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Baking a Wedding Cake and a Tour of Facebook in the Same Day.

Baking a Wedding Cake and a Tour of Facebook in the Same Day.

IMG_0232It’s been quite a month. I took on making a wedding cake for a good friend that reconnected with me on Facebook.  I also was unusually busy because I met up with my niece at Facebook the same day that I had to bake the cakes. This is what’s so great about Facebook. You never know who you might meet up with again since they have globally 1.28 billion people active users daily and 200 billion monthly active users.

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Last month I was invited to take a tour of the Facebook campus from my niece who works for an accounting firm there. Jasmine showed me around the property. It was quite expansive and the employees  used bikes and busses to get from campus to campus. These busses come frequently, are air conditioned and very comfortable. But, let’s talk about the FOOD at Facebook. When I arrived, I was given a day pass and offered something to drink. I delightedly made myself my fav drink: an espresso w half and half and sugar. It was so exciting to see all the options and everything was FREE.Eventually, we made our way over to the BBQ pork, macaroni and cheese, and spicy greens and I was in heaven.

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Jasmine also introduced me to several snack areas which give away, pretzels, chips, granola bars, fruit snacks, popcorn,candy, gum and pretty much whatever your heart desires. I took Altoids (my Dad’s favorite), peppermint gum and a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup for the ride home. Yum. They also have refrigerators near the exits that have pre made salads, etc so you don’t have to cook when you get home. That’s a huge help to many families that struggle with meal preparation. I can’t imagine anyone being hungry though. Jasmine and I walked down the main campus where there were places to eat lining the street. I saw a Noodle Bar, a BBQ place, a burger joint, a Salad Bar,  a bakery and an ice cream shop. And I’m sure I’m forgetting many more.They even had a cafeteria on her campus which was closed already.  I wanted EVERYTHING. I couldn’t believe that all this food was FREE.

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Cameras weren’t allowed near the workstations, but I was amazed at all the different nooks and crannies all over campus that were set up to work from. Comfy couches and rooms that looked like libraries were positioned all over making it hard to choose where one would feel like hanging out. It felt more like Disneyland than a place of employment. We even walked by Mark Zuckerman’s office! So cool.

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Jasmine also showed me all around Instagram which Facebook also owns. There were huge art pieces all colorful and exciting, a place one could be inventive and inspired for sure.

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The wedding cake story is explained next. I don’t consider myself a professional cake baker. Yes, I have gone to pastry school and made special occasion cakes for different events, but never for a wedding. That’s a lot of pressure that I don’t need to put on myself, and no one had ever asked me before so it wasn’t an issue. Noelle and I had raised our kids together in the same neighborhood, same swim team and same schools. That is, until she and her husband separated about 10 years ago and moved out of the neighborhood. She and I lost touch and I hadn’t spoken for a very long time. Then out of the blue, she sent me a message on Facebook and asked me to give her a call. I guess she saw my many dessert  posts and of course remembered how much I loved baking. About a week later, I had her and another friend from the neighborhood named Chris over for dinner to discuss her new man, anything we might have missed out on the last 10 years and of course THE CAKE.  

 

And Noelle, is in sales and can be very assertive and overbearing, yet I like that about her. I was also excited to have this opportunity to make a wedding cake. After all, she really wanted me to bake her cake and there is something kinda cool about that.

It took some convincing, but I finally agreed. Now I had to do the research, look for recipes, find the right sized cake pans, figure out how what to put them on and learn what kind of supports I would need to serve a wedding cake in Mid July. Thank goodness for You Tube, Pinterest and good friends who suggested I make a tiered wedding cake instead of piling them on top of each other. (Best decision ever!) I spend hours watching home chefs decorate cakes, and got to see what tricks I would need to make this process a success.

I spend days shopping picking up ingredients like drinking straws (to use inside the cake to keep from falling), fresh lemons for lemon curd, eggs, butter (lots of butter), meringue powder, powdered sugar, raspberries, and pudding mix. Yes. I used box cake mixes because I am guaranteed a good tasting cake with the right texture. If I made them from scratch, I would worry that the weight of these cakes wouldn’t hold up to another on top. Like I said, I’m not a cake baker. I generally dislike making a decorating cakes, because it takes someone with patience to make them look just right. They have to be even and the icing needs to be the right consistency with various scrolling, etc…

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Another thing most people don’t know about me is that I listen to motivational podcasts every morning. I like Deleon Motivation , Tony Robbins, and The Mulligan Brothers just to name a few. These talks push me a little out of my comfort zone and ask that you try something new. Do something that you wouldn’t normally do, they say. This cake definitely did that for me. I was waay out of my league, yet I was determined to make it happen for my friend. It was the least I could do for her, after all.

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Lucky for me, my husband helped out by engineering the “tiered look” and stepped up big time at the last minute. I also was fortunate to have our cousin volunteer to make the rose cake topper, which made the cake look professional. Lynie loves flower arranging and I knew I would not have the time or energy to give this cake the finishing touch that it deserved. She only charged me $39.00 for the roses and baby’s breath and refused to let me pay her for her time. It was such a gift.

A week or so before the wedding I started baking the five cakes. I’ve taken enough baking classes to know you never refrigerate a cake or it will dry out. So I had to take my freezer food to my mom’s house so I could make room for all five cakes. The lemon curd was made next, since that can be made ahead. I waited until the day before to make the frosting. Buckets and buckets of frosting! I worried a little, no A LOT about how I would decorate each cake, but in the end they all turned out beautiful. One I topped with the flowers, one I used fresh raspberries and blueberries, and one I delicately placed meringue cookies in a huge pile on top of this enormous round cake.

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I got excited when I decided to fill the cakes with whipped cream, lemon curd, raspberries, and buttercream. I used Grand Marnier, simple syrup, to moisten the layers before filling. I found pink ribbon and used mylar strips/acetate to keep the ribbon from touching the icing on the sides of the cake.To decorate the sides, I used tempered white chocolate and a piece of a huge metal form that my husband used to build a rock wall. This metal piece had a fun pattern to it that would make the cake look special. (Kind of fun to use something no one else would ever think of using!)

 

The tricky part was making room in the fridge and freezer for the finished cakes and also transporting them to the venue which was only 15 minutes away. The weather wasn’t cooperating with us either, since it was over 100 degrees at 2:00 in the afternoon. My little Lexus came through allowing us to crank up the air conditioning for 10 minutes before we loaded them in the car. I’m sure most cake makers have special vans or large vehicles that make it easier to get five huge cakes to a wedding.Not not me, but we made it happen.

After arriving at Il Postino in Lafayette, my husband built the structure of cake platters and we used a brand new white sheet that covered the table perfectly. I picked a few flowers and greens from my garden and was able to put together something cute to give the presentation a little color besides the rose cake topper.

In the end, everything worked out well. Noelle and Mark got married and they had a beautiful cake that make their day extra special. Who knows if there are any more wedding cakes to be made in my future. At least if there are, I will have the knowledge and expertise this time to do it.

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I genuinely would like to thank my niece Jasmine for taking the time to take me to Facebook. I’m so proud of her!  It’s because of Facebook that I was offered these friends like Noelle and Chris to magically pop back into my life. The wedding was beautiful, the cakes were phenomenal and I have a new trick up my sleeve when it comes to calling myself a pastry chef. And without the help of these morning motivational talks, I can ultimately say I probably wouldn’t have considered taking on this gargantuan task. To say  that I am grateful for the opportunity to make a wedding cake is an understatement. Congratulations Noelle and Mark. Thank you for including me in your special day.

Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog for more great stories and recipes.

 

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Pumpkin Pie for Vegans, 28 years of Wedded Bliss, and a trip to Millennium

Pumpkin Pie for Vegans, 28 years of Wedded Bliss, and a trip to Millennium

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Okay. I know it isn’t Thanksgiving, but I grew a huge gorgeous pumpkin and a kabocha squash  in my vegetable garden and I need to make a dessert. And my husband and I celebrated 28 years of marriage last week! Whop! Whop! I’m really excited that I grew and harvested these. I mean, why is this pumpkin ripe already? I always thought they needed a few months to be sweet and ripe enough before we get to eat them, but I’ve never grown one before.

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Here it is hanging on a trellis in my front yard with my panty hose!

I’m sure I could make a pumpkin soup with a toasted pumpkin seed garnish on top a dollop of creme fraiche. Maybe I’ll make that too, but first let me get back to the PIE.

I asked my friend Cathy what her fav vegan recipe was and she shared this with me. She told me it is to die for and was happy to let me give it a try. The four of us met at Millennium  Restaurant a few weeks ago and I was blown away with their Vegan menu. We had already eaten dinner and just decided to take a drive over to this new place. I loved the bar and atmosphere and loved how things were presented. We opted to share the chocolate peanut pretzel torte. It was divine! The menu described it as having a peanut mousseline, a chocolate-caramel ganache, a chocolate peanut butter bark, salted caramel sauce, and served with a Brother Thelonious Ale Ice Cream (who ever that is…) Of course we had been drinking wine all night and normally I would have had a coffee with it to cut the sweetness. Thankfully, it wasn’t too sweet, just right and couldn’t believe it was a vegan recipe. Nothing bland or blah about it.

Millennium didn’t disappoint. I only wished we had started there in the first place. The food is special and the people are adorable too. Had to take a pic of this guy the pastry chef. Waaay too Berkeley if you ask me.

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Back to the pumpkin pie recipe. Well almost… My niece Keri who just recently graduated from USD and got a full time job (good for you Miss Keri) and is eating only Vegan recipes so she should appreciate it. Got to love her. She is one of a kind. Here we are picking her up from the airport a few weeks back. She’s sporting her new coral earrings and necklace we got her for graduation too.

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Here’s the pic of the gorgeous peanuty chocolaty caramely vegan dessert from Millennium. It reminds me of my elevated Rice Krispie Munchie Bar dessert that has peanut butter, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, Nutella and tons of butter. Def NOT vegan. I will have to share that recipe next!

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Here’s the pumpkin pie recipe as promised. I will also share more pics of it next time I make it.

Pumpkin filling

Ingredients:

3 C Cooked pumpkin or butternut squash

½ C Pure Maple Syrup or Agave Syrup

½ C Coconut Milk or use your favorite non dairy milk

4 tsp coconut oil (melted) or can use extra light olive oil

½ t Cinnamon

½ t Ground Ginger

1/4 t ground Cloves

¼ t ground Nutmeg or freshly grated

½ t Maldon Salt

2 T Arrowroot powder

1 t Agar powder

1 t good quality Vanilla

 

 

Pecan Topping

Ingredients:

2 C Chopped Pecans or Almonds

½ C Light Brown Sugar

1 T Cornstarch or Unbleached Flour

⅛ C Honey

1/2 t Maldon salt

Directions for Making the Topping:

Chop pecans/almonds coarsely. Put into a bowl and toss w brown sugar, cornstarch/flour, honey and salt. Set aside.

 

Pie Crust 

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, cool enough to be solid
  • 6-8 tablespoons of ice water

Directions: In a food processor add flour, salt and sugar. Cover and pulse once or twice. Add coconut oil in spoonfuls on top the flour, cover and pulse 7 or 8 times until well combined. Take cold water and pour into opening of processor while pulsing until moist.

Turn onto parchment paper or Saran Wrap, make a disc shape cover, and put in fridge to rest for at least 20 min.

After 20 min roll out pastry dough onto floured counter into a round shape a little bigger than your pie dish. Place crust into a deep dish pie dish (or whatever you have) and crimp edges with your thumb and pointer finger in a decorative manner.

Place crust into fridge while making filling.

Directions for Pumpkin Filling:

Cut Pumpkin in half and remove seeds. Cut pumpkin in large pieces and place on large baking sheet covered w foil flesh side down for 1 hour until knife inserted easily and pumpkin is cooked. Cool. Remove skin and puree cooled pumpkin in a food processor until smooth. Use left over for pumpkin soup or pumpkin bread. Previous blog recipe here Pumpkin bread 

Measure out 3 Cups and place in processor. Add maple syrup, coconut milk, coconut oil, , spices, salt, arrowroot powder and agar powder. Puree until smooth.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove crust from fridge and pour pumpkin filling into pie shell. Bake for 45 to 50 min. Remove pie from oven and top with pecan/almond mixture. Bake uncovered another 15-20 min until pecan/almond topping is browned and crumbly. Cool for at least a couple of hours before slicing. 

Serve with vegan ice cream or non dairy whipped cream. My husband was a happy camper eating this delicious pie on our anniversary.

Altered from recipe Cathy gave me. She found it here  recipe 

As always please leave a comment or two and don’t be shy about sharing my blog.

Enjoy!  

Teri:)

 

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Should You Take a Summer Vacation or Make Apricot Jam?

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July is almost here, which means most people are trying to get out of town for their annual summer vacation. Me? Well, besides starting a new job, I have plenty to keep me busy in the kitchen. Last week I decided it was time to get my apricot jam on. I mean, get going on the dozens of jars of preserves that I make every year. Apricots are my mom’s favorite fruit. It might me mine too, but I’ve got a thing for cherries too. Vacation is definitely NOT in the plans quite yet. Staycation is where it’s at.

Every year in mid June I drive to Brentwood and purchase 3 cases of Blenheim apricots. (I planted my own Blenheim tree a few years ago, but the critters always get to them before I do!) I love to give the jars to friends and relatives as a hostess gift all year long. My sister in law Nancy thinks I should sell my jam, but I’d rather treat those I love to this special treat. It is great on toast with a little butter or my husband’s fav is to smear it on his toast that has peanut butter on it. I like to use it in my home made salad dressings.

It starts with a call to Wolfe Ranch in the beginning of June. I make an appointment to come by and get the apricots when they are first picked. They have my cases ready when I get there.

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When I get home, I separate the apricots on sheet pans lined with paper towels and wait until they are good and ripe before starting my preserves.

I always use the less sugar Sure Jell fruit pectin (pink package) because it is not as sweet and somewhat healthier. I set out all the ingredients, have the jam jars and lids cleaned and sitting in a hot water bath, have the wax melted in a sauce pan on the stove, have the food processor on the counter next to my measuring cups, lemon juice freshly squeezed, and butter and sugar out ready to go.

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Next, I wash the apricots and cut them in half. I pulse them in the food processor and also cut some of them up with a small knife. DO NOT puree. Then I follow the cooked jam recipe exactly from the Sure Jell package.

  •  I measure exactly 6 cups of apricots into an 8 quart deep sauce pan and stir in 2 Tbsp lemon juice and 1 tsp unsalted butter.
  •  Measure 4½ C sugar into a separate bowl.
  • Mix ¼ C of sugar from measured amount into a small bowl with 1 box of Sure Jell.
  •  Stir pectin-sugar mixture into fruit
  •   Bring mixture to a full rolling boil on high heat stirring constantly.
  •  Stir in remaining sugar quickly and return to a full rolling boil for exactly 1 1/2 minutes.
  •  Remove from heat and ladle into prepared jars. Fill to within 1/8 inch of the top of the jar. Ladle in paraffin wax.
  • Cover with lids and screw bands on tightly. When cool, wipe off any excess jam on the outside with a warm wash cloth. Enjoy!

Have you ever made jam? Leave a comment for me below and tell me about your tradition. Maybe you like to make pickles or can vegetables. I’d love to try pickling. What are you curious to make? I’m always inspired by the people who live in the middle of nowhere and have to use these methods to keep their food preserved.

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Are you getting away this summer or will you be hanging out at home like me? Either way, keep enjoying what you do. Try to give back when you can. And love the ones you’re with. We need more peace and love in the world. Listen to The Beatles “Let It Be.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ih-8K1a_SsA  The Beatles “Let it Be”My all time favorite song because my mom played the clarinet to this song at a Catholic Marriage Retreat when I was a little girl.

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Feel free to check out a previous blog here: https://letsmakemudpies.wordpress.com/2017/05/19/a-foodies-dream-edible-flowers-and-delicious-cocktails/

 

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Discover the Food Scene on College Ave and a New Chicken Recipe

Discover the Food Scene on College Ave and a New Chicken Recipe

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Imagine how surprised I was to stumble upon this quaint neighborhood called Elmwood when dropping off my family room rug to get cleaned. My mother has been having her rugs professionally cleaned at Tulanian Rugs for over 50 years.  I was somewhat of a skeptic, never having my rugs cleaned outside of my home before. I always hired someone to come in and clean in the past, but I trusted my mom since she had a good experience there. First I called and spoke to a very pleasant woman who answered lots of questions that I had. She knew a lot about how to care and clean a rug that has been around pets, etc… I felt so comfortable bringing my rug to her that I brought two of them in!

After paying for a 3 hour parking spot and dropping off my rugs, I decided to look around. The neighborhood reminded me of Multnomah Village in Portland Oregon that I visited last November. I wrote a blog about that experience and you can read about it here: https://letsmakemudpies.wordpress.com/category/toffee/

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I discovered restaurants like The Elmwood Cafe . There was a line going outside the door. Must be goooood.  I decided to grab a menu and see what else I could find. I didn’t get far before I found a restaurant called Summer Kitchen. This place looked extra yummy too. I hope no one saw me drooling over the pile of fried chicken sitting right behind the counter. IMG_9565 (1) They also had several salad offerings, made to order sandwiches, pizza and nightly dinner specials like chicken from the oven, spicy braised pork, and Arctic char for @ $20.00. What a deal. Not ready to decide what to eat I kept on.

Next I stopped into Mrs. Dalloway’s Book Store. I enjoyed their literary selection, but I couldn’t get enough of their garden art and cooking selection gifts. I found really cool wrapping paper (I’m a sucker for colorful anything) and adored their displays of Mother’s Day gifts and Grad Cards. So fun.

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I was happy to find Kerry Moriarty’s Jewelry shop 14 Karats. Just that week I lost a back to an earring and needed to replace it. I also lost a stone in a special bracelet that my husband bought me in Thailand. I happened to have them both in my purse and was able to get Kerry to help me out for a reasonable price. When I went to pick up the bracelet, he and his wife gave me their special Hot Sauce that they playfully call”Jo Boo’s” make from scratch. They have been making it for years and even brought it to “Burning Man.” It has several different chili’s in it including the famous ghost chili. Can’t wait to try it. His wife also worked as a caterer for years and generously gave me a piece of her famous dark chocolate almond crunch. Sooo good.

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Just around the corner I found Nabolom Bakery & Pizzeria . I was told to try their pizza by the guy in the Sweet Dreams Candy Shop. Yes I love candy too. I’m a sucker for a piece of a good quality dark chocolate and almond bark.

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To my disappointment, the bakery only serves the pizza from 11-2PM and then from 4-7PM and it was already 2:45PM! I opted instead for a chunk of focaccia bread with caramelized onions. I gobbled it ALL up on the drive home in the car. It was warm, and chewy and salty and perfectly baked. I was a happy girl. The pics below were taken the following week when I went back for the pizza.

Don’t forget to check out Casa De Chocolates in case you want to satisfy your sweet tooth with a nice cup of hot cocoa with a hint of chili in it. This tasty treat was very chocolaty and the perfect pick me up after a long afternoon of shopping. In addition to their hand made boxed chocolates, this company specializes in making Latin American chocolate bars and desserts like flan, tres leches cake and Mexican wedding cookies.

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Lastly, but not least I happened upon a small women’s clothing shop called Rue Atelier    I met the owner Barbara who was adorable and she told me a little more about the history of the area. The Elmwood neighborhood was hit hard when the popular Lululemon moved out of the corner property recently. I felt so bad for her that I had to buy a really cute blue jean jacket that i found on her sale rack for only $35.00- just my size. Barbara even posed for a pic with her dog for me!

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I couldn’t help myself, but walk into The Ashby Marketplace. In this store you could find local produce, plenty of artisan gluten free varieties of rice flours, coconut flour, ground corn meal, wheat germ, baking powders, baking sodas and many more extra ordinary options for the baker enthusiast.

I could go on and on about the fun businesses that this end of Berkeley has to offer. But, why don’t you go see it for yourself? You will be glad you did. Go hungry. Be ready to shop for cute chic clothing and go there for great new books or gifts. Goodness knows I will be heading back to the Elmwood neighborhood in Berkeley again real soon. My husband will love it too and he will be happy to know we have clean rugs again.

Just in case you would like a new chicken/pheasant recipe, here it is. My husband’s coworker was looking for a good recipe and I promised her I would add it to my next blog and share it with her. I had this delicious meal at a neighbors home one night after her husband came home from pheasant hunting. There is nothing low calorie about this dish, but you will be glad you tried it.

 

Pheasant (Or Chicken) en Creme

Ingredients:

1 Pheasant or Organic Chicken cleaned and quartered

1 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 T Unsalted Butter

⅓ C Diced Yellow Onion

2 Cloves minced Garlic

½ C Fresh sauteed sliced Cremini Mushrooms

 

1 Can of Cream Of Chicken Soup

½ C Apple Cider

1 T plus 1 teas Worcestershire Sauce

¾ t Kosher Salt

½ t Black Pepper

2 t Smoked Paprika divided

 

Preheat oven t 350 degrees

Directions: Saute Onions, Mushrooms in Olive Oil and Butter until Onions are translucent about 7 minutes adding the minced garlic at the end so garlic doesn’t burn.

Place Pheasant in ungreased 9X9X2 baking dish. Mix Soup, Cider, Worcestershire Sauce, Salt, Pepper in a small bowl until combined. Add cooked onions, mushrooms and garlic and stir. Pour mixture over pheasant and sprinkle with paprika.

Bake uncovered in preheated 350 degree oven for 1 ½ -2 hrs or until fork tender basting occasionally. After 1 hr, sprinkle the pheasant with more paprika.

Enjoy! Follow me for more delicious recipes and fun adventures. Also I’d love it if you could take the time ask a question or leave a comment below. 

Smiles and happy cooking,

Teri:)

 

Need a new cocktail recipe? Latest blog here

 

 

 

 

 

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A Foodies dream: Edible Flowers and Delicious Cocktails

A Foodies dream: Edible Flowers and Delicious Cocktails

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Recently I hosted a garden club meeting at my house. The theme was “cocktails with edible flowers”. This garden club is fairly chill. All of the women live in our neighborhood and have a passion for gardening. We meet monthly and we have garden topics of all kinds: composting, rose pruning, seeds and front yard vegetables, growing citrus, drought tolerant plants, wildflowers, and this month we are learning about Exotic Invasive Pests and Traps. Many of the meetings begin with tours of the garden. It’s fun to see what people are growing and what does well in Northern California.

I can’t remember what inspired me to have a cocktail class. I think i was inspired from being in Hawaii recently and drinking all the fancy drinks with coconut, fresh pineapple and lilikoi (Passion fruit). I had never tasted this delicious puree before and I was excited to try it in a cheesecake recipe. It was refreshing and delicious and not something you eat every day. I learned you can purchase this fruit concentrate at a company named Perfect Purees in Napa https://www.perfectpuree.com/ I’ve put my order in so I can make a lilikoi cheese cake for my son’s graduation party. They have all kinds of flavors like blackberry, key lime, ginger, blood orange and caramelized pineapple. I can’t wait to try them in a sorbet recipe which they have several of on their site.

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For the cocktail class, I had my kitchen set up in different stations. I had a champagne area with a ginger simple syrup and a hibiscus rose syrup. Recipe here: http://www.cookingwithbooks.net/2014/12/rose-hibiscus-cocktail.html

I had a rum, coconut cream, coconut water, and fresh pineapple drink area with the blender and cold ice cubes.

https://www.dominicancooking.com/925-pina-colada-rum-pineapple-and-coconut-cocktail.html

I had a ginger beer section for the beer lovers. I planned on having exact recipes for everyone, but decided to “wing it” and have my computer near by in case we wanted to look up a recipe. Of course my friends could choose which edible flower they wanted to put in their drink. I had skewers, and umbrellas and all sorts of ice cubes frozen with flowers to add flair to their drinks.

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All of these drinks were topped with various edible flowers such as nasturtium, violas, lilac, rose petals, pansy, lavender, dianthus, camelia, sweet pea, borage, violets, strawberry blossoms, carnations, calendula, begonia, daisy, clover, fava, jasmine, citrus blossom, rosemary dandelion and arugula blossoms. The best part was I was able to pick most of these varieties from my garden.

Since I love to bake, I also served a dark chocolate coconut rum cake. It is a family favorite and my go to dessert when I need a chocolate fix. Inspired by my trip to Iceland, I served a homemade licorice ice cream doused with sambuca (an Italian licorice liquor). The ice cream would have also tasted good served with Kahlua.

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Everyone stayed a while and chatted until almost 11PM. It was nice to get to know a few of my neighbors better.  Many learned new cocktail flavors, and can now tell which flowers are edible and can be grown in their own gardens.

Isn’t it time you hosted a cocktail party? Maybe you are excited to grow a new edible plant that you can add to a salad or dress up a white cake. If I can, you can too.

Please write me in the comments below and share your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you.

Bonus Extra recipe here:

 
 

Simple Tips to Compost in Your Garden and Make the Best Fennel and Goat Cheese Tart for Mother’s Day

Simple Tips to Compost in Your Garden and Make the Best Fennel and Goat Cheese Tart for Mother’s Day

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Today I took a class on composting in the home garden. Luckily for me, The UC Master Gardeners of Contra Costa County http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/OurGarden/ offer weekly free classes at Our Garden on Wiget Lane and Shadelands Drive in Walnut Creek, California. This place was started in 2009 to grow food for the hungry and also to teach sustainable gardening practices to people like me. I go to learn new techniques on how to grow organically, how to compost efficiently, and to learn the secrets to growing my own vegetables and herbs.

In early April, I bought over 25 varieties of tomatoes, egg plant, tomatillos, cucumber, squash, pumpkin, and herbs like cilantro, dill and tarragon. Last season’s compost was ready to move into my raised planter box and I planted these beautiful plants into the organic soil. It’s being able to go out and pick fresh herbs that makes my dishes come out delicious, I believe.

Composting is nature’s way to turn fruit, vegetable and yard trimmings into a dark, crumbly soil amendment. I’m all for that. I’ve been composting for several years, not really knowing what I’m doing. The class taught me I should be chopping the leaves, fruit peels, greenery, etc into smaller pieces before adding to the pile. Compost is made by the breakdown of organic material primarily microorganisms like bacteria and fungi and macro organisms like worms, insects, and their relatives. The pile heats up because the bacteria decomposes the organic matter.

The compost process requires three components: organic matter, air and water. To begin composting you need brown items that include carbon like dry leaves, egg shells, straw, coffee filters, wood shavings, pine needles, shredded paper, and chopped woody prunings. You also need green items which include nitrogen such as grass clippings, well composted herbivore manures, flowers, coffee grounds, green leaves, tea leaves/bags, sod, and fruit and vegetable waste. Food scraps should be buried in the center of the pile 6-12 inches deep. Roughly 1 volume of greens to 2 volumes of browns are the starting proportions for building a compost pile.

You need a bin made out of chicken wire, welded wire fencing, or one that is purchased at a local garden supply. Geo Bin https://www.amazon.com/Compost-Bin-by-GEOBIN/dp/B0085O6NXQ came highly recommended. The optimal size bin is between 3X3 ft or 5X5X5 ft. The bin requires air holes for good circulation and someone needs to turn the pile daily/weekly to speed the compost process. Water is needed for the pile and should be kept as damp as a wrung out sponge.

I learned that compost piles are hottest in the center and can sometimes reach above 160 degrees. The ideal temperature for the best decomposer bacteria is between 122 and 131 degrees. Turning the pile brings fresh materials (food) to the bacteria and maintains the heat in the pile. Keep the pile watered and the compost should be ready in 6 to 8 weeks if the pile stays hot enough. If it’s not turned or watered enough it could take 3 to 8 months.

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Growing your own vegetables and herbs is very rewarding. Here is a pic of my raised garden in my front yard. There is nothing better than walking our to your organic garden and picking fresh herbs to add to your recipes. I’m inspired to use my composting techniques and build a healthier soil which in turn will grow healthier plants. I hope I’ve inspired you to try it in your back yard garden. You’ll be glad you did. Secrets to getting more vegies into your diet. 

Maybe you will bake this savory fennel and goat cheese tart for your friends and family this Mother’s Day. I made it recently for my garden club and they loved it. Here is the recipe:

 

Fennel, Goat Cheese and Tarragon Tart

 

Pastry Dough Recipe

1 ½ C Unbleached Flour

¾ Stick (6T) cold unsalted butter cut into small cubes

¼ t Kosher salt

4 to 5 T Ice Cold H20

 

For Tart Filling

2 large fennel bulbs @ 2 ½ lbs

1 large leek

8 green cardamom pods (or 1 t cardamom spice powder)

¼ C white wine or champagne

¼ C H20

¼ C Olive Oil

1 t Kosher salt

½ t black pepper

2 T unsalted butter

2 eggs

1 large egg yolk

½ C heavy cream

½ C whole milk

¼ C goat cheese

3 Oz (½ C) Taleggio Cheese cut into extra small cubes

1 T chopped fresh Tarragon from the garden

 

Make pastry dough for tart:

 

In a food processor, blend flour, salt and butter until blended. Or use pastry cutter or fingers just until most of  resembles coarse meal. Add cold water and blend until combined. Do not over mix or pastry will be tough.

Gather dough onto parchment paper or plastic wrap and make into a ball and flatten. Cover completely and let it rest in fridge to chill.

 

Directions for filling:

Cut off and discard fennel stalks and fronds. Cut out core and cut up fennel into ¼ in thick slices. Wash and cut leek into ¼ in slices using white parts only. Flatten cardamom pods with side of large heavy knife, then remove black seeds and discard pods. Crush seeds with side of knife and chop finely. Or sprinkle cardamom spice powder onto leeks and fennel in a 12 inch heavy skillet. Add wine, water, butter, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer, covered over moderately low heat stirring occasionally until tender about 20 to 25 min. Cool.

 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and make sure rack is in center of oven.

 

Roll out dough into a 15 in round tart pan. I use plastic wrap to  prevent dough from sticking to rolling pin. Trim dough so that it is flush with rim of pan. Lightly prick dough with a fork, then chill for 30 min. Line shell with foil (I spray with Pam first)and fill with dry kidney beans, rice or pie weights.Bake on a large baking sheet for about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove foil and pie weights and bake 10 -15 min longer or until tart shell is golden brown. Remove from oven.

 

Whisk together eggs, yolk, until foamy and add milk, cream, goat cheese, chopped tarragon, salt and pepper. Transfer fennel and leek mixture into pastry shell spreading evenly, and dot with taleggio cheese. Pour custard into shell and bake until set about 20-25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack before serving. Serves 6-8 people

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about composting and making delicious tarts. Please follow my blog and feel free to ask me any questions in the comments below.

Touring and Eating My Way Through Iceland

 

 

 

 

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Terrific read on diagnosing autism

the silent wave

The patient, whom I’ll call “P”, came into my office with their partner. P had been diagnosed as Obsessive-Compulsive, and had been prescribed medication.

They had come to see me because their instincts were nagging them, something along the lines of “this isn’t quite right. Something’s ‘off’ about this whole thing”.

I received their initial questionnaires long before meeting them in person. The questionnaires told me almost all I needed to know.

They were SO Aspergian that it wasn’t even funny.

My first meeting with them clinched it.

P and their partner arrived, and when greeting someone in my office, especially for the first time, I try to “break the ice” by noticing their clothing and making a nice comment about it.

P was wearing a jacket with the logo of our popular home sports team.

“Oooh, the ‘Victors’ (not the actual team name)! I obviously like your jacket.” (Insert…

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Posted by on April 27, 2017 in Uncategorized

 
 
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