Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Moravian Spice Cut Out Cookies

   The past few months, I've been thinking about hospitality in the home. We've hosted some small gatherings, an idea that used to overwhelm me to no end. I know I'm not alone on that one. 

   Hospitality is something a lot of us think about during this time of year, and it's a topic I hear many ladies say they find to be a struggle. It always was for me, but in recent months, I've been getting fearless about it. Now, if you are of the cleanliness is next to Godliness tribe, I encourage you to find something else to read immediately. You won't want to hear how I have honored some guests in a very intimate way when I invited them over without having thoroughly cleaned the house. Sure, I gave the bathroom a quick wipe down and hid a few obvious signs of calamity, but there was a front step littered with rocks and leaves, dust, an entryway shoe mountain, and a growing toy pile in the living room. About the latter, I figured children were coming too and what was the chance they would mind? That prophecy was fulfilled and they didn't mind the toys one bit. I'm not joking when I say I was honoring our guests in this way. When I am open to, let's call it, rogue hospitality I am communicating that I trust you enough to show you who we really are and to welcome you in our home in the same spirit as a family member who is dropping by for a visit. You are being shown our life in its unpolished glory. In a world of carefully edited imagery, and calculated online personas, how refreshing it is to be invited into the sacred space of the genuine? It is an innate craving to find fellowship and comfort with the familiar and relatable. To present the spotless standard to which others may aspire is a lonely mirage. To live it is vanity. So I'm going to dare to continue to make more memories in my small imperfect space that some days may look more pecked than impeccable. Who knows? Perhaps rogue hospitality will become fashionable in its own right and we recovering perfectionists will all show appreciation by raising our plastic cups and recycled jam jar drinking glasses to a new era of the bona fide.

    Now that I think about it, I can't imagine a better time to practice rogue hospitality than this time of year. It played a part in the very first Christmas when a newborn baby laid his head in a manger under some circumstances that were less than ideal but very real. Today, Christians actually take some pride in the humble beginning of the Savior, and we too can extend love in our humble places.

    I'm sharing a Christmas cookie that has intrigued me for some time. Moravian Spice Cut Out Cookies are a traditional cookie of the Moravians, an ancient German church community. These chewy molasses cookies encompass the best of both worlds: A spice cookie with a flavor similar to that of the traditional German Lebkuchen, but also a perfect dough for cut out shapes. You can even use it in place of gingerbread and make houses with it. It's very versatile, and the best part is that you probably already have all the ingredients on hand for the dough. Just add icing and fun.

    The past few years, I've taken an interest in authentic Pennsylvania German baking and have researched older recipes, including many that are now obsolete. You can usually find several variations of any single recipe. One thing that made an impression on me about the Moravian Spice Cookie is how consistent the recipe is among home bakers. I could find no variations in ingredients or quantities. 

Some recipes note that these cookies taste best when stored in stone crock for several weeks beforehand. Alas, I have no stone crock. Grandma's antique cookie jar will have to do.

Please note: This recipe requires extra time for chilling the dough. 

4 cups flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sorghum or molasses

Combine first 8 ingredients; set aside. In a large bowl, beat sugar, butter, and molasses until well combined. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the dry flour mixture until combined. the dough will be dry and crumbly. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill overnight. Refrigerate until ready to roll out. On a floured surface, roll out dough to 1/8" thickness. Cut out with cookie cutters. 

Bake at 375 F for 6-8 minutes. Cool before decorating.

These are a perfect winter cookie to go with a cup of hot tea.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Peach Pie Filling

It was the endless and seemingly impossible task of weeding my garden that inspired a new thought.  

One day I will pull my last weed. 

In a single thoughtless moment, I will lean down to pull the last bit of unwanted green beside a flower or vegetable, while silently groaning in my head. It will take but a few seconds and there will be no warning that it was the final ouster of my final creeper. 

Or it will take a whole minute, or two. Maybe five. It might be the stubborn sort with roots that extend to the Earth's core that keeps coming back after I've broken it off a few times already. I might have to trudge to the garden shed for the asparagus cutter and plunge it as far as I can into the soil to eradicate it below the surface. Perhaps the groan in my head won't be silent. After hacking away at the thing, I'll tell someone about this escapee from some jungle with not just roots, but tentacles. Neither man nor science can make it go away and it miraculously regenerates right by the front steps where all the world can see it. It's so big and grows so fast that cars passing by probably stop to take pictures of it. What is that thing? Should we call the extension office for identification? It's probably an invasive tree. Does the Division of Forestry need to know?

Without any notice, it will be my last complaint about a weed. At some point thereafter, my life will change drastically, or circumstances will gradually dim my lights without the obligatory written notice that an electric company would be required to provide you. Weed pulling will no longer be a priority. My hands will no longer grip itchy green stalks with the strength and certainty of good health. I'll distantly remember evenings in the garden as the before the sunset, the squeak of a swingset, the quiet hum of a hose. Heaven has no weeds. 

One carefree day I will make my last phone call. 

Write my last letter. 

Sew my last stitch. Actually, now that I think of my well-intentioned backlog of sewing projects, that may have already happened, without ceremony. 

As much as I look forward to a worry and weed-free eternity in the presence of God, today, my dirty hands still exude grit as they reach for the budding young black walnut tree amongst my beans. I'm still up for pulling goosegrass with the best of them, not to mention those audacious young raspberry plants with no boundaries. I don't know when I'll pull my last weed, but it's probably not today, nor tomorrow, nor next year. Like the untold number of freshly laundered towels that I've yet to fold, there's evidence that my weed-pulling career is also in mid-stride. Now that I've contemplated a time when this season shall pass, I can tug and pull with a little more appreciation for weeds, both of the garden variety and otherwise. One fine evening, maybe tonight, I will savor a sunny backyard moment of tidying up the beds to the summer tune that incessantly sings "Come push me on the glider when you're done!" and it's follow up hit, "Are you done yet?" Cue the orchestra. 

No, I'm still pulling, but here I come!

We're enjoying all the fresh fruit that seems to come at once. I'm busy canning cherries for the first time in a couple of years since the price is right. I'm happy for cherries, but must tell you, this peach pie filling is the crown jewel of my canning shelves. I tried the recipe for the first time last year to make sure the quality really held up over the course of a year, and GUESS WHAT? It did. When I popped off the lid, it smelled as perfectly peachy and cinnamon and fresh as a Saturday baking day in August. It is truly a magnificent way to preserve some of your peaches. Especially if your family, like mine, really enjoys fruit pies.

I took one of my own pie doughs out of the freezer, let it thaw, rolled it out and filled it with this canned filling before covering it in a quick crumb topping. Thirty minutes later I had a perfect peach pie cooling on the counter. 

Note: This recipe is adapted from the "Complete Guide to Home Canning," Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 539, USDA, revised 2015. 

It's safe, and I urge you to follow best canning practices when preserving food. 

Here is what you need for 7 quarts of pie filling:

6 quarts fresh sliced peaches
7 cups sugar
2 cups plus 3 Tbsp. Clear Gel
5 and 1/4 cups cold water
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 and 3/4 cups bottled lemon juice

Peel peaches and as you peel, sprinkle the fruit with ascorbic acid crystals such as Ball® Fruit-Fresh® to prevent browning. Boil one gallon of water and in small batches of 4-6 cups, boil each batch of peach slices for one minute after water returns to a boil. Drain, and keep heated fruit covered in a pot or bowl. In a large pot or kettle, combine water, sugar, Clear Jel, cinnamon, and almond extract. Stir and cook over medium heat until mixture begins to thicken and bubble. Add lemon juice and boil for one minute more stirring constantly. Fold in drained peach slices and continue to heat for three more minutes. Fill jars leaving one-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process immediately for 30 minutes in a boiling water canner. 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Blackberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

   The long cool spring is only now giving way to warmth and sun. The strawberry season this year was a washout. I didn't feel bad about it, as the commercial growers lost plenty more than us backyard growers. I sold a few meager quarts, and although my prices are always rock bottom, customers insisted on paying me more than I charge over and over again. They either felt so bad or were so thankful just to have any berries at all, and I was happy to have even a little cash. 

   Since God controls the weather, I welcomed the break and ran the race to accomplish some things around the house before the school year ends. These tasks will earn me no jewels in my crown but are necessary for comfortable living. Things like auditing the Tupperware drawer to make sure all containers have matching lids and cleaning the chandelier light in the living room. When I got word company was coming, I set a new record in spring cleaning and finished in two days. Just don't look in the bedroom. 

   About a month ago, my friend Mary broke her wrist and so I have been helping out with driving her to doctor visits, minor hairdressing, or peeling hard-boiled duck eggs to mix with red beets for lunch. I never know what will be needed so I just do what needs to be done. Mary is an active on-the-go type who was forced into sitting down when she slipped on the wet floor at work. She worked at a market food stand where you never sit down, of course. It suited her. Since she is in the seventh decade of her life, it could have been worse and we're thankful it was not. A widow for the past fifteen years, Mary is looking forward to getting back to her old independent self, and being able to drive the couple hours it takes to visit her boyfriend, the widower goat farmer who is well into his eighth decade. Yes, you read that right. Much is said about young love, and not nearly enough about old love, so I'm going to say it here.

   I can't say enough about how much of a blessing it is to have the opportunity to get out and help someone other than your own immediate family. When I had a colicky baby and needed so much help, the few who would step in and help were that much more precious. Challenging times can instill us with empathy and allow God to show us how much we need one another. When the person who takes care of others needs care themselves and learns to accept tangible acts of love, God is glorified. When the harvest fails yet our needs are met abundantly and hearts are thankful, to whom do we attribute that? While my hands can't create a single berry on their own, I aim to nurture life and grow in love. I have failed many times, but the lady who did spring cleaning in two days is not quitting the marathon. Slow, pudgy, a little clumsy, and sometimes surly, I will keep running. I have to if only to catch up with barefoot summer children and dogs who haven't quite learned to "stay" yet. Also, to keep up with Mary. I wish everyone had a spry septuagenarian in their life to chase after and be encouraged by. 

   Right now the blackberries are showing their lavender flowers and my hydrangeas are blooming for the first time ever. I often have more blackberries than I do anything else and I am always on the lookout for something different to do with them aside from the usual pie. 

    This moist coffee cake has a sweet streusel topping that perfectly balances the tartness of the blackberries. I added some cream cheese and sour cream for added richness. June is dairy month, and in case you didn't know, dairy farmers are having a hard time. We may be seeing the last of the family-owned dairy farms right now. Buy a gallon of milk when you can. 

The filling:
1/4 cup sugar
8 ounces softened cream cheese
1 egg white
1 cup blackberries

1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 Tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg  plus one egg yolk
3/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel (optional)

Streusel topping:
1/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup flour
3 Tablespoon butter, chilled and cubed

Grease a 9-inch springform pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper and set aside. 

Cream the sugar and cream cheese in a mixer until fully blended. Add the egg white and mix just to combine. Set aside. 

In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and orange rind. Set aside. 

In a mixer, cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla. Slowly mix in the flour mixture, alternating with sour cream. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and spread evenly. Spread the cream cheese filling over the batter. Top with blackberries. 

For the topping, combine flour, sugar, and butter in a bowl. Mash with a pastry blender until the mixture is finely crumbed. Sprinkle the topping over the blackberries. 

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes until center is done. Cool on a rack. Run a thin knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the cake from the pan. 

Store in the refrigerator. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Raspberry Cream Jellyroll

   In the past three weeks, I have accompanied 100 kindergartners on a rainy field trip to the Philadelphia Zoo, experienced the miracle of finding new sneakers for my son's extra wide feet in a brick and mortar store in under ten minutes, planted lettuce and broccoli, took my mother to our favorite bargain greenhouse for an afternoon of plant shopping, took down the empty suet cages and hung up the hummingbird feeder, had my second to last meeting with the school for the year, sold off most of my son's outgrown summer clothes from last year to a lady with phenomenal taste in Kansas, thought about some phone calls I need to make and in true intorovert fashion relegated them to the to do list for next week, planted next year's strawberries, checked the humminbird feeder for activity, found the missing slipper (it was deep, deep, DEEP under the bed), spent a day helping to host a post-funeral dinner at church for the a beloved great-grandmother's hundred closest family members, celebrated eleven years of marriage, put away winter clothes, and bought a second hummingbird feeder.

   The one thing I did not do is bake anything interesting or creative, which accounts for the absence of an April post. 

   I've been hankering to make something seasonal, but it's still a little early and not at all easy to top last year's delicious strawberry rhubarb cheesecake bars. Right now is the time of year where I try to use up anything hanging around so I can make space on the shelves and preserve fresh and new. I'll be making new jams and jellies once the berries grow and ripen. One look at my dwindling jam shelf gave me the idea for a jellyroll. It's been so long since I made a jellyroll. Then, in the store I see these delicious Swiss rolls filled with cream and think, no, I want to make a roll with a fluffy, creamy middle.

  Then I thought, why not both? A jelly cream roll. I used my own homemade raspberry jelly and created a whipped cream cheese frosting that makes this a stand out. It also looks inviting and would be great for guests. What say you, Little Mister?

"Another piece, please, but this time make it a gigantic one!"

So there you have it. Get out the powdered sugar, it's time to roll.

Raspberry* Cream Jellyroll 

*You can use any jelly! The possibilities are endless.

The cake:
4 eggs (room temperature)

3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons oil
2 Tablespoons buttermilk or plain greek yogurt*

1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

*Greek yogurt does the same thing in baking as buttermilk, so if you do not have any buttermilk hanging around, go ahead and pick up a small container of Greek-style yogurt. 

The filling:
6 ounces of cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup whipping cream

1/2 cup powdered sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/3 cup raspberry jelly, or another flavor of your choosing

Other tools: A 15x10x1 inch jellyroll pan, parchment paper, a clean tea towel.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 15x10x1 inch jelly roll pan with shortening or cooking spray. Cover the pan with parchment paper, then grease the parchment paper.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

In your mixing bowl beat eggs on high speed until they become pale in color. Continue beating and slowly add the sugar. Add the oil, vinegar, buttermilk, and vanilla. Continue to beat for one more minute. Add the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for 12-14 minutes until the cake is springy to the touch.

Lay a clean tea towel on your work surface and sprinkle well with powdered sugar.

After removing the cake from the oven, immediately invert it on to the powdered tea towel. Gently peel off the parchment paper. Starting at a short end, roll the cake in the towel and place on a wire rack. Cool the cake completely.

Clean your mixing bowl and attach your whisk beater. Pour the whipping cream into the bowl, along with 1 tablespoon of powdered sugar and a tiny dash of vanilla. Beat until you have made a stiff, fluffy whipped cream.

Set the whipped cream aside and replace whisk with your paddle attachment. Beat the cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla until smooth. Mix in the whipped cream. Refrigerate until the jellyroll is ready to be filled.

Gently unroll the cake and spread jam over the entire surface up to 1/2 inch around the edges. Apply the cream filling evenly over the jam. Roll the cake back up and place seam side down on an oval dish. Sprinkle with a light sprinkling of additional powdered sugar for a final touch. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to chill for an hour.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Next Level Brownies

       This month's goodie is a multi-layered fudgy brownie bar cookie that takes a bit of work despite a convenience ingredient in the form of a box of brownies. It is completely coincidental that I had planned to share this recipe for something I call Next Level Brownies while also sharing my own personal upward hike.

   The month of March came roaring in like a devil snatching at my heels. I was getting ready to leave for Holmes County, Ohio to support and volunteer at a seminar. I volunteered to work the check-in table for my friend's ministry, A Better Way. The seminar for A Better Way was an opportunity to connect people who aim to recognize, prevent, and heal from sexual abuse. Yes, I wanted to help with this effort but I must admit that could not wait to go someplace grown up, see and talk to other grown-ups, and do grown-up things. The better part of this school year has been spent climbing a mountain with my Little Mister and using every trick in the book to get his unique mind to learn the fundamentals of reading. The mountain has loomed so largely this year, that it feels like my interactions with others are limited to educators, reading specialists, and speech therapists. I needed a break from climbing that mountain. Like I always say, if you want to take the focus off of your own problems, go help someone else. Somewhere in me, buried under laundry and menu planning, there is still a librarian who has a passion for connecting people with accurate information and life-changing resources. 

    As I was packing, I felt a cold bony hand at my heel again. Less than 24 hours before departure, an emergency weather warning was issued for the entire northeast, a charming mixture of snow, rain, and 85 mile per hour winds. Seriously? 

    I consulted a map and saw there was no way to drive around the storm. The only way to beat it was to plow straight through and maybe outrun the worst of it by the time I get to central Pennsylvania. That morning, with prayers around me, I placed Little Mister on the school bus and hit the road. The plan to beat the storm went amazingly well and soon snow flurries and rain gave way to sun glare. The winds, however, were beyond formidable. I'm not dainty by any standard, but for the first time in my life, the fear of becoming airborne was real. Those 85 mph winds fought you at every step as you struggled in slow motion to exit your vehicle and walk at the rest stop. 

This was where the heel-nipping started again.

    It had been so long since I drove this route that I had forgotten the high mountain ranges with spectacular views of an endless drop just outside of your passenger side door. There I was, clinging to the side of a mountain in a slow crawl while the wind would randomly blow a large truck slightly out of the middle lane. You had to be ready to compensate for it on less than a moment's notice and calm enough to not let it scare you. I'm not a fan of heights, and the threat of the wind pushing me off the edge into a deep canyon in the no man's land of western PA was an actual mountain I had not intended to climb. I had left behind a different kind of mountain at home and now found myself climbing a real live actual mountain under less than ideal circumstances. Was I equipped? 

    I prayed that the Lord would guide me to Ohio safely and that the seminar would be a blessing to all who would be able to attend. I prayed that everyone who would be able to make it would be exactly who needed to be there to benefit from the information given by the presenters. I prayed for all the drivers on the road, and for God's will. 

    By the time I reached Wheeling for my next break, the winds had subsided. I was well on my way and in the clear. The Lord had equipped me to come over and through those mountains.

    Now, weeks later I am back to my original mountain of school meetings and reading specialists. My cleats dig into slippery ice at every step and if I glance back, the devil's bony claw takes another swipe at my heel. He makes idle threats about my kid never being able to measure up. I kick at him and stick a cleat in his eye. It might be daunting if I hadn't already gotten over and through a fair bit of the Appalachian mountains. I might be worried if the Lord hadn't shown me that I am ready to be a mountaineer. 

    As in Psalm 121, I will lift my eyes up to the hills and know where my help comes from. 

   Now, here's some trivia: Many times, the dessert recipes I share here are not eaten only by our small family. As a member of the hospitality committee at church, my baked goods often end up on the snack table for after the service. This is how I can justify baking a sheet pan or two or five of something delicious. These brownies were somewhat unique though in that they were so good, they never made it to the snack table. That's right, we ate them all! 

Although the recipe uses a brownie mix for the middle level, don't think this is an easy convenience recipe. It takes a while to put this together. 

Next Level Brownies

Cookie level:
3/4 cup softened butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 and 1 half cups all-purpose flour

Brownie level:
1 package fudge brownie mix (13x9 pan size)

1/3 cup water
1/3 cup canola oil
1 egg

1 package (11 and 1/2 ounces) semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips, melted 

3/4 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolk and vanilla. Add the flour a little at a time and mix well. Spread the mixture onto a 15x10x1 inch baking pan lined with parchment paper. Bake until golden brown, 12-24 minutes.

While the cookie layer is baking, combine the brownie mix, water, oil, and egg until fully blended. 

Spread the brownie batter over the hot cookie crust and bake for another 14-16 minutes until the brownies are set. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Melt the chocolate chips. I used a saucepan over low heat. If the chocolate starts to harden up on you, add a little milk and that will get it back to the perfect consistency. Spread the melted chocolate over the brownies and sprinkle with nuts while the chocolate is still warm. I used roasted pistachios, but any nuts would taste great. Let the brownies stand until the chocolate has set and cut into bars. 

Yield: 3 dozen (That's right, we ate 3 dozen. Guilt and shame serve no one.)

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Farmette to Table: Black Walnut Cake

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     Do you ever wish that you were not called to do certain things? For months I have been working on a church project helping to move relief supplies to Puerto Rico. If that sounds at all satisfying, let me assure you it is a lot of unreturned phone calls, declining enthusiasm, and days spent wondering who else might be able to use bottled water and hygiene supplies. Yet, I add it fresh and new to my to-do list every week.

     Then there is my dog rescue

mission. Even fewer people will thank you for that. We just took in Peanut, an adorable five-year-old Dachshund who, in all his untrained glory, is here to slay us with his cuteness. 

     It had been years since we had done anything with the black walnuts that seem to take over every bit of our ground in the late fall. The large green orbs are a nuisance when it is warm enough that the grass still requires mowing and litter our playground area. Frankly, they are somewhat inconvenient when it comes to just plain walking unless you think that walking on grass with oversized golf balls would be your thing. Yet, I sometimes feel guilty letting them go to waste because black walnuts are somewhat of a luxury. You can't find them in most stores and they are prohibitively expensive by the pound. We don't take advantage of our free bounty nearly enough. The rich, sweetly unique taste of a black walnut is unlike any other flavors. In their own way, they call to me. 

     When Little Mister heard the call and took an interest in doing a black walnut harvest, I thought now would be as good a year as any to teach him. I had a few reservations about how much time and attention he would want to devote to such an arduous task. It is grueling work to break off the tough green husks and clean the walnut shells. If you make it that far, your reward is waiting a few months for the nuts to cure. If all goes well, they won't mold and you can start cracking in the dead of winter. Separating the nut from the meat requires precision and brawn. We have a special nutcracker for these nuts, but it requires the strength of a man to operate. However, this makes it a nice family activity. Everyone can get involved in some process of harvesting black walnuts.

     I've read how generations ago, farm families would use corn shellers to take off the husk, so I've been walking around with "corn sheller" written on my shopping list for a year or so now. Who else has that on their list? 

Also shown: Gorgeous crystal cake stand I got as a wedding gift and never use. 
     Personally, my favorite part of the process is baking them for a rare treat. This time I created a layer cake with cream cheese icing. The cake itself was based on a recipe from the Simply In Season Cookbook.(Amazon affiliate link) I made a cream cheese icing and added a generous sprinkle of nuts to the very top. That last sprinkle was a nice garnish but not really necessary. You could easily make this cake using black walnut flavoring instead of the actual nuts. That's right, you don't even need real black walnuts to enjoy the flavor of a black walnut cake. Though, if you can find some at a reasonable price, it's worth the purchase.

    We came this far and still had no idea if Little Mister would even like the flavor of black walnuts. It occurred to me that after all of the work leading up to this cake, it would be a bit like jumping through hoops of fire to take a child to Disney only to find out he's scared of people dressed in character costumes. Unlikely, I know, but there's always that risk with something new.

     Alas, the disappearance of this cake is a testament to how well it was received by all who tasted it. 

Black Walnut Cake
Serves 12

2 and 1/4 cups flour

1 and 1/2 cups sugar
3 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Blend together in a large bowl.

1 cup milk
1/2 cup softened butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Add and beat with an electric mixer for two minutes.

4 egg whites

Add and beat with a mixer for two more minutes. 

1 cup black walnuts, chopped

Fold in black walnuts. Pour into two greased and floured 9-inch round cake pans. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 for 35-40 minutes. Allow cake to cool completely before frosting.


2 packages of cream cheese (One 8 ounces and the other 3 ounces, for a total of 11 ounces)

3/4 cup butter, softened
5 cups confectioner's sugar
1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Optional: 1/4 cup black walnuts, chopped, for sprinkling

Beat cream cheese and butter in a mixing bowl. Add sugar. Mix well. Add vanilla. Beat until smooth. Spread between layers of cake and over sides and top. Sprinkle with additional black walnuts. Store in the refrigerator. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Maple Cream Whoopie Cookies

     I was knocking myself out to get us to the Pennsylvania Farm Show this year. It's one of the few things we try to do as a family every year and we truly enjoy it. It snuck up on us in early January as it always does, and this year, the timing was as uncooperative as a surly child. I felt like a champ when we zeroed in on the one day we could manage to do this, lined up pet care, packed the snacks and headed off under the threat of sleet. Our driveway was still suffering the effects of the blizzard and was a lane of frozen snow and patches of thick ice. Our ritual of pulling out on to the road, in which one person stands at the edge of it and gives the all clear signal was the last obstacle to getting our trip underway.

Or so I thought. 

     We enjoyed a fairly uneventful ride until the sleet set in, the ice congealed on the windshield, but the road remained drivable. We were on the PA turnpike coming up on the Harrisburg interchange when I lost control of our modest sedan. It spun and twisted like a hockey puck across four lanes of the highway. I watched a hubcap roll off as I desperately tried to regain control of our car which was threatening to hit a concrete divider. Sigh. Didn't we just replace that hubcap? The car unpredictably spun off in another direction and we careened toward a guardrail. I remember thinking, if that guardrail gives way, we will sail down a steep wooded embankment and all die. This could be the end. 

Maybe I worked a little too hard to make this day happen. So goes that which goes very well.

     My heart gave thanks as we bounced off the guardrail and landed back in the middle of the wide road where we finally stopped. Traffic was light, so no other vehicles were around to be involved in our "spectacular on ice". I restarted the car, and we hobbled off the exit into a nearby parking lot to examine the damage. At this point, with all of us being uninjured and no other cars being involved in the collision, my cup of miracles runneth over.

     In the parking lot, we discovered the passenger door wouldn't open. The Mister used an old blanket to get down on the ground and check under the vehicle. We were thankful that the car was sound, drivable, but with significant damage. Even with a crushed front fender and grill, both headlights worked, and so we decided to travel on to the fair. In what would be the true final obstacle in our travels, we discovered we had been locked in the parking lot. It was a gated lot and the gate had been open when we entered and then shut behind us. Someone must have exited through the gate just moments before we pulled in. We tried in vain to summon someone from the government building to whom the lot belonged who could help get us out but could not find anyone who had access to open the gate. We found a back road and were soon on our way.

     We arrived safely and had a really memorable day at the show. We were alive, unhurt, and our vehicle was completely drivable with mostly cosmetic issues. It was a sweeter day than usual. I will never forget the day we spent together in which I continuously praised the Lord for His protection. I'll never forget caring so little about a car and so much about our family. 

     I'll need to keep remembering those things as we consider the significant cost of fixing the car. 

     Maple syrup always has a prominent exhibit at the farm show. The Mister who is also a part-time tree farmer loves maple syrup. He often buys a half gallon at the show. I think January's deep winter is a good time of year for the rich sweetness of real maple syrup, especially combined with a cold weather comfort like oatmeal.

Maple Cream Whoopie Cookies

6 Tbs. butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup quick oats
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 Tbs. boiling water. 

Cream butter, sugar, and egg in a mixing bowl. Sift flour, salt, and baking powder into a separate bowl. Add to the creamed mixture. Stir in oats. Mix well. In a separate dish, combine baking soda and boiling water, then add to the dough mixture. Mix well. Chill the dough for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 375. 

Drop the cookies by the teaspoon two inches apart on to a baking sheet. Bake for 7 minutes and cool completely on a wire rack.

Maple Cream filling:

4 Tbs. unsalted butter, softened

2 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4 Tbs. maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. maple flavor
1 Tbs. milk (optional: see note.)

Mix all the filling ingredients together. I mixed it by hand with a bowl and spoon, but a mixer would work fine too. Use the milk only if needed to blend the ingredients into a spreadable consistency.

Spread filling between two cookies. 


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