Saturday, December 26, 2009

And I'm back!!!!

Ok, so the preparation for this Christmas season wasn't exactly what I had expected. Instead of calm evenings in my beautifully decorated house, I frantically knitted my fingers to the bone and on most nights did not even plug my Christmas tree lights in. Why so frantic, you ask? Well, in October it seemed like a fine idea to say yes to anyone and everyone who asked me to knit a present for one of their loved ones. Now I'm older and wiser, and I know that is not a fine idea. I've instated a new policy: if you haven't ever told me you love me, you are probably not getting any items from my knitting needles in the near future. Someday, maybe, but not soon. Sorry to sound harsh, but I'm doing this for my sanity. I do need to add that this situation was my own fault, I did get paid, and I do love knitting things for others. It was just the combination of holiday stress, strict deadlines (yes, Christmas is December 25th, EVERY year), and my knack for grossly underestimating the amount of time it takes to knit things (especially sweaters). With that, I'll leave you with some photos of things I've knit in the last couple of months. (These photos do not include everything. There were some things I finished so close to the deadline I was practically weaving in yarn ends while driving to meet the customer.) Not pictured are two green, seed-stitch berets, a pair of charcoal grey mitten gloves with white snowflakes, and a half finished Christmas stocking.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


So far I haven't minced words about how much I dislike the cafeteria food I'm forced to eat while living on campus at UWSP. That's because, until last night, I was faced with the usual deluge of greasy pizza, butter/cheese-laden pasta and potatoes, and a weekly rotation of dubious main dishes, my favorite of which is the masticated mass of ground chicken formed into a vaguely breast-shaped patty, deep-fried, and then advertised as "breaded chicken breast."

This year was supposed to be different. It was big news when, during the last school year, UWSP announced plans to switch from dining service giant Chartwells to a self-run operation. Until last night, that basically meant the school was buying from Sysco, instead of Chartwells buying from Sysco (effectively cutting out the middle man, although meal plan prices went up considerably this year). When asked about a recent student push for local food, the director of university dining responded with the offensive and patronizing comment, "People don't understand the real impact. To go local, we would be serving no lettuce in the middle of winter." Umm, this is one of the leading natural resources schools in the nation. For the most part, we understand the idea of agricultural seasons. We embrace it; the beauty of eating seasonally is variety. Not to mention the fact that some of the earliest proponents of the Farm-to-School method have been in New England, which, last time I checked, also enjoys winter.

Despite being a truly environmentally forward school, Stevens Point's dining program is, on a whole, lacking. So when I walked into the dining hall and was confronted with what was advertised as "Harvest Dinner," I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least.

There was still pizza and pasta, like usual, as well as the salad bar and the build-your-own sandwich/wrap station. But the main line was loaded with (oh my God!) local food! Purple potatoes, roasted with lots of black pepper; whitefish from Lake Superior; bison stew (!); wild rice with cranberries; baked acorn squash; and apple crumble. All from Wisconsin. I was beyond excited.

It is my sincere hope that in the not-too-near future this will not be a once-a-year occasion that almost causes me to drop my polycarbonate cafeteria plate in disbelief. My dream is that soon, the oddity will be food from outside Wisconsin. Apples from Oregon? Why? We have orchards practically within walking distance. Masticated chicken patty? Nope...plenty of poultry to be had right here in Portage County. As difficult as it may be for kids to give up lettuce in December, I have faith in UWSP's student body. The least we can do is give it the ol' college try.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

I'm going to try something new today. I've not been posting much because, frankly, the most exciting thing that has happened to me in the past few weeks is one homeworkless day...which I spent poking around Facebook. And I've certainly not experienced anything interesting in the culinary world lately (unless you count yesterday's Oktoberfest celebration at the cafeteria, which I don't).

So in lieu of relating my culinary exploits, I'm going to review a book. While Animal, Vegetable, Miracle isn't an overt "foodie" read, it does bring to light many issues related to responsible consumption, an important consideration for the modern eater.

Published in 2007, the book tells the story of author Barbara Kingsolver's move (along with her husband and two daughters) to a small tract of land in Appalachia. Accompanying the move was a family pact to join the locavore movement: that is, the family decided to obtain all of their food from within a 100-mile radius.

Kingsolver is best known for her works of fiction, such as the immensely popular Poisonwood Bible. Few people realize that she is an avid home gardener with a masters degree in evolutionary biology. The combination of skilled writer and environmental scientist makes for a great read, and one without the pretension of similar eco-books. Kingsolver remains grounded, offering environmentally friendly options for people with little time, money, and/or space.

Separated into months (the Kingsolvers' initial locavore commitment was for one year), the book is interspersed with recipes and nutritional information from Kingsolver's oldest daughter, Camille, and insight from Steven Hopp, Kingsolver's husband. Despite the fact that it forces the reader to consider some of the biggest environmental issues of our time, the book is a light read. Comic anecdotes abound...especially entertaining is the chapter describing Kingsolver's difficulty in trying to get turkeys to mate with themselves (a trait corporate farming has bred out of them; if you're buying your turkey from the grocery store, it's been artificially inseminated by human hands).

Don't have time to read the book? Not to worry. The book's website includes recipes, news, and even a new index for the book. If nothing else, check out the brilliant depiction of the "vegetannual," an easy guide for knowing what produce is in season when.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Get "Fresh" With Me

Friday, September 18th, marked my local TV debut here in the Quad Cities. I was on Paula Sands Live (PSL, if you're a local!) to promote a screening of "Fresh... The Movie" that was sponsored by the Quad Cities chapter of Buy Fresh, Buy Local and Progressive Action for the Common Good. This documentary is a great showcase of awesome farmers using innovative methods for providing incredible, fresh food. I highly recommend it!

The next morning, it was off to the market once again. Maybe it was the excitement from the PSL and the movie the night before, but everything about that day was awesome. It started with the debut of an absolutely beautiful banner that was hand-quilted by my mom. This banner will follow Em and I in all of our future endeavors. Thanks, Mom!

A couple of hours after the market started, I had a very special visitor. Right when Em and I started selling at the market, a really great family stopped to talk to us. One of their daughters asked me if I could show her how to make the bags I was selling. I love the fact that she is so young and interested in knitting. A few weeks later she stopped by and I gave her a pattern that I wrote down for her. Well, last week at the market, she stopped by with her very own market bag! Meet Bronté (and her bag)!

The next photo shows a close-up of the bag. What a beautiful job! I may have some competition. Thanks for showing me your work, Bronté!

The most surprising part of the day came at the end, when I realized I sold an entire batch of Emily´s amazing caramels. Seriously, people were raving about them. Emily had made them the week before when we were both at our parents house. I was sorry she wasn't there to see it, but I was pumped to let her know she's getting rich off caramels AND she gets to sleep in on Saturdays. We're currently trying to figure out a way for her to ship them here, so the caramels may be back soon; you'll just have to stop by the market to find out!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Back to the Market

So a lot has happened since my last post. For one, I have two new brothers from other mothers. Jorge, from Mexico, is second from the left in the picture, and Kensuke, from Japan is on the far right. They've been great additions to the family...even though I now have to sleep in the camper when I come home to visit. Regardless, I miss them and the rest of my family very much now that I'm back at school.

I spent a week back home between moving from Iowa and moving back to the dorms, and the Friday after I got to Marinette, I enjoyed my second fair of the summer. This time it was the U.P. State Fair, which I haven't missed once since I can remember. This year the newly-arrived foreign exchange students came with us, and a great time was had by all petting farm animals, eating fried food, and checking out exhibits. Below are some picture highlights:

Yes. They judge hay. I have no idea what the criteria can be for such a competition, but obviously someone figured it out. And yes, they apparently smoke suckers in Upper Michigan. Now, I am not a picky eater, but I don't think any amount of money could convince me to pop one of those babies in my mouth. This is probably wrong of me, but for some reason I feel canning should be limited to things that have the ability to undergo photosynthesis.

The following week I moved into my dorm...a much easier task this year than last, mainly because I had approximately 500 pounds less of kitchen equipment with me this year. Seriously, this is what my dorm room looked like last year:

Yep. That's an ice cream maker on the top shelf. And seven varieties of flour on the bottom pantry shelf. And a food processor. And two full sets of pans. And four stock pots in various sizes.

My first week of classes went well. I'm taking Old English, Literature & Ecology, Spanish, an anthropology class called the Culture of Language, and Chemistry. That's a lot of English for a Biology major, I know. And the more observant of you may notice that my course list contains no Biology classes. What can I say? I'm trying to take the holistic approach (my anthropology instructor would be so proud) to learning. And I am doing a 3-day, 1-credit Mushroom Identification workshop, so I guess I did manage to squeeze some Bio in this semester.

Anyway, after three whole days of classes and five whole days away from my family, I had the opportunity to return to Marinette for the weekend. Laura was home, and I hadn't seen her in about two weeks (which is a lot after having lived with her for the whole summer), so I was very excited to be back. Saturday my Mom, Laura, and I visited an art gallery/farm (only in the Midwest) that reminded me a lot of Miss Effie's. Of course, there's no replacement, and the day really made me miss my adoptive parents! I would have more pictures, but my camera batteries ran out. Fortunately this happened after I snapped a picture of this cool rooster sculpture:

And I walked the mile or so downtown to my first farmers market in almost a month! I was having serious withdrawals. The Stevens Point Farmers Market is nowhere near as big as the Freighthouse, but it is quaint and adorable and small-town and just what I needed after a week of rigorous studying. And I ran into an old family friend who also happens to go to UWSP. Only good things come from visiting your local farmers market, people. Sorry for the lack of pictures, but I haven't gotten around to buying more batteries for the camera yet. No worries, though...I'm planning on going every weekend I can until the market closes for winter, so I promise I'll take pictures!

I'm going to leave you with a quote out of one of the books I have to read for Literature & Ecology (Bill McKibben's Deep Economy). Actually, McKibben is quoting from economist Kenneth Boulding. Anyway, I'm a sucker for doggerel, especially of the environmentally-conscious kind, so here goes:

"One priniciple that is an ecological upsetter
Is that if anything is good, more is better,
And this misunderstanding sets us very, very wrong
For no relation in the world is linear for long."

I know, it's pretty lame. But it probably made you think, too.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Back to School...

A lot has changed in Davenport since the last post. Emily has moved back to Wisconsin and I have weathered my first market without her. It was a bittersweet day. The booth seemed empty without her, but I did sell an entire batch of her famous caramels! I also finally finished the special order market bag!

This bag is an original design, and it turned out pretty much how I envisioned it. I wanted to give this bag more structure, so it would look more like a classic, rectangular grocery bag. I did this by increasing and decreasing every other round at each of the four corners. The use of left and right leaning increases and decreases created an edge that I reinforced with extra yarn after the knitting was complete. I also needed an open mesh-type pattern that did not twist, as the yarn over mesh I had been doing creates a diagonal pattern. The stitch I ended up using was the "Star Rib Pattern".

I added a pocket inside for keys, cell phone and money. This was done by picking up stitches along the back on the band and then casting on the same number as the stitches that were picked up. Knitting these stitches in the round creates a pocket that is already attached to the back. I finished the pocket using a three needle bind off and tacked the corners to the body of the bag for stability. I searched my tin of buttons from the antique store to find the perfect match, and I think I did: an old, weathered wooden toggle, painted white. I wanted the straps to be sturdy and not stretch as knitted straps would. So... I used woven strapping (in this case blanket binding) and sewed this to the bag. I did, however, want the straps to look knit. I achieved this by knitting a tube that I placed around the binding. The tube had tabs on each side that covered the binding. After using embroidery floss to sew the straps and tabs to the bag, the binding is invisible! Also, note the tag sown into the bag. "An Original by Laura Rose Oman"! Hopefully, I'll be using a lot of those tags in the future. See the photo below for a picture of Vicki (a satisfied customer, I hope!) with the finished product.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Swan Song

Okay, so nobody's dying...but my life here in Iowa is about to meet its end, at least for now. I can't begin to explain how amazing this summer has been: great new friends from the Farmers' Market, a new set of adoptive parents, eye-opening experiences through Buy Fresh, Buy Local, weekly Ultimate Frisbee, spelunking in the rain, lots of fests (Rhubarb, Sheep and Wool, Jazz, Tug), my first experience camping in a tent, lots of baseball (River Bandits, Iowa Cubs, and even a White Sox game!), free yoga every Friday, more coffee and sushi than should ever be consumed by one person (I'm the caffeine addict, Laura's the one who should probably be worried about too much mercury in her system), and many chances to hone my baking skills.

I haven't had a chance to feel too sad about my impending departure, because some amazing company arrived over the weekend! Laura's college buddy Joe is visiting from Minnesota and our cousin Trina drove down last night from Wisconsin. It's been an adventure-packed weekend involving the Farmers' Market, Tugfest, the aforementioned spelunking in the rain at Maquoketa caves, and River Bandits baseball. Today we're going to check out a local record store, maybe make spaghetti sauce with some gorgeous tomatoes from the Farmers' Market, and play Ultimate Frisbee--if the weather cooperates, that is.

Now, I know what you're thinking, and no, I haven't forgotten about posting my recipes. Friday was my last full-blown baking day, although I plan on making some caramels and caramel corn to sell after I'm gone...I need to preserve my legacy, after all.

What's a Midwest summer without at least one batch of baked goods laced with zucchini? I used half whole wheat flour in these, simply because I was running out of all-purpose, and I omitted the nuts. One more use for that cute mini loaf pan!

Strawberry-Rhubarb Shortcake

This recipe comes from a community cookbook produced back in my hometown in Wisconsin. It never ceases to amaze me that pouring boiling water over a pile of dry flour and sugar can actually be a good thing, but hey, that's the magic of dump cakes. Since there's no online link for this recipe, I'll post it here:

rhubarb and strawberries to line 13x9" pan
1 1/2 cups sugar
6 Tbsp. butter
1 cup milk
2 tsp. baking powder
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 cups boiling water

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cream together the sugar and butter. Add milk and blend well. Combine baking powder, flour, and 1/2 tsp. salt; add to wet ingredients and mix well. Pour over rhubarb and strawberries in pan.

Mix together sugar, remaining 1/2 tsp. salt, and cornstarch. Sprinkle over batter.

Pour boiling water over entire mixture. Bake 1 hour.

NOTE: A few drops of red food coloring may be added to the water to add color to the cake. (I didn't do this.)

Gluten-Free Chocolate Cupcakes with Marshmallow Frosting

I had leftover marshmallow frosting from last week's Confetti Cupcakes, so I used it to top these chocolate beauties instead of using the semi-sweet chocolate frosting from the cake recipe. I used white rice flour instead of tapioca flour because I was out of tapioca flour.

This is a pretty wet batter, but worth the mess, because the scones come out fluffy and delicious.

I had some leftover butterscotch chips from a pan of Monkey Bars I made last week, so I baked them up into a batch of these oatmeal cinnamon cookies.

I used a combination of almonds and hazelnuts in these naturally-sweetened treats. The filling was comprised of dried currants, dried figs, and dried apricots. These aren't overly sweet; they're more of a snack than a dessert.

So that's all she wrote. At least as far as Farmers' Market posts are concerned. Thursday I go back home for about a week and a half, then it's back to good old UW-Stevens Point for another year of higher learning. I'll keep you posted about my adventures in dorm baking, and there will probably be more than a few instances where I use this blog as a sounding board to rant about how stressed I am about the upcoming midterm, etc. Hopefully I'll be back for Christmas and/or next summer, and the Farmers' Market baking madness can resume.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Belated Baking

Okay, so I've been a little negligent of the ol' blog lately. Sorry! This means that TWO Saturday markets have passed since I last wrote, so this blog will be a little long what with the double dose of recipes. Here we go!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Maple Muffins

This week's naturally-sweetened recipe is adapted from a recipe for Maple Breakfast Cake from the Michigan Maple Syrup Association. Instead of baking in a cake pan, I put the batter in muffin cups...the recipe made exactly twelve regular-sized muffins. The syrup was courtesy of a friend who recently visited his home in New England...I would rather have had Michigan maple syrup, but hey, as long as it's the real deal, I'll take what I can get.

This was also originally a cake recipe, but for ease of dispersal, I made it into twelve cupcakes. They baked up with beautiful round domes, but soon fell to create a little depression right in the center of each cupcake. This was perfect though, because it created a great little spot to drizzle the chocolate glaze without having it pour all over the sides of the cupcakes.

I've tried gluten-free brownies before, and they're usually very thin and gooey...these were still gooey, but thicker and overall more...brownie-like, I guess. Instead of almonds, as the original recipe calls for, I used hazelnuts, because I had some leftover from the chocolate cupcakes.

Three ingredients. That's all that goes into this simple recipe. Okay, four, if you count the blueberries, but the original recipe doesn't include them, so neither do I. If you don't have self-rising flour, check your all-purpose flour package for a "recipe" for homemade self-rising flour using baking powder and salt. I've also used fresh chopped strawberries in these with great results.

Chocolate Chunk Banana Breads

Banana bread is kind of my thing, but for some reason, I waited until now to make it for market. I chopped up some milk chocolate to mix in and baked it in a mini loaf pan (the kind that's a single pan with 8 depressions). I got the pan from my aunt as a Christmas gift about ten years ago and never used it until this summer, so I'm glad it's finally getting some use.

The recipe was originally from the back of a bag of walnuts I purchased, so I don't have a link for it. I'll post it here with my modifications. Ironically, my adapted recipe doesn't include walnuts.

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 ripe bananas
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
3 tbsp. milk
1 cup milk chocolate, chopped, or 1 cup milk chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs and bananas and mix, using an electric mixer, until bananas are well-mashed. Add flour, milk, and baking soda. Blend thoroughly just until well-combined. Fold in chocolate. Pour batter into 2 greased and floured loaf pans (8 1/2"x4 1/2"x2") or 8 mini loaf pans (about 4"x2" each). Bake for 45 minutes for large loaves or 30 minutes for mini loaves, or until toothpick inserted in center of loaf comes out clean. Remove from pans and cool on a wire rack.

Oh, and here's a picture of the beautiful eggs from Miss Effie's that I used in many of the above recipes:

Alright, on to last Saturday's Market:

This cake turned out perfectly moist. Instead of gluten-free baking mix, I used equal parts white rice flour, brown rice flour, and sorghum flour. I didn't use the raisins or nuts as suggested in the recipe. I also didn't use nuts in the frosting recipe. Store this cake in the fridge if it's summer, because warm temperatures make the frosting run a lot.

The original recipe for these scones calls for cranberries, but I'd already made this version, so I decided to go more of the cinnamon-raisin route. However, I didn't have raisins, so I had to settle for dried currants, which are pretty much the same thing but smaller. The oatmeal gives these a really interesting texture. Sorry about the picture; I had already wrapped the scones before I got the camera out. To make these, simply add a little cinnamon and substitute raisins or currants for the cranberries.

I adapted a recipe for a Spicy Chocolate Cake to make this recipe. I omitted the jalapenos because I actually wanted to sell some of this (although I plan to make the original recipe soon and serve it to unsuspecting family members--it will kind of be a test to see who actually reads this...those who do will be rewarded by knowing enough to stay away from any chocolate cake I offer them in the near future). I also used milk chocolate instead of dark chocolate because I had the former and not the latter. Anyway, my modified version must have been pretty good, because it sold out!

This was my naturally-sweetened recipe for the week. I wouldn't recommend trying these unless you really like molasses. They're good, but the molasses definitely steals the show in this recipe. I omitted the coconut because I didn't have any, and used quinoa flakes instead of bran cereal.

The homemade marshmallow frosting takes a while, but it's definitely worth it. It's one of those amazing kitchen start with about a cup of runny, almost-clear liquid, and after (just) fifteen minutes of beating with an electric mixer, you have your very own version of something very similar to marshmallow fluff--except it doesn't melt out like the store-bought kind. And it's sooo shiny.

Laura's been begging me to make bagels since pretty much the beginning of summer, and this weekend I finally caved in. I added baking soda to the water bath from the original recipe to aid in browning. After brushing the bagels with egg wash, I sprinkled them with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and a steak seasoning that included mustard seeds, pepper, salt, garlic, and onion flakes.

I goofed a bit on these. The recipe warns not to cook them until brown, lest they get too hard. So I did what I was told and baked them until set. However, they were too soft and all ended up sticking to each other so that I could only get three of them out to sell at market. Those three sold out though, and I'm sure this is a great recipe so long as you bake the cookies long enough.

Sadly, next week will be my last market post. I'm going home for a couple of weeks before returning to school for my sophomore year of college at the beginning of September. Don't worry though, I'll still keep you posted (no pun intended) on what I'm up dorm has a full kitchen so I'm sure I'll be doing a fair amount of cooking, especially in the first couple weeks as I try to bribe people into becoming friends with me.

I'll leave you with a picture I took at the Great Mississippi Valley Fair on Friday. I hope someday my pantry looks like this!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Flours, Fibers, and Fastballs

I figured it was time to end my on-line silence and contribute to the blog again. This post is devoted to the other pastime that Emily and I have been enjoying this summer... America's pastime... baseball! The picture above is Emily and me with our brother Steve. He's visiting for the week, and we kicked off his visit with a trip to Chicago (note the skyline in the background of the photo) to see the White Sox/ Yankees game. It was awesome! A beautiful day, some good baseball, and a drive around downtown Chicago. The only downers were that the home team lost and we got to the game too late to see the Doobie Brothers sing the national anthem. After the game, we were treated to a cookout at my friend Pat's house, courtesy of his mom. Thanks Mrs. Miller! We enjoyed grilled fajitas to the musical stylings of Lady Gaga. No joke; it was amazing. Below is a photo of U.S. Cellular Field (home of the White Sox).

Em mentioned in a previous post that we got to check out a couple Iowa Cubs games while we were in Des Moines. What she didn't mention was that we happened to run into some other residents of Marinette. Check out the picture below to see who we found at the game...

Yep, that's right. That is Mrs. Hayes, our beloved kindergarten teacher. I cannot describe the state of complete confusion I was in when she stopped me on the concourse. There I was, on a trip for work, in a city 180 miles from the city I live in, and 500 miles from the town in which I grew up, face to face with my kindergarten teacher. I literally didn't hear the first few things she said to me. Once the fog cleared, Em and I moved to sit by Mr. and Mrs. Hayes, and had a great time watching baseball and catching up on Marinette news.

The game was made even sweeter by the fact that I got to see my high school buddy, Greg Reinhard, pitch that night. We had a great time with some old friends that night. Thanks, Greg!
(The photo below is Greg on the mound for the Iowa Cubs.)

In more baseball news, Em, Steve, and I are hitting up the River Bandits game on Thursday. We'll keep you posted on whether or not we try to sneak the underagers into the Tiki Hut. Changing that ridiculous policy has become one of my goals in life.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Lazy Sunday

Okay, so we didn't wake up in the late afternoon, and there was no Mr. Pibb or Red Vines involved, but it was still a fabulous lazy Sunday. (Ooh, and we did use Google's the best.) And SNL, it would be really great if you didn't sue us for unauthorized use of your material...thanks in advance!

Before I get to explaining our wonderful day, I'll do my usual recipe post from market yesterday. It was incredibly slow, which surprised me a little considering that there were 18,000 people downtown for the Bix7 and the Bix Jazz Festival. Laura, however, had an awesome day selling beef at the Sawyer Beef booth...but then, who can resist a pretty blond selling bovine products? Apparently plenty of people can resist an even prettier brunette hawking baked goods. Whatever. Here are the recipes before I get too depressed to type:

I altered the procedure from the original recipe a lot, so I'll post my version here:

adapted from the National Honey Board

3 to 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 (1/4 oz.) package fast-rising yeast
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons butter
1 large egg
1/2 cup finely chopped dried apricots
honey for glaze

In large bowl, combine 2 cups flour, undissolved yeast, cinnamon and salt. Heat milk, honey, water and butter until very warm (120° to 130°F); stir into dry ingredients. Stir in egg and enough remaining flour to make soft dough. Knead on lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic, about 6 to 8 minutes. Cover; let rest 10 minutes. Knead in apricots.

Divide dough into six equal parts, then divide each part into four pieces. Roll each piece to a rope about six inches long and 1/2-inch in diameter. Braid these groups of four, then place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Go here for a video of how to braid with four strands. (Of course, you could also divide each of the six pieces of dough into three and do normal braids.) Once all braids are completed, cover them and let rise until doubled in size, about 40-60 minutes.

Bake at 350°F for 25 to 30 minutes or until done. Remove from oven; brush top of loaf with honey. Remove from sheet; cool on wire rack.

Bread machine variation: Measure 3 cups all-purpose flour and other ingredients into bread machine pan as suggested by manufacturer. Process on dough/manual cycle. When complete, remove dough to floured surface; knead in additional flour if necessary to make dough easy to handle. Shape dough and proceed as directed.

I used cornstarch instead of potato starch for this recipe, and I substituted butterscotch chips for the chocolate chips. Oh, and I used plain old canola oil instead of coconut oil. This made a very thick batter, and the craggly tops of the dough globs didn't even out in the oven. To make sure the tops are smooth, I suggest evening them out with a wet finger just before popping the muffins into the oven. Cupcake liners also tend to pull away from these, so you might want to forgo them altogether and just use a muffin tin sprayed with nonstick spray.

Root Beer Cupcakes

This recipe came from my Taste of Home Cupcake of the Week newsletter. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to try these little beauties. I don't turn down a recipe that gives me an excuse to use all my strength to shatter something to bits (this, among other reasons, is also why I will never go to Dairy Queen to buy a Butterfinger or Heath blizzard...much more fun to buy a candy bar and whack it to smithereens yourself.). In this case, the shattering victim is root beer barrel candies, which then get stirred into frosting to top the cupcakes. I didn't use whipped topping, as called for in the original recipe. Instead I made vanilla buttercream and swirled in the crushed candies before frosting the cupcakes.

Pineapple Muffins

The original recipe calls for a specific brand of fancy yogurt, but our store doesn't carry it, and even if it did, I don't think I'd be able to afford it, so I used plain old Yoplait Light Pineapple Upside-Down Cake flavor. I imagine any exotic-flavored yogurt in the mango-pineapple-coconut family would work out just fine. The recipe made way too much glaze. Next time I'll probably just mix a couple tablespoons of yogurt with a couple tablespoons of brown sugar and then down the rest of the yogurt myself.

White Chocolate and Cherry Scones

This recipe comes from dessert guru David Lebovitz, who adapted it from an Alice Medrich recipe. Buckwheat flour and cornmeal give these an interesting texture and nutty flavor. They don't rise as high as normal scones, but they're delicious nonetheless.

Apple Pie Bars

I love any excuse to use a cast iron skillet. There's just something about hearing the sizzle that can only come from food cooking at the high temperature made possible by cast iron's amazing ability to hold heat. After preparing this easy homemade apple pie filling, you'll never use that icky high fructose corn syrup-laden canned stuff again. A short-crust bottom and oatmeal-walnut crumb topping round out the recipe. Truth be told, these would probably be best in early September as an after-school treat, but as I had bushels of apples sitting in my refrigerator begging to be used, I couldn't resist trying the recipe.

And now on to my amazing afternoon. To give you a little background, I'll let you know a little secret about Laura and me. We were born in the wrong century. Right place, just about 150 years late. Both of us feel this indescribable pull toward mid-nineteenth-century Midwest farms. Honestly, we have a running dream of owning adjacent farms...separate acres, but still neighbors. Anyway, today we had the opportunity to visit our dream farm (this is where the aforementionedGoogle Mapscomes into the picture--we used it to make the twenty-minute drive to the farm). See, our friend Cathy was having a birthday bash (a homemade ice cream social, actually) to benefit the CCC food pantry. It was really neat, with donations being used to buy Freight House Farmers Market gift certificates, which will then be given to the food pantry, which will then purchase local foodstuffs to stock their shelves. What an ingenious idea...not surprising, because Cathy is full of ingenious (and generous) ideas. This particular farm also happens to be home to a U-Pick flower garden, and half the proceeds from the day's sales also went to the food pantry.

So we spent the afternoon roaming around Cathy's farm, admiring the gorgeous flowers, eating homemade ice cream in the Corn-zebo (just what it sounds like--a corncrib repurposed into a gazebo...again, ingenious!), and gushing over how perfect the farm was. The afternoon ended in Cathy adopting us (don't worry, Mom and Dad, we still really love you guys too...but there's always room for more positive parental influence, right?).

Cathy also raises chickens. She introduced us to a few, including one named Cruella de Vil and another named Napoleon (I resisted the urge to ask whether he had earned his name by staging a chicken coup). As Cathy explained it, he has a real "Short Man's Complex." Apparently he untied her husband Cliff's shoes today, which I personally think is nothing short of amazing.

Here are a couple pictures of the gorgeous flowers we picked today: