Monday, March 7, 2011

A Bit Of This And A Bit Of That.

I have an aversion to going to the grocery store. I don't know why. I have no problems getting up on Saturday morning to go to the farmer's market. I have no problem planting peas in the rain because I want to eat peas. But going to the grocery store is like pulling teeth. Thankfully my husband took that job and on top of that he takes the toddler with him EVERY TIME which is just lovely. However, sometimes he is not there and I HAVE TO bake just this minute or I need eggs and it's January and the hens are not laying and the supermarket's eggs are gross anyway.
I don't have a lot of substitutions that I have actually tried but these I use all the time:

Eggs: replace with 1/2 cup of pear or apple sauce for every egg. I make The Simple Cake without eggs now:          it makes it moist and slightly dense but light at the same time. In short it's good. I replace some of the              eggs in a lot of recipes now and it works great every time.

Almond Meal: sliced almonds in the food processor with a bit of flour (otherwise you get glue)

Buttermilk: if you want it right now mix 2 1/2 cups milk and the juice of 1 lemon. Microwave in 30 seconds                      increments until thickened.
                 If you have 24 hours and want to make more buttermilk than what you have: put 1 cup buttermilk                    in a quart jar, fill with milk, screw on the lid and shake to mix . Let rest for 24 hours in a warm                        spot. It will keep for weeks in the fridge.

Self-rising flour: mix 1 tsp baking powder for every cup of flour.

Also, while I think that whole milk, cream, butter and animal fat are important for good health, sugar and grains are less so. I have gradually reduced the amount of sugar in what I bake. You can easily remove 1/4 cup sugar and nobody will notice (I remove more than that) and you can replace one cup of regular flour with a cup of whole wheat flour without problems ( if there are several cups of flour in the recipe).

For a very complete list of substitutions try the Joy of Baking page.

                                                              Halloween 2010. Good thing I have a witch/fairy/pirate.

Now you can go mix some magic potions. For my part, I'm going to attempt a new kind of potion today: a face cream.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Strawberries, Apples and Menus.

                                                                                                                                Birthday Cake.

 There have been a lot of cakes made around these parts lately. Two birthdays, lots of rainy days and well, you know, it's winter. What could possibly be better for the soul on a cold day than coffee or hot chocolate than cake.
I know: whipped cream.
But I digress.
Although whipped cream would go very nicely with cakes AND a hot chocolate so everybody wins.
Ok, ok. So, the birthday cake was very very simple: a sponge cake, a syrup so that the cake was moist, whipped cream and strawberries.

                                                               Sponge Cake

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp almond extract or vanilla extract or orange flower water or anise extract... you get the drift...

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 9 inch cake pan with parchment  paper. Butter and flour the paper and sides of pan.

Sift the flour (I almost  never sift  flour but in the case of a sponge cake I do it because there is no baking powder in this cake and the air in the flour will help keep the cake light ).
Whisk together the egg yolks and 1/2 cup of sugar until they are light in color and thick. Mix the extract of your choosing.
Whip the egg whites until they form soft peaks then add the sugar and keep whisking until the whites are stiff and glossy. Fold a third of the egg whites  into the sugar-egg yolks mixture, fold half of the flour, fold another third of egg whites then the rest of the flour. Then what is left of the egg whites until the batter is smooth but don't overdo it.

Bake for 20-30 mns until a toothpick comes out clean. As soon as you get the cake out of the oven run a knife around the edges inside the pan. Put a wire rack on top of the pan, invert and peel off the parchment paper.
Let cool completely and cut in half. With a brush soak both halves of the cake with a syrup:

1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
Juice of 1/2 a lemon 
1 tsp of almond extract or whichever extract you choose

Over high heat bring water and sugar to a boil. When sugar is dissolved remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and extract. Let cool.

Make whipped cream with a bit of sugar. Put some in the middle with pieces of strawberries mixed in. Decorate the cake with whipped cream and strawberries.

By the way it looks a lot more lengthy on paper than it was to actually make. I think it took 30-45 mns of putting together the ingredients and decorating the cake at the most.

And now, another very very old cake recipe from France. It's always easy to spot an old-fashioned recipe: there is absolutely no restraint in the amount of butter and sugar used. I love to bake and I have made an extraordinarily high number of cakes in my life and I'm a  chocoholic.... and yet, I think this cake is my favorite. It has a thin crust of butter and sugar on top and the inside is moist, the apples melt away in your mouth and there are little pockets of gooyness on the sides. 

                                                                                                                                Apple Cake.

   With old recipes the proportions are not very exact  on top of me translating from old French but I did my best. 
                                                                              Apple Cake  

1st part:
   10 heaping tbsps of flour (I'm talking about the regular soup spoons used for eating. And Frenh soup                                                      spoons are bigger than american ones so really go for plenty of heaping. I'm not                                              sure this sentence is gramatically correct.)
   8 tbsps of sugar, not level but not heaping either ( I did warn you about about this recipe right?) 
   6 tbsps of milk
   4 tbsps of oil
   2 eggs
   3 tsp of baking powder ( mostly level... yes I know)
   3 or 4 apples

2nd part:
    1 stick of butter
    1 cup of sugar
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    2 eggs

Preheat oven to 375F and butter and flour a round cake pan. 
Whisk together the flour, sugar, milk oil and eggs until smooth. Pour in the pan and put apple slices all over the surface. Cook in the oven for 20 mns, it should just be starting to color.

In the meantime melt the butter and sugar in a saucepan. When everything is well melted remove from heat and let cool a few minutes. Whisk in the eggs. Pour on the cake after the 20 mns have passed and cook for another 20 to 25 mns until nicely golden.

All right, that was a long post. I'm going to make a separate post today on how to substitute eggs, buttermilk etc...when baking. I think it would be easier to find later that way. 

Friday, March 4, 2011


I think we forgot to wish you a happy March!

I know, I'm shamelessly giving you pictures of flowers and a toddler instead of the post I promised on cakes and ingredients substitution when baking. But you see, only 20 mns into the nap there was a diaper leak and a very cranky toddler. So we spent the entire day outside. Surely she should take a big nap tomorrow. You know, to catch up?
Right. Tomorrow then.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Cakes Are On My Mind.

Bad weather and a toddler can make for a very long day especially when you are a one car household and... today you don't have the car. On most of those days we bake. It's always fun and nobody is going to complain about the end result! I was going to post the recipes for 2 more cakes and tricks on how to replace some ingredients when baking today but time is running away from me so that will be for tomorrow.
Back to today's cake.
This is a very easy old French recipe. It's actually at least a century old and I bet a lot more than that. Since my entire family still makes it that should say something. It has been the first birthday cake for all my children, even for my third who was sensitive to dairy and soy. I modify the recipe depending on what I have at home.  You do not use measuring cups or spoons for it. Just use a regular glass ( mine holds 1 1/4 cup ). You can use a smaller or bigger glass, the only thing that will change is the cooking time. Be careful, if you go too big the edges and top of your cake will brown too quickly and the inside won't be cooked. Split it into 2 baking dishes instead.

Here is the original recipe:
                                                   The Simple Cake

Preheat the oven to 375 F

Mix 2 and a half glasses of flour
1 and a half glasses of sugar
3 tsp of baking powder
a pinch of salt
   Make a well and pour in the center:
1/4 glass of oil (I use olive oil ) and 3/4 glass of milk
2 eggs
2 tbsps of vanilla sugar, 1 tsp of vanilla extract or 1 tbsp of orange flower water (my favorite)

Here are some of the variations I have done:

Replace 1 glass of flour with 1 glass of almond meal
Replace the milk with hazelnut or oat milk
Replace the orange flower water with anise or almond extract
Add berries or fruit to the dough
Add a large handful of sliced almonds
Add 2 large handfuls of chocolate chips

Bake in the oven for 40 mns or until a knife in the middle comes out clean.

                                                                                                               The Simple Cake.

Join Rhonda at Down to Earth and post what is on your mind too.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Storms, Woodchips and Blossoms.

Our bad weather continued: hail, high winds and sheets of water. Very exciting. And even more exciting a forecast of snow for last Friday night. Sadly, by then, the storms had passed and we had a hard freeze but no snow. I had very disappointed children on my hands. Snow in sacramento... what is the world coming to?

                                                                                                                  The View From My Office.

The hard freeze though... we have those regularly and it is a big threat to farmers in the valley. Almond trees are very sensitive to frost and so are plum trees. Unfortunately, our plum tree was in full bloom when the cold weather hit. Hopefully we will still get a few plums. Usually we harvest more than 40 lbs of plums so it would be a great loss.

                                                                                                                           Plum Blossoms.

                                                                                         Plum Blossoms

Luckily most of the apricot blossoms were still shut tight. Last year was not good for apricots, maybe this year I can make apricot jam again.

                                                                                                                                Apricot Blossoms.

It was most definitely not hammock weather.

                                                                                                              The Hammock Over The Swamp.

And the yard was a swamp so nothing got done in the garden.
Well, almost nothing... Mark put wheelbarrows full of wood chips on the new-future-vegetable garden and the chickens went to work: in 2 days they had spread all the wood chips around.

I love team work.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Clean, Clean, Clean.

Do you like cleaning? I don't but that's an improvement over hating it which I did before I made my own cleaning products. Commercial cleaning products made me feel ill and I was not too impressed with their effectiveness and their cost. Especially since i didn't want to use anything harsh or bad for the earth if I could avoid it.
I tried many different formulas over 2 years and these are the one I have chosen and used for over a year now. I'm thrilled with them: they don't smell bad, have no fumes that make me fell sick, cost very little to make and best of all they work extremely well.

Laundry Powder:
Grate one bar of soap (any soap will work, it truly doesn't matter in my experience)
Add one cup of Washing Soda ( if you can't find it, ask your store to order it for you)
And one cup of Borax (in the laundry aisle).
Mix well.

I use 1 1/2 tbsp for a big load, if it is a very dirty load I use 2 tbsp. It works better than any laundry detergent I've tried before and honestly I think I've tried most of them.

Glass Cleaner:
Fill a spray bottle with Club Soda. Mmmm, that's about it. Spray, wipe. It works so much better than the stuff from the store, you have to see it to believe it.

All-purpose Cleaner: 
In a 16oz spray bottle put 2 tbsp white distilled vinegar with 1 tsp borax fill most of the bottle with very hot water. Shake until the borax is dissolved. Add 1/4 cup liquid soap and 15 drops of essential oil ( I use Lavender which is a bactericide but tea tree oil is also good by preventing mold and mildew). Shake a bit. Spray and wipe.
This recipe comes from this book:
I love the recipes. Everything I've tried worked out beautifully and it is full of tips.

And you, do you have favorite recipes you use for cleaning?

I know the picture has nothing to do with the post but the flowers remind me of fresh and clean laundry.

                                                                                     Chinese Cabbage Flowers After The Rain.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Tires, Birds and Batteries.

On Sunday was The Great Backyard Birdcount so we decided to go to The Cosumnes River Preserve like we did last year. It is an area of marshlands and you are garanteed to see thousands of birds of hundreds of different species. We saw a Golden Eagle once but at this time of the year the area is famous for the gathering of the beautiful and graceful Sandhill Cranes.
And so we left. Later that was intended but we left. As we were driving I was getting quite excited. We had had a lot of stormy weather in the past week and the skies were spectacular especially since we were getting close to sunset. We were 5 miles away when we got a flat tire. Fun, I tell you. Thankfully, my husband knows how to change a tire in 15 mns flat and it gave me time to take this:

                                                                                                                 Flat Tire.

So, after that little interlude, we continued on and arrived to the river just in time for all of this.

And it was at that point that my camera's batteries died. Yes they died. Just as the skies were turning orange and red, just as dozens after dozens of the beautiful big cranes passed over us to land gracefully in the water perfectly silhouetted in the orange skies.
And I won't even talk of the bunnies by the pier that the sunset illuminated just so that their ears were glowing softly.
Nope, I won't mention it. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Lamb's Lettuce, Rain, Sun and Hail.

We had a whole week of sun and then 3 days of rain and to my surprise one day among the spinach, Mache (aka Lamb's Lettuce or Corn Salad) appeared. I had planted it last year when it had done moderatly well. I always let a few vegetables go to seeds. I like surprises! But I had forgotten the Mache completely.
That morning I thought it would make a great lunch for the next day with a few soft boiled eggs.
Alas, later that day we had hail several time and well, the mache was just not looking so perky anymore. Ah well. Such is the life of a gardener. Luckily some of them were protected by the spinach and we ate those. Others went to very happy chickens. And of course some will go to seed. To be reborn in late fall for another surprise meal or two.

                                                                                                           Lamb's Lettuce, February 2011.

Inspired by Down To Earth. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Whipped Cream, Love and Chicken Manure.

Just a quick note on this very busy day to wish you all a Happy Valentine's Day. I'm very lucky to have so much love surrounding me and I hope you do too. Everybody should.
On that note, I'm going back to shoveling chicken manure with Mark before it starts raining again. Yes, it's very romantic don't you think?
But this evening we get time to ourselves which is very very rare... so we'll try to make the most of it.

I'll leave you with some whipped and love from the birthday boy and girl.

                                                                                                          February 2011.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

And a One, and a Two!


                                                                                                                     2 years old!         

Inspired  by  Down to Earth.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Flu And Parties.

Well, I'm going to go offline for 2 or 3 days: too many sick people to take care of including myself. I'll knit, shuttle kids to and from school, and take naps, cook healthy meals, and lounge in a bath, plan and shop for birthday parties, sleep in late, and clean the house so that peope don't get scared when they come for the aforementioned parties.
I hope that all of you who were sick are better and thank you for all your well wishes in the previous post :) 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Busy But No Bees?

We have had lovely busy days around here. Spring decided to come early it seems. With temperatures in the 65-70F range and beautiful sunny days nature around us is literally exploding. I've been outside from sun up to sun down: trimming roses ( I hesitate to call what I do pruning because it sounds like I know what I'm doing and I'm not. But it works so that's ok, my roses are full of blooms by April), digging up the old strawberry patch: the plants were too old and not producing well anymore. Laying down more cardboard, manure and bone meal in the new potager. And taking care of some of the weeds because boy, they exploded too. And the mosquitoes too. A lot less fun those.
But that's too much talking when really we just tried to soak up as much "spring" as we could. Because of course bad weather will surely come back before May arrives. But in the meantime maybe you'd like a tour of the garden on this beautiful February days?

                                                                                      Brussels Sprouts.

                                                                                         Red Russian Kale.

                                                                                             Red Russian Kale.

                                                                                     Chinese Cabbage Flowers.


                                                                                          Buds In The Sunset.


Unfortunately, by Sunday, my eldest daughter was coming down with the flu. So I've put back on my doctor's suit for a few days and I'm making this several times a day. Hopefully nobody else will get it... we have 2 birthdays to celebrate this week... Now I need a cake plan.
And there is something worrisome: in spite of 3 days of these temperatures, I haven't seen any bees. None. Usually at 65-70F I see a few. I always let some plants go to seed for them so that they have food in early spring and I have a lot of them visiting on the years before... but this year nothing. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

On My Mind.

The sun has been out for two days... time to start seed planting! Hopefully our garden this year will be as successful as last year.

                                                                                The garden in July 2010.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Of Serpents, Groundhogs and Crepes.

And more holidays coming to brighten the dark of Winter! Well, ok, it's sunny today but you know what I mean.
Actually our beautiful weather today might be a sign of some serious weather ahead.

Imbolc (on february 1st) is the day the Cailleac,  the hag of Gaelic tradition, who gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter. Legend has it that if she intends to make the winter last a good while longer, she will make sure the weather on Imbolc is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood. Therefore, people are generally relieved if Imbolc is a day of foul weather, as it means the Cailleach is asleep and winter is almost over.

And here is a Gaelic Scottish Poem about the day:
 Thig an nathair as an toll
Là donn Brìde,
Ged robh trì troighean dhen t-sneachd
Air leac an làir.

"The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bride,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground."

February 2nd is Groundhog Day in the United states. If the groundhog sees its shadow when he gets out of its burrow (therefore if the weather is sunny) it means that there will be 6 more weeks of winter. Unfortunately or fortunatly, he seems to be right only 39% of the time.

In France it's the bear that will get out of its den to predict the weather. No words on whether he is more accurate than the groundhog however...

But more importantly, on February 2nd is La Chandeleur in France. To celebrate the return of the light people will make crepes. The roundness and color of the crepe symbolizes the sun (and its return). To bring good fortune to your family for the coming year, using your left hand, flip a crepe into the air and catch it again in the pan all the while holding a gold coin in your right hand.
I know that sounds a little hard. A bit. But I promise you can do it. If you don't you'll bring doom to your family.
No pressure.
Ok. What about the recipe for the crepes?

- in between 250-300g of flour ( 1 1/4 cup )
- 4 eggs
- 1 l. milk ( 4 cups )

Put the flour in a bowl, make a well and out in the eggs. While whisking add the milk. Whisk until the batter is smooth. As best you can anyway...Let rest for an hour or two at room temperature or in the fridge overnight. It's not absolutely necessary to let the batter rest. It just makes it thicker a bit. I have done it plenty of times without resting the batter.
Butter a frying pan generously and put a laddle full of batter in the center, tilting the pan to make the crepe very thin. When the underside is golden brown, flip the crepe and cook for another minute or two.
Keep the crepe warm under foil or in a lukewarm oven while you cook them all. the recipe should make around 25 crepes.
Then, at the table, you can fill them with all sorts of fillings.You can have a savory crepe (my favorite is ham, cooked mushrooms and gruyere cheese) or sugary with jam, sugar and lemon, nutella, applesauce....

This is my family recipe. As far as I know there are as many recipes as there are families. I usually double it. It'll keep for a couple of days in the fridge and it freezes very well. It makes the best crepes in the world... naturally.

Are there any traditions about weather or this time of the year in your region?

                                                                                At least we have plenty of Firewood.

Monday, January 31, 2011


I did not have the intention of posting 2 posts in a row about our walks along the river but we went back on a very foggy morning and it was so beautiful, I thought I'd share.

                                                                           January 2011.

                                                                                                                   Does It Go To Narnia?

                                                                                                       A Turkey Vulture In Flight.

                                                                                                                                 Wild Geese.

                                                                                                       Whose Web?

                                                                                                     Velvety Mushrooms.

                                                                                              Can You Spot the Squirrel?

                                                                      Did A Faery Waved Her Wand To Bring In Spring?

                                                                 Majestic Oak.              

                                                                                 Surely The Faery Folk Live here.

                                                                                         Flight Of Geese.

                                                                                                 Beautiful Lichen.




                                                                                                                   The Deer In The Fog.
                                                                                                                                                                The Meadow.

                                                                                                                             Silhouette Of A Turkey Vulture.

                                                                                                        How Many Turkey Vultures Can You Spot? 
                                                                                                                                  Wild Turkeys.

And I'm so happy to have my little Elf to share all of this with...