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November 2010

Featured on The Gift of Goodness

French cake11 

I was honored to be contacted a while back by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, they have created a special Christmas Blog featuring recipes using butter with a creative packaging ideas. I was thrilled to be asked and immediately thought of Wren's wedding cake. A browned-butter Financier almond cake, that is caramel and rich from browning the butter. I have to say I think this is my favorite recipe I have created. Gifted with a homemade French flour-cloth and a wreath of rosemary, or maybe Melissa's French zinc tag, I think this would make a lovely gift. For those of you who do not own Wren Bay, here is a chance to have her wedding cake recipe.

There are some wonderful recipe and creative packaging ideas, so check out The Gift Of Goodness!!!

Storybook Woods Food Gift Ideas

Candy cane syrup 

Candy Cane Syrup made with real candy canes!! with some homemade Coco mix (that does not have preservatives)

Hot Butter Rum Mix (I have my batch in the freezer) with a bottle of rum or apple cider or both!!

Espresso Sugar with a log of cookie dough to make espressodoodles or a loaf of good boule with some irish butter to make grown-up version if cinnamon toast!!

Make your own Microwave Popcorn kit, with pretty paper bags, multi-colored popcorn and a fun small stapler.

Chocolate-cover Licorice Tea with a bag of licorice.

Chocolate Granola with a pretty bowl.

Cider Sauce with pancake mix.

It Is Little Touches-Bronze Pine-cones



I always like to have a little gift for my guests who come to my house for dinner. This Thanksgiving I have taken pinecones from last years Christmas Woodland theme (since I still had a bunch I had added eye hooks to), spray painted them bronze, added some ribbon and will tie them around each person's napkin. Then they can take their pine-cone home with them. Think about the little touches. It does not have to be complicated, expensive or elaborate. Just a little touch to say you care.

Is there anything you are making for Thanksgiving you are excited about? Believe it or not, I am still trying to decide what I am cooking, besides the traditional stuff. Maybe a pumpkin soup with pesto drizzled on-top or browned buttered pear tart or pomegranate/dried fig salad, who knows what will creep into my mind??? xoxo

Vintage Apple Books

Apple family2

I have a whole library full of vintage books and realize I do not share enough of them with you. Here is some apple books I love.

Mr. Apple's Family by Jean McDevitt (above). I have to say out of all the books here this is my favorite and not just because of the utterly charming illustrations. It is about Mr. and Mrs. Apple,  their children MacIntosh, Johnathan, Delicious, Snow Apple and baby Ann Apple and their move from the city to their little apple farm. A very charming read.

Apple pie inn2

Look at the beautiful cover on Apple Pie Inn by Mary Dickerson Donahey. The cover is the whole reason my mother bought me the book. But it is a sweet story about the Stephan family and in troubled times turning their home into Apple Pie Inn. There is a mystery as to the two men who rent rooms Apple Pie Inn.

Little apple tree2 

The Little Apple Tree by Dolli Tingle is a small, simple story about seasons. My girls loved this book when they were  a toddler.

Cider w rosie2

Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee. The novel is an account of Lee's childhood in the village of Slad, Gloucestershire, England, in the period soon after the WW1. It chronicles his traditional village life. The identity of Rosie was revealed years later to be Lee's distant cousin Rosalind Buckland. I found this interesting article about Rosie.

Do you have any favorite apple books?

Russian Mixer Cover and my Grandparents

Russian cover 111 

I do not know if you remember my old mixer cover made from a pillow case? I love it but it does not go with my pantry now. I wanted something old-world feeling. Two years ago I embroidered this charming doll and have been looks for the right fabric since. I finally found it. It is black with bits of red and gold like I wanted. It feels very Russian to me. My father's mother Claire (who I am named after) was born in Russia. My Grandfather Isador was born in Poland and went to Germany at age 10 to apprentice as a baker. He met my Grandmother there and they married, moved to England and eventually came to San Francisco, where I was born.

Russian fabric22 

I have never met my grandparents. My Grandmother Claire had a stroke and died when my father was 16 and my Grandfather died 6 months later of a broken heart. But I have felt a very strong connection to this side of my family since I was a young child. I decided at about age 10, whoever I married should take my name with their as a remembrance to all my family who died in the Holocaust (only 2 people made it out of Germany). This is why my husband also goes by Fox-Hughes. He generously took my families name Fox as his own, love that man.

Russian cover 44 

I only have two pictures of my Grandmother Claire, a set of silver candlesticks (my most prized possession) and a beautiful, huge, carved round mirror. There is almost no family left, only a handful of story to hold onto. I always thought I could have been born only two generation earlier and been lost in the Holocaust. It struck me as a child how blessed I was. As I said I have a very strong connection to my Grandmother. I like to imagine cook with her and my grandfather teaching me how to make rye bread. So it seemed fitting to using something Russian feeling in my baking pantry. I embroidered пирог because means cake in Russian. In the picture you see a pin but I will put  a snap there. The cover is a long straight piece and I just folded in the sides. 

I hope you preparing for the holidays but not feeling overwhelmed. Remember A. do as much ahead of time as you can (fill up your freezer) and B. it is suppose to be fun xoxoxo

Russian cover 33 

Black/Red Ninja and Link

I have to share my girls costumes this year. They worked on them for two months. Auberne` is a black and red female ninja named Black Rose.


She has duel Ninja swords and the tattoo on her arm says Willow in Japanese.

 Hallown2 Hallown3

The coolest thing Auberne` made is a hand-guard with darts. You can pull out each dart to throw.


Chloe went as Link from the Legend of Zelda. Her and David made this wooden Highland shield. She painted it by herself.

Hallown66 Holloween00

I wish you could see all the details she put into this costume, which a lot of it she hand sewed. She made the ears and the long green cap has all this detail on the side. The little glittered creature on her shoulder is a little fairy called Navi.

IMG_8574 Holloween99

Link carries a bottle on Lon-Lon milk and on her glove is the symbol of the Triforce.


Chloe always makes a costume for her doll, Elisabeth. She went as Zelda who gives Link a Ocarina of Time (the blue thing in Chloe's hand. It is kind of like a flute). I am always amazed at how creative and talented my girls are. I have to say they are wonderful at picturing what they want,  figuering out how the end product should be and how to make it happen with what they have. Well done sweeties, I think you are awesomesauce (an inside family joke)  xoxoxo

5 Baking Mistakes

Notagic kitchen 

    As you all know, I love food. Really, all food, well, except processed food (I can taste all the artificial stuff they put in it). But real, homemade food, love it. I have learned over time to say I do not like something. Because what I usually mean is do not like how this dish was prepared, which is usually poorly. Often times I have had people say to me, I thought I hated this but I never had it this way. Now this I love. (I had a friend say this about roasted pumpkin, she hates pumpkin pie but loved my pasta w/ balsamic roasted pumpkin)

    So I am always up for trying what other people prepare (although everyone is terrified to cook for me ;-)  Do NOT be, by the way). I have to say I know lots of amazing cooks, even though they do not think they are amazing. But I do see a trend in the same mistakes when it comes to baking. BUT let me say something before I list my 5 baking mistakes. First this list is just my opinion, you may disagree with me and that is just fine. And second as I ALWAYS say, suit your palette. Cook food the way you like it, not the way I like it.


5 Baking Mistakes

   1. Trusting recipe times of baking (another words overcooking)

Over-baked items I would say is the biggest mistake I see. When I chat with the person who baked, lets us say cookies, I always get, well the recipes said 15 minutes. I ask if they check the cookies at 10 minutes and I always get, no. Again the recipe said. Yes baking is a science but there are too many variables to be able to write an exact recipe. NO cook can tell you it will cook exactly in so many minutes. So use the time they tell you as a gauge but start checking sooner than the recipe say and pull it out the minute it is cooked!! When I can smell what I am baking, is when I start checking. This is why you will see in my recipes a span of time, to give you an idea of about how long it will take. If I ever write a true cookbook, it will probably be titled something like why I cannot give an exact recipe   :-P


    2. Salt

Salt is a really important component to baking. If left out, you will have a flat, boring tasting cake or whatever you bake. Salt makes sweet things taste sweeter. It adds complexity and is very important. So use salt!  I even dare to say use a generous amount of salt. A pinch of salt in a cookie recipe is not enough. Now I have a reader of this blog (I will not say who she is) who cannot stand salt in her baked items and feels it makes them taste bitter. I do not think that this is the norm for most people but again I tell her to suit her own palette.


     3. Oven temp

This sort of goes back to rule 1. You need to know if your oven runs hotter or colder or right on temp. I think most people’s ovens run hotter. So again if they are baking cookies and the oven is really baking at 365°F, instead of 350°F, it is already cooking faster than the recipe had called for. I have two ovens, one bakes way hotter. I turn down the heat by at lest 25 degrees, when I use that oven. An inexpensive oven thermometer will tell you the temp of your oven. So know your oven and feel free to adjust the heat. Play with it, until you know exactly how your oven temps work.


    4. The oil/butter combo

This is actually sort of not a mistake but more of a trick I have learned over time. Because another issue I see in things like muffins and quick breads is they are too dry. If you are baking items such as muffin, quick breads, cookies or cakes that use melted butter, using a combo of melted butter and oil will give you much more of a moist crumb. Butter gives you the flavor and richness (I adore butter. Just had to say it) but oil will give you moisture.Try using 2/3 butter and 1/3 oil and see what you think. I think you will be happy with the results.


   5. Fearlessly playing with a recipe

Lastly the second biggest mistake (well maybe it is the biggest) is not being fearless. Since I love talking food, I have had lots of conversations with people about cooking. Most people I meet are intimated and afraid to veer from a recipe. Usually they do not understand what they are cooking and worry too much about doing something different. Well I hate to say this but to be a good cook, you have to be fearless, you have to be willing to make mistakes, to ruin dishes that only your dog is willing eat, to think out of the box and to play. Cooking should be fun. I know we are all on tight budgets and do not want to waste money or food. But think of it as investment, like college. It is in your mistakes you will learn (you should see alllllll the mistakes and awful food I have made over the years). Really it is in your mistakes you learn to be a better cook, not your successes. Try learning one idea and then think of how you can add that to what you are already cooking. For example I learned last month all garbanzo bean flour in the cookies I was making was terrible. Really bitter, I can only use a in small amount with other flours. I have found most recipes for cakes, muffins, cookies, etc are actually pretty forgiving. You can adjust the fat, sugar, spices, etc. Now you may not get exactly what the person who wrote the recipe planned but it does not mean you will not get something delicious in the end. Plus the more you bake and play, the more you will understand a recipe when you read it and be able to change it to suit you and that is the whole point of cooking!!

A thank you to Niki for letting me use her a photo of her kitchen. I have been a long time reader and adore her house and kitchen!!