Here’s the latest on what’s going on in my life lately, and I will share a delicious Millionaire Shortbread Bar recipe. My husband is still working from home. It has been a year and a month since the pandemic hit and the world changed. I will attempt to describe how things have been during this challenging time and how life has changed, maybe for the better.
First of all, I have chickens. They are five months old now and quite a handful. I’ve enjoyed spending mornings and evenings with them just hanging out with them in their chicken run. They like to be cuddled and love it when I’m around bringing them treats. They have been my saving grace while stuck at home.
As far as the community goes, I hike occasionally with friends, and love every minute of it. In fact, I should be out there on Las Trampas with them now, but decided to hang back and write a blog instead. We don’t entertain as much, but when we do, we really love having people over. I love to cook and bake, so sharing meals has been a passion and a gift I love to give to others.
Some people are more careful than others as far as Covid 19 goes. One friend wouldn’t hike until she was fully vaccinated, yet others are more comfortable getting together in groups. When my hiking friends celebrate birthdays, we meet at a park, bring our own food and visit. It is lovely to interact and see people more.
Yesterday, I met two hiking friends in Benicia for lunch. Suzette initiated it and also invited Marianne to join us. We ate inside in a large dining room and I felt fairly comfortable. Tomorrow, it will be two weeks since my second Pfizer vaccination. My husband gets his second Moderna vaccination today. Lunch at Ciao Bella was lovely and I’m grateful for days spent outside my house.
Mostly, I’ve been working in my garden the last year. I experimented with growing corn, composting, vermiculture, and growing seeds and cover crops. I chose not to hike today because I have about 20 more tomato and vegetable plants that I need to get into the raised beds. It stresses me out to have them waiting for me. I know. It sounds crazy, but these plants are like my babies. My hikes can wait.
After lunch yesterday, I drove to REI to buy new hiking shoes. I have so many holes in my current ones, that I have no choice but to get new ones. The whole experience was anxiety provoking. First, you are met at the door and asked to use hand sanitizer. Then there are arrows on the floor showing where you are allowed to walk. The nice greeter told me the shoes were located up the stairs, so I headed in that direction. Instead of picking up a shoe and choosing which one I wanted to try on, the whole area was roped off. An employee was guarding the shoes and asked me qualifying questions to see what kind of shoe I was looking for.
Seriously, this guy was trying to visit with me and ask me personal questions while I was trying on shoes. So awkward. I just wanted to get the damn shoes and get out of there. It was strange to have this guy watching me try on every shoe. I kind of wanted a little privacy, you know? Maybe that’s weird. But anyway, I have bad feet and having the correct shoe is important, so it’s a serious matter for me. And I really didn’t want to tell the guy my kids ages. It always freaks people out when I tell them that I have a 36 year old son and a 28 year old son. Then I feel old because they are grown men now. Ugh. In any case, of course they never have my size, blah blah blah. Eventually, the two of them, yes now there was another salesman, brought me a pair that fit. Of course, they tried to get me to sign up for the club, so I could get a 10% discount and be able to return my shoes if there is a problem. No thank you. I hate sharing my email, so they can send me spam.
Of course, I had to check to see if Krispy Kreme Donuts drive through had any warm out of the fryer yummies. Nope. So I passed on that.
So maybe it wasn’t that unusual of a shoe buying experience, but it feels weird getting out and leaving the house. Other than shopping for food, and getting my hair done, I rarely go anywhere. My husband Ken and I like to hike or go on bike rides into Danville. Sometimes we get food to go, but I usually cook. Last night, I heated up leftover beef pot roast, roasted carrots and potatoes for dinner. We watched a little TV and called it a night.
This morning, I will get the rest of the tomato plants into the ground before it gets too hot. It’s only mid April, but Northern California weather can change quickly and become hot and dry. In case you wondered where I buy my plants from, I go to the Contra Costa Master Gardeners website and buy from The Great Tomato Sale. Each plant is $4.00 each and they have a wide variety of peppers, herbs, squash and tomatoes. I always get extra, since they don’t all survive. I bought 17 tomato plants, lemon cucumber, spaghetti squash, butternut squash, basil, 3 types of kale, two types of lettuce, 6 pepper plants. We have critters that eat everything around here. My husband routinely traps moles, gophers, rats and mice. The owls and frogs sing to us at night. It truly is a magical place. Here’s a post about a farm in Tuscany
Here is one of my favorite treats that you can make ahead. They are rich and decadent and you only need a small piece to satisfy your sweet tooth. This recipe makes a lot, so you can share with neighbors and friends.
Millionaire Caramel Shortbread Bars
1C. Cold Unsalted Butter cut into chunks
¼ C (32g) Cornstarch
1 ¾ C (219g) All Purpose Unbleached Flour (could substitute rice flour to make gluten free)
1/3C (73g) Granulated Sugar
⅓ C Light Brown Sugar
1 Lg egg yolk
¾ t vanilla extract
½ t Maldon Salt
2 14oz cans sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated)
14T (198g) Unsalted butter cut into chunks
1 C (200g) Light Brown Sugar (Packed)
⅓ C (80ml) Light Corn Syrup
1 t vanilla extract
¼ t Maldon Salt
Chocolate Ganache Ingredients:
2 C (340g) SemiSweet Chocolate Chips
½ C Heavy Cream
1 t Vanilla extract
½ t Sea Salt (to sprinkle over bars)
Shortbread Crust Directions:
Preheat Oven to 350 degreesF (180degreesC).
Line a 17X11.5 Pampered Chef Bar Pan or Sheet pan with parchment paper. Can use a square baking pan. Bars will be thicker.
In a Cuisinart or large bowl Mix sugar, flour,cornstarch, butter, egg yolk, vanilla and salt until combined.
Press into the pan until even.
Bake for approximately 20-30 minutes or until light brown.
Set aside to cool.
In a medium size heavy pot, place 2 cans sweetened condensed milk, butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and whisk continuously on medium heat for about 10-15 minutes until caramel reaches 230 degrees with a candy thermometer. This process takes time. Don’t walk away or stop stirring. Add vanilla and salt and pour onto the shortbread crust. Spread evenly. Place in the fridge or let cool a bit before topping with ganache.
Heat heavy cream in a heavy small to medium size pot until almost boiling. Add chocolate and vanilla and stir until melted.
Pour onto caramel shortbread and spread evenly. Sprinkle with sea salt and cool in the fridge.
Cut the bars into squares and serve. This recipe can be made ahead and the bars will freeze for up to 3 months, but they won’t last that long.
Thanks for reading and I appreciate your feedback. How has this last year been for you? Have you had a similar shopping experience that you want to share?