"We love to cook, bake, roast, grill, preserve, you name it and we will try it."

And, some insight on gardening, photography, travel, restaurants and other stuff going on in our world.

Change…and a Leap of Faith

Posted by on Sep 3, 2012 in Uncategorized | 2 comments

I don’t like change. It is not unusual that most people don’t. But it seems that when I make a change, I do it in a big way.

I have moved, not something I recommend for the faint of heart. Especially not after 20 years. And, 75 miles from my old home. I pushed myself daily to keep moving forward, to do this. Three weeks into the new home, I can say I have have no regrets. It feels like home. It is a new beginning.

There were obstacles, of course. But they are in the past. I have a big one yet facing me. But, when I left work before taking 2 weeks vacation to move, I envisioned a parachute as I thought I might be free falling from a cliff without a net. I know the parachute is out there. Every day, I thought of three things some wise people (yet unknown to themselves) said to me:

  • “You can direct your own life, or someone will do it for you.”
  • “Sometimes the hardest decisions are the best ones.”
  • “Change can be a good thing.”

I took these pearls out often, marveled at their poignancy and timeliness in my life at the moments they arrived (this all must be happening for a reason for people, some I hardly know, to shine such wisdom at me at the most appropriate moments, causing me to pause in my tracks as I read the words) and I have held them dear while I moved through the struggle to move.

For the first time in a while, I feel happy and at peace. I have some struggles to go. But when you lose the fear, it’s easier to move ahead.

There are two more recent life thoughts shared with me that will continue to drive me forward:

  • “I am going to win.” And…
  • “Write the last chapter.”

These two are entwined as I can’t do the first without doing the latter. Thanks, SD.

I envision baking in my new kitchen. It will be great fun. It will be a comfort. It will be…everything and anything I want it to be. Biscotti rules. I envision family, brought closer together. Thanks to all for supporting me and believing in me. I envision a glass of wine on the patio. Holidays that are happy. Sharing life. A life to be lived.

And then there is the trip to Il Campo Cucina in Radicondoli…leaving 5 weeks from today. The trip of dreams…cooking in the Tuscan countryside with my sister, my inspiration. Where we go from here is the next dream in the queue.

In the face of what seems like a miserable time for me, there is an awful lot of good going on. I will look back and remember it as a very good year. Sounds like a win to me.

I have leapt with faith that everything will be okay. And life will be good.

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Recipe Review :: Irish Coffee Cupcakes

Posted by on Mar 18, 2012 in Desserts, Food, Recipe Review | 5 comments

Well, it’s Sunday morning, the day after St. Patrick’s Day, and yes, I have a bit of a hangover. My husband and I enjoyed a nice corned beef and cabbage dinner with our Irish neighbors, who take this holiday quite seriously. I offered to bring dessert, so I chose to make Irish Coffee cupcakes.

I have a rule that I won’t serve anything to guests that I haven’t made before. I learned that lesson the hard way. However, I have had many good results with Martha Stewart recipes and felt pretty confident that they would turn out well.

These cupcakes were easy to make, and I was very happy with the texture of the cake. Also, the flavors were well balanced and the cupcakes truly tasted like an Irish Coffee drink. You can find the recipe here on Martha Stewart’s website.

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Biscotti, A Thread of Life

Posted by on Mar 9, 2012 in Food | 12 comments

World Famous Biscotti, and a Thread of Life

It’s funny to think that a cookie can tell a story. I like to think of my love for baking biscotti as a bit of life’s tapestry. As a baker for many years, I’ve always been experimental, and yet traditional. I always loved baking Christmas cookies. When my daughter was in elementary school, I thought it would be nice to bake something different for teachers—something they would want to eat, something flavorful and not icky or gooey looking (or worse than that—store bought). I’d never baked biscotti before, so I tried them. For those years, teachers at Constable School received a platter of 10 or so assorted biscotti. I learned that they later looked forward to receiving the coveted platter, so much so, that several teachers received them a couple of years after Rachel had moved to middle school. After that, I didn’t stop making them, and the patrons at Elijah’s Promise in New Brunswick enjoyed them, as we created a tradition here to bring beautiful platters of biscotti, cookies, and other baked goods to the shelter on Christmas Eve Day. I have always kept biscotti in my repertoire, and when my daughter, a graduating senior, returned to her elementary school several weeks before high school graduation as part of the school’s Senior Society program, she walked into the school, and, those teachers fondly asked after her Mom’s biscotti! I knew I was on to something, if that is what they remembered after 7 years!

So, I decided to focus on baking biscotti, and selling them locally. My first gig was an amazing feat: I baked 900 biscotti for a charity event in Princeton with 3 days notice! I couldn’t have done it without my Mom’s help in bagging and tying ribbons and tags. I began to then sell baskets of homemade biscotti in Tuscan Hills, a lovely Italian home goods store in Kingston, NJ. One thread led to another. At Tuscan Hills, I attended an event of food blogger Ciao Chow Linda, and I met a lovely woman there who told me she wanted to learn to make biscotti. So, I invited her over, we made Almond Biscotti and Chocolate Almond Biscotti. She told me that she didn’t have a “bucket list” but if she did, learning to make biscotti was on the list. I paused when she told me this, because I felt that my teaching her to baking biscotti had to be part of a larger mission. She returned the favor to me by telling me where I could take Italian lessons locally. I am now in my second month of learning this beautiful language that is tied so closely to Italian culture, at Dorothea’s House in Princeton—something I had never given real thought to actually doing. Thanks, Judy, for this wonderful thread. You see, now when I go to Il Campo Cucina in Tuscany in October, I will be able to speak and understand a little Italian!

Another thread came in January from reading an article in The Atlantic City Press, about a woman who bakes and sells biscotti at the Margate Farmers Market and also via mail order. I reached out to this kindred biscotti maker, and I look forward to meeting Julia someday, or, as she said, if I just want to “chat biscotti.” I thoroughly enjoyed making her Aunt Grace’s Biscotti, filled with roasted walnuts and anise seed. The flavor was warm and the texture divinely crunchy.

Which brings me to ingredients. Biscotti are really rather simple to make. Time can be the biggest ingredient, as the meaning of the word biscotti is “twice baked.” The biggest difference between biscottis fundamentally is whether they have butter (or oil) as an ingredient, or not. Otherwise, there are varying quantities of eggs, flour, and other staple baking ingredients. The commonality stops when you consider the dozens of nuts, fruits, flavorings and spices, and combinations thereof, that you can to add create a unique or traditional biscotti.

For the nuts, consider almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, pine nuts, and pistachios.

For fruits: dried apricots, dried cherries, candied orange peel, lemon zest, dried cranberries, wild blueberries—use your imagination!

Some spices and flavorings are anise seed, almond, cinnamon, cocoa powder, chocolate, allspice, vanilla, orange and lemon extracts or oil—even rosemary.

The combinations are endless, and whether you like classic crisp almond biscotti to savor with a glass of vin santo, or something more unique like wild blueberry, white chocolate, and almond, there is a variety for every taste or occasion!

I am considering a venture, which is to make every biscotti recipe that I ever come across, and blog about them. (A little a la the movie “Julie & Julia”). I know I cannot make every recipe in a year, but I am sure I could come up with 365 variations to do so!

My latest favorite is photographed here—Candied Orange Peel and Pecan Biscotti. I have just taken a batch of Nutella biscotti (with pistachios and dried cherries) out of the oven, and as I contemplate whatever the next thread for me might be, and how it might relate to a passion for baking biscotti, I know that the road is never straight, but it always leads to somewhere.

Cottura biscotti è il mio piacere. Ciao!

Photos by Linda Taylor

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New Year’s Champagne & a Mini Photography Lesson

Posted by on Jan 2, 2012 in Photography, Uncategorized | 2 comments

If you read my post yesterday, I only posted some of the bad things that happened last year. I promised the list of the good things, but I don’t think I need to do that. I’ll just share those goods things and how I am applying them as I move forward.

This actually wasn’t supposed to be a post, but as I was taking (not making, just yet) the photograph, I started seeing things in the photo I may not have been aware of a year ago. I started seeing the things I DON’T WANT in a photo. If you are a professional photographer, you don’t need to read any further. You know this already. This is just me, working out what you guys already know. Maybe it will help someone else, maybe not.

It started like this. Today, we finally popped the cork on the champagne we were going to have New Year’s Eve. I LOVED the stainless steel label. Gotta photograph it, right? Well, here was the first shot. Please forgive me, I am using a new lens (Canon 100mm 2.8 IS; Christmas present to myself) for the first time and I haven’t found it’s sweet spot yet for product photography.

I was shooting this in natural light, so I thought. On the left, you can see incandescent light from my kitchen lighting. So off it goes. Next…

Hmmm, that red is still there. Oh, it’s my RED Giants sweatshirt on the kitchen chair. So off it goes…

Okay, still some unwanted color elements, but I need to share one of the best things I learned this year. White Cards (and reflectors). It could be white paper, white foam core, aluminum foil, a mirror or even a chef’s hat (used recently to photograph a chef). On this shot, just needed to light up the left side of the label. I positioned the white foam core to the left and under the label, which also blocked out the color cast from something in my kitchen. It was positioned pretty close to the bottle, but since I was focusing only on the label, the foam core was out of the frame.

So, the final shot is still not perfect. I was shooting on a tripod but was too lazy to go get my cable release. Also, at f8, I thought it would be in focus, but since I am dealing with a macro lens, I guess I goofed, so please don’t berate me too hard.

The moral of this story is… I am not a professional. I am working through things I have learned this year. I am committed to shooting more this  year. You can watch online workshops, like creativeLIVE, which I HIGHLY recommend, but if you don’t shoot, you won’t improve. After the tough year I’ve had, I am committed to shooting more and take the (painstaking) time it takes to improve my work. Yes, painstaking. But it will be worth it.

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The Year in Review… Or, Be Careful What You Wish For, Part I

Posted by on Jan 1, 2012 in Family, Food, Photography, Travel | 1 comment

Substituted champagne with tangerine margaritas this year.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

I have preparing this entry in my mind for a couple of weeks now. I haven’t been diligent with this blog, so I wanted to play catch up. It might not have been so daunting if I had kept up with blogging as events were happening in my life. It’s called procrastination. Yes, many of us are guilty of it, and I admire all of the bloggers that I follow for their tenaciousness for blogging at full speed. My sister and I started this blog to talk about food and life, and I think the first life lesson that I want to pass on is – this is hard! It’s work!! I get that now, so I am not going to consider this a New Year’s Resolution, I’m just going to commit myself to doing a good job, which means I am going to have to gain confidence in my writing skills and implement practical time management strategies to edit my photographs as I make them. Hmmm… a bit daunting already.

I guess the best place to start for this entry is to explain the latter part of the post title. BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR. In February, I turned fifty years old and so I wished for myself a year full of adventure and experiences. Of course, when you wish for something like that, you are only think of good things. Well, I got the good, the bad and the ugly on a scale like I’d never experienced before. I’ll spare you most of the details on the bad, because then it would sound like I was complaining. The best thing to do with bad things that happen are to turn them around into good things. So to put the good in context, here are the bad things that happened this year.

BAD THING #1 – The Fire

The Fire

The Day After

You never expect something like this to happen to you. Thankfully, no one was hurt. At first, we thought all was lost, but thanks to the volunteer fire departments (all 27 of them) that helped control this fire, we are grateful. If you live in an area where you are serviced by volunteer fire fighters, DO ANYTHING YOU CAN TO SUPPORT THEM! They do this for free. They risk their lives. Their families support them by bringing food and coolers of water while they are doing their job. Even the county sent our food trucks and port-a-potties for this all nighter. The next day, about 100 people were out of work and many of the employees were there to witness the fire. That night, they knew they were out of a job. It was hard to watch what was happening. As a photographer, I wanted to record the event. I could take pictures of the burning building, but as an owner of the company, I couldn’t take pictures of the people watching, especially the employees. It was just too personal and too painful. By the next morning, there was hope. Everyone got together to work to rebuild. We have many people to thank for the recovery, not just the employees, friends and family, but also competitors who helped manufacture our products so we could still fulfill our customer orders. Within a couple of weeks, we started bringing people back to work and even hired more people to get production moving. This is the part where I wish I was a better writer, because I know that I am not adequately able to express the emotional complexity of such an event. So many people did so much to help us out, above and beyond anything that we could have expected, that is, except for the insurance company, but that’s another story.

BAD THING #2 – Illness

Both my husband and I were hospitalized this year will serious illnesses (not at the same time). I’ll post a picture of him, but not of me. I’m too vain. I don’t want you to see me when I haven’t showered in seven days. I took his picture to keep as a reminder as to how fragile our lives are.

Randy

As for my illness, it relates to what I wished for. I set out to have an adventure or two this year. The first one I had to cancel because of the fire. I was headed to Italy with other photographers. Later in the year, I jumped at the chance for another photography trip to Africa. I got cellulitis from a flu shot when I started getting immunizations for the trip. A one in a million occurrence. I was in the hospital for a week. Now, if I chose to sit at home and be comfortable, that wouldn’t have happened. If I chose to live my life like that, I would wither and die. That was already starting to happen. I forgot what it was like to take chances and throw myself out there. I accept the consequences for that and I hope that I will continue to learn and pursue new creative outlets. I’m not even quite comfortable writing this blog. Not sure I really have something to offer, but if I don’t do it, I’ll never know, and I’ll never be able to learn from it.

BAD THING #3 – Losing My Eyesight

This is a tough one. At the age of forty six, I was diagnosed with Glaucoma. I had already lost some vision in my right eye, but almost five years later, with surgery and numerous eye drops, it’s still a battle. I can’t drive at night anymore. It’s difficult to focus my vision. At first I thought that it would deter my ability to make photographs, but I am finding that the camera is more like a prosthesis. It can see what I can’t. I will probably write more about this in the future as I work it out.

Stay tuned for BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR PART 2 – The good stuff that happened in 2011 (and more foodie stuff)

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From Seoul to San Francisco

Posted by on Nov 11, 2011 in Photo Essays | 23 comments

September was a busy month of travel (for work)…and I got to see a new part of the world I’d never been before; that is, Seoul, Korea, and visited a familiar favorite, San Francisco (one of my top two US cites–the other being Savannah). When I visit a city, I am drawn to two things: markets and churches. I didn’t have time to visit palaces, churches, or temples in Seoul, but did have an amazing experience at the Nam Dae Mun market (thanks also to my companions Mary Ellen and Don). So then when I went to San Francisco bought a ticket to Sausalito at the Ferry Building, I was pleasantly surprised with the market inside the building. So, I thought, what a contrast of two worlds–the sights, smells, and wares were amazing, and it is especially interesting to look at the differences and some similarities between the two.

Nam Dae Mun Market
The San Francisco Ferry Building
Lunch at Nam Dae Mun…Photo Don Wright
Dinner at Nam Dae Mun…photo Don Wright

The Nam Dae Mun market was an eclectic and endless maze of shops and vendors crammed into narrow “streets” that sold everything from watches to scarves to gift boxes of mushrooms and giant jars of pickled ginseng. There were every day items, tourist items, and locals buying a fish for dinner that evening, leaving with it wrapped in newspaper. There were many food items that we did not know; we saw local people queueing up as steaming hot dumpling-looking items came out of the tiniest storefront.

Hot and steaming

I thought the cooked (were they smoked?) pork parts in barrels contrasted interestingly yet somehow similarly with the shop Boccalone in the San Francisco Ferry Building, which advertised “Tasty Salted Pig Parts.”

Tasty Pig Parts
Parts of Pig, Photo Don Wright

At the San Francisco Ferry Building, I thought I died and went to cheese heaven at The Cowgirl Creamery and wished I’d had hours to sample the many wonderful cheeses. I saw the most beautiful collection of heirloom tomatoes I have ever seen. I ate possibly one of the best cookies I have eaten in my life–a macaroon at Miette that was dainty and delicate and so full of flavor.

Cheese Heaven at the Cowgirl Creamery

The similarities lie in the gathering of people, to shop, to buy, and to take home. Local and fresh ingredients were key in both markets, and while they looked vastly different in most cases, fruit, vegetables, and seafood were common to each. And then there’s the pork. And some other indescribables.

Organic Heirlooms

I can’t leave out a super fun night in Seoul at Ireland Yuki, yes–an Irish Korean bar. That night was like having a bird’s eye view into young Korean nightlife from an anonymous position (okay, well, on a bar stool), while having no worries of one’s own, and a few laughs. Thanks, Oleg, that was a blast.

Ireland Yuki

And in between Seoul and San Francisco was a trip to Toronto. There is one food highlight worth noting from that trip: the Coconut Cream Pie at Harbor 60, a top notch restaurant where all the food was outstanding–a most memorable meal. However, that pie was ethereal. It could possibly qualify as the best pie I have eaten. Ever.

In Sausalito, I was on a mission to find EyeItalia, an Italian home goods store that I’d seen advertised in the back of a magazine. Lovely shopping. This fortuitous stop opened a door to another journey to be taken in 2012: we booked a week at Il Campo Cucina, an Italian cooking school in Radicondoli, in the heart of Tuscany next October, to realize another passion and a dream. Stay tuned for wonderful news and photos for the blog next year! Ciao!

EyeItalia in Sausalito
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World Famous Family Jell-O Mold

Posted by on Aug 7, 2011 in Family, Food, Recipes | 50 comments

World Famous Holiday Jell-O Mold

When we were kids, we hated this family food tradition: the Jell-O mold that showed up at every holiday occasion. It was either green or yellow, with lots of chopped up “stuff” in it. It wiggled, wobbled, and glistened, but face it? Who would eat that mixture of fruit and vegetables, encased in a brightly colored glob of lemon or lime? The worst part is that it was served with a large dollop of mayonnaise. Mayonnaise! The worst offender of these ingredients. Most of all, I remember it was made in an opaque plastic Tupperware Jell-O mold, with interchangeable sealed lids that reflected the different holidays and had an indentation with a tulip or a Christmas tree for that awful ingredient…mayonnaise. I still have my pale green Tupperware Jell-O mold, sans indented lid. But my mother still has the original.

My memory tells me that the Jell-O mold was the product of my grandmother, Ethel Haster. Surely she was in her heyday in the 50s and 60s and 70s, when Tupperware and Jell-O were on the culinary cutting edge.  She was and will always be the most creative person I know. She influenced our lives in every way with her amazing talents, whether it be knitting, sewing, needlepoint, crochet, cooking or her every day analytical approach to problems, situations, or opportunities. Her gifts are reflected in the generations that followed her, and there isn’t a time that I don’t pick up my knitting needs that I don’t think we were lucky to have had her, and grateful that we inherited many of her passions.So here’s to Gram, who lived in a simpler, non-technical time but approached everything she did with an “engineer’s mind” and a heavy-duty dose of creativity and “get-it-done” attitude.

The Jell-O mold? I’d give anything to be able to have her bring it for Christmas dinner, and would proudly place it on my table, along with whatever else I was serving, and spend the rest of the night talking to her about all the things I wish I did when she was still with us. I’d even have it with the mayonnaise.  🙂

Ingredients

Haster Family Jell-O Mold

1 small package Lime (or Lemon) Jell-O, if you prefer

1 cup Grated Carrots

1/2 cup Chopped Celery

1 small can or 1 cup crushed pineapple, drained

Make Jell-O according to package directions, using 1 cup boiling water and 3/4 cup cold water. Add carrots, celery and crushed pineapple. Pour into Jell-O mold and refrigerate until set. When ready to serve, dip mold inwarm water to loosen and release.

Serve with mayonnaise (if you must).

Mix chopped ingredients into semi-set Jell-O.

Pour into (preferably vintage) Tupperware Jell-O mold

Serve with mayonnaise, if you must.

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