Blueberry Buttermilk Pancake Cake

I’ve always loved the concept of brunch. It speaks of having the freedom to get up late, fix a leisurely meal, and take so long eating it that you run into lunch time. It speaks of holidays, vacations and quiet Sundays. And for me, it also speaks of my dad. My dad worked in the restaurant industry for most of his adult life, and sometimes, particularly during the busy holidays of mother’s day or Easter, he would have to work on a Sunday.
There was one restaurant in particular that had him working more often on Sundays. But when he did, that meant we got to join him at his restaurant after church for Sunday brunch. It was a very fancy restaurant called the Rose Room, and it was located on the top floor of one of the nicest hotels downtown. As a little girl, I remember the enormous feeling of importance I would get as we entered the elevator and fought over who got to punch the button for the top floor. And then we would step out into the lobby of the restaurant, which was all decorated in soft rosy pinks and sparkling crystal.
We were always made much of when we came. Six little girls in their sunday best trooping behind their mother was always a sight to see, and heads would turn as we found our way across the room to our table. Dad would come out, beaming with pride, and introduce us to some of his regular diners. He would pick up his baby and show her off as he visited different tables, and then, we were allowed to order our drinks. This was always an exciting thing, even though we invariably ordered the same drink every time- a Shirley Temple with a maraschino cherry on top.
On one memorable Sunday, before we even had a chance to order, six waiters, dressed in their crisp black tuxedos, came gracefully out of the kitchen doors, each bearing a tray held conspicuously high, with a single Shirley Temple in the center of each tray. They took a long time to reach us, winding their way through all the tables in a dignified parade, dipping and tilting their trays without spilling a single drop and drawing every eye in the room. They finally delivering our drinks individually with a bow and a flourish. We were delighted.
Then we would take our plates and move through the buffet line, skipping the cold salmon and caviar and moving on to the fruit and pastries. What can I say, my eight year old palate was not so well developed as it is now. But those were good memories, and I try to find an excuse for brunch whenever I can.
Thanksgiving works fairly well, since we don’t usually sit down until 2 or 3, but it is such a busy cooking day, that a simpler brunch is sometimes called for. I used to make the french toast casserole that can be made the night before and thrown in the oven in the morning. But then I found a recipe for blueberry pancakes that you bake in a casserole and I was intrigued. I tweaked it here and there and it quickly became a family favorite, and so, without further ado- Blueberry Buttermilk Pancake Cake.

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Let’s start with our blueberries. You will need two or three cups of fresh or frozen blueberries. Toss them with 1/4 cup of sugar.

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Then mash them slightly, just until they get a little juicy. Set them aside

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This next step is not necessary, but it makes the dish oh so special. Get a lemon and a grater or zester.

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Zest the whole rind and mix it with another 1/4 cup of sugar.

20131127-230234.jpgThe oils in the rind mix with the sugar and will make a crunchy, lemony topping. Set this aside.

While you make the pancake, get your butter melting. Turn your oven to 350 and throw about six Tablespoons of butter into a 9×13 pan. Put this in the oven. You want your pan hot and your butter sizzling by the time the batter is ready.

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The cake itself is incredibly easy. Just
2 cups of flour (I used one cup of all purpose and I cup of whole wheat here)
1 Tablespoon of baking powder and a pinch of salt.

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To the dry ingredients, add
2 cups of buttermilk

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And 10 Tablespoons of melted butter.

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Thats it. Just mix until smooth.
Your pan should be ready by now, so pull it out.

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Pour your “pancake” batter into the hot pan. The melted butter will pool up around the edges, which makes the edges of this dish something we all fight over.

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Now grab your reserved blueberries and spread them over the top of the batter.

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And then, if you didn’t skip this step, sprinkle the lemon sugar on top.

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Bake this for 30 to 40 minutes, until the edges are a deep brown, and it is no longer jiggly in the middle. Oh, and it should smell pretty fabulous too.

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See the crispy, buttery edges. Man, that stuff is good.

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Serve yourself a generous plateful, and enjoy your leisure time. Or rush to pop your turkey in the oven as the case may be.

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Happy brunching, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Last Call

Just a quick little post to let folks know (in case you haven’t noticed ) that Thanksgiving is next week!

I ran out of the stock I had of doll blanks last week, but am working on a dozen more for any of you who were still hoping to get one before the holidays.

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But seeing as time is running short, it takes me some time to make the dolls, and shipping is slower come December, I am asking that all orders be placed before the end of November if possible.

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We are also going to be on vacation in just a few weeks, and I cannot take my shop with me! So if you know of anyone who wanted a doll, (or a horse or rabbit) spread the word.

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If you have already placed an order, or aren’t interested in dolls per se, stick around. I am hoping to use my vacation as time to come up with some new ideas for my shop!
P.S. There may be squirrels and hippos involved.

Le Cours Mirabeau

In my previous post on this subject, I left you all gripping the edges of your seats as I was waking up to my first morning in Aix-en-Provence, in the south of France. You may recall I was feeling a certain trepidation about the upcoming year, after my first startling glimpse of Europe.
I awoke that first day on the floor of an upstairs bedroom in the home of our missionary friends. I had no idea what time it was, or what day it was even, but I got dressed quickly and went in search of my mother and friends. They were all gathered around the dining room table, eating what appeared to be lunch. I was greeted by our friend (who was an American) and introduced to his French wife and five children. I sat down next to my mother and felt shyness wash over me.
I don’t remember what our first meal in France was, but I do remember being offered a glass of wine by the host. I gave a sideways glance at my mother and my surprise must have shown on my face, because they all laughed. Embarrassed, I said I didn’t really care for the taste of wine. His wife then offered me a bubbling cider. It was alcoholic as well, but less so, and she informed me that it was a good way to start developing my taste for alcohol. It was how they had started teaching all their children to appreciate good wine.

‘When in France’, I thought, and accepted the drink. It wasn’t half bad. Perhaps it helped loosen my tongue, because my shyness was wearing off, and I started asking questions of the daughters of the house, who all spoke good English. I figured it was never too soon to start learning the language, of which I knew the words ‘bonjour’ and ‘merci’.

“How do you say ‘water’ in French?” I asked eagerly, pointing to the pitcher in front of me.
The girls looked at each other.
“Oh,” one of them replied.
“How do you say ‘water’?” I repeated more slowly, thinking by her answer that she hadn’t understood the question.
“Oh,” she said again.
I looked puzzled.
“The word for water is Oh,” she elaborated.
“How do you spell that,” I replied, feeling foolish.
“E-A-U” she said.
I stared. How on earth could you get the sound O out of those three vowels?
“Unless it is plural, ” she continued. “Then you add an X at the end.”
“Oh, so then you pronounce it Ohx,” I went on, more confidently.
“Non, non,” (both girls giggling) “you never pronounce the X.”
“So how do you know when you are talking about plural or singular?”
They shrugged. “You just do.”
I went on, trying to sort out the confusion. “So I thought you pronounced the X in Aix-en-Provence, but you never say the X?”
“Oh,” (more giggling) “Of course you pronounce the X in Aix.”
“So how do you know when to pronounce a letter or not? ” I asked.
” You just do,” they finished, maddeningly.
My trepidation was mounting once again.

Later that day, we were taken to see our new living quarters by our missionary friend. Since he had an unusually large family, by French standards, he drove a Volkswagen Bus. I remember the terror I felt as he zoomed confidently through ridiculously narrow streets in his overlarge vehicle, narrowly avoiding other cars. I had an impression of tall, austere, gray buildings, interspersed with small fountain-filled plazas as we flew along. Before long, he was pulling up the driveway of the Faculte Libre De Theologie Reformee,(or the Fac, as we would soon learn to call it) -the seminary where we would be living for the next nine months. It was a long rectangular building, 4 stories high, and it was covered with a pinkish colored plaster and studded with tall, mint green shutters- an interesting combination.
Our room, when we saw it, was on the second floor- the first door on the right of a long hallway. It was large and bare, with a few odd pieces of furniture, three single beds, and an old sink in the corner. There was a common bathroom down the hall, for men and women to share- yet another shock for this prudish American. I wasn’t terribly impressed with the room, but I fell in love with the enormous windows that you could fling wide open to welcome the day.
Right below our windows was a concrete slab that served as a sort of porch roof for the story below. I thought it would be a nice place to read or study and get a bit of sun in the future. The driveway was lined by tall trees with a strange, spotted, gray bark that I had never seen before. I was told they were called Platane trees.
As we took an exploratory walk towards the center of town, I noticed that these trees grew all over the city, right out of the stone, it seemed. They even looked like stone, except for their big leafy boughs overhead. It was not a large city, and our walk into town took about twenty minutes. We passed lovely, mossy old fountains shaped like dolphins, and glimpsed cathedrals down side streets.

People in dark clothing walked swiftly and silently past us as we sauntered along, absorbing our new home. My apprehensions about the language and the people and being on our own, that had been crowding my mind since I first got on the plane, were beginning to fade as I took in the richness of the architecture around me, and when we finally reached the Centre Ville, I forgot them completely.

It’s hard for me to describe how I felt when I first saw the Cours Mirabeau- the main boulevard running a quarter mile through the heart of Aix. Falling in love might be too strong a term, but it’s the only one I can think of. The way the the entire boulevard was lined with enormous platanes arching high overhead, lacing their branches to form a green canopy, through which the sunlight filtered, dappling the cobblestones in a soft green light. The way the tunnel-like trees directed your gaze to the end of the avenue, where a huge fountain danced in the distance. The charming cafes, the sculptured buildings, the smell of the boulangeries and patisseries, all combined to root me to the spot with my eyes wide, as I tried to drink it all in.
“I’m going to love it here,” I smiled to myself, “Whether I figure out the vowels and the exes or not.” And linking arms with my mother, we entered the enchanted green tunnel.

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Photos, thanks and thoughts

Oh, the blog is suffering. At it’s inception, I somehow had the energy to post three, maybe four posts a week. And now, here I am sneaking in a short one one Saturday night, just to say I posted twice this week. There are many reasons for this. Number one of course being that first trimester pregnancy drains all my energy and creative thought. And second, I have had so many orders that I have hardly had time to think about how tired I am. It’s great!
Thanks to my friends and family, my etsy ratings have gone up and more and more complete strangers are buying from me. I have had orders from unknown people in California, Colorado, Michigan, and even New York city. Three separate orders have come from Canada. They seem to love my horses up there! And with all of those orders combined, we were able to purchase six plane tickets for Christmas, and even have some left over for Christmas presents! So thank you. God provides!
Here are a couple of dolls that I just finished for a good friend.

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20131116-211319.jpgThe blue skirt design is new, so if you are interested, let me know.

And I love the green eyes on this young lady.

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If I had the time, I would love to start branching out a little more in my options. Maybe after the holidays, and once I am into my second trimester, I can start thinking of new stuff. I have had requests for different kinds of animals, especially foxes. Foxes are so hot right now. (name that movie) But it’s always tricky finding just the right pattern. I would maybe like to try a larger doll as well. Any other requests?

I have also been playing around with different skin tones on the dolls, and I found a lovely cotton in a pale brown that I thought would be nice. I wasn’t sure what ethnicity I was aiming for, but I cut it out, sewed and stuffed it and started in on the hair and eyes. By the time I was finished, I was less than pleased. Somehow, the brownish cotton had morphed into a gray- green color, reminiscent of a corpse.

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So if anyone is interested in a doll of this deathly hue, let me know. Maybe I could market her as a vampire or a zombie doll.
I’ve noticed also that the undead are so hot right now.

A simple salad

Each year, as Thanksgiving draws near, I find myself reminiscing about the good old days when we were young and carefree, just out of college and with only one or two kids. For three or four years, we used to travel to St. Louis for Thanksgiving to visit my sister and her hubby. It was always so much fun. My energetic brother-in-law called it “The Great Thanksgiving Extravaganza” and kept us on our toes the whole weekend, doing things like switching the labels on the cans of cranberry sauce and olives while we were cooking, or dragging us all out into the cold to play a wild game of basketball after we had eaten way too much.
The last year we did it, it had become rather popular and I think about 12 various friends and family members traveled up to crowd into their cozy little house, (with one bathroom, mind you). It was the year my other sister got engaged, and it was such a festive time. It felt like we cooked non-stop the entire weekend, and I remember my sister being so startled that we had gone through 25 pounds of potatoes in a few short days.
The last meal we had together was on a Sunday, and a few friends from church had invited themselves to join us. My sister and I were a bit nervous since we only had a tiny roast for about 15 hungry adults, but my brother-in-law and I devised a plan. As soon as everyone had been seated, we walked around serving the meat, claiming it was too hot to pass at the table. Everyone got an equal portion, and we whisked the empty platter out of sight, so no one would ask for seconds. He and I hid the fact that we had gotten no meat, under a pile of gravy and potatoes. That was a memorable meal, even without any meat.
I remember we also had this salad that day, or at least one similar to it. The base of the salad is my sister’s recipe, the toppings are more like a salad my mom makes. I am not a fan of bottled salad dressings, so I have two or three basic vinaigrettes I like to use a lot, and I always feel a nice salad can make any meal just a little over the top, so here we go.

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I don’t usually buy pre chopped salad greens either, but they were out of any other kind of lettuce at the store, the day I went! This is a bag of spinach and some baby greens, but any lettuce will do. At any rate, here is the dressing.
In the bottom of your salad bowl, whisk together

1/3 cup olive oil
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 a lemon, squeezed
1 Tablespoon or so of brown sugar
Salt and pepper

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That’s it.
Put your lettuce on top, but don’t toss it yet. I used both bags of greens here.
Then the toppings are up to you. This is a very versatile salad. I often switch out the pear with apples, or even strawberries. The almonds can be walnuts or pecans, and the cheese can be goat instead of feta as I have here. And I love a little slivered red onion.

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If you are short on time, you don’t have to candy the nuts, but I’ll show you how anyway. They can be used in so much more than salads. The only trick is not to walk away while the sugar melts. I have burned so many nuts that way!
Before you cook them, get out a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil sprayed with oil and set it on the counter.

I am not big on measurements, but this was roughly

1/2 cup of slivered almonds
1/4 cup of granulated sugar

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I never use a black non-stick pan for this, since it makes it difficult to see when the sugar starts to melt.
Turn your heat to MEDIUM! Don’t get impatient with the sugar and turn it up to high. I have burned so many nuts that way! Just watch until you start to see the edges turning brown and bubbly, about five minutes.

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Start stirring until all the sugar has turned to caramel and the nuts are evenly coated. This can happen very quickly.

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Before the caramel can harden, spread the nuts onto your parchment paper or foil, and let them cool. Then break them up into delicious little chunks and whack at your children’s hands as they try to sneak them.

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Now is the time to toss your salad. I usually just toss the lettuce and then layer the goodies on top for a more impressive finish!

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Serve it on a weeknight, or for your own Thanksgiving Extravaganza!
I once had a man who avidly declares all veggie’s to be “rabbit food” ask for seconds on this one, so I know it’s good.

Commissioned for Christmas

Just wanted to share this fun little Christmas doll a good friend designed for her grand daughter. She chose red hair with brown eyes, and I love how it turned out.

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She also wanted the snowflake motif, on the dark blue dress I designed, switched out with the holly cluster.

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And the beret and cape, along with red shoes to enhance the festive appearance. I love doing custom orders!

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The horses have been quite popular as well. I ran out of red wool, so I am hunting around for more, but I did stumble upon this fun purple wool, which I am working up for a few people. This guy isn’t quite finished, but if you wanted what a purple horse looks like, there you go!

20131107-094147.jpg I can’t believe it’s already November!

One of those days…

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It all started when I awoke with that ominous little tickle in the back of my throat that could only mean one thing. The nasty cold my baby had been nursing for the past week had finally caught up with me. I took a hot shower, gargled some salt water, and plowed forward with the day, sniffling over my coffee. Breakfast went well. The boys were quiet and content as there were biscuits with sausage gravy involved, and feeling heartened, I decided it would be a good day for baking. Ever since I got a vitamix blender for mother’s day, I have been trying to grind my own flour for homemade bread. I had fallen a bit behind on that particular ambition of late, so I decided it was time to restock my sandwich bread and bagel supply.
I settled my oldest at the piano to practice, gave my second boy some math worksheets to fill out and set to work myself. My bread recipe involved oatmeal, which needed boiling first, so I set it on the stove, all the while hollering out corrections to the boy on the piano. After the third time he made the same mistake I called ,
“Don’t forget the octave jump at that part, buddy!”
“What?”
“Don’t forget to jump!”

Then my second boy had a math question, and after I answered it, I realized the piano had gone silent. I went to check, and there was my first born, jumping vigorously around the room.
“What are you doing?” I asked sternly.
“You told me to jump,” he replied, trying to look innocently confused.
Then I gave him a long lecture about being a smart aleck with mommy, and returned to the kitchen, where the oatmeal was merrily boiling all over the stove.
After cleaning that up, I got going on the bagel dough, which I decided to make a double batch since I was going through all the trouble. I was just grinding the last batch of flour when my blender died. I started panicking, wondering what I might have done wrong to break such an expensive piece of equipment. I went to check the computer for troubleshooting ideas, and I saw I wasn’t connected to the internet. With relief, I realized I must have just blown a fuse and went to the breaker box. It didn’t look like any of the switches had flipped. I called the hubby. He asked if I had checked the breaker box. Duh. He told me to check again. I did. He told me he would stop by in a bit to check it out. So there I was, three batches of bread half done, the house growing cold because the heater was connected to the same problem, and homeschool efforts out the window. There was some kind of a marble war going on in the kitchen, so I called a cease fire and declared a book reading time.
The two bowls of yeast I had proofing on the counter were overflowing by the time the hubby came by. He opened the breaker box and flipped a switch. Everything came right back on, and he made one of those pleasant statements like,
“I thought you said you checked the fuses.”
There wasn’t much point in telling him that I had, so he went back to work and I returned to grinding my flour(and my teeth). I forgot I had left the blender switch on high, but even so, that was no reason the lid should have exploded off, showering the kitchen with wheat berries, and accompanied by a horrific grating noise. Now I was sure I had broken it. I quickly turned it off, and cautiously peeked inside the pitcher. Nothing but wheat. I dug down a little deeper. Something round and blue emerged. It took me a second to realize it was ammo from the boy’s marble war- and of course it was their biggest blue masher-marble. No one was about to ‘fess up to that crime, with mommy glowering down upon them like a thunder cloud, but they did meekly go back to their books so I could finally finish my dough. Thankfully the vitamix still worked.
The oat bread was rising, as well as my first batch of bagels when I remembered I had started a load of laundry to soak and still hadn’t closed the lid. I closed it and went back to finish my last batch of dough. Two minutes later, yet another loud noise was sounding- from the washer this time. I ran and opened it up. All looked well. I poked around in the murky water and lo and behold, something blue again. But this was much bigger. It was my dust pan of course, wedged down around the agitator. And, as before, no culprit discovered.

By now it was lunch time. Everything bread related was finally in a bowl and rising, the kids were happily eating, and I just wanted to put my cold to bed. But the bread had to be done. The first batch of bagels was in the oven, but when I dumped out the dough to form the second batch, it was a heavy, yeast- less lump. I turned around and saw the other proofed bowl of yeast on the counter, still waiting patiently to be added. I had forgotten it in the midst of the washing machine, dust pan kerfuffle. I went ahead and tried to mix it in, but unsurprisingly, those bagels didn’t turn out too well.
The boys were running crazy after lunch, and in a fit of high spirits, my second boy decided to lock his brothers out of the house. I was absentmindedly telling him to let them back in when a loud crash sounded from the bathroom. Two of my boys were trying to get back in through the small bathroom window. They managed it, but also succeeded in knocking down my favorite vase, tearing down the curtain and breaking the curtain hardware. While yelling at the tangle of arms and legs on the bathroom floor, the baby could still be heard, locked out and screaming. I went to let him in, but it was too late- he had already peed his pants. I was so tired after all that, that I decided to take a nap while the last loaves were baking.

I didn’t sleep too long, and felt a little better when I woke up. The boys were begging to go to the park, since it really was a glorious day outside, so I told them we could go as soon as those last loaves were done. I went to check on them, and realized that someone ( I guess I can’t blame the boys for this one) had turned off the oven before going to bed. So I just grimaced and turned the oven back on. Unsurprisingly, those loaves didn’t turn out too well. By then, I just wanted to get out of the house, so I threw the boys in the car, grabbed some drinks and my sewing box, so I could at least accomplish something with my day, and headed to the park.

It was so beautiful, sitting in the gentle breeze, looking at the bright fall colors and stitching away, that I started to relax. Then my oldest came over and said,
“Mom, I think beautiful days must be the worst for the Devil, because everyone has to love God on a day like this.”

I thought how much wisdom there was in that little statement- how maybe the devil had been distracting me with the mundane all day while I ignored God’s beauty around me. I started to smile. Then the little sage dropped a can of seltzer at my feet which exploded all over us, and the baby got stung by a hornet. We went home.

As I fixed dinner tonight, I pondered over whether there really had been darker forces at work in my day. Or perhaps some days are just like that, even in Australia. But all things considered, I suppose it doesn’t help anything that I am also pregnant.