Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Day and Snow in Tulsa

Well, Tulsa got dumped on last night - snow for Christmas in Tulsa - who'd a thunk it? It shut us down. (Nephew) Greg came over last night in the midst of the sleet and rain and took me to Sand Springs where I camped out for the night. The trip took a short eternity! (Cousin) Marshall brought me home in the 4-wheel drive truck and we decided that (Sister) Glenda and family were staying in Sand Springs today instead of coming to my apartment for dinner. What to do with all the food I bought? Neighbors! The neighbors are snowed in and either don't have family or can't get to family, so I am cooking and we are going to have Christmas dinner.

God knew all this, don't you think? What a gift!!

So, Merry Christmas to all of you and I hope any sudden changes to your holiday plans open up to God's plan for the day!

Excuse me now, I have food to prepare for some lovely people I am getting to know a little better today...

Later on in the day, after dinner:

Well, five of us put a tiny dent in the food I prepared. I had bought food for seven with plenty of leftovers in mind for people to take with them. The five of us - Bill, Darlene, Bob and wife Eva and I - had a wonderful time! I listened to the stories of years gone by and some of Bob's experiences as an EMT and a chaplain for the Rader Center and another jail that has since been closed down. I understand this is the last month that the Rader Center will be operating as well. Bill was quite taken with my cook books and while he joined in the conversation as well, he had a fun time reading the recipes and, I am sure, making mental notes about which cookies I need to make for him in the very near future.

They told stories about coping with growing older (Eva and I are the babies in the building with the others all being 75 and up) and laughed about it all. The biggest insult to these spunky people is when other well-meaning friends, family and health care people try to put them in wheelchairs. No way! They will adapt to walkers if necessary, but not the dreaded wheelchair - that means you are really old!

Darlene will be a proud 88 on Sunday, so we are going to have another party here to celebrate her. I am making a chocolate angel food cake and will put out more of the Christmas cookies and we are inviting a bunch of other tenants to come join us for dessert and coffee.

Snowed in, maybe, but not slowed down!

Chocolate Angel Food Cake

3/4 cup cake flour
1/4 cup baking cocoa
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
12 egg whites (1 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup superfine sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. almond extract

Stir together the four, cocoa and the first confectioners' sugar; set aside.

Beat the egg whites, cream of tartar and salt until foamy. Add the superfine sugar a little at a time while continuously beating on high speed until the meringue holds stiff peaks. Gently fold in the flavorings with a wire whisk. Sprinkle the first mixture, 1/4 cup at a time, over the meringue, folding in gently just until the mixture disappears.

Push the batter with a spatula out of the bowl and into an ungreased tube pan (not a bundt pan). Using a knife, cut through the batter gently to remove air bubbles.

Bake in 375 degree oven for 30-35 minutes or until the top springs back when lightly touched with your finger.

INVERT the tube pan on a funnel and let it hang until the cake is completely cool so the cake does not fall.

Run a knife around the edges of the cooled cake, and turn out onto a cake plate. This is delicious when frosted with whipped cream that has a little cocoa whipped into it. You could also serve it with strawberries, mandarin oranges, or a blend of berries and put whipped cream on top of each piece instead of frosting the whole cake with whipped cream.

Hope you had a Merry Christmas, even if it turned out to be other than planned!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Fun connections and more recipe tweaking!

This past week I made two pies for a birthday celebration for one of my co-workers. I had made a cranberry pie several months ago and took it to work for the "guinea pig test". I do this to them often when I am trying, or developing, a new recipe. I did not like the pie, so I discarded the recipe. But, lo and behold, she liked the pie and requested it for her birthday. I relocated the recipe and made it, to her delight. Since I needed two pies to be sure every employee got some, the second pie I made was a cranberry pecan pie, which I like a lot!

Our newest employee is a young Russian immigrant whom we have enjoyed having as a part of our office. When he saw the cranberry pecan pie, he was so impressed, he got out his phone and took a picture of it! (I really like this young man!) A few moments after he ate a piece of the pie, he was at my desk telling me I needed to open a bakery. I told him the story of The Almond Branch, and he bought both of my cookbooks on the spot!

One of the other women in the office and I decided that if he bought the books, he needed to use them and bring the results into the office. We told him this, but he said, "No, I bought the books for someone else to use to cook for ME!"

Before I give you the update on tweaking the White Chocolate Cherry Berry recipe, here is the recipe for the cranberry pecan pie I made. I think it came from a magazine of some sort years ago.

Cranberry Pecan Pie

3 eggs, beaten
1 cup light corn syrup
2/3 cup sugar
2 Tbs butter, melted
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
1 Tbs grated orange zest

Prepare your pie shell.

Combine the eggs, sugar, syrup and butter. Stir in the cranberries, pecan and orange peel. Pour into the pie shell and bake in a 350 degree oven for about an hour or until the mixture is firm in the center. Cool completely before serving. If the crust edges are browning too much before the pie is finished, cover the edges only with aluminum foil.

Now, on to the tweaking!

I played some more with the white chocolate cherry berry cookies and this is what I did for Christmas (cookies are in the freezer!) I used:

8 oz of white chocolate (not vanilla flavored chips, but either Baker's white chocolate or Ghiradelli), chopped coarsely

1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

1 cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans

6 oz. dried cranberries

2 tsp. grated orange zest

1 Tbs. water

Also, decrease the oats from 2 1/2 cups to 2 1/4 cups.

I baked them at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes. I used a 1 oz disher (a small ice cream scoop you can find in restaurant supply stores). One oz is equal to 2 Tbs.

As I said in the original recipe, it is fun to paly around with your added ingredients and see what YOUR taste buds come up with!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Some more of Neighbor Bill

I have told you about Bill, my eccentric next door neighbor; the tale continues! Over the past few weeks notes and recipes and goodies have been going back and forth between our apartments. Well, the notes have come from Bill, and the goodies is what he gets in return! One day there was a bag of groceries, a recipe and instructions on how to replace the sugar with Splenda (absolutely against all I believe in, nutritionally as well as offending my cookie baking pride!). Someone, actually more than someONE, has asked me if he pays for all of this stuff? Absolutely, he is a kind-hearted and generous person. Whatever I bake for him gets around to some of the other neighbors.

Well, yesterday I took the day off work. On my door was a note with a recipe for pumpkin cake, but could I use Splenda instead of sugar and Smart Balance (another offense to my senses). I baked the cake and later heard his voice in the hallway as he was chatting with Darlene, the one he hits up for fudge. So I went out to take him his cake and there he is in all his splendor! Long bathrobe held in place by a leather belt, fuzzy OU slippers and an OU baseball cap stuck on his head. His livingroom was entirely OU in color and paraphernalia - definitely a man's domain (his wife passed away years ago and he can do what he wants with the decor!).I asked if he were an OU fan and he shot back "1952, geologist! And you?" Once he found out I wasn't an OU fan or graduate, I could see it took him a minute to recover his composure. (Neither fan nor graduate? Absurd - this is Oklahoma.)

He then turned his attention to the display one sees when first entering his apartment. Right smack dab in front of your eyes when the door is opened is an elaborate display of BMI (Body Mass Index) charts, two sets of scales, and a skeleton such as one would see in a doctor's office (with it's BMI taped to its skull). He then began to educate Darlene and me on the BMI and what ours should be, even getting us both on the scales. He played fairly; he got on the scales as well. He checked Darlene's weight, height and pronounced her a little under her preferred BMI and then looked at me and said, "You need to lose weight!" I laughed right out loud and every time I thought about him today, I laughed out loud again; I couldn't help it, it just bubbled up and out of me!

But that is not all.

Tonight I came home from work to find a bag hanging on my doorknob. Inside? A take out container with a slice of coconut cream pie from his favorite restaurant that he had been bragging about to me. With a note to "enjoy it!"

This from the same man who had lectured me on my BMI just yesterday. We need to talk...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ah, the plot thickens...!

Well, when I got home the other night, the empty pie tin was at my door with the envelope and a note stating "dee-liscious" along with $10.00 for the next installment of flowers! (Out here in Oklahoma, we can grow pansies all year).

In talking with my neighbors, I find that Bill will often beg for treats. One day he showed up at Darlene's door with a grocery bag filled with all the ingredients for fudge! But he also shares the goodies and that adds to the fun of the game.

I also found out he is not retired, not really, and is a geologist not an archeologist. When anyone does any drilling for oil (as they have been doing around Oklahoma City recently), a geologist must be onsite and thus Bill is called to duty. And he loves to watch the stock market. So, now I know he loves flowers, is still working, watches the stock market, enjoys his neighbors as much as they enjoy him, and he has an insatiable sweet tooth!

He left a note on my door last night asking if I wanted to go to a health lecture tomorrow night, but since I am leaving for Canada in the morning, I asked for a rain check on the educational night out. Tonight, the envelope is back with a note telling about some family history in the NY-Ontario area. so, I returned the note with my Ontario/NY history and promised him cookies when I got back.

But, back to the fudge; here is a recipe I used to make frequently years ago. The banana adds a little taste twist that is nice.

Banana/Chocolate Fudge

2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 medium ripe banana, mashed well (1/3 cup)
3/4 cup milk
1/8 tsp salt
2 Tbs light corn syrup
3 Tbs butter
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans

Combine the chocolate, sugars, banana, milk, salt and corn syrup in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the sugars are dissolved. (If sugar crystals form on the side of the pan, dip a pastry brush in water and wipe them off. Otherwise the fudge will become grainy, but don't let the water drip into the fudge).

Continue cooking over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture reaches the soft ball stage or 236 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Remove from heat and add the butter but don't stir. Cook to lukewarm (110 degrees).

When lukewarm, add the vanilla and beat until the candy loses its gloss and starts to thicken. Pour quickly into a buttered 8" loaf pan. Sprinkle the nuts on top and press in gently. Cut when completely cooled.

Brother-in-law Art looked at me funny when he first bit into the fudge all those years ago. He was trying to analyze the taste and couldn't identify the banana! To him, fudge was suppose to simply be chocolate with nuts! But he ended up liking it once he solved the tastebud mystery.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The power of smells from the kitchen...

I put some vincas in the urns outside my apartment entrance this spring. First, they really didn't get enough sun and became long and leggy instead of thick and full. But the other residents were enjoying them so I kept them going. They met with various traumas throughout the summer and were broken several times. Finally last week, I looked at these yellowed, leggy plants with a couple of flowers on the ends of them and empty spaces where more stems used to be and decided enough was enough and ugly was ugly.

Monday I came home from work and there was a note on my door from one of my elderly neighbors who expressed sorrow at the demise of the flowers. In the note was a $20 bill and the comment to please try again! I went to the store and bought some mums. I put the change in an envelope and taped it to his door.

Tonight I came home from work and another note was taped to my door. On the back of the envelope was the question, "Can you bake pies??" and inside was a recipe for German Chocolate Pie! It so happened that I had all the ingredients, so I made a pie tonight and will leave it in a tin at his door when I leave for work tomorrow. I have only met this man once since I moved here in April but the hallway is decorated with his art and the neighbors think the world of him. He is a retired archeologist who can't seem to really retire. And now I know he likes flowers and pies!

Is this fun, or what?!

And I have a feeling he has sniffed at the smells coming from my apartment as I have cooked and baked!

Here is his recipe:

German Chocolate Pie

1 cup sugar
2 Tbs. flour
1 Tbs. cornstarch
2 Tbs. cocoa
2 Tbs. hot water
1 large egg
7 oz. evaporated milk
3/4 cup coconut
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans

8" unbaked pie shell

Mix all ingredients in a bowl with a whisk; pour into prepared crust and bake in 350 degree oven for 35-45 minutes, depending on your oven. Don't overbake or the pie will crack on top. Allow to cool before cutting.

I haven't tasted this, but it looks wonderful and smells delicious!

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Have you ever made a puffy omelet? I used to make them for breakfast a lot of years ago. I had a small cast iron skillet that was perfect. Janna has the skillet now, but any small skillet that can go under a broiler will work. Separate your eggs; beat the yolks until light yellow, add salt and pepper to taste and set aside. Beat egg whites until stiff and fold in the egg yolk mixture. Pour into the lightly greased skillet and put over low heat. Check occasionally by lifting the edge slightly to see if the egg is cooking. When the edge is lightly browned, put the skillet under the broiler (not too close to the top element) and broil until lightly browned. Remove from oven, turn out onto plate and serve with strawberry jam. Yum! The size skillet you use depends on how many eggs you are using.

I love eggs for breakfast. During the week it's a boiled egg every morning and I never get tired of them. On the weekends, I scramble eggs, usually adding grated parmesan or cheddar and sometimes spreading a little strawberry jam on top. If you are gourmet-ish, use blue cheese or whatever is your favorite. I love Irish cheeses and out here in Tulsa I find them at Reasor's.

Dense whole grain breads toasted with cinnamon and sugar is like sending your taste buds on a trip to heaven! Home made muffins can't be beat. These fatty, sugary things they call muffins these days are loaded with lead and are more like cupcakes than muffins. And a good scone works for breakfast just as well as for afternoon tea. One of my favorite scones is whole wheat with dried fruit and is served with cinnamon honey butter.

Hungry yet?

Put on the coffee or fill up the tea kettle and have breakfast!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Creating a new recipe...

Several years ago while at the mall, I bought a cookie that sounded great - White Chocolate Cherry. Well, the cookie was all sugary with about two tiny bites of white confection and maybe three pieces of dried cherries. I am not a big fan of white chocolate, but the whole idea of the sweet/sour combination intrigued me, so I decided to develop my own cookie. I made one or two attempts but was not happy and set the idea aside. But today, I determined to finish what I had started and here is the result - a chewy oatmeal based cookie with both white and dark chocolate and dried mixed berries. Try it and let me know if you like it. Buying both white chocolate and the dried berries makes this cookie a little on the expensive side, but fun to make nonetheless. Don't use white baking chips - they are sweet and milky but contain no cocoa butter. Buy a couple of good white chocolate bars and cut them up. Using good quality dark chocolate chips and dried fruit makes all the difference. Also, use pure extracts and not imitation flavors.

White Chocolate Cherry/Berry Cookies

2/3 cup butter
2/3 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Combine and mix well in a large mixing bow. Blend well, but do not overmix.

2 cups flour
2 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder

Put the oats in a blender or food processor and process until like fine flour. Combine the rest of the dry ingredients and add to the creamed mixture and mix until blended.

6 oz. dried mixed berries and cherries (or just cherries, if you prefer)
1 1/4 cups white chocolate chunks (not vanilla flavored chips)
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips*

Add to the blended mixture and stir until just mixed in. I used a 1 oz. food disher (2 Tbs.) to drop the cookies onto the cookie sheets. Bake in 375 oven for about 12 minutes, depending on your type of cookie sheet and your oven. Cool on pan for a couple of minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.

*You can vary the amount of white chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate to your preference. I think next time, I may do 1 cup of each or use more semi-sweet and less white chocolate.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Collecting Recipes

Because I have always liked to cook and bake, over the years, I have collected a lot of recipes. No, I will never be Emeril or Paula Deen, but I have my own treasured collection of recipes, some of which I have tweaked to suit my taste buds and some are just classics that show up in cook book after cookbook. I have no desire to become a celebrity, but I do enjoy putting my cook books and stories together for my friends and family!

This weekend, I was looking for a cookie recipe that would suit a request for a friend's birthday. I found one that sounded perfect, but I was not happy with the results, even though I made them twice, tweaking here and there. They ended up in the garbage - literally! So I searched online again and found one that worked. Even though I have many recipes, this request was for oatmeal coconut raisin cookies and my favorite oatmeal raisin cookie recipe would not accomodate the addition of coconut very well. The flavors just wouldn't have blended properly. So I went on a quest. That is how many of my recipes have come into my collection - searching through old cook books, asking family and friends, and nowadays, searching online. Recipes are meant to be shared and enjoyed.

So, here is a recipe for chocolate chip cookies that people ask me for every time I make them. I have the recipe memorized at this point in time! I searched high and low for the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe, finally got this recipe from a friend and then years later found I had it all along in an old 1971 Betty Crocker cookbook. Sometimes we search long and hard for things that are right under our noses. Hope you enjoy them!

These are what I call Heaven's Chocolate Chip Cookies:

1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup butter
2/3 cup shortening (not butter-flavored)
2 tsp. vanilla (not artificially flavored vanillin)
2 eggs

Combine and cream well, but don't overmix.

3 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Add to the creamed mixture, blending well, but again, not overmixing.

Stir in 2 cups good quality chocolate chips. Or, if you prefer, 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips and 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans.

Drop 1/4 cup dough (I use an ice cream scoop, called a disher) onto an ungreased cookie sheet and bake in a 375 degree oven for 12-14 minutes. Let cool on cookie sheet for a minute or two and then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

(This recipe will also be in the new "Cookies From The Almond Branch" which is almost ready to send to the printer.)

By the way, the recipe I found and liked that I was searching for this weekend is on and is called "Coconut Oatmeal Cookies I". I just added a cup of raisins to the recipe.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Introduction to The Almond Branch

The Almond Branch is a bed and breakfast that invites people in just because it is there waiting to be experienced. It has several guest rooms, each decorated with its own flair and flavor that speak of comfort and rest as soon as you walk through the door. The main living room is soft and friendly - just peeking into it makes you want to settle in for the evening, maybe with a good bood or good company, and perhaps in front of a warm fire if the season warrants it. One of the most wonderful places of refuge in The Almond Branch is the library which is stocked with classics and mysteries and many, many books to feed the soul and the spirit, as well as a large collection of music to soak in and find a moment of peace.

But, by far, the favorite room is the tea room. It is sunny and bright and is an indoor garden paradise. It is here in this garden that breakfast is served in the mornings and it is here that luncheons and tea parties are held in the afternoons. The food is prepared by hands that love the work and hearts that love the guests.

The Almond Branch lives in the dreams of my heart. Who knows if it will ever become a reality for me? But perhaps, if you enjoy these recipes, my dream will come true through you. So I give you these wonderful recipes, thoughts, and menus to start you on your own journey of dreaming with a wish that your dreams will carry you through life where disappointments come, dreams are broken, but the heart continues to heal and dream some more. And some of those dreams will come true.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Story of The Almond Branch

I have written a cook book with stories about a retired woman who takes all her retirement fund and savings to buy an old house to turn into a bed and breakfast with a tea room. Most of her dreams in life have died over the years and this is, in her mind, her last chance to have a dream come true. As she steps out and risks everything for this dream, she is amazed as other dreams follow suit and come to fulfilment. It is the story of everyday life and everyday dreams. She is not looking for the Pulitzer prize or for fame. She is looking for the fulfilment of her heart's desires for herself and her family.

There are twelve chapters, one for each month of the first year The Almond Branch is open. The stories are followed by the menus and recipes relating to the theme of the story. There is an underlying theme threading its way through the book, all the way to a happy ending in the last chapter.

At one time, I dreamed of owning a tea room, but, unable to find a partner and financing, I let the dream die. It was just another in a long list of dead dreams to me.

People kept asking me for my recipes, so I decided to compile them in a cook book of sorts and wrote an introduction. I showed it to a friend and she said, "More, I want more! I need to know the rest of the story!" So I wrote the stories and added the recipes and a cook book was born.

My daughter Lanette was going through a hard time shortly after my dream died and I was encouraging her to follow her heart and go after her dreams. Her response to me was ,"Why should I listen to you? You let ALL of your dreams die!" (She was not being disrespectful, she was voicing her distress of heart to me, especially since she had been dreaming with me for the tea room.) I thought about this for a moment and then answered, "The Almond Branch didn't die; it just morphed into a book."

So, that's my theme in the book. It is never too late for your dreams to come true. Sometimes they morph from what you originally envisioned, but with faith in Jesus, all things can be healed and restored and all dreams that originate from His heart for you can, and will, come true.

(To order "The Almond Branch: A Collection of Recipes to Bring Friends and Family Together", email me at, referencing the book in the subject line. The cost is $15 for the book and $3 for shipping.)

p.s. I am currently finishing a second book "Cookies From The Almond Branch". It has six categories of cookies with six stories and each story is followed by twelve cookie recipes.