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Archive for the ‘Non-Recipe Posts’ Category

FAQ and Update!

I’m still here! And I’m finally (finally!) going to finish baking through the MSBH. So look for new post updates for the handful of recipes left starting next month.

In the meantime, I wanted to do a FAQ post, as I still get lots of emails with questions about the blog, and particularly about the kitchen tools and equipment in my photos.

  1. Will you ever come back and finish the blog? Yes! See above. I think I have less than 10 recipes to finish before the project is complete!
  2. Where have you been? It’s been over four years, so a lot of places! I was very burned out on the project in 2012 and just couldn’t motivate myself to tackle the remaining recipes. I was interested in so many things besides baking and then my life went a little crazy in 2014 (in a good way) and hasn’t really slowed down since. But I find myself getting the baking bug again, and I’m eager to revisit and complete this project. This blog truly is one of the things I’m most proud of creating!
  3. What is your favorite recipe in the MSBH? There are a lot of gems, but the Cherry Frangipane Galette is hands-down my favorite dessert both to make and to eat. It’s so unique and pretty. The Pignoli Cookies are my favorite cookies; I’ve made them dozens of times. They’re a “grown up” cookie though, not so popular with kids.
  4. Is the MSBH a good beginner cookbook? Should I buy it for my friend (daughter, sister-in-law, dad, etc.) who has never baked before and will they be able to use it? I came to the book with a pretty solid history in baking, particularly with yeast breads, and so I’m not entirely sure if it’s a great “beginner” baking book. Martha is kind-of notorious for assuming home bakers and cooks already have a grasp of the basics and I’d say that the MSBH assumes that as well. I hope this blog and my photos have helped demystify some of the steps. I, for one, am a complete novice when it comes to the more complicated pastries and I think the struggles I have had with those recipes could have been alleviated by more detailed instructions or photos. I find myself wishing she had anticipated the hard parts and included tips. I plan on using YouTube videos and tutorials to prepare me for some of the remaining recipes.
  5. What baking pans (food processor, mixer, knives, wax paper, bundt pan, etc.) do you use? I will be writing a “Ingredients, Tools, and Equipment” post next. I will do my best to keep it updated. I also plan on updating individual posts with relevant sourcing links.
  6. I need a good ______ for a _______ dinner I’m attending. Recommendations?  It’s impossible to make perfect recommendations, but here are some of my go-to MSBH recipes for different functions I attend:

Fast, easy, last-minute dessert or cookiesDouble-Chocolate Brownie Cookies or Tarte Tatin

Dessert for a fancy dinner Summer Fruit Tart (can easily be made with other fruits)

Pot-luck savory dishEaster Pie

Pot-luck dessertSlab Pie or Sour Cherry Lattice Cobbler

Hostess gift / Gift for neighbor Banana Bread, Gingersnaps, or Torta Sbrisolona

Brunch main dishTomato Tart (if you’re tired of quiche!)

Vegan – Lemon Ginger Scones (use vegetable-based shortening instead of butter)

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Hey all, just a few random things. Posting has been light as it always is in the summer but I did process a bunch of photos last night and will write and schedule those posts tonight and this weekend I’m going to do the unthinkable: turn on my oven and bake at least one (but hopefully two or three) MSBH recipes!

A few people have emailed me about the Lemon Curd Cake and how perfect it is for summer, and after making the MSBH’s Fruit Curd Tartlets a while back, I believe it since both recipes use the MSBH’s fruit curd (totally amazing stuff).

I am not looking forward to what the baking will do to my house – I’ve literally taken to using my toaster oven in the garage because even it creates too much heat. My little window air conditioner cannot keep up!

This is how I bake my beloved sweet potatoes in the summer – in the garage with the door open. I suppose I could get a grill, but for now this works.

And I had a technician come and give me a quote for putting in central air. It will be pricey, and even he thinks that the past few years have been “flukes” for Laramie in terms of heat (most homes in Laramie are not built with any air conditioning/central air because traditionally our summers were quite mild in terms of heat) but I’m not convinced.

This is the third year where we’ve had consistent 88°-95ºF days. With my luck, I’ll fork over the money for a unit and the cruel universe will allow Laramie summers to return to their sub-80ºF temps. But either way, I’d at least be able to bake comfortably!

Guess what’s super great as a fruit cobbler topping? The MSBH’s recipe for Graham Cracker dough! It’s dry and crumbly but still buttery and delicious and goes great with summer fruit like rhubarb, strawberries, and peaches.  I highly recommend it this way.  I bake the fruit part about 20 minutes alone and then crumble the dough on top for the last 30 minutes or so.

I’ve tried this whipped cream stabilizer from the King Arthur Flour company a few times now and it’s not worth using. It makes the whipped cream taste a little weird – kinda chemically – and gives it the slightest “chewy” texture. Plus it only half-works. My whipped cream didn’t melt in the fridge after about an hour like it would usually do, but it also didn’t stay fluffy. It turned into a thick Cool-Whip consistency. Not good. Give it a pass, says me.

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Hiatus

Hey everyone – I’ve already unofficially been on a hiatus from baking and posting here and now I’m going to make it a little more official.  I have every intention of returning and finishing the MSBH but it won’t be for at least another three or four months.  There’s nothing too dramatic or awful keeping me from it, but real life has definitely intervened in such a way that I know I won’t be able to give this blog the attention it deserves for some time. I’m going to turn off commenting for the time being.

Please do check back from time to time – I sincerely plan on posting again!  Or, subscribe to my RSS feed and new posts will automatically show up in your reader of choice when they go up.

Until then, happy baking!

[It turns out I’m unable to turn off commenting.  If you comment and you are held up in moderation for a time, do not despair!  I will approve it eventually.  If you leave me a lovely comment and I do not respond, please do not take it personally.  Your nice comments always, always bring a smile to my face.]

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Here in southeastern Wyoming summer is very short.  It stays fairly chilly through the first part of June and doesn’t really heat up until July.  Once that happens, however, it’s like living in a frying pan for two months because the SUN DOES NOT STOP SHINING AT FULL POWER FOR 12 HOURS EVERY DAY.  Little cloud cover, high elevation, long hot days, no air conditioning, yadda yadda = absolutely no sane reason to turn on your oven.  On the plus side, we have zero humidity and the hot weather lasts about two months, tops.  I can already feel the crisp, cool autumn-y air on my morning walks so fall is just around the corner.  During August here, days get noticeably shorter, the nights get profoundly cooler, and all the green stuff starts turning brown.  As a cold-weather person at heart, I say amen to that.

So, I’ve been doing a lot of morning hiking in the mountains and this morning as a breeze picked up I just felt it – autumn is definitely on its way!  And that immediately triggered one core desire: baking.  I CANNOT WAIT to get back in the kitchen and bake.  Taking all this time off has been disappointing on the one hand but I think it also resparked my passion for this project.  So thank you for being patient with me!  The weather forecast for next week predicts no days above 80°F so we’re already heading in the right direction… the thought that I could be back in the kitchen full-force in a few weeks makes me pretty happy.

Until then, some non-recipe photos?  These were taken in various hiking destinations around Laramie this summer – Happy Jack Recreation Area, Red Feather Lakes, CO, Medicine Bow National Forest, and Laramie Peak.  Hiking is how I spend most of my free time in the summers and I’ve gotten into geocaching this summer too.  So these are photos from hiking/geocaching outings.

I need to look this up in my field guide - they're everywhere in the range east of Laramie right now and all around Red Feather, CO

It's hard to tell because I was crouching to take this pic but this is at the top of a very steep climb in the path. I love how the roots create natural foot holds.

Roller Coaster Trail is a short connecting trail at the Happy Jack Recreation Area east of Laramie. It's beyond fun on a mountain bike.

Another fantastic plant I need to look up in my guide. I could spend hours and hours photographing and researching plants. I would have loved a career in Botany.

Jäger comes along on all excursions - sometimes we'll hike 10 hours a day and he never gets tired. I always stuff a KONG with kibble and peanut butter, freeze it, then throw it in the cooler so he has a treat on the way home. He usually eats it all within 5 minutes.

I have so many photos from hikes this summer – would you guys like to see more?  I always wanted to keep this blog pretty MSBH-specific but I wonder if it might be nice to have something to fill the dead air until I can get baking again?  Let me know!

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I’m instituting a new thing here on this blog – Favorite Things posts!  Why?  Two reasons.  First, the baking has not kept apace with my initial fervor and I notice my readership lagging.  The last thing in the world I want is to do is talk to an empty room and I noticed that if I blog more regularly – like twice or more a week – I keep my site visits way up.  Second, I love love love hearing about other people’s “Favorite Things” and given the obscene amount of time I spend reading blogs and watching YouTube videos about favorite things, I might owe it to the universe to put my own collection of “Kudos, stuff!” out there.  So I’m going to try to do this once a month.

My entry here for March will be short, but I’ll put more effort into documenting my favorites throughout April and hopefully have a longer list.  I’ll try to keep most of my favorites cooking or baking related but I will throw some other stuff in there too, like…

Yellow Labradors!  They are the best dogs, seriously. If you are thinking about getting a dog, and you want that dog to be awesome, get a yellow lab.  There are lots of great rescue organizations that deal specifically with Labradors and most shelters have lab-mixes available. (The only thing better than a Labrador is a Labrador-mix!)  I know they are not for everyone, but they are still the best all-around dog ever.  Especially mine.

Next – my Breville toaster oven.  Calling this piece of technology a “toaster oven” is like calling the international space station a “big satellite.”  It’s technically true, but way too much of an understatement to be meaningful.  This small, sleek counter-top appliance is a toaster but it’s also a fully functional oven with a convection option, a broiler, a defroster, a proofer, and it is an all-around good thing.  I do 98% of my cooking in this oven – it holds a 9 x 13 casserole dish! – and about 50% of my baking in it.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my new KitchenAid oven, but it’s such a behemoth.  The Breville is perfect for the smaller, everyday jobs and it uses a fraction of the energy and time.   It’s also a cinch to keep clean.

Two new cookbooks – Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Everyday and Martha Stewart’s Pies & Tarts.  I put a kibosh on buying new cookbooks some time ago, as I already had an obscene number.  I enacted a rule that if I brought a new one home, I had to give away one from my collection.  I won’t tell you which two I parted with to make room for these two new ones, and I cannot pretend it was an easy decision, but these are looking to be worth it.  I am thinking about doing a “Cook Through” blog this summer and Swanson’s book is so tempting.

I'm so happy!

That’s what I’ll leave you with for this month.  I have a lot of things already planned for April favorites, so tune in April 30th!  Thanks for reading and happy baking!

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Happy Thanksgiving!

If you’re traveling to dine with friends or family today, remember these etiquette tips for being a good Thanksgiving guest:

1)  Always ring the bell and then hang upside down on the screen door – don’t just barge right in like you own the place.

2)  Arrive expectant and hungry with an adorably quizzical look on your face.

3)  Inspect all food before tasting.  (You can never be too safe where food-born illness is concerned.)

4)  Remember you don’t have to eat it all in one sitting – take some leftovers home and you can make sandwiches for the rest of the week!

(A little background.)

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  Recipe posting will start up again with a vengeance next week!

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Interloper

I love songbirds and I recently hung a new bird feeder just off one of my kitchen windows.  Within hours, the finches and sparrows became frequent patrons.

So, today I was washing some dishes after baking.  My kitchen is on the second floor of my house and there is a window over my sink, looking out to my backyard.  The weather has been wonderful, so I had the windows open (with the screens shut, of course).

There I am, sudsy hands and day dreaming, and I hear a commotion and watch a few dozen of the birds that were feeding fly away.  Somthing must have spooked them, I thought, and went back to the dishes.

Then I catch something just out the window.  A flash of brown and orange.  Huh.  Then there it is again, like a little puppet popping into view just outside the window.

Up it would pop, see me there with my dishes, and duck back down.  My house is brick 3/4 of the way up, where it then transitions into siding.  There is a sill of brick that runs the perimeter of the house where the transition occurs, just below all of the second-floor windows.

This squirrel was now perched on this brick runway just below my sink window.

In the five years I have lived here I have never seen a squirrel near my backyard, let alone climbing the bricks of my house.  But this little gal was a true pioneer.  With each peep she got braver and braver and finally my prescence did not deter her from climbing the screen.

Because I was not born yesterday, I knew she was after the new birdseed I had just that day refilled in the new bird feeder on the back eave of the house.  She constantly attempts pilfer the birdfeeder on the front of the house, the UFO-looking one that is essentially squirrel proof.

Lord, do I wish I had a picture of one of her many failed attempts to climb head-first down the chain and get at the seeds in the cup.  She gets to the point where she needs to let go of the chain in order to actually reach under and grab some seeds and, as you can imagine, slides clean off onto the ground.  You can picture the wheels turning in that little pointy noggin’ of hers at the exact point where she is weighing the consequences of letting go of the chain and the hope – oh, the hope! – that this time she might successfully grab a bunch of seeds.

Nature is amusing.

Her attempts at this feeder don’t bother me so much, because she can easily climb the big front tree or the metal decorative railing to get at that feeder.  But for the backyard feeder, she’s climbing the window screens.

I love having the feeder off of the back eave but I don’t love having this very motivated squirrel dig her sharp claws into my window screens with little to no regard for their structural integrity.

Nature is also inconsiderate.

So I think I’ll need to remove the bird feeders from the back side of the house. I don’t want to employ any sort of device that will traumatize the squirrel (she’s just trying to prepare for winter, after all) but I don’t want her shredding my screens either.

Which is such a bummer – I loved watching the birds while I baked.

I finally did squirt her with water from my sink hose to keep her from using that screen to access the bird feeders.  Off she goes, stymied again.

I’ll post about what I actually baked during all of this soon!

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