Saturday, October 31, 2009


What? It's Halloween?? Again??? The time is going.....going........gone. My Halloween baking was limited this year due to the fact that I am in the process of having my kitchen renovated. In sections. Very small annoying sections. I have been living out of large Rubbermaid bins for over a month now and I'm starting to get very tired of it all. Yes, I know. It will all be worth it. Sweet Maria, if I had a nickel for every time I heard that one I could upgrade to a Wolf stove.

Some women yearn for diamonds. Others want fine cars. All I want is a Wolf stove. I know you've seen them. They are the smaller home version of the commercial restaurant stainless steel stove and are easily recognizable by the large red knobs along the front. Ah......sweet bliss. Am I nuts or what??

I've been so busy making cakes lately that I had alot of cake "guts" leftover to make cakepops. So I made a couple of dozen for the kids.

And some people at work.

And the mailman.

They're not perfect. Like these three dopey punkin' heads. They have crooked smiles and they have drips on the sticks. Luckily, they're never around long enough for anyone to really examine them.

Do you have any good Trick or Treating stories from your childhood?? For my sister Kathy and I, it was just an all out sugar festival. My father was always the parent who accompanied us around the neighborhood. He was such a trooper. Never complained about it. He just followed us up and down the street carrying a large army-green flashlight, lighting the way up and down walkways.

One year, I think my sister was a clown. You remember the classic costumes from the 60's?? Cheap fabric, which was jammed on over a pair of pants and a jacket and usually tied in the back at the neck. The face mask was molded plastic with slits cut out for eyes, nose and mouth. The mask was held in place by a thin elastic that went around the back of your head just above your ears. I don't think there was a child on the planet that could stand to wear one of those masks for any longer than 5 minutes. After that time, condensation formed inside the mask and made you start to sweat. Most of the time you ended up ripping the mask off and perching it horizontally on top of your head while gasping for breath. Chapped lips almost always prevailed the morning after a vigorous evening behind a Halloween mask.

One particular Halloween, I remember my sister complaining that she couldn't breathe out of her mask. As usual, I ignored her. But when we crossed the street to trick or treat the neighbors, she tripped over a shrub in the yard, ripped off the mask and tearfully wailed, "Dad, I can't see or breathe with this mask!" My father sighed heavily, took the mask from her outstretched hand and after close examination said, "The nose openings need to be larger. I'll be right back". He crossed the street to our house and went straight to his workbench in the garage. After a few minutes he returned and handed the plastic mask back to my sister saying, "Here. Try this. Now you can breathe." My sister put the mask on only to discover that the entire nose section had been completely torn off! The clown's bulbous round nose had been replaced by nothing more than a gaping hole. My father used a needle-nosed pliers to try to widen the nose openings, however instead of making a slight cut, he simply grabbed onto the clown's nose and pulled. Hysterically funny although Kathy could have cared less. We were starting our Trick or Treating and now she could breathe.

My mother always stayed home to hand out the candy. Ours was a tough house to visit while Trick or Treating. For the little ones dressed as ghouls, witches and goblins, the candy bowl was always lowered with a smile and the kids could freely "pick their poison". We always had a nice sugar medley of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Kit Kat Bars and mini Hershey Chocolate Bars with Almonds. However, if my mother thought anyone looked too old to Trick or Treat, she always felt obligated to question them. This never failed to mortify me. She always ended up giving them Halloween candy, but she would make sure to fill up the rest of their Trick or Treat bags with a little guilt too.

My mother would turn out our front light when all the candy had been passed out OR when it was 8pm. No exceptions. She was tough.

Kathy and I would do the 1/2 mile neighborhood loop in about 2 hours and arrive home overheated, breathless and elated. Our candy was immediately dumped on the living room floor and sorted out. Piles of candy bars were placed strategically (for counting purposes) and the less popular candy like Chuckles and Goobers were put aside. Usually, my mother had us put all of our candy in a large bowl for everyone in the family to "share".

Leaving our entire loot of Halloween candy in a bowl in the living room only meant one thing to us. Within a few days, the chocolate bars would magically disappear while we slept and by the middle of November we were always left with a shabby pile of Pixie Sticks, Sweet Tarts , Bazooka Bubble Gum and a few Chuckles.

What do you remember about Halloween??

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hi Punkin! (Part Two)

Sorry about the delay in getting back to you, but I was unavoidably detained. Doesn't that sound official? Actually my life is having lots of growth spurts (in a good way) and I'm just trying to jog along beside it.

So, did you watch Golden Pond? Isn't it a great film? My favorite part is when she says, "Norman, you're my knight in shining armor". Sniff. That and when she calls him "an old poop". Speaking of which, let's bake shall we?
Let's see, where was I? Ahhh yes. My sister Kathy asked me to stay with her two little ones while the rest of the family went out for a couple of hours last weekend. So I packed up my collapsible cooler, put the dog in the car and headed over for an afternoon of baking. Cody wanted nothing to do with baking but informed me that he would be happy to "taste test" when the brownies were done and promptly headed downstairs to watch T.V. On the other hand, Brenna couldn't wait to help me unpack my little cooler. She insisted on doing much of the brownie preparation I let her. For a six year old, I have to admit that she is extremely capable. Scary capable even.

I used Scharffen Berger Unsweetened Baking Chocolate and roughly chopped it up.

Then I we placed it in a double boiler over simmering water and added the butter. Once that was melted together, I we added the sugar, stirred it well, then removed it from the heat.

Then add the flour .

"We" added two eggs (broken in a separate bowl) and the vanilla. At this point, you would add the nuts as well unless you are baking with "someone" who doesn't really care for them and stomped her foot on the floor when you said that you'd like to add them. I'm not saying anything.

Then I added 1/2 cup canned pumpkin to this mixture and stirred it up well.

Now in the meantime, keep in mind that this is the month of October. We haven't even happened upon Halloween yet. Nor have the leaves started falling from the trees. Yet at one point when we looked up from our baking project, this is what we saw....

(Insert screaming here.)

Back to the kitchen! Just had to get this shot of Brenna, fishing around in the far back corner of the kitchen cabinet for the proper size pan for our Pumpkin Brownies. If there are any kitchen designers in the house, could you please answer me why.......for the love of all baked goods everywhere........what good are these corner cabinets???

Ahh...she found the right sized pan...sort of.


Bake at 325 degrees for 30-35 minutes. The pumpkin makes the brownies incredibly moist!

So here is the original recipe for Katharine Hepburn's brownies and also the "pumpkin" version. Enjoy!

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
Preheat the oven to to 325 degrees and place rack in center of oven. Butter and flour an 8 inch square baking pan (or whatever you can reach in the very back of your sister's kitchen cabinet). Melt the chocolate and butter in a stainless steel bowl placed over a saucepan (or double boiler) of simmering water. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar. Next, stir in the vanilla extract and eggs. Finally, stir in the flour, salt and chopped (if using). Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 30 - 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack. Serve at room temperature or chilled. These freeze very well. Makes about 16 brownies.
For the Pumpkin Version, I increased the chocolate to 3 ounces, increased the sugar amount to 1 1/2 cups then added 1/2 cup of canned pumpkin.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Hi Punkin! (Part One)

Something about seeing the word "pumpkin" in a recipe has always made me feel warm and cozy. Pumpkin bread, pumpkin cake, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pie. It never fails to bring a smile and a snug-as-a-bug feeling.

Dr. Phil, your thoughts?

I've wanted to make these for a while but tucked it away until it was seasonable appropriate. Like...........NOW. All in all, I don't think that the pumpkin neccesarily adds alot of pumpkin flavor to the brownies, but it does make them unbelievably moist and fudgy. Two things that we all hate........right??

So it seemed only natural to use my favorite Katharine (yes, it's spelled with an "a") Hepburn Brownie recipe with a little pumpkin twist. "Norman, look at the loons"! Isn't Golden Pond one of the best movies EVER??

You haven't seen it?? You're kidding, right? Get up right now and go rent it. We'll start the brownies when you've finished.

It is a fabulous film starring Henry Fonda, my girl Katharine and Jane Fonda. I still laugh and cry all the way through it. The movie was filmed on Squam Lake in New Hampshire, about a two hour drive from me and yes, Squam Lake is really as beautiful as the film portrays. New Hampshire is truly a special place. I'm turning the oven off right now. Go and watch it.

We'll wait.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Babies and Birthdays!

I love to look at the Cake Wrecks website. Have you seen it? Some of the cakes, especially the Baby Shower cakes are really frightening. I mean really, would you be comfortable chewing on a life-sized fondant sleeping baby?? Or cutting into a life-sized pregnant mother made entirely out of cake. It's grotesque! I find it truly disturbing that people actually find these things cute and not require therapy after eating it.

When I was young, my mother dabbled in cake decoration. From what I can recall, she had all the fancy decorating tips and attended a night class in a local high school.

She learned how to make a baby bootie out of frosting with a star tip. Ta-Da! Actually, it was quite cute and when it was placed on top of a cake she received rave reviews for her efforts

As always.....................I try to aim higher than I can reach.

I have seen several baby shower cakes recently that I thought were just adorable, so I promptly set out to replicate one. Perched on the edge of the top cake tier, I love the fact that the expectant mother looks just a tad uncomfortable in her present physical condition. She is made entirely out of fondant and I made her days and days ahead of time to allow the fondant to dry properly. I ditched the original idea to carve her out of Rice Krispy treats.

The whole Rice Krispy figure thing kind of freaked me out anyway. It reminded me of that Chuckie-like doll in that Karen Black movie, "Trilogy of Terror". Do you remember that one?? Nothing says "night-night" like a ten inch troll wielding a carving knife. I didn't sleep at all in 1975.

For this one, I took my time. I molded her legs first, then her feet, then I attached a body, and her um......various.......frontal bumps.

I oh-so carefully rolled out some chocolate fondant, then hand cut the strands of hair and attached each piece with a little sugar water.

Then I sat her down on an upside down ramekin for about 5 days to dry.

It was good for her to get off her feet for a few days. I think she really enjoyed the rest.

The presents are Rice Krispy Treats covered in fondant. Actually they are the original Karen Black "Trilogy of Terror" doll re-molded. Hey.....nothing goes to waste here.

I originally planned for this cake to be covered in fondant....then I remembered at the eleventh hour that the mother-to-be didn't particularly like fondant. So I whipped up buttercream and covered both cakes in a flash. I oh-so-badly wanted to slather on another thick coat of buttercream, but I was dangerously crunched for time. (I finished this cake within only 10 minutes of delivering it and then getting myself to the airport )See....most people wouldn't admit that, would they? I mean most smart people wouldn't. I don't think I'm quite there yet.

Anyway, the bottom tier of this Baby Shower cake is a rich, moist coconut and the top is Confetti Cake (the expectant mommy's favorite) from a box.


Hey! You in the back of the room.....I heard that.

She's cute, isn't she??

My next "gig" was a Lego Cake....and how are those legos made? With fondant covered Rice Krispy Treats or course! They are versatile little suckers, aren't they.

The Lego Cake (also due the same day as the Baby Shower cake) was for my friend Michele's son, Zachary. Like most seven year old boys, his world revolves around Legos........and chocolate. Ahhhh....a man after my own heart.

Wouldn't the world be a much easier place to live if legos and chocolate were the only things that did it for you?


Since the party was for about 23 people, I made a rich devil's food batter and baked it in a 15 x 10 pan. After leveling it off, I frosted it with a dark chocolate buttercream and topped it with fondant covered "legos". It was an eye-catching cake and from what I'm told , it was a huge hit at the party. Thus, the definition of "sweet success".....especially when it's through the eyes of a seven year old boy.

My final cake of the week was for a gentleman's birthday......and this gentleman likes to read. The chocolate cake is deep, dark and rich and the frosting is deep, dark and richer! Yum.

The book, glasses and rose are all made of fondant

Hey! I suddenly have a craving .

Got Milk?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Food for Thought

This week was the first time in my life that I was not looking forward to seeing family in South Carolina. Unlike my surprise visit only a month ago, I wasn't loaded down with Black & White cookies or fresh bakery bread. On this trip, just carrying my heart was heavy enough.

When my cousin Lisa called last week with the news that my Uncle Bill had lost his valorous battle with cancer, the sadness that I immediately felt for my aunt and cousins was overwhelming. I knew that the beautiful "snowglobe" surrounding their world had shattered and this family that I love so much would now be changed forever.

How much food does it take to mend a broken heart?

In times of sorrow, why do we always turn to familiar and comforting foods to help ease the pain?

Macaroni & cheese, potato salad, egg salad, smoked turkey and cheese, baked ham, fresh rolls with lots and lots and lots of butter, double fudge brownies, cheesecake, chocolate cookies and fresh lemon pound cake with a fluffy light vanilla buttercream. It's good. It's comforting.
That's why it's called comfort food.

Everytime I visit my "home away from home" in the South, I come away with some kind of a life lesson learned, or maybe a gift. Like my all time favorite chocolate cookbook, or my new Le Creuset Dutch Oven, otherwise known as "Big Blue".

But on this trip I came away with inspiration.

To live a better life.

To be better.

To take my uncle's philosophy on life,and find a way to adapt it to my own.

Because arguments are a waste of time.

Make fudge instead.

Dive into your life.

Make lots of friends along the way.

Remember to stop to smell the flowers.




Blow caution to the winds and enjoy what you have today.
Right now. In this moment.

Accept help from others...especially when you know you can't reach the pedals by yourself.

Try a Starbucks Iced Venti Skinny Pumpkin Spiced Latte.

Just do it.

Don't bring a bad day at work home with you. Leave it outside the front door.

Because behind every door lies an opportunity..........

..........for you to be better.

Whenever possible, always upgrade your rental car.

Remember that the pathway home is never a very far walk....

...especially when you have a friend beside you.

...unless of course, she is riding a bike.

Life is short. Drink of it well.

...and use real cream in your coffee.

Watch over and protect those you love.

Keep in touch with your family and friends, no matter how far away they live, tell them that you love them.

Life is short. Tell them often.

Tell them now.

Remember that every once in a while, it's o.k. to take a moment to throw yourself down, kick up your feet and scratch your back.

And maybe even eat a bug or two.

Hug someone really, really tall.

But if you can't.............just hug a pumpkin.
That will feel good too.

Ever. two portions of Fiber One Yogurt before leaving for the airport.

Remember that although change is hard,

changes can be good.........

And "making a change" is always the best,
so challenge yourself and Be Amazing!

Love where you live.

Love what you do.

And if you don't......what are you waiting for?

Do what makes you happy.
Do it now.

Pray to understand that where one life may conclude,

.....another life is just beginning.

And always remember that no man in the sunset of his life ever said, " I wish I had spent more time at the office".

Especially not this man.

Who had no regrets and truly lived his life to the fullest.

Every. Single. Day.

The question is.....

Do you?