Friday, June 27, 2014

The Class of 2014...

Settling into the stands above the high school football field transformed into graduation venue I finally expressed a sigh of relief.  The gown was ironed and the cap appropriately decorated.  Transcripts had been ordered, various papers filed to the proper departments, schedules arranged and we had gotten my mom to her seat uneventfully.  Everything had worked just as planned and the time had come.

As strains of Pomp and Circumstance played, hundreds of excited graduates poured onto the field.  Searching the waves of purple gowned students it took me a while, but I found him.  Standing so tall and looking so handsome my heart simply burst with pride.  He didn't see me as I clicked the shutter of my camera from some 30 yards away and in an instant he was again lost into the flood of purple robes.

And that's when I realized... the time had really come.

The principal began to speak what I'm sure was a most inspiring speech, but I didn't hear a single word as emotions bounced through me with amazing intensity.  Pride and elation somehow mixed with fear and loss as I traveled through time and found myself once again holding my baby boy...

Looking down at the sleeping baby on my chest I wondered who this little person was.  As he opened his eyes and gazed into mine, my heart grew to know a love only a mom can know.  We sat together for hours, getting to know each other and I dreamed of what the next 18 years would hold.

Brought back to the present moment by the playing of the National Anthem tears began as memories swirled all around me.  The droning of the school board member was once again lost and I instead smiled at the kidergartner who ran from class and flung himself into my open arms.  Burying his head into my shoulder he whispered how much he had missed me and I told him I had missed him just the same.

Visions of a giggling baby flitted through my mind right next to a proud boy receiving his driver's license.  There he was running the entire soccer field to score the winning goal which somehow changed into a toddler tripping over a hose only to have me scoop him up and make everything all better.  The chaos in my mind took me through school projects, summer vacations, afternoons in the pool, driving lessons, and bagel dates after preschool all while I peered through sobbing eyes trying to find that baby in a sea of purple robes.

And then there he was, walking across the stage so confidently and smiling as he shook the principal's hand.  One of many accomplishments in his life, I know he is prepared to head out on his own and that this is only the beginning.  I'm ready to see him live and follow his dreams, yet a part of me doesn't want him to go.  My arms feel empty as I know he no longer turns to me when he falls, but instead picks himself up and moves on... just as we taught him to.

1st day of Kindergarten and last day of High School...
The years have passed all to swiftly my sweet boy and sometimes I wish I could freeze time, but your path continues.  Remember... Mommy loves you.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Strawberry Blueberry Chia Jam

I may be somewhat repeating myself with this recipe... but as I explained it to a girlfriend and described it as "You know... just like the blueberry one I made only you add strawberry?" she exclaimed, "But I never would have thought of that!!  You have to post it!!"  So... usually one to follow directions, here we go!

This season I've become somewhat obsessed with chia jam.  Simply put, it's fruit, a little pure maple syrup and chia.  Just real food, nothing else.

We've always purchased jam, and while I've become familiar with the store-bought sweetness, the different varieties we've made this summer have allowed the actual fruit flavors to shine.  Sort of like storing the farmer's market in a jar, the flavors simply tantalize with realness.

Gelled with chia in place of the usual packaged pectin, Strawberry Blueberry Chia Jam brings a nice dose of calcium and protein along with its incredibly fresh flavors.  

Chia Seed, yes the seed of the the Chia Pet era, is everywhere these days.  Once a staple in the Inca, Maya and Aztec cultures, chia is actually the Mayan word for "Strength".  Filled with protein, calcium, potassium, iron, and Omega 3 and 6, chia takes on the title of a true super food and can help maintain energy and endurance.
Soaked in liquid, chia seeds (filled with soluble fiber) swell up to 10 times their weight and form a gel-like outer layer which, in the digestive system, actually slows down the conversion of carbohydrates to sugar and in turn helps stabilize blood sugar.  In addition, the seeds high soluble fiber content also helps to control cholesterol levels.

But back to our jam... maple syrup in place of granulated sugar gives a lovely depth and has me happy we've kept the entire recipe real and healthy.

With strawberry season in full swing here in San Diego, our markets are flooded with fresh, juicy, bright red berries for good prices and purchasing more than you actually need is easy to do.

Just an hour after our last market and some 24 hours since picking our strawberries simmered along with a basket of blueberries into this fabulous, sweet Strawberry Blueberry Chia Jam.

If your markets are bursting with berries you'll love this version... bursting with strawberry flavors you'll be searching for new ways to use jam.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes from Beach House Baking ... Best I've ever made!

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes from Beach House Baking ... Best I've ever made!

Irresistibly deep dark chocolate cupcakes.  Moist, with a perfectly tender crumb and topped with a luscious rich frosting in addition to the perfect amount of chocolate sprinkles.  Could it be possible to make these exquisite chocolate dreams in your own home kitchen?  Even if you are not the most adept cupcake maker and an even less adept cupcake decorator?  In a word... Yes!

I'm not one to gush all that often, but I have the best job in the world.  It pays pennies on the hour, but the benefits are fabulous.  Benefits like mail days that bring cookbooks to my doorstep for review... cookbooks like Beach House Baking by Lei Shishak.

Described as an Endless Summer of Delicious Desserts, the Beach House Baking cookbook had me at the title alone, but toss in beautiful photography, foolproof recipes, ingredients found in most kitchen pantries and a passion for my beloved sand-to-surf lifestyle and we have a book that has risen in my ranks to a near all time favorite.

Author, Lei Shishak hails from the East Coast and comes with background in Private Banking that thankfully transitioned to her true love of baking.  With accomplishments including graduating at the top of her class from the Culinary Institute of America with honors, time with Chef Scott Friedman and other mentors in Los Angeles, the position of Executive Pastry Chef at Michael Mina's Stonehill Tavern at the St. Regis Monarch Beach in Orange County, CA, Lei was more the prepared to open her own bakery.

After spending a few years here in California, Lei came to know the beach lifestyle that I also fully embrace.  She sums it up aptly in her cookbook introduction... "California is not only a physical destination it's also a state of mind" and she knew she had the perfect location for her bakery in San Clemente, California.  As a California Girl myself, to completely concur.  

San Clemente, CA
San Clemente, California
"I wanted to write this book so others could experience the beach lifestyle I and many others are fortunate to have.  I get to bake every day in the prettiest place on earth.  I wanted to share these tried and truly delicious recipes that I enjoy baking and sharing with everyone in my life.  My high quality, made-from-scratch desserts will transport you to beaches and tropic paradises you've alway hoped to visit.  Not only will this book bring you into the kitchen, it will take you to places beyond."
Lei Shishak, Beach House Baking

And that's exactly what her books does.  Bringing Morning Treats, Beach Beverages, Cupcakes (including Happy Hour Cupcakes!), Cookies and Brownies, Hand-Crafted Ice Cream Sandwiches (they are swoonable!), Frozen Pops, and Pies, Crisps, a Cobbler and Cheesecakes, Lei transports us to beaches around the world.  From the East Coast of the USA and on out to the West in California, to the shores of Japan and back to the Caribbean, Lei brings out our inner "surferness" and has us tasting a little bit of paradise in each recipe.

Coconut Chai Tea Lattes warm us up on chilly gray mornings while Mango Yogurt Swirl Pops cool us down with a taste of the tropics.  A fabulous Baklava recipe transports us to the shores of Santorini while Golden Butter Cupcakes with Madagascar Vanilla Buttercream take us through the Indian Ocean and the Ultimate Road Trip Cookie takes us everywhere in between.

As luck would have it, Lei established her bakery, The Sugar Blossom Bake Shop, in the quaint little California surf town of San Clemente, a mere 30 miles from my own little surf town of Carlsbad.  And with school out for summer a field trip seemed in order.

Heading north with Liv and her girlfriend, Audrey, the girls perused Beach House Baking and the miles passed quickly as they gushed over the recipes throughout the book.  Liv chose the S'Mores Cupcakes as her number one choice, and Audrey similarly gushed over the German Chocolate Getaway and the PCH (Piña Colada Highway) Cupcakes.  Me??  I swooned over the photo of a simple Dark Chocolate version topped with chocolate sprinkles.

Arriving at the bakery, luck once again was on our side as the Sugar Blossom counter featured each of our favorite cupcakes, and we placed an order of our favorites in addition to one of each of the other offerings.  Rounding out our order with the Ice Cream Sandwich of the day, the Waimea Bay (a red velvet version and also in the cookbook!) we took our treasures to an outside table and settled in to tasting.

Liv and Audrey react to a first bite of their Waimea Bay Ice Cream Sandwich!  (Kind of like a red velvet version.)

Tucking into the ice cream sandwich, the girls' eyes grew wide after their first bite.  Looking at each other they proclaimed "This is the best ice cream sandwich I've ever had!!" at exactly the same time and burst into a fit of giggles.  With groans of sweet pleasure the sandwiches were sent to Instagram in a flash and envious comments appeared almost instantly.

My favorite comment from the girls was "These taste like a real person made them and like they are filled with love."  The girls are right.

Moving on to the cupcakes we had intentions of trying each of the 8 versions we had set in our bakery box, but none of us made it past our proclaimed favorite before confirming the expected excellence and then claiming complete satiation.  Bidding the sweet Lei goodbye we made our way to the San Clemente Pier to walk off our treats and enjoyed a fabulous hour beachside.

But back home was where the challenge began.  We'd all tasted Lei's version of the cupcakes, but would I, a somewhat inadequate cupcake baker, be able to follow the Beach House Baking recipe and recreate the incredibleness?  Again... yes.

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes from Beach House Baking ... Best I've ever made!

Irresistibly dark and incredibly chocolaty with that perfect moistness and tender crumb we topped our cupcakes with a luscious rich frosting and just the perfect amount of chocolate sprinkles.  Just like Lei did at her bakery and just like she described in her book.  While ours may not have been quite as pretty as hers, the taste was every bit as good (well almost... she is a master pastry chef you know...), and brought the flavors of our day on the beach into our very own kitchen.

Beach House Baking... it's the perfect summer read.  Bringing a little bit of the beach to you where ever you may be, you will find yourself turning to this incredibly beautiful book time and again for any occasion you find yourself baking.  With clearly written recipes and mouthwatering photos, Beach House Baking will have you pumping made-from-scratch treats that will garner oohs, ahhs and requests for recipes from everyone you meet.

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes from Beach House Baking ... Best I've ever made!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Tropical Berry Shortcakes with Coconut Whipped Cream

Tropical Berry Shortcakes with Coconut Whipped Cream

 "Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did." 
 (Dr. William Butler, 17th Century English Writer referring to the strawberry)

Yum With a near 2,000 year history, the strawberry has stood the test of time .  A symbol of Venus, the Goddess of Love, the strawberry's heart shape and deep red color continue to evoke thoughts of love and romance today.  Legend has it that if you break a strawberry in half and share it with the opposite sex you will fall in love with each other.

Shortcake, on the other hand, hails from Europe.  Technically a biscuit, true shortcake uses baking powder for leavening with the remaining ingredients including flour, shortening of some sort, cream, and a little sugar for sweetness.  Crumbly in texture and similar to scones, shortcakes are usually prepared round.

Miss Eliza Leslie
But who put the strawberries and shortcake together?  While no one is exactly certain, food historians agree that the Strawberry Shortcake is an American creation.  Most certainly created earlier, the first recorded Strawberry Shortcake recipe can be found in Miss Leslie's Ladies Receipt Book, published in 1847, and Strawberry Shortcake parties are said to have been popular in the 1850's to celebrate the coming of summer.

Today Strawberry Shortcakes continue to be an American Tradition, however evolution brings us everything from the traditional versions to healthier whole grain versions to mixed berry versions to berries over Angel Food Cake versions.  What doesn't change though, are the berries.

Strawberries, some sort of biscuit or cake and whipped cream... the essence of summer.  When approached by a representative of Driscoll's Berries to create my version of a Strawberry Shortcake in celebration of National Strawberry Shortcake Day, saying "Yes!" didn't take much thought.

With an over 100 year history of their own, Driscoll's is a brand widely trusted and available in our local stores.  It was 1904 when friends Joseph "Ed" Reidter and R.O Driscoll first began growing strawberries in the Pajaro Valley in California.  Today Driscoll's heritage of family farming continues with Miles Reiter, Ed's grandson, at the helm of the company and Eric Reiter, Ed's great grandson continuing the business of strawberry farming in California.

Tropical Berry Shortcakes with Coconut Whipped Cream

Strawberry Shortcakes, with their topping of luscious whipped cream and butter filled biscuits had become a thing of the past for our family when my kids became lactose intolerant a few years back.  However, working on a vegan version, we've brought dairy free coconut oils and creams into the picture bringing this Vegan Tropical Berry Shortcake that brought oohs and ahhs from around my table.

I won't say that this post didn't come without a bit of work though.  Leaving my baskets of fresh organic Driscoll's berries on the counter as I finished up errands, I returned home to empty baskets and a very happy teenage boy.  Satisfied that he was making healthy choices, we purchased round two of the luscious berries the next day and set to making the biscuits.

Using coconut oil for the shortening, these biscuits bake up beautifully tender and become positively irresistible with a light sprinkle of turbinado sugar before they baked.  I know the irresistibility for a fact as I left the freshly baked biscuits on the counter to cool only to return to less than half the batch remaining as a certain hungry husband commented at how wonderful these "awesome muffins" were.

Vegan Biscuits

On to round 3.  Choosing my time carefully, I decided a Monday morning while the kids were at school and my husband off to work seemed an optimum choice.  Restraining myself to only eating a few of the berries, I set a mixture of blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and good ole strawberries into a bowl with a sprinkle of sugar and a handful of diced mango.  The biscuits came together in no time, and filled the kitchen with heavenly aromas of freshly baked good as they set out to cool.

But how to top our creation in a dairy free yet still traditional way?  Vegan Coconut Whipped Cream is the answer.  Silky smooth and lending a lovely coconut, tropical touch to our Berry Shortcakes, our Strawberry Shortcake version attained the status of a "smash hit" and has graced our table not less than three times since its creation.

Our thanks to Driscoll's for coupons and berry inspiration... without it Strawberry Shortcake would have remained something our family looked at from afar, but with a little evolution we have a version our whole family can enjoy.  What's your take on Strawberry Shortcake?

Tropical Berry Shortcakes with Coconut Whipped Cream

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Coconut Whipped Cream - a Dairy Free and Vegan Alternative to Whipping Cream

Whipped Cream... who doesn't love a dollop over a warm slice of apple pie?  Or how about strawberry shortcake... can you really have strawberry shortcake without the whipped cream part?

If you are lactose intolerant, unfortunately those pie slices do go without the cream and strawberry shortcakes??  Well, we just don't have them anymore.  Until now!

I've always been a coconut fan simply because they bring me back to my days in the tropics.  Ocean breezes, swaying palms... coconuts simply ooze aloha.  They also bring us wonderful ingredients like coconut water - a staple in our smoothies and juices, coconut oil which is fabulous for baking as well as a moisturizer (I use it on my skin and in my hair), and Coconut Milk.  The milk I've used before in recipes but never did I imagine it would whip up as a brilliant whipping cream substitute!

I must be a bit behind the times, because site after site and blog after blog have posts regarding Coconut Whipped Cream which is totally dairy free and vegan.  I have no idea where to credit this recipe or process as it seems to be everywhere, but I wanted to repeat it for you here in case you are out of the loop like me.

While it takes a bit of planning (the coconut milk must be refrigerated over night), the actual process is easy as pie.  Well... eating pie that is.

Look for coconut milk (not coconut cream or cream of coconut) in any store, but be sure to read your ingredients.  Many versions are filled with "other" potentially not so natural or real ingredients, and some are formulated not to separate, but it's that separation that allows us to create our whipped cream.

I found my organic coconut milk at Whole Foods for $1.60 with the ingredients, Organic Coconut, Purified Water and Guar Gum.  Nothing else.

Place your can of coconut milk in the fridge over night.  We've actually begun stocking our fridge with a can or two so we are never caught short.

Remove the can from the fridge and open.  The solids and water will have separated.  Scoop the solids, or coconut cream,  along with a tablespoon or so of the water into a chilled bowl, reserving the remaining water for another use (smoothies anyone??!).

Coconut Whipped Cream - Vegan and dairy free
With a hand mixer (or stand mixer), whip the cream until fluffy.  I'm always impatient whipping cream thinking it will never really work, but it always does.  Add patience and 3-5 minutes of your time and the cream will become fluffy just like dairy whipped cream.

As the cream begins to become fluffy, add your sweetener.  I found a generous 2 teaspoons of sweetener to do the trick.  To bring this whipped cream to an even more ethereal level, add a generous 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla.  Totally a true taste of the tropics!!

Continue whipping until light and fully, then dollop to your heart's delight!  We've used the Coconut Whipped Cream over fresh blueberry pie, dolloped over an ice cream sundae, and even by itself in a bowl topped with rainbow sprinkles (that one was Liv's...).

Fresh and bright, this cream has brought smiles back onto my kid's faces as we've found one more substitute for the dairy we no longer consume.  Enjoy!!

Coconut Whipped Cream - Vegan and dairy free