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From Vine to Bottle in Livermore California and Ricotta Poppyseed Pancakes Recipe

From Vine to Bottle in Livermore California and Ricotta Poppyseed Pancakes Recipe
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Gorgeous grapes at Rubino in Livermore

 

Rounded up a friend last Wednesday to go wine tasting in Livermore. Maggie and I have talked about doing this for over a year and had it planned on the calendar for at least two months. She and I visited Steven Kent, Ruby Hill and Rubino and didn’t leave town until 1PM because I had a previously scheduled lunch date with neighbors.

 I have the nicest neighbors! Cindy, Joan and Nancy treated me to California Pizza Kitchen. It was the perfect lunch. I had half turkey club sandwich and a salad. My girlfriends even brought me gifts! A hand made knit scarf and cute blank stationary cards made by Joan, an adorable house plant from Nancy and pasta making tools and copies of favorite family recipes from Cindy and her Italian mother in law. It was already the best day possible and I have gratitude for these women in my life.

 

Back to the day in Livermore… Maggie and I met over 6 years ago at our neighborhood garden club. Again, how lucky I am to live in this great neighborhood!  You could say we bonded over garden walks, compost and Portlands’ chocolate tastings meeting. She and her husband have also lived in the neighborhood for 20 plus years. She is a red wine lover and wanted to take a day trip with me since she follows me on Instagram and sees the adventures I take.

 

She had called the day before to make appointments, but didn’t have much luck. I explained how I will usually “wing it” and drive around until I find an interesting location or side street that looks inviting. That system works in Napa, St. Helena and Healdsburg, but not so much in Livermore. We learned that they have 55 wineries there, and only 10 are open on Wednesdays. I guess my poor planning bit me in the bum that day, but we made the best of it. After all, how many wines can one taste anyway?

 

Maggie happened to have two free tastings at Steven Kent from a dinner auction item, so we started there. Instead of a flight, I asked for a pour of their 2016 SVS Cabernet Sauvignon from their Casa de Vinas Vineyard. Instead, our attendant would only pour me a little at a time. I thought this was a little strange, but I went along with it. Maggie wasn’t interested in the white varieties and only asked for the red varietals.

 

We learned Steven Kent Mirassou is a sixth generation member of America’s oldest winemaking family. Starting Steven Kent Winery in 1996, he specialized in Bordeaux grapes crafting small lot vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon.

 

The tasting room was dark, small and empty except for us and one other couple. We weren’t exactly welcomed with warm open arms either. We didn’t stay long hoping we would find a better experience elsewhere.

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Me and Maggie tasting wine at Ruby Hills Winery in Livermore

 

Maggie had done some research and knew that Ruby Hills Winery was open. Neither of us had tasted there before. I had been to the club years ago when my niece Jasmine and I attended a National Charity League Senior Presents program there. It was a special place, so I was excited to check out their winery. 

 

We weren’t disappointed although our Google Maps took us up over the hill in the middle of nowhere before we realized we were going in the wrong direction. I don’t think the WiFi was working, so we got a little lost. That isn’t an uncommon thing for me, unfortunately. The Ruby Hill building is enormous and grand with many country decorations inside adorning the walls. They sold jewelry, dark chocolate caramels from Something Sweet Chocolates, Rubino Estates Winery Orange Blossom and Wild Thistle Honey and of course wine. They also had a nice deli counter with many types of cheese, hummus, prosciutto, salami crackers and chips. I appreciate this gesture so people can enjoy their wine with food in case they are hungry.

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Hand made dark chocolate caramels with sea salt sold at Ruby Hills Winery

 

We were treated with the utmost care and respect at Rubino and I would highly recommend it. Our sommelier was friendly, helpful and easy going. She allowed Maggie to taste the reds of her choice from both the Estate Flight at $15 per person and the Jewel Flight at $20.00 per person. And she took off the tasting fee since she purchased two bottles of the 2014 Intesa for $34.00. Maggie really knows her wine and spits after she tastes. I tried a splash of just the 2015 Jewel Zinfandel which received 92 points from Wine Enthusiast and that was enough for me. 

 

We read about the Mello Cielo Vineyard Experience for groups which includes a tasting, then two hour tour on their vintage wine bus. Then a visit to Ruby Hill’s modern on-site production facility where one can see the winemaking process from vine to bottle. Our garden club members may take advantage of this opportunity. A few wanted to join us on our Livermore day out, but I only learned about it the day before. The private tour will require a minimum of eight people and a maximum of 14. There are two tours available daily, 11:15AM and 2:15PM and reservations should be made a week in advance. The price is $35.00 for non-members. Club members are only $30.00 and are allowed to bring one guest. Looks like a good time.

 

Mia took care of us at Rubino Estates Winery open since March of 2013, and is conveniently located around the corner from Ruby Hills, open since 2007. Both Wineries are owned by the Callahan’s, the Lloyd’s and the Brown’s.  They call this the Cal-Ital Winery only an hour South of Napa Valley. They feature exciting Italian varietals such as Barbera, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo as well as the classic Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Mia’s family is from Sicily, so we had a nice time chatting about my recent time in Tuscany.

 

Maggie enjoyed Rubino’s wine tasting experience and we agreed to each bring home a bottle so that her tasting was free. I refrained from drinking, since I was the designated driver.

 

Rubino sells cheese at their deli counter with flavors such as Black pepper, Tennessee Whiskey, Basil Asiago, Espresso, Balsamic, Raspberry, Rosemary Olive Oil, and Chipotle that pair with each wine. Fantastic! The tasting room is 8,000 square feet and it’s nestled in between 150 acres of vineyards. Bocce ball courts are open Monday through Friday first come first serve. 

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Maggie and I didn’t take advantage of the food or bocce entertainment this time since we wanted to get back before the Bay Area commute traffic took hold on Highway 680. But we did stop off at a nursery to check out the flowers which seemed appropriate being that we are garden lovers.  I bought a small lemon verbena because the one I had last year died in the frost. It’s a beautiful fragrant leaf and nice in iced tea or lemonade.

My day with Maggie was delightful and adventurous. Maybe next time we will bring the rest of the garden club clan with us to experience the great wines of the Livermore Valley.

Here’s my recipe for Orange Poppyseed Pancakes with Ricotta. It’s perfect for a Sunday Brunch with family and friends.

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Orange poppyseed pancakes with ricotta.

Orange Poppyseed Pancakes with Ricotta

Serves 4 people

Ingredients:

1 C unbleached All PurposeFlour

½ C Almond Flour

¼ C Granulated Sugar

1 t Kosher Salt

1 t baking powder

 

½ C plus 2 T Ricotta Cheese

3 whole eggs separated

1 ½ C Milk 

½ C Heavy Whipping Cream

1 t Rum Extract

1 t Orange Extract

1 T Orange Zest

⅛ C Poppy seeds

Unsalted butter used for skillet

Confectioners sugar for dusting 

Pure maple syrup

 

Directions:

In a blender, place 3 egg yolks (whites to go in a stand mixer), milk, cream, ricotta, extracts. Blend on low until combined. 

In a small bowl mix all purpose flour, almond flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Pour into blender and mix with wet ingredients on low and batter is smooth.

In the stand mixer, using a wire whisk, mix the room temperature egg whites and a tiny pinch of salt until small peaks form. 

Add the whipped egg whites to blender in three increments mixing well, but not for too long.

Using your large nonstick skillet, melt 1 Tablespoon of unsalted butter on medium heat. Pour or ladel about 1/2 C of the batter onto the hot skillet and sprinkle with about ½ t poppy seeds and cook for about 2 minutes or until edges are golden. Flip carefully and continue to cook for 1-2 minutes more until pancake is cooked thoroughly. No one likes a wet on the inside pancake.

I fold mine like a crepe, folding it onto itself twice like an omelette. Eat right away or keep in a low oven in a baking dish. Serve with fresh fruit peaches, strawberries or blueberries or whatever is in season and pure maple syrup. Mine were perfect all by themselves and didn’t need adorning other than a shake of confectioners sugar.

Enjoy!

Thank you for reading and sharing my blog. Hope I’ve inspired you to take get away day and enjoy a glass of wine or two. And here’s a glimpse of what Venice Italy was like.

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The best part of visiting #Venice is riding on a gondola

 

 

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Farm to Fork in Napa, St. Helena and Yountville and Asian Salad Dressing Recipe

Farm to Fork in Napa, St. Helena and Yountville and Asian Salad Dressing Recipe

My husband and I had the pleasure of hosting our Florida friends last week. Sherri and I went on the very first Avon three day walk together almost twenty years ago and have been close ever since. Today’s blog will be about our day in Napa and Yountville with our two son’s Danny and Andrew. We explored Ashes and Diamonds Winery, V Sattui, Napa Valley Olive oil Company, and Rutherford Grill Restaurant for lunch. Then we circled back and took on Lucy Bar in Yountville for drinks and shopping in the Marketplace. It was marvelous day showing them around Northern California wine country.

 

 

Having no idea where to begin, we drove for an hour along Hwy 29 and stumbled upon Ashes and Diamonds Winery which is the newest winery in the Napa Valley and is directly behind Don Giovanni Restaurant. I remembered I was given a free tasting the last time I ate there with my friend Cathy. Here’s my blog on that magnificent day.
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This place is exquisitely decorated and the wine was robust and full bodied. Sherri and Andrew had tastings (since I was driving), and we all sat and listened to their jazz music. The vibe was fun and exciting. Of course I’m always energized when I get to try a new place. They also served a delicious poppy seed and sesame seed focaccia which hit the spot in our bellies.

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Next we stopped in to V Sattui where we sampled their vinegars and cheeses. It’s a bustling place with people from all over the world buying deli sandwiches, extraordinary cheeses and refreshing wine for their romantic picnic lunches under the ancient oak trees. If you haven’t experienced this delightful place, it’s a must see for sure.

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Danny Sherri, Andrew and me at V. Sattui Winery

After hopping back into the car, we found Napa Olive Oil Manufacturing Company in St Helena which I have always wanted to tour. This place has been around since 1931 and has all sorts of items a foodie like me would like to enjoy. I purchased a gallon of their olive oil and blackberry ginger vinegar to take home. Sherri, Andrew and Danny loved tasting their offerings also.

Rutherford Grill was our next stop where we splurged on their French dip sandwiches, smoked salmon, ribs, roasted chicken and more. It was familiar to my guests since they had been to a similar restaurant called Houston’s in Dallas Texas. I highly recommend getting a reservation since it is always a local favorite while in St. Helena.

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It didn’t take long to decide where to take them next since we were short on  time. After all, we had dinner guests (Heidi, Sharon, Lisa, Elyse, and Bill) coming at 6:30PM that evening to welcome Sherri and Danny back. They had lived in our neighborhood twenty years ago, before moving to Florida and had made friends while here. So on to Yountville we went.

Lucy Restaurant and Bar at Hotel Bardessono is a relaxing place to sit and relax while enjoying an artisanal cocktail or “field to fork” fare from their innovative, garden inspired cuisine. Since danny was driving, we sat outside on their comfy patio couches. I had a glass of kahlua and Sherri had a ginger ale while Andrew took a nap on their hammock and Danny made a phone call. We walked to their nearby gardens where we found a loaded O’ Henry peach tree that had many peaches on the ground. Four ended up in my bag because I can’t stand to let anything go to waste, and they were enjoyed (after cutting off the bruises) with our dinner the following evening.  It was a fun way to end the foodie farm to table experience.  

The potluck dinner chicken wings, hummus and fried pita chips, baba ganoush, fruit salad, taquitos with guacamole, and wine with our friends was delightful. Everyone was thrilled to see Sherri again and Danny loved meeting them since he was only 4 when they left the Bay Area. More blogging adventures are sure to be coming in the near future since we had day trips to San Francisco, Berkeley, Sausalito, downtown Walnut Creek.

I feel fortunate to have the time and resources to share my foodie road trips with others. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. It means the world to me. If you would like to hear more from my excursions, and get fun recipes subscribe to my blog. I will be sure to keep you posted on all the latest and greatest in regards to the food and wine culture in the US.

 

Asian Sesame Cilantro Salad Dressing

Ingredients:

½ C Seasoned Rice Vinegar

1 Bunch fresh cilantro stems and leaves washed (can substitute fresh parsley if you dislike cilantro, but will taste different)

2 cloves garlic (sauteed whole in 1 T canola for 2 minutes)

3 T fresh chopped ginger

¼ C apricot jam

6 green onions chopped

1 fresh squeezed lime, orange or lemon

½ C plus 1 T canola oil

½ C peanut oil

2 T sesame oil

⅔ C soy sauce

½ t black pepper

½ t chili oil

Directions:

Blend all ingredients in a blender until combined. Refrigerate. Will keep for 2 weeks.

I use this dressing to marinate skirt steak, or chicken. It is best served along with roasted chicken, white fish or in a salad. Make a green salad with mandarin oranges, almonds, maruchan noodles, chicken or steak. It’s delicious!

 

 

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Sip Happens… It’s Okay to WINE

Sip Happens… It’s Okay to WINE
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Lynie and me at Bob’s Wine Class

Took a spectacular wine class last weekend at the local community center in my town with my neighbor Lynn. Lynn also happens to be my husband’s cousin, so that makes her extra special. She got me excited about signing up for the class a few months ago, and boy am I glad I did. I’m usually a food blogger. But wine goes well with food, right?

In today’s blog, I will be sharing the highlights about what you need to know about wine and sharing my favorite risotto recipe. Bob Becker a certified Sommelier and Wine professional gave the wine analysis presentation along with his wife Darla. Lynie and I and several other wine enthusiasts learned that Americans drink 900 million gallons of wine a year!  It was interesting to find out that there were only 40 wineries back in 1970. And today, there are 9000 wineries in the US! We like our wine. In fact, Bob said that Americans drank 3.7 billion bottles of wine in 2017!

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My nieces Keri and Jamie last December at Rombauer in St Helena

I had no idea how complicated wine tasting could be. We went through the Seven Components that make up the structure (there happens to be 1200 components in a glass of wine): Aroma, Alcohol, Sugar, Acid, Tannin, Texture, and Body were what we covered.These characteristics helped us learn how to identify the glasses we had in front of us. During our lifetime, we create a memory bank of aromas that our brain remembers when drinking wine. The three types of Aroma are Natural/Floral like a Viognier, a Bouquet aroma (the wine is 4 or 5 yrs old) and was made w molecular equilibrium like raisin or leather aroma, or Wine Maker Infused because of the wine barrels. There are American, French and Hungarian wood barrels.

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Lynie getting serious while waiting for Bob’s presentation

American barrels might smell like vanilla, dill or coconut. Where as the French barrels have a caramel, spice or nutmeg aroma. The Hungarian may taste like cinnamon or cloves and the winemakers add wood chips to get these flavors when they burn the barrels. True story. They can only flavor wine in a barrel three times before these barrels are discarded. When Bob worked at Hess in Napa they had 3,500 barrels at one time and each barrel cost approximately $1,600 each. That’s a lot of moolah.

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Bob’s wife Darla and a few happy participants

Then we learned the five step tasting method: Sight, Swirl, SniffSip and Summarize. Sight– When looking at your wine, look for clarity.  Is it crystal clear? How old is it? White wines get darker after 4 yrs because they start oxidizing. What climate was it grown in? Red wines get lighter as they age. The color pigments fall to the bottom and at 4-6 yrs old the reds have a different color at the outer edge rim part of the glass. Are you confused yet?

Actually we were just getting started tasting the various wines sitting in front of us. It was so fun. When one Swirls, you are aerating the wine releasing esters of aroma molecules that enter the nose. Fun fact! Right handers swirl their wine glass counterclockwise and left handers clockwise. Apparently, legs are those streaks that trickle down the side of any wine glass after you swirl it. They tell nothing about wine. It means the cabernet grapes had thick skin. The slower the legs the more alcohol.

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Lynie and I had to identify various Smells like coconut, pear, lemon, cloves, raspberry, pineapple, diesel and mildew (cause from a moldy cork) that were located in small bottles on the table. I couldn’t believe how hard it was to remember each of these. Smell is the gateway to flavor. For example, New Zealand’s wines have more of a lychee aroma. A Spanish wine over 10 years old will smell like leather. A Viognier white wine may taste like white peaches, apricots or a green apple aroma. And we learned that no two people smell things alike. Who knew?

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My dad Ron and my friend Susan at Rombauer a few years ago. Of course I was trying to be a matchmaker again

It was so interesting to find out that everyone has a dominant nostril when Sniffing wine. The professionals hold their glass within an ⅛ of an inch of the rim to properly sniff. They tilt the glass and use only one nostril. Fascinating!  

Now I know I was supposed to take notes on Sipping and Summarizing too, but there is nothing written here. I wonder if the wine was kicking in…

Bob also talked about ways to recognize bad wine. For instance, if you make a reservation for an earlier time, the restaurants may be serving wine from the day before that doesn’t taste quite right. And if you are paying $12-16 dollars for a glass of wine, it should taste good. Call the waiter and have them open a new bottle in front of you so you know it isn’t old. Great tip!

We talked about Infrared Thermometers that help tell the wine’s exact temperature. We now know that lying a bottle on its side helps prevent air getting in and that we should keep the bottles in a cool dark 55 degree room. Wine cellars can cost $87,000 to build! Interestingly enough, don’t store your wine in a home fridge because they vibrate in there and that changes the flavor of the wine prematurely. It’s also too cold and dry in your home fridge. For those of you that only drink a glass or two a night, buy a coravin. These help suck the wine into your glass and keep the cork in place to keep the wine fresh. These are just a few of the many interesting wine tasting tricks in Bob’s class.

Bob was clear about serving wine from a clear glass with a stem that is thin with a narrow rim like these or these.  The thinner the glass the better the wine tastes. I know these rules are boring you, but I’m excited to have my next dinner party and show off all of my new wine tips.
Thank goodness red wine has beneficial health benefits too. Although it’s best to not over drink. Make sure to drink a wine that is older than 10 years quickly and don’t decant it. The oxygen destroys the flavor immediately. 

Also- Bob pointed out that screw tops are perfectly fine, they are fabulous at preserving wine and are better than corked wines. Five out of every 100 wine bottles have bad corks!

The characteristics of a well made wine are: Expressiveness, Complexity, Pleasing Texture, Balance and Lingering Finish. When you swallow, how long does the flavor stay on your palate? Does it burn the back of your throat going down? This may mean it has a high alcohol content. Side note: Bob mentioned Screaming Eagle Wine founded by female winemaker Jean Phillips. He and Darla had the pleasure of enjoying her wine for $1,200 a bottle! No kidding.

One of the most interesting facts about the class was realizing that wine is full of SUGAR. These bottles show how much sugar is in each wine. Sparkling wine like Cava/Spain, Prosecco/Italy, and Roederer/France has less sugar and go with many foods. It’s against the law to add sugar to wine. Just before the wine is bottled, the vintners dump raw grape juice into the bottle. The yeast eats the sugar and ethyl alcohol is produced.

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At the end of the class Bob revealed what we were drinking. It was fun to find out more about these wines. My favorite was either #4 or #5 because I was picking up a coffee aroma and I love coffee.

#1 A Sauvignon Blanc from Smart Cookie Vineyards

#2 Chenin Blanc from Beringer

#3 A Zinfandel from Quackenbush

#4 Pisano RPF Uruguay Tannat 2013

#5 Apothic Red 2015
I could go on and on with more wine tips, but why not take a class like Bob’s? His email is Beck711@comcast.net. He also does private parties. Or you could go wine tasting at Page Mill Winery in Livermore and meet my hiking friend Debbie.She knows her stuff. Lots of cool things to do in Livermore.

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Wine Wheel that helps while wine tasting

In Bob’s  words “If you wine a little bit, you’ll feel a lot better.” Well, I can tell you that my husbands cousin Lynie and I definitely felt a lot better after taking his class. I hope you have enjoyed this write up and have picked up a thing or two about wine.

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And finally, I will end with a quote from Benjamin Franklin. “In wine there is wisdom, in beer freedom, in water there is bacteria. I think I’ll plan a day trip to the Napa Valley, Livermore or Healdsburg. Anyone want to go? Hit me up! Leave me a comment below and tell me your favorite wine tip.

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My fav chef Michael Chiarello even has his own wine. Pic taken a few years back at Bottega restaurant in Yountville at Marketplace

 

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The #1 Tip to Bake Your Favorite White Cake With Less Fuss and a Orange Poppyseed Pancake Recipe with Ricotta

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Yesterday I invited my longtime friend Marie over for a baking day. She wanted to learn how to bake her son Ryan’s favorite vanilla cake. I made one last Fall for his brother Aaron’s engagement party and it was a huge hit.

Marie and I go way back. She and I met at Mr. Steak Restaurant in Concord California and worked as hostesses then waitresses at the age of 16. After working a shift, we would sit together at the back table and eat Teriyaki chicken, baked potatoes and hot fudge sundaes. We have stayed close over the past thirty years supporting one another while raising our kids. She is “Auntie Marie” to mine and I’m “Auntie Teri” to her boys. It’s a wonderful thing.

This recipe is as simple as they come adding a few extra ingredients to a box cake mix. The result is a light and airy texture with a robust vanilla flavor. The time it takes to mix is minimal which is always a plus for a busy individual who wants to spend less time in the kitchen. The recipe to my favorite chocolate cake is here on a previous blog. http://letsmakemudpies.blogspot.com/2014/07/chocolate-plus-raspberries-caaake.html?m=1

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Here is the recipe:

I box vanilla cake mix (follow recipe and add these extra ingredients)

1 extra egg white

1 box instant vanilla pudding

½ C sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Assemble cake as directed and add the extra egg white, the box of vanilla pudding and ½ C sour cream. Mix well. Prepare 2 8 or 9 “ round stainless steel pans (glass okay) by lying a piece of parchment on the bottom of the pan. If you don’t have parchment, spray with a non-stick spray or coat lightly with Crisco.

Pour batter into pans making sure to divide evenly. Bake as directed on box, usually around 17-25 min.

Let the cakes cool in the pans.

When cool frost with a white buttercream frosting.

White Buttercream Frosting

2/3 C Water plus 3 T

¼ C Wilton Meringue Powder

12 C Confectioners’ sugar (3 Lbs.)

1 1/4 C Vegetable Shortening

3 T Light Corn Syrup

¾ t Maldon Salt (found at Sur la Tab or William Sonoma)

¾ t imitation rum extract

½ t imitation clear butter flavor

1 t vanilla extract

In a large bowl, combine water and meringue powder and whip w electric mixer at high speed until soft peaks form. Add 4 C sugar ½ C at a time beating at low speed until combined. Add shortening and corn syrup and add remaining sugar slowly until incorporated. Add salt and flavorings, beat on low until smooth. Makes @ 7 Cups.

Recipe may be doubled or halved depending on size of cake.

Here’s a fun blog about wine tasting in the Livermore Valley and an Orange Poppyseed Ricotta Pancake recipe.

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Orange poppyseed pancakes with ricotta.

Enjoy!

Tell me about your favorite cake and the story behind it. Did it make you feel loved? Does your family have a traditional birthday cake every year that is requested? Please comment below.

 

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