Category Archives: Storytelling

Sour Cherry with Grand Marnier Creme Brulee

I recall having a traditional creme brûlée years ago and not liking it. I don’t remember where, just that this raved upon dessert tasted a bit like an eggy mess.  It turned me off completely.  Then, one Valentine’s Day, six years ago my dear sweet friend and old neighbor Allison brought Valentine desserts over to Ben and me.  Allison has this knack of having mismatched, yet whimsical, plates, bowls & cups and other trinkets in her home.  She converted me to forgoing paper napkins, due to her assortment of linen napkins I would find her using with her lunch, or serving me with a cookie on it.

There she was with two little black foiled containers filled with creme brulee sitting on one eclectic small plate; along with a cut out paper heart placed on those white paper doilies.  Allison and I shared the love of eating fine food and here she was sharing this delectable creamy treat with us. As she stood there describing her love of these specific creme brulees (from a local bakery), I stood there smiling with a very thankful heart.  What I didn’t tell her was what I was thinking, which was, “Oh, how incredibly thoughtful, but I don’t like creme brulee.  I won’t let Allison know.”  I placed the plate on the table and gave Allison a big thankful hug and said goodbye.

After I shut the door I said, “Ben, Allison brought over some dessert for us for Valentine’s Day,” to which he replied, “that’s nice.”  “Yes, it was, but do you know what she brought? (because Ben knew I wasn’t fond of creme brulee),” I said, “Creme Brulee!”  I recall Ben laughing at my predicament and then asked, “well, are you going to try it?”  Like any good foodie, regardless if past experience went awry, I responded with an astounding “Yes!”

I got two spoons and dipped my spoon to remove just a little bit.  And what I tasted was nothing like scrambled eggs mixed in cream.  It was simply heavenly.  All Ben heard was, “MMM, OHH!  Ben! (another bite) This is amazing!  You have to try this! (another bite) I could eat yours if you want!”  I was transformed.  So when my dear friend Talia was coming over for a little birthday celebration, I knew I needed to make her creme brulee.  Except, I wanted to put a spin on it by adding the sour cherry with Grand Marnier filling on the bottom.  I recommend ensuring that the creme is very cold while the brulee is warm when you serve–it’s the best way to eat it in my opinion (plus, did you know sweet is more pronounced when it is warmed up, so the cold creme doesn’t allow the sugar to become overbearing).  You’ll be sure to win over even the biggest anti-creme brulee person with this dessert.

A Year Ago: Spicy Caramel Popcorn

Sour Cherry Creme Brulee with Grand Marnier (printable recipe)

Keep the egg whites to use for another recipe. And if you stay tuned, I’ll share a Coconut Lime Macaroon recipe to utilize them.  If you don’t have a blow torch, then put your cooked & chilled creme brulee ramekins in 9×13 pan (or roasting pan) and fill it with ice, in order to keep the custards VERY cold.  Turn your broiler on and put your ramekins (with the sugar on top) sitting in the ice bath directly under the broiler for only 30 seconds.  Check the sugar (brulee) to ensure it doesn’t get too burnt.  If you need it to cook a bit more, then put it back in for another 15 seconds and continue until it reaches your desired burnt sugar liking.

Sour Cherry Filling Ingredients:

  • 1 pound fresh/frozen sour cherries ( I used frozen sour cherries that were fresh in the summer)
  • 1-2 Tb raw honey
  • 1 Tb arrowroot powder
  • 2-4 Tb Grand Marnier

Creme Brulee Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/3 cup evaporated cane juice sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out
  • 1 tsp Grand Marnier (optional)
  • 6 egg yolks, large eggs
  • 1/4 cup sugar for brulee part

Sour Cherry Filling:

Put all of the cherries, along with the juices into a heavy-bottomed saucepan (ensure there are no seeds in the cherries). Turn the heat to medium. If your cherries are frozen, wait before adding any of the other ingredients until the cherries are completely thawed. If your cherries are thawed or fresh, add 1 Tb of honey and allow to bubble, stirring occasionally. Keep it in this stage for about 10 minutes. You are working towards a nice filling consistency.

Sprinkle the arrowroot over the cherries and mix thoroughly. If the mixture is bubbling rapidly, turn the heat down, in order to avoid burning. You want it to simmer/bubble. The filling should start to set as you stir occasionally. Taste throughout to see where the filling sweetness is at. If you feel that the filling needs another tablespoon of honey, add it now. Once the filling has thickened (dip a metal spoon in the filling and it should coat it), add two tablespoon of Grand Marnier (I used 2 Tb). Adding more than two tablespoons will make the filling taste more boozy; however, once the filling is added to the ramekins and cooked with the creme, the Grand Marnier burns off a bit with just two tablespoons. Cook on stove top for an additional minute, then remove from heat to cool.

Creme Brulee Ingredients:

Combine the milk, cream, sugar, salt, and vanilla bean in a small saucepan and stir over medium heat until it reaches the boiling point. Set aside to steep until it cools down.

Preheat oven to 300 F, and adjust a rack slightly lower than center.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks & optional 1 tsp of Grand Marnier briefly. Add the cream mixture very slowly into the yolks, whisking well with each addition. Once blended, strain the mixture through a fine sieve. Put cherry filling into 8 or 9 (4-ounce) shallow ramekins (about 2 inches high) to cover bottom (about 2 tsp), then pour the custard mixture on top of the cherry filling, and bake them in a water bath for 35 to 45 minutes, until centers are softly set. “Remove from oven and cool in water bath until comfortable to handle. Cover the dishes and refrigerate for 2 hours. These can be stored for 1 or 2 days before serving.

To serve, sprinkle each top with about 1 1/2 teaspoons of brulee sugar and torch to caramelize. For thicker caramelized crunch, use more sugar.


Gluten-free Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes

Does anyone else feel like there is something altogether wonderful & magical about snow falling in the middle of the night, creating a quiet peace that is incomparable to any other? I wasn’t acquainted with this mystery in the deserts of Arizona. It wasn’t until I visited a high school friend during my freshman year Spring break in Providence, RI. It was a Friday, and all the students on the campus had left for their Spring break. Not only
was the campus and surrounding area quiet, but we soon found ourselves inside looking out to what would seem a snow globe world. Picturesque.

It reminds me of Arizona’s desert night sky. When you look up at the open clear sky, all you see is the infinite expanse of stars. Or what I refer to as “the stars beyond the stars.” Snow falling and covering the world at night creates the silence of peace beyond the silence. It reminds me of how finite I am amidst the vast accompaniment of sound. That’s a bit how I feel with every birthday celebrated, especially my kids’ birthday. This finite person, gets to relish in these moments of seeing the stars beyond the stars. Yet I get distracted or overwhelmed by the greatness of it all…the mystery. I would rather spend my time marveling and rejoicing over the unknown, the stillness of the fallen snow, or simply being given the pleasure to be still with the moment.

These moments, these treasures that I wish I could put in a locket and wear around my neck to serve as a reminder that life is worth living to its fullest.  When I see my daughters laugh and hug one another, when I see the white flag of humility waving, or when I see Veronica’s progress developmentally and she isn’t even aware she has a delay (because she sees the stars beyond the stars).  Oh how wonderful it is to look at the world like that.  I think having Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes also makes it easier for a four years old (or 30, 40, 50 yrs).

A Year Ago: Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes, Split Pea Soup, & Mustard Roasted Cauliflower

Gluten-free Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes (printable recipe)

This recipe has been adapted from my non-GF recipe.  Both are wonderful and they are a sure hit at kid’s parties and the adults like to eat them too.  A note about measuring almond flour.  I use a blanched almond flour and I scoop it out with a spoon and put it in my measuring cup.  I encourage you to use a scale, which will get the most accurate results; however, I know that is not always an option.  Do NOT scoop out with your measuring cup, because it will yield a higher weight than what my recipe requires.

Cupcakes Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups (180 g) almond flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (120 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (65 g) light agave nectar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup (170 g) whole milk
  • 1/4 cup (30 g) multi-colored confetti sprinkles
  • 12 cupcake GF sugar wafer cones

Whipped Cream Frosting

  • 1 cup cold heavy whipping cream
  • 1-2 Tb light agave nectar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • Preheat the oven to 350.  Place the wafer cones in the muffin pan.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter & sugar until well blended.  Beat in the egg and vanilla until light.  With the mixer on low speed, gradually add half of the almond flour mixture, then the milk and then the rest of the flour mixture until well blended.  Fold in the confetti sprinkles into the batter.  Using a small ice cream scooper/cookie dough scooper, divide the batter evenly among the 12 cupcake cones.
  • Bake the cupcake cones for 20-25 minutes.  When you press lightly in the middle of the cone, they should spring back.  Let them cool on a cooling rack until they’re completely cooled.
  • While the cupcakes are in the oven.  Put your metal mixing bowl and whisk attachment in the freezer.  Allow them to get cold (about 15 minutes).  Remove the bowl & whisk attachment.  Add cold heavy whipping cream to the bowl.  Beat on high speed until stiff peaks form.  Add the agave nectar & vanilla and beat on low speed a bit more, just until they are mixed throughout the whipped cream.  If you want to add a color to it, do so now and fold it in with a rubber spatula.
  • Prepare a pastry bag fitted with a star tip.  Twist the bag right above the tip and push it gently inside the tip, in order to avoid the frosting from coming out.  Turn down the opened end of the bag one inch down.  Place the pastry bag, tip side down, into a glass.  Using a rubber spatula, fill the bag with the whipped cream frosting.  Twist the bag, in order to keep the frosting from squeezing out.  Pipe the whipped cream frosting onto the cupcakes and sprinkle with additional confetti sprinkles.

It’s a Birthday Week and a New Year!

I’ve adopted having a birthday week as of last year.  Too much stuff to cram in on one day.  V turns four on Sunday and it continues to blow my mind that she continues to grow & age and I cannot ever have yesterday back.  She’s a delightful kid with a crazy imagination, the kindest heart that you could encounter, tons of emotion (which she is getting under control with every year under her belt), and has me quite smitten.  Last year we went to the mall to get a charm bracelet, along with a charm.  We started the week by picking out a new charm (Hello Kitty was the charm of choice–I was hoping she went for the donut), which left Tayers in tears saying, “I want a bwaycwet, toooo!”

Birthday week means doing special little things everyday with anticipation for the “birth” day.  And since I get a bit nostalgic, I retell her of a mommy & daddy living in a little duplex awaiting the birth of their first child.  With a middle name like ‘Storey,’ it’s no wonder she sits absolutely quiet, staring intently, while her little mind is picturing how the story looks (it’s also no wonder she asks us to tell a story at least 10 times a day).

In honor of birthday week, we will also be doing some special food items.  I haven’t made scones or muffins in a while, and these are the times to celebrate (still eating paleo).  She has already planned on having Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes for her birthday cake of choice (by the way, this recipe is my number one recipe viewed here–it’s that good).  The difference is that I’m going to use GF ice cream cones and swap out the flour with almond flour, or coconut flour.  We will also be putting butterflies on top (a new V fad).

As for our family, Ben has initiated a technology black out starting at 5pm the whole week.  I’m looking forward to unplugging with a purpose.  He also initiated a little family retreat, which will be a couple of days next week. This year I’m going to embrace simplicity & contentment.  I see how this area has been blooming in my eating & exercise life.  I’ve found peace in feeding my body whole, clean food; as well as, learning how to find contentment when the stress waves hit me by not quenching it with a food “treat.”  I’m seeing this needing to be applied in our finances, our family time, and general interactions with others.  I’ve been asking questions, “Do I need to buy something to make me happy?  In order to make a meaningful time with my family (Ben, or a date with the girls), do I need to purchase something; whether, it be a hot cocoa for the girls, toy, trinket, etc?  How can we enjoy “being” together without the other stuff?

I’m reminded how music is so integral to who I am.  I love singing, creating music and listening to good music.  It’s something I’ve put on the back burner.  This 2011 is about me picking up my ole’ Washburn, that has not seen light more than five times in the past year, and creating with it.  But don’t despair, I will still be creating in the kitchen, too!  What’s been mulling around in your head about this coming year?

A Year Ago: Meyer Lemon-Cranberry Scones

Meaty Spaghetti Sauce on Spaghetti Squash

One of my favorite meals growing up was spaghetti.  And I can see why my mom made it fairly often.  It was quick, relatively easy and no one complained.  Sometimes when money was tight, she might buy that really horrible powdered spaghetti sauce mix (I believe it’s in between the taco seasoning and biscuits & gravy powdered mixes).  Talk about disappointment.  You walk into the kitchen to find noodles boiling in water, spaghetti sauce on another burner and soon it would dinner paradise.  Only to realize that my mom was trying to use chopped up olives & mushrooms to mask the taste of astronaut spaghetti sauce.

To give my mom credit, she did make a killer lasagna (thanks mom).  And she wasn’t a ‘horrible’ cook or anything, it’s just that I may have branched out a bit more (does anyone else find it interesting that spices were a novelty in the 80s home?).  Well, this Spaghetti Meat Sauce is good.  And when I say meat sauce, I mean, MEAT SAUCE.  I’m not talking about skimpy amounts of beef where the ratio between tomato sauce & meat is more like a “flavored” meat sauce.  I’m not talking about Ragu.  I’m talking about meat being the main ingredient.  At the end of this meal you won’t find yourself saying, “Where’s the beef?”  The 80s is gone my friends, so retire your lemon pepper, Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, dressing in a bottle for Iceburg lettuce salad (in case you still have it in your cupboard).  Enjoy the first time ever–picture tutorial!

Clean Spaghetti Squash pricked with a fork all over--ready for destination oven.


Cooked for an hour in the oven at 350. Sliced in half, remove the seeds, and scrap with a fork to produce "noodles."


Meet the carrots, no need to peel.


Yes blurry, but do you see my fingers curved inward--do this!


Using the curved fingers to hold the carrot (above pic) and holding the knife with the other hand. Thinly slice off a side, turn it over to slice another. Until all sides are sliced.

Until it looks similar to a Lincoln Log.


Now cut them into four smaller logs, like so.


Get them lined up, ready for a small dice.

They should look something like this, but no one will judge if they're not.


Oh those cute little diced carrots.


Celery. Start the cut here and keep rocking it to get more julienne-like cuts. Then small dice.

Meet Mr. Onion who will only make you cry.


Once again, pay attention to finger positioning to avoid chopping your finger off. Cut off the top portion, not the scraggly root portion.

After slicing it in half and keeping the root intact. Put one hand on top.


With the edge of the chef knife, begin to make a slice at the bottom of the onion. Use your hand on top to help it through if need be.

As you can see, I've created three slices, which will give me four layers. And notice the knife has not come in contact with the root.


Here's a front shot of the sliced onion, now for the vertical slices.

Vertical slices. Use the tip of your chef knife to do this.



Now it's time to cut it into a small dice.


I poured about 2 Tb olive oil in my dutch oven over medium heat. After heated a bit, I added the mirepoix.

Skipped a couple steps, but do you blame me--I was hungry.

Dinner is served.

A Year Ago: Roasting a Chicken or Cleaning the Carpet

Meat Sauce with Spaghetti Squash (printable recipe)

I’m a big fan of meat sauce, not so much meatballs, but give me meat sauce and I’m a happy woman.  However, I rarely make it for my family, because of the pasta noodles.  This is a perfect little compromise in my book and my girls don’t care anyway, because they’ll eat just the meat sauce (my kind of girls).


1 spaghetti squash

2 Tb extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, small dice
2 carrots, small dice
1 celery stick, small dice
1 tsp sea salt
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
2 Tb tomato paste
3 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped up small (not oil packed)
1 lb grass-fed hamburger beef
1 lb pastured pork sausage (no flavoring, but you could if you want)
2 cans (14 oz ea) diced tomatoes
2 (more) Tb tomato paste
2 tsp dried oregano
1 bay leaf
salt & pepper to taste

Directions: Preheat oven to 350.  Once it’s heated, place a sheet of aluminum foil on the middle rack and place your cleaned spaghetti squash on top.  Bake for 1 hour.

Mirepoix: There are two types of mirepoix’s.  The one I’m using is the traditional mirepoix, which is simply a mixture of diced carrots, onions, & celery.  I am choosing extra virgin olive oil instead of butter to cook it.  Do a small dice on each of the vegetables.  Add the olive oil to your heavy duty pot and turn heat to medium.  Give it a minute to heat up, then add the vegetables.  Stirring and avoid burning or adding color at all to your onions.  After it’s been cooking for 1 minute or so, add the salt.  Stir and cook for an additional 4 minutes, or till the onions are soft.

Add the finely diced garlic to the mirepoix and stir constantly for 30 seconds.  Now add the first round of 2 Tb tomato paste.  Mix completely with the mirepoix and cook for 1 minute.  Add the chopped up sun dried tomatoes.  Stir an additional 20 seconds.  Now add both meats.  Stir the mirepoix/tomato mixture all into the meats, until thoroughly incorporated.  Stir occasionally to evenly cook the meat.  Once the meat is mostly cooked (small to little traces of pink left), add the diced tomatoes and stir around.  Turn the heat to low/simmer.

Add the bay leaf.  Place the oregano in your hand and grind it up in your hand to release the oils in it.  Now add it to the pot.  Add the remainder 2 Tb tomato paste & stir around. Cover and allow to simmer for anywhere between 20 minutes to 1 hour.  If you have it on simmer for longer than 30 minutes, check on it periodically and stir.  Season with salt & pepper before serving.

Your squash should be able to be sliced without any give.  Scoop out the seeds.  Get a medium bowl ready.  With a fork, scrap the squash and you will begin to see it turn into miniature spaghetti “noodles.”  Put the spaghetti squash into the bowl.  Serve the squash and top with your meat sauce.

Serves: 8-10

Telling Your Story

What’s that saying, “to those who have been given much, much is expected?”  Or something along those lines.  Story is the same way.  If I can substitute it, “to those who have been given a story…then share it.”  When I was pregnant with my oldest, I began to bleed while she was 7 weeks in the womb.  Ben was out of town and I was a mess.  My most wonderful boss & friend, Carol, and her husband John were persistent on having me stay the night at their house to ease my mind & heart.  It was just before that time, I began asking God what we should name our child.  My worries were eased as I heard “joy amidst the trial” (to which we did receive joy 8 months later) and knew this child would bring joy.

We ended up having a list of 10 boy names & 10 girl names, which we decided we would narrow down for a first & middle.  Each name having a good, solid meaning.  At the time of my pregnancy (and prior), I was known by many of the children at Hillcrest Kids Early Learning as the storyteller.  I had the privilege of telling them God’s story everyday in the summer–what a treat.  So, while Ben and I were looking at our top 10 girl’s list, we had decided upon ‘Veronica,’ meaning true image of Christ.  We began looking at the list for middle names; but, I went against the “rule” and chose a name not on the list.  I suggested ‘Storey.’  Ben wasn’t sold at first.

Storey means “strong & powerful.”  Such a vivid & beautiful depiction of the word.  I told him that if this was a girl inside, then she’s apart of God’s story, which is strong & powerful.  Yet, she would have her own story to tell and encourage others in; as well as, help others find their story.  It was about two weeks later that Ben & I were walking home from an evening church service where he said, “You know, I’ve decided I like the name Storey for a middle name; because, this child will be apart of God’s story and it’s like we’re saying in giving her this name–‘here’s your story and be sure to help others find theirs too–to find their story intermingled with God’s story.'”  I turned and smiled.  He must have forgotten that I said about the same thing.

What about your Story:

Some of us have wretched stories, fantastic stories, dark stories and redeemed stories.  But whatever story you have, it’s yours and it was given to you for a purpose.  Part of my story includes family dysfunction, brokenness and a bit more hardship than others.  But the exciting notion is that it’s mine, and I get to choose what I do with it.  Some choose to continue living a wretched, dark story, while others choose to embrace a redemption lost story.  Mine, well, I’m constantly choosing to see the bad for what it’s worth and allow Jesus to come into the dark parts.  Because who wants to listen to a story without hope? I’m thankful for how hard life has been in my formative years, because it wouldn’t have made me who I am now.

Tonight I get to share a little snippet of my story with people in my church family, which I hope to share a bit later with you.  What I do know is your past is history, your future is mysterious and your present is worth living & telling about now.  I want to leave you with a comment I received in the summer from Ashley, who tells a bit of her story.  How her story formed in her a heart of hospitality & a life of evangitality:

1. I think my heart for hospitality began to grow at a very young age. Hospitality is a strong characteristic of my mother. And I always remember having people over or bringing food/hospitality to people. I LOVED to help my mom with cooking, baking, making cards and other trinkets, whatever it may be. When I was in middle school however, my dad left our family and not only that, but left us in a great deal of poverty. Suddenly, the roles were reversed. Where we were once the ones who were able to bless, we were in great need of support to make it through the day. I don’t know that there is any one specific example that I can point out from this time, but I do remember day after day feeling overwhelmingly blessed and grateful for the hospitality of others. Meals, bags of groceries, gift certificates to still do things as a family, people who fixed our car, helped mow the lawn, etc. And it wasn’t just for a while, it went on throughout the years, beyond what we ever could have fathomed – the Lord was gracious and looking out for us through the expression of hospitality from others. Although this time was a painful road for all of us, I still am able to look back on the last of my growing up years with joy in God’s faithfulness brought to us by hospitality. These years of hospitality have only enriched my heart and desire to serve and bring God’s joy and faithfulness to others as well.

Lemon Poppy Seed Strawberry Shortcake

My little girl loves Strawberry Shortcake.  Well, the dessert, but mainly the cute character I grew to love at the same age.  I’m sure if her and I were the same age, we’d probably be friends as we share similar affinities.

Growing up we would regularly eat strawberry shortcakes in the summer.  My dad was (and is) the fruit king.  It wasn’t uncommon to find heaping amounts of peaches, nectarines, plums & cherries all at the same time in June & July, with a couple of trips to the market throughout the week.  It’s no surprise my younger brother at age three consumed two whole watermelons in one sitting at our church’s watermelon bust.  Frequently on a Sunday evening, my father would begin cutting up fruit for the BIG fruit salad as we sat around like seagulls awaiting our victory.

When it came time for strawberry shortcakes, I was designated strawberry huller.  I must say that I am a veteran strawberry huller.  I don’t mess around with the huller device, but a small paring knife, removing the stem & inner middle (not just chopping off the top–isn’t that a crime?).  Unfortunately, our idea of shortcakes was the spongy prepackaged cakes.  It’s interesting that I wasn’t completely fond of them as a kid.  However, when I would taste various versions of biscuit shortcakes in former years, they were either dry, or felt like gravy should be the topping.

I had put off the search for a while, then shortly after Ben & I got married I came across this recipe thinking that it might just be the summer to redeem the strawberry shortcake.  And folks, this is it.  The lemon poppy seed version was first made two weeks ago, while I normally stick to the original cream version.  They’re reminiscent of flaky, creamy English cream scones, except with more cream.  And this isn’t time to watch your figure, but completely indulge in summer goodness of sweet, seasonal strawberries, flaky cream shortcakes & billows of freshly whipped cream.  A perfect end to a fourth of July meal.  You could easily make the original version (directions below) or put a spin on it with the lemon & poppy seed.  Whatever you do–these should be on your menu this weekend (also try Heirloom Tomato & Watermelon Salad).  What are some of your fourth of July food memories?  Don’t forget to take part in the free giveaway!

Lemon-Poppy Seed Shortcakes (printable recipe)

This recipe is from Fine Cooking magazine.  You can easily make these shortcakes as plain, by omitting the poppy seeds & lemon juice, and using 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream instead.  Another option for the lemon poppy seed shortcakes is by using half strawberries & the other half blueberries.


For Shortcakes:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 2 Tb granulated sugar
1 1/2 Tb baking powder
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup plus 2 Tb lemon zest
6 ounces (3/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 Tb poppy seeds
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

For Strawberries:
5 cups sliced strawberries
1 – 2 Tb granulated sugar

For Whipped Cream:
1 1/2 cups cold heavy whipping cream
2 Tb granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Shortcakes Directions:  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder & salt into a large bowl.  Add the lemon zest and toss throughout the mixture.  Cut the butter into the dry mixture with a pastry blender or two knives until the largest butter is the size of peas.  Add the poppy seeds and mix around lightly.

Make a well in the center of the mixture and pour in the cream.  Mix with a fork until the dough is evenly moistened and just combined; it should look shaggy and still feel a little dry.

Gently knead by hand five or six times to pick up any dry ingredients remaining in the bottom of the bowl and to create a loose ball.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat it into an 8-inch square, 3/4 to 1 inch thick.  Transfer to parchment-lined baking sheet, cover with plastic to chill for 20 minutes.

While dough is chilling, Heat oven to 425.  Remove dough from fridge & cut (using a sharp chef’s knife or bench knife) and cut into 9 squares.  Space apart on parchment-lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart.  Brush each shortcake with cream & sprinkle coarse sugar on top.  Bake for 18 to 20 minutes.  When done, let cool at room temperature.

Strawberries:  While shortcakes are baking, slice strawberries and place in bowl, along with one tablespoon of sugar.  Mix together and allow to macerate for 30 minutes at room temperature.

Whipped Cream:  In a chilled bowl of an electric mixer with a chilled whisk, add cold whipped cream.  Beat on high until it begins to thicken.  Add vanilla & sugar, then continue beating till billowy, soft peaks form.  **If you want lemon whipped cream, then add 2 Tb of lemon juice in place of vanilla.

Strawberry Margaritas

Nothing says summer quite like strawberries.  I keep holding back at the grocery store as they taunt me to succumb to temptation (and while my three-year old shouts, “OH MAMA—IT’S STRAWBERRIES).  But, I’m standing firm, waiting patiently for local strawberries.  And let me tell you, we bought this small little pint of strawberries a week back at the Wednesday market, which were divine.  They were everything a strawberry should be…slightly firm, sweet little jewels to be eaten solo.  The girls had theirs with lunch while I sneaked a few in my spinach, chevre salad.

I have fond memories of my dad bringing home a flat of strawberries and we would devour them.  There was one not so fond memory when I was seven years old.  Our good family friends were in town visiting, my dad had a flat of strawberries out and let it be said, “kids don’t care about dirt,” let alone on strawberries.  I would pick one up and kind of brush it off and take a bite.  Hit repeat…again and again.

Then, I spotted one of the big, really red strawberries at the bottom of one of the baskets, thinking I hit the mother lode.  I pulled back the green leaves and took a big bite; when all of a sudden, I felt something move in my mouth.  I still shudder thinking about it.  I spit everything out all over the carpet and scream.  Then, I see what it was and shiver saying, “EWWW!!! ACCKKK!”  My family probably thinking I was dramatizing the part no sooner started saying the same “ewww’s & aaacckk’s.” What was in that strawberry?

An earwig.  Absolutely, positively one of the most disgusting things to be in my mouth.  However, did it stop me from eating from the flat of strawberries?  No.  What it did was it made me the designated cleaner & huller of the strawberries.  It’s because they’re that good.  With sun on the horizon in the PacNW, or already in clear view in your neighborhood, kick it off right by making these Strawberry Margaritas.  And since the recipe uses a strawberry puree you’ll be sure to know it will be earwig free.

Strawberry Margaritas (printable recipe)

This recipe is adapted from Rick Bayless website.

1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/8 cup unrefined sugar
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup strawberry puree
1/2 cup tequila
about 1/2 cup ice
coarse salt 

In a measuring cup, combine lime, sugar, and water.  Set aside.  In another measuring cup, measure out tequila & strawberry puree–mix.  Prepare two martini or margarita glasses by rubbing lime around the rim, then dip them in a dish of coarse salt. Pour limeade mixture & liquor mixture into a shaker, add ice & shake for 10-15 seconds.  Pour the margarita into prepared glasses.  Serves 2 large margaritas or 3 small.


When the second Sunday of May hit, I don’t think I ever truly recognized how wonderful this day should be for my mother.  We would go to Sunday service where it seemed every year Mrs. McCloud would lead us kids through the making of the tissue carnation scented with some perfume to give to our mothers.  I would proudly give my mom the special carnation, while just moments before sitting in the service (pre-sermon) receiving real carnations.  They had white ones, red ones, & pink ones.

Now, it just so happens that my mom’s favorite flower is a carnation.  Nothing spectacular about the carnation really, but seems fitting that on Mother’s Day, she was guaranteed to get at least one real one and 2-3 tissue ones.   The red carnation was for the women who held the long-honored job as mama.  The pink carnation was for those who’s mother was living & celebrate her.  While the white, was for the people who have lost their mother–to honor them & recognize the mourning which comes for those who don’t get celebrate that special woman.

My Grandma Cox, brother & me

On the way to church service today, with my two girls in the back, me actually dressed nice & Ben (the best husband & father I could ask for), I began to ponder what it would be like to hold that white carnation on a day like this.

I spoke to Ben about my Grandma Cox.  She died at a very early age to cancer.  When I was a kid (and even a teenager), I never truly grasped how death robbed her in her young age.  For me, 57 seemed old.  My mom was 31 when my Grandma died.  I’m 30 and I cannot imagine my mom not being here the same time next year.  There was my mom, holding that white carnation & red carnation at 32–bittersweet.

I’m thankful I have no white carnations in my bouquet.  I’m thankful to be a mama, which I take for granted as many women long for this prized gift, yet have not seen their hope fulfilled.  I’m especially thankful & grateful for my mom & my mother-in-law, Cherie.

My mother-in-law, Cherie, Me, & father-in-law, Steve

My mother-in-law, Cherie is certainly the best second mom I could ask for.  Ben takes after his mom with her quiet demeanor and steady/patient love.  She has always welcomed me into their home.  One thing I love about her is how important sending cards in the mail is to her.  That’s part of her welcoming me in & making sure I’m cared for.  There is always a birthday card for me before my birthday, or cards for the girls, or Ben.  She makes a big deal of these days & it means so much to me.  Her attention to detail is truly phenomenal.  When we go to a restaurant, she is sure to have Grandma toys in her purse & snacks.  She’s a devoted wife (36 years).  She works without complaining and is very insightful about life in general.  She is completely smitten over her granddaughters & turns a $5 Goodwill find into a treasure.  Happy Mother’s Day Cherie–we love you!

Me & my mom

And my mom.  She has taught me how to be gracious and ask forgiveness when she’s wrong.  I can recall many instances where she lost her temper, but came to me in tears admitting her wrong & asking for forgiveness.  Her humility has imprinted itself upon the way I parent.  She knows how to have fun & not take life so seriously.  She has defended me & is probably my biggest advocate.  She is quick to heap words of praise upon me, give me fresh perspective or wipe away doubt in my parenting troubles.  She respects me as a person.  I’ve seen our relationship blossom more & more over the years, as she takes heart to what I say & doesn’t undermine me.  My mom has an approachability about her.  She has a teachable spirit.  She has had a tough life.  And although she’s definitely not perfect–I think she’s done the best with what she’s been given.  She adores her children & grandchildren.  If you ever have a chance to meet her–I’m sure you’ll be at ease right away & be laughing. I love you mom!

Both my mom & Cherie have said, “I’m not a kid person,” or “I’m not very good with other people’s kids…but once I had my kids, well that’s different.”  Thanks to my two moms who have sacrificed with sleepless nights, terrible twos (3, 4, 13-18), worried, prayed hard, cried & cried, released us out of your hands, taught us, encouraged us & never stopped loving us.  We love you!

Cinco de Mayo

I joke about Cinco de Mayo with Ben by saying, “my people” are celebrating today.  Now before I go any further, it’s more making fun of me as I have 1/4 Mexican blood in me & would just as much pass for being Mexican as I would Lebanese.  So when people find out that this “white girl” is actually Mexican (with my great grandmother on the last train into the US before the borders closed)–they give me second looks & start asking questions.  Ben pokes fun of my grandiose pride, because he thinks it’s a bit ridiculous how big I talk; yet, so little of the actual blood that runs through me (yeah so what).

However, in my defense, I grew up in a border town really understanding the culture, my grandfather lives in Mexico, my dad is bilingual (so I heard Spanish all the time–yet didn’t really learn it), my adopted family are 100% Mexican (so that counts for me for something), my surname is Soto/Sotomayor (long story), I know what real Mexican food (at least in Sonora region) tastes like, and although I speak very little Spanish–I have the accent & understand the Spanish alphabet.  All of these count for something–right?

With Cinco de Mayo happening tomorrow, I thought I should direct you towards a couple Mexican dishes worthy of making to celebrate. Even though Cinco de Mayo isn’t really that big in Mexico (Battle of Puebla against the French)–here in the U.S. it is, so now you have a reason to embrace Mexican culture.  So make some posole, machaca, or spanish rice.  And do yourself a favor by using corn tortilla with both, chopped up radishes, lime wedges, salt, shredded cabbage & fresh cilantro.  Really–for those of you who are flour tortilla lovers–pay homage on at least one day of the year to use the tortilla accordingly to the correct dish, while the relegating the flour tortilla for quesadillas, warmed with butter on top & rolled, or a bean burrito.

What is your tortilla of choice?  How do you use them?  And what are some of you most beloved Mexican dishes?

Comfort of Chicken-n-Dumplings

One of my favorite summer events was going camping with other family’s from our church family.  We would go to Indian Hills in the Laguna Mountains right outside of San Diego (one benefit of growing up in a town like Yuma, AZ).  The parents would do who knows what, while us kids would find the most willing & easily taken advantage of adult to take us to the pool.  We would also try to get some wax paper from the ladies who made the meals, because there was the monster of all slides with other puny playground equipment around.

After watching Swiss Family Robinson, I was convinced that living on a deserted island in a tree was pretty much the best place ever.  And here in the middle of Indian Hills was a tree house that emulated all I ever dreamed.  Aside from the stairs leading up to the tree house (the key was “Don’t Look Down!”), once you got to the top we would run toward our destiny–our anticipated ride down.  The ride being the largest slide I have ever encountered.  It was as if we were Fred Flintstone for a mere section in the opening credits as he slid down the Brontosaurus’ neck.  In fact, the camp specifically had painted on the wooden side enclosing the slide, “NO WAX PAPER.”  But we threw caution to the wind.  At that very moment, we embraced all that we knew to be a kid.  So what did we do?  We would sneak some up anyway.   There was a thrill knowing we were breaking the rules, in order to gain that perfect amount of speed and a little bit of vertigo.  All for round two & three and so one as we raced back to the stairs to start again.  It’s no wonder that kids are innately born with tons of energy with no awareness that their play is actually exercise.  Any rational person would quickly realize the time it took us to climb up wasn’t worth the ride down.  But we were living dangerously with our smuggled in wax paper.

It was also no wonder that when dinner time hit, we were starving like the deserted inhabitants we envisioned ourselves to be.  While the Swiss Family Robinson’s dream hit the fan around 4:30, as we whimpered to our parents about our stomachs eating themselves.  I strolled on over to the eating area around 4:00 where Gramma Naomi Quinn was preparing dinner for us.  Now, Gramma Quinn was that quintessential, older lady that you envision having rhythm in the kitchen.  She knew what paired well.  She knew how to feed an army.  And she knew how to give some of the best, big Gramma hugs a child (or adult) could imagine.

She was known by everyone as Gramma Quinn.  When our church did a baking auction to raise money for the Youth Group, her homemade cinnamon rolls were the big ticket item.  Because with those simple six words, “They were made by Gramma Quinn,” had more clout than a notary stamp.  She came up to me, as I shivered in the cool breeze, and asked, “Kamille, what would you like me to fix for dinner?”  By her asking me that question, it made me think the following:  a.) I would be picking dinner for everyone else b.) that “Gramma Quinn” only asked me & no one else and c.) knowing she made the best (and only) Chicken-n-Dumplings I ever tasted in my whole seven years of living.  “Your chicken-n-dumplings please!”, I replied.  She smiled and said, “Well, I think that would be perfect on a cool evening like this.  (and indulging me a little bit) And do you think that would hit the spot for you?”  “Oh YES!,” I said.

Me (8 yrs), Andrew (2 1/2 yrs), Willy (10 yrs)

That wouldn’t be the only time Gramma Quinn would make me chicken-n-dumplings, but this was the first where she made them to order on my request.  Whenever I think about the creamy, salty, buttery dumpling laced with the gravy-like stew sprinkled with pepper on top, I always think of her and how she nourished my body and my soul with her big pot of goodness and her big Gramma bear hug.  And so in her memory and my childhood nostalgia, make this hearty pot of chicken-n-dumplings.  I think you’ll be recalling your own childhood dinner stories as you take your first bite.

My recipe is a transfiguration of sorts, which I find very handy when you’re trying to cook from scratch with shortcuts..if you will.

Chicken-n-Dumplings (printable recipe)

Now there are so many ways in which you could use chicken for the recipe.  You could boil down a whole chicken, then use the chicken stock & the chicken for the soup.  Or you could use some chicken breasts & pre-made chicken stock.  Or you could buy a rotisserie chicken, remove the meat, then boil the carcass with the veggies to make your own stock.  You be the judge.


One rotissiere chicken, meat removed & cut into bite sized chunks
6 cups water
2 carrots, big chunk slices
1 onion, cut into quarters
2 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper


2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3 Tb shortening
3/4 cup buttermilk


Making the broth: In a dutch oven or big stock pot, add your chicken carcass, cold water, carrots, onion, celery & salt.  Bring to a boil, cover & lower heat.  Simmer for 45 minutes (Time saving tips below).  Remove chicken carcass.  Strain veggies out & reserve the carrots & celery (discard the onion).  Put a sieve over a bowl and ladle the chicken broth to separate any remaining particles.  Rinse your pot, pour the broth back in and keep heat on medium heat.  Now make those dumplings.

Make the dumplings: Combine the flour, baking soda and 1/2 tsp salt; cut in the shortening with a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture is consistency of coarse meal.  Add the buttermilk, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened.  Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead 4 or 5 times–no more, you’re going for biscuit like.  Pat the dough down to a 1/4-inch thickness.  Set aside.

Bringing it altogether: Put the pot of broth on medium-high heat & bring it to a boil, and stir in the milk & pepper.  Correct seasonings, if you so desire.  Take the dumplings and pinch off 1 1/2-inch pieces, one or two at a time and drop into the boiling broth & reduce the heat to medium-low.  Stir from time to time to keep the dumplings from sticking.  Continue dropping in the dumplings until there are no more.  Cook for 8 to 10 minutes.  Add the cut chicken, carrots, & celery to the pot and simmer until heated through.  Remove from heat, a couple of grinds with pepper & serve.

Time Saving Tips:

  1. Use the rotisserie chicken for the chicken, but use boxed chicken broth instead of making your own.
  2. The original recipe calls for cooking up a whole chicken for 60-70 minutes to make the broth; however, I find an already roasted chicken makes for a deeper & richer broth.