The Blackberry Fence Hopper

blackberry cocktail 5Here is yet another little tidbit about me….

I am highly claustrophobic.

But I’m in good company, because it runs in my family, Can I say that I inherited it? I’m not so sure, because my parents aren’t claustrophobic. But I have a couple of aunts and some cousins who are. And honestly, I’m not sure that it is something that can be inherited.

It’s not a fun thing, and I never know when something is going to set me off. I mean, my co-workers aren’t surprised to see my jewelry lying on my desk, because there are times when my brain decides that I can’t breathe because I’m wearing a necklace. Now how silly is that? I know it’s silly. But my brain doesn’t. In itself, it’s thinking it can’t get my lungs to breathe.

My whole wardrobe is styled around this claustrophobia…it has to be something that I know I can take off quickly, if panic happens to set in.

blackberry cocktail 6My poor friends have been on the receiving end of it too. Take, for instance, this little scenario a couple of years ago….

The setting is in the backseat of a car after running with my friends: Cindy, Rob, and Karen. I had my knee wrapped from a muscle strain… and had taped it so that the bandage wouldn’t move while I was running. We had just gotten in the car, and Cindy was in the back seat with me… I looked down and noticed that the tape had twisted a bit, and I couldn’t see the end of it to start to pull it off… and…. my brain decided at that moment I couldn’t breathe because I couldn’t find the end of the tape..

“Cindy, I can’t breathe… can you help me get this tape off?” I ask a touch panicked.
“Okay, let me help you get that off” She replies, calmly, but maybe with a little laughter…knowing that I am claustrophobic.
“You need to get it off now..” I tell her, a little more panicked.
“I’m trying!” She says, a little less calm, but with a little more laughter added.
“Does anybody have scissors?” I cry out in complete panic mode.

Karen starts rummaging through her bag, because she’s quite certain she has scissors in there. Cindy is fumbling with the tape… and they’re all laughing, and I mean, laughing hard. A girl couldn’t ask for more empathetic friends… Karen finds the scissors, and Cindy cuts the tape from my knee, freeing my lungs of their imaginary burden…

Crisis averted.
And we all laughed.

blackberry cocktail 2And then there was the time many years ago, when I was working as the secretary at the local newspaper in Lockport. I should begin by saying that the editor at the time was a very grumpy man. Most of us did everything we could to avoid him. Well, at least I did everything to avoid him.

So, once in a while, my mom would stop with some piece of clothing or jewelry for me that she had just picked up while shopping… and this particular day, it was the cutest little dress. She dropped it off, and said to try it on during lunch, and then I could return it after work for a different size or different dress if I didn’t like it. It was a pullover, which was good, because there were no buttons or zipper to worry about.

I went into the ladies room to try the dress on. After I put it on, I realized that it was a little snug, but decided that I really loved the dress, and would stop after work to get the next size up. I went to pull the dress off over my head…

And it got stuck.
Of course it did.

It was stuck just at the shoulders, my arms high above my head, the dress covering my face. I did everything I could to get that dress over my head, but it was stuck tight.

I stood there for what felt like 15 minutes, in my bra and panties…and a dress covering my head, my arms stuck…waiting for someone to come walking into the ladies room to help me get the dress off… but I’m certain it was more like a milli-second…because panic had set in (there is no concept of time in panic mode).

At that point, there was only one thing that made sense to me (panic mode isn’t always sensible)… and that was to LEAVE the ladies room and get the first person to help me get the dress off of me. At that point, my brain imagined that I couldn’t breathe.

Yep.
I did.
I left the ladies room with the dress up around my shoulders and face, and my arms flailing over my head.

I mean…could there be anything worse that might happen?
Of course there could.

I ran smack dab into the editor.

Of course I did.
I hit him head-on…that grumpy editor.

At that point, I didn’t care who it was…and in my panic, I asked him to help me get the dress off, that it was stuck and I couldn’t breathe.

Of course he did.
He helped me remove the dress, freeing my lungs of their imaginary burden.
And I was mortified for the rest of that day.
And he wasn’t grumpy for the rest of that day.

But… it was another crisis averted.
I avoided him all I could after that incident.
He smiled whenever he saw me after that incident.

blackberry cocktail 4Now don’t misunderstand…I’m not always in panic mode, and that was the only time it was clothing influenced. Okay, that’s not entirely true…there was the time that involved a dress, a zipper, a seatbelt, and a funeral home…but that’s a story for another day…. Usually it’s necklaces, bracelets, and rings that give me trouble, and they’re very easy to remove. It’s rare that I go into a panic attack…but needless to say, that there are times like that when I like to wind down with a little drinkie-poo. I’m not a heavy drinker…a lightweight, they call me….

I tend to like sweet cocktails…and usually something fruity…
This beautiful and delicious Blackberry Fence Hopper is exactly the kind of cocktail that I like..
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A couple of weeks ago, Katie and Ryan were at the cabin, and he was telling me about this great book that Katie brought home for him from Boston, called: “Shake (A new perspective on cocktails)” by Eric Prum and Josh Williams…and he talked me into buying it.  Well… he offered to let me borrow his copy for a little while… but I was too excited to wait so I bought it online right then and there….I’m glad he thought to tell me about it…. What a great book. Seriously.

ShakeAt first I bought the Kindle version on Amazon.  I had it sent to my phone… you know…for something to read while I was at the cabin. I didn’t put it down until I had read the whole book. It’s such a great read, that I had to order the hard copy for myself… It’s filled with some really great cocktail recipes, and they outline the essentials of a well stocked bar….and now I’m slowly stocking up on everything.

Starting with vodka…

This cocktail is right up my alley. The fresh blackberries and honey work together to create the perfect amount of that blackberry sweetness, while the lemon adds just the right amount of tart. It’s truly a delicious drink…one that I know I’ll continue to enjoy for a long time to come.

…And…. they believe that “cocktails can and should be fun, for all occasions”. Even a dress removing. Well, okay…. they didn’t come out and say a dress removing in the book…but I’m sure that they’d agree that it’s funny….and totally deserving of a cocktail!

Life is good. It’s a “You just can’t make this stuff up” kind of good…

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The Blackberry Fence Hopper
From the cocktail book “Shake” by Eric Prum and Josh Williams
Check out their website: The Mason Shaker

Makes 2 Drinks

2 shots vodka
1 shot fresh lemon juice
1 shot wildflower honey
8 fresh blackberries (plus 4 for garnish)
2 slices of lemon (for garnish)
Seltzer

i. Add the lemon juice, honey, and blackberries to the shaker.

ii. Muddle the ingredients in the bottom of the shaker until thoroughly crushed.

iii. Add the vodka and ice to above the level of the liquid and shake vigorously for 10 seconds.

iv. Strain the mixture into tumblers containing large cubes of ice, top with seltzer, and garnish with remaining blackberries and lemon slices.

Enjoy!
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Caramelized Peach Tart

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This has happened to me a couple of times now…when I’ve made a recipe that I really want to share with you.. but then I just cannot come up with a story to go with, or something fun to talk about. This delightful peach tart just happens to be one of those times. I think the last recipe that I could’t come up with anything was my peas and carrots recipe, in which Michael informed me that we don’t do anything fun… and that we suck.

So, I foolishly reached out to him last night once again.. asking him if we’ve done anything in our lives that might pertain to peaches. You know, anything fun, or funny. He informed me that we still suck, and nothing is funny. At the time, he was watching a football game, and I’m assuming it wasn’t going the way that he had hoped.

Immediately shrugging off Mike and his crankiness…I texted Katie, asking her if there was anything fun that has happened in our life that might go with that peach tart.  She texted me right back, and suggested I talk about our yellow lab that we had years ago, named Sadie.

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Yeah… Sadie. My little peachy.

I’m a nicknamer…and any living being on this earth is fair game to me. You never know when it might strike…and most likely, it’s going to stick because the names tend to catch on, and before you know it, a person or sweet little four legged creature has a new nickname.

Sadie was our very first dog. She was a yellow lab, but more on the whiter side…and she was about the size of a polar bear. Honestly..she was a big girl, but she had the sweetest nature..a gentle giant, if you will.

And…Sadie was loved by everyone who knew her..
She was a peach..

The Peach
Peachy
Peachy Pie
Peaches

And she knew it. She knew her name was Sadie…but she also answered to all of those names above.

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You know…dogs have such great, yet different personalities. I can’t say that the Peach was funny…because she never acted goofy, but she had a great sense of humor. She was always willing to go with the flow.

We had a black lab / chow named Mollie (Choonie, Choon, Choon-a-loon) at the same time as the Peach, a few years younger…and her personality was just the opposite. I always said that Choonie really wanted to be a lab, but the chow wouldn’t let her! When people would come to the house… Peachy would be there to welcome them with open arms…and was genuinely happy to see them! Choonie, on the other hand… I’d have to tell the people “Don’t look at her, don’t talk to her, and don’t put your hand out to her… just let her sniff you until she’s comfortable with you”… And the person would stand there stiff as a board, scared to death!!

Peachy would let a burglar in, and show him around the house… and offer him a cup of coffee while he robbed us. Choonie, on the other hand…would bite his arm off, and hold him down by the neck until reinforcements came…

They were a pair… the odd couple.

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And as cranky as she was…Choonie was funny, quite comical…and I swear, Peachy was always laughing at her… There were so many times that you might find Peach following Mollie around the yard in her slow Eeyore kind of way…almost shaking her head in laughter knowing that Choonie was going to be up to something funny… which always meant that Choonie was up to no good…and the Peach would think that was hilarious! And then they’d both get into trouble….

They loved each other….those two girls.

Sadly, we lost the Peach at age 13…and while most people will say that she lived a long and happy life for a dog… and she did… there is still a little hole in our lives without her. About a year later, we lost Mollie at age 7.. we are convinced that she could never get over the depression from losing her Peachy.  We were devastated.

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And now we have Sophie… Funny Face, Funny, Feenie, and Sofaletta…and she has brought us more joy in these last two years that we desperately needed.

But this one… this is about the Peach. This sweet caramelized peach tart is the perfect dessert to dedicate to my Peachy.  It’s sweetness is the epitome of her…  And I’m quite certain…a tart that she would offer to the burglar as he robbed us blind…

I decided to use a puff pastry for the crust, because I wanted it to be strong enough to hold the cream cheese filling, the juicy peaches, and the caramel that would be poured over it in the end.  I wanted to be able to remove it from the pan, and serve slices that would hold up on their own.   The puff pastry was the perfect choice.

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This is a tart that I will make again…and again. The ingredients are simple…and it doesn’t take long to throw together… and it’s one that really calls for a strong cup of coffee or tea… Perfect for a cool day…an end of summer dessert,  in celebration of those glorious peaches that come and go so quickly…that tell us that summer is almost over… and that we will be heading into the crisp air of fall very, very soon.

So how about you? Do you have a little four legged love in your life? I’d love to hear about him/her…

Life is good.  It’s a “Peachy kind of sweetness for a sweet kind of Peachness” kind of good…

Caramelized Peach Tart
Serves 8

1 puff pastry, thawed

3 large peaches, sliced wedges
3 tbsp butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 tbsp dark rum

1 8oz cream cheese
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Chopped pecans for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Press the thawed puff pastry into your favorite tart pan, and bake according to the package directions, and it is golden brown, and fully baked. Set aside to cool.

Melt the butter in a large frying pan over low heat, and add the peach slices. Sauté for about five minutes on each side, remove from heat and add the brown sugar, salt, and rum to the pan. Stir gently to combine. Simmer for about 15 minutes until the brown sugar has caramelized onto the peaches. Just make sure that you simmer them on low heat… and don’t over cook the peaches so that they become too mushy! Otherwise you’ll be spreading them on toast, which isn’t a bad thing at all, just not what you want to accomplish for this particular tart!

While the peaches are simmering, using a hand mixer, blend the cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla until creamy.

Spread the cream cheese mixture over the cooled puff pastry. Add the peaches on top of the cream cheese, and pour the remaining caramel sauce from the pan over the peaches.

Sprinkle with pecans.

Serve warm or cold (It is delicious cold, but I tend to like it warm)

Enjoy!
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Panzanella …. My Way

IMG_3520You know, I think that I’ve made it quite clear that I’m a sucker for a loaf of bread fresh out of the oven…and it doesn’t matter if it’s my oven, or someone else’s oven. There is a little bakery (Okay, I say little, but it’s quite the production) called DiCamillo’s in Niagara Falls that bakes a pretty mean loaf of Italian bread. When I’m there, the first thing I look for is a piece of cake (their frosting is to die for), and a couple slices of pizza for Mike. And their molasses cookies. I can’t get past them. They’re soft and chewy with a sprinkling of big granules of sugar…and so, SO delish.

But…it’s the bread…the thing that brings me there each and every time..and I can’t help but buy the large loaf, knowing full well that it will go stale before we can eat the whole thing. It’s seriously that big, but it’s so darn delicious.

I’m totally okay with the bread going stale, because it never goes to waste. It will either end up in meatballs, I’ll make breadcrumbs with it, french toast, or this beautiful panzanella salad.
IMG_3504A traditional panzanella or panmolle is made up of day old bread, tomatoes, basil…sometimes cucumbers and onions…drizzled with olive oil and vinegar. The bread soaks up the deliciousness of the tomatoes, olive oil, and vinegar.

It is seriously delicious just like that.

Of course…I think you know me by now….I usually don’t go for making the traditional…I’m going to make it my way…with, most likely a few extra calories…. the way that I like it…and the way that I think you would like it if you were coming over for dinner.

Which, I hope, is very soon.
It’s always an open invite.

IMG_3521I start out traditional with the tomatoes…slicing them thin and placing them around the platter. Make sure you eat a couple slices or more while you’re doing this… because it won’t be long before we’re eating store bought instead of farm fresh…a huge difference…

Next comes the bread… Normally you’d break it into pieces and toss it into the bowl, and I do, but then I toss it into a frying pan with melted butter and garlic, and fry it until it’s browned and crisp on the outside, but with that soft chewy center. The garlic is a necessity for me in this salad, it just gives it such a great background flavor.

And then I tend to go for creamy and briny. Burrata cheese is perfect for this, because it breaks open, and that lovely combination of cream and mozzarella spills over the tomatoes and bread. I love to chop Kalamata and Sicilian olives on top of the mozzarella, as well as a heavy sprinkling of capers. A handful of toasted pine nuts finishes it off wonderfully.

IMG_3500I know I’ve said it before, but I love a million flavors going on at once…and the creaminess from the cheese, saltiness from the olives and capers, sweetness from the tomatoes, the nuttiness from the pine nuts, the smokiness from the sautéed garlic, the fresh taste of basil, and the acidity from the vinegar…for my tastebuds…work together to make the most perfect panzanella salad.

I’m not sure…can I say that I’ve achieved umami?
Possibly..
But I’ll just call it a perfect blend of delicious flavors..

A panzanella that totally tickles the tastebuds, yet is so pretty…that I would happily set on the table just for you…my most honored guest.

Life is good…it’s a “I don’t know who thought of throwing stale bread and tomatoes together, but I’m really glad they did…” kind of good..

IMG_3513Panzanella…My Way
Serves Four (Or Two, if I’m involved)

Just a quick note about this salad…. I really don’t have measurements for the ingredients, and all I can say is to be heavy handed with everything. By heavy handed, I mean generous…and make it the way you think it would taste good… If you think you would want more basil, then by all means, tear up some more over this salad. If you want to throw some fresh parsley over it, then I say “oh yeah, do it!!” Go crazy, and have fun with it! There is no right or wrong.

2 large heirloom tomatoes, (your favorite color) sliced thin
1 or 2 smaller heirloom tomatoes in different colors, chopped
Stale bread, broken into pieces (about three cups)
1/2 stick butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
A good handful of basil, torn into pieces
Capers, about a tablespoonful or more
A mixture of Kalamata and Sicilian olives, chopped (about 1/3 cup)
Pinenuts, toasted (about two tablespoons)
Olive Oil, your favorite brand (start with a tablespoon)
Balsamic Vinegar (you get what you pay for when it comes to balsamic) (start with a tablespoon)
A peppermill

Place the tomato slices around the outer edge of a platter, overlapping them.

Melt the butter in a medium sized frying pan, and add the bread pieces. Saute the bread until golden brown, and a couple of minutes before removing the bread from the pan, add the garlic and saute until the garlic is golden brown, and has mixed throughout the bread. Spoon the bread to the inside of the tomatoes around the platter.

Break the burrata open, and place in the middle of the platter.

Sprinkle with the chopped colorful tomatoes, chopped olives, capers, pinenuts, and basil. Generously drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Top with fresh ground pepper.

Serve immediately while the bread is still warm.

Enjoy!

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