What’s In Your Garden Plan

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Last week I wrote of the symbolic nature of flowers. Look around your garden. What does it say about you? Plant some dill. It symbolizes power against evil. Every victory garden could use that power right about now. Nasturtium, too. Those edible peppery and sometimes fiery orange blossoms stand for patriotism. Do you love this country? How do you show it?

For those who knew William or have followed this blog I’m certain I don’t have to explain why dill and nasturtium remind me of him. I don’t know a soul (other than his military brothers) who love this country more and fought the good fight, so others could live free.

William on the left with two of his brothers.

Today, I praise the essential workers battling the evil of COVID19 especially my two nieces. Heather and Brenda are on the front lines as nurses in ICU units devoted to the care of those infected. I can’t imagine the mix of emotions associated with these essential jobs, but they do it. They pledge an allegiance to quality healthcare no matter the hardship. All any of us nonessentials can do is express our gratitude for their courage, dedication and willingness to fight the good fight…plus wash our hands and practice social distancing. This thing isn’t over, yet.

With its feathery leaves and delicate flowers dill is an essential herb that attracts beneficial predators to the garden. I guess that is how it got its reputation for fighting evil.

As much as I love this recipe as written desperate times call for desperate measures. These days #AmericaStrong we are all adapting to a new normal. Thankfully, this is a raid your pantry kind of recipe initially adapted from William-Sonoma’s web site. No puff pastry? No problem. Use any kind of pie dough or even a pre-made pizza crust, flour tortillas or naan…hey! it is an international situation we are in so be brave and use whatever. Same goes for fresh tomatoes. Any fresh vegetable will do, but if it is crunchy like broccoli, blanch it first. Onions? Caramelize them first. Canned tomatoes? Drain them and pat them dry. Same for cheese and herbs…just do you and don’t forget to plant some seeds.

Fresh Tomato Tart with Feta & Dill

  • Servings: 4 to 6
  • Difficulty: easy
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1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed

fresh tomatoes, thinly sliced

kosher salt

6 oz. crumbled feta cheese

1 Tbs. chopped fresh dill

 freshly ground pepper, herb oil and freshly grated parmesan cheese

Heat an oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Sprinkle both sides of tomatoes lightly with salt and place in a single layer on paper towels. Let them stand 15 to 30 minutes for paper towels to absorb some of their moisture.

Unfold the puff pastry sheet on a lightly floured work surface. Roll out into a 9-by-13-inch rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. Transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet. Using a fork, prick (or dock) the pastry all over. Fold over 1/2 inch of the pastry all the way around the edge.

Arrange the tomatoes and cheese evenly on top of the pastry rectangle. Sprinkle evenly with the dill and some freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle with a little herb oil and parmesan.

Bake until the pastry is puffed and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer to a work surface. Cut the tart into pieces and serve.

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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Nesting & Easter Bread

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Nesting. It’s that time of year. Looking out from my kitchen window that is exactly what is going on in my back yard. While the woodpeckers, flickers and crows dodge snow flakes and nosh at the suet feeder it is the blue birds in all their rosy breasted, blue winged beauty that catch my attention.

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Diligently guarding the wooden box nailed to the fence post is the male bird. From the weathered rooftop he easily fends off other birds with a peck and flash of his gorgeous azure feathers. Like a good father he’s fierce, protective and never tires.

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He allows his less colorful partner to fly back and forth with bits of twigs and hay. She is carefully building the nest inside.

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The photographer, Sherb Naulty,  is a high school friend. Click on the link to see his awesome fox photos and do a little shopping.

Building a nest. That is what mother’s do in anticipation of their newborn babies. Not just a crib and rocking chair, but a home that is warm and safe and filled with hopes and love. Every baby is a miracle. I felt that every time I delivered one back in the 80’s at Ft. Bragg army hospital and so looked forward to building my own nest when the time was right. Having one pregnancy end in a miscarriage I have always considered my Caitlin and William my miracles.IMG_9702

So when I came across Rachelle Spencer’s web site I was completely taken in by the simplicity and beauty of her jewelry. Her designs are inspiring and can only come from a mother’s heart. When I asked Rachelle if she would be willing to share her story here she so kindly obliged.

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“My story is so very different from yours and yet I believe we share the same heart … a mother heart that wants the world to remember our children.

I lost 4 babies to early miscarriage during the course of a year. I desperately wanted a child to hold, and every loss was devastating to me. What made it worse was that no one knew about my little ones. I was a mother, but no one wished me a happy Mother’s Day and no one called my angels by name. I did name them. They are Adam, Michael and the twins are Louisa and Lauren.

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from E.E. Cummings’ poem

Rachelle-isms started after I had my rainbows, William and Anna. I made a few nests as Christmas presents in 2013, but I wanted one for myself. Typically nest necklaces are made for moms with beads that represent each child. But what about my children? Should I make a 2 bead nest or a 6 bead nest? Prompted by the anniversary of my twins due date, I offered a giveaway to mothers of loss. I offered any mother who had lost a child the gift of a nest with turquoise beads for living children and white pearls for children no longer living. The giveaway was huge and I had to end it early! And that is really how it all got started. I posted a few necklaces in my shop and my business naturally grew.
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Today I spend most of my time creating custom pieces for my customers. Many of them write to me telling me their stories. They are hard to hear, but between the lines I think so many people are just wanting someone to listen to and understand them. One of my favorite things is receiving the special requests for my designs with a twist added. I am never bored when I make these necklaces and I am always incredibly honored by the stories shared. My aim is always to encourage women to share their stories and heal.
I heard a quote once that I love so much … and I think you will agree: “When a baby is born, a mother’s instinct is to protect the baby. When a baby (or child) dies, a mother’s instinct is to protect its memory.”
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I guess that is what I am doing every day. I make nests for women all around the world honoring their children. I just want the world to know that my little ones lived, that I loved them and that they mattered. Thank you for letting me share my story with your followers, Lisa!”
Rachelle does an annual giveaway starting April 1st. Her twins would have been 4 years old this April. :)….and my William would have been 28. Check out her web site here.

 

Thank you to both Sherb and Rachelle for sharing their talents. I find both their creativity and artistry incredibly inspiring. This recipe is for them and for you. It’s my twisted Italian version of a most traditional sweet bread. I think you get the connection.

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Here is what you need. It all goes into the mixer.

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Let the dough rest and then roll and stretch and loosely twist together into a ring. Let it rest again.IMG_9655

Make a nest by inserting the eggs. Brush with egg yolk and bake.

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Italian Easter Bread

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup sugar

1 packet active dry yeast

1-teaspoon fine sea salt

1 teaspoon anise seed, toasted, ground

½ cup milk

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ teaspoon fiori di sicilia or 1 teaspoon vanilla

grated zest of 1 lemon

2 eggs

1 egg, separated

½ cup chopped dried fruit

¼ cup chopped toasted almonds

6 eggs, (dye 5 of them blue)

¼ cup powdered sugar

1 to 2 teaspoons lemon juice

sprinkles

In bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle, combine 1-cup flour, sugar, yeast, salt and ground anise. In 1-cup microwave safe measure, combine milk, honey and butter; microwave on HIGH for 45 seconds. Stir well. Mixture should be very warm (125-130F). Stir fiori di sicilia or vanilla into milk. Add milk mixture and lemon zest to dry ingredients; beat for 2 minutes or until mixture is well blended scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add 2 eggs plus 1 egg white; blend well. Change paddle to dough hook. Add remaining flour; beat on medium-low for 6 minutes. Add dried fruit and almonds; mix 2 minutes more. Scrape dough into an oiled bowl, turning to grease the top. Cover and let rest for 90 minutes. On floured surface divide dough in half. Roll each half into a 24-inch rope. On a baking sheet lined with parchment. Twist ropes loosely together and form them into a circle or nest. Cover with plastic wrap; let rest for 1 hour. Heat oven 350F. Insert raw dyed eggs into spaces in twisted dough. Place the white egg in the center. Mix remaining egg yolk with 1 teaspoon of water; brush over dough. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until golden and internal temperature is 200F on an instant read thermometer. Cool. Mix powdered sugar and lemon juice; drizzle over bread. Top with sprinkles.

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The eggs bake to hard-boiled and make terrific egg salad-bonus!