Friday, October 30, 2015

Root Veg Duo Harvest Meal

When I went to a local farm market this week they had the most beautiful delicata squash, so I bought a couple. I grew them year before last and have been in love with them ever since. For a winter squash they have a very thin skin so they are easy to prepare and they have a nice smooth texture when cooked and are just a little sweet and with a delicate squash flavor. They are pretty in an arrangement on your table, too, with a torpedo shape and nice green, yellow and rust stripes.

For dinner the other night I cut them in half, scooped out the seeds, then peeled them with a vegetable peeler. I cut them in slices which looks sort of crescent shaped.

Because I was going to roast them in a hot oven, I decided to peel and chunk up some garnet yam for the other half of the sheet pan. I tossed the peeled chunks into a plastic produce bag, added about a couple of teaspoons of olive oil, then a grinding of Moroccan spices. After I shook the yams to coat them with the oil and spices, they went on to a sheet pan which was lined with s silicone mat.

I took the delicata squash crescents and put them into the produce bag, added some more olive oil and freshly ground black pepper and about a tablespoon of maple syrup. I shook them up until all the squash pieces were coated, then put them on the other half of the sheet pan. All of the pieces of veggies were in a single layer.

After roasting for 10 minutes, I turned all the pieces over, using a spatula, so that the other side would brown. It took about another 10 minutes and they were all cooked through and had some lovely brown spots. I served them mixed together and Sweetie had grilled some turkey sausages, so we had a nice, easy meal, full of flavor and warm colors. Sweetie wants me to make the yam and squash duo for Thanksgiving. Hope your hostess wants me to bring a side dish!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Thwarting Hunger

Since this is a blog mostly about food, hunger is a likely topic. Have you ever been hungry and not had the resources to feed yourself or loved ones?

Quite a long time ago I had a short period of depleted funds for food and had to accept a few bags of groceries from a church food pantry. I remember how grateful I was that it was an option and that no one made me feel poor, even though I was at the time. Later, when I was a newly separated mom, with a toddler, waiting for the divorce to go through, I took part in a wonderful program called WIC, which stands for women, infants and children. It is a government sponsored program for low income families that provides vouchers for specific nutritious food items like milk, orange juice, cheese and cereal. It also included education classes in nutrition and healthy cooking and was a real help at a difficult time in my life. Although one of the popular current myths is that most people on public assistance deserve what they get, in reality most people are only a catastrophe, job loss, or relationship loss away from at least temporary poverty. There are many, many people who can only find part time jobs with low pay that barely covers rent much less fresh, healthy food. The cheapest food is usually the least nutritious, too.

Today I took a tour of a non-profit group that is doing a lot to thwart hunger in the Redwood Empire, which in this case are all the counties from Sonoma Co. north to the Oregon border, plus Lake County and maybe one more I am forgetting...should have taken notes. Their name is the Redwood Empire Food Bank and they are headquartered in an industrial park in Santa Rosa, CA, near the Charles Shultz (of Peanuts fame) airport. They also are a primary source of food for 178 community based charitable organizations that operate over 276 human service programs helping the needy, disabled and homeless in Sonoma County.

It took six years to raise the fund for their building and it is an impressive place, not because it is glamorous, but because it is perfectly suited for an array of services to help people from all walks of life and all ages to keep hunger at bay. It is so clean and well organized, with a distribution and storage area that has neat ranks of shelving full of non-perishable foods, food drive bins, sacks of onions and potatoes and more.

One area had collections of items ready to go on trucks to be delivered to food banks throughout their service area. Another area had a sort of store where more than 100 local faith based food banks could come and 'shop' for the food they would be giving to needy families in their areas. Nearby were a cold storage area to keep perishable donations from spoiling and a similar freezer area for longer storage of things like donated organic chickens.

With an 8 million a year budget the Redwood Empire Food Bank feeds about 82,000 people a year. One of the ways they do this is by having over a thousand volunteers. There is another room where volunteers sort food for distribution.

In another area there is a commercial kitchen with a paid chef. There food is prepared for distribution as meals that can be frozen, refrigerated or eaten right away for people who don't have access to a place to cook meals. Some of the food prepared there has been donated by a local group that gleans excess food directly from the fields...usually fruit or vegetables that are too small or too large, misshapen or blemished beyond what can be sold.

Another room has both an emergency food closet for walk-in folks who are in urgent need of food right away, just as I was so many years ago. This same room has office people who can assist people in filling in the forms necessary to qualify for food stamps if their need will be ongoing.

Right next door to this is a kind of a grocery store, the Value Market, with healthy foods at reduced cost and great customer service. Often the people who shop here have WIC or food stamp (CalFresh) type vouchers and this way their food dollars go further, keeping hunger away for a longer time for seniors, the disabled, families, and anyone struggling to keep something to eat available until the next paycheck or disability check or Social Security check.

Housing costs in particular have risen rapidly during the last 12 - 15 months in our area, which has impacted the amount of money available for food. Healthy, nutritious food tends to be more expensive, so all of these programs of the Redwood Empire Food Bank, which concentrates especially on providing all kinds of nutritious foods, really, really help. They even have healthy recipes. There is also a Diabetes Wellness Program.

They depend on the goodwill and help of people who are lucky enough to know where their next meal is coming from, who have extra, and who are willing to share. They love donations, both of money and of food, but also have need of volunteers to keep these vital programs going. I realize that most of the folks who read this blog live too far away to volunteer and probably have local food banks they can donate to, but if you live in Sonoma, Lake, Mendocino Counties, up to Crescent City area, or near to them, consider making a donation of time, money and/or food. The cold days are coming and the need is great. Thanks!

Redwood Empire Food Bank donation link.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Fun With Pumpkins

It's always fun to have kids around for pumpkin carving. I grew some small sugar pie pumpkins which I plan to bake with, and I bought some larger ones and the rest of the crew brought more pumpkins! This year our lovely daughter invited some friends to join us and one couple brought their adorable little girl.

She wasn't that interested in the pumpkins until they had been carve a bit, but she did enjoy walking barefoot in the tiny bit of green grass we have.

She also made friends with Pi doggie and he was really good with her, even just lying peacefully while she sat on him. He also ran around with a small pumpkin in his mouth which delighted her...and me.

The carved pumpkins were beautiful. I'm always amazed at the transformation of a plain orange pumpkin into a small work of art using fairly simple tools and a lot of patience and careful cutting.

Sweetie even lent them an Xacto knife with a tiny serrated edge that was great for the smaller sections that they removed.

No recipe this time, just some photos of our fall pumpkin fun. I did serve up my standard guacamole and chips and AM brought some farm fresh jalapeno salsa. Wine and cheese and bread were provided by the darling daughter and friend while the little ones parents served up some warm cider spiked with bourbon. And, no, I'm not back to bourbon or wine or even bread and cheese. Still had a good time and so did Sweetie.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Don't Cook? Try This Salad

Sometimes you need a salad recipe that will be easy to assemble somewhere other than your kitchen, one that is a main dish salad, one that is fairly healthy with vibrant flavors, too. Then to have a salad that is also pretty good for non-cooks as long as they are comfortable with grilling chicken and you have a winner. Did I mention that it's delicious? It is. I served it with rolls just like THESE.

This recipe is based on a couple of recipes I saw online, but, as usual, I changed it so much that I'm not going to attribute it to anyone in particular.

For starters you can use a number of things for the salad greens. You can use pre-washed bagged salad mix. You can wash and dry and chop or tear your own greens. You can use almost any mixture of greens, so this is great for greens from your garden. I went with heads of romaine lettuce from Costco, which I washed, spun dry and chopped.

The next piece is balsamic dressing. You can use bottled dressing and most stores have a number of choices for you. You can also have a little fun in the kitchen and mix up a simple dressing with garlic, mustard, honey, olive oil, salt and pepper and balsamic vinegar. The dressing is used to marinate chicken breasts and also to dress the salad when it is serving time.

The chicken breasts should be boneless, but they can also be skinless. You could also use boneless chicken thighs as long as you spread them out to cook so they cook evenly. You use 1/3 cup of the balsamic dressing as a marinade and put the chicken and marinade in a seal-able plastic bag in the fridge for about 3 hours, turning the bag over every hour. Not too difficult, right?

While the chicken is marinating you get to do some chopping. You need 2 cups prepared tomatoes. The recipes usually recommend getting rid of the seeds, but it is actually OK to just chop the tomatoes or dice them. If you are using cherry tomatoes, cut each of them in four pieces.

You will also need to slice or chop some fresh basil (1/4 cup) and stir that and some dried oregano into the chopped tomatoes.

A can of sliced olives, drained and some feta cheese finishes what is needed.

Once the chicken has finished it's time in the fridge, drain off the marinade and grill it until just cooked. Let it cool slightly, then cut into bite sized chunks. If you are lucky, someone who loves to grill things will do this for you as Sweetie did for me. I'm a lucky girl! I haven't tried it, but I suspect that if you bought a pre-cooked whole chicken and removed the meat and cut it in chunks and marinated it for a short time in the dressing that you could even skip the grilling part, although you will lose the great flavor one gets from grilling.

Now for the fun part, assembling the salads. If you are serving this somewhere other than you own kitchen, you will have a container of salad greens, a container of cooked chicken, a container of sliced olives, a container of the prepared tomatoes, some feta cheese and some balsamic dressing.

Put the greens in a large bowl. Drizzle with some of the dressing and toss to coat. This is a great time to use short tongs if you have them. Divide the greens among the plates. Top with a serving of chicken chunks (about 1/2 cup), then top that with 1/4 cup of the tomato mixture, add some of the sliced olives, sprinkle with some feta cheese chunks/crumbles and drizzle a tiny bit more dressing over it all. If you have extra basil, it makes a pretty garnish. That's it. Serve with pride and enjoy the flavors of the Mediterranean. I served some mini-carrots on the side, but a nice bunch of grapes would go well, too.

The recipe serves 8, but you can cut it in half or double it depending on how many you are serving.

Chicken and Tomato Over Greens Salad - 8 luncheon sized servings

  • 6 boneless chicken breast halves (can be skinless, too, if desired)
  • 12-14 cups salad greens of choice (about one and a half large heads, chopped, or two large bags)
  • 1/3 cup balsamic salad dressing per pound of chicken, plus more for tossing with greens (recipe follows; may substitute your favorite store-bought option)
  • 2 cups seeded and chopped tomatoes
  • 4 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 can sliced black olives
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

For the balsamic salad  dressing:
  • 1 small garlic clove, smashed and minced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

  1. For the balsamic salad dressing: In a bowl whisk together the garlic, salt and pepper, Dijon, honey and balsamic vinegar. Drizzle the olive oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking as you go, until the dressing is emulsified.  You may also add everything to a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake well.

  2. Cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours to allow flavors to blend. The vinaigrette will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator. Shake well prior to using.  If the olive oil has solidified due to the cold, simply allow the jar to sit at room temperature for a few minutes before using.

  3. For the grilled chicken: Place the chicken in a large, resealable plastic bag. Pour the vinaigrette over top (1/3 cup per pound of chicken), seal, and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours or overnight if possible. I like to flip the bag a few times (every hour or so during the day) to distribute the marinade.

  4. Prepare the grill or heat a large cast iron skillet or grill pan. Remove the chicken from the marinade, discarding the remaining marinade, and cook the chicken over medium heat for 7-8 minutes per side, depending on thickness, or until the chicken is just cooked through. Cut into center...if still pink, keep cooking, if not you are done...don't overcook.  If cooking in a skillet or on a grill pan, you may need to do this in two batches.  Remove from the heat and allow the chicken to rest for 5 minutes. Cube into bite sized cubes. Set aside for 5 minutes and then package into ziploc type plastic bag. Refrigerate if not made right before serving.

  5. For the tomato mixture: Gently mix the tomato, basil, dried oregano and a few grinds of fresh pepper in a ziploc type plastic bag. Close and shake bag to mix the ingredients. Refrigerate if not made right before serving.

  6. Gather salad components: Washed, dried, and  chopped chilled salad greens or pre-washed chilled greens in the bag, chicken pieces in ziploc type bag, tomato mixture in ziploc type bag, drained olives, feta cheese in chunks and crumbles, extra vinaigrette.

  7. Assembling the salad: Reheat the chicken in the oven if one is available or serve at room temperature. (Chill any unused chicken right away). Place the salad greens in a bowl and toss with enough vinaigrette to lightly coat.  Distribute the dressed greens among eight plates. Top with chicken breast pieces (chunks) followed by one eighth of the tomato-basil mixture (about 1/4 cup). Sprinkle with some of the sliced black olives, drained. Sprinkle on one eighth of the feta cheese.  Drizzle a little extra balsamic vinaigrette over top  and garnish with extra basil if desired. Serve and enjoy!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Leaving Southern Cakes

The Cake Slice Bakers have been baking for the last 12 months from The Southern Cake Book by Southern Living. Think lots of pecans, brown sugar and dairy products and you get the general idea. Since I grew up in the South I've enjoyed baking from this book. For the final recipe we got to choose any recipe in the book. I chose Hawaiian Sheet Cake and frosted it with the same easy 7-Minute type frosting I used last month. To tell the truth, I made the sheet cake last month, too, and served it up for the birthday party where I served the chocolate cupcakes, also frosted with that sticky, gooey, sugary frosting.

This cake is really moist and delicious and filled with good things. One of the reasons I chose it was because it was in the 'feed a crowd' section, but I also love the combination of bananas, pineapple and coconut, plus spices. It was a big hit with the crowd and with the birthday girl. I didn't get any photos beforehand and so I only have this one photo after most of the cake had been served. Trust me, it was good cake. I used a gluten free flour mixture and it has no dairy, so I was able to have a piece. The cake is fairly sweet and the soft icing was pretty sweet, so small pieces were enough. I used crushed pineapple packed in juice, not syrup, to cut down a bit on the sweetness and only used 1/2 cup of granulated sugar instead of 1 cup, but kept the full amount of brown sugar, because enough sugar is important to the chemistry of a recipe and I like the mellow flavor of brown sugar.

Next month we start a new book, so be sure to come back November 20th to see which book, OK?

Hawaiian Sheet Cake
Serves 15

3 cups all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur gluten free flour blend)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 very ripe bananas, mashed (to equal one cup)
3 large eggs, beaten
1 cup flaked coconut
1 (8 oz.) can crushed pineapple, undrained
1/2 recipe 7-Minute frosting
various sprinkles and dragees and candies for decoration

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Use shortening to grease and lightly flour a 9 X 13-inch baking pan.

Mix flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and allspice in a large bowl. Set aside

Mix granulated sugar, brown sugar, oil, bananas, and eggs in a medium bowl. A whisk works well. Stir in the flour mixture, whisking until blended. Stir in the coconut and pineapple (including pineapple juice from the can) just until blended. Pour batter into the prepared pan.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 40-45 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Run a knife around the sides of the pan and carefully invert the cake onto a serving platter. Frost with the 7-Minute frosting and decorate as desired.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Coming Up On The 22nd

Although I have at least one post to put up between now and then, very soon, on Oct. 22nd, I will have completed nine years of blogging. Thousands of recipes later I know that my photography and writing has improved, the range of skills in the kitchen has improved, and the number of new friends made has been wonderful. So many new foods and techniques and implements have been tried as I explored different food cultures, high end baking, gluten free and dairy free food prep and more. I hope the ride has been fun for you, dear reader, since you may be lurking but you are still important to me as I write up each post and choose which photos to use.

Ever since last fall when we finished the new kitchen it feels like my life is at one of those transition or crossroads places. Some things are ending or have ended and others are beginning. Not sure how the blog will fit in but I don't think I'm quite done with it yet. After all, on the 20th I'll post the last cake from the book the Cake Slice Bakers have been baking from this year and the following month we will be into a new book, so it would be hard to stop just now.

Also the holidays are coming and I usually find inspiration for special holiday recipes. Who knows, there might be a holidays cookbook around the corner with recipes for lots of major holidays. Of course I might take up stand up paddle boarding and give up blogging altogether. If there is a particular recipe you would like me to make to celebrate the beginning of the 10th year, let me know. It could be something of mine you love and want me to make again, or a challenge to fire me up. Maybe there will be 9 or 10 more years of Feeding My Enthusiasms.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Babes Bake Dreamy Milk Bread

Over the course of a number of recent years I've baked a lot of different breads, but our Kitchen of the Month, Karen of Karen's Kitchen Stories, challenged the Babes with a technique I had never tried. For Tangzhong Whole Wheat Bread, you start by cooking bread flour and water until it thickens up. Basically the starch is cooking. If you have ever thickened a gravy with a slurry of flour and water or with a mixture of butter and flour, the same thing happens...the heat causes the starch to cook and thicken the mixture.

Of course I'm still not sure why pre-cooking some of the starch should lead to a light, fluffy bread, but it does. I decided to use my dough to make pan rolls and they all rose beautifully and the resulting rolls were light and soft and slightly chewy with a good yeast taste and thin crust. I know this not because I have gone back to eating gluten-ful breads, sadly, especially ones with butter and milk in them, but because Sweetie agreed to taste them for me and give me feedback. He enjoyed them and said that they were not too sweet (which is good since I used half the sugar) and that he really liked the fluffy texture, but that it was still substantial when you were eating it; it didn't turn into a deflated pancake like balloon breads.

This is a pretty easy bread. It takes only minutes to make the tangzhong mixture. Then you let it cool to room temperature and make the bread. The recipe called for a couple of hours of refrigeration, but it doesn't really need that as long as you are making the bread the same day. If you decide to make rolls as I did, just divide the dough into pieces that weigh pretty much the same as each other for best results. Even though I made 12 rolls, they were still large rolls. Next time I might divide the dough in half and made two pans of eight roll per pan with the same amount of dough. The dough is a dream to work with as long as you knead it lots as the recipe calls for.

You are going to want to make these, so why not be a Buddy? Send Karen an e-mail with a short description of your experience baking this bread and a photo for the round-up. Bake and send the e-mail to her between now and October 29th. Hope you will bake with us!

If I make the Linky thing work correctly, you can click on photos at the end of the post for each Babe who adds  her link, so you can check out the awesome versions our Bread Baking Babes made this month.

If you were wondering what else is happening in my life I have to say, 'not much' because Sweetie came down with the flu at the beginning of the month and then I got it and am just starting to feel myself again. Lots of sleeping, reading books, staring at the TV, drinking cups of teas and that sort of boring thing.

Below is the original recipe Karen gave us. I used a 9-grain flour blend instead of whole wheat flour, reduced the sugar by half and shaped them as rolls and not loaves, plus skipped the refrigerator chilling, but otherwise followed the recipe.

Tangzhong Whole Wheat Bread

Tangzhong mixture (makes enough for two loaves)
50 g/1/3 C bread flour
1 C water

1.             Mix the flour and water together until there aren't any lumps.

2.             Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and registers 149 degrees F or 65 degrees C. If you don't have a thermometer (get one!), look for lines in the mixture made by your spoon as your stir. Remove from the heat immediately.

3.             Scrape the mixture into a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap, pressing it onto the surface of the tangzhong. Let it cool, and then refrigerate it for several hours. 

4.             Bring it back to room temperature when you are ready to use it. 

This will last a couple of days. If it starts to turn gray, toss it. 

Whole Wheat Tangzhong Bread
Makes one loaf, and is easily doubled

110 grams milk
45 grams whisked eggs (about one large egg)
100 grams Tangzhong
40 g sugar
5 g salt
200 g bread flour
150 g whole wheat flour
6 g instant yeast
40 g unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into pieces

1.             Add all of the ingredients except the butter to the bowl of a stand mixer. You can also mix by hand or bread machine. 

2.             Mix the ingredients until they form a dough. Add the butter, one tablespoon at a time, until incorporated. Knead until the dough becomes very elastic. More is better.
 3        Place the dough into an oiled bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled, about 40 minutes I think you could also do a cold ferment overnight, but I haven't tried it.

4          Now for the shaping. 

5          Divide the dough into 3 or four equal pieces and form each piece into a ball.

6          With a rolling pin, roll each ball into a 10 inch long oval. Fold the oval into thirds, widthwise, like an envelope. Turn the envelope so that the short side is facing you, and roll it into a 10 to 12 inch length. Roll that piece like a cinnamon roll, with the folded sides on the inside, and place the piece in an oiled bread pan, seam side down. Repeat with the other pieces, placing them next to each other.

7          Cover and let rise for about 40 minutes, until about 4/5  the height of the bread pan. 

8          Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer the loaf from the pan to a wire rack and let cool completely. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Pretty Good Pizza

One of the foods I miss is pizza. Crisp yeasty crust, intense tomato flavor in the sauce, gooey melty cheese on top are all favorites. A few days ago I decided to try Pamela's brand pizza dough mix and see how it worked out. I bought Daiya shredded non-dairy mozzarella for the topping and made up some fresh tomato sauce using grape tomatoes from my waning tomato plants. I also cooked up some onion, fresh garlic, ground turkey and herbs for topping.

Following the directions on the packet, I mixed up the dough and let it sit for a couple of hours to let the yeast grow. Spreading the dough on parchment with my fingers wasn't too difficult and baking the crusts for 8-10 minutes until lightly golden was also OK, although the crust on the pizza stone at the top of the oven (recommended by Pamela's) didn't crisp up at all and the one on a sheet pan at the bottom of the oven did, so that's the one I ended up eating.

Over the baked crust I spread some of the cooked down tomatoes, then added some of the remaining cooked down tomatoes to the topping mixture, then sort of sprinkled that topping over the crust. A light distribution of the cheese seemed a good idea since I had no idea if it would taste OK.

The finished pizza tasted pretty good, although the texture of the crust was not chewy but sort of dry and the cheese was just OK, not really good. It did taste like pizza and I ate the leftover piece the next morning for breakfast so you know that I had been wanting pizza for quite a while. If only somebody could create fake cheese that was as delicious as real cheese. In the meantime I'll probably only have pizza when the craving really gets intense.

No recipe for this, but there are some photos.
First shows pizza with smeared cooked down tomatoes, plus topping and cheese over partially baked crust.

Then we have the baked pizza, with the crust still pretty light colored, but the dark corn meal shows that something cooked. I used cornmeal under the crust when I formed it, which was suggested as a good method on the pizza crust package.

Finally we have the slices. You can see that the cheese didn't really melt. Some of the shreds sort of shrank a little when they got hot. Still they tasted kinda like cheese.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Fall Vistas

There hasn't been too much baking going on the last few days, but I did get my stained glass tools organized and put away and the usual chores done, plus some work on a newsletter for the scholarship regional group. Did a little walking, too, to keep the FitBit and scale happy.

I guess I'm having trouble getting back on West coast time because I've been waking up early. Yesterday I took some photos early in the day and late in the day when the light was golden. Just like the photo of the acorn and oak leaves, most of these are on or near our home place and show that the fall is here. Unfortunately they also show that the soil is bone dry, the grasses either straw colored or dark gray since they have been without any sort of true rain for quite a while. Not sure why, but the berries have put on a second showing, here and there, and the apples and persimmons and grapes seem to be a bit larger than average. Maybe Mother nature is hedging her bets?

I hope to have a post soon showing my success, or lack of it, with gluten free, dairy free pizza. Come on back in a day or two.

Happy Fall!

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Truly Fall - A Time For Ganache

The signs of fall are all around. It takes the sun a much longer time...til after 7 rise in the morning and evening comes much sooner, too.

The acorns are falling all around the base of the oak tree by the barn and the oak leaves are turning gold and brown and falling.

I collected a whole basket of walnuts on the deck yesterday. I prefer to gather them from the deck than from the ground because they bake on the deck and are ready to shell. The tomatoes are winding down and I harvested almost all of my pumpkins this morning and set them marching up the front steps. I changed out the wreath by the door to my fall one.

Since fall is my favorite season, it's great to see the signs of the season. There are also quite a few family birthdays around this time of year. Happy birthday to each of know who you are, including the great guy in the photo at the top of the post (enjoying his cake with ganache topping)  who started celebrating early, for which I am grateful.

Even though I love the crisp fall air, it was lovely that yesterday was warm and dry. Our darling daughter visited and we sat out at the table on the front deck at lunch time catching up and

admiring her new painted rock art. Isn't she talented?

Later we lounged on the wicker couch and in the rocking chair on the newer part of the front deck after gathering morning glory seeds from the little dried pods left on the plant for just that reason. Next year we will have an amazing array of morning glories if all the seeds germinate. In the evening we went into town and ate outside so as to enjoy the lingering warmth of the evening. Soon there will be chilly evenings and (we hope!) rain to keep us inside. The furniture and rug will go inside, too, for the late fall and winter.

When we were back East for our visit, I made my sailing brother his favorite birthday cake ...chocolate cake, chocolate icing and raspberry jam in the middle. Just to make it even more decadent (and because I was using a cake mix and pre-made frosting due to a scarcity of baking equipment, especially a stand mixer, in the Marshall St. kitchen) I left the frosting off most of the top of the cake and instead poured on ganache, a decadent mixture of chocolate and cream. The birthday 'boy' even got to lick the bowl.

The trick to doing this kind of topping on a cake is to let the ganache mixture cool enough that it thickens a bit and doesn't run off the top of the cake, but is still warm enough that it will pour and spread without much help from your spatula. If you pour a little out and it is too thin, just wait a bit more and try again. Those drips down the side of the cake should be drips, not fountains.

I had fun with the decorations, using star shaped multi-colored sprinkles, spiral candles and some tiny silver dragees that everyone decided were about 30 years old. My Mom was not one to throw things away that still had use. She was a keeper.

Chocolate Ganache to top a cake 

4 oz. semi-sweet good quality chocolate, chopped fine
4 oz. heavy cream

Place the chopped chocolate into a medium bowl.
Over medium heat, bring the heavy cream to a simmer. Stir or swirl the cream to make sure all of it is hot. Pour heated cream over the chocolate and stir until mixture is smooth. Let cool, stirring gently every few minutes, until mixture reaches desired consistency.

Pour cooled ganache over the top of your cake. Use a spatula if necessary to smooth the top and encourage some of the ganache to drip down the sides. Chill in the refrigerator to set the ganache.