Italian Cream Cake…and a Milestone Birthday

Italian Cream Cake with Mascarpone Buttercream RecipeThis birthday is not a milestone birthday for the reason you might think. It isn’t the beginning of a new decade for me.  No, it’s much more significant than that.  Ten years ago, just a day or two before my forty-seventh birthday, I received my first chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer.  On that birthday,  I wasn’t thinking much about my age.  I wasn’t thinking much about anything except fighting for my life.  The passage of time had taken on new meaning  Instead of dreading the thought of getting older, each year’s passing brought me out of the darkness of fear and into the light of recovery.
Italian Cream Cake with Mascarpone Buttercream  RecipeBy the time I reached my middle years, I had grown wise enough to realize the importance of living in the present moment.  Never one to wish away time, I was suddenly fixated on the future.  Jael was only thirteen at the time, and so often I found myself lost in “what if” thinking.  Those thoughts were unbearable, but they were also what fueled my fight.
Italian Cream Cake with Mascarpone Buttercream  Recipe So here I am!  Ten years later!!  Celebrating bigger than ever this birthday.  The passing of years has brought peace of mind and an odd sense of accomplishment.  To be sure, I did not win my fight through will alone.  With the love and support of family and friends, and the good fortune to have had great doctors, I am a survivor.  And as trite as it may sound, I am grateful for my journey.  The gifts along my road to recovery have been countless.
Italian Cream Cake with Mascarpone Buttercream  RecipeSo today I am celebrating by baking myself a birthday cake.  Do you know why I am baking my own cake?  Because I can!  Because getting back to my oven was a motivator when I was struggling through chemotherapy.  And because this year is special.
Italian Cream Cake with Mascarpone Buttercream  RecipeThis cake isn’t particularly fancy, but it suits my taste perfectly.   I have been intrigued with its origin for a very long time and so I did a little research.  Turns out its name is a little misleading since there isn’t anything Italian about it.  It hails from the South, which was a happy coincidence since I am a KY girl.  Each golden layer is laced with flaky coconut and studded with chopped pecans.  More pecans are folded into what is traditionally a cream cheese frosting.  On a quest to put some legitimate ‘Italian’ into my cake, I topped it with a Mascarpone Buttercream instead.  The final creation was a cake more than worthy of such a special occasion.
Italian Cream Cake with Mascarpone Buttercream  Recipe Italian Cream Cake with Mascarpone Buttercream LR-2576

Sending a special thank you to my husband for bearing with me during shooting these photos.  It was incredibly hot, and I probably gave more instructions from in front of the camera than he would have liked.  ‘Thank you, Hun, for your patience and your love!’  Below is the poem he wrote for me for my birthday.  Such a talented man.

My Love -
have between heartbeats
present and solid as stone
yielding and ephemeral.
are a constancy
as time flows.
My experience
of you
is that you are my coming
and going
are placed center
as life rises and falls.
My neshma
My breath
as I breathe in and out
rocking forward
then still
as the pulse of life
beats on.
Steady, here, present
as we swirl and dance
grasp for stars
or simply gaze at them burning
that life placed us
close together
to spend it -
such precious currency
in this little shop
of our entwined experience.
Now, a birthday,
a moment to count
how well it has been expended
Rich are we both
in love.


Note:  I researched many recipes before choosing the cake component from Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson.  If you have a fondness for heirloom recipes, you will want to pick up a copy of her book.

No-Bake Chocolate Almond Cocoa Krispie Cookies

No-Bake Chocolate Cookies RecipeLast night, in a fit of ‘I NEED chocolate, and I NEED it now’, I cooked up an old favorite cookie that requires no baking and very little effort. I’ve recently seen variations of this recipe on several other blogs.  Truth is, this cookie has been around for, well, ever.  My sister and I were stirring pots of this cocoa concoction as young girls.  It was hard to wait the few minutes while they cooled before sinking our teeth into a mound of shiny fudgey chocolate.  If you have cocoa in your pantry, and just a few other staples, you too can stir up a pot of cookie heaven in just minutes.
No-Bake Chocolate Cookies RecipeTraditionally, this cookie is made with oatmeal, and often times peanut butter is a listed ingredient.  I personalized my version by swapping Cocoa Krispies for the oatmeal, and almond butter for the peanut butter.  Nuts are optional but I added almonds for a little crunch.

Although no adult in their right mind would pass up these cookies, this is such a ‘kid friendly’ recipe.  When searching for a special treat to add to a school lunch, imagine the smile on your child’s face when they pull one of these cookies from their lunch box.  Or better yet, let the kids make them.  They will feel like such accomplished little cooks, and extras can be shared with teachers and friends!  I guarantee you they’ll be a hit!
No-Bake Chocolate Cookies Recipe




Duck Fat Biscuits with Spicy Tomato Jam

Duck Fat Biscuits with Spicy Tomato Jam RecipeFrying chicken is an art, and one which my Dad had more than mastered during his lifetime.  Dad made the best-ever fried chicken!  I don’t think he ever tired of that labor intensive task, possibly because of how much he loved to eat it, but most likely it was because he did it to please others.  Endless hours were spent at the stove frying dozens of breasts, legs, thighs, and wings, three cast iron skillets going at the same time.  Whether it was destined for Sunday brunch, a picnic, or an ordinary weekday meal, it was a special day when fried chicken was on the menu.  Creamy mashed potatoes, milk gravy, and flakey biscuits most often were among the supporting cast of sides when golden, crispy fried chicken made an appearance at our table.
Duck Fat Biscuits with Spicy Tomato Jam RecipeA couple of weeks ago, J’s significant other Michael (who was visiting us from NY) requested a fried chicken dinner before heading back to school.   It had been quite some time since I last pulled out the old iron skillets for the purpose of frying some birds.  Michael, who purports to be a better cook than me  - (Wink Wink), offered his help and together we made succotash, mashed potatoes, gravy, and biscuits – all the required side dishes necessary to fully enjoy a fried chicken dinner.  Dad would have been proud.
Duck Fat Biscuits with Spicy Tomato Jam RecipeDuck Fat Biscuits with Spicy Tomato Jam Recipe
I have made countless biscuit recipes over my baking lifetime, and although many have been very good, I haven’t completely fallen in love with any particular one to deem it my ‘favorite’.  I am on a constant search for a biscuit that replicates those that my Grandma and Dad use to make.  Although the recipe I am sharing here is nothing at all like the one of my memories, it is a darn good biscuit, and one I know I will be making over and over again.  The first time I baked these little gems was the night we made our chicken dinner.  Wow, is all I can say!  They were so tender and buttery that they didn’t even need the gravy.  Of course that didn’t stop me from ladling it all over the top of the biscuits anyway.  For quite awhile now, I have had Duck Fat Biscuits queued up on my list of recipes to develop.   Well, finally, here it is.  A simple substitution of duck fat for the butter, and an even more fabulous biscuit was born.
Duck Fat Biscuits with Spicy Tomato Jam RecipeAs for the tomato jam, it too has been on my list of recipes to develop.  Last week while working on the recipe for these biscuits,  I became the serendipitous recipient of tomatoes from my friend’s garden.  She asked me to water her plants while she was on vacation, and offered in return all the tomatoes that were going to come ripe on the vines while she was away.
Duck Fat Biscuits with Spicy Tomato Jam RecipeDon’t you just love when a taste you have in mind for a recipe you are making turns out exactly as anticipated.  Such is the story with this jam.  A blend of Middle Eastern spices impart a savory warmth to the tomatoes, while the heat from dried Aleppo and Ancho chilies lend a spicy edge.  This jam reminds me very much of a chutney.  Jam/Chutney, either way, it proved to be the perfect topping for these biscuits.  I think you will agree that the way they compliment each other is just ‘Ducky’.  ( Ha, I couldn’t resist.)
Duck Fat Biscuits with Spicy Tomato Jam Recipe 


Source:  Biscuits adapted  from Heartland by Marcia Adams / Spicy Tomato Jam adapted from a recipe by Adam Ried

Peach Nectarine Cherry Pie

Peach Nectarine Cherry Pie RecipeYAY!  I’m back!!  A very long and event-filled 8 weeks has passed since last I posted.  During those weeks there was a Houseboat family vacation, a trip to Europe, a long weekend in Palm Springs celebrating Auntie Lil’s 90th birthday, and houseguests galore!  WHEW!  I will have plenty to share about all those wonderful things in a coming post but for now, let’s talk PIE!!!
Peach Nectarine Cherry Pie RecipeWhile I was in Europe, I ate my way through more pastries than the average vacationer.  As a baker I felt it my obligation to do some research while I had the opportunity.  But in truth, it was mostly about how much I love sweets and baked goods.  And, when I wasn’t eating pastries, I was doing a face plant into scoops of gelato.  Yes, I love ice cream/gelato even more than pastries and so I ate it at every stop, sometimes even twice a day.  True confession – one day I had two big scoops of gelato before noon.  No excuses, apologies, or regrets.  :)
Peach Nectarine Cherry Pie RecipeAll that said, by the time I re-entered the States, I was more than ready for some good old-fashioned American desserts.  The farmers market stalls were brimming over with ripe stone fruits, making it impossible to choose just one as the star of this pie.  This is absolutely my favorite ‘fruit’ time of the year.  I could eat plump, meaty cherries all day long.  Since nectarines and peaches are also right up there at the top of my list of irresistible summer cravings, I decided to feed that craving with a single pie, harnessing the juicy, sweet-tart lovely-ness of all three fruits.

Quick, get to the market while cherries, nectarines, and peaches are at their best.  Then make pie!
Peach Nectarine Cherry Pie RecipeNotes:  I do not peel the nectarines but feel free to peel away.  The 1/3 cup sugar added to the fruit is approximate.  I prefer to allow the fruit and natural sugars to shine and so I opt for less sugar.  If your fruit is lacking in sweetness or you prefer a sweeter pie, add 1/2 cup sugar to the fruit.  This pie crust recipe is very generous, making enough dough for a double crusted 9 1/2-inch pie.  If using a 9-inch pie dish, use the extra pie dough scraps for cinnamon and sugar pie crust cookies.  





‘Intensely’ Chocolate Streusel Muffins

Chocolate Streusel Muffins RecipeWhere have I been you ask?  I’ve been living life!   When my schedule gets particularly busy, I am glad this blog is just a hobby and not a job.  If it were a job, I would have been fired by now.  But since I am my own boss, I gave myself permission to take some time off.   My precious Girl, my one and only, graduated college a couple of weeks ago.  The school she chose to attend was a bit of a mixed blessing.  It was in New York, which is literally on the other side of the country, but what better city to be in when visiting your kid. Continue reading