Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Welcoming Summer With My Favorite Cake

Sometimes at night I stay up later than I should.  After everyone is asleep I know I should follow, but over the course of my day this is truly the only time that I have to myself. I look forward to that time.  I love to just sit for an hour or two and do nothing.  It's how I unwind and thanks to On Demand, I can watch anything I want to on TV.  It's how I make peace with my day and prepare for the next.

Last night I watched Bathing Beauty with Esther Williams.  Have you ever seen an Esther Williams movie?  I remember seeing Million Dollar Mermaid when I was little.  It was one of those movies that used to play on the Saturday afternoon double feature.  I loved it.  I loved the singing and dancing and synchronized swimming. Bathing Beauty was just as good, but honestly I watched it just because of Esther Williams. She was so beautiful and graceful.  And what I wouldn't give for her wardrobe.  If bathing suits still looked like they did in the 40's & 50's, maybe I might wear one once in a while.  I'm also fascinated by how her hair and makeup withstood all that swimming.  She emerges from the pool looking like she just stepped out of the salon.  I guess that's the magic of Hollywood.  I wish movies were still like this - corny and fun.  Actually, I wish life was like this.  I think we need more corniness in the world.

This past holiday weekend was perfect.  It was so hot that we managed to hit the beach for the first time.  What a way to kick off the summer.  We took our first deep breaths of salt air - the first of many to come this season. What we saw in no way resembled an Esther Williams movie, but it was lovely just the same.  I live in a household full of beach lovers. These guys go crazy over sand and sun.  My little one ran in the water clothes and all.  He and Daddy laughed as they soaked each other in the waves.  We had just planned to put our toes in, but you know how that goes.  One thing leads to another and the next thing you know - you're soaked! My little on plopped himself down in the wet sand as the tide washed in and splashed over him.  I don't think he could have laughed any harder. Us either.

Summertime is about spontaneity and carefree fun.  I think we covered all of that on our first day at the beach.

The beach we go to has a very old carousel right on the boardwalk.  So old that I remember riding it when I was little - and it was there many, many years before that.  It's pretty much a staple for everyone that lives around here. The music and lights are magical. We are lucky to have such a treasure so close by.  Rob always rides with John, while I watch from the sidelines.  Sometimes the motion doesn't agree with me, so I'm very happy being a spectator... : ) 

Yesterday, while the boys were riding,  I couldn't help noticing the beautiful details all around the carousel.  Up above there are beautifully painted landscape scenes and cherubs that seem to be hovering all around it.  This made me smile.

Maybe it's the white lights I love so much.  I go crazy over white lights.  I just read that if you want to be happy, drape white twinkle lights over your kitchen window.  I might have to try that.  Who says I can't?

Back home all is well.   After shaking all the sand off us, I took a few minutes to water my flowers before starting dinner.  These lilacs came from my parents yard.  They are french lilacs and look a little different from the traditional ones I have in my yard.  The smell is just the same though.  Sweet Joy. Something about having lilacs in the kitchen makes everything better.

I'm very excited because this year I'm growing my own carnations! I had a plant just like this the first year I was married.  I loved it and had perfect little carnations all summer.  But sadly, after one harsh winter it never came back.  I've been wanting to plant another one ever since and this is my year.  Right now it's in a pot on my deck, but soon it will be transplanted to a permanent home in the yard.  For now, I'm taking advantage of all these pretty blooms.  Believe it or not carnations are one of my favorite flowers. They have hardly any aroma, but cut in a vase, they will last weeks!

Another new addition this year is this Heather plant.  I saw it at the garden center and I couldn't resist.  I love purple anything.  Looking at this plant reminds me of looking at the stars. 

This is a new plant stand I got a few weeks back.  I'm still looking for the perfect potted plant to put on it.  Until then, I'm happy looking at it without anything on it.  I love how it adds color to my deck.

Before going inside I took a few seconds to dead-head my geraniums.  If you break the dead ones off at the base of the stem new blooms will grow in faster.  I find this very satisfying because, just like watering, I feel like it makes my plants happier and healthier. 

Back inside, I want to share with you a few recipes that I made over the holiday weekend - one being my most favorite lemon coconut cake in the WORLD, but I'll get to that in a second. 

First  up is this easy salad.  We had it Friday night with pizza.  There is really nothing to it, but it's so good.

Put sliced tomatoes, cucumber, and a can of rinsed and drained chick peas in a bowl.  I used to dress this salad with oil & vinegar and seasonings until I discovered Wish-Bone Balsamic & Basil Vinaigrette.  If you have never had this dressing - RUN - don't walk- to the grocery store and get a bottle.  It's tangy and sweet and full of Basil flavor. Summer in a bottle.

It's the perfect summer dressing. Plus it's lite, which is a bonus.

Toss in a few croutons and you are done.  (For me, add a piece of Italian bread and this could be a meal : ). 

Sunday we fired up the grill and cooked steak tips.  I marinated them all day in a mixture of Ken's Steakhouse dressing (in my opinion the BEST beef marinade), freshly chopped garlic cloves, a few shakes of Morton Nature's Seasons, and two tablespoons of honey.  This combination works for me every time.  

As a bed for the meat, I sauteed in olive oil a large onion, a red bell pepper, and two sliced zucchini squashes. 

After a few minutes I added a can of mushrooms (bits & pieces) liquid and all, and a splash of white wine.  I seasoned with garlic powder, basil, and salt & pepper.  I turned the heat to simmer and let them cook while the steaks were grilling.  (Hubbie liked this medley because of it's colors - green, white, and red are the colors of the Italian flag... :  )

After letting it rest for a few minutes, I cut the meat into tips and placed on the bed of veggies.  I served with baked potatoes, and a side of broccoli.  We can never have too many veggies in our house. 

For desert  I made my all time favorite cake in the world - Susan Branch's Lemon Coconut Cake.   It's a little time consuming but oh so worth it.  I believe everyone should have this recipe.

Here's how to make it. 

Step one is to make the lemon curd filling. You will need:

The juice and grated rind of two lemons

1 cup sugar
2 eggs beaten
2 Tbsp melted butter

Put all ingredients in a double boiler and stir over simmering water until thickened - about 15 - 20 minutes.


I like to make this filling the day before because I swear it tastes more lemony after sitting overnight, but that's just me.  It also helps to cook to the sounds of this....

Which is what I did. It makes the 20 minutes go by faster.  Anyway....

Step 2 - The Cake....

Here's what you need:

6 Tbsp butter, room temp
1 1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs, separated
2 1/4 cup flour, sifted
3 Tsp baking powder
1/4 Tsp salt
3/4 cup milk
1 Tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cream butter and sugar.  Add egg yolks one at a time and beat well until thick and lemon colored.  In a separate bowl mix dry ingredients and add them to the egg mixture alternately with the milk.  Stir in vanilla.

Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites. 

Divide batter between 3 greased 8 " cake pans and bake for 20 minutes.  Cool completely before removing from pans. 

Step 3 is the frosting. (*To make it you will need a candy thermometer*).  This is classic boiled frosting that is shiny and fluffy like marshmallow.  Here's how to make it.

1/3 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/8 Tsp cream of tartar
pinch of salt
2 egg whites
1 Tsp vanilla
Sweetened Coconut

Stir the water, sugar, cream of tartar, and salt together in a saucepan.  Hook candy thermometer to the edge and boil without stirring until mixture reaches 240 F.

Meanwhile, beat egg whites until stiff.  Pour the 240 F syrup over the whites in a thin stream, beating constantly until think and glossy.  Stir in vanilla.

The Final step is to assemble the cake.  This is my favorite part. 

Put the chilled filling between the cooled layers of cake. 

**I recommend putting sheets of waxed paper under the edges of the cake before frosting it.  The frosting and coconut tends to get messy. This way all the excess will fall on the paper instead of your counter and you can just remove and throw it away.** 

Frost the cake.  Start by pouring the frosting on top and let it dribble down over the sides.  Spread with a spatula.

Aren't you glad you used that waxed paper? 

Sprinkle coconut thickly, gently pressing it into the sides.

I frosted this cake at 5:30 am on Sunday morning. I felt like I was the only person on the planet awake.  I stood at my kitchen counter in front of an open window.  I heard the birds chirping and saw the sun rising before my eyes.  I love getting up early.

I decorated the top of my cake with three blueberries and a few sprigs of lemon zest.  One large strawberry in the center also looks lovely.  Store in the fridge until you are ready to serve.

I hope you enjoy these recipes and I hope you all had a wonderful holiday weekend!

When you are feeling blue, rent an Esther Williams movie and try to make life just a little more corny.  It will make your heart happy.  I promise. 

Happy Summer ~

Monday, May 23, 2011

Saturday Morning Bliss

Saturday morning was blissful for me.  The "boys" had gone out early so not only was it quiet, but my kitchen was filled with the sweet smells of Lilly of the Valley flowers that I had picked from my mother's yard the day before. 

Lillies of the Valley are one of my mom's favorite flowers.  She grows them in abundance every Spring - and every Spring she gives me some to transplant, but they never seem to take.  Yesterday I came home with yet another bucket full of roots that I'm going to try my hand at (again).

Maybe this time I'll get lucky.

I put this flower in the same category as Lilacs as the best scented flower ever.  My mom puts them on her nightstand, so she can get the scent while she sleeps.  I hear it promotes sweet dreams : )

Weather wise, Saturday was a beautiful day.  After a week of rain, the sun finally came out.  The air was warm, so I opened all the windows and doors and let dust OUT and the fresh air IN.

It's amazing how much dust can accumulate in a very short period of time.  With Big Band on the stereo, I dusted, vacuumed, shined, and sparkled.  It's not my favorite thing to do by any means, but after it's done I'm always happy.  I feel like I've done a good job when I have a clean house. I lit a cucumber-melon candle and took a rest. 

During the process  I took some of my favorite do-dads down off the shelves to clean them...

Isn't he cute?!  I just love this little guy.  I got him at a yard sale last year for .25 cents!!! 

This creamer is a cottage that I could see myself living in.  Yellow with green shutters, roses growing under the windows, and a big old tree in the yard.  Heaven. 

He's the .25 cent star of my shelf.  Isn't it the best when you Love something you didn't pay a ton of money for?

Anyway, I have to ask you a question.  Have you ever seen these?

These are white chocolate and milk chocolate chip swirls!!!!  I just discovered these last week.  Where have I been?   I went to the store to get white chocolate chips for my white chocolate chip cranberry cookies.  What I found were these delightful swirls.  I figured what's better than white chocolate and cranberries?  It has to be white chocolate & milk chocolate and cranberries, right?! 

They came out really good.  Mind you, you can use plain white chips if you want, but if you see these swirly chips I definitely recommend them.  Here's the recipe. 

2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 2/3 cup swirled chips (10 oz bag)
1 cup dried cranberries

Mix flour, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.

Beat butter, both sugars, and vanilla in a large bowl.  Add eggs one at a time and beat until well blended.  Gradually add flour mixture. 

Stir in 1 cup of chips and cranberries.

Drop by rounded tablespoon full on to ungreased cookie sheet. 

Top each cookie with remaining chips.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake 11 -13 minutes or until golden brown.  Let cookies cool on the cookie sheet for at least 2 minutes before removing them. 

Then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

I was pleasantly surprised how these cookies came out.  The world really does become a sweeter place every day.

As for me and my morning, all good things must come to an end.  The boys came home and the next phase of my day began. 

Big Band got replaced with The Wiggles and what I cleaned in dust was replaced with mud that got tracked in on four dirty sneakers.  Oh well, such is life.  And a sweet life it is. 

At least we have cookies!!!  Now all I need is a cup of tea. 

Have a great week to all....

Seduced By Starbucks

Friday night I was seduced.  I was seduced by a skinny vanilla latte at Starbucks.  What is it about Starbucks that makes my conscious self think that it's ok to spend $4.30 on a coffee?

It was all so innocent.  It was Friday night and I was going food shopping.  It had been a long day of work and mommy duties, so I was happy for the hour "break" - even if it was at a grocery story.  Within eye-shot of the supermarket I saw THE name in green and white lights.  Without even thinking I drove straight to the front door and there I was. The sounds of Sinatra lured me in and then it happened.  I got a whiff of that smell.  That smell I LOVE so much.  It's a blend of fresh ground coffee, vanilla, and whatever it is that makes Starbucks - Starbucks.  I love it so much.  I tried to rationalize with myself that it was OK because it had been a hard day and I deserved a treat. To most this treat would be martini, or a new pair of shoes at best. For me, it's a vanilla latte at Starbucks - with vanilla powder sprinkled on top.  Ahhh...

Don't get me wrong - I'm a Dunkin Donuts girl at heart, but some days just call for a Starbucks run. 

Honestly, I think a new pair of shoes would have been cheaper, but not nearly as delicious!

Now that I think about it, those Starbucks people know what their doing.  I mean really - who's gonna say No to Sinatra?

Slowing Down Time

I recently hung this clock in my foyer.  I love it because it reminds me of something you would find in an old French Hotel (when actually I got it at the Christmas Tree Shop....ha,ha). Anyway, I was going to put a battery in it, but then I changed my mind.  I realized that I like time standing still.  Doesn't it seem like the older you get, the faster time passes?  Some days I truly feel like a hamster on a wheel - always rushing to get somewhere or do something and missing out on other things in the process.  I wish we all lived in a slower, simpler time.  I think they call it "the good old days".....

I read somewhere that if you want to slow down time you are supposed to get rid of all machines in your house that talk to you.  Although I love the thought of throwing my cell phone off a cliff, there is no way I could ever live without TV or my computer, so that was out.  I think the key is to simply stop and smell the roses.  Take time for yourself.  Be happy.  Do the things you love.  Recognize that things don't have to be perfect. And mostly appreciate everything that you have. 

Life is too short to sweat the small stuff...

I tell myself to turn negatives into positives.  For example - we have had over a week of rain here recently.  Although a bit soggy and somewhat depressing - just look at what it's doing to our grass and flowers. 

There are new colors popping up everyday....

Do you recognize this tree?  This is the tree that we hung our Easter eggs on.  It was bare and "twiggy" then with no signs of life.  I blinked and all of sudden it's alive.  Mother Nature at her best. 

Last weekend we hung two geranium plants on our deck.  It's so nice to sit at the kitchen table and look out the sliders to see pink blooms against the lattice.  It's a perfect way to start the day.  Coffee and geraniums.   Funny how the simplest things make my heart sing.  I appreciate this.

I've started planting inpatients in my flower boxes, seedlings in pots on the deck, and the hydrangeas are getting ready to pop.  It's only a matter of time...

So maybe passing time isn't so bad after all - especially with a helper...

Who likes to stop and smell the roses...

So to speak.