Chocolate Mice

Hershey kisses form the face of chocolate-dipped maraschino cherries with stems sandwiching almond slivers for ears.

Hershey kisses form the face of chocolate-dipped maraschino cherries with stems sandwiching almond slivers for ears.

Chocolate Mice

My bee buddy David turned 70 years old this year. To celebrate, his sons joined him for a weekend of fine dining, theatre and catching up on family stories, including a chocolate birthday cake with white icing decorated with, what else – bees.

There’s another passion in David’s life, besides his lovely wife. Three cats have found refuge at David’s house, each with a story sadder than the next one until you see them today, coats shiny as they happily lounge on the grass outside David’s basement office.

There is Shirley, a one-eyed calico suspected of being at least 18 years old who is the self-designated house greeter. Chatty Shirley will let you know it’s time to pick her up when she rolls over after telling you all about her day.

Then there is black Henry with yellow eyes, who hides from most people but who talks to me, especially when he wants inside the house. One time he led me to all house doors to see if I could let him inside. Unfortunately I didn’t happen to have a key and he let me know what he thought of my shortcomings by dashing off.

Finally, there is black and white Smokey, who played hard to get for 3 years and now won’t let David, or Henry, out of his sight. I, on the other hand, Smokey can easily do without and tries to, every time he sees me.

When I heard about David’s landmark birthday, I knew the furry family had to contribute – actually Shirley asked me, she has a lot to say every time she sees me – so I made one of my favorite gift treats, chocolate mice.

Chocolate Mice Recipe

You need:

Unwrapped Hershey milk chocolate kisses

Maraschino cherries with stems

Dark almond bark

Almond slivers

Storage container

Tin gift can

Wax paper

Paper Towel

How To Make Chocolate Mice

Drain maraschino cherries and place on paper towel.

Unwrap Hershey kisses. It's okay to test them for freshness.

Melt dark almond bark in microwave for 1 ½ minutes until melted. Dip maraschino cherries in chocolate until covered; place on wax paper to dry.

Add dab of melted chocolate to flat Hershey kiss; add 2 Almond slivers. Press against cherry. Allow to dry.

Store in air tight container.

Package chocolate mice in a tin container to keep the almond ears from breaking and add toy mice on top instead of a ribbon for a feline treat. (Photos by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Package chocolate mice in a tin container to keep the almond ears from breaking and add toy mice on top instead of a ribbon for a feline treat. (Photos by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

How to Package Chocolate Mice

To make these even more special, I packaged them in a tin container. Make sure the tin is tall enough not to break the almond sliver ears.

If you want to make sure they don’t move, you can use a tiny dab of chocolate to “glue” the mice to a cardboard bottom.

For fun, I added three catnip mice to the tin instead of a ribbon. The gift card was “signed” with the three cats footprints, a cat foot print stamp my cats have been known to use for their gift-giving. I added names just in case David couldn’t distinguish between one set of prints against another one but he seemed to know who had contributed to the birthday sentiments without my saying another word.

These also make wonderful Christmas and Halloween treats. Trick or treat!

Charlotte

Hershey Kisses Fabric Roses

You've seen these made out of celophane, I like to make them out of fabric scraps!

You've seen these made out of celophane, I like to make them out of fabric scraps!

Hershey Kisses Fabric Roses

We are getting close to Valentine's Day, a holiday represented by roses if there ever was one.

The first Hershey Kisses rose someone gave me was made out of clear celophane. I loved the idea so much I took it home to use as a template to use up some of my fabric scraps. Although with fabric it's not easy to know what is inside, I found an easy way to make that clear.

To make Hershey Kisses fabric roses, you will need:

a 3"x5" fabric piece per flower; select a light or medium weight fabric.

 1 or 2 leaves per flower, either cut out of green fabric or pre-made;

Spray starch;

2 Hershey Kisses per flower;

1 wooden cooking skewer;

Floral tape.

Glue.

 

I cut out some green leaves out of fabric, which worked well when I ran out of pre-made ones.

I cut out some green leaves out of fabric, which worked well when I ran out of pre-made ones.

To make, glue two Hershey Kisses bottoms together. I like to mix a hug with a kiss or two hugs. Depends on the message you want to send so I will leave what kind of Hershey chocolate you sue up to you.

Insert cooking skewer into one end. 

If you use a light fabric that is green for leaves, you may need to spray with starch and iron to keep the leaf from falling over. 

Place other Hershey Kiss end into center of fabric and wrap fabric around the Hershey chocolate. I add the little Hershey id paper to the outside before wrapping with floral tape so the recipient knows what is inside.

Add a leaf and wrap floral tape around the bottom. Add a gift card and deliver with love!

Add a leaf and wrap floral tape around the bottom. Add a gift card and deliver with love!

A bouquet is nice but the single flowers are even nicer, especially if you add a little personal card.

Fun to make and even more fun to give!

Charlotte

Food Jar Pincushion

One way to decorate a food jar, use counted cross stitch top with makers initials for pincushion.

One way to decorate a food jar, use counted cross stitch top with makers initials for pincushion.

Food Jar Pincushion

Every year, I am blessed with friends who share their homegrown produce in jars. It's a wonderful treat in the middle of a cold winter, and I have a tendency to save them for a special day.

One such jar was pickles. I finally had a friend over for lunch and decided to share the pickles made from a secret family recipe. To my surprise, there was a surprise under the fabric tied over the top of the pickle jar. Here is what I found:

Instructions to tuck under the fabric top of a food jar on how to make the jar into a pincushion.

Instructions to tuck under the fabric top of a food jar on how to make the jar into a pincushion.

Talk about recycling, the instructions are how to turn the food jar into a 10-minute pincushion!

Now I recycle jars for a variety of things: to store buttons, seeds, pins, dried coffee grounds for my roses, fresh dried catnip and cat toys getting refreshed - what a great idea for another practical use after enjoying the special treats the jar originally carried.

It doesn't take much fabric, just a 6-inch circle:

A 6-inch fabric round is perfect to transform a pickle jar into a pincushion.

A 6-inch fabric round is perfect to transform a pickle jar into a pincushion.

I haven't turned the jar into a pincushion yet, will do that later after the holidays but wanted to share the idea with you now.

Great little gift idea, don't you think?

Charlotte

Make Your Own Ready to Bake Cookie Dough

Chocolate chip cookie dough frozen in wax paper makes handy cookie dough for quick cooking.

Chocolate chip cookie dough frozen in wax paper makes handy cookie dough for quick cooking.

Make Your Own Ready to Bake Cookie Dough

When I was growing up, this time of year, we would make icebox cookies, cookie recipes designed to wrap the dough up in wax paper and freeze for quick later use.

Years later, I took my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, wrapped that up in wax paper and voila - after freezing, I could also quickly cut, cook and serve. Well, yes, they should be cooled but when one has a chocolate chip cookie emergency, there is very little to no rack cooling time.

I have also tested this with some other favorite cookie doughs and they all worked well, too so if you need to make dough ahead of time for cookie baking, this is a good option.

One more tip: if you just need a few cookies ready, bake in an electric toaster oven.

Another important tool for emergency cookie baking, a little toaster oven.

Another important tool for emergency cookie baking, a little toaster oven.

Keep an eye on the toaster oven the first time you bake cookies to make sure you get the right amount of time and temperature.

When finished, cookies look just like they came out of the oven.

A rare sight, chocolate chip cookies cooling on a cookie rack.

A rare sight, chocolate chip cookies cooling on a cookie rack.

Cookies are part of our family holiday tradition so anything that makes the process easier so we can keep the tradition is a great addition!

Charlotte

Watermelon Juice, a Toast to Rio

Watermelon Juice, an Ode to Rio

They were everywhere when I worked at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I suspect they are also keeping athletes and their families company during the 2016 Summer Olympics.

In 1992, I was the media advisor to the US Delegation to the United Nations’ conference, the first time all countries in the world had come together to try to agree on how to deal with our rapidly changing climate and related issues. It was a highly politically-charged environment. Soldiers lined the sidewalks to our hotel and conference center, and at one point I was wearing 18 access identification badges.

One of my favorite scenes from the Earth Summit in Rio, Amazon Indians seeing computers.

One of my favorite scenes from the Earth Summit in Rio, Amazon Indians seeing computers.

During our time off, a few of us visited some of the nearby fresh markets, especially on the weekend, and ran into vendors with carts loaded with watermelons. They would cut them up, juice, add ice and hand over a cold glass of summer.

I grew up some 180 kilometers north of Rio, on an island literally off the Atlantic Coast. I have very fond memories of monkeys in our backyard. now extinct; chasing lobsters at the beach across the street, and teaching parrots to sing. Don't be too impressed, it would have helped if I could have carried a tune myself.

Amidst those wonderful recollections are not ones of a love affair with watermelon juice. Not that it should be any surprise someone came up with a way to profit from this special treat, who hasn't had to change clothes after eating an especially-delicious piece of juicy watermelon?

I make my own juice but thought I would double-check recipes online in case I was missing some secret ingredient. Here’s the recipe I found on a Brazilian site:

How to Make Watermelon Juice

·       Cut the watermelon into wedges and remove the flesh from the green skin.

·       Cut it into small pieces, removing as many seeds as you can or better yet, buy a seedless watermelon to start.

·       Put the watermelon chunks in the refrigerator until it is very cold.  

·       Blend the watermelon chunks to a liquid.

·       You can either add sugar or honey to make it sweeter.

·       Pass the juice through a not fine sieve into a pitcher.

·       Add ice cubes and serve immediately. 

Charlotte’s Way of Making Watermelon Juice

(you didn’t think I would follow a recipe, did you??)

One of the ways we used to test watermelons for ripeness was cutting a triangle in the side.

One of the ways we used to test watermelons for ripeness was cutting a triangle in the side.

·       Pick out a nicely-ripe seedless watermelon. Now I do remember how my parents would select a ripe watermelon. The vendor would cut a little triangle in the side so they could check the fruit ripeness. Those days are gone, I'm told farmer's markets rules today don't allow for open fruit.

·        Place in refrigerator to cool.

Watermelon balls made with a melon baller come in handy as  a quick desert.

Watermelon balls made with a melon baller come in handy as  a quick desert.

       Cut in half. Using a melon baller, remove the inside of the watermelon with a melon baller and place watermelon balls in container. The nice thing about watermelon balls is that they are convenient to easily make watermelon juice. They can also be used for a quick desert or a refreshing treat on a hot summer day. Less mess, too!

Watermelon juicing requires these utensils and a blender if you need more than a couple of cups.

Watermelon juicing requires these utensils and a blender if you need more than a couple of cups.

·       Pour watermelon juice out of container through a strainer. This is important if you really just want the juice without watermelon chunks.

If you've collected most of the juice, there should be enough for a couple 8 ounce cups of juice without dragging out the blender.

Any available strainer will work to remove chunks of watermelon from the juice.

Any available strainer will work to remove chunks of watermelon from the juice.

·       Drink. Yumm!

Actually after straining, I added a watermelon ball to my glass. Go figure!

Actually after straining, I added a watermelon ball to my glass. Go figure!

·       To make more, blend watermelon balls in a blender. Pour through sieve.

·       Add ice. Serve immediately.

·       If you want to experiment, add a little ginger, a sprig of spearmint or a splash of lime to a serving.

·       If you decide to store for later use, know the juice separates so you will need to mix together again before serving.

Muito bom! (That's Portuguese for very good.)

Charlotte

Freezing Blueberries

Freezing blueberries individually makes them easier to serve later.

Freezing blueberries individually makes them easier to serve later.

June is blueberry-picking time in Missouri. There are several pick your own farms around where I live so anyone visiting me during these weeks can count on a trip to pick some.

Although some silly people - like one of my brothers who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty - worry about only picking what they can immediately eat, I don't believe there is such a thing as too many blueberries. What we don't eat fresh I freeze for enjoyment later, especially in the middle of winter.

Find the Right Container

I have several trays that fit my little door freezer so find one that works well with your freezer. A cookie sheet with raised sides will work, or even a pie or cake tin.

This is something that little hands can help you do so invite kids into the kitchen with you. Don't count the blueberries, some may inadvertently disappear in the process. 

After washing and drying the blueberries, spread them into a single layer on the tray and place in freezer until frozen for several hours.

Once frozen, store in a freezer bag for easy individual berry retrieval later. Having the berries frozen like this makes it easier to grab a handful for cereal or to spread in a salad.

Works With Other Fruit

This applies to almost anything else you want to freeze. Once you get the system down, it will be easy to preserve extra fresh fruit for enjoyment during the off season.

Charlotte

Bahklava Revisited

Alex Pizza bahklava topped with Greek Farms, Rolla, Mo. honey but there's more to serving this.

Alex Pizza bahklava topped with Greek Farms, Rolla, Mo. honey but there's more to serving this.

One of the perks of hosting monthly beekeeping meetings is that people bring in goodies to share. One delicious offering comes from Mike Samaras with Alex's Pizza, Rolla, Mo., one of our beekeeping students now selling honey at his Greek Farms.

Now I have enjoyed homemade bahklava off and on over the years but it's not a dessert I have seen mentioned how to best serve in Missouri cookbooks.  Mike said the best way to enjoy this pile of filo dough layers filled with chopped nuts is to drizzle honey over the top. Already rich to my taste, adding honey seemed unnecessary but I tried it. It was delicious.

Then Mike said and the other part of how to serve this desert is to add a sprinkling of cinnamon.

A piece of Alex Pizza bahklava served drizzled with honey and a sprinkling of cinnamon. Yumm!

A piece of Alex Pizza bahklava served drizzled with honey and a sprinkling of cinnamon. Yumm!

I took a piece of bahklava home, added a drizzle of my own honey and sprinkled with cinnamon. The cinnamon helped cut some of the richness and gave the combination a more subtle taste. Still wonderful and rich.

Thanks for the tip, and the delicious bahklava, Mike!

Charlotte

 

Cooking Orange Daylilies

Several ways I enjoy eating, and serving, Missouri's orange "ditch" lilies.

Several ways I enjoy eating, and serving, Missouri's orange "ditch" lilies.

All Daylily Parts Are Edible

Jan Phillips in her book "Wild Edibles of Missouri" calls orange daylilies "another one of mother nature's grocery stores." Phillips says the whole plant is edible, from the young flower stalks in spring that taste like asparagus to the tiny, white root bulbs reminiscent of radishes.

Different Ways to Eat Daylilies

Over the years, I have used orange and yellow daylilies for salads and stuffed fare. Salmon and tuna salad inside the washed flowers with stamens removed are a lovely presentation, and the entire dish is edible. 

I also like the flower buds fresh. They are a nice addition to a salad or served on their own as a side dish. Remove the green stems before adding to a dish. They taste like green beans with a hint of onion.

Another way to enjoy the buds is to steam them. It only takes a couple of minutes to make the buds wilt so keep a close eye on them so they are not overcooked.

Wash in cool water, then allow to dry. When I wash mine, I keep them on their stems in a flower vase with water until I use them. The flowers only last a day so pick them right before you plan to use.

Make Sure Chemical Free

If you are going to eat daylilies, make sure you are picking them from a chemical-free area.

 Charlotte

Cherry Pie Taste Test

One of the many things I enjoy about the holidays is taste-testing dishes. At a community lunch December 2015, we were offered two choices: a regular cherry pie and a sugar free cherry pie.

As a fan of cherries of all kinds, my friend Ina and I decided to run an ever-not-so-scientific study to determine if there was a difference in the taste of the pies. Maybe they used an artificial sweetener, we surmised. Perhaps the filing had honey, or they used different cherries. There was no end to our speculation of what the difference was in these two delectable desserts.

Here were our two test subjects:

We tested these two cherry pies: sugar free on the left, regular cherry pie on the right.  

We tested these two cherry pies: sugar free on the left, regular cherry pie on the right.

 

Once we had fork in hand, we analyzed the most controversial part of a pie, the crust. It was flaky without being dry. Excellent start.

Next bite, one from the sugar free cherry pie.

SUGAR FREE CHERRY PIE BEING Taste tested against a regular cherry pie.

SUGAR FREE CHERRY PIE BEING Taste tested against a regular cherry pie.

regular cherry pie with a sugar topping as the second taste test subject.

regular cherry pie with a sugar topping as the second taste test subject.

Any guess of what we found?

The cherry pie fillings were the same. The only difference between the two cherry pies was that the regular cherry pie had an egg wash and sugar sprinkled on top and the sugar free cherry pie did not.

Did I miss the sugar topping?

Absolutely not. Actually I preferred the cherry pie without the sweet topping. Good thing since that was the slice of pie I chose to finish!

Charlotte

 



A Thanksgiving Toast!

"May your stuffing be tasty

   May your turkey plump,

   May your potatoes and gravy

   Have nary a lump.

   May your yams be delicious

   And your pies take the prize,

   And may your Thanksgiving dinner

   Stay off your thighs!"

~Grandpa Jones

Pine Cone Place Cards

It's easy to think of winter as a boring time in the garden. If you can still take walks, winter is a good time to collect a variety of seeds to dry for later use.

I keep a couple of baskets, and now a little glass bowl, where I can easily toss in pine cones and other large seed pods. I started by focusing on finding large, and unusual, pine cones, then graduated to other seed pods, such as gum balls.

Last fall, I found a little stash of tiny pine cones and started to collect them.

One evening, as I was setting the table for beekeeping friends, I unveiled our new beekeeping club business cards as place cards. And guess what came in quite handy as little place card holders!

These could be spray painted for a more formal look but I think they are perfect size for a nature-themed table for weddings, anniversaries, birthdays - or beekeeping club dinner meetings!

Charlotte

Valentine Good Luck Wish

We grew up having dinners where we would all want the chicken breast bone to make a wish.

Not sure where the tradition started, and not sure it continues today but in these charming, sunny vintage Valentine post cards, the wish bone is tied to two hearts as part of the Valentine greeting.

Doesn't it look like the little boy stepped out of the Valentine on the left to toss the arrow at the hearts with the wish bone tied to it on the right?

So, will you be mine?

Charlotte

Cinnamon Stick Ornaments

With kids out of school and friends and relatives visiting, here's a fun project that re-uses those old cinnamon sticks we meant to use in cooking. No recipe required.

Aren't they cute?

To make, you will need a clean working area; glue; jute string or ribbon; paints and tiny paint brushes; old small buttons, black felt and fabric remnants for snowman scarf; black embroidery floss to tie around the buttons and a little patience.

Glue on the string or ribbon before starting. That way you will know that the cinnamon stick won't break when you hang it. Cinnamon is basically tree bark and it can dry out if stored for a long time.

Also make sure the painted cinnamon sticks dry before handling. 

Here they are close up individually for a guide. This is the easier one, Santa:

For the more detailed-oriented, try a snowman with a scarf and buttons:

These would also make charming gift decorations!

Charlotte

Build Your Own Ripener

I saw one of these for sale in a gardening catalog and did a double-take. Ripening green tomatoes, or most other green fruits and vegetables, is not hard to do, and you certainly don't have to buy an expensive gadget to do it.

Easy to Ripen At Home

I use a brown bag inside a copper pot so that the bag can be stored on my counter. The key is adding a fruit - either an apple or banana, and sealing the brown bag so the natural gas ethylene, which fruits generate, will help ripen whatever is still green. I use this ripener to help mangos, guavas, tomatoes, and sometimes bananas and grapes get ripe. 

Check Often

Check once a week or so. Smaller fruits and vegetables like tomatoes may ripen faster than larger ones. Remove any tomatoes that are getting dry; others may start going brown. Also periodically replace the fruit - an apple may last for a couple of months before it needs to be replaced. Apples last longer than bananas in brown bags.

Remind Yourself to Check

I top the copper pot with a little glass plate and use it as a fruit plate. It's purely decorative but it is a good reminder to periodically check the brown bag. You can also just keep your green tomatoes, or other produce, in a brown bag in a dark cabinet corner. Tie a ribbon to the door knob to remind yourself to check it once a week or you won't want to try to ripen anything again.

How do you ripen your fruits and tomatoes?

Charlotte

How to Eat a Pomegranate

Mom taught us to wash it first, then cut it in half. After breaking it apart, I slowly pop the fleshy red seeds off the spongy nodes, first peeling off the paper-thin partition skin. It takes a little time but it's worth it. Put a towel under your work area, and wear an apron. It can get messy, especially at first.

Once you understand how a pomegranate is partitioned, you won't squirt as much pomegranate juice all over the work area. Wash again before eating or storing.

Compost the pomegranate skin and pulp. The skin, by the way, in centuries past, was used as a red dye.

Let kids take these outside to open, your kitchen will thank you.

Pomegranates Healthy Food
The average pomegranate has 105 calories, most of it a form of natural sugar. Pomegranate juice is also very popular but removing the seeds also removes some of the health benefits of eating it in the first place. Pomegranate seeds are high in vitamin C and potassium. They add a refreshing taste to everything from salads and soups to fruit salads. I like to eat several teaspoons all by themselves. To use in salads, sprinkle 1-2 tbsps and mix. Toss a few on top of a cooled-off soup.

How to Store Pomegranate Seeds
I keep my clean pomegranate seeds in a jar in the refrigerator. When I want to add a little extra flavor to a salad, I sprinkle a couple of shakes out of the jar. It's also a great little pick-me-up.

How do you store your pomegranate seeds?

Charlotte

Pitting Strawberries

I usually remove the green strawberry stems by hand. Then one day at an auction, there was a box of these cute little strawberries.

They were mine for 50 cents.

Since we eat so many strawberries, every family member now has their own.

It's a strawberry pitter.

I prefer to remove the stems by hand.  I still think these little pitters are cute….

Charlotte

How to Cook Beets

Homegrown beets usually show up at our farmer's markets mid-summer.

Beets are a simple and easy vegetable to fix.

So are beet leaves.

To cook beets, cut off the top leaves at the base of the stem and clean off roots.

Boil until soft to a fork.

Steam leaves until they are also tender. Serve with a little sprinkling of lemon juice and real mayo.

How about that, two vegetable dishes from one vegetable and no recipes required!

Charlotte

Recycle Wax Paper Bags

I was short a plastic storage container so I decided to try a washed out cereal wax paper bag.

Usually lettuce survives two days before it starts to either freeze or start drying up in my crisper. The lettuce stayed nice in the wax paper bag in the crisper for several days.

The last radish from my garden may also have set a new refrigerated vegetable record. Suffice it to say, it had started to sprout inside the wax paper bag in the crisper.

I planted it in one of my herb pots.

I have been saving a few of these bags ever since, using them to store everything from cookies to vegetables. Not only do they work well but they take up a lot less storage room, too!

Charlotte