Birthday Celebration

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Nicole’s first birthday, celebrated with carrot cake made by her Didi.

My daughter is celebrating her 14th birthday today. I’m celebrating, too, because it marks the day she officially came into my life.

Some parents become all somber at the thought of their little darlings growing up. I treasure each birthday as a reminder of each day we have spent together and the many more to come. She’s priceless.

So I’m a bit over the top when it comes to birthdays. For her first birthday, I asked my mother to bake a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. I was doing the whole no chocolate thing for the birthday. Plus I love carrot cake. It is a long and involved recipe not suited for hot, August days. My mother was a real trooper.

 

Her birthdays after that grew more complex. Aside from cake and ice cream, I had birthdays with magicians who levitated the birthday girl, a party at the Erie Zoo, a party where a zoo came to our house, a hula-hooping party, pirate parties … My mother thinks I’m nuts. But it really is all about celebrating the wonderful day she came into my life. Each year both my mother and my daughter roll their eyes at me.

nicole birthday with llama
Nicole’s birthday with Granny’s Animal Ark. Nicole’s grandmother, Didi, is with in the center. There was also a pig, ponies, bunnies, chickens, donkey, turtle, and more.

This year my daughter didn’t want a party. At 14, she’s old enough to tell me she doesn’t want a party anymore. It makes me a little sad, but I’m also very proud to raise a daughter who can speak up for herself. She wanted a punching bag for her birthday, along with clothes and jewelry. I picked out a book by an author she hadn’t tried yet.

I surprised her with a bathroom full of balloons with notes tied to them. I even wrapped the punching bag. Then she was off to orientation for her freshman year of high school. She wanted a cake, so thanks to Pinterest, I made a Kit-Kat cake. It’s not particularly complicated. You make any kind of cake and frost it. Then ring it with Kit-Kats and fill the top with candy. Tie a ribbon around it so it looks like a box of candy.

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Nicole at 14.

 

I think all girls should celebrate with friends, so she invited her gang of gal pals to dinner out tomorrow night with a promise of a beach bonfire with s’mores if it doesn’t rain.

Will she share the cake tomorrow?

Not on your life, she said.

Print Recipe
Kit-Kat Cake
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 25-40 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours
Servings
Ingredients
Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 25-40 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours
Servings
Ingredients
Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
Instructions
  1. Bake cake according to package directions, or your own favorite cake. Allow to cool.
  2. I used 1 square cake pan, so I cut it into three layers. If you are using 2 round cake pans, there is no need to cut.
  3. Frost cake.
  4. Place Kit-Kats around the edge. The should be broken into singles or 2s, so you can slice through the cake using the break in the candy. Top with candy or decorations of your choice. Tie a bow around to make it look like a present.
Chocolate Buttercream
  1. In a microwave safe large measuring cup, melt chocolate chips with 2 tablespoons of the butter for 60 seconds. Stir. If not melted, microwave for 30 seconds more. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes. Stir in vanilla.
  2. In the meantime, in a second large bowl, beat remaining butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add in powdered sugar. When combined, gradually beat in the chocolate by pouring in from the measuring cup while the mixer is running.
  3. If you are not frosting right away, you can refrigerate this. Take it out of the fridge at least 30 minutes to 60 minutes (unless it is blazing hot in your kitchen) before frosting so that it comes to room temperature and is spreadable.
Recipe Notes

You can make the cake a day ahead of time and wrap in plastic wrap once it is cool enough.

 

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Friday Pieday

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August is just a peachy-keen month. All that promise of spring and early summer is just bursting from the ground and off the trees.

We are fortunate in this corner of northwestern Pennsylvania in that we have peach, apple, cherry, plum, and pear trees that bear fruit. The weather has cooperated this year, unlike in 2015, and the farm stands are filled with fresh peaches right now.

They are wonderful eaten from your hand, preferably standing over a sink or someplace to catch the juicy goodness so it doesn’t run down your chin. My tip for eating peaches is to rub them with a cloth first to remove some of the fuzzyness.

I first picked peaches at age 14 at my cousin’s house outside of Florence. They had quite a few trees, which meant we had more ripe peaches than five kids could eat. I had been making berry and apple pies for a couple of years by then, so I showed my cousin how to make a peach pie. Purists will insist on peeling the peaches, which his best down by scoring the bottom with an X and then dipping in boiling water until the skin starts to loosen. Immerse in cold water to stop the cooking and the skin should just skip off.

It’s a pain. And, frankly, I don’t think it’s necessary. I make my peach pies with the skin on. Just wash, rub off the fuzz and cut into either 8 or 16 slices. If you are lucky, they are freestone peaches (meaning the flesh comes away easily from the pit). Clingstone, as the name implies, mean the flesh sticks to the pit.

The addition of the skin adds a bit of a ruby tint to the filling, which I think makes it more appetizing.

So, objection No. 1 to making peach pie is taken care of. A couple of years ago, I started making galettes. This is fancy French term for a freeform pie. You don’t need a pie plate, so there’s no lifting, tearing or panic. You fold the crust up over the filling, and bake it on a piece of parchment paper on a rimmed baking sheet.

Roll out a single pie crust to about 14-inches in diameter between a top and bottom sheet of plastic wrap. Freeze for about 5 to 10 minutes. Then remove from the freezer and peel off the top sheet of plastic wrap. Invert it onto a sheet of parchment on a rimmed baking sheet. Then peel off the top. Add fruit in the middle and fold the edges over. Bake for about 35 to minutes.

Easy as pie. The fruit stays firmer because it bakes in about 1/2 the time.

Feel free to add blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, nectarines or plums and create your own mix. The two main rules are is the fruit needs to measure 3 cups and the galette needs to be about 14 inches in diameter. 

Print Recipe
Peach (or fruit) Galette
A galette is simply a free form pie made without a pie pan by laying down a crust, heaping fruit in the middle, and folding the edges over. It bakes in about half the time as a pie, meaning the fruit retains more of its texture. Don't skip the egg wash, this adds some beauty to this beast.
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 40-45 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours
Servings
large slices
Ingredients
Crust
Filling
Egg wash for crust
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 40-45 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours
Servings
large slices
Ingredients
Crust
Filling
Egg wash for crust
Instructions
  1. To make the crust, add the flour, sugar, salt, and lemon zest to a food processor and pulse until combined. With motor running, gradually add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it is combined. The dough should resemble pea-sized pieces. Add water, or vodka, 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together in a ball.
  2. Place dough on a smooth surface and roll it into about a 6 to 8-inch round. Fold in half. Fold in half again. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  3. For the filling, toss fruit with tapioca starch, salt, vanilla and lemon juice.
  4. Place a sheet of parchment on a rimmed baking sheet.
  5. Remove crust from freezer. Place on a flat surface covered with plastic wrap. Place a layer of plastic wrap on top. Roll out crust until it is 14-inches in diameter. If it is still cold, then peel off top layer of plastic wrap and invert onto parchment. Remove second layer of parchment.
  6. If it is still cold, then peel off top layer of plastic wrap and invert onto parchment. Remove second layer of parchment. If the dough is soft. Put in the freezer for about 5 minutes to firm it up. Then follow instruction above.
  7. Place fruit into center of crust, leaving about a 2-inch rim. Sprinkle all but 1 teaspoon of the sugar on top.
  8. Cut slits in the crust and gently fold it over, enclosing the fruit, but leaving an opening in the middle.
  9. To make egg wash, whisk together egg and cream. Brush over edges of crust. Sprinkle with remaining sugar.
  10. Place into heated 400-degree oven. Bake until edges are brown, about 35 to 40 minutes.
  11. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Serve plain or with whipped cream or ice cream.
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Bounty of Community Garden: More Zucchini (with chocolate)

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I’ve been a sucker for vegetable gardens since my father tilled a spot at our home in Erie. He carefully plotted out the garden on graph paper – tomatoes here, lettuce there and zucchini (eventually everywhere). He fenced it in to keep out the critters, which did find their way into our suburban veggie patch. I have memories of my mother telling my father that he wasn’t allowed to shoot groundhogs in Millcreek (Pennsylvania).

At the time I wasn’t particularly fond the garden. It involved weeding, watering and eating vegetables. We weren’t careful tenders to the zucchini, which eventually came to be the size if cricket bats if we weren’t mindful.

When I moved to the Midwest, I realized that farmstands with fresh tomatoes, peaches and corn weren’t the norm. So I started container gardening tomatoes. One year, I moved mid-summer, and packed the tomatoes in the back of my two-seater convertible for the ride across town to their new patio.

Until this summer, I kept my gardening to myself. I’d share the abundance of tomatoes and squash with friends and neighbors, but my home-grown gardening stills were limited to my home. This summer I have a much more flexible schedule, and so I started volunteering with the Sisters of Saint Joseph Neighborhood Network’s community garden at 22nd and Parade streets, Erie, Pennsylvania. My responsibilities included cleaning up, weeding, planting and watering. I’m on hand once a week to help the neighbors who have raised beds with any questions. This past week, I helped while the workers at PRI Community, an affiliate of Provider Resources Inc., weeded, cleaned, and planted the plot. PRI Community provided the services to the SSJ NN at no charge. The PRI workers were paid and learning skills in the process. With their help, we were able to plant more than 300 lilies along the border, weed the beds, mow, and trim in less than 4 hours.

This allowed me to get into the shared beds and harvest some squash that were hidden among the gigantic leaves. A recent post by TwoPeasandtheirPod provided just the right recipe to test.

Print Recipe
Bounty of a Community Garden: More Zucchini
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
9x13 cake
Ingredients
Cake
Frosting
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
9x13 cake
Ingredients
Cake
Frosting
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9x13-inch pan.
  2. To make the cake, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, cream butter, coconut oil and sugar with an electric mixer or in a stand mixer. Add vanilla and eggs and beat to just combine. Stir in yogurt.
  3. Add dry ingredients to wet. I prefer to mix this by hand. Stir until there are no dry lumps.
  4. Stir in zucchini, coconut and chocolate chips.
  5. Pour batter into greased pan. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
  6. To make the frosting, beat butter and powdered sugar until light and creamy. Add a pinch of salt and vanilla. Beat until combined. Spread on top of cooled cake and top with toasted coconut.
Recipe Notes

This recipe is from TwoPeasand theirPod.

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