Happy “2022!”

A stranded knit coaster

Hello friends,

I pretty much bailed on this blog the entire past year. I’m not sure why, and it wasn’t a decision, really, except my feelings about all the happenings in our world were much bigger than my ability to fit them into words. We are still pretty much all dealing with many of the same issues we were last year. Covid, the economy, political maneuvers by both the good guys and bad guys, climate change, food safety and TP supply. But maybe we have learned we are all stronger and more creative than we thought. We’re going to get through this and thrive again. Differently? Sure. We have all been changed, because the unthinkable has happened in a million different versions. But, maybe we will be better, too.

I have had a lot of time to practice on stranded knitting skills, and the hardest thing about it is getting the tension correct, carrying yarn in both hands and floating the unused color every 3-4 stitches along the back as you go. I’m happy to report, “By jove, I’ve finally got it!” I made my first (finished) stranded knitting project recently. Snowflake coasters!

My focus on mediumship development has remained. It has grown to the point I am now fully committed to it. I am learning and practicing with other mediums I don’t know to refine my skills and presentation of communications from spirit. I have joined a development circle of other mediums that meet weekly, as well as practicing 1:1. The next step is practicing 1:1 with friends of friends, or other non-mediums I don’t know. I have created a new, additional blog on WP to encompass that part of my life. If you are interested in following that part of my world, the new blog link is: https://messengerforspirit136467105.wordpress.com .

I still love cooking, baking, herbs and making misc. creative projects, and will continue to post those here as I do so. It is my hope you will still want to read them. Thanks for being here!

Chocolate Kahlua Bundt Cake

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Greetings, friends! I have resisted posting this recipe because it is not wholly from scratch, and I personally have a weird, foodie sort of dedication to baking mostly from scratch. That being said, this is my absolute favorite chocolate cake, ever, so after making it three different times I simply had to share it. I have made many different scratch versions of this cake, and none of them equal this one. Some were too fudgy, others too dry, others too bitter.

You may already have many of the ingredients on hand to make it, and it would almost certainly be a hit with your family as a holiday dessert. Here’s the recipe.

CHOCOLATE KAHLUA BUNDT CAKE

The cake part of the recipe:

1 Devil’s Food Cake Mix (I used Pillsbury)
1 box (3 oz.) Chocolate pudding mix
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup of heated water containing 1 tsp. Medaglia de oro instant coffee, then cooled.
3/4 cup Kahlua
1 10 oz. pkg. mini chocolate chips, or 1 cup chopped nuts, to fold in last (optional for either)

Grease and flour a bundt pan or spray it with vegetable spray. Combine all ingredients except chocolate chips. Mix just until blended and no lumps are visible. Stir in the chocolate chips if you are adding them.

Bake at 325-350 on the center shelf of your oven for about 45-50 minutes. Allow it to cool in the pan on a cake rack, at least 20-25 minutes before attempting to dump it out.

As you can see by the below photo, the cake will rise slightly above the pan while baking, but the visible, shallow surface cracks are a characteristic of this cake, and nothing to worry about.

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Invert the bundt pan over a cake rack by kind of slamming the pan down onto the cake rack. It should release from the pan easily. If it doesn’t, give it another thwack or two. It dumps out easier when still faintly warm than it does at room temperature. If you try to dump it when it is too warm, it may crack or break the cake.

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Ganache glaze for cake

8 oz. Bittersweet Chocolate/or high quality semi-sweet chips
1 cup heavy whipping cream, scalded!
1 Tablespoon liquor, if desired, added last after the chocolate is dissolved into the whipping cream.

If the chocolate is in bar form, shave it with a knife, starting from a corner of the bar. Place the shavings (or chips) in a bowl, and either pour the hot whipping cream over them, or dump the chocolate into the hot whipping cream. Stir and fold it together gently with a spatula. Stir in a Tablespoon of Kahlua if desired. Pour or drizzle over the cake when the chocolate mixture is about 70-75 degrees.

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I usually make a double batch of the above Ganache, to entirely coat the outside of the cake. But you could make the above batch and drizzle it artistically over the cake. Up to you. I do like some left over to keep in the refrigerator or freezer because it makes the BEST hot fudge sauce!

My first choice would be Belgian Bittersweet couverture chocolate, which I became accustomed to when I baked professionally. Some stores sell some brand of Bittersweet in 10-12 oz. bars or you can get 11# of it by ordering from somewhere like King Arthur Flour Co. or other suppliers. It keeps for quite some time. European couverture chocolate has 35-39% cocoa butter in it, which makes it a smooth standout from most American chocolates.

The only bad thing about making Ganache is that it is SO good! There is inevitably a lot left in the bowl that must be dealt with, and I usually volunteer to just eat it.

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Just remember…

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Have a lovely winter-fest holiday, however you celebrate!

A Christmas Merry Go Round

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Winter greetings, friends! In this time of Covid isolation and observing attitudes around the country, I have seen too much ugliness to pretend that the Christmas season will ring in peace, people will care about their fellow man and all is well because, after all, it is Christmas time. I’m just not feeling it. The tree above is last year’s tree.  My husband and I are retired, and I do recognize that for families with young children, the season must go on. If I had small children right now, I would strive to instill in them the idea of gifting service to those with less, making handcrafted gifts for others, and exploring tools that add to their creative skills, rather than what the commercials tell them they should want.

I have always loved the Christmas season, personally. I love to make handmade gifts for people, bake Christmas treats and share the bounty and goodwill of the season. In fact, I have sometimes been a study of excess myself this time of the year. But I’m not seeing the “goodwill to men” this year. I’m seeing a split down the middle of our country drawn by selfishness and greed. Christmas is not going to make that better.

Christmas television commercials and store ads are accompanied by the usual frenzy of hyped-up holiday music, and a friendly, reasonable voice urging, “Ask Santa for this, ask your parents for that, don’t you deserve to have this?” There is no accommodation or recognition, not even as a side note, for the very deep loss, grief and illness that envelops our country. Even THIS year, of all years! Even during Covid, when SO many do not have enough to eat, are worried about losing their homes, being evicted, or have lost a loved one, the hype goes on, the same as usual.

I should add, I am not personally offended by any of it. I have not lost a loved one to Covid, I am not depressed, we have plenty to eat. In fact, we have a surplus of anything we want or need. But I am deeply and humanly offended, not only by the long arm capitalist reach of this country, but by the attitudes of some I know that call themselves Christians. I am not willing to live my life in the business as usual mode, in the midst of all the people and families that are suffering. I am not willing to pretend for two days or two weeks that life is normal right now. It most definitely is not.

Instead of decking the halls as usual, spending $70+ dollars for a fresh Balsam Fir Christmas tree, and several hundred more on sparkly gifts we don’t really need under the Christmas tree, we are jumping off the Christmas merry-go-round. We will still give a few (hopefully) thoughtful gifts to people we are close to, because we enjoy doing that. I will still make some special cookies and candies I usually make this time of the year. I don’t hate Christmas. I just don’t like how narcissistically commercialized it has become. I don’t like how it has taken on a life of its own depite the suffering throughout the world.

We have decided to donate the amount we usually spend on a tree and gifts to a local food bank, which we hope might help a few people feel happier during these cold months. That is a truly joyful thought to us. I wish you a lovely holiday however you choose to observe it.  Here’s to some snow days!  Marci

Easing Into Fall

Fall greetings!

Our herbs are just about done for the year. This has been a great year for Garlic, Basil and Tomatoes, here. Bell peppers? Not so much. Last year we grew huge ones, but this year they are like little dwarf peppers.

Four plants of Sweet Basil have turned into 3 pints of Basil Pesto for the freezer, so far, several rounds of Caprese salad, and a few nicely seasoned batches of marinara sauce. It appears I may have one more good harvest of Basil. I did find a few new Calendula flowers yesterday, and you can never have too many of those. Oh, and a few stragglers of Echinacea. But mostly my focus has moved on to Hops and Jalapeños at this point.

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Hop vines have to share my attention with the last of the tomatoes on the vines and the super hot jalapeños that have turned from green to black, then red.

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I like pickled green jalapeños, but once they turn color on the vines they are much hotter. My husband loves all peppers, the hotter the better. The red ones are just way too hot for me. I usually end up canning two batches so we can both enjoy them.

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Hop flowers take about a week to dry, if you turn and stir them once a day so they dry evenly. Once they are dry, just rubbing the petals will separate them. They are a great addition to my sleepy tea blends and sleep pillows. See the little papery, round flower petals in the photo below? That is my Peace-Out tea blend in the works.

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Our three year old American Elder tree had about 18 clusters of berries this year, but I was only able to harvest two clusters, enough for one batch of fresh syrup. The birds greedily took the rest of them, though they haven’t bothered them in years past. I am wondering if that is a sign of a hard winter ahead.

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Elderberry gummy candies caught my interest this year. There are many recipes online, many of them huge batches, including some with fruit juice or other additions. I wanted to make them as simply and basic as possible, and I didn’t want to waste any of my precious one bottle of syrup on errors. I poured 1/2 cup of syrup in a measuring cup, and sprinkled 1 1/2 Tablespoon of powdered gelatin evenly over the surface. I whisked it in gently and allowed it to dissolve, swell and bloom. It seemed a bit too thick, so I whisked in about 2 Tablespoons of water, and microwaved it for 10 seconds.

The Gummy molds I ordered came with a neat little eyedropper to fill the molds with. I soon realized it would be impossible to fill those little cavities without it!

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That one half cup of syrup was enough to fill almost two molds. I recommend you start with a small amount, too, if you decide to make some yourself. I had to stop and nuke the mixture again after about 10 minutes, because it thickened as it cooled.

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I am pretty happy with the way they turned out. I let them dry a full day on a cutting board after removing them from the molds. So far, they are holding nicely in a jar in my herb cupboard. They are a wee bit sticky, but separate easy enough. It is recommended that they be stored in the refrigerator, but since there was already vodka in the syrup to render it shelf-stable, I decided to push it to see how long they would keep.

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I would make them again, and they are delicious. If you have children, gummy bears would be much easier for little ones to handle than a messy syrup.

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