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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Valentine Hearts & Bougatsa

Ricotta Bougatsa (Greek Breakfast Pastry)

Ricotta Bougatsa (Greek Breakfast Pastry)

Could be my imagination, could be my inability to let my son go, or maybe-just maybe, there is a loving energy between my son and me. You know those “whoosh” moments I have mentioned before. Never a believer in ESP, the paranormal or ghosts, it is getting harder to deny that such things do indeed exist as those moments keep on coming.

heart rock

heart rock

I believe it all started on February 14, 2011. I had not seen William in a few months. Very early that morning the phone wakes me from a sound sleep and it is him. “I just wanted to be the first to ask if you would be my Valentine. I hope I did not wake you.” It was such a loving, sweet gesture on his part that I responded, “Oh, no you did not wake me. Your father and I are having coffee”. Then the doorbell rings, “hang on William someone is at the door–who the hell is here so early in the morning?” Jump out of bed, throw on the bathrobe….and it’s HIM!!! He drove all night from NC to CT to surprise me for Valentine’s Day. What a gift from his heart to mine.

my heart pendant

my heart pendant

Then he died, but his loving, sweet heart keeps surprising me. It started with this heart pendant (see photo). It came from his ashes. Really, it came from his ashes. It takes my breath away every time I put it on. Second, is the heart rock (see photo above). In my deepest, darkest hour of grief it appeared as I stepped onto a path into the woods. It saved me from myself.

Sweet William's Fancy Chocolate Chip Cookie

Sweet William’s Fancy Chocolate Chip Cookie

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my logo

Then came the cookie which even convinced my husband that some energy is out there. I was finally coming out of my funk with the idea that I could create recipes inspired by William. The first would be a Jack Daniel’s laced cookie. The very first cookie baked in the shape of a heart. It was as if he was happy and approved of my progress. I used a cookie scoop so it should have come out round. P.S. every other cookie I baked came out perfectly round.

There are more heart signs to tell about, but I need to save them for a future life-changing story. In the mean time, I want to share this delicious breakfast-brunch pastry that I created for my Valentines–Bill, Caitlin and Sam. I got up early this past weekend and surprised them with this special treat created from my heart. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Ricotta Bougatsa with berries and bacon

Ricotta Bougatsa with berries and bacon

Ricotta Bougatsa (Greek Breakfast Pastry)

1 cup (8 oz) whole milk ricotta cheese

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar, divided

1 tablespoon all purpose flour

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

½ teaspoon vanilla

1 egg, separated

1/8 teaspoon salt

12 sheets phyllo dough, covered with damp paper towel

¼ cup melted butter

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

½ cup honey

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 cup fresh blueberries

1 container plain Greek yogurt

Heat oven 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment. In small bowl, combine ricotta cheese, 2 tablespoons sugar, flour, lemon zest vanilla and egg yolk; blend well. In another small bowl, whisk or beat egg white and salt to stiff peaks; fold into ricotta mixture and set aside.

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Lay 1 phyllo sheet on work surface with short end toward you; brush with butter. Top with a second phyllo sheet; brush with butter. Fold in half with two short ends meeting each other; brush with butter. Spoon ¼ cup of ricotta mixture over center of dough. Fold longer sides over filling, brushing with butter.

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Fold in sides to meet in the middle forming a parcel. Brush with butter and place on baking sheet. Brush top with butter. Repeat with remaining phyllo, butter and filling to make 5 more parcels. Mix remaining teaspoon of sugar with cinnamon and sprinkle over parcels. Bake 30 minutes or until golden and crispy. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Meanwhile, combine honey and lemon juice in small saucepan over medium heat, stirring just until warm. Arrange bougatsa on individual serving plates. Top with syrup, blueberries and dollop of Greek yogurt.

Note: unbaked parcels may be made night before, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated. Bake as directed above in the morning.