Thursday, June 24, 2010

Growing Things

I have always loved growing things. When I was little my mom showed me how to take the leaves of this one particular plant, pin it to the curtain and watch it grow. Once the magical leaf had enough roots we would plant it in cool, dark, rich soil. Every year the two of us would plan out a garden, plotting "partner" plots where the plants actually nourished each other as well as pest deterrent planting. I still have one of the gorgeous pieces of graph paper with our annual plan all in color and it always makes me think fondly of all of those years of gardens. This year it is my turn to plan and grow a backyard garden. We have peppers, green beans, peas, watermelon, cantaloupe, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber and pumpkins! It is GORGEOUS! It is so thrilling to watch as the plants go from seeds to leaves to fruit! I've pictured one of my little watermelons that is growing bigger every day. The finished product will weigh 20-25 pounds and is supposed to have crimson red flesh inside of its mottled green skin. I love watching everything grow!

My garden is not the only thing growing in my life! I recently began an earnest search for spiritual guidance focusing mainly on the area of marriage or rather the lack thereof. I wanted to know what I needed to do to prepare myself for marriage and to be open to that kind of love. I started it with a monthly scripture study topic and a journal just for scripture study. The next thing I did was look at what kind of counsel I have received about it and was hit in the head by the fact that I had completely ignored counsel from my Bishop to go to the temple to look for a good man. Over the past month I have been going to the temple once a week and have found great blessings and guidance there. On Monday I received a letter from the temple Presidency letting me know that I had been recommended by my Bishop and Stake President to be an ordinance worker at the Oakland Temple. I was thrilled! Today I had my interview with a member of the temple Presidency that proved this calling to be divinely planned. Here's what happened:

President Harwood and his wife and I all introduced ourselves. As soon as we sat down Sister Harwood asked me what I did for work. I replied that I am a freelance American Sign Language interpreter. Her eyes immediately filled with tears. She explained that she had just been on the phone with Sister Hunter (the temple President's wife) talking about how much they need an ordinance worker who is fluent in ASL. My eyes immediately filled with tears. This was definitely not an accident!

I am thrilled to report that I will be serving as an ordinance worker every Friday from 6am-12pm starting on July 30! I will also be serving one Saturday a month when the Deaf branch from Fremont comes to the temple. I will be training other temple workers on the language of the temple in ASL as well as being the designated person to be with the brides that need ASL. Really? Me?! I am so excited I could burst!!!!

This latest experience, in a whole string of amazing spiritual growth, is one more burst of color in my personal growth garden. Sometimes the idea of growing is daunting but I am encouraged daily that this growth is leading me to my ultimate goal of a family sealed together through temple ordinances.

Growing is a wonderful thing!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

First Fruits!

The first fruits of any kind of work always makes me joyful! Today I picked the first peas off of my fabulous little pea plants! They were sweet and delicious! Oh first fruits! I am also greatly anticipating my watermelon! The little guys are about 1.5 inches long now and are bursting out all over the place. They are so adorable it's ridiculous! I am wondering if I'm going to be able to keep up with the prolific nature of my plants! I think that there may be a melon party come August!

The zucchini is completely out of control so my next baking extravaganza will be the recipe from page 37 from Martha's Baking Handbook for Cranberry-Zucchini Muffins! Here's the recipe for the muffins:

Cranberry-Zucchini Muffins

1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 c. finely grated zucchini (1-2 medium)
1/2 c. frozen or fresh whole cranberries

Preheat the oven to 375F. Generously butter 10 cups of a standard 12-cup muffin pan; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt; set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, oil, and vanilla. Stir in the zucchini. Add the flour mixture, and stir to combine; do not overmix. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the cranberries. Divide the batter evenly among the 10 prepared muffin cups.

Bake, rotating the pan halfway through, until the muffins are golden and a cake tester inserted in the center of one muffin comes out clean, 25-30 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Turn the muffins on their sides in their cups, and cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

So far my baking adventures have been totally successful! The baking powder biscuits were delicious! Flaky, buttery and creamy all in one! I even got great reviews from the lovely recipients! I have to figure out who gets the muffins!!! Anyone? Anyone?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Oh Martha!

I have recently been the recipient of a lovely gift...two quintessential Martha Stewart cookbooks. I am now the proud owner of seven cookbooks by the ever exacting Martha! The five that I already owned have been used for various occasions from Christmas dinner to catering a party for my brother's film premier in LA. I have even copied Christmas carols out of one! I adore the gorgeous glossy photos and the precise recipes. With the new additions to my cookbook library I am moved to make some sort of goal for the year that includes a great deal of cooking from both the Baking Handbook and Martha Stewart's Cooking School.

The Baking Handbook has six chapters of goodness! We have: Simple Baked Goods; Cookies; Cakes; Pies, Tarts, Cobblers, and Crisps; Yeasted Baked Goods; and Pastries! It looks like the easiest thing to do is to start at the very beginning with the basics. There are 26 different quick bread recipes and 6 months left in the year. It looks like I'll be baking up some tasty goodness once a week , plus a little every once in a while, so that I can finish chapter 1 by the end of the year! This week I'll be whipping up some Baking Powder Biscuits and sharing them with some lucky friend! I'll keep you posted on the successes and failures and I'll naturally be sharing the great recipes with you! If you're wondering, "What about the Festival of Pies?!" have no fear! I'll break out a couple of her pie recipes in November to share with all of the FOP attendees!

As for the Cooking looks like it'll make for a good summer read as I lounge in the sun sipping mint tea (my latest addiction). I know that I can gain loads of technique tips from actually reading the introduction! I am ubber reliable for not reading the introduction or all of the directions! It's definitely gotten me into trouble a few times!!!! When fall comes (oh, please come soon) I'll start cranking out the soups and stocks and maybe even pairing them with some quick breads...this is starting to sound delicious!

What about you? Do you have any favorite Martha recipes? Or books? Or tips? Please share!!!!

(Please forgive the misuse of any : or ; I really just used them to keep everything organized my mind anyway!)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Book Club Pavlova

Have you ever seen a pavlova? It is a glorious sight!!!! The crisp white meringue dripping with glorious berries and sugary syrup would make the best of us swoon. Pavlova has been one of those elusive dishes for me. I have gazed at it in the pages of many a cookbook and nearly drooled to death when watching Barefoot Contessa whip up this delicious treat. To date, I haven't had a reason to make one. It also doesn't contain chocolate and must be eaten immediately so I was hesitant to put in the time to make it happen. This month I hosted our wonderful Book Club and had the perfect excuse to make this light and scrumptious summery dessert. Let me just tell you now, it is worth all of the effort!!! Who needs chocolate when you have a lovely pavlova?!

Mixed Berry Pavlova
, Barefoot Contessa at Home
Serves 6

* 4 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
* Pinch kosher salt
* 1 cup sugar
* 2 teaspoons cornstarch
* 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
* 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
* Sweetened Whipped Cream, recipe follows
* 1/2 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
* 1/2 pint fresh blueberries
* 1/2 pint fresh raspberries
* Triple Raspberry Sauce, recipe follows


Preheat the oven to 180 degrees F.

Place a sheet of parchment paper on a sheet pan. Draw a 9-inch circle on the paper, using a 9-inch plate as a guide, then turn the paper over so the circle is on the reverse side. (This way you won't get a pencil mark on the meringue.)

Place the egg whites and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat the egg whites on high speed until firm, about 1 minute. With the mixer still on high, slowly add the sugar and beat until it makes firm, shiny peaks, about 2 minutes.

Remove the bowl from the mixer, sift the cornstarch onto the beaten egg whites, add the vinegar and vanilla, and fold in lightly with a rubber spatula. Pile the meringue into the middle of the circle on the parchment paper and smooth it within the circle, making a rough disk. Bake for 1 1/2 hours. Turn off the oven, keep the door closed, and allow the meringue to cool completely in the oven, about 1 hour. It will be crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.

Invert the meringue disk onto a plate and spread the top completely with sweetened whipped cream. Combine the strawberries, blueberries and raspberries in a bowl and toss with about 1/2 cup of raspberry sauce, or enough to coat the berries lightly. Spoon the berries carefully into the middle of the Pavlova, leaving a border of cream and meringue. Serve immediately in large scoops with extra raspberry sauce.

Sweetened Whipped Cream:

* 1 cup cold heavy cream
* 1 tablespoon sugar
* 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Whip the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (you can also use a hand mixer). When it starts to thicken, add the sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until firm. Don't overbeat!

Yield: 1 cup

Triple Raspberry Sauce:

* 1 half-pint fresh raspberries
* 1/2 cup sugar
* 1 cup seedless raspberry jam (12-ounce jar)
* 1 tablespoon framboise liqueur

Place the raspberries, sugar and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 4 minutes. Pour the cooked raspberries, the jam, and framboise into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process until smooth. Chill.

Yield: 2 cups

Happy summer!!!!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Brown-Butter Butterscotch & Chocolate Chip Blondies

As of late I have been subbing for a really fabulous Sunday School class of 9 year-old girls! Every week I sub they want some kind of fabulous treat...and who am I to deny them baked goods? I've brought them everything from Easter candy bags to s'mores (with homemade marshmallows) to Maple Glazed Oatmeal Cookies! This past Sunday I wanted to bring them some kind of bar cookie (and it actually related to the lesson!) After searching through my Martha Stewart Cookies cookbook I came up with a combination Martha/Erin recipe that is not just delicious but worth breaking your diet for!!!

Brown-Butter Butterscotch & Chocolate Chip Blondies

2 1/2 sticks of butter, plus more for pan
2 1/4 c. all purpose flour, plus more for pan
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 c. packed dark brown sugar
1/2 c. granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. butterscotch chips
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a 9 x 13 pan. Line bottom of the pan with parchment paper; butter and flour parchment.

2. In a saucepan, over medium heat, cook the butter until it turns golden brown; remove from heat and let cool. Whisk together flour, baking powder & salt.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine brown butter and both sugars; stir with a wooden spoon until combined. Add eggs. Using the paddle attachment, beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy (about 3 min). Add the vanilla, and beat to combine. Add the flour mixture, mix until combined. Stir in both chips until thoroughly combined and pour into the prepared pan.

4. Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 35-40 minutes (do not over bake). Allow to cool completely (I waited overnight) before turning out of pan onto a cutting board. Peel off parchment paper; cut blondies into cool shapes or just into bite-sized pieces! Store in an airtight container up to 3 days.

Happy baking!!!!