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. ❤

High-Rise Banana Muffins

It’s that time of year that I like to clean out my cupboards, pantry and freezer. I pride myself on keeping my baking and cooking equipment organized, but by the end of 2018 everything seemed to be in a tangle.

Inspired by 3 over-ripe bananas discovered in the depths of my freezer it was time to use them up along with a bunch of random paper cupcake liners and near empty containers of spices and extracts. Baking some warm healthy muffins would help me clean things out. And bonus…we get delicious muffins for breakfast.

Today, I bring you a banana muffin that actually tastes like bananas. Tip: bake with over-ripe bananas for the very best flavor. Most muffins I have had in the past are loaded with spices, so they taste more like ginger or cinnamon or chai rather than fresh bananas. While this recipe has a touch of spice the banana flavor and aroma really comes through due to the addition of some banana extract. I love this McCormick brand because it truly does enhance the banana flavor without any weird artificial taste.

You will notice that this recipe starts at a high oven temperature of 425F. before dropping down to 350F. The initial high heat is what gives these muffins the high-rise. As for mixing…you know the drill. Mix the dry ingredients with the wet just until moistened, so they bake up tender. Please feel free to toss in any other healthy ingredients you like. I’m a freak for chia seeds, but some toasted nuts could be good for a bit of crunch

1 cup King Arthur all-purpose flour

½ cup King Arthur white whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 over-ripe bananas (frozen and thawed)

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar (or 3/4 cup if you like them sweeter)

6 tablespoons coconut or avocado oil

1 egg

2 teaspoons McCormick banana extract

1 tablespoon chia seeds

Heat oven 425F. Line muffin tin with paper liners. In medium bowl, whisk both flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg; set aside. Peel thawed bananas over a large bowl, catching any excess liquid. With electric mixer on low mash up the bananas. Add brown sugar, coconut or avocado oil, egg, extract and chia seeds; blend well. Add dry ingredients and blend at low speed just until moistened and batter is smooth. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Bake for 5 minutes and then turn down oven to 350F. Bake 15 to 17 minutes or until wooden pick comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Angels Among Us & Biscuits

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Brush of An Angel’s Wing by Charlie Shedd was gifted to me in 2015. It’s a quick read of miraculous, but true stories of healing, rescues and sweet waves of comforts. The book is as uplifting as having an angel on your shoulder.

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While I did not need convincing that God’s messengers do exist I wondered if this book of divine intervention could help or inspire other parents who have lost a child. After such a harrowing experience finally believing my son is an angel among us was a real positive turning point in my own grief experience. Whoosh moments inspire me to celebrate him.

The brush of an angel’s wing eases the torment. It happens at unexpected times and when needed most. The book and its wonderful message needs to be shared. So, here is what I did.

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I wrote William’s name on the inside cover with his date of birth and the day he died. I then mailed the book to a friend who had also lost a child with instructions to add her child’s name to the “Angels Among Us” list and then to pass it on after reading. I then forgot all about it until now.

Fast forward to a month or so ago when I received an apology note from a mom who had lost her son last year. She said she was sorry for holding onto the book for so long, but she just could not bring herself to write her son’s name in the cover. Suddenly, I recalled my own first year of numbness, shock and disbelief. I knew exactly what she felt. I still have days when I can’t believe it. Back then I would not have been able to write my son’s name in the book either. Glad I was able to pick myself up and in time you will, too.

Hang On Pain Eases (H.O.P.E.)

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Have you been apple picking? Have you tried angel biscuits? I suppose they got their name because they are not only made with the typical baking powder, but also leavened with yeast making them rise to heavenly heights. I made some spicy apple butter with all those apples that Annabelle picked adding it to the biscuit mix for some fall flavor. These would be an unexpected pleasure on your Thanksgiving day table and easy to do because the dough is made in advance and can be refrigerated for a day or two.

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Apple Butter Angel Biscuits

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1 teaspoon active dry yeast*
1/4 cup warm water (105º-115º F)
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour*
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
½-teaspoon baking powder
½-teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons (1/2-stick) cold unsalted butter, cubed
½ cup apple butter
½ cup buttermilk

2 tablespoons heavy cream and 2 tablespoons turbinado (demera) sugar
In a small bowl, stir yeast in warm water to dissolve it; set aside.
In large bowl, whisk flour, sugar, cardamom, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Scatter the butter over the flour mixture and cut in with a pastry blender (or rub together with your fingers) until the butter is the size of small peas. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the pumpkin purée and buttermilk.  Add the buttermilk mixture and the yeast mixture to the flour mixture and stir just until the ingredients are moistened.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour or as long as overnight.

Heat the oven to 450º F.  Line a 9-10-round baking pan with parchment paper.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator.  Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead 4-5 times.  Roll or pat the dough to a thickness of 1/2 inch.  Cut the dough with a 2-inch floured cutter using a straight up and down motion; don’t twist the cutter.  Cut out as many biscuits as you can.  Fit as many biscuits in the baking pan as you can with just a slight space between them.  You can also put them side-by-side on a baking sheet. Gather the remaining dough scraps, then gently roll out the dough again. Cut out the remaining biscuits and place on the baking sheet. Brush tops with heavy cream. Sprinkle with sugar.

Bake biscuits until golden brown, about 12-15 minutes.  As soon as the biscuits come out of the oven, brush the tops with the melted butter.  Serve warm with butter and apple butter.

*as always I recommend Redstar yeast and King Arthur Flour for consistent, tasty results

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