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Monthly Archives: July 2020

Get a Taste of the Arts During Covid and a French Macaron Recipe

Get a Taste of the Arts During Covid and a French Macaron Recipe

It’s been almost a year since my neighbor Caroline came over to teach me how to make French Macarons. Caroline is a student and dancer at Loyola Marymount University in Southern California. She is quite an artsy person and I love her parents. She was on her summer break when she and I met to have baking lessons in my kitchen. I taught her how to make apricot jam and in return she taught me how to make macarons.

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Here’s Caroline showing off her macaron’s on the sil pat

I feel badly for all the college kids that have to return home because of Covid 19. It’s such a bummer how our lives have changed since March 2020 when California went on lock down. My kids have since graduated and moved on, but I can’t imagine how hard it is to not get the “college experience” of being on campus with your friends.

I have also been affected by this virus. I’m not allowed to visit my 83 year old father who lives in a skilled nursing facility in Yountville. He has COPD a lung disorder, diabetes and many other preexisting conditions that would make him vulnerable if he got the virus. I fell badly that he is alone without his family. We can drop off goodies and they will bring them to him. We can Face Time him and talk on the phone, but it isn’t the same as a personal visit. He has a good attitude about it all and is hanging in there.

 I haven’t been able to have outings with my mother who is also immunocompromised. We can talk over the phone also and visit at a distance from her front porch, but it is difficult. She has her husband Tom to keep her company and they are very happy.

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Me and my mom on her wedding day 7 years ago

We haven’t had any large family gatherings and that is unusual for us. We have seen our son’s who live nearby and neighbors when we walk in the evenings, but that’s about it. We are only going out for groceries and essentials to keep our exposure to a minimum.

A few of our family members have enjoyed a dinner or two at a distance in our backyard, but even that makes us a little uncomfortable.

Before the Corona Virus, I would go to my gym and exercise and write my blog. It was my happy place, but I’ve decided not to rejoin and find ways to exercise on my own. I’ve missed my hiking on Tuesdays and Thursday mornings with my friends. I can hike, but prefer to go with only one other person, usually my husband.

 I’ve spent my days keeping abreast of the news (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Late night shows, You Tube, the SF Chronicle) and talking to friends. I listen to podcasts like Macrovoices.com, The Sourdough Podcast, Rise Up, Unlocking Us By Brene Brown, Oprah Super Soul Conversations, The Southern Fork, and Hidden Brain. I have two books I’m listening to on Audible. I’m definitely informed and up to date on the latest shenanigans of President Trump. I’ve even started reading “Why Are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria,” by Beverly Daniel Tatum PhD.  Our family started a book club to raise awareness about racism since George Floyd’s outrageous death by a police officer. And don’t forget Netflix.

 

I’ve spent most of my days gardening and growing vegetables in five raised planting beds. This is the first time I grew most of the plants from seed. It has been fun picking zucchini, tomatoes, beans, peas, peppers, and cucumbers. The pumpkins are cute and getting bigger and more orange every day. 

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ravioli’s made with semolina flour, parsley, Parmesan ricotta and spinach

 I’ve been making pasta from scratch, finding ways to fill raviolis and lasagna and serve them to my husband. I’ve learned how to make sourdough bread and brioche with my own sour dough starter, experimenting with rye, buckwheat, kamut, quinoa, beans, and millet. I learned how to make a starter with cherry pits and also one with organic red grapes. I now know how to properly score the loaves by following lots of bakers on Instagram and You Tube. It is so much fun and tasty too.

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Brioche rolls sprinkled with sesame seeds and poppy seeds

I’m cooking more since my husband is working from home. I had to cancel my cleaning people since I didn’t want to bring the virus into my home. Now I’m cleaning more than I ever have, even the dusty floor under the bed yesterday. Yuck!

One of my latest endeavors, was growing poppies. Fancy ones. I grew varieties like “Fruit Punch” Papaver, a raspberry Breadseed papaver somniferum, “CupCake”, “Swansdown” and a Papaver Atlanticum called “Flore Pleno”. I’ve let the pods dry and carefully collected the seeds so I can grow them again next year. They are beautiful and extra special additions to my garden.

Dahlia’s were my latest obsession last year and I bought more tubers a few months ago from the Dahlia Society. The first one has bloomed and I’m quite excited. 

 I dusted off the sewing machine too and started making masks for the family. I was hoping to try a new pattern today, but got involved in writing my blog instead. There is always tomorrow to start sewing more masks.

 So after almost one year, I’ve finally posted the recipe of these amazing macarons. I hope you will try them too. I don’t have the filling recipes up here yet, but I hope to get to that by next week. Thank you Caroline for the great recipe and the fun time.

 Thanks for stopping by my blog. I’m grateful for my family and friends who follow me and read my posts. Hoping all of you stay safe and healthy and we can get back to our happy places whether it be a college campus or the gym. 

Hope I’ve inspired you to try something new in your kitchen or garden. Make ART.

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 French Macarons

 

 

Ingredients:

150g Confectioners Sugar

150g Almond Flour

150g Granulated Sugar

150g Egg Whites

38g water (for sugar syrup)

55g liquefied Egg Whites (Eggs that have been in the fridge for a week outside of shell  (for sugar syrup)

1.5 teaspoon Vanilla or whatever flavoring you like

Candy thermometer

Pastry bag and medium size plain tip

Sheet pans

Parchment Paper or Silicone mats

Directions:

Using a Cuisinart Food Processor, combine Almond Flour and Confectioners Sugar pulsing until combined. If you don’t have a food processor you may sift almond flour and sugar together a few times until there are no more lumps in the mixture.

In a separate large clean bowl, pour 55g of egg whites to the flour and sugar mixture and stir with a spatula until it forms a paste. Set aside after covering with plastic wrap.

Sugar syrup:

Put the 38 grams of water and granulated sugar in a small saucepan on medium heat. Use a pastry brush to keep the sides of the pot clean by brushing the sides with a small amount of water. Bring to a boil and cook syrup until 116C/ or 240 degrees F using a candy thermometer.

Start mixing the egg whites in a clean bowl of a mixer with a whip attachment when sugar syrup is almost ready at 115C or 235degrees F. Simultaneously, whip eggs on medium high until the eggs are frothy. Pour sugar syrup in the mixer slowly incorporating the sugar into the eggs. Keep mixing until the meringue is white and fluffy and can hold a stiff peak about 6 minutes. Add the vanilla and any food coloring you might like. Continue to whip meringue for another 4 to 5 minutes until it has cooled to 50C and is thick and glossy.

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Meringue ready to mix into almond flour and confectioners sugar for our macarons

Mix a scoop of the meringue and fold into the almond flour/confectioners mixture. Little by little being careful not to deflate the egg whites, folding together with a large wire whisk or spatula. Keep folding meringue into dry ingredients until it gets to the ribbon stage where the batter falls off the whisk into the bowl like a ribbon. 

Scoop the batter into the pastry bag fitted with a medium round tip. You will have to fill it a few times.

Get out a flat sheet pan.Place the parchment paper on top. Draw small 3cm to 3.5cm circles (1 inch diameter) onto your parchment paper about 2-3 cm apart with a pencil or use a sil pat silicone baking mat. Place a tiny amount of batter onto the sheet pan on the corners under the parchment paper to keep the paper from moving while baking. Tap the tray onto your counter to get out any tiny air bubbles. Leave tray stand on the counter for at least 30 to 60 minutes to harden the shells and form a skin on the cookie.

Preheat oven to 160C or 320 degrees F. Bake macarons for 12 minutes in the center of the oven one tray at a time, turning the sheet pan around half way during the bake. Cool completely.

Finish the macarons by filling with your favorite curd, chocolate ganache, or Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting or Italian Buttercream.

Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

 

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Passion fruit Macarons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sunday Fun Day with Good Friends Wine Tasting in the Shenandoah Valley

Sunday Fun Day with Good Friends Wine Tasting in the Shenandoah Valley

   It’s Tuesday. These days I rarely know which day it is. My husband and I spent last weekend in Eldorado Hills and Amador County’s Shenandoah Valley with our friends the Cowies and Castiglione’s.  It was refreshing to have social time again especially with some of my favorite people. It was nice to introduce good friends to our other good friends who happen to live in the same town. In today’s blog I will reflect on our weekend away and tell you what I’ve been up to lately.

 

The last four months have been interesting. Every day, I wake up, check on the latest news, water my vegetable garden, check email, have my coffee and a bit of breakfast, and do whatever chores are needed to get done. I’m not currently working, but I have worked harder in the past four months than I ever have. It seems there is always more laundry, more cleaning,  flour to mill and bread to bake, fresh pasta to make, pies to bake, or a new cookie or Rice Krispie treat recipe to try. 

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Two of the masks I made for friends to protect themselves from Covid19

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Covid masks made for the little people in my life

I’ve also made a dozen or more masks for family members, using up material I have had for years. It is rewarding to up cycle many fabrics that I’ve saved, knowing I could find a way to use them eventually.

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My strawberry plant blossoms. Just one of the many plants I am growing in my victory garden

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Just a few of my baby seedlings poking up through the soil

I’ve started an enormous vegetable garden, growing many varieties mostly from seed months ago. Not knowing whether we would have access to fresh fruit and vegetables, because of Covid 19, I decided to grow a victory garden. I’ve had edible gardens in the past, but never like this one. It is rewarding  checking on the size and color of the tomatoes and picking them off the vine when ripe. Many of them don’t make it into the bowl, but get popped right into my mouth. So tasty.

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Many varieties of flowers from my March garden in Walnut Creek. Photos taken by a friend Linda Kwong

So when our friends Elaine and Craig Cowie invited us to their new home in Eldorado Hills, we jumped at the idea. They have postponed the visit at least three times, because the Bay Area has been on lock down. My husband and I have been good about not going out unless we wear a mask, and we social distance if we see one of our friends or family. We felt safe about going North since there aren’t as many cases of Covid there. The population is less, and it’s not as crowded there.

 

We have known the Cowies for over 30 years. We met them after moving to our second house in Concord California. They lived directly across the street, so we had many dinner parties with them.  Also included into the mix were the Faulkenberry’s.  The Cowies and Faulkenberry’s  have been friends since college at Chico State. Our son Curtis took Taekwondo classes from Ray Faulkenberry when Curtis was in elementary school and we’ve loved them ever since.

 

Every year, the three families  have stayed connected taking turns having dinner together, even after we moved to Walnut Creek. We’ve had great times together watching our kids grow up, attending weddings and sharing meals over the years. We were happy to finally meet again, this time at the Cowies new home in El Dorado Hills. They moved there in February, after selling their home in Concord, to live closer to their daughter Leslie, son in law Kyle and two precious grand kids.

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Two couples enjoying the day at Iron Hub Winery and Vineyard.

Leaving the chores, the garden and kitty cat behind, Ken and I happily drove North and were graciously greeted by Elaine and Craig when we arrived. We unpacked the car with all the goodies and clothes and enjoyed the tour of their new home. I was excited to learn their floor plan was similar to our other friends the Castiglione’s, our friends from our current Walnut Creek neighborhood who have also recently relocated to  Eldorado Hills. Kayla and I have been in the same book club for over 20 years. I was happy to set up a day for the two couples to meet. We decided to get the six of us together on Sunday while wine tasting. Unfortunately, the Faulkenberry’s couldn’t stay overnight and join us having to get home to their puppies and cats.

 

We relaxed by the pool on Saturday while snacking on chips and mango salsa, fresh fruit skewers and pinot grigio. When the Faulkenberry’s showed up, I visited with their daughter Meg, who is a writer and social media expert. She wrote a book called Summer Rain. She had all kinds of great tips about how I should use Twitter to share my blog and many more new websites to check out like Blue Host, Hootsuite Wattpad, Booksie, 750words.com, Quotev.com and who to follow on Tik Tok. She should be teaching classes on these social media tools.

The weather was warm and yet there was a nice breeze which kept us cool. Elaine and Craig made fish tacos for dinner which we gobbled down and I made two apricot dishes for dessert. The first dessert was an apricot pie. I picked these ripe and juicy Patterson apricots from a farm in Tracy a couple of weeks ago. I also made two gluten free apricot turnovers with Teff flour and Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Flour. These were special. I had heard about the Teff flour from The Sourdough Podcast, so when I stumbled across it at Lunardi’s Grocery Store I quickly swept it into my cart. I had a little sticker shock when I got to the register. It was over $7.00 for a small bag, but was worth the price. It is high in fiber, high in protein, has more calcium than any other grain and is the only ancient grain containing Vitamin C. Teff flour has a subtle hazelnut earthy taste, is cultivated in Eastern Africa and is found in Ethiopian flatbread called injera. I enjoyed these hand pies more than the apricot pie made with all purpose flour.

 

After the Faulkenberry’s left Saturday night, we got on our “jammies ” or pajamas and watched a couple of episodes of Schitt’s Creek on Netflix. Ken and I had never seen it before, so it was nice to find a new funny night time splurge. I haven’t laughed that hard in years. It was so fun. 

 

Before bed I assembled my Overnight Baked French Toast recipe and placed it in the fridge. I make it with two loaves of cinnamon bread,  cut it into thick slices and pour a custard over the top to soak overnight. In the morning, you spread on a brown sugar,  butter and maple syrup mixture on top of the soaked bread and bake in the oven for one hour. I made a fresh blueberry sauce ahead of time, before we left for our trip.  I served the sauce along with maple syrup on the baked French Toast. I was introduced to this recipe from my friend Carolyn Regan. She made it when we went on a St Mary’s religious retreat in Guerneville many years ago. It is the perfect breakfast served with Italian sausage or bacon.

 

Sunday morning, Ken finished off preparing the breakfast and baked the French Toast while I stayed in bed a little longer. Most people know I love to sleep. At 9 AM, we ate breakfast and got ready to drive to the wineries. My husband Ken drove since he doesn’t drink. It was a gorgeous day and it was nice to drive through the countryside.

 

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Ken and I outside at Iron Hub Winery

Our first stop was Iron Hub Winery and Vineyard. The views here were simply spectacular. They only charge $10.00 for a tasting and if you buy a bottle of wine, they give you a tasting for free. The pours were tiny, but we tried two whites and four reds. There was hardly anyone there with the exception of one other family of three tasting at the end of the outside bar.

We had an appointment at Cooper Vineyards at 12:15 and met up with our friends Kayla and John Castiglione. The six of us sat outside in a shaded patio where we shared stories and drank more delicious wine. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of all of us this time. We will have to go back again the six of us.  The Cowies are members there, so our wine tastings were free. That’s a bonus. The 2017 Barbera Riserva was the group favorite and the server generously gave us another pour.

The last place we ventured into was Jeff Runquist Winery where John and Kayla were members. We enjoyed the beautiful and welcoming tasting room, especially the fresh wild flowers of black eyed Susan, clarkia, yarrow, daisies and queen Anne’s lace in vases in every corner. We tried their Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc,  Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Barbera, and Petit Verdot. At the end of the tasting, we said goodbye to John and Kayla and sat outside for a quick picnic before driving back to El Dorado Hills. It was lovely and the perfect day with friends. It was nice to see John and Kayla exchange numbers with Elaine and Craig. Especially since they are practically neighbors, living less than 10 minutes from one another.

 

We had hoped to check out the Amador Flower Farm in Plymouth, but it was getting late and we still had to drive back to the Bay Area. The weekend couldn’t have gone any better. We thanked Elaine and Craig for the generous hospitality and good food, packed up our things, cleaned and changed the sheets and were off. Our drive home was uneventful and I had plenty of time to get home and water the garden before dark. It’s nice to know our friends won’t be lonely since they now have a new couple (The Castiglione’s) to play golf with or have dinner with.

Today, I’m back to my cleaning, cooking, gardening, baking and writing. It’s good to be home, back to my meowing kitty and small homestead. I’m grateful for friends, their generosity and love. We have so much to be grateful for, even during a pandemic.

Stay healthy. Thanks for reading and following my blog. I promise to add a recipe next time I write.

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One last photo to bless you with. This photo was taken at Ben Runquist Winery’s tasting room

 

 

 

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