Some more s'mores.

Were you able to celebrate National S’mores Day on August 10? This festive occasion passed me by! I’ll never let that happen again. I learned about it while preparing to make S’mores Cupcakes, which were a monster hit in the house and definitely a treat I’ll be making again.

The exact history of s’mores is vague, but the history of marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate bars is not. Apparently a s’mores “recipe” first appeared in the 1927 publication Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts. I’m just dying to get my hands on a copy of this vintage handbook. I bet the text and pictures are wonderful.

The classic s’more is snack perfection: gooey toasty marshmallows, melting-but-not-quite-melted Hershey’s milk chocolate (for me the chocolate still has to have some solid toothiness to it), and crispy graham crackers, all in the same messy, crumbly bite. It almost can’t be improved upon. Almost. Yet several years ago a Country Living article showed s’mores oozing over with marshmallow, melting chocolate ... and gorgeous purpley blackberry jam! I was intrigued. I am a (certain kinds of) fruit-and-chocolate kind of gal, so my mind and tastebuds were wide open for trying this.

S'mores bberry and pb setupFor the first time in my life I had all the ingredients for ANYthing in the house at the same time. Miraculous!

As I pulled together ingredients, I spied the peanut butter and decided to do a side-by-side comparison of peanut butter and blackberry jam s’mores.
S'mores bberry choc marshmallowNo need to get too fancy. Safeway brand blackberry preserves did just fine for me.

S'mores pbutter choc marshmallow
As a peanut-butter-and-chocolate lover (although give me Peanut Butter M&Ms over Reese’s cups any day), I thought I’d go absolutely mad for the peanut butter version.

S'mores bputter closeup
It was good, really good, but I took just one bite and saved the rest for my son, who proceeded to make several more of the same spread with a
thick layer of peanut butter.

S'mores bberry closeup
The blackberry s’mores, on the other hand, made me positively swoon! Even this store-brand blackberry jam has a depth of flavor that complemented the chocolate elegantly.

S'mores bberry almost goneA rapidly dwindling blackberry s'more with the requisite cold glass of milk.

Blackberry-and-chocolate is my new favorite fruit/chocolate combination, easily surpassing strawberries and chocolate. I’m imagining these made with dark chocolate next time. (I just happen to have a supply of Trader Joe's Belgian dark chocolate, and still have plenty of marshmallows and grahams.)

S'mores bberry goneThis one disappeared quickly!

Let me know if you try these flavored s'mores or come up with your own concoction. Or do you think the classic s'more is too pure to be tampered with?

Stay tuned for another s'mores pairing, this time dark chocolate and ...

To be continued!

Nectarine pie.

Recipe File

Nectarines are
the fruit I look forward to each summer, more than cherries, watermelon or plums. Perfectly ripe, slightly toothsome (al dente?), juicy nectarines are like ambrosia to me. Nectarines are basically naked peaches -- they're genetically equivalent, minus the fuzz. Although I always loved ripe juicy peaches, the fuzz gave me the willies. And without fuzz nectarines can show off their pretty peachy rose complexions.
Nectarine Pie 1No fuzz on these beauties!

hen the price drops to $.99 a pound (if they’re cheaper at your grocery story, farmer's market or fruit stand, I will envy you) I know they’re at their peak and buy them by the sackload. That’s when I pull out my tattered, yellowed nectarine pie recipe.

Nectarine pie recipeIt looks almost like an antique now.

My copy was cut from the Chicago Tribune’s food section some years ago. It is aged and speckled with the flotsam of pie preparation from days gone by, but is still readable for that once-a-year time when nectarines go one sale and I make my annual pie. (Although last September, after nectarines peaked, I must have made an exception to my on-sale policy so I could make this gorgeous nectarine sorbet.) The Trib site doesn't seem to have the recipe, but has the exact same one.

Usually I’m content to use the
Pillsbury pre-made pie crust, which I have found to be both tasty and flaky -- and a big time-saver. I’ve been cheating with it using it for years as a shortcut in the pie making process. This year I was inspired to make my own, which is actually quite easy.

Nectarine Pie 2
I always feel like a farm wife when I’m working the pastry blender into a bowl full of flour and butter, then rolling chilled circles of dough into thin drapey crusts.

Nectarine Pie 6
This year the crust had a nice, rustic, cobbled-together look!

The recipe calls for toasted almonds, almond extract and nutmeg, along with flour, sugars and lemon juice. I've learned over the years that nutmeg is not a favorite flavor of the kiddies (at least mine, anyway), so in deference to them (I want
everyone to enjoy this pie) I leave out the nutmeg. I've also learned that children don't have the same appreciation as I do for a variety of textures in food, such as the contrast between soft, juicy-sweet nectarines and crunchy, toasted almond slivers. So, alas, I've been leaving out the almonds as well. But they are an excellent and tasty addition to the pie, so if your family will eat them, put them in. And please do leave out the almond extract! I've never used it in this pie and I have to believe the true taste of the nectarines shines through, instead of an artificial taste of almonds.
Nectarine Pie 3No almonds or nutmeg this year. And never any almond extract.

Nectarine Pie 5Flour helps thicken the pretty rose-colored juices nicely while the pie cooks.

Nectarine Pie 7Mound that fruit high in the crust.

I used a small bumblebee cookie cutter to make shapes with the excess crust. Some egg white and water brushed on the top -- along with a sprinkling of sugar -- glaze, brown and sweeten the crust while baking.
Nectarine Pie 8Ready for the oven! Bzzzzzz.....

Nectarine pie outside 9
Looks like the crust wasn't tightly sealed before baking and it split open. Do you think anyone will mind?

It's heavenly served warm, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Nectarine pie with ice cream

But no one will blame you for having cold nectarine pie for breakfast or a snack!

I recently discovered I'm not the only one who adores nectarines. Check out
Nectarine Scene for all kinds of information on this luscious fruit, including knockout recipes like the white nectarine pavlova recently featured. Oh I'm drooling! I'm making that next.

S'mores Cupcakes.

I personally invented S’mores Cupcakes a few weeks ago when I was munching Trader Joe’s dark chocolate with graham crackers, which reminded me of s’mores minus the marshmallows. (I was at work, so it would have been too messy, not to mention dangerous and dismissal-worthy, to add a campfire and toasted marshmallows to this mid-afternoon snack at my desk.)

Smores cupcake visionThis was my vision!

I envisioned a graham crackery cupcake spread with a layer of chocolate ganache and crowned by marshmallow frosting. I'd never seen a recipe for graham cracker cake before. I Googled.
Smores cupcakes dough prep
Which is when I discovered that, indeed, I had
not invented the S’mores Cupcake. But while I found a number of nice sounding recipes, I didn’t find my S’mores Cupcake -- with a simple graham cracker cupcake base and the chocolate ganache layer. Many of the recipes sounded too fussy, with chocolate chips (too provincial) and mini marshmallows (too sticky!) or frostings with a dozen ingredients (too MUCH). So I pulled together several recipes and DID, sort of, invent my own version of this s’moresy confection.

Smores cupcake batter
I found a nice
Graham Cracker Cupcakes recipe at the Gigi Cakes blog, who used the original recipe from Nabisco. If you've got one, use a food processor -- or better, a mini chopper -- to make grinding up the graham crackers easy and a little less messy. I don't know about anyone else, but I'm not a fan of graham crumbs flying hither and yon all over the kitchen.

Smores cupcakes in the oven
These cupcakes don’t puff up like regular cake, so you can fill the paper liners 3/4 full. They rise but cook flat, all the better for spreading chocolate ganache on top! I refrigerated the plain cupcakes overnight, partly to break up the preparation process and partly to keep the ganache layer and marshmallow frosting from melting on warm, freshly baked cakes. I’m confident these would freeze nicely too, tucked into a ziploc bag. And they are perfectly delicious unadorned accompanied by coffee or tea. Next up: the ganache!

Chocolate Ganache Recipe

3 oz. sweetened dark chocolate (I used Trader Joe’s)
1/8 cup whipping cream or evaporated milk

Put both ingredients into a heavy bottomed pan over low heat.
When chocolate starts to melt, stir ingredients together until chocolate
is fully melted and incorporated with the cream or evaporated milk.
Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Smores cupcakes chocolate melting
I spread about two teaspoons (but feel free to use more) of chocolate ganache on top of each cupcake and let it set for a few minutes. The recipe above should top 16 cupcakes with some leftover for dipping your finger into.

Smores cupcake ganache topping
While there are plenty of marshmallow frosting recipes, including some that use marshmallow fluff as an ingredient (plus
additional sugar and/or corn syrup -- yikes, that's got to be sweet!), Martha Stewart’s Marshmallow Frosting (technically belonging to Trophy Cupcakes in Seattle) has only four ingredients and is super easy to make.

Smores cupcakes frosting action shotFrosting prep action shot. Note the pink Cook for the Cure Komen Foundation handmixer, in honor of my sister Mary Jane.

I halved Martha's frosting recipe, and quartered the vanilla extract. It tasted perfect! Just the right marshmallow flavor, spreadable, and not too sticky. And even at half the amount there was plenty of frosting for 16 cupcakes, with lots left over.

Smores cupcake marshmallow frostingLook at those perfect peaks! It only took about five minutes to whip up this frosting.

I used a small plastic spatula to spread and shape the frosting, instead of a pastry bag. Even if you want a fancy, fluted tower of frosting, as shown on Martha’s site, half the recipe should still be enough. I refrigerated the leftover frosting in a plastic container, and a week later it’s still holding up well in the fridge. It will make for great peanut butter and fluff sandwiches! Oh boy, yum.

Smores cupcake frosting process 2
Once the wee cakes were ganached and marshmallow frosted, I broiled them for exactly a minute -- just enough to brown the tops without burning them. I kept them in the cupcake pan to make sliding them in and out of the oven easier. And I kept a watchful eye on them! I tested one cupcake first, to gauge the broiling time and temperature.

Smores cupcakes broiled 1
Broiling took place in my electric oven, which I’m not terribly fond of. I grew up cooking with real flames, on the stove top and in the oven. This oven is small and narrow -- it just
barely held the turkey we cooked for 15 people a few years back, and cookie sheets have to be shimmied in and out. Plus, we have to set the temperature high by at least 20-25 degrees to get anything to cook within the suggested time on the recipe. One of the few positives about this odd oven is that broiling takes place on the top rack and with the door open, so monitoring food under the broiler is much easier than with a gas oven whose broiler is at floor level. Anyway, watch these pretties carefully when you’re broiling the tops. Just a minute or so should do (and maybe less under a real flame). Or if you’re truly fancy, use a creme brulee torch!

Oh my,
look at those lovely cupcakes. They turned out quite nicely, if I say so myself.
Smores cupcakes broiled 2
But of course, the true test is the taste.
Smores cupcake visionCome to me, o vision come true!

Mmmmmmmmmm, they are delish. If I humbly say so myself. A perfect combination of graham, chocolate, and marshmallow.
Smores cupcake eatenCareful--it takes only a few seconds to eat one of these things.

They refrigerate well in a plastic container and the frosting stays put. When you’re ready to eat, leave them out at room temperature for a few minutes and dig in. Or, skip the waiting and just dig in!

The Butterflies Come.

“The Butterflies Come” is a favorite childhood story, written and illustrated by Leo Politi. It’s a gentle story about Stephen and Lucia, a brother and sister living in Monterey, California, where thousands of monarch butterflies rest each October during their southward winter migration.

As our garden grows, we're receiving more butterfly visitors. It’s always a thrill to see even the most common wildlife in our yard throughout the year -- rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, robins, cardinals, rolypoly bugs. Because of the plentiful catmint, coneflowers, roses and orange milkweed, we also see plenty of chubby bumblebees, the occasional goldfinch, and butterflies.

Butterflies Come garden shotLots of flowers in our front yard for butterflies and bees to love.

Recently, as we approached our front sidewalk after a family stroll with the pup, I halted dog and husband as quietly as I could when I saw a beautiful Black Swallowtail butterfly land on a coneflower.

black swallowtail butterfly_jpgFrom the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Weldon Springs Wildlife Scrapbook.

Coneflower closeupA coneflower just like this one in our garden! In fact, it might have been this very blossom.

We frequently see monarch butterflies on our flowers (did you know the monarch is the Illinois state insect?) and those fairy-like pale yellow sulphur butterflies that flit and dance in pairs from flower to flower. Butterfly bush with beeBees and butterflies love our butterfly weed.

I feel honored when any butterfly visits the garden, because I have intentionally planted flowers they are known to enjoy. It’s gratifying to see mother nature’s creatures take pleasure from our garden. And this swallowtail was a rare and magical sight! We stood still and observed for the few moments it sipped at the flower’s sweetness, then it moved on. What a thrill! Do I ever have my camera with me when we get such an unusual visitor? Of course not. But I've decided the pleasure of seeing it with naked eye surpasses the privilege of capturing it through camera lens.

This morning, during another outing with The Pup, I spied a striking Tiger Swallowtail butterfly tasting a neighbor’s potted petunias.
tiger swallowtail butterfly_JPGFrom the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Weldon Springs Wildlife Scrapbook.

watched for a few minutes, hoping I wouldn’t creep out the homeowners if they happened to see me standing on their sidewalk staring agog in the direction of their front door. When I figured I had stared long enough, we crossed the street to admire some apricot heirloom roses (which smelled absolutely dreamy! I want me some of those) ... and the swallowtail followed! It flitted, it floated, it fleetly fleed and then flew off.

Monarchs always remind me of that dear childhood book,
The Butterflies Come, about which I'll share more later. Can you imagine seeing so many gorgeous butterflies in one place? And during October -- my favorite month!

Inside Bay Area monarchs on treeFrom “In Search of the Monarch Butterfly in Monterey” at

Monarch Butterfly Biosphere in Michoacan MexicoThe Monarch Butterfly Biosphere in Michoacan, Mexico from

Spectacular! But I’m happy with the few that bring simple enchantment to my garden.