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Category Archives: Holidays

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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One Special Confection You Can’t live Without This Holiday

One Special Confection You Can’t live Without This Holiday

Before I divulge the best toffee recipe of all time, I will share a quick story about my recent vacation. Here is a pic of my niece Kendall helping me in the kitchen.

What a trip! My husband and I traveled to Portland Oregon this week for business and pleasure. I was excited to get away and have fun exploring the food and vibe in the Great Northwest.


The day started with a trip to Voo Doo Donuts after dropping my husband off at the refinery. It was my first time trying these fabulous baked goods. People go crazy for these donuts. One lady in line bought seven dozen and another guy walked out with four dozen glazed, sprinkled, filled and twisted… the list goes on and on. I was happy with my two-one raspberry filled dusted w powdered sugar and one glazed with chocolate and filled w pastry cream. So delish!


The place reminded me of a Hard Rock Café kind of place. It has a weird kind of vibe with skull and cross bones and biker chic like culture. They sell music CD’s and T-shirts w logos like “The Magic is in the Hole.” And I might add that we saw a few people in the airport carrying huge pink Voo Doo Donut boxes too.

Apparently there is usually a line out the door of this place. Today, this wasn’t the case but there were plenty of visitors taking part of the “Voo Doo Donut experience.”  The shop is small. No seating is available. I chose to stand at the back counter and eat the chocolate one w Bavarian cream first. It didn’t disappoint. The Stumptown coffee was watered down and not anything like the normal Peet’s espresso w steamed milk that I make for myself every morning.



Next I explored the shops in the Multnomah Village and Hillsdale Shopping area of Portland. Here I wandered around in this cute quaint small neighborhood. I found everyone there to be friendly, helpful and knowledgeable about their goods. I was able to pick up a couple of last minute Christmas presents for a few people on my list. I found a cashmere scarf for my son who will soon be traveling to So Korea for a business class. He will be sure to find a good use for it there. After visiting a bead store, I also got the great idea to bedazzle my Christmas packages w brown twine and lace them w sparkly beads in blue, red, clear, yellow and some that look like diamonds. This will be the perfect addition to my holiday wrap. I love decorating a gorgeous tree every year and placing beautiful packages under and alongside the ornaments and brightly lit tree.


I also spotted an old fashioned candy store called Hatties which had every kind of candy you could think of. I brought home peppermint candy canes to make my chocolate and peppermint cream cheese brownies and root beer, licorice, butterscotch and orange flavored lollipop sticks to add to the gifts of the kids on my list. Remember the ones you had as a child? They also offered many varieties of homemade fudge like salted caramel, chocolate and peanut butter swirl and red velvet cheesecake flavor and gave you a free chunk of it if you spent more than $10.00.


One of the perks to shopping in this area was the “Golden Ticket” that was provided as a free gift if you spent over $10.00 in any store. It was fun to see so many crafty knitted hats, crocheted gloves, and colorful socks of all kinds. Wonderful place to go if you like unusual things “Keep Portland Weird” that you don’t necessarily find in the department store. I also felt great knowing I was supporting a community of small business owners.

It began to snow outside, so I kept warm and dry inside until it was time to drive back to get my husband at his office. Make sure to watch the video I made while enjoying the fun day. I hope after reading my blog you will make it to Portland too and have as much fun as I did exploring the city.


I’d like to share my favorite Christmas Candy that has been made in my family for generations.

I’ve been bringing this dish to holiday parties and celebrations for years and everyone is always asking me for the recipe. You will want to double the recipe. Here you go.

Thanks for reading.

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I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.

Teri’s Crunchy English Toffee

7 oz sliced Almonds

1 ¼ C Light Brown Sugar

½ C Unsalted Butter

2 T Water

¼ t Baking Soda

1 t Vanilla Extract

7 oz chopped Ghiradelli or high quality Dark Chocolate

Spread sliced almonds onto a sheet pan and bake in preheated 325-degree oven for 8 min or until brown. When cool, chop finely using a food processor and spread onto two pans lined with sil pat.

Place sugar, butter and water in a medium size heavy bottom pan on medium heat. I find that doubling the recipe makes it easier to keep the candy thermometer in the caramel and thus reads easier. Stir until butter melts and mixture is combined, then do not stir. Boil until thermometer reads 285 degrees. Remove from heat and add vanilla and baking soda. Stir with wooden spoon and pour onto nuts. Spread evenly and quickly put chocolate chunks onto warm caramel to melt. Spread chocolate then cool in fridge, freezer or on counter until set about 1 hour.

Enjoy!

Recipe Adapted from Rose Levy’s Mahogany Butter Crunch Toffee.

 

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Teaching Preschool and Making Pumpkin Cake

Teaching Preschool and Making Pumpkin Cake


Today is the day. Today is the day I gain the courage to write another blog. For some reason I have been finding reasons not to write. Well, I was preoccupied with a full time job for the past year. From October until June I worked as a preschool teacher at a private school in Danville. It was a very exciting job. I worked alongside 2 other very talented and patient women who taught me how to take care of twenty-two 2-3 year olds five days a week. Some of them stayed all day from 7AM until 6PM and others only came half days from 8-12noon.

I taught music by singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and “The Wheels on the Bus” to keep them entertained. We read books about outer space, transportation, Cat in The Hat books, books about summer vacations, books about a new baby brother or sister, and several others depending on the theme of the month.

I was challenged to come up with art ideas that looked cute on the wall for the parents to see and that also taught the kids how to paint, color, glue things, matching work sheets, and others. This was the hardest part of my job coming up with various ways to help the children learn art. I would search Pinterest for cute project ideas and spend hours preparing lessons. The trick was to get all 22 kids to do the project and we only had between 15 to 20 minutes to finish it. Try to get a 2 ½ year old interested in leaving the train table to sit and color something. Some could barely hold a crayon and a few of them would refuse and start to cry if we made them.

I loved watching these kids interact with their friends. There was always one or two that would interfere with circle time by yelling out something, laughing out loud, laying down, or taking off their shoes. These were usually boys and we had to sit them at a different table until they were ready to participate with the group. Two of them would work together to giggle across from one another (we could never allow them to sit together. That equaled TROUBLE). And during nap time these two boys couldn’t wait to wake up and make noises at each other so the others would wake up. It was constant chaos. They would try my patience day after day and yet they were only little guys so you couldn’t blame them. It was their job to make our lives miserable.

I would catch myself laughing out loud because it was hilarious trying to keep the class under control. Each student had their own personality. Some were extra smart and questions came easily to them. Others were delayed in their language and couldn’t speak. Some kids had strong accents and you could barely understand what they were saying. One girl would cry every morning when her mom dropped her off. And she didn’t just cry softly, she screamed. For 30 minutes! There was nothing anyone could do to keep her from screaming. She would stand at the window with her blankey and special stuffed animal and scream for her mom. It was horrible for everyone. It wasn’t until circle time would start when she would finally begin to settle in. But of course, she HAD to sit on the rainbow carpet square. You see each carpet square had a letter and a picture of something that began with that letter. Well this girl only liked that particular R rainbow carpet square and if she didn’t sit on it first and some other kid got it, she would start screaming again. And if I made another kid get off that rainbow so the girl would stop screaming, the other teachers would scold me and tell me she had to learn. She wasn’t allowed to get her way all the time. Oh boy, did that tork me in a big way. So what? Let the poor girl have the rainbow carpet. Big deal? It wasn’t easy to get along with how the other teachers wanted to run their classroom, but we did. We had to in order to keep the peace in front of the kids.

After circle time came snack time. We had things for them like apple juice, orange juice, milk or water to drink. We provided popcorn, graham crackers, French Toast sticks, Chex Mix, Cheerios, and other snack items like string cheese and yogurt. The kids were also offered orange slices, apple slices, bananas, apple sauce, canned peaches and canned pineapple. It was hard for some to stay in their chairs. One set of twins had to have their own gluten free snacks brought in, not because of a food allergy, but because the parents preferred it. These two didn’t sit for long and would run into the play room to play. We had to guide them back into their seats only to have to chase them around the tables after they got up again. One boy with special needs was never interested in eating snack. He would pour his juice or milk onto the table and then want more. The only time he was interested in food was when I brought in soup one day. I showed the kids how to make “Stone Soup” at circle time giving them opportunities to show their friends what celery, or what a carrot was. This boy sat at the table for over 30 minutes and ate the soup with a spoon. I was amazed, told his mother and she was happy about it.

After snack time, the kids lined up to go outside. Just getting these kids lined up was a chore in itself. The two trouble makers would climb into the playhouse, or onto a stack of chairs, or pull on the blinds. Others would push and shove or try to sneak out the door. We were only allowed to watch 12 children at a time by ourselves. One of us would be cleaning up snack and the other would be changing diapers and taking the kids to the bathroom. It was a hard to manage these youngsters and keep them safe. They couldn’t climb onto the changing table unless we were right there to catch them if they fell. We had to make sure they didn’t try to escape out the front door where they could easily run into the street parking lot. Many times I chased kids up the stairs into the library area because that was their favorite place to run away to. They would run up there during clean up time so they didn’t have to put away their toys.

I loved taking the kids outside. They wanted to ride their tricycles and police cars and fire engines. They wanted to climb the play structure and slip down the slide. The girls would hold hands with each other and play make believe with the toy dolls. Some would watch out the gate for their mommies and daddies and be sad. I was on a constant look out for keeping them safe from each other. Many would not watch where they were riding and almost hurt someone else. They would run at full speed not minding that there was a pole up ahead or a wall they could run into. Of course the mud puddles and wet grass were their favorite, but the parents never wanted them wet. One boy would love to play with chalk on the pavement, but would be covered with it by the end of the play period. He ruined his clothes by putting holes in the knees of his pants and tearing at them more when there was any site of a rip.

I remember having to help the kids pull up their pants after potty time cause the pants were one size too small. Many couldn’t button or snap either and would ask for help getting dressed. While outside we would search for lady bugs, or roly poly bugs, or airplanes flying high in the sky. We sang and danced “Mr Clown, Mr Clown, Who’s the funniest clown in town?” We had Easter egg hunts and collected the plastic eggs with paper bags that they personally decorated during art.

One of my students and his Mom


I could go on for days about my experiences teaching at Tassajara Learning Center, but I must get on with my day. It’s Halloween after all and I must prepare for the trick or treaters and get the dessert ready for our Octoberfest party tonight. I making a pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting to bring and share. The recipe is originally used to make carrot cake, but substituting pumpkin works well too.

 

Be sure to follow my blog and comment. Would love to hear your thoughts.

 

Pumpkin Cake

 

Ingredients

2 C granulated Sugar

1 Cup Canola Oil

4 eggs

 

2 ½ C fresh and roasted (Place huge chunks of cut pumpkin skin side up onto a sheet pan lined w parchment or foil and bake for @ 1 hour at 400 degrees and cool) or canned pumpkin

 

2 ½ C All Purpose Flour

2 t Baking Powder

1 t Cinnamon

1 t Ginger

½ t Cloves

2 t Baking Soda

½ t Maldon Salt

 

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 8 oz pkg room temp cream cheese

1 stick or ½ C room temp butter

2 C. Confectioners Sugar

1 t Vanilla

 

Blend cream cheese and butter in a mixer on med high until combined. Add sugar while mixer is on low until combined. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and mix in.

Directions:

 

Combine oil and sugar in mixer until creamy. Add eggs one at a time and mix on medium speed for @ 5 minutes.

Sift together flour, spices, baking soda, baking powder and salt. If salt doesn’t fit through sifter, add to dry ingredients.

Alternately starting with the 1/3 flour mixture, add to oil, sugar and egg mixture, then adding 1/3 pureed pumpkin, then 1/3 more flour, and repeating with flour until mixture is combined.

Pour into a greased and floured bunt pan and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for @ 45-55 minutes or until a tooth pick comes out clean.

Remove cake from pan onto a platter. When cool, frost with cream cheese frosting. Slice and serve. Serves @10.

Enjoy!

My husband and I and my son’s dog Hank dressed up for Halloween

Hank and my son Curtis hanging out to see the Trick or Treaters at our home.

My youngest son Andrew cane to Grace Cathedral

 

 

And in case you want to bake a pie. Try this one.

http://letsmakemudpies.blogspot.com/2016/10/lets-make-mud-pies-oh-no-you-didnt-just.html

 

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Posted by on November 5, 2016 in Dessert, Halloween, Holidays

 

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Blog: 9 Ways to Double Your Pleasure While on Vacation

Blog: 9 Ways to Double Your Pleasure While on Vacation

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I’m loving winter time. I am spending five days up in the mountains with family. It is currently 33 degrees here in Truckee California. We are at 6125 Elevation nestled in the coziest house you can imagine. There is a huge snow storm going on. We are expecting at least two more feet of snow.

It’s days like these that make me want to bake. And gingerbread is the perfect comfort food to celebrate this holiday season. After all, December is a glorious time of year, especially when it’s snowing outside.

Over the years, my family would take a drive up north once in the winter and once in the summer to celebrate birthdays and have family reunions. All 15-20 of us cram into a big house and eat, drink and play games. It’s a joy to spend time with my nieces and nephews on a more personal level. Many of them join me in the kitchen to whip up a meal like chicken parmesan or lasagna. Then we find time to bake something sweet to make a perfect ending to a family meal.

This week I’m enjoying cooking for my sister and her girlfriend. I’ve made bean soup, BBQ pulled pork, and this wonderful gingerbread cake. We’ve enjoyed having this cake for breakfast as well as dessert.

I feel spoiled to be able to sneak away from my life in the Bay Area and enjoy the splendor of life in the woods. Here are my 9 ways to double your pleasure while on vacation in the mountains.

  • Make a fire in a wood stove and be grateful for a generous sister
  • Stay in your pajamas all day long
  • Make an apple butternut squash soup and serve w crème fraise
  • Drink homemade peppermint hot cocoa w whipped cream or marshmallows
  • Scrapbook homemade greeting cards
  • Put your feet up w a warm blanket and cuddle w a loved one
  • Watch football with a cold beer and eat hot appetizers like potato skins dipped in ranch dressing
  • Snuggle w your kitty cat on your lap and drink a Peet’s coffee w a dark chocolate ganache
  • Bake a delicious and moist gingerbread cake and serve with a vanilla caramel ice cream

Here’s the recipe.

Gingerbread Cake

Ingredients:

Softened Shortening or butter for coating pan

1C Canola Oil

1 C Granulated Sugar

1 C Molasses

2 T crystallized candied ginger

2 large eggs

3 C unbleached all-purpose flour

1 T baking soda

1 T ground ginger

2 T ground cinnamon

1 t Maldon salt

½ t ground cloves

1 C Pale Ale or Guinness Beer

Serve w whipped cream or vanilla ice cream

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly coat a 9X13X2 cake pan or 2 9” round pans with shortening and line w parchment.

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In a large bowl, whisk together oil, sugar, molasses and candied ginger. Add eggs and whisk until smooth.

In another large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, ground ginger, cinnamon, salt and cloves. Whisk dry ingredients into molasses ingredients starting w dry alternately adding beer ending with dry until just combined.

Pour into prepared pans and bake in preheated oven until tooth pick comes clean @ 45 minutes.

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video of snow storm

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Posted by on December 13, 2015 in Dessert, Holidays, Wintertime

 

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