Share Some Love in February

February is here and I feel the need to share a little love. This is not like me because I am not a fan of Valentine’s Day, or any time where love is measured in a public fashion. This is a childhood scar – not from my parents – but from high school. All the popular girls received flowers on Valentine’s Day through some convoluted fundraiser. I received none, of course.

This was in the days before parents could send their kids flowers or candy to make sure their kid wouldn’t suffer social humiliation at school.

It made me a stronger person today. Really.

Anyway, there’s not a lot of love in the air these days. My phone bings with alerts on the political front. I shy away from booting up my computer because, inevitably, I am drawn to Facebook, where the vitriol can barely be confined to the screen. It feels like it is leaping through time and space and invading my personal solace.

My entire working life, and what supported my family, is in support of the First Amendment. But it doesn’t mean I have to share, or like, what is said. I could just not launch Facebook, but then I would miss cute baby pictures, dogs dancing in snow posts, or even news that someone’s loved on has passed on. I would miss the milestones of your life. I would miss your warm vacation pictures (please keep posting). I would miss your family.

So I keep reading. Because there is much love around. And I find apps and extensions that block certain words or posts I don’t want to see. They aren’t perfect, but they do the trick for now.

Another solution is to take a walk in nature. I’ve been taking a lot of walks. Asbury Woods, now that the snow has covered the mud, is among my favorites. It’s an ideal walk to meditate, collect, and continue.

So I’m here to share a little love today with a simple heart cookie made from meringue.

XOXOXO

Marnie

Marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

Print Recipe
Meringue Heart Cookies
This will make 1 to 2 dozen cookies, depending on the size. Cream of tartar is optional, but is a great stabilizer for the egg whites. The almond flavoring makes these taste more like cake. These don't spread when baking, so you can make them close together, about 1/2 inch apart.
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 60 minutes
Passive Time 30 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 60 minutes
Passive Time 30 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat the oven to 250 degrees.
  2. A stand mixer is best to make these cookies. You can use a hand mixer, but then it becomes a more active project. In the bowl of your electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on low-medium speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue to beat the whites until they are white and fluffy and starting to make peaks. Add the sugar, a little at a time (no more than 1/4 cup), and continue to beat until the meringue holds stiff peaks.
  3. You want the sugar totally absorbed into the egg whites. To test, just get a dab of the mixture on the edge of a plate and use your finger to test to see if there is any gritty texture from the sugar. If so, keep the mixer going. The cream of tartar will prevent over mixing.
  4. This is going to take anywhere from 7 to 20 minutes, depending on your mixer.
  5. Fit a pastry bag with a 1/2-inch round tip or a star tip. The different tips will make different types of hearts. You can also use a gallon-sized zip-top bag and snip a ½ inch off at one corner.
  6. Draw heart shapes on a piece of parchment paper as a guide. Place the parchment on your baking sheet, with the ink side down.
  7. One technique with the round tip: Think of making a Y with the tops of the Y touching. Start by making a small round as the left side of the heart and pull straight down to create tear drop shape. Repeat for the right side of the heart, making sure your round touches the left side, and drag the bottom of the drop down into the left side so they connect.
  8. A technique with the star tip: Outline your heart, then fill it in.
  9. Decorate with sprinkles.
  10. Bake for about 60 to 70 minutes, alternating the baking sheets, top to bottom and front to back, about halfway through baking. (The time does depend on how humid or dry a day it is.) The meringues are done when they release easily from the parchment paper. When the meringues are finished, turn OFF the oven. Open the oven door slightly, and leave the meringues in the OFF oven for about 30 minutes.
Recipe Notes

Crack eggs when cold. But bring whites to room temperature before whipping.

Use your stand mixer; this will make it so much easier.

These are best made in dry conditions. When it is humid, they get chewy quickly.

You can dip or brush these with white or dark chocolate and add more sprinkles.

Adapted from JoyofBaking.com

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Tell-All Tuesday: What Does a Blogger Do?

Today, I am sitting here drinking day-old coffee, reheated, and munching on ginger cookies. The coffee is still better than anything I can get at most restaurants. The ginger cookies are part of my baking marathon from Sunday and Monday.

That doesn’t answer what a blogger does. Mainly because every blogger is a little bit different. It’s the same as in the news business. Every reporter has his or her own routine. I knew one reporter who had to wipe off his desk, line all his pens and pencils up in order, and then begin to write. Another kept apples lined up on his desk, and ate his way through them during the day. I used to smoke. It would take at least 1 cigarette before I could start a story, and then I would smoke my way through half a pack to finish it. When smoking was banned, I was afraid I’d never be able to write a story again.

I could. And I did. I developed other writing tics. I would walk around a lot. Sometimes I played loud dance music in my earbuds, while bouncing on a chair ball at my desk. I had a drawer filled with chocolates.

When I left the corporate world, I set up a desk at home. It’s a dedicated writing space. I live in a two-bedroom condo with a teen daughter, so there’s not a lot of spare room. I could have put my spot in the basement, but I need natural light and a window to work. My desk is a lot neater now, mainly because it is visible from just about every part of the condo, except the bedrooms. I still like to walk around a lot. I try not to have the TV on, but sometimes I like the company.

Even though I write about food and travel, I don’t watch the Food Network or the Travel channel. I used to love the Food Network, but the transformation into competitive cooking doesn’t feed my soul. I will sometimes tune into Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa) because I would like to be her. Although not really. Marriage and I don’t agree. I’m not a Hamptons kind of girl. I could never figure out the coded language of the super wealthy, whether it was cocktail conversation or wearing the right sandals. I’ve been called refreshing, which I did figure out was code for she doesn’t fit in.

But I do like her recipes. They work, unlike Martha Stewart’s, which I always have trouble with. I’m working my way through a fourth revision of a muffin recipe of hers that I SOOOO want to work. It will. Although I will be sporting a muffin top until I get it right and can stop eating the rejects.

But I’m still not answering what a blogger does.

We share. Sometimes we share personal stories of parenting, recipes, dating, vacations, fashion, beauty, etc. These are like online diaries. Some write for money, blogging about products or services. Some mix the two, ideally telling you that they are writing about this particular mascara or retirement planning community because they are compensated for it. That’s usually when you see the “sponsored” label.

For those who aren’t paid to push a product, like me, blogging is like “Living Out Loud,” to borrow from a book title by Anna Quindlen. In the ancient pre-Internet days, newspapers picked certain people to write about particular topics. They are columnists. And their audience was the typical newspaper reader. Women were assigned, primarily, to the LifeStyle sections until Quindlen came around.  She won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1992 for her New York Times column, Public and Private.

The difference is bloggers have no built-in audience, like a newspaper has with its subscribers. So we sit at our desks, or on our couches, or in our beds, and write into space. Then we push publish. Sometimes we get comments. Sometimes not.

So, to answer the question of what is a blogger, the answer is we are writers. Like most writers, we fall into different categories: cooking, self-help, memoir, sports, etc. Some of us are more successful than others financially. Some of us are better than others.

But none of us have to rely on a white middle-aged guy in a corner office deciding whether we have something to say. Anyone with an e-mail account and some basic Web skills can become a blogger. Ultimately, it’s the readers/followers who decide if we have something to say.

I joined a group recently of women entrepreneurs. We meet every week in small groups, and twice a month in a larger group. We are the Black Diamond Divas, part of the Coffee Club Divas started and run by Heidi Parr-Kerner. I have accountability partners now – women to talk to. I asked them to give me some feedback. One of the suggestions was to try adding themes to my writing. So Sunday is Sunday Suppers now. Tuesday will be a Tell-All day, to give you more about the person and motivation behind this blog. I am working on an idea for the third blog of the week, but don’t have it down yet. All will have a recipe.

Today’s is about ginger. (Writer trick – tying this back to the lede paragraph). I’m a ginger fiend. I like it in teas, cookies, kombucha, cookies, and cake. The pickled ginger that comes with sushi is among the many reasons I order it. If you don’t eat yours, I might not be polite enough to ask before nabbing it with my chopsticks.

I love this time of year when I have every reason to make gingerbread cakes. My daughter isn’t as big a fan, but she does love cream cheese frosting. So I combined the two, along with some spiced pears   that I had in the fridge from another blog post last month.

I’ve included the recipe I made for ginger cake from Fine Cooking.  But, in all honesty, I love the King Arthur Flour Gingerbread Cake and Cookie mix, which is on sale right now. Plus, spend there is a promotion if you spend $50 , you get shipping for $3.95 (normally $10 or more).

Happy baking

XOXOXO

Marnie

Marnie@MarnieMeadMedia.com

Print Recipe
Ginger Cake Trifle
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 1 hour or overnight
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 1 hour or overnight
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8x8-inch square cake pan, or line with aluminum foil or parchment (have a small overhang) that is coated in cooking spray. If you line the pan, then you can just pull the cake out once it is baked and cooled.
  2. Whisk flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, cloves, and salt in a medium bowl.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed using an electric mixer (hand or stand) until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add both sugars and beat on medium speed until well combined. With mixer on low speed, add molasses. Slowly add one-third of dry ingredients and combine until just mixed. Add one-third of the buttermilk and mix to combine. Repeat until you have used all the dry ingredients and the buttermilk. Do not over beat. Scape into baking pan.
  4. Bake in center of oven until a toothpick comes out clean, about 30 to 35 minutes. Let the cake cool completely in the pan. Remove from pan and cut into small cubes.
  5. In the meantime make the Cream Cheese Whipped Cream by whipping the cream cheese in a small bowl until soft and fluffy.
  6. In a large bowl, use an electric mixer (stand or hand) to whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Scrape in the cream cheese and continue whipping on high speed until it forms stiff peaks. Beat in the sugar and vanilla. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  7. I had some spiced pears, http://meadballs.com/recipe/fall-pairs-well-with-pears/, in the fridge and used these as well. Or you can add some leftover cranberry sauce.
  8. To assemble, put a cube of cake in the bottom of a glass or cover the bottom of a trifle dish with gingerbread cubes. Put a dollop or two of Cream Cheese Whipped Cream in the glass, or cover cake with dollops in trifle dish. If you desire, add a layer of spiced pear or some cranberry, then repeat until you are at the top of your glass serving dish.
  9. This will make 4 to 8 servings, depending on the size of your glass. I used very large red wine glasses, so it made 4, with leftovers.
Recipe Notes

NOTE: I used 1 tablespoon gingerbread spice mixture instead of the ginger, cinnamon, cloves.

Adapted from theKitchn.com and FineCooking.com

To make the spiced pears, peel pears, cut in half and core. Place into a pot that has come to a simmer with:

Cook for about 10 minutes, or until soft but not falling apart. Remove from syrup, reserving it. Slice or dice pears you are using. Any you are not can be stored in a glass jar with the syrup.

 

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Fall Pairs well with Pears

The circle drive in my neighborhood looked like someone had found buried treasure and was tossing gold coins in the air this weekend. In reality, it was the small stand of birch trees that was shedding its leaves. The sun, the wind, the fall, all combined to make it look like a pirate party.

 

Each day of this fall seems more spectacular than the last. We’ve been blessed with flaming red maples that literally glow when the setting sun sets them ablaze in late afternoon. Lake Erie, one day a muddy mess of rolling whitecaps, then turns perfectly calm, allowing me to kayak on a November morning.

Mother Nature provided an escape from the ill winds that have been blowing steadily during this election season. Oh how easy it is to turn off the television or put aside the newspaper when the sky is blue and the outdoors promise one more beautiful walk. The dry crunch of the leaves soothe my nerves made raw by the shrill comments from media and politicians.

There’s nothing like coming home again to smell a house that is alive with cinnamon, cardamom and star anise, which is what was bubbling on my stovetop this weekend. It’s a delicious combination with which to poach pears.

Pears – yes I’ve heard the comments. Lots of people don’t care for the texture, which can alternately be mealy or too firm. And poached pears? As a kid, poached pears did not count as dessert. Indeed, I preferred to skip it altogether.

I still don’t get excited by a poached pear alone on a dish at the conclusion of my meal. If it is atop of a perfect creme Anglaise. Creme Anglaise is a fancy custard – basically eggs, cream, sugar, and vanilla (think really good melted French vanilla ice cream).

So what if the poached pear could go to the next level? Combine the poached pears with an almond cream, and a pastry. Pears and almonds complement each other perfectly (although you could make a plain pastry cream for those with nut allergies). Adding the pastry – in this case purchased puff pastry – adds a little crunch for a delightful textural component.

A tip about puff pastry. Traditionally, it is made with butter. This, however, is not the key ingredient in Pepperidge Farms’ puff pastry. A taste test by Serious Eats found that Pepperidge Farms works just fine if as a base for other ingredients. Dufour is the preferred puff pastry for serious enthusiasts, but you would have to mail order it. I used Wegmans’ brand, which listed butter in the ingredients. I found it a little thicker than Pepperidge Farms. It is a little pricier than PR brand, but about half that of Dufour.

There are four basic steps here. None are particularly difficult. Poaching the pears is just a matter of peeling them and then using a melon baller or grapefruit spoon to scoop out the seeds. That’s the hard part. Making the almond cream, or Creme D’amandes, is no harder than mixing cake batter. The puff pastry must be defrosted, and then you need to cut either 2 circles or into smaller circles if you are making individual tarts. Finally, you brush a little apricot jam on when the tart comes out of the oven to make it shiny and pretty.

When you finished, you will feel like you have just walked out of a fine French boulangerie.

Print Recipe
Pear Tart with Almond Cream and Puff Pastry
This will make 2 9-inch tarts.
Course dessert
Cuisine American, French
Servings
tarts
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American, French
Servings
tarts
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. To make the almond cream: Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg, almond flour, rum, vanilla, flour, and salt. Beat until creamy. Can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.
  2. To poach the pears: Peel pears and cut in half. Use a grapefruit spoon or melon baller to seed and core. In a large pot, have water, sugar and spices at a simmer. Add pear halves and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until soft, but still holding their shape. Remove from heat and store in cooking liquid until ready to use.
  3. Unfold 1 sheet of puff pastry on a floured surface. Use your tart pan to cut out a circle. Remove excess puff pastry and roll out so it is about 2 inches larger. Place in tart pan, carefully pressing edges into fluted sides of pan. Repeat with second piece of pastry.
  4. Dock bottom by piercing with a fork all over. Freeze for about 10 minutes. Bake in a 350 degree oven until light brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
  5. In the meantime, cut pears into about 1/8-inch slice. You can leave the halves whole or break apart. I like to leave whole and use a spatula to transfer to the tart.
  6. Fill each tart with half of the almond cream. Top with pears. Sprinkle each tart with half of the sliced almonds. Cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 10 minutes. Remove from oven to cool on a rack.
  7. Heat almond preserves until liquid enough to brush on the tops of the tarts.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from

http://www.marthastewart.com/317920/almond-cream

http://letthebakingbeginblog.com/2014/11/french-almond-cream-pear-tart/

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