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Thursday, March 30, 2017

March Madness

 We recently returned from the islands of St. Martin and St. Bart's (Barthelemy) in the Caribbean and they might be my new favorite islands.  We split the week and stayed half on one and half on the other.  St. Martin is also known as St. Maarten as roughly one half belongs to the French Republic and the other to the Netherlands.  We stayed at a hotel resort on the Dutch side called Belmond La Samanna - it was gorgeous!  The picture above is our ascent from St. Martin.  Below, is St. Bart's.
I'll report more on that trip in a minute because we're going to talk about these sugar cookie bars you see below.  My friend Danielle gave me the recipe after I sampled them at church during her RS lesson the Sunday before last.  I couldn't specify exactly what I had bitten in to other than it was fantastic - the cakey part was a bit sandy and buttery like a cookie yet dense and moist like cake and the buttercream was thick and vanilla perfection.  I asked her after her lesson what yellow cake recipe she used as it was not like anything I had ever made and she said that it was a sugar cookie type dough made in to a sheet cake.  Not like when you put chocolate chip dough in a 9 x 13 pan and called them blondies though.  She sent me the recipe (she found it on a food blog) and I made it immediately.  The dough is a little bit wetter than cookie dough and I did make one change to it that I'll note below.
Here's the recipe:  Sugar Cookie Bars
1 cup softened butter (unsalted)
1 cup of vegetable oil - here is where I made a change - I don't love oil in cake so I melted butter instead - I've done this every time oil is called for in a cake and it's always turned out great and yes, you beat the softened sticks with melted sticks - your choice though.
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
1 T vanilla
2 eggs
4 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt (I made it 1 tsp as all the butter I used was unsalted)
1 t cream of tartar
1 t baking soda

Beat butters, sugars, and vanilla until creamy.  Beat in eggs.  Add all the dry stuff at once and beat until well mixed.  Spread into a greased 9x13 cake pan.  The dough was sticky so I wet my hands a bit to smooth it out or you could do this with greased parchment paper by pressing.  Bake at 350 for 20 to 30 minutes - start checking at 20 and remove when pale golden as you would sugar cookies.  Don't over bake.  Don't even attempt to frost until the cake is absolutely cool.


1 cup salted butter softened
5 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk or cream (I used heavy cream - I love the taste)

Frost and then sprinkle on colored sugar or any other sprinkles/jimmies you desire.  These are rich so cut them small for serving.  

It was a rainy, raw Saturday just after the sunny island trip when I made the sugar cookie bars so I kept baking and made the intensely peanut butter swirled brownies you see below as well.  This is Smitten Kitchen's recipe.  Here is the LINK
Make both of these recipes - they freeze well - even the frosted bars.  That's what I did with both after baking them and then having Dan and myself sample for quality control.
I also made some super easy and healthy pancakes for breakfast this week - I rarely make pancakes but this recipe that I found in a magazine sounded really intriguing and from beginning to on-the-plate ready-to-eat was like 5 minutes.  These pancakes are a bit more crepe like in texture than regular flour/leaven pancakes but the flavor is totally pancakey and does not taste like the ingredients - you'll see what I mean.  The recipe is a single serve and makes two plate sized or several dollar sized.  I made two large ones and ate one one day and ate the other the next day (which I rolled up with cheddar cheese inside and ate as a savory - yummy!)  Here's the super easy recipe and for those who care, it's also gluten free.

Three Ingredient Blender Pancakes
1 cup of cottage cheese
2 eggs
1 cups of old fashioned rolled oats

Put all in blender and whip until liquid.  Pour batter onto a hot greased skillet - flip when bubbles form (the bubbles are barely visible unlike regular pancake batter due to lack of leavening).  They cook quickly.   I ate the warm one with butter and real maple syrup and the next day I used the cold one as a wrap for a cheese sandwich.  Delicious sweet or savory - high in protein and fiber, no sugar, GF, scrumptious.  

Now back to the island adventure.  
Okay, now back to the Caribbean.  Above is the view right outside our patio doors.  That huge shell in the bottom right is where we washed our feet off.  Below is the gorgeous resort and beach.  The whole place had a very European feel - as did the island itself.  Most of the inhabitants on either side of the island speak French as their native language.

This is the path to the beach if you go out our front door instead of the back patio doors.

The little cove at the end of our beach below.

This beach above is Grand Case beach.  Next time we visit this island, who knows when, we are going to stay on this one at a hotel called Le Petit Hotel (only ten rooms, I've already planned it out - ha!) - it looks adorable and this beach is really fun to walk and play on (and the water is calm and warm too) and on the other side of the small hotels that line it are some of the best French restaurants on the planet.  And fabulous shops.  When we came upon this beach and the street that runs parallel to it, it was early evening and dozens of vendors were setting up food and artisanal merchandise tables and the street became jam packed with people.  We found out they set up this food and merchandise market the first 12 Tuesdays of every year - I'm glad we got to experience it.  We also ate a paper cone of the best french fries I have ever eaten (and I'm not a french fry person) and they had tubs of homemade mayonnaise and pink fry sauce - to die for!  Three Belgian guys worked that booth with one cutting potatoes, one frying and one waiting on hungry customers like us - and the smell was divine!  Can you see that tub of pink sauce on the table below?  I could drink it.

While we were doing some of this above, this was happening at home in New Hampshire in the two photos below.  We haven't had much of a winter but March has brought the real snow this year.

After three days in St. Martin, we boarded a tiny plane and took the 10 minute journey to St. Bart's.  That was a really fun flight - because it's so short, the plane flies not far above the water so the views are spectacular.  

There were just six of us on the wee flight.  Dan took the back where he had lots of leg room.
There was a Bucket Regatta going on for the next day in St. Bart's and here are a few of them doing practice races in the photo above as seen from my window.
We stayed at another really lovely hotel - this one called Le Sereno.  This beach is big for water sports as it's a bit windy and there are big sea turtles all over - our first morning there we took the clear bottomed kayak out after breakfast and rowed not far and they were swimming and surfacing all around us - I love turtles!

Above is the little gate and lane that leads to our room.

Below is a street in the red-roofed town of Gustavia - the capital.  St. Bart's is flawless.  And so beautiful - hilly and verdant.  It looks like the whole island enjoys a high standard of living as we saw no poverty, no humble or run down houses or towns.  Many of the roads are lined with stone walls.  And because it's small and hilly, where ever you drive you have fantastic views of the sea.  This island also has several beaches that are called natural beaches where there are no commercial buildings allowed or even restrooms on them - they are undeveloped and superb and protected.  They are wonderful for swimming and surfing and utterly pristine because they aren't marred by development and the country plans to keep them that way.

Above and below are a couple of those natural beaches I just talked about.  There were many wild goats grazing in the hills surrounding the beaches.

This one below is called Saline Beach.  All the beaches have a sign saying no nudity allowed but one guy apparently couldn't read - I was taking a walk and he was off a ways by himself lying face up completely naked.

Below is one of the wind surfers we were watching from our beach chairs at Le Sereno.  This guy (can you spot him?) was out there for hours - quite the stamina to do that I would guess.

Back at home I have had just two weeks to catch up on things, like clean, bake, paint, appointments, meetings, catching up with my kids, rental property issues, church work etc.  Here below is the only painting I was able to work on.  It's an abstract modeled on the late Alma Thomas's style and an excuse to paint something pink - I really really love pink and it even looked nice drying on the rug in my studio.  

It's currently hanging in the hall outside of the laundry room.  I removed an old Wyeth poster that used to be in that frame and I need to replace the brown matting for another color as soon as we get home from our next (and last) adventure.   After this last diversion, it will be the beginning of much anticipated yard work and gardening for me, oh glorious flowers, in our little heavenly spot in New England for months!  I can't wait!

But first, lots and lots of sticks and branches to pick up that have littered the property through out the winter.   
 The tulips are popping up!


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Fruits and Frogs and Pollywogs

 You are probably wondering about the title to my blog post - it's one whole nickname we call Scotty, our family miniature schnauzer.  There's even more to that nickname but it's embarrassing to finish it out loud or on "paper" - only family and true Scotty lovers can sing the refrain.  I painted Scotty.  He is my first true portrait and I painted him for my son Heath's birthday.  He will receive the portrait today.  Here below is the rest of the portrait and then I'll explain the story.
 Below is the picture I painted from.

I didn't want it to be an perfect copy but rather a close representation of one of my favorite pictures of Scotty.  I changed the carpet and made the box a tad shorter.  A couple years ago, Heath and Emma were getting rid of some stuff in their apartment and they put Scotty in a box and told him they were taking him to the Salvation Army with all the other boxes.  That's how they labeled the picture when they texted it to me.  I titled the painting "Yard Sale Pup".  I will miss that painting when it leaves today as I have loved placing every brush stroke and then talking to the finished painting the whole week it has leaned against the wall in our kitchen.  Happy Birthday Heath! (next week anyway).  I've finished three other paintings since my last post that I'll show here as I go along and wrap up another month of fun-ness.

We had a great time in Tulum Mexico ( Riviera Maya area).  The weather was flawless - sunny and mid to high 80s everyday and we followed a schedule we kept on our last two beachy trips - breakfast, long morning beach walk, bake in the sun and read and drink diet coke until lunch time, eat lunch at a different place each day, go on an adventure all afternoon until dinner time and then pick out a different place to eat each night.  We stayed at a place called Viento de Mar along the jungle road where eco-hotels are built cheek by jowl on the ocean side of the narrow road and shops and restaurants line the other side.  I say they are cheek by jowl close but they don't feel that way because each boutique hotel is quite small, 8-20 rooms, most with thatched palapa style roofs, and open floor restaurants and bars.  We loved it.  Here are some pics of that trip.

 This is the view from our balcony.

 This is the beach side of our hotel.

 Our room was like being in a white washed tree house - it was great!

 The maids designed dolls with our fresh towels every day.

 I'm starting to turn really brown here.

At home I got back to painting.  Here are two 8x10 ones I did of scenes from Turks and Caicos (the girl is not me - it could be if I quit eating cake - ha!  It's from someone else's photo).

 This one is an impressionist style of our beach one late afternoon as the sun was going down.

This one is abstract expressionism except for the girl - I kept her somewhat realistic.
Below are both of them hanging in the hall way on the second floor.

The painting below is large - 36 x 36 - Dan and I saw one similar at a gallery in Connecticut and we both liked it for its fresh, fun, nautical vibe and it was priced at $2000!  I said that I would paint something like it for under $100 and I did and we love it - it's cheery and cheer for sure and here it is below in my studio drying and then we hung it in the second floor hall outside of Dan's office.

 I love the look of fresh and modern in a 217 year old hallway.

Last Wednesday, for the 175th anniversary of the Relief Society, my church's women's organization, we put together a "birthday party" with cake, ice cream, a "let's make a deal" game and a service project.  My second counselor and I each made a few homemade cakes, different kinds, and homemade ice cream.  My first counselor went out and bought a bunch of fun and silly prizes for the game.  My secretary put together a beautiful flower arrangement and our friend Bobby H emceed the game.  Each woman from our congregation/ward was asked to bring two purses - a used one to give away (don't we all have old purses we'll never use again?) and to be filled with items to donate to a local shelter for abused women and children and then our own purse to be filled with a bunch of non pursey objects found around one's house for the game.  We had a great turnout with dozens of donated, filled purses and the game was a blast.  The cakes were yummy too.
 These were items I put in my own purse.  None of them were called out.  I did win one prize for having an address book in my purse, a real one, not the one on my phone.
 Here's an old purse of mine washed and in great shape to be donated to the shelter filled with personal items and art supplies for kids.
 Here are three cakes I made -  angel food with fresh raspberry sauce, flourless chocolate souffle cake with berries and whipped cream, and a white chocolate 3 layer cake with white chocolate curls on top.  And a gravy boat full of warm ganache for the ice cream and any thing else you want to pour it on.

Taryn made a killer chocolate mousse cake in the back there next to a delicious carrot cake.  We were all in a cake coma afterwards (Taryn's words).  

A couple days ago, Dan and I went to NYC to see a play and peruse more bakeries.  We also met up with our friends Carly and Jesse for lunch.  Details below.
 We saw "Waitress".  Music by Sarah Bareilles.  It was enjoyable and I loved the songs.
 You probably won't care about this news but to me it was a monumental find.  We passed by a french cafe on our way to our hotel and I looked at the menu and it offered Valrhona hot chocolate on the breakfast menu UNSWEETENED!  I  was so excited I exclaimed that we had to eat breakfast there the next day.  I have said to Dan so many times that I wished a restaurant would made unsweetened hot chocolate, good hot chocolate, with no sugar added so a person could drink it straight or sweeten it with whatever they wanted.  Wish granted.  It was really really good! It could have been hotter - I like it burning hot and it rarely comes hot enough anywhere, but it was so delicious (they make a paste from melted 100% cocoa bar chocolate and add it to hot steamed whole milk).  I drank most of it unsweetened and then added a bit of truvia for the last couple swallows (and to dunk my baguette).
Here's a painted rendering of the place that was near our table - you can see its names and address - the corner of 9th and 21st in the Chelsea neighborhood.

 Every time we go to NYC we try to explore a different area.  This time we chose Chelsea.  We stayed at a lovely hotel called the High Line on 10th Ave and 20th St.  It's a 1863 former seminary turned boutique hotel.  Here are a couple pics of our room - it was new and old fashioned at the same time.

 Some of our activities besides the play were walking the High Line Park (I went from end to end - so fun and much to look at), bakeries of course (Amy's Bread, Billy's, Daily Provisions, Aux Merveilleux, Maison Erik Kayser), Chelsea Market, the Whitney Museum, Le Labo (for perfume - the best!) lunch with the Smith's at Buvette (right out of Paris), dinners at Bobby Van's Grill and Bottino - both really good!  And lots and lots of walking - Dan did great on his new knees; better than we both thought he would.
Smelling all the offerings at Le Labo.  They make your perfume right there in their little lab.

 Billy's Bakery across the street from La Grainne.  I liked their cupcakes better than Magnolia.
 Walking on the High Line (an ancient, unused, once an eyesore, elevated railway that has been converted into an elevated garden/park/walkway).  Someone installed a very realistic zombie along the path.
 Buvette at 42 Grove St in Greenwich Village.  Very tiny, very french, delicious.
 Modern art at the Whitney - this is a huge painting - acrylic on twin sized bed sheet.

Super super tender and delicious crullers from Daily Provisions at 103 E. 19th St. in the "furniture store district".  The hot chocolate was fabulous too - very very rich and not too sweet.  

On the train ride home from NYC to Boston, Dan and I ate from our bakery purchases the whole way. We felt pretty sick by the time we got home.  Next week I am going to be in a bathing suit for most of the time and it's not gonna be pretty.  Well, I think that's the last few weeks in the life of cheery and cheer.  We have another blizzard coming on Tuesday and Wednesday here in New England which we are going to miss but I wouldn't complain at all if I were here for it.  I love snow!  I am not tired of winter by any means because we have barely had one - maybe two weeks worth if you add all the snowy and cold days together.  And spring is always sitting on the kitchen counter no matter what. 

Oh!  And I'm going to be a Gran!  My daughter is pregnant with the first grandchild of my three kids.  Here she is with her teeny tiny baby bump.  Hooray!!!

One more thing - Heath was just here and received his Scotty portrait!