

2 cups All Purpose Flour

3/4 cup Packed Light Brown Sugar

2 tsp Baking Powder

1/4 tsp Baking Soda

1/4 tsp Salt

1 cup Sour Cream

1 tsp Maple Extract

1 stick Plus 4 Tbsp Unsalted Butter, melted and divided

1/4 cup Sugar

1 tsp Cinnamon

Directions:

Heat oven 400 degrees. Grease a standard 12 cup muffin tin with nonstick baking spray or line with paper cups. In a medium bowl, whisk milk and 1 egg until blended. Add bread, then stir to coat, for the French toast topping. In a medium bowl, mix flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt until combined. In another bowl, whisk remaining eggs for 30 seconds. Add sour cream, maple extract and 1/2 cup of the melted butter, then whisk well. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry, then blend just until the dry ingredients are moistened, but do not over mix. Divide the batter among the muffin cups. Spoon the French toast topping evenly over the batter, pressing down slightly. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Invert the muffins onto a wire rack, turn them upright and cool 5 minutes. Mix sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Brush remaining melted butter over muffins and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Serve warm.