Friday, May 22, 2020

Cherry Vanilla Tart

It has been such a long, weird spring (cool temperatures, coronavirus isolation) so when I saw cherries for sale I had to remind myself that normally by now it feels like summer. My family's favorite cherry thing, other than eating them straight from the bag, is this cherry tart recipe. And, because the kids are schooling at home and starved for entertainment, I asked them to help me make it. In the past I used our 11" tart tin with the recipe linked there even though the recipe calls for a 9" one. But it's Memorial Day weekend and we want to share this with friends, so I decided to make two 9" tarts. I could have just doubled the original recipe, but I decided to turn it into a math lesson instead. If one tart recipe fills an 11" tin, how much more does Olivia need to make two 9" tins? And because we plan to do this again, here is the recipe scaled for two 9" tarts and tweaked a bit. This is a bit rich, so go easy on portion sizes. Maybe next time I'll add a cream cheese layer.

Cherry Vanilla Shortbread Tarts

1 cup + 5 Tbs butter, room temperature
⅔ cup sugar
⅓ cup light brown sugar, packed
1 Tbs + 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1⅓ cup of plum or cherry jam, warmed in microwave
2 cups fresh pitted Bing cherries

For the vanilla icing:
⅔ cup powdered sugar
1½ tsp vanilla bean paste
1½ Tbsp melted butter
1½-2 Tbsp milk


  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. 
  2. Grease two 9-inch removable-bottom tart tins and place them on baking sheets. 
  3. Using a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, vanilla and brown sugar vigorously until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. It’s an important step to beat the butter and sugar well together when making shortbread as this ensures the shortbread is light, crisp and will hold together. 
  4. In a separate bowl, sift the flour and salt. Add it to the butter mixture and mix until blended (forming large clumps). 
  5. Turn onto a floured surface and using floured hands, press two-thirds of the mixture evenly into the prepared tins (including up the sides). Our dough weighed about 2lbs total, so 10oz went in the bottom of each tin and we crumbled the remainder on top.
  6. Spread the jam evenly over the dough and then scatter with the cherries. Crumble the remaining dough over the filling. Bake the tarts for 40-45 minutes, until lightly browned. Leave to cool completely in the tins. 
  7. For the vanilla icing: In a small bowl whisk together the powdered sugar, vanilla, butter and 1½ tablespoons of the milk. If it looks too thick, you can add a bit more milk. Drizzle the cooled tarts with the icing, remove sides from the pan, and serve on the base. 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

This is my favorite recipe because they're moist and chewy with plenty of raisins. Also I love when you get a little crunch of kosher salt.

Pictured here with the other dough I keep in my freezer: Chocolate Chip
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1½ cups raisins

Preheat oven to 350°. Whisk dry ingredients; set aside. Combine wet ingredients with a hand mixer on low. To cream, increase speed to high and beat until fluffy and the color lightens. Stir the flour mixture into the creamed mixture until no flour is visible. (Over mixing develops the gluten, making a tough cookie). Now add the oats and raisins; stir to incorporate. Fill a #40 cookie scoop and press against side of bowl, pulling up to level dough (to measure 2 tablespoons of dough). Drop 2 inches apart onto baking sheet sprayed with nonstick spray. Bake 11-13 minutes (on center rack), until golden, but still moist beneath cracks on top. Remove from oven; let cookies sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.

Note: The dough freezes well, so scoop onto a tray and freeze, then transfer to a plastic bag once frozen. Add 1-2 minutes to the time when baking dough straight from the freezer.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Greek To Me

One of my fears in life is that Pinterest will disappear and I will lose my favorite recipes. I barely look at cookbooks anymore; my recipes are all online. A couple of years I discovered chicken souvlaki (it took me decades to order something other than my beloved moussaka from a Greek restaurant/festival, okay). Then it hit me that mere mortals could make this, PLUS my family (including our picky 7-year-old) likes it, but I can never remember which recipe I used. They're more or less the same, but here they are without all the pro-blogger ads or step-by-step photos. Shout-out to my husband who is happy and talented in front of the grill, even immediately after getting home from work.

Chicken Skewers
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced or or 1 Tbsp of minced garlic
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tsp Cavender's Greek seasoning
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 pounds chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes
1-2 bell peppers, chunked
1 small onion, chunked
This is from Stella's Grocery and the chicken
was orange so I want to try adding paprika.
  1. In a large bowl whisk together the ingredients through black pepper, then add in the cubed chicken and toss to coat.
  2. Cover and refrigerate the chicken for 45 minutes to 2 hours. Any longer and it starts changing the texture of the chicken. Start the Tzatziki in the meantime (below).
  3. Heat the grill to medium high heat.
  4. Thread the chicken, bell pepper chunks, and onion onto metal or wooden skewers. Be sure to soak wooden skewers for 30 minutes. I use double-prong metal skewers so the meat doesn't spin around.
  5. Grill the skewers for 3-4 minutes then flip it over and grill for another 3-4 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
Tzatziki Sauce
1/2 of a seedless cucumber
1 cup plain Greek yogurt (non-fat works fine)
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (less pungent than fresh)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  1. Shred half of a cucumber on a box grater, or about a cup. Squeeze out excess moisture with paper towels.
  2. In a medium sized bowl combine the remaining ingredients.
  3. Fold in the cucumber and refrigerate for an hour.
Tomato-Cucumber Salad
(which sure beats the shredded iceberg and plain tomato that some restaurants here use)
3/4 cup diced cucumber (the other half of the tzatziki one)
3/4 cup halved grape tomatoes
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced (I omit this or soak the slices in water)
1/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tsp Cavender's Greek seasoning
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup feta crumbles

Combine lemon juice, olive oil, Greek seasoning, salt, & pepper. Fold in cucumber, tomato, onion, and olives. Top with feta. Allow to chill and meld if you have time.

Flatbread I like this recipe from King Arthur Flour or I use mini-naan or Greek pitas from Walmart.

Souvlaki: Putting it all together
Put a few pieces of grilled chicken, a dollop of tzatziki, and a spoonful of tomato-cucumber salad on a flatbread and eat while the cool stuff is still cool and hot stuff is still hot. My kids prefer sour cream instead of tzatziki.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Peaches and Cream Pie

The kids and I spent two weeks in the NC mountains after school let out, which was a perfect way to kick off our summer slowly: hiking, reading, listening to the rain, doing puzzles, and seeing their cousins at the end. When we got back it was peach season in Virginia, so we went to pick a bunch and now I'm trying to decide what to do with them. In May we picked strawberries and I made a fresh strawberry pie, which was really good but then I saw a recipe for one with a cream layer so I thought I'd modify that for peaches. Plus I already had a pie shell in the freezer. I decided to do a clear glaze instead of the kind with Jell-O. I also doubled the filling, but then didn't end up using it all. (Well, it didn't go to waste either. Made a really good fruit dip!)

Peaches & Cream Pie
Inspired by this recipe

1 Deep-dish frozen pie crust*

Cream Filling*
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup heavy whipping cream, whipped
2 cups peeled and thick-sliced peaches

1/3 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp vanilla


1. Bake pie crust according to the label. I used beans to keep the sides from sliding down, but next time I'll leave it in the full suggested time. Set aside to cool.
2. Whip your heavy cream in a large bowl.
3. Beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla together in a medium sized bowl until smooth. Stir in whipped cream.
4. Spread filling into pie crust.
5. Combine water, sugar, and cornstarch in a saucepan.
6. Cook over medium heat, stir constantly until mixture thickens.
7. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla extract and allow to cool for about 10 minutes.
8. While glaze cools, arrange peach slices on top of the cream filling. I probably could have fit more peaches on this one. Just make sure there's enough to handle all the filling.
9. Brush glaze over peaches.
10. Refrigerate before serving.

*If you're using a regular size crust/pie plate, cut the cream filling ingredients in half.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Spice Bars

You may have heard me prattle on about Ginger Chews, which are like gingerbread-flavored brownies. I try to make them only at Christmastime so they stay special, but the other day I visited a local bakery and picked up a package of "spice bars" that looked interesting. I could taste molasses and cloves and raisins and it was all I could do not to go back and get more the next day. The bakery happens to be on the way to the allergist, so last Monday the kids and I stopped on the way to my daughter's allergy shots. Except the bakery is closed on Mondays. There were tears, y'all. So I consulted the internet and it did not fail me.

The first batch I made basically tasted like Ginger Chews and weren't as dark as the spice bars. So I cut the honey and upped the molasses in the second batch. I've also had to up my time at the gym the last couple of weeks.

The following week the kids and I made a bakery run on a different day, and did a side-by-side taste test with the last of my second batch.

My little guy is pointing to mine
Analysis revealed that mine were about twice as thick, so roughly the same mass per piece but I like all their surface area. Theirs seem to be a smoother, more spreadable (pourable?) dough that had been formed into long, flat pieces as there is edge along the top and bottom of most pieces, and a rounded end. Also their glaze stays white and seems thicker. Upon taste comparison, the spices in mine were much stronger but I liked the molasses flavor of theirs.  I'll back off on the spice to differentiate between spice bars and ginger chews. I also tried this Lebkuchen recipe and adopted its cooked glaze, which gives a nice crunch and doesn't dissolve before we eat the batch.

Here is my latest version, lest I forget the changes I made from this recipe or where I left off.

Spice Bars

3/4 cup shortening
3/4 cup white sugar (try brown sugar)
½ cup molasses 
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (try ½)
1 teaspoon ground ginger (try ½ or none)
½ teaspoon ground cloves (try ¼)
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup raisins

Glaze ingredients
1 cup white sugar 
½ cup water
¼ cup confectioners' sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, cream the white sugar and shortening together. Stir in the molasses and honey. 
  3. In a small bowl sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Add to the creamed mixture and mix until well blended. Finally, stir in the raisins.
  4. Divide the dough in half and roll out on the parchment into two big pieces, ½" thick with even edges. I use a bench scraper to tidy the edges so they don't overbake. Bake for 10-12 minutes in the preheated oven. Edges will be a bit darker and center will puff and then settle down as it cools. Top will appear smooth and dry to the touch.
  5. Meanwhile, make the glaze. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Heat to between 234 and 240 degrees F (112 to 116 degrees C), or until a small amount of syrup dropped into cold water forms a soft ball that flattens when removed from the water and placed on a flat surface. Remove from heat and stir in the confectioners' sugar, then pour half over one big cookie and spread with the back of your spoon, then repeat for the other half. It cools quickly, so work fast once you start pouring. If glaze becomes sugary while brushing cookies, re-heat slightly- adding a little water until crystals dissolve. Slice into bars once glaze has cooled.
So if you're ever in Mechanicsville, Virginia you should check out Williams bakery and get yourself a package of spice bars. You can also get two donuts, a slice of Savannah cake, and a slice of fresh strawberry cake and it totals $10.21. I know, right?!

My Fitness Journey

You guys. This is really personal and not something I normally share about publicly (or at all) but I wanted to share my story because this person's story resonated with me. You can do this, too.

About a year ago my dad and I both wanted to lose some weight, so we made a bet (a milkshake - his idea) on who could lose 7 pounds first. I have successfully lost weight before on the Atkins diet and Weight Watchers, so I was pretty confident I could win that even if I hadn't been able to keep it off before. My friend Pam and I were already power walking together a couple times a week, and then my friend Blair invited me to walk the track with her at the Y.  I joined up and had my training appointment where I was measured and introduced to their equipment. They use an app that keeps track of my weight machine settings and tells me which exercises and how many to do, which made it easier for me than having to remember or drag a clipboard around the weight room. And LifeFitness has an app that syncs my elliptical workouts with the MyFitnessPal app, where I track what I eat and try to stay within a calorie budget. I get extra calories to burn if I work out and I haven't cut out any foods categorically, so I basically work out in order to eat more goodies. Not the best nutrition goal, but I also learned to appreciate the bargain of veggies and the expense of things like pecans and bread. A trainer once told me that losing weight is 80% about what you eat, so if you don't change that you won't see a difference in your body. That is so true and I love delicious food, so now I just try to enjoy smaller portions of everything.

When the kids got out of school last summer we went to the Y a lot. Sometimes the kids' leaders take them to run on the indoor track and celebrate when the kids reach milestones ("Mom, I got my Marathon medal!"), so it's fun and healthy for them, too. I discovered group exercise classes like PiYo, Tabata, and Barre which gave structure to my week and kept me coming back. I will do pretty much anything as long as I have a friend to do it with! During the summer I started noticing differences in how my arms looked and my clothes fit, and that was super motivating. Slowly the number on the scale was going down. By fall I had lost about 18 pounds, which makes a big difference on a short person. Historically I lose my steam when I reach my goal, but this time I got some good momentum with these changes and just kept going. It doesn't feel like work any more, just part of my day.

My favorite group exercise classes are offered on Monday/Wednesday/Friday, but the ones on Tuesday/Thursday don't really do it for me so for a while I'd just lift weights or walk with a friend. But last fall I checked out the water fitness classes. Steve and I are used to bringing down the average age wherever we go, but I definitely felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb. The aqua ladies are very sweet and I liked the instructors, so I started going more regularly. I love that the water feels fresh and I always get a good workout even though it doesn't always feel challenging at the time. (Some mornings I'll walk downstairs and wonder what I did to make me feel so sore).
This spring the class coordinator asked if I'd consider getting certified to teach since she's always looking for subs. I mean, I'm there all the time anyway, but teaching something is a whole lot harder than just showing up for class. I did study anatomy, physiology, and physics in college, though, and my group exercise instructors are really good about teaching correct form, so those components feel natural for me. My teaching experience is with jewelry-making, though, so I will have to learn to project my voice. The aqua ladies have figured out I'm being recruited and are already coaching me on moves that they like and don't like. They're adorable. We talk quilts and baking in the locker room.

A couple more thoughts. If you're thinking about going to a gym, the time of day makes a difference in what your experience is like. Just like shopping at the grocery store, the night & weekend crowd is way different than who you see during the day. Weekdays at our Y have the sweetest, non-threatening group of people to work out with. No meat-heads. Also there's wi-fi so I can watch shows on Netflix and it makes the time on the treadmill go faster. Podcasts while walking the track are good, too.

Also? If you need help changing what you eat, try tracking your food with the MyFitnessPal app with a buddy. Then you can cheer each other on when it announces that somebody is under her calories for the day, completed a workout, or lost some weight. (It just shares the positive stuff). And it feels like someone else cares, which is motivating to me. I had been tracking my food on and off with friends a few years ago while we were living in Sweden, and I still love seeing their victories pop up on my feed, across the pond.

I turned 40 in January and actually felt excited about it. Finally at my routine checkup I didn't have to hear about how I need to make lifestyle changes. I had abdominal surgery in February (everything is fine now) and the recovery was so much easier than it might have been back in my marshmallow chapter. I keep the weight off pretty well without tracking my food (which can feel like a part-time job), so that's a relief. I don't want to hide behind my clothes anymore. I like the way my face looks in pictures. Yes, it's a lot of time and work, but it's worth it. Oh and yes, my dad did buy me a milkshake!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Lucy Long

We’re closing on our old house near Winchester, and I want to give a shout-out to our realtor, Karen O’Hare, who worked her tail off to help us sell it while patiently walking us through that process. We’re also grateful for Cindy Greenya for skillfully managing the renters the past four years.

We lived there for seven years, and lately I’ve been so focused on the painting and fixing and other house-selling stuff that it’s just now hitting me how many memories it holds. This is where Steve and I had our biggest cookouts, back before our circle of friends had kids. This is where we brought home our babies, who jumpy-jumped in the kitchen and played in the sandbox and kiddie pool. This is where our dog spent countless hours fetching tennis balls and patrolling for birds, and then curled up in a ball when the sun went down. There’s a lilac and a hydrangea off the screened porch, and bluebells from my mom's garden.

Dad and I drank dozens of cups of coffee and worked on numerous projects while the kids napped, and I also love the memories of long walks with Mom and making holiday meals with her in the kitchen. I was so grateful to live close to them again for a time.

That was also a tough chapter because of Steve's work schedule and the kids being so little, and I remember how excited I was to move to another country after that, largely because it meant he could be home for dinner with us every night.

I’m thankful to still have the family that formed all those memories. This is just a house! Now we hand the keys to a new family and hope they love the neighborhood as much as we did. Goodbye, Lucy Long.