A tale of two cakes

Once upon a time, this was a cooking blog.  So here is a story about my most recent cake.

I have been toying around with the idea of getting some kind of a cake making business off the ground for a while now.  I have also been debating whether or not to pick up needle and thread again.  Its usually a tug of war, depending on my mood- cakes or dolls or maybe something new? But most days I just vaguely wonder how I ever had the time to run a small business on the side of everything else that is going on in my life.  And keeping up a blog? How does one do that?

At any rate, my attempts at cake making have pretty much boiled down to me experimenting with various recipes and methods and seeing if anyone out there wants one.  I have sold a few but not enough to make it worth my time at this point.

This past Saturday was one of my son’s birthdays and we were also invited to a dinner party that same night with some old friends.  My son was busy scouring pinterest for birthday cake ideas and I was also asked to bring a cake to the dinner party so I figured I would kill two birds with one stone- make a kid friendly cake and a fancy one that I could take pics of and see if I could drum up some interest.

The son decided on a ‘build your own’ Minecraft cake which I figured would be easy enough- minimal decorating and maximum visual impact.  Then I thought that since I would need to make a chocolate cake for that one (to represent dirt) I might as well make two and decorate the second with something other than grass green frosting.  blech.

Visions of chocolate ganache icing and truffle filled raspberries were dancing in my head as I made my way to the grocery store but when I arrived, there was not a raspberry to be found in the store.  Sightly disappointed, I glanced at the strawberries but they were few and very lack luster- more white than red.  What I did see surrounding me (and no wonder- it is officially fall now, even if it doesn’t feel like it) were pumpkins, nuts and spices.  I decided to change tack completely and come up with some Autumnal spicy, nutty delight.

But first I had to finish shopping for the Minecraft, which including visiting the jello aisle (red jello for lava and blue for water) and the cereal aisle (rice krispie treats for sand or some unknown mineral that my boys get excited about).  A big bag of marshmallows topped my cart and a traditional giant bottle of root beer rolled around in the bottom.  My teeth were already aching.  But the fancy spice cake was going to erase the sins of the plebeian jello/marshmallow/green, store-bought icing abomination.

It was fairly late on Friday afternoon before I got started and not a great time to start either.  The thermostat was holding steady at 94 degrees outside and my kitchen wasn’t far behind.  Undaunted, I soon had the chocolate cake beating, the water for jello boiling, marshmallows melting on the stove and was prepping the ingredients for spice cake when things started to unravel.

First, the baby woke up.  I heard her little toddling feet coming down the stairs and they were to me as the footsteps of doom.  I looked quickly around and got panicky.  The flour bin was wide open on the floor, a chocolate covered rubber spatula was well within reach. Two bowls filled with sticky red and blue food product were full to the brim and a short distance away from the bar stools that she is past mistress of climbing.

I lost focus as I began covering things up, shoving things out of the way and generally trying to cover my tracks.  I got her a drink of milk to try and distract her from investigating what mommy was up to and in the meantime, the whipped cream frosting that had been beating in the mixer got away from me.  A grainy, lumpy mass of coagulated dairy was the result.  No amount of straining, adding of more ingredients or googling for answers was able to save me from tossing half a pound of butter and a pint of heavy cream.

Whilst googling, it finally dawned on me that several of my children were asking if I was making s’mores for dessert.  I soon discovered that burning marshmallows for rice krispie treats smells pretty much the same as the traditional campfire delight, but they really don’t taste the same.

And so it went.  It was dinner time now and all baking had to be put on hiatus.  The hubby called from the store to see if I needed anything.  I asked him to buy more butter for a fresh batch of frosting.

By the time I had dinner done and kids fed, the dishes had reached alarming heights in the sink and I had used all my mixing bowls.  Half an hour later, dishes were done.  I wiped my brow and continued on.  I managed to get spice cakes in the oven, a fresh batch of marshmallows melted and stirred into the rice cereal and new frosting started.  This time I was going back to an old favorite recipe that I knew I couldn’t flub- a swiss meringue butter cream.  The butter was softening, the eggs were separated but alas, I was completely out of sugar.  I hadn’t even noticed how much sugar I had been going through.  There was nothing but a bit of brown sugar left so with a sigh of frustration, I threw it in and hoped for the best.

Once the egg whites were cooked, I began to whip them up.  And I whipped and I whipped and they just wouldn’t stiffen.  It was only then that I remembered how much meringue and humidity don’t like each other. And boy howdy was my kitchen humid. The steam coming from my ears at this point wasn’t helping much. So much butter was at stake!.  So I stubbornly cracked the whip over that poor kitchen aid for several minutes more until Oh Joy! the frosting started coming together.  The butter worked its magic, I guess, or maybe it was an inspired sprinkling of nutmeg towards the end that convinced those weary egg whites that life might be worth striving for after all.

The result was a glossy smooth, buttery pile of deliciousness that tasted all the better for the substituted brown sugar.  Who knew?!  By ten o clock I had all the cakes and various components of the birthday party sitting on the counter, kind of ready for the next day.

The next morning, everything had to be finished.  Wobbly jello, sticky rice krispies, and a super crumbly chocolate cake had to be cut into blocks for building. Grass frosting had to be applied where necessary.  I was on a stool, having just remembered to tack up a last second happy birthday banner when the birthday boy himself finally appeared.   There was a bag of balloons sitting on the table, unblown, which he noticed.  Thinking hard, I told him in as excited of a voice as I could muster that I was going to let him blow up his own birthday balloons this year.  He bought it.  He and his brothers spent the rest of the morning blowing up balloons and letting them go, laughing hysterically over the kind of gross noises they made while I got the rest of the party ready.

The rest of the day went fairly well.  Friends and cousins arrived, the cake was a big hit and I think everyone had a good time.  By the time the last guest had disappeared, I had about an hour to get the other cake ready.  I had wanted to garnish it with candied pecans but now wondered if it were worth the trouble.  But I had come this far and apparently I am a glutton for punishment.  I got out the pecans and the pan and had poured them all in. But perhaps you might remember, as I clearly had not, that I was still out of sugar.

A quick rummage in the pantry revealed a stash of some kind of unrefined ‘healthy’ sugar that the hubby had purchased at Whole Foods a while back.  I figured it would have to do. It melted immediately but would.not.stick to the pecans.   I gave up and stuck them to the cake with at least the essence of sweetness still clinging to their sides.  But I still felt that it needed something. Then, in a moment of inspiration, I remembered a batch of homemade toffee sauce that I had sitting in the fridge.

Toffee sauce is one of my favorite things in the world, consisting as it does of nothing but brown sugar, butter and whipping cream all melted together and I knew that it would taste fabulous with the spice cake. So I decided to top off my creation with a generous amount.  But since it is a good deal runnier than most glazes, I decided to make a crater in my icing and just pool it all there, surrounded by my wanna be-candied pecans.   Then, with minutes to spare, I had to drag all my kids out of their sugar comas from their first cake encounter of the day, scrub them up and herd them into the car.

At last we were off, the hubby driving and me with my long suffering cake in my lap.  But the hubby had forgotten to mention that our friends had moved.  The drive would not be a quick hop onto the freeway as I thought but a forty minute trek into the country.  Not only that, but it was on top of one of the nearby mountains and in order to reach it, we had to follow one of the curviest, hairpin-bendiest roads we have ever encountered.  And this cake was heavy and Nicky-the-ingenious-cake-baker had decided to top it off with a large pool of very runny butter sauce.   It was an adventure in physics as I battled the acceleration of the car and the turns in the road by tilting and turning that cake so that I wouldn’t end up with a lap full of gooey.

But we made it at last.  And the dinner was delicious.  But I won’t lie to you.  By the time dessert came, I was feeling pretty nervous. I was sure that something else would be wrong with that cake. But as I ran my knife down through the several layers and pulled out the first slice, all slathered with swiss meringue and dripping with toffee sauce, I knew we were going to be okay.

It was a good cake. A really good cake. An almost-worth-all-that-angst-and-labor kind of cake.   There was a sizable piece of it left at the end of the evening so I left half of it with our gracious hosts and wrapped the last remaining slice carefully

in plastic wrap and put it in the car.

It was promptly stepped on by a wayward child.  You could almost read the word ‘Crocs’ imprinted in the buttercream.

But you know what? The hubby and I ate it anyway.  For breakfast this morning. It was still good.



A New Adventure

One of the first things that drew us to the church that we currently attend was its Wednesday night activities. I distinctly remember the first time we entered the building on a Wednesday, four children in tow, shyly uncertain about where we were to go. It wasn’t too difficult to find it out, judging by the sound of noisy chatter, the stream of people coming and going and the smell of food.

My first instinct when we peeked into the fellowship hall was to feel slightly overwhelmed. There were so many people, the room was buzzing like a beehive, and there was just so much activity. Being what you might call an introverted person, making my way into that room and finding a seat at one of the long tables was daunting. But the hubby led the way and we were soon pulled into the hive, welcomed heartily and directed by friendly strangers to the food line.

I soon discovered that this was not just an occasional thing, but that every week, a first rate dinner was provided for all these people before they dispersed to various Bible studies, classes and choirs. I remember wondering to myself who did all of the cooking and how on earth they managed it- I mean, making fettucine alfredo with grilled chicken for 250 people was no small thing, not to mention the full salad bar and homemade desserts that were provided. And surely the cleanup for such a meal must mean a lot of work for someone.

But as I looked around, I noticed various people bustling around with trays for refilling things, keeping drinks replenished, pushing garbage cans around the room to help with cleanup. I remember sitting next to a lady who was trying to get to know us, in between making sure that her many children were eating their dinners. At one point her older son came over and plopped himself down next to her, complaining in a bored voice that there was nothing to do.
Without batting an eyelid she told him that instead of complaining, he should go to the kitchen and offer to help with the dishes. And he did! I was pretty impressed by this and everything else that went on that evening to prove that many hands make light work.

Still, I thought there must be one person who headed up the majority of the cooking, and after a few weeks discovered that there was one woman, hired by the church to make up the menu, do the shopping and then cook all of that food, helped along the way by a dedicated group of volunteers. I was a bit in awe of this woman and all that she did, but have since had the privilege of getting to know her and have found nothing awful about her- just a friendly and cheerful woman, happy to serve and a fellow lover of the joy of cooking.

That was four years ago now, but I have continued to be impressed with the efforts of so many to provide this weekly blessing of a meal for the entire church body. It not only means many busy young moms get a night off from cooking, but also provides a very sweet time of fellowship with other church members that we otherwise wouldn’t have. After all, there’s nothing like a good meal to draw people together, and I have always viewed this meal as a real ministry to us members.

Imagine my surprise then, when about six weeks ago I received a phone call from the church, asking if I might be willing to take over this daunting task, this weekly cooking of a meal for 250 people. The call came in the middle of all of our moving craziness, and what with the prospect of renovations and other demands on my time, my immediate thought was how impossible it would be. However, I didn’t say no right off, but I asked for some time to consider. As a parting shot, he reminded me that it was a paid position.

It only took me a few moments consideration to realize how much I wanted to take the job, and not just for the money, although any increase to our current income would be a blessing. It suddenly came over me how much I missed cooking, how much I needed that stress relief (yes, cooking is a stress relief for me) and how bored I was already growing with the limited menu I was able to cook in our tiny trailer kitchen.
As I lay in bed that night, my mind was going a mile a minute, thinking of all the things I would like to try and how much fun it would be to learn to cook in that industrial sized kitchen.
I talked to the hubby and he said to go for it. I asked my kiddos what they thought, and I’m not sure why, but they were all super excited at the prospect. My oldest boy, sounding somewhat awed himself said,

“Oh wow, mom- seriously!? That means you would be the head chef of the entire church!”

Well, not exactly son.

I went ahead and agreed to take the job, starting at the beginning of the next school year. This gave me, so I thought, plenty of time to start planning and training and picking the former cook’s brain for information and tips on how she managed the task each week.
But before I could do much of that, I got another surprise call from the church, asking if I would be willing to start my job a bit earlier and oversee a last second dinner they were trying to pull together against the arrival of a prospective new pastor- in just three days time. I cautiously agreed, but was relieved when it was suggested that we simply order pizzas and all I would need to do was come up with salad and dessert. That, I was sure I could handle.

And so, a few days later, armed with a shopping list, a blank check from the church and a Sam’s club card, I embarked on my new job. I had never actually been to a Sam’s club, being members of Costco ourselves, so I had to do a bit of exploring to figure out where everything was. I was also a bit at a loss to know how much food to buy. I had decided to make my favorite Caesar salad with the homemade croutons, but the number I had been given was anywhere from 200-300 people.
I decided it was better to be safe than sorry and by the time I checked out, my cart was heaping with romaine hearts and french bread.

When I got to the church, I thought it would be wise to start with dessert. I had decided on something simple for my first attempt- brownies, with a cream cheese swirl just to add a bit of interest. I had even decided (much to the hubby’s horror) to use a boxed mix. I got out the packages- sixteen in all, and stared down the enormous industrial mixer that I had no idea how to use. There was also, thankfully, a normal sized kitchen aid, so I decided to start the cream cheese filling in that while I tried to figure out the big mixer.
Before long, the cream cheese was whipping and soon I had all the brownie ingredients piled into a mixing bowl so large that I could barely wrap my arms around it. As I tried to wrestle it into place, pulling levers here and pushing buttons there, I heard a quiet voice behind me saying,

“Excuse me, but you seem to have some splattering over here.”

I whisked around and briefly registered the man who had entered the kitchen before a blob of cream cheese hit my face. Turns out, cream cheese filling for 300 takes up more room than usual in a kitchen aid. I hurried to turn off the machine, and grabbed up some paper towels, embarrassedly scrubbing the sticky white blobs all around me while the man kindly offered to help.
After splitting the cream cheese batch into two, he helped me get the big mixer bowl into place and I pushed the button, only to be greeted by a cloud of choking sugar and cocoa powder. More embarrassed scrubbing followed, but even with all that, I eventually managed to slide eight enormous pans of brownies into the oven, prettily marbled with cream cheese and sprinkled with fresh raspberries.

There was now nothing to do but make my salad dressing. My original recipe called for 1/2 cup of mayonnaise, amongst other things, but after multiplying it out for 300, I was a little horrified to realize that I would need to use the entire Sam’s club jumbo tub of mayo that I had purchased. As I dumped it into a bowl followed by lemon juice and enough garlic to choke a pig, my greatest difficulty was in believing that we would really need this much food, especially as I filled enormous bowl after enormous bowl with chopped romaine and stored it in the fridge.

Before long, other people began arriving to help, and I soon realized how much more there was to do. There were drinks to be made, tables to be set, all the dessert to be cut up and put on plates. Add to that the fact that I had undercooked most of the brownies and they had to be thrown back in the oven, and time was getting short. A few minutes before it was time to begin, the pizzas arrived- about seventy of them, and I started dressing the salad.

Then the people began to arrive. This being a somewhat different occasion than a normal Wednesday night dinner, we still had no idea how many would show up. But it was soon clear that 300 was an underestimation. I had a moment’s panic, looking at the enormous line of people stretching out the door and realizing that if we ran out of food it would be my fault. I started frantically chopping more lettuce and making more croutons.
Pizza after pizza disappeared, tray after tray of brownies vanished into the crowd that seemed only to grow, and I watched the clock, wondering if the food was going to last until 6:30.

Towards the end, I ran out of my homemade dressing and croutons and hoped the people still in line wouldn’t notice the change as I tossed more lettuce with a bottle of ranch and some boxed croutons I dug out of the back of the pantry.
But as crazy as the night was, I soon felt that I was in my element, running around making sure that we were well supplied with everything and seeing, with pleasure, just how many people had been served and were happily eating and enjoying each other’s company.

It brought back floods of memories of my dad, as I used to watch him making the rounds of the restaurants he managed or even hosting big parties at our house. And it was an unexpected joy for me to feel that that part of my dad was a part of me, and to put to use all that he had taught me over the years when I used to work for him.

At the end of the evening, eyeing the last little piece of pizza, the empty brownie pans and the half a romaine heart that was all that remained of the feast we had prepared, I felt tired, but satisfied. I know now that I have my work cut out for me, but I also now how much I am looking forward to the challenge and how thankful I am for the willing hands that have made these evenings what they are and I’m honored by the prospect of serving the church in this special way.

The new face of fruitcake

It feels strange to me to be posting pictures of new cakes instead of new doll designs, but I’m rolling with it.  I decided to grab these last few afternoons in my own familiar kitchen to try some new cake ideas since I would like to start adding to my repertoire and figured now would be as good a  time as any.

As popular as my uber-fancy raspberry cake has been, I wanted to have something a little simpler to offer and perhaps a little more affordable.  And as much as I love chocolate, I also like a nice simple vanilla based cake.

As far as cake styles go, I am always drawn to fresh fruit.  I mean, it tastes fabulous, looks great, and instantly turns a cake from ho-hum into something that really stands out.  It’s also super easy to decorate with.  So without further ado, I present two new “fruit cakes” for my shop.

Number 1-  Strawberry Shortcake Cake

This is three layers of a super yummy and moist sour cream cake, filled with a whipped cream and fresh strawberry concoction and frosted with vanilla whipped cream frosting.

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Now fresh fruit really needs no embellishment, but a little chocolate drizzle on the strawberries never hurt anyone.

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And on to cake number two

Lemon Blackberry Buttercream cake-

I think next time I make this, I will incorporate a blackberry puree into the buttercream icing, just for a little extra color, but I didn’t have enough berries this time.

The interior is three layers of a fluffy lemon cake, slathered with lemon curd and fresh blackberries.  The frosting, a rich lemony butter cream garnished with more blackberries.

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So there you have it!  Leave a comment if you are interested.  Any of these cakes are really perfect for just about any occasion, so let me know.


Well, if you have been a faithful reader of my blog, you might remember that last year the hubby and I had a contest to see who could make the best cake for our annual church fundraiser, which takes the form of a Valentine themed cake auction.  We had a lot of fun doing it, and you can read that other post here.  We had every intention of carrying on the tradition this year, but as the time drew near, the hubby simply ran out of time.  He has been more than a little busy lately, building other things besides cakes.

So I was kind of bummed.  But then my boys offered to make a cake instead, and I thought that might be just as fun!  So we flipped through books and internets and each found some inspiration and went on from there- one cake for the boys, and one for the girl.   I’m not going to post recipes here- it would just take too much time, but I did want to document the event with a (largish) photo dump.

Tonight at the auction, I had to reassure several people that the boys (mostly James) really did make the cake, with only the tiniest bits of help from me.  Here’s proof!


Not one bit of egg shell did he drop.


Men and power tools….


They chose a strawberry cake…



Being super helpful



Strawberry cake with lemon frosting that is.


Love this boy


Learning to frost



And then the final touches. (which made me cringe a bit- ohhh, so much sugar)


Very Proud.


Then it was mama’s turn.

Out of the way boys.


Then I forgot to take pictures for a few steps. I finished off the day with this.    (there be four layers underneath that there ganache)


And then had to tackle this…


But I wasn’t finished yet.

This morning was decoratin’ time, starting with baked raspberry meringue rosettes.


Dipped in chocolate ganache


And up into place.


Then to cover the gaps, I decided on raspberries.

But not just any old raspberries.


These were amazing- like little chocolate bombs of bliss.  I may have sneaked a few, or ten.


Then my own final touches.


I admit, this cake was a little bit over the top ridiculous, (all for a good cause of course) but I had so much fun making it, that I thought I would just throw this out there.  Would anyone out perhaps be interested in purchasing a cake from me, outside of an auction scenario? (now that sewing season has slowed down.)

I’m thinking fancy birthday/anniversary cakes, and of course it would have to be for local people.  But I do make a pretty good cake, if I do say so myself.

Let me know!  If there is enough interest, Climbing Vine might just be branching out!




The rest of the story

Hi all,

I thought I would give some closure to my last post by providing a simple scone recipe.  After all, we need a good excuse to use our delightful new discovery- Cornish (clotted) cream.

Now I grew up eating scones quite often.  Living in western Washington state, I was a frequent visitor of the Puyallup Fair (only true Washingtonians can say that name).  This fair is one of the top ten largest fairs in the nation.  And this fair happens to be famous for it’s ‘Fair Scone,’ a triangular bit of pastry served hot with a dollop of jam which drips down your hands as you visit the impressive livestock or the prize-winning pumpkins and then try to decide which nausea-inducing rides are worth waiting in line for.  Almost everyone I know out west has a ‘fair scone’ recipe in their arsenal, and don’t get me wrong- they are tasty, and would work just fine as a vehicle for your cream.

But for the sake of consistency, today I am going to share a recipe for true, English cream scones.  I am pretty sure the only real difference between the two is that the cream scone is made with- you guessed it- cream instead of milk.  Because we don’t have enough cream in this scenario.  Here’s what you need-

3 cups all purpose flour

4 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

1/4 cup sugar

1 stick butter

1 1/2 cups cream (c’mon- you know you want to)

First combine your dry ingredients in a medium bowl, and then plop the whole stick of butter on top.

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Then, with a pastry cutter or your fingers, crumble the butter into the flour until it looks good and crumbly.

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Now just pour in your cream.  I am using the leftover liquid from the clotted cream recipe here, plus a little regular whipping cream.


Gently stir together until it forms a nice lumpy mass, and plop it straight onto your baking sheet because don’t you hate cleaning up sticky, floury counter tops?

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Using floured fingers, gently press your dough into an irregular shape and get out a smallish glass or biscuit cutter.  Or you can form it into two circles and cut it into wedges if you like.


Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and put your scones in to bake for about 15-20 minutes.  They don’t get very golden on the top, so gently lift one up and see if the bottom is browned- that means they are done!


Now slice one in half, and get ready.


Traditionally, these scones are served with clotted cream and either lemon curd, marmalade or jam.  I thought about posting a recipe for lemon curd, but I was too lazy, and so I am putting a link here for the easiest lemon curd recipe I have found.  But there are a ton of other recipes out there or (gasp) you can buy it in specialty stores.  If you are not familiar with lemon curd (yet another food product that deserves a better name) it is a lemony, silky, buttery custard that is the best partner (in my humble opinion) for clotted cream.

If you are like my husband, you might prefer a nice marmalade.  Perhaps I am generalizing, but I think marmalade is an acquired taste for most Americans who aren’t used to slightly bitter flavors in their food.  It has certainly taken me a while to appreciate it, but I will never like it quite so much as my hubby.  In fact, for Christmas this year, the boys and I made him a whole collection of different marmalades to enjoy with the clotted cream gift.


(pardon the photo quality- I took these at night)


I just loved these cute little Weck canning jars. I’m thinking of starting a collection.


Of course, any of your favorite jams are nice as well.

So now that you have picked your poison, let’s build our scone!

Start with a generous helping of the clotted cream, and I do mean generous.  You have to be able to sink your teeth into it, or you won’t enjoy the full experience.


And then a dollop of the fruit product of choice (or one of each)


Of course scones are supposed to go with afternoon tea, but I have found them to be quite as delightful with my morning coffee.  I hope you all enjoy!  Cheerio!


Better than Butter

As you all know, the new year is a time for starting over, for instilling good habits and for watching your waistline.  Which is why I am posting a recipe that consists of nothing but condensed whipping cream.  Because who are we kidding- those resolutions aren’t going to stick, so we might as well skip all that painful self discipline and get on to the good stuff.

All joking aside, I am posting this recipe because it was a project I was working on as a Christmas gift for the hubby, and I didn’t want to post it during the Christmas season for two reasons-  One, I didn’t want him seeing what I was up to, and two, I wasn’t sure it would even work.  Here’s a longish back story or two for interest and clarification.

My father-in-law used to run a dairy farm on the southwestern tip of England, near Cornwall.  Because of this, he is a veritable mine of information concerning all things dairy.  You have to be careful asking him any question regarding cows because he is likely to turn quite encyclopedic on you, and you might not be able to get away for a couple of hours. It’s all very interesting stuff however, if you like dairy, which I do. I remember having a discussion with him once about the making of butter and cheeses and other things, and the term ‘clotted cream’ came up.  My blank look told him that I had never heard of such a thing, so he rectified the situation immediately.

He told me in lavish detail all about it, starting with it’s many names- clotted or clouted cream, Devonshire cream or Cornish cream, depending on who you ask.  Being an Englishman, he was even able to tell me the slight variations one could find depending on what region you were in and if your palate were discerning enough.  But I don’t remember all that. For all intents and purposes I found that it is a product that comes from cooking fresh, unpasteurized cream at a very low temperature for a very long time until the cream condenses on the top.  Then you chill the result and spread it on something like a scone.

My hubby was also listening in on the conversation, apparently unaware that he was drooling as he reminisced about the few times he had been able to enjoy this treat as a child when visiting family in England.  I took note of the longing look in his eye, and began my mission- to find clotted cream in America.

I thought I had achieved my goal, when one afternoon in a local tea shop, I discovered a tiny jar on a shelf marked with the words- Devonshire Cream.  It contained about 4 ounces of the stuff and cost over eight dollars, but I bought it anyway and brought it home to the hubby. He was pretty excited, so we immediately made some scones and spread it sparingly on top. (at two dollars an ounce, we wanted to make it last)

And although it was tasty, it wasn’t quite what the hubby had remembered.  After all, it had been made and processed in some way to keep it from going bad, and then shipped half way around the world where it had probably been sitting on that shelf a long time.  I didn’t buy it again.

A few years later, we found ourselves with a friend who had access to fresh, unpasteurized milk.  She wasn’t allowed to sell it to us legally, but she did let us buy some for our ‘Pets’. (ahem.)  I knew what the hubby was thinking as soon as he walked in the door with it.  He was going to try making clotted cream.  (You know what?  I just can’t stand the term ‘clotted’ when it comes to anything food related, so from now on, I’m calling it Cornish cream, even though the residents of Cornwall will doubtless protest.)

At any rate, he tried to make it just using the directions his father had given him all those years ago, letting it heat in a pan on the stove for a long time.  We had no idea if it was turning out right or not, but he decided to take it to a friend’s house where we just happened to be invited for a fancy tea.  He hadn’t skimmed the cream off the top, but just brought the pan- liquid and all- into the car.  He asked me to drive so he could hold it on his lap, but then realized he had forgotten something inside, and so set it on the dashboard.  He slammed the car door, and before I could stop it, the whole pan slid off the dash and landed on his seat, deluging everything in it’s path, including myself.

It really was a horrific mess, and it took so long to clean it up that we were very late to our tea party, sans Cornish cream.  We were never fully able to clean up everything that spilled in the car that day, and even now, on hot days, you can still get a whiff of it.  We didn’t try again.

Fast forward a few more years to when my father-in-law came from France for a Christmastime visit.  In honor of his arrival, the hubby and I hunted high and low online until we found a little site that sold Cornish Cream.  They charged a ruinous price for it, but we bought two jars anyway, and it arrived straight from Cornwall a few weeks later.  My father-in-law was pleased with it, as well as my hubby, as testified by the fact that they polished both jars off in an astonishingly short time.  But apparently it still wasn’t quite right- it lacked that fresh, creamy, straight from the cow taste.  And it was just too expensive to make a habit of buying.

I decided it was time to abandon my mission.  Apparently the stuff was not to be got unless you were able to make it yourself, and that was something I was sure I couldn’t do unless I bought a cow.  I never thought to look again until a few months ago, when I was hunting for a good orange marmalade recipe (which my hubby also loves) and I saw a link to a recipe for Cornish cream in the side bar.  To my amazement, it said that it was indeed possible it make it yourself- using just a crock pot and cream that had not been pasteurized at ultra high temperatures.  It seemed too good to be true, but I thought it was worth a shot.  I had to stop at three different grocery stores before I found the right kind of cream, and I bought two quarts just in case I messed up a batch.

I was really nervous when I poured all that cream into my crock pot and set it on low. I hovered nearby for several hours, checking it constantly. Even so, it began boiling and got overcooked.  I think my crock pot was just too hot.  Nearly in despair, I searched the internet again and found one last tip- try making it in the oven in a water bath.  I went ahead and did it, even though I had little faith left that it would work.

But folks, this time it worked beautifully.  I can’t describe to you how excited I was to scoop up that wonderful, creamy concoction and put in a jar for my hubby to open on Christmas morning.  And at long last, after one taste, he had nothing left to ask for except another bite.

Now, I am well aware that some of you might think we are totally crazy, being so obsessed by something as trivial as a jar of cream, but I suggest you try it and see.  You just might find yourself joining our little club. Here’s what you need.


Yep.  That’s it.  But be very careful to make sure that it doesn’t read UHT (ultra high pasteurized) anywhere.  It should just say pasteurized, like this.  I found this at Whole Foods.


Now get out two pans- one that fits inside the other.  The bigger the better, since you will get more surface area and hence, more cream.  I used an 11×15 and a 9×12.


Just nestle the smaller one into the bigger one…


and pour in the cream (I used three 8 oz. containers here)DSCF2958

Preheat your oven to the lowest possible temp- mine is 150.  It won’t take long to heat up.


And place the cream in the oven.


Now pour some water (it doesn’t have to be hot) into the outer pan until it reaches about half way up the sides of the inner pan. This is your water bath.


And close the oven door. I put this in the oven around noon and pulled it out right before dinner- about six hours.  Half way through, I checked on it and it looked like this.


I know, it looks weird, but that is how it should look- like the skin that forms on the top of a pudding.  Just don’t disturb it- you want that layer to get nice and thick.

After six hours, pull it out very carefully.  It still won’t look very thick and there will be a lot of liquid under the surface.  Just transfer it to your fridge and let it sit overnight.  It should firm up a lot and end up looking like this-


I know, still strange.  But keep going.  Get a slotted spoon and sterilized jar ready to go.


Now gently stick the spoon into the corner and start scooping, letting the liquid underneath drip off, and put the top layer into the jar.



You will notice that it looks a lot like butter, but the taste is totally different, which is quite amazing really, seeing as they are made from the exact same ingredient. Keep scooping and filling the jar.



In the end, you will have about a cup of leftovers in the pan.  It’s sort of like whey, but much creamier.  You can save it to use it in other cooking or in the scone recipe I am going to post later.


But after the rest of it has all been spooned into the jar and stirred gently together, you should end up with about two cups of this marvelous, delightful, sinfully delicious stuff.


Just stick it in the fridge and wait for my next installment in this series. I’m going to call it “Cornish Cream and Lemon curd- the quest for the perfect scone.”  Stay tuned.

For all you garlic lovers out there


It’s been quite a while since I posted any recipes on this old blog of mine. But since it’s Christmas time, I naturally felt it was time to share a salad recipe with you. No, really! For all of those feasts coming up with Turkey and Ham and potatoes, I always like something fresh and cool to counterbalance the heaviness. But this salad can stand alone as well. We eat it all the time, with a
little chicken or steak, as a main course. You could call it a Caesar, since it is closely related ingredient-wise, but it’s really a hybrid of two salads that I have tweaked into one. It’s based on The Pioneer Woman’s Caesar, and a recipe that a dear friend of my family’s used to make. I never saw that recipe in writing, but I remember it vividly for it’s key ingredient- Garlic. I just call it Garlic Salad.

The first time I ever had the original garlic salad was at said family friend’s house. This family was new to our church, and we were just at the beginning stages of getting to know one another. But after the first meal at their house, we were on our way to becoming good friends. That woman could cook! I myself was just beginning to develop an interest in cooking, and she was absolutely inspiring. I watched her make this salad that day, and though I don’t remember proportions, I remember the lettuce tossed with soft croutons which were slathered in a dressing comprised mostly of mayonnaise and an undisclosed number of heads of garlic. Not cloves folks- heads. She was so passionate about garlic that she regaled me all the afternoon with stories of her many pilgrimages to the Garlic festival in Gilroy California, where you could “smell the garlic for miles.”

We also started to get to know her children better that day. Her oldest son was a quiet fellow whom I knew from school, since together we made up the majority of the tenor section in the high school choir. (what can I say, – you do what you gotta do when you’re short on tenors) We weren’t exactly close before then, but we bonded that day- over garlic salad. I think most people there enjoyed the salad, but we two LOVED it. We returned again and again to that giant silver bowl, grinning sheepishly over our garlic gluttony, little knowing the price we would pay the next day.

I went to bed that night still tasting that salad, even after a vigorous tooth brushing. But it was nothing to the taste in my mouth when I woke up in the morning. I not only tasted it, but could smell it wafting out of every pore of my body. I rolled over in bed and my sister wrinkled up her nose.

“What in the world? Is that you?” she asked. “How much of that salad did you eat?”

I hurriedly jumped in the shower, scrubbing myself all over. I then applied plenty of perfumed lotion which got me out of the house without attracting anymore notice, but by the time I got to school, it was no use. I walked into my class and took a seat. Within seconds, the girl behind asked why it suddenly smelled like a Mexican restaurant in the room. I sank lower in my chair and put my coat back on, hoping it might mask the odor.

I made it through a few more periods, avoiding people as best I could, until it was time for choir. I entered the choir room and saw my fellow garlic-indulging friend sitting in the tenor section. I went to sit next to him, but smelled him before I got to my chair. I looked at him and he looked at me. Then, without a word, we scooted our chairs forward as far as we could to spare the bass section, and he silently handed me a box of Altoids.

Now have no fear. The recipe I’m about to share is nowhere near as garlicky as the aforementioned one. But it still has plenty of kick without leaving you with a garlic hangover the next day.

Here’s what you need-

That’s two romaine hearts if you’re wondering. Also, use good quality mayonnaise and a nice baguette. It makes a difference.

First, make your croutons. I usually cut enough to cover the bottom of a medium sized pan. And I use my kitchen shears to do it. It’s easier.

Put them in your pan over medium heat, and drizzle them generously with olive oil and sprinkle them with salt.

Then just let them toast, shaking the pan occasionally until they are a nice golden brown, but still slightly soft.

While they are toasting, start your dressing.

In a bowl, place
1/2 cup of mayonnaise and
The juice of one lemon

Now for the garlic.

In my long quest for finding the easiest way to chop garlic, I have used any number of devices. One of these days I am going to admit to myself that it’s just easier to get out the cutting board and mince it, but these days, I’m using this doohickey. It works pretty well.

I like to use at least four good size cloves in this salad, usually more. But obviously, this is up to you. Less is fine, although then, you probably couldn’t call it a garlic salad anymore. Just chop it up.


And add it to your dressing, along with a dash of worcestershire. (About 1 tsp.)

Now stir it all up with some salt and pepper.


It’s time to put it all together!
Roughly tear your romaine and drizzle it generously with the dressing.

This is actually enough dressing for two of these salads. I like to double it and keep the second half for another day.

Oh, and don’t forget the freshly grated parmesan and the croutons, which should be nicely golden by now.


So there you have it. If you’re in the market for something garlicky, this is the one for you. And don’t forget the Altoids!


Cooking and Singing Don’t Mix


I love sewing y’all, but sometimes I need a break.  Sometimes I like to get back to the writing part of my blog.  I really do enjoy writing. It is a stress relief for me, and my fingertips are currently needle-shredded. So here is a little story I wanted to post last week, around Thanksgiving time, but I was just too busy doing Thanksgiving.

It’s another story about my time in France, and I like it because it includes my love of cooking, my love of singing, and, well, my love of talking about my time in France.

In the past, I have blogged about how I started dabbling in the kitchen around the age of 12.  But my passion in those early years was for baking, not cooking.  I hardly ever tried making things outside the realm of refined carbohydrates, so that by the time I found myself in a foreign country at the ripe age of 18 and in charge of feeding myself, I was pretty much limited to spaghetti and sandwiches. My two roommates, having known me to show up at my high school with bread or cookies to feed the entire student body, probably assumed that I knew my way around every corner of the kitchen.  They were mistaken.

Our first essays into the culinary world were laughable at best.  I think the biggest problem we had was that instead of trying to learn how to cook with the traditional French ingredients readily available to us, we were constantly trying to mimic the foods we missed from home.  I remember at Thanksgiving, we got so homesick for American food that we ventured out to find ‘Kennedy’s’, a small store that other foreigners had told us about.  This little store sold imported American goods at outrageous prices.  A can of pumpkin for pie cost about five dollars.  Tiny jars of Jif peanut butter, boxes of jello and graham crackers just about broke our food budget for the month. And don’t even ask how much they wanted for a package of Oreos.

One such memorable episode was around Christmas time, when one of the girls insisted she needed Cool Whip for a traditional dessert.  We set out in search of the precious artificial dairy whipped topping (Kennedy’s being closed) and had to settle for some unknown substance called Crème Fraiche, which came in a similar looking container.  It was a surprisingly good substitute!

I learned something else about cooking while I was in the culinary capital of the world.  If you want to cook good food, it is going to cost you, no matter where you live.  We lived in the dormitory of a seminary with lots of broke students, and there wasn’t a lot of haute cuisine going on in that kitchen.

After a while, and to my surprise, seeing as I was always puttering around in the kitchen, I was often asked how to make things by the French students.  My biggest surprise was when a friend of ours, who was in charge of student social events, asked me to help him oversee a large and important dinner party for the students and the visiting board of the seminary.  In my naïveté (and I must admit I was flattered) I agreed.

We made up a menu. I don’t precisely remember everything we decided to make that night, but I do remember we decided on roasted pork.  I figured that would be easy enough even though technically, I had never attempted to cook a pork roast.  But I was pretty sure I had seen my mother do it once or twice.

While all this was going on, there were other things preparing for the seminary board’s visit. One of those things was a choir concert.  My friend ‘E’ and I had joined the tiny little seminary chorale earlier in the year and had been trying, without much success, to understand the French both in the music and coming from the choir director.

There was also a bit of culture shock coming from the style of the music.  I had grown up as, shall we say, a musical conservative. As far as religious music went, my family was strictly classical and believe it or not, my first real exposure to American contemporary Christian music was in that little chorale. (Just try to imagine Michael W. Smith in French).

The final song for the concert was a piece that I really didn’t care much for.  In my humble opinion it was corny, overly dramatic, and had way too many unnecessary key changes. (I think there were seven in the last two pages, each one climbing higher into the stratosphere) There was also a lengthy solo involved, that would require the soloist (gasp) to walk around the stage and sing all of those ridiculous key changes directly into a microphone held in her hand!  It was a huge leap away from Mozart and Mendelssohn so dear to my heart, but you guessed it.  I got landed with the solo.

Dreading the fact that it was also in a language I was far from mastering, I tried to decline, but to no avail. So there I was, slated to finish up the concert with a melodramatic bang and cook dinner for the whole seminary on the same night.

Things went fairly well that day.  Between prepping food and last minute choir rehearsal, I was on my feet most of the day, but things were coming together.  I even managed to fit several large pork roasts into the miniscule oven that we had to use.  Everything was roasting and simmering that should be roasting and simmering, the tables were all set, and I just had time to run and get dressed before the concert.  I changed, ran a brush through my hair and slapped on some lipstick.  But just as I got back downstairs, I thought it would be wise to check on the pork one last time.

I raced into the kitchen, grabbed a potholder, opened the oven and yanked out the pork-laden oven rack a trifle hastily. Before I realized what was happening, a wave of scalding, simmering water and pork drippings came sloshing out the side of the pan and deluged the oven, the floor and my startled legs.  I yelped in panic, both from the pain in my shins and from fear of a huge grease fire.  I grabbed some towels and started frantically mopping in every direction.

Thankfully the pain in my legs passed quickly and I think the nylons I was wearing were the only thing that saved them from severe blistering. I cleaned up the mess as fast as I could, knowing that I was already late for the concert.  But as I raced out of the kitchen I knew that something had to be done about my legs.  Grease soaked and smelling of pig, they had to be attended to.

My shoes were full of drippings as well so that I slipped and slid all the way back upstairs only to  be met with another dilemma.  My slicked up shoes were the only dress shoes I had.  There was only time to do three things.  I kicked off my shoes, peeled of my burn-prevention nylons and grabbed my roommates shoes. I raced to the other building, shoes in hand, where the choir was lined up waiting. I gasped my apologies, dropped the borrowed shoes on the floor and tried to slip into them.

People- it was like that scene from Cinderella where the ugly stepsisters are trying to force the glass slipper onto their bony feet. The shoes were two and a half sizes too small.

But alas, the choir was already on their way out to the stage and I had no choice but to wedge my toes in as best I could and toddle my way out after them.  That concert was a misery.  Not only were my feet in agony, but I had all the dread of that solo to come.  And come it did.

I made my way to the front of the choir as best I could, considering my swollen and blood-deprived feet.  The microphone was slippery in my greasy hands that I hadn’t had a chance to clean properly, and there in front of me was a room full of austere looking (to my nervous eyes) board members. I stood there in my too-small shoes, fully aware that I was about to butcher their language in a song that I was almost too embarrassed to sing.  But the show had to go on.  I focused on a spot in the back of the room and got through every last key change.  It was done at last.

The rest of the evening was kind of a blur.  I think the dinner turned out pretty well considering; even that treacherous pork.  But my poor roommates shoes- they were never quite the same again.

They say it’s your birthday.

Birthdays in our family are divided into two groups- the spring birthdays and the September ones. Today is my hubby’s birthday- next week is my third boy’s. The rest of us celebrate in the April/May/June sector. I love my hubby’s birthday because it always seems to fall just when summer is turning down the heat and autumn is peeping her head around the corner. It’s still warm, but not too warm, and there is just enough summer left to have an excuse to make ice cream.
I want to share our favorite ice cream recipe with you all today. I have written about it before, on my first blog, but I thought I would post it with pictures this time, since it can be a little tricky.

It’s a recipe my dad taught me to make many years ago, out of a fancy dessert book he had. He always called it “chocolate, chocolate malt with Bailey’s.” I’m not sure why he called it “chocolate, chocolate” since there is only one kind of chocolate in it. He was always one for hyping things up. But there is malt in it, and Bailey’s Irish Cream liqueur. (We use a knock off brand)

This is a rich ice cream, in more ways then one. It calls for a lot of eggs, a lot of chocolate and a lot of cream. (And Bailey’s. Did I mention the Bailey’s?).
So it’s a once a year kind of ice cream- a birthday treat kind of ice cream. But if you want to try the smoothest, silkiest dessert you’ve ever had, this is it.

Here is what you need.

Get your supplies lined up first, so things will go smoothly. You will need two medium size bowls, two saucepans and a fine mesh strainer. If you don’t have a fine mesh strainer, cheesecloth will work. Straining it is important to get that silky smooth texture.

In one of the saucepans, get about an inch of water simmering.

In the other saucepan, on medium heat, put

2 cups of heavy cream
2 cups of milk
1/4 cup malt powder (found next to the hot chocolate in most grocery stores)

Over the pan of simmering water, place one of the bowls filled with

-10 ounces of good quality chocolate- milk or dark, chopped.

We like dark around here.

Stir both pans occasionally. You want the chocolate melted and the malt dissolved.

While that is going on, separate your eggs. You need eight egg yolks here.

Put the yolks in your second bowl, and save the whites for omelets or something.

Now beat the eggs yolks until they are light and frothy.

Set them aside and return to the stove. Your chocolate should be melted by now and your malted milk steaming.


Remove the chocolate from the heat. It’s time to make the custard.

Start by slowly whisking about a cup of the hot milk into the egg yolks. This is called tempering and will help avoid scrambled eggs. Or if you can’t pour, whisk and take a picture at the same time, get your son to help you.


Once the egg yolks are warmed up, you can slowly add the mixture back to the hot milk, which should be turned to medium low.

Place your fine mesh strainer over the bowl your yolks were in, so it will be ready.


Now stir the custard until it thickens. With that many yolks, it shouldn’t take long- just a few minutes, so watch it carefully. You can tell when it is thick enough if you can run your finger through it on the back of a spoon and it stays put- like so.

As soon as it thickens, pour it immediately through the strainer into the bowl. It can scramble very quickly at this point.

But don’t worry. Even if it scrambles a bit, the strainer will catch it.

And that’s your custard! Now grab your melted chocolate.

And you guessed it- stir them together.

While you’re doing that, call the birthday boy in to add the final ingredient.

How much Bailey’s Irish cream you add is entirely up to you. I’m pretty sure the original recipe called for 2-3 Tablespoons, but I am also pretty sure we have never stopped at that amount. Just keep pouring until it tastes good to you.

And now it’s ready for your ice cream maker.


I had every intention of taking pictures of the rest of the process, including the eating of it. It was the grand finale to the picnic we had yesterday afternoon at one of our favorite spots. I got plenty of pictures when we were at the pool-



And of course lots of the birthday boy with my girl-baby in her first swimsuit-



But I totally forgot to take pictures of the food, and the only evidence I have that the ice cream was a success is the bowl I found on the table this morning. The hubby must have finished the picnic leftovers off after I went to bed.

Oh well.
Happy Birthday Dear!

Hey! Summer isn’t over yet!

Well folks, the end of tomato season is upon us. Or at least it is in my yard. But before it is gone completely, I wanted to post a super quick and easy recipe that many people have asked me for in the past. It’s one of my favorite potluck contributions- versatile, colorful, flavorful and fresh.
My dad used to make huge batches of pico de gallo every summer. I am talking enormous. He would fill one of those giant, shiny restaurant size bowls with the stuff. As a kid, I was super picky, and although I liked the flavor of his salsa, I didn’t like the chunks. So I would just dip the tip of my tortilla chip into the tomatoey juice that had pooled in the bottom of the bowl and nibble while he rolled his eyes at me.
But thankfully my appreciation of multi-textured foods has matured, and now I love a good chunky salsa. I’m not actually sure if this recipe qualifies as a salsa or a salad, but either way, it’s good.

Here’s what you need.

If you can’t tell from the picture, it’s
green pepper,
black beans,
frozen corn,
chipotle peppers,
and a big bunch of cilantro.

Normally, I would add a red pepper and an avocado, but the red pepper had gone bad and my avocado was still rock hard. But no worries. Like I said, this is versatile!

Now here comes the hardest part. Lots of chopping! If you don’t know how to dice a mango, I suggest finding a good youtube tutorial.

In a big bowl, put your rinsed black beans and about half a bag of frozen corn. You could, of course, slice some fresh corn off the cob, but I’m going for easy here.

Then toss everything else in.

I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to heat, but I love the smoky flavor of chipotle peppers in adobe sauce. And it goes great with the sweet mango. So I just throw in one and let it sit for a while until the flavor has permeated the rest. Then I remove it. It’s a bit of an eye-watering shock to get a big bite of chipotle.
You also need a good dose of lime juice. Please don’t tell my father I used ‘fake’ lime juice today. He might have a stroke. I kid you not, Walmart was out of limes.

I usually use about two fresh limes, but just squirt and taste as you go until it tastes right. Same goes for the salt and pepper.

And that’s it. Nice and chunky, sweet and smoky.

This is, of course, great with tortilla chips. But as often as not, I often grill up some chicken or beef, slice it, throw it onto a tortilla, and pile a whole bunch of this salsa on top. With sour cream of course. It’s pretty fabulous.