Walking into Lent

Lamb_of_God_Bleeding_-_Visitation_SymbolHello friends– Our church doesn’t observe the season of Lent, so yesterday early I went with my teacher friend, Maryann, to her church, Saint Angeles, for the quiet and reflection of their Ash Wednesday service.

I’m grateful for 40 day set aside to pray and worship, thanking God for the enormity of his care for us.  With the pressing complications of life right now, it’s good and right to turn my thoughts in that way…

In these days I’m remembering  Ephesians 3:17to 19
“And I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is he love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

God is good.

Chocolate Pear Cake

IMG_3794Hello cake eaters–  Some cakes are elegant fancy dinner cakes, some are colorful festive birthday cakes, but this little guy is a homely nubbly little everyday cake–the sweetest part is the pears tucked inside. And with double chocolate and a little mound of whipped cream, it’s just right.

CHOCOLATE PEAR CAKE
1 1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tab. unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup canola oil
2 pears, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
optional:  whipped cream & cocoa nibs** (or more mini chocolate chips) for garnish

IMG_3785In a mixing bowl stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cocoa.  then mix in the vanilla, egg, milk and oil.  Finally fold in the pear chunks and mini chocolate chips.

Scrape the thick batter into a 9″ or 10″ cake pan* that has been sprayed with cooking spray.  Put it into a 350 degree oven for 45 to 50 minutes until it’s cooked through.

*I like to use a springform pan to make it easier to take the cake from the pan to serve it.
** If you live in CA, the cocoa nibs are available at Sprouts!

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Quick San Francisco Weekend

IMG_3707Hi all– It was a grand grandkid time.  If you some grandkids yourself, you know what I mean.  We made a dash up to SF last weekend to talk and play and read books and eat with our kids. There were some sweet moments.  Here’s my favorites…

Saturday morning we trekked north across the bridge to the old Fort Baker, historic military quarters, that have now been transformed into a lodge.  We ate at the the Murray Circle restaurant there, overlooking the Bay and the Golden Gate.  (pictures: Mae & her mom waiting for brunch, view from our table on the porch, chicken hash & eggs)
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We took a blustery afternoon stroll down to Ocean Beach through the Sunset– blue skies and some good sand digging with our Mae.  (pictures: Aaron & Grandpa with Mae, some good sandy digging, walk up from the beach).
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And it was good to just kick back around the house and have some grand-kid time.  (pictures: Grandpa and Eero having a “conversation,”  opening some belated Christmas gifts together)
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Sunday we ended up at Ani & Brian’s for for luscious lunch.  It was the last day of their “vegetarian January” so we got in on butternut squash soup and a bright citrus salad!  Love hanging out with them and, of course, that dog Harry.  (pictures: warming soup!  Bri & Ani, and out walking with that Harry.)
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Thankful for a weekend with you all– thanks for the office tour AA, thanks for the time to talk at coffee Jessica–you know I love that, thanks for the hugs & books & smiles Eero and Mae, thanks for the beach walk & the beautiful lunch Ani & Bri.  It was the best!

Mocha Ice Cream Puffs

IMG_3543Hi all– Have you made cream puffs?  It’s a little bit magical how they beat up together so quickly and and then puff up in the oven.  We filled these up with mocha fudge ice cream  (personal fave) and then topped them with a rich ganache and spoonful of whipped cream.
They made a fine end to a meal around the table with friends last week.

MOCHA ICE CREAM PUFFS

Cream Puffs:
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1 cup flour
4 eggs

Ganache:
2 tab. butter
1/2 cup whipping cream
8 oz. chocolate chips

Whipped cream:
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
1 tsp. powdered sugar
1 tsp. instant vanilla pudding mix*

Ice cream:
Pick your favorite flavor–
mine is always Mocha Almond Fudge!!  (or plain coffee ice cream in a pinch)

IMG_3519Beat the 4 eggs and set aside

Heat the water and butter in a saucepan  to a rolling boil.  Change heat to low and then stir in the flour until it all forms into a ball.

Take it off the stove and slowly pour in the eggs, mixing with a fork as you do until they are all absorbed into the flour mixture.  You will have a sticky dough.

Then on 2 baking sheets sprayed with cooking spray, drop about 1/4 cup dough into balls on the baking sheet– about 3 inches apart (they will grow!).  Makes about 12

Pop them into a 400 degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes until they are puffed and beautifully golden.  Let them cool.

While they are cooling make the ganache..  Bring the cream and butter to a simmer in a sauce pan.  Then take it off the heat and stir in the chocolate chips, whipping it 4 or 5 minutes until it’s smooth ad shiny.

Then whip the cream, powdered sugar and vanilla pudding  with an electric mixer– until it’s thick and fluffy!  Store it in the fridge until you’re ready to put the cream puffs all together.

When you’re ready for dessert, cut the cream puffs in half horizontally.  Remove the top and plop in a large scope of ice cream.  Put the top back on over the ice cream and then pour over the ganache and add a generous spoonful of whipped cream next to the puff on the plate.  So yummy!

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Psalm 73

DSC03548Hi friends — This weekend as we were traveling home down the interstate, I listened to a TED talk on the subject of death.  Not something we think about a lot.  I thought what most of the speakers tried to say was that considering death, gives you a perspective that allows you to be more intentional with the life you have left–time with family, travels, conversations you mean to have.   That is so valuable…

But what I didn’t hear was how to think of death itself, and what lies beyond.  That is the blessed hope my faith gives me– hope in God’s presence now and forever.

I like this little vignette from Psalm 73.  It seems a picture of a life (and of a death) to me.  I have it written on a pretty card and read it most days– God the strength of my heart and my portion forever.  It’s a comfort, a joy.

“I am always with you, you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?  And being with you, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart 
and my portion forever.”    –Psalm 73:23 to 26

P.S. photo from our trip through upstate NY last summer.

Coq au Vin

IMG_3467Hello there–  Some people like to ski down steep mountain slopes and others like to skydive or run marathons… But my preferred form of adrenaline rush is rustling up a meal on a Saturday  and spending the evening with old comfortable friends,  talking late around the table.  What could be better than that?

That’s what we did last Saturday night.  Often those kinds of evenings are over simple bowls of soup or a pizza.  But this time I wanted to do something more.  So I settled on this coq au vin– starting with Ina Garten’s recipe and adding bits and pieces of recipes I could google up.  It was a fun project and was fine to share with friends.  I think you’d like it too.

COQ AU VIN
4 slices thick bacon, cut to bits
3 boneless chicken breasts
salt & freshly ground pepper
2 carrots, peeled and cut into rounds
1/2 yellow onion, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup red wine dry red wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 cup frozen pearl onions
1 tab. cornstarch
5 thyme sprigs
4 oz. crimini mushrooms, sliced
2 tab. butter

IMG_3479In a large skillet, cook the pieces of bacon until they are browned and crispy.  Remove them from the pan.  Leave about 2 tab. of bacon fat in the pan.

Cut the chicken breasts horizontally to make thinner filets.  Season them well with a good amount of salt & pepper.  Cook them in the hot skillet with the bacon fat, working in 2 bathes so you don’t crowd the pan.  Remove them to a baking dish.

In the skillet, saute the carrot pieces for 3 or 4 minutes.  Add in the chopped onion and cook until the onion just starts to brown.  Add in the minced garlic and cook a ;minute more.

Pour the wine and chicken broth over the carrots and onions and bring to a strong simmer for 10 minutes.  In a container with a tight fitting lid, shake together the cornstarch and 1/4 cup water.  Stir it into the simmering liquid in the skillet until it thickens.

Pour the sauce over the chicken in the baking dish and cover it with foil.  Put it into the oven for 20 to 25 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

While that is cooking sauce the sliced mushrooms in the butter.

When the chicken comes out of the oven, Sift the chicken pieces onto a pretty platter, mix he reserved bacon and cooked mushrooms into the sauce and pour it over the chicken.  Serve it up nice and hot. Viola!

IMG_3483P.S. Part of the fun for me was setting it all out on new dishes!  I have had a large William Sonoma Gifts card in the drawer for 2 years unspent.  I do need a bundt pan, but would go there and couldn’t imagine paying $50 for a bundt pan!!  I know. I’m a cheap-skate.  So I just hung on to the card.  But recently I found a luscious set of Hanukkah dishes there, beautifully crazed, blue bordered with little stars of David tucked in the design–on super after Hanukkah markdown.  I couldn’t resist– so happily thankful for the beauty they lend to our table.

Roasted Sweet Potato, Avocado & Faro Salad

IMG_3512Hi all– Saturday night we had magical evening with friends– literally magical.  Our buddy Mark did an hour of amazing slight of hand tricks after dinner around our table.
I kept thinking, “If I watch just a little closer, I’ll figure out how he does it.”  But no.  We were all totally mystified.

And besides that, we had a sweet time talking around the table– with this salad to start us out, coq au vin, mixed rice, shaved Brussel sprouts and bread ( I love good bread!).  Oh and to end the evening ice cream puffs.  Everyone stayed late.  It was a fine time.

ROASTED SWEET POTATO, AVOCADO Y FARO SALAD
1 sweet potato
2 tab. olive oil
salt & freshly ground pepper
Red leaf lettuce
1 avocado
1/2 cup faro
1/2 cup Pomegranate seeds

Dressing:
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup orange muscat vinegar*
(or your favorite flavored vinegar)
1 tab honey
salt & pepper to taste

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Peel the sweet potato and cut it into small chunks.  Mix the little chunks with the olive oil, salt and pepper.  Spread them all out on a baking sheet, separating them as best you can.  Bake them in the oven at 425 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until they are tender and just starting to brown around the edges.  Let them cool.

While it’s cooking shake all the dressing ingredients in a container with a tight fitting lid until they are thoroughly blended.

Cook the faro in water according to the instructions on the package– (mine boiled just 10 minutes)  until it’s tender.  Cool.

On a pretty plate, layer the lettuce, avocado, faro and pomegranate.  Give the the dressing a little more shaking and dribble it over the salad when you’re ready to serve it.

*Orange Muscat Vinegar from Trader Joes– citrus, sweet, delicious