Rainbows and tamales

During the recent holiday season, I had a craving for Italian rainbow cookies. Much to my dismay, I couldn’t find them in any stores. Rather than go online and order something pre-made, I decided I’d make the cookies myself. I’d never made rainbow cookies before and creating them takes more steps than normal cookies, but the effort was well worth the rewards! I modified the recipe slightly to make them a bit healthier without sacrificing flavor and the results were delicious. They didn’t look perfect, but they tasted right and I’m sure I’ll perfect them over time. I ended up with enough cookies to last me for months and there’s still a batch frozen in the freezer.

Italian rainbow cookies

The rainbow cookies were the first new baking technique I’ve used in quite some time, but that showed me that I can do anything I put my mind to. I applied that concept again this past weekend to satisfy my craving for tamales. I had a tamale appetizer at The Cheesecake Factory over the holidays and it was so yummy I almost licked the plate! I’ve never had tamales before but I was instantly addicted and wanted more. There aren’t any restaurants close to me that have tamales (I checked) so I decided I needed to make my own.

I found several recipes online, but finally settled on one by Marcela Valladolid from The Food Network because it didn’t involve making any meat filling like the others did. I bought all the ingredients (I used cooked frozen corn because it’s not sweetcorn season) I could find at the local grocery store and bought corn husks and a bamboo steamer from Amazon. The recipe says to stand them up in a boiler pot but  I figured my luck they’d fall over and turn into soup so that’s why I opted for a bamboo steamer I could lay them down in. Two packages of frozen corn equaled 6 cups of corn and for the last cup, I cooked up some Iroquois Hulled White Corn from the Ganondagan State Historic Site. The combination of sweetcorn and hulled white corn was divine and I admit that I licked the mixer beaters.

tamale dough with Iroquois white corn

Blended up sweet corn with white corn ready to be blended in

Once the dough was mixed up, I wrapped it in the 10 corn husks I’d been soaking in water. There was enough dough to make at least 20 more tamales but I didn’t want to conquer such a huge batch all at once. Of the 10 I made Friday night, I ate 5 and it was difficult not to eat every last one!

tamales in bamboo steamer

My tamales cooking away in the bamboo steamer

I made a second batch yesterday afternoon and I still have enough filling for one more batch. Now that I’ve made tamales once, I have all sorts of ideas for recipe modifications and I’m sure by the end of winter, I’ll be a tamale making pro!

corn tamale in corn husk

One of the tamales I cooked Sunday afternoon. Yum!

The Perfect Meal at Crave Brasserie & Wine Bar

Crave Brasserie & Wine Bar, Amesbury, MA. Photo courtesy of Crave

When I’m at my home in Upstate NY I usually make all my own meals and don’t eat out a lot but when I head up to New England for one of my trips, I splurge on delicious food. My hotel room usually has a microwave and fridge but as my trips are mini vacations, living off frozen dinners really doesn’t appeal. I love freshly made and delicious food and it’s  always a bonus when someone else makes it for me.

As detailed in my blog post A chilly evening stroll in Amesbury back in April, I spent my first evening in New England wandering Amesbury during my last trip. I was quite cold after walking around and the aromas from Crave Brasserie & Wine Bar pulled me in on the way back to my car. I went inside the restaurant with its cozy illumination and reveled in the feeling of warmth seeping back into my body. I was seated at a four chair table by the windows and happily took my coat off as the chill left my skin.

I ordered coffee to wake up a bit and further thaw out and then began looking over the menu. They had an extensive wine and beer list but as I had to drive home after dinner, I couldn’t indulge in any such spirits. My waitress was very friendly and helpful and everything I ordered came in perfect time. I was the only person there alone that I saw but I’m quite used to that by now and settled in to enjoy the atmosphere and food.

Interior of Crave. Photo courtesy of Crave.

As an appetizer, I ordered the Crispy Tomatoes and Wolf Meadow Farm Mozzarella because I loved the mozzarella I had during Wolf Meadow Farm’s grand opening during my previous visit.

Crispy Tomatoes with Wolf Meadow Farm’s mozzarella. Photo courtesy of Crave.

The tomatoes were flavorful, warm and had just the right amount of crisp to go with the delectably soft and creamy mozzarella and I cleaned my plate rather quickly!

For my main meal I ordered the Seared Sea Scallops because I love scallops and hadn’t had any in a while. When the entrée arrived on a nice rectangular serving plate, it looked almost too good to eat!

Seared Sea Scallops. Pic taken on my phone

Seared Sea Scallops. Pic taken on my phone

I forced myself to mar the perfect display in order to eat the food and they were the most divine scallops! Melt in my mouth, full of flavor, cooked perfectly and superbly complimented by the savory creamed corn and roasted potatoes. I didn’t quite clean that plate because I was growing full and wanted to leave room for dessert. There was a fridge back in my room but no microwave so taking leftovers home wasn’t feasible that trip.

To finish the amazing meal off, I ordered the Flourless Chocolate Torte for dessert. It came on a nice round plate with a scoop of ice cream on top and it’s bewildering to me that such sweet, divine and delectable chocolate heaven fit in that simple plate!

Flourless Chocolate Torte. Pic taken on my phone.

Flourless Chocolate Torte. Pic taken on my phone. I nearly licked the plate!

It was absolutely the best form of chocolate dessert I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating! It was like a warm brownie kicked up to the max of chocolate decadence and I devoured it, only to be quite dismayed that it was gone.

I was pleasantly full by the time I was done and glad that I’d finally treated myself to a superb meal at Crave Brasserie & Wine Bar. I highly recommend the restaurant to anyone in the vicinity of Amesbury and to anyone in the world! It’s just one of the many fine dining establishments in Amesbury, MA and definitely one I’ll be returning to on future visits! Why are you still reading this?? It’s Friday night, go to Crave and eat some bewilderingly delicious food!

Sweetness on Earth Day (recipe included)

A heart-shaped glimpse of blue sky this afternoon.

A heart-shaped glimpse of blue sky this afternoon.

Today was Earth Day and while it started out overcast and rainy, it was still beautiful. I added my own touch of sweetness to the day by baking a fresh batch of chocolate chip orange bread and that made the house smell amazing! I’ve included the recipe at the end of this post.

Chocolate chip orange bread, yum!

Chocolate chip orange bread, yum!

When I completed my freelance work for the day, I happily sat down at my craft desk and finished up the pair of earrings I started working on yesterday evening.

Pink and burgundy glass pearl earrings.

Pink and burgundy glass pearl earrings.

I then started working on a new earring design and as I did, the sun started to break through the clouds. I took that as Mama Nature’s approval of what I was doing and I smiled as I continued to fiddle with beads, findings and wires. Time flew rather quickly and it was soon time to head to the school to pick up my daughters. Jordan was staying late to practice for choral solo fest and was going to meet her sister Jaycie and I in the gym.

When I arrived at the school and snatched a nice close spot, I stepped out of my car and was overjoyed to see more breaks in the clouds and glimpses of blue sky. One of these blue sky breaks reminded me of a heart and I took it as Mama Nature’s way of saying that when you love Mother Earth, she loves you back. Along with the blue sky, I also saw see numerous signs of spring. The cherry trees were on the verge of opening blossoms and several clumps of daffodils by the front entrance of the school were budding or already blooming.

Daffodils soon to open.

Daffodils soon to open.

Blooming daffodils

Blooming daffodils

My daughters and I headed back home and the sky turned gray once more but that’s okay. Rain is necessary for reviving the earth and restoring life to grass, trees, flowers and all living things. We must pay attention to, honor, help, preserve and protect this planet every day, not just on Earth Day because it’s the only planet we have. I hope that my daughters and all future generations get to experience the amazing sweetness of nature and life.


Orange Bread with Chocolate Chips

Modified from the recipe for Fresh Orange Muffins found on Food.com. I removed the butter and replaced it with yogurt and applesauce. I also reduced the sugar because the orange and orange juice are already quite sweet.


  • 1 orange, unpeeled, quartered, seeds removed
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup vanilla or plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup applesauce (I use Motts Natural applesauce or homemade)
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/8 cup sugar (I use Sugar in the Raw)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)


  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees, spray an 8×8 cake/brownie pan with non-stick spray, set aside
  • Put orange quarters in food processor with orange juice and process until pureed
  • Add egg, yogurt and applesauce into processor and blend until combined. Pour into large bowl.
  • In separate bowl, combine dry ingredients then add to orange mixture.
  • Stir to combine. Add chocolate chips if desired and mix them in.
  • Pour batter into prepared pan.
  • Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until top is just turning brown. Let stand until cool enough to eat. (I always eat one piece warm from the oven)
  • Place orange bread in fridge and enjoy cold or heat for a few seconds in microwave. Enjoy!


Why I cook and bake from scratch

My homemade cheesecake topped with sliced strawberries

My homemade cheesecake topped with sliced strawberries and chocolate sauce

Earlier this week I had to purchase big groceries and my shopping experience reminded me why I choose to cook and bake food from scratch. The two main reasons I do it are because I love cooking and baking and because when I make food from scratch, I know exactly what’s in it. I’ve added another reason and that’s the cost of food these days. Prices keep going up on my grocery staples of milk, bread, eggs and meat. Judging by the way the world is going, I don’t see the prices going back down anytime soon. Making meals from scratch is more involved than buying pre-packaged foods but the effort is always worth it in the peace of mind I gain and the money I save.

My latest food craving has been cheesecake and as I said in a previous post, my first ever attempt at making cheesecake came out delicious. I’ve since made a second cheesecake (because the first one was mysteriously devoured by fridge-raiding fairies) and that one came out even better! The recipe I used was a combination of two I found online, with my own unique modifications of course. I modified it further in my second attempt and wrote down everything I did for future reference. My third attempt will be cheesecake swirled with fresh strawberries so I need to do a bit of research on that.

While I was grocery shopping, I decided to see how much the store charged for a full-size cheesecake. I found their plain cheesecake with a sliced up strawberry on top as garnish and my eyes widened in shock as I read the price of $22.00! I couldn’t believe people would actually pay that much money for a cheesecake but considering that was the only plain one in the cooler, they apparently do. There was also a cheesecake made of various slices of flavored cheesecakes and that one cost a whopping $26.00. I snapped a picture of the two cakes to prove I wasn’t hallucinating.

The two store cheescakes

The two store cheesecakes

Not only were the cheesecakes expensive, but I couldn’t pronounce half of the ingredients listed which is never a good thing in my book. Now that I’ve made cheesecakes, I know exactly what goes into them and none of my ingredients were 15 letters long and impossible to say without tripping over my tongue. Upset by the cost of the cakes and the ingredients, I then continued shopping and jotted down the prices of all the ingredients I use in my cheesecakes. The grand total came to less than half of what the store was charging for a cheesecake that was in fact, smaller than the ones I make. Proof that you definitely pay a price for convenience.

The power of cornbread

skillet cornbread

Yesterday morning I woke up craving cornbread. So I made some. This might not seem very monumental but considering I’ve been sick, tired, not quite myself and that my biggest daily feat has been showering, mixing up and baking cornbread from scratch was a very big thing. I baked the bread in one part of the two-part cast iron skillet I received as a gift and it came out perfect and tasty!

An interesting thing happened when I took the first bite of cornbread, I had a sudden idea for a dish to go with it. It was a dish I’ve never seen made before and never made myself but the ingredients for it popped into my head as the perfect complement for the cornbread. I decided to go out that afternoon and get everything I needed, along with ingredients for cheesecake because I’ve been craving that lately. I’ve never made cheesecake before either so it’s quite amazing what just making that one batch of cornbread motivated me to do.

I made my new main dish this evening and it turned out exactly as I thought it would. The taste was how I imagined it would be and I was impressed that I’d bought all the right ingredients to create it. I didn’t do a lot of measurements, I don’t usually when I’m cooking, but it included tomato paste, cooked winter squash, ground pork, ground turkey, lentils, pinto beans, corn and all the perfect spices to accomplish a savory, delicious, hearty and satisfying dish. Dipping my cornbread in it was divine and I was so proud of myself! I made cheesecake too and while I haven’t tasted it yet, it looks and smells yummy!

I’m happiest when I’m doing something, especially when it’s creative. I consider baking and cooking just as creative as my writing, painting and clay work. Being too tired to express any part of my creativity has been extremely frustrating for me. Now that I’m feeling better and am awake more than asleep, I’m certain I’ll continue my creative work and find new avenues for expressing my imagination. Behold, the power of cornbread!

Sunday Evenings

Pancakes made from my own special recipe.

Pancakes made from my own special recipe.

This won’t be a long post but I didn’t want to fall behind again and have to play catch up. Sunday evenings are about my girls. If it’s my weekend with them I’ve had them since Saturday morning, if it’s my ex’s weekend then I don’t get them until 4 p.m. Sunday afternoon. Regardless, I always have them Sunday evenings and our Sunday dinners are always a nice little relaxation before the school week begins anew.

Tonight I made tacos for dinner and while that wasn’t a fancy meal, it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes I make pancakes or waffles for dinner and carry on my father’s tradition of making breakfast for dinner every once in a while. I own tons of cookbooks but only open them now and then for bread or cookie recipes. Most of the dinner meals I make are ones I’ve been making for years or something I come up with on the fly. I have a decent idea what ingredients taste good together by now and while I will never have my own show on a cooking channel, I always please my most important tasters, my girls.

Past Traditions, Future Prospects

My girls all festive with their hats.

My girls all festive with their hats.

A new year has begun and 2014 holds even more promise and potential than the year that has passed. I embrace it, welcome it and charge into it with fresh determination! I will never forget the lessons and fond memories of my past though, they make me what I am today.

Growing up, my family would all gather around the wok on New Year’s Eve to make tempura. I don’t remember if we did it every year but it seems like we did. I don’t know why or how it started but it was a great way to get all of us together and participating in the same activity. We cooked vegetables including mushrooms, cauliflower and onions and for meat, chicken and shrimp. I always enjoyed sticking the food on the long fondue forks and placing them in the oil where they’d bubble away as they cooked. I imagine that doesn’t all sound like the healthiest thing, but it we only did it that one time during the year and it was special for me.

I decided that this year I would finally start that tradition again. I didn’t even own a wok so I remedied that and got a set of fondue forks exactly like the ones my family used. I bought a whole bunch of vegetables and some shrimp and found a recipe for tempura batter that sounded easy enough. The girls had no idea what tempura was and they still need to expand their culinary tastes but they humored their mother.

I cut up the vegetables, thawed some shrimp and only then realized how much effort my parents had put into this family tradition. I got my wok at just the right temperature and set to work. The girls came over to watch the food bubble and stuck a few pieces in but after that, they went back to playing in the other room. That’s okay; all that mattered is that I started the family tradition back up.

The girls weren't real sure at first but they liked watching the bubbles

The girls weren’t real sure at first but they liked watching the bubbles

Veggies and shrimp bubbling away!

Veggies and shrimp bubbling away!

As with all family traditions though, I think sometimes they benefit from some improvements and adaptations for each new generation. For example, now that I have my very own, shiny wok, I’ll be able to cook up all sorts of new stir-fry dishes, starting very soon thanks to all the vegetables still in my fridge! So perhaps the tradition of the Corbin New Year’s Tempura will transform into the Corbin New Year’s Stir-Fry. Not forgetting the past traditions, just realizing the future prospects and evolving into a new way to honor what has come before.

The Fridge that Ate My Kitchen!

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Delivery guys in the pouring rain

Delivery guys in the pouring rain

This past spring, my refrigerator broke. The compressor stopped working and when I looked into the cost of replacing it on the over 20 year old fridge, I decided I’d figure something else out. I couldn’t afford another full size fridge at that time so I bought a little hotel-size fridge as a temporary solution. That temporary solution got me through almost 9 months as I waited to be able to afford the fridge of my dreams.

Sure, I could have picked a fridge just like my old one which was a basic freezer on top, fridge on the bottom with no bells or whistles. But after dealing with that tiny fridge for so long, I decided I was going to go big for my home. I went almost as big as they come but didn’t opt for the water and ice dispenser in the door because I have sulfur water. I’d be changing filters every other day with my nasty water so that was a “convenience” feature I didn’t need. The one I picked has an ice maker, they almost all do, but it won’t be getting hooked up because cubes of frozen sulfur aren’t any more appealing than liquid form.

I shopped around in stores and online for a while and ultimately decided to go with the fridge I fell in love with at first sight. It’s a Samsung and I didn’t even know they made appliances! I wanted a black one and it was so large, dark and lovely in the store that I couldn’t help but keep opening and closing all the doors. It was destined to be mine, it was fridge fate.

I ordered my fridge and anxiously awaited delivery day. That day dawned cold and rainy and the appliance store truck drove by my house the first try but they eventually found their way back. There were two men in the truck and the older man took out his measuring tape and began measuring my walkway, steps and front door. There was much frowning  and discussion and they eventually realized they’d have to take the doors off the fridge to get it in my house. I was a little embarrassed by my choice of a monstrous fridge for my tiny house but I didn’t regret my choice. This was one of those very rare times that I splurged on myself and I felt it was overdue.

The door to the freezer drawer

The door to the freezer drawer

The doors to the fridge

The doors to the fridge

It took the two men about an hour to get the fridge disassembled and reassembled in my house but they were quite efficient and courteous. I felt bad that they got all wet out in the rain taking the doors off but they were nice about it all. Once the fridge was set in its place I was ecstatic! It stuck way out into my kitchen and took up more space than I expected but I was still giddy!

Monstrous fridge in my tiny, "lived in" kitchen

Monstrous fridge in my tiny, “lived in” kitchen

Now I could finally go big grocery shopping and buy whole gallons of milk and orange juice instead of half gallons. I could buy fruits, vegetables, eggs and cheese all at the same time and have them all fit! For months getting things arranged in my little fridge had been trying to solve a puzzle that kept items from falling out on my feet. I chose a fridge with the freeze on the bottom so I’d never again have to deal with heavy ice cream landing on my toes.

The girls and I went out shopping to help fill the fridge and even with what we got, the fridge is barely full. No worries though because that just means I have tons of opportunities and space to fill it up with new baking and cooking creations! Every time I put something in the fridge or easily take something out without having to rearrange everything and crouch on the floor, I almost giggle with joy. I’m not a materialistic person but in this huge necessity in my life, I chose luxury for once. Who needs diamonds? The fridge that ate my kitchen is this girl’s best friend!

Blends right in now! Magnets rock ;)

Blends right in now! Magnets rock 😉

Rainbows without Sunshine

Photo courtesy of Food Network

Photo courtesy of Food Network

The sun never came out today but to me it was a bright, beautiful day! Something that I’ve been waiting a long, long time for finally happened today and a great burden has been lifted from my shoulders. It is an amazing gift just in time for the beginning of the holiday season and I’m going to spread the sunshine I feel within me wherever I go!

I’ll finally have more time to write in Unbroken Flames and my New England stories. I can get my house all reorganized and start knitting, crocheting and painting again. I’ve missed expressing all of my creativity and it’s eager to escape in every way possible now!

I did a lot of running around today and tying up loose ends that have been tripping me up for months. By the time I reached my second to last stop of the grocery store, I was starving! I grabbed some food from the store’s cafe, ate enough to curb my hunger and then headed into the aisles for the few items I needed there.

In the bakery I saw a delicious looking rainbow in the form of cookies on a shelf. I love rainbow cookies and they seem to pop up all over the place this time of year. I decided to give myself a little treat and buy a package. There was no sunshine out today but those cookies were bright, beautiful and eager to be eaten! I sampled one on the drive home and it tasted like a little bit of heaven!

The path of my life continues to head upward in new and interesting ways and I’m never afraid to climb the hills to see the breathtaking view waiting at the top. Blue sky, sunshine and rainbows are always there, even in the rain.

The Desire to Share

As I’ve said many times, I love to cook and bake. I used to be a great hostess when I was married and my then husband’s friends and coworkers would come over. I put together food for our annual Halloween party that included delectable treats for kids and adults. I love cooking a lot of food for a house full of people and enjoying it with them. That element of my life evaporated when I got divorced and all of those “friends” chose my ex over me. I haven’t hosted a party in four years, I don’t have enough friends to fill a house anymore.

I still love making lots of food and trying new recipes though. I have great hope that eventually I’ll have a social circle again. I’m pretty sure it will happen when I live in Massachusetts or New Hampshire. I get glimpses of what can be when I visit North Shore Massachusetts. Complete strangers are kind to me, people I’ve never met before treat me like a friend and want to see me again. For a semi-introvert, still inwardly shy girl like me, that means a lot. Someday I won’t be a tourist anymore, someday I’ll be a resident.

cider bread ingredients

The hard cider bread ready to come out of the oven.

The hard cider bread ready to come out of the oven.

I’m looking forward to being that house on the street that emits such amazing sweet and savory smells everyone wonders “What’s Julie mixing up now?” and then comes over to find out. The way I bake and cook, there will be plenty to go around! I’ll enjoy soaking up the feedback on new recipes and revel in any compliments I receive. I’ll have infamous cookouts where people come watch me battle grill flames and come out victorious. I’ll deliver trays of cookies, muffins and breads to nearby businesses just to make them smile. Yes, it will be lovely!

My girls favorite little crescent dogs

My girls favorite little crescent dogs

I miss sharing that part of myself, the part of me that I express by making irresistible food. I put a lot of thought and care into what I bake. I’m always tweaking recipes to make it just a smidge better and trying new flavor combinations. I spend my days of solitude now preparing for that life when I have a social circle again. Four years is a long time for a hostess not to have the opportunity to do what she does best.

Making More With Less

If I could, I’d spend all day baking and cooking in the kitchen. Well, all day in the cold, snowy weather at least. In the nicer weather I prefer working after it gets dark so I don’t feel like I’m missing a beautiful day outside. I do that often enough when I’m writing freelance.

The kitchen of my dreams that I discussed in my previous post might seem a bit extravagant I suppose but believe me, I’d make great use of everything in it! The kitchen in my current house isn’t overly big but it’s set up pretty well for baking. I have a nice peninsula on one side that I can use as a baking prep area when it isn’t covered with school papers and design magazines. The countertop space otherwise isn’t overly plentiful and with my coffee maker, toaster oven, spice rack, baking canisters and dish rack on them, the surface area is greatly diminished. I make do with the space I have though and have learned to consolidate and tuck away.

The secret ingredient in my applesauce.

The secret ingredient in my applesauce.

My range is a nice gas unit with reliable burners and ample oven space for two sheets of cookies. In my previous home there was an electric range and I was worried about using gas because of my occasional mishaps with open flames. I got the hang of using gas pretty quick though and I love how much easier it is to control the temperature on the burners. Thankfully my microwave is a space-saving unit above the oven so it doesn’t use up any premium counter space. Oddly enough the microwave is black but the range, dishwasher and previous refrigerator were white.

My least favorite part about cooking and baking is washing the dishes. You didn’t read wrong, I did just say I had a dishwasher. However, I also have sulfur water and it’s not very effective at removing dishwasher detergent from plates, glasses and silverware. So instead I wash everything by hand because then there isn’t nasty film all over everything I eat off of. My nice big refrigerator died this spring and as I couldn’t afford to replace it with another big unit, I bought a small fridge/freezer combo similar to what you’d find in a hotel. It was supposed to be a temporary fix but I’ve been living with it for six months. Putting groceries away is kind of like a puzzle but I’ve got a system now. Hopefully I’ll be getting a new, grown-up size fridge in the near future. In the meantime, I make do.

My latest batch of fluffy pancakes!

My latest batch of fluffy pancakes!

The size of my kitchen doesn’t prohibit me from making what I love. I’m always mixing up cookies, muffins, soft pretzels, bread and cakes. I love to cook fish, rice, veggies, pasta, tacos, you name it! Would I love more area for my prep work? Or one of those neat fridges with the freezer on the bottom? Or enough counterspace to keep my food processor, blender and mixer out? Or a dishwasher that washed dishes? Of course! I’d be in paradise in a nice big kitchen. I like the ones where the burners are in the middle of the island so people can watch what you’re making. I could pretend I have my own cooking show when I’m entertaining! That would require a social life and friends to entertain as well as the kitchen, but oh well. My dream, my personal cooking show.

The picture below is similar to my kitchen layout (with way nicer appliances) only the island in this one is a peninsula against the wall in mine.

Below is an example of a kitchen that’s a bit over the top even for me. Talk about open flames!

Apples and Peaches and Squash, Oh My!

As I sit at my desk typing this I’m quite full and content after enjoying a bowl of oatmeal with baked peaches mixed in. Today was overcast and cool which made it perfect for baking! I went to a farm market this morning with my mother and picked up one quart each of Gala apples and peaches. I also picked up some black pepper cheddar cheese which is one of my favorite “indulgent” snacks. I choose spicy things for snacks quite often because I can only eat a little at a time before my mouth says “okay, stop!” It’s a system that works for me.

Gala apples, my favorite!

Gala apples, my favorite!

I picked through for the perfect peaches!

I picked through for the perfect peaches!

I realized it’s past time I share some of the recipes I use to make my favorite baked goods and treats. It’s silly to keep such yummy things to myself! Most of the recipes I use came from something written by someone else that I modified to suit my tastes. I can’t just whip something up with flour and sugar knowing the exact proportions. I imagine I might have that ability someday if I keep this kitchen experimentation up. Feel free to modify my recipes as you see fit to suit your own tastes. Even the littlest change makes them uniquely your own and something you can pass down to future generations.


This first one is for my baked peaches. I modified it from Plus One Recipes: Peach Cobbler with Oatmeal Crumble. I made the original version of their recipe with half the proportions and found it quite delicious. I recommend trying it if you’re looking for a cobbler recipe. After making their cobbler I discovered I had a lot of delicious peach-flavored cinnamon-sugar-vanilla sauce in my pie plate. I decided to spoon the crumble into a bowl of oatmeal one morning and it was amazingly good! That’s when I had the idea to just bake some peaches in a pie plate to use in my oatmeal. I’ve also poured them over vanilla ice cream as dessert and it’s so scrumptious I want to lick the bowl!

My apples baking and my peaches ready to bake.

My apples simmering and my peaches ready to bake.

JulieAnn’s Baked Peaches

5 peaches
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Peel, pit and slice peaches and place in 9 inch ungreased pie plate. Sprinkle brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg over peaches. Mix until peaches are coated. (I actually work it all in with my hands.) Place peaches in preheated oven for 15 minutes then stir. Bake for another 15 minutes or until juices are bubbling. Remove from oven and let cool. Enjoy warm in oatmeal, over ice cream or just as they are! Refrigerate any unused peaches in airtight container.


The next recipe isn’t overly involved and I don’t think it’s how people traditionally make applesauce. I suppose it’s more like apple mush. I mostly use applesauce for baking so the consistency doesn’t really matter to me and I don’t add sugar because I think Gala apples are sweet enough on their own. Feel free to adjust this to your tastes.

JulieAnn’s “Applesauce”

6 good-sized Gala apples
1 cup water

Peel apples, remove seeds and slice into small pieces. Place apples in large saucepan with 1 cup water. The amount of water doesn’t have to be exactly 1 cup, add enough to keep the apples from burning during cooking but not so much they’re floating. Cover and simmer over low heat for 15-30 minutes or until apples are soft.  Remove lid if necessary to help the excess water cook off. Remove from heat and allow apples to cool a bit. Pour apples into food processor and blend until desired consistency. If you prefer cinnamon applesauce you can add 1-2 teaspoons cinnamon to the apples during cooking or when you process them. I tend to go through applesauce pretty fast so I just pour mine into mason jars and place it in the fridge.

Apples and peaches both all cooked!

Apples and peaches both all cooked!


This last recipe is one I modified from Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook. The original recipe was for Zucchini Bread but as some summer squash is actually yellow zucchini, I thought I’d give it a try. The squash I use isn’t yellow zucchini though, it’s yellow summer squash. Don’t know the difference? Neither did I! Here’s the online article I found to help clear it up: yellow zucchini vs. yellow summer squash explained. I reduced the amount of sugar used, added honey, replaced the oil with applesauce and used almonds instead of walnuts or pecans. The result is a dense, hearty bread that’s sweet, nutty and irresistible!

My yellow summer squash bread right out of the oven!

My yellow summer squash bread right out of the oven!

JulieAnn’s Yellow Summer Squash Bread

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 beaten egg
1/4 cup organic cane sugar (white sugar is fine too)
1/4 honey
1 cup summer squash
3/4 JulieAnn’s “applesauce” or applesauce of your choice
1/2 cup chopped raw almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease the bottom and sides of an 8x4x2-inch loaf pan and set aside.

In a large bowl combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, baking powder and nutmeg. Set aside.

To make the 1 cup of squash, I cut up a small squash and then blend it into mush in my food processor. The original directions say to use finely shredded, unpeeled zucchini.

In a second large bowl (I actually mix it all up in my food processor) combine egg, sugar, honey, squash, applesauce and almonds. Mix until well combined.

Pour squash mixture into flour mixture and stir until moistened. Spoon batter into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven for 50-55 minutes or until it’s puffed up nicely and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Wait until it’s cool enough to cut a slice without burning yourself and dive in! The original directions say to cool completely on wire rack, wrap and store overnight before slicing. You can do that if you want but I never have the patience! Store the bread in the refrigerator if it’s going to take you more than a day to eat it all.

Idle Hands? What are those?

Even when I’m not typing away writing freelance articles or the world’s next best-selling fantasy novel, my hands are busy. Holding my daughters’ hands, making their lunches, folding their clothes, tickling them and fussing with their hair are some of my favorite hands-on activities. Then of course there’s playing with Jazz, rubbing her tummy and holding her leash on our walks. My hands really get a workout when I create abstract artwork. Heck, my whole body gets a workout when I do that because I play dance music while painting and I can’t help but dance! That’s a story for another day though. Maybe someday I’ll video myself painting…sharing it with the world may or may not happen.

Another  favorite way to get my hands and mind working together is by cooking and baking. I was blessed with my father’s natural talent in the kitchen and I think he’d be impressed how I’ve improved upon that inherited gift. I’m a pro at baking desserts and I make irresistible, always soft chocolate chip cookies. I love baking all types of bread from pitas to pepperoni cheese bread and I’m constantly searching for and trying new recipes. I usually modify the written recipe in some way or another to improve it taste and nutrition wise.

When it comes to cooking lunches and dinners, I don’t usually use recipes. I go by what looks, smells and tastes right and things turn out pretty darn yummy. When my store-bought marinara sauce kept going weird even in the fridge I decided to make my own so I’d know exactly what was in it. I found a recipe that sounded relatively easy, modified it a touch and voila! I created the most delicious marinara sauce I’ve ever tasted! My stand mixer and food processor are my favorite appliances now and they’re always sitting on top of my baker’s rack ready to work.

My favorite seasonal ingredients lately are summer squash and peaches. I’ve made summer squash bread just by using the squash in a zucchini bread recipe. I’ve made a peach cobbler, crumble and last time I just baked the peaches in a pie dish with some brown sugar and cinnamon. I add the baked peaches to freshly made oatmeal and have an easy scrumptious breakfast. A hundred times better for me than buying “peaches and cream” pre-made instant oatmeal that contains “peach flavored pieces” and a ton of other unpronounceable ingredients. I really do like to know what exactly I’m putting in my body, I’m odd like that. I also put the peaches over a scoop of ice cream for a little dessert and it’s so good I want to lick the bowl!

Everything I do with my hands stimulates and utilizes my mind in some way and I really like that. There’s a purpose to everything I do and it has value and meaning. Really, I don’t know any other way to be.