Easter Memories

Hello Everyone!

Easter Egg HuntEaster was this past Sunday, and as most, we had a special sunrise service at our church.  How wonderfully blessed I am to be able to worship and remember the ultimate sacrifice our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, made for all of us.  I hope you and your family attended an Easter Service, too.  I am sure many new Easter frocks were worn and eggs and candy were in abundance. I can hear my grandmother singing the Easter Parade song, “In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it…”  Many probably participated in a church breakfast and/or family lunch, as was the plan for our day. Egg hunts (more like eggs just scattered all over the lawn) for the little ones took place as the adults cheered them on to “find” the plastic eggs with treats hidden inside. Lots of photos were taken and games were played, including croquet. However you celebrated Sunday, I hope you enjoyed and remembered the real reason the day is celebrated.

Last Easter (along with most other holidays and celebrations) was odd without my sweet husband. We were married on Easter weekend and always made it a point to celebrate our anniversary with dinner out, a trip to the beach, or a cruise like we took for our honeymoon and a few more milestone years following. The last cruise we took was in celebration of our 35th Anniversary. He was so proud and excited to tell me he had booked it himself…a suite with a balcony!  This year would be our 40th Anniversary.  I am blessed to have spent most of those years together, and that is a great testament to our love for each other. It is hard not to miss your best friend and soul mate.  Much “rain” has fallen along with the April showers. Without a doubt, we would be on a cruise in a suite with a balcony right now.

This year, the timing was off for my class to make and sell our hand-made and decorated peanut butter eggs. Our Spring Break came the week before Easter. The annual sale of 500+ of the confections preceding Easter was just not possible.  Many of our customers were disappointed, however my students were not. One class made a few batches, dipped them in chocolate and decorated them for both classes.  When we first started making the Peanut Butter Eggs years ago, I remember having some of the filling left over and bringing it home to make a few for my sweet husband who LOVED peanut butter eggs.  They were shaped and placed on the island in my kitchen to dry overnight so I could dip them.  He had already left for work early that morning before I came into the kitchen only to discover some were missing!  I called him to ask why he ate them before I finished them.  He replied that he had not eaten any of them. Puzzled, I turned around to see our Jack Russell and realized she had to have jumped up on one of the island chairs and helped herself to the missing eggs!  It was like she was giving me the, “I was just making sure they were fit for human consumption” look.  She was immediately banned to the yard for the day!

I am including the small recipe we have used for years to make the peanut butter eggs, though converted to make very large batches!

May God bless you and your family as He continues to bless ours,

Chef Woods

Peanut Butter Eggs

@ 16 1.4 oz. (@ 3 T.) Eggs before dipping in chocolate

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 c. Softened Butter (3 sticks)Peanut Butter Eggs
  • 3/4 c. Peanut Butter, Smooth or Crunchy
  • 1 T. + 1 1/2 t. Light Corn Syrup *Tip-Spray measuring spoons with pan spray before measuring
  • 1/2 t. Vanilla Extract
  • 2 lbs. Powdered Sugar
  • 1 package @ 20 oz. Candy Coating Chocolate, Ghirardelli Chocolate Melts or Wilton Candy Melts
  • Royal Icing or Fondant Decorations

Procedure

  1. In a mixer bowl combine butter, peanut butter, corn syrup and vanilla.
  2. Gradually add in powdered sugar a couple of cups at a time to form a stiff dough-like filling.
  3. Line a sheet pan with waxed or parchment paper.
  4. Weigh 1.4 oz. or scoop 3 T. together of the filling.
  5. Roll each portion into a ball and then shape into an egg shape.
  6. Loosely cover with a paper towel and allow to air-dry overnight or several days. The more dry they are, the better for dipping.
  7. Melt chocolate per package instructions.
  8. Dip each egg in chocolate and return to waxed or parchment paper to harden.
  9. Carefully trim any excess chocolate from bottom of each egg.
  10. Place each egg in a paper cupcake paper cup.
  11. Decorate as desired.
  12. Store at room temperature.

 

Gluten-Free Easter Candy

By Rachel Sircy 

Well, another candy-filled holiday is upon us and we know what that means… Everyone who needs to avoid gluten has to Google each and every one of the pastel colored confections that you come across. This Easter, however, I’m not going to just give a list of manufactured candies that are gluten free (if you would like a list of those candies, check out verywellfit.com‘s Gluten Free Easter Candy list, but remember to ALWAYS take lists you find on the internet with a grain of salt. Be safe, not sorry!). I’m going to make the focus of this post my alternative way of dealing with this Easter: I decided to make my own candy.

Okay, so I understand that making candy isn’t rocket science, and there are probably many of you who are real candy-making mavens. However, I thought I would share this post particularly because I am NOT a candy-making superstar. I wanted to show that even if you’re not experienced, you can make delicious candy that your family will enjoy, and if your family happens to be gluten free, this is by far the safest option for you.

Pinterest is overflowing with recipes for Easter candy specialties. At first, I thought I’d try to recreate one of my all-time favorites, the Cadbury Creme Egg. This candy’s gluten-free status has been hotly debated for a long time. I used to just take the risk and eat it, but that really isn’t smart, and I certainly won’t recommend it to anyone reading this blog who needs to be gluten free. I didn’t end up making it though because it turns out that there are a lot of steps to making fake Cadbury eggs, so I thought I’d better start with something much easier. Also, I have no idea what invertase is or where to find it, and it appears to be a crucial ingredient to liquefy the candy center of the eggs. I needed something totally amateur. My inspiration came one day at work when I went to the communal candy jar and realized that all that was left in it were Hershey’s Cookies ’n’ Cream Eggs. I used to absolutely love Hershey’s Cookies ’n’ Cream candy bars, and I have made a gluten free version of this candy bar, which actually may be better than the real thing. The best part of it is, there are two ingredients: white chocolate and gluten free chocolate sandwich cookies. All you do is mix the two together and, voila! Cookies ’n’ Cream bark.

However, I wanted to make something a bit more festive, to put in my daughter’s Easter basket. Here are my first attempts:

These colorful looking candies are basically the result of about an hour (including all the stops and starts) in the kitchen with two bags of Nestle white chocolate baking chips (they list that they’re gluten free on the package), one package of Glutino chocolate sandwich cookies and some leftover gluten free food coloring I had forgotten about in my kitchen cabinets. I only had three colors: blue, yellow and green, but they still turned out some pretty cute candies if I do say so myself. I purchased the flower and egg candy molds at Hobby Lobby and Michaels, respectively. They were less than $6 together and they’re silicone so the candy just pops right out once it’s been in the fridge or the freezer long enough to harden.

Here are your instructions to make these candies (I’m giving general instructions and not a real recipe since I’m not a chef and frankly, you don’t need a recipe for this):

  1. Melt your white chocolate – I used a glass bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, but you can melt your chocolate in the microwave as well.
  2. Portion out some of the chocolate into smaller bowls – I took about 1/3 of the white chocolate and divided it between three smaller bowls. I used a couple of drops of food coloring per bowl to make the three different colors. If you want to make more colors, I would really recommend purchasing a third package of white chocolate chips to have enough to divide up.

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  1. Crush the cookies and mix with the larger portion of the melted chocolate

Candy 4

  1. Work in steps – To make colored eggs, paint the inside of the egg molds with the dyed chocolate (my daughter’s old baby food spoons worked really well for this actually). Freeze or refrigerate until set. Fill the mold with the chocolate/cookie mixture and freeze or refrigerate again until set. Top with more of the colored mixture and again freeze or refrigerate until set. You see the pattern? This is pretty much it.

Candy 5

I did do it a bit differently with the flowers to get the yellow in the middle, but you can probably guess how I did that. Just freeze the dollop of yellow before adding the blue. It takes about 5 minutes.

Candy 6

And this is what the inside of those eggs look like:

Candy 2

(Don’t tell me that doesn’t look better than a candy bar. Look at how big the cookie chunks are!)

So, if you’re tired of trying to scan everything in the grocery store into your Shopwell app to see if it’s gluten free, just try your hand at a simple candy recipe. I guarantee you can find something simple and delicious, even if you’re a beginner like me!

Happy Easter!

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Gluten-Free Banoffee Pie

By Rachel Sircy 

St. Patrick’s Day will soon be upon us and to tell the truth, there has only been one time in my adult (or really, semi-adult) life that I have celebrated this holiday. I was lucky enough to spend my sophomore year of college studying abroad in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It was there that I found out that Lucky Charms is a purely American novelty (no big surprise there, but sometimes you don’t realize the obvious until you’re faced with it) as is the whole idea of Irish Cream. I tried to explain what Irish Cream flavoring was to my friend Debbie, who is a native Northern Irish woman, and she just looked puzzled and said, “I don’t get it. What makes cream Irish in the first place?” I said that I think it was supposed to taste like Bailey’s, but she said, “Why not just call it Bailey’s Cream?” Good question, Debs.

Anyway, my family isn’t Catholic, so to me St. Patrick’s Day has always been just a hokey klee-773946_1920day when people drink shamrock milkshakes from McDonald’s and dye beer green. Last year, my mother-in-law made corned beef and cabbage. It was the first time that anyone in our family circle had eaten corned beef and cabbage (which, believe it or not, is also an American novelty, not an Irish staple). Many people may enjoy this dish, but no one in our family has clamored for any since last St. Patrick’s Day.

Here’s my point in writing all of this: this St. Patrick’s Day, you could make gluten free cupcakes with gluten free buttercream frosting colored green by food coloring, and you could make corned beef and cabbage (I wouldn’t advise it, though).

Banoffeepie

However, if you choose to make those things, you probably won’t get the chance to make Banoffee pie. Banoffee pie is what I used to get as dessert whenever my friends and I went to this little pub in Belfast for Sunday lunch that year that I studied abroad. It’s a pie with a cookie crumb crust and thick caramel (or toffee) covered with sliced bananas and whipped cream. It is delicious, and it takes me back to Sunday afternoons in that little pub in Belfast. Unfortunately, after all that bad-mouthing I just did about American St. Patrick’s Day rituals, I have to admit, that the recipe that I’ll be sharing is something that I adapted from an American blog, saltandbaker.com. I seriously tried to make this as authentic as possible. I even pulled up a great gluten-free recipe for Banoffee Pie from Tesco, the grocery store chain I used to shop at when I was in Belfast. However, when I looked at the recipe, I remembered that I would have to convert all the measurements and oven temperatures from the metric system to (ironically) the English system that we use here in America. Also, I have no idea what “gluten free oat cakes” are. Anyway, here’s the recipe that I adapted from saltandbaker.com:

For the Crust:

  • 1 1/2 cups crushed GF graham cracker crumbs (Schar is my favorite brand of GF graham crackers)
  • 6 TBS unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 TBS granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

For the Filling:

  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 1/2 c. dark brown sugar
  • 1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 bananas sliced
  • 1 1/2 c. heavy cream
  • 2 TBS powdered sugar
  • Chocolate shavings or cocoa powder for the topping
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place oven rack in middle of the oven.
  2. In a medium sized bowl combine graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, sugar and cinnamon
  3. Spread crumbs in a 9-inch pie pan or tart dish. Press the crumbs evenly up the sides of the pan and along bottom of the dish. Bake crust for 7-8 minutes.
  4. To make filling: combine butter and brown sugar in a saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until melted. Add the sweetened condensed milk and stir continuously. Bring to a boil and boil for 3-4 minutes or until the mixture darkens in color and thickens. Remove from heat and pour over the crust.
  5. Chill the crust and toffee for 2 hours until firm.
  6. Whip the heavy cream and powdered sugar until stiff peaks form.
  7. Place the sliced bananas over the cooled toffee and spread the cream over the bananas. Top with chocolate shavings or cocoa powder.
  8. Store pie in fridge, it will keep 2-3 days.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Enjoy!

 

Foods That Mean Love

By Rachel Sircy 

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I never try to blend together my own flour mixtures. I am a working mother of a four-year-old, and I simply don’t have the money or the time to hunt down and combine all those little bags of flour to make a baking mix that might make perfect doughnuts but can’t be used to dredge a pork chop. Actually, I don’t make doughnuts or porkchops, but that’s beside the point. What I use instead are gluten free all-purpose flour blends. There are quite a few of these on the market these days, but I recommend purchasing those that can be used as a cup for cup substitute for regular wheat-based flours. Normally, these all-purpose flour blends will advertise somewhere on the package that they are cup for cup substitutes. Pamela’s Artisan Blend happens to be my favorite at the moment (You can see the little yellow dot on the front of the package advertises a 1:1 substitution with regular flour):

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The real value of these 1:1 substitutions is that you can pull out old recipes and use them again without having to have an advanced degree in food science to figure out how to make them gluten free. Some recipes are really worth making time and time again. This is my grandmother’s recipe for shortbread cookies. The title of the recipe is “Holiday Cookies” because without fail, these cookies were a part of every single holiday on the yearly calendar. My grandmother had a cookie cutter with a shape to match each holiday in question: a pumpkin for the fall holidays, Christmas Trees, hearts for Valentine’s, eggs for Easter and so on.

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My daughter and I made these cookies with my grandmother over Christmas just the way that I used to make them with her when I was little. Just the other day, HRH (my daughter) and I made some for Valentine’s day.

 

They turned out to be beautifully imperfect. HRH was really excited about the sprinkles, so she added most of them to the first four cookies. With all the cookies together, it makes a nice ombre effect.

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The best part is being able to pull out this old recipe and reminiscing about learning to make these cookies as a child while teaching my daughter how to make them. Someday, I hope she makes these cookies with her children. Sometimes love looks like a cookie…

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And it tastes like one too…

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A Knack For Unique Gifts…A Valentine’s Day Story

By:  Marianna Boyce  

“Who’s the Best in All the Land?”

Does Someone Hear a Marching Band?

image3For me, Valentine’s Day is like most other holidays.  We shouldn’t wait for a specific date on the calendar to be thankful, patriotic, giving, or loving.  We would all better benefit to celebrate these wonderful qualities on a daily basis.

Holiday or not, my husband Gerry has a knack for giving very unique gifts.  The gift he gave me in 2004 is by far, the most unique gift ever!  Stay with me a minute.  There’s a backstory.

It was my son’s sophomore year in high school.  Cody was also a marching band member.  As band parents, we chaperoned most of their trips and events.  It was no surprise when we were asked to help with their Disney trip that year.  I would be responsible for twelve students and Gerry would have thirteen.

Days before our departure, I was busy packing for our trip.  I didn’t even think about being in the Magic Kingdom for Valentine’s Day, but someone else certainly did.

Once we arrived at Disney’s All-Star Music Resort, we met our group for breakfast.  It image1was February 14, and I was still oblivious to the fact it was Valentine’s Day.  We distributed their breakfast vouchers and told them to meet us back at a popular place near the castle at noon.  This was when we would give them their lunch vouchers and verify our that group was all still alive and accounted for.

The funny thing is, instead of venturing away from us, they all stuck with us like glue.  You should’ve seen the expression on the ride attendant’s face when he asked how many, and our response was twenty-seven!  He actually accommodated us so we could all ride together.

When we exited the ride, we saw two students from another group.

They ran toward me shouting, “Mrs. Boyce, Mrs. Boyce!”  My heart was pounding because I thought someone was hurt.

When they got to me, a young lady handed me a small envelope and said “This is for you.  Happy Valentine’s Day.”  They both ran off giggling.

Our large group of clingy high school students knew exactly what it was.  It was one of those small childish Valentine cards you would buy for your second grader.  I flipped the card over and read the sweetest note on the back from my dear husband.  I also read it aloud for the kids.  They loved it as much as I did.  Of course, I saved them and thought I’d share a few with you.  If you zoom in, you can read one or two as well.

image2What I didn’t know at the time was that Gerry had purchased several boxes of these childish “Will you be my Valentine” cards.  He wrote on each one, sealed them, and secretly handed them out to about 50 of the band members at breakfast that morning.  He instructed them to hand deliver these personal handwritten cards from him, if and when they saw me throughout the day.

About every 15 minutes, I had a random band member running up with excitement they had found me.  It was like a wild goose chase for them (I was the wild goose)!

I received cards that entire day and well into the evening.  I felt like a Disney Princess!

Gerry’s goal involving the students in the fun was for an important teachable moment: material things are not needed to make someone feel special.  For me, this gift is the best and most unique in our 31 years of marriage…and it only cost him about $8.00.  The effect?  Priceless!

image4Thoughtful gifts for no particular reason are great; however, this unique gift wouldn’t have worked well on say… April 8th.  It had to be given on February 14… at Disney World… by 50 of our awesome 2004 band students.  “Who’s the best in all the land?  White Knoll High School Marching Band…” along with my very loving and thoughtful husband!

 

This year, my gift to Gerry is being able to share this true and very unique story with the world!

 Happy Valentine’s Day Sweetie! 

 I Love You!

 

 

Our Lucky Collards

By Shannon Boatwright

img_1063It’s the new year, and we’re all eager to kick start our year with positive thoughts, wishes and goals of good health, abundant happiness, and financial security. One of my traditions is to cook a new year meal that “promotes” and “represents” all these things. Black eyed peas, collards, pork chops/ham, cornbread, and grapes are the staples for our good luck meal. My favorite is the collards. I always like to buy my collards from local farmers: they’re the best, the real deal, and even the most affordable.

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Over the years, family members and friends have taught me all sorts of tips and tricks to making the best collards ever. These tricks range from making sure to wash the collards 3 times (I wash mine 4 times and use some vinegar when I do the last two washes), to cutting the collards into the shape of dollar bills (I like to pretend mine are $100 bills), to putting chunks of ham in the collards as they cook.

I like to cook two batches. For one (my favorite), I just use chicken broth, good ole Lawry’s seasoning, fresh garlic cloves, salt, and pepper. This year we actually had some leftover ham, so I put some ham chunks in as they cooked to add to the flavor. The other batch I make super spicy, with pepper, crushed red pepper, garlic salt, and whatever our favorite hot sauce is at the time –whether it’s Sriracha hot sauce or Tapatio’s hot sauce.  The collards are always my favorite part of the meal because it’s something I typically end up cooking literally only once a year.

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This year I scored a total win with my parents. I actually got my Dad, who has always claimed to not care for any cooked greens, to try my collards. I had to do a little convincing, but he loves spicy things, and I think when he saw my spicy collards cooking, he couldn’t resist. Let’s just say, I got him to come around, and he officially admitted that he likes my collards! Plus, my Mama declared that my regular collards were the best she’d ever had!

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Though there has been a bit of a collards shortage this year due to the hurricanes and cold weather, you can still find some. And guess what, if you didn’t get your good luck new year meal in yet, it’s still January, so you’ve got time! I’d love to hear about any cool, good luck foods you and your family eat to bring in the new year, so do share!

Here’s to a new year full of wealth! Wealth in health, happiness, and money!

Time to Kiss and Make Up

By: Jeanne Reynolds

The company I work for has locations in both the United States and the United Kingdom. As our communications team worked together last week deciding what kind of internal story to do for the Fourth of July, I started to feel awkward. I mean, there we were talking with our British colleagues about celebrating a holiday that says, to them, “Nyah, nyah, nyah!”

OK, it’s been more than 240 years since that ugly parting of the ways and most people on both sides of the Big Pond would agree we’re now BFFs. So I thought let’s look at it another way: the great gifts each culture has given to the other and things we love about each other.

That led to some pretty interesting research. For example, American as apple pie? Umm, not so much. We can thank the early English settlers for bringing that to our shores. And if, like me, you think everyone in England enjoys a big roast goose on Christmas (hello, Charles Dickens), then we’re both a little outdated. Brits long ago went cold (well, hot) turkey and adopted America’s native bird for their feasts.

And there’s so much more to love. The British sent us the Beatles and Cary Grant. We shared Elvis and Paul Newman. One of theirs invented the World Wide Web, one of ours created Google. We gave them the magic of Disney and they gave us the delight of Downton Abbey. We both love Jane Austen (theirs) as much as Mark Twain (ours). We’re equally dazzled by the royal family and Hollywood celebrities.

If two of the greatest powers on earth can successfully move past a tumultuous past to a shared future, I wonder if we as individuals can do the same in our own relationships. Of course, a couple hundred years and fighting side-by-side in a couple of world wars surely smoothed the way for the U.S. and the U.K. to become pals. Still, it’s hopeful to think bitter divorces, gut-wrenching breakups and long-standing family rifts could eventually evolve into more cordial relationships and mutual appreciation.

For now, hurry up and cut me a piece of that apple pie. There’s an old Cary Grant movie about to come on and I don’t want to miss it.