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December 19, 2016

Aunt Pearl's Sour Cream Cookies

We would often visit my Grandma Walker around my birthday, in mid-late August, just before the school year started.  Grandma would have these sour cream cookies waiting.  The holidays were filled with so many visitors and treats that it was often the one time of year she didn't have to cook.  But when searching for a favorite treat this Christmas, my friend Jenny and I pulled out this trusted recipe for Jenny's five year old son to share with Santa.  It came first from my Grandma's sister, Pearl Mumm.  Now so beloved, there are several versions written down within the family, slightly different, and all attributed to Pearl, though each baker has made it her own.  I was so excited to share this with my friend this season, knowing her family will be handing the recipe down through generations too.

Aunt Pearl's Sour Cream Cookies

2 cups Sugar
1 cup Butter
1 cup Sour Cream
2 Eggs
4 1/2 Cups Flour
1 tsp. Baking Soda
1/2 tsp. Ground Nutmeg
1 tsp. Vanilla
1 tsp. Salt 
Raisins (optional) 

1.  Place sugar, butter, sour cream, and eggs into bowl and beat thoroughly.  
2.  Add flour, baking soda, nutmeg, vanilla, and salt; mix well.
3.  Roll out and cut into circles using a biscuit cutter for even size.  If dough is sticky, add a little flour.
4.  Use the back of a teaspoon to make a small well in each round; top with mixture of brown sugar and cream slurry (sour Half & Half or heavy cream by adding 1 cup vinegar).
4.  Bake in 350 degree oven until cookies are set, approximately ten minutes.

November 30, 2016

Hesby House Yard Landscaping DIY 2016

 Because it's been a while since I've blogged on a regular basis, I have a few "catch-up" posts to add, one of which is the DIY landscaping job I did of my backyard this summer.  I finally gave up on grass.  I've had spectacular short bursts of green space from grass seed, but the weeds that crept in soon grew three times the size of my dog, and I've always had trouble keeping up the space to the extent that we could really enjoy it.  Finally I've given up on the idea of grass, and conceded that the best route was wood chips.


The renovation started with having the space fully weeded and tilled.  A friend kindly donated five large pots of orange-blooming Clivia.  I spread them out and planted them along the fenceline on the west side of the property, after trimming back the bougainvilla that grows over from my neighbor's side of the fence. 

My dogs have a tendency to have fence wars with the neighbor's dogs when she lets them barrel back from the front house, so I decided it was time to install a hedge of separation.  I wanted something that would provide color, be dense enough to keep the dogs from getting through, and yet be trimmed low to the ground since my dogs are so short.
I placed the black fabric on the ground with stakes to inhibit growth, then covered with natural wood chips.  It took about sixteen-eighteen bags of wood chips to fully cover my yard.   My house is the guesthouse in back, so there's a long pathway from the driveway to get the bags where they needed to be, and I bought and hauled them all. 

I had to hire a day laborer to dig out the roots of the ferns that had been growing back behind the shed.  I first dug these up eight years ago when I had moved in, but they are tenacious!  Even though I thought I had removed them all including roots and tubers, they had grown back again on their own.   That was a $50 cost I had to add into my budget for the project. 

I had wanted to put Kangaroo Paws (google images if you don't know what they look like) behind the shed, but couldn't find any available when I was landscaping.  In the end, I chose a shrub which had a bit of variegated color and should fill the space to keep the dogs from wandering back there and getting stuck or going under the shed.


I hadn't run my fountain in the backyard for a few seasons because of the California drought, but I finally gave in and got it working again.  It took a bit of a clean-out and a new filter to get the system running properly.  The bubbling brook is a soothing noise as I sit next to it. 

The white plastic chairs came from freecycle and scrubbed clean nicely.  I love the contrast against the dark wood chips.  I found four brightly colored birdbaths for $15 each and enhanced their character with some little ceramic owls from the dollar store. 

Edited to add a note about budget:  I think this project cost me around $700. 
Labor for weeding and fern removal: $150
Ground fabric & stakes:  $200
Wood chips:  $150+
Plants (16 hibiscus, 4 hedge plants):  $150
Paving stones & birdbaths:  $80

There were lots of blooms that came up in the garden surrounding the house from past seasons.  The irises did really well this year, even though most of them were WalMart end-of-season purchases.

Above is some sort of flowering African violet bulb that I got at a garden show many years ago. 

The dogs and I enjoyed a peaceful summer in the yard.  We spent so much time outdoors, just aimlessly doing nothing, soaking up the sun and each other.  I'm so thankful for the time I had with them in July and August.  On my birthday, August 23rd, my boy Chance got very sick.  He was on and off eating throughout September, and I let him go in the backyard on October 11th.  But for most of the summer he was healthy and well, and enjoyed sniffing around, exploring and guarding his property. 

Claire enjoying the outdoors

Chance soaking up the sun

baby Caitie sitting on my feet

October 7, 2016

8th Annual Good Food Pie Contest & My Sweet Potato Cheesecake-Stuffed Pie Recipe

My fifth time participating in KCRW's annual Good Food Pie Contest was on October 2nd.  As usual, the event was filled with fanfare and a ton of friendly bakers.  Out of 372 entries in eight categories, the list of winners are distinguished, having quite an achievement!

In past years, I brought my Grandma Walker's Impossible Pie, Peanut Butter Custard with Apricot Glaze, Blackberry-Rosemary Pie with Cheddar Crust, and my mom's Chocolate Cheesecake with Graham Cracker Crust

This year, I entered the special "Sweet Potato category" that was sponsored by a holiday movie being released soon.  I used my dad's pumpkin pie recipe, subbing the pumpkin for sweet potato puree.  I stuffed the pie with the filling from the Black-bottom Cupcakes that were a birthday favorite of my childhood.  The competition was held at UCLA, on the green area near Royce Hall, where the background included a beautiful fountain.  There were (of course) pies, but also a demonstration stage, a cookbook exchange, games and activities for kids, food trucks, and a vendor area that included hula hooping.  The atmosphere was festive and family-friendly, with lots of aprons in view.  Bakers brought one pie for the judges to taste, and one for public sampling on the green area.

KCRW's official photo of my judges' entry
at the check-in table
My pie on the public sampling table
My neighbors on the public sampling table

My reason for entering is not the competition but the fun day of meeting other bakers and bloggers.  Next to me at the sampling table was a young girl who had very obviously made her pie entry.  She kept carefully rearranging the lime slices on the top of her pie.

I didn't get to stay for the sampling this year, as I am going through a painful time at home.  My first dog, now ten years old, is declining due to kidney disease, and I had just gotten news of some very poor lab results that morning before coming to UCLA.  I walked around the entire event, chatting and taking pictures, and had a fabulous sandwich from one of the vendors.  But once I'd seen everything, I was at loose ends, waiting for the events to start.  Unfortunately, I couldn't hold it together at my sadness over Chance.  I confided in baker Malinda Miller, who was unbelievably kind, understanding, and comforting.  Still, I ended up going home soon after to be with my little pup.

Since all of my pictures were taken prior to the beginning of the events, I had time to talk with several bakers.  Megan Paonessa baked five separate pies for different categories!  I really enjoyed how elaborately detailed she'd decorated each one, with different textures.  She had lovely golden malted milk balls for her banana pie, and a pretty granola topping on another.  

Stacey Clipp taught me about the spice "masala."  I knew it had a kick, but had somehow always associated the word with saffron or curry, which was incorrect.  Stacey's pie was beautifully decorated with tomatoes.

A good amount of bakers kept their pies covered prior to the start of the tasting event, so I was unable to get photos.  This one below caught my eye anyway, as it was made by "Aunt Elisa & Lily Rose."  I would have loved to meet them to see their creation, but they must have been wandering the event themselves.  I always love to see generations baking together, even more when it's an aunt and niece. 

So many bakers took the time and forethought regarding presentation.  From tablecloths and dishes, to props like photos which helped to tell their story, the bakers inventiveness did not stop at their pie.  Whether the angle was comfort or modern, historical or genealogical, there was a little something for everyone under the two pie tents at the event.


When it came to the pies themselves, I took inspiration from textures and crusts, to filling ingredients and decorating.  The range of flavor profiles and combos you see at the contest is truly amazing.

Sweet Potato Cheesecake-Stuffed Pie
(makes two pies)

Cream Cheese Filling

8 oz. cream cheese

1 egg

1/3 cup sugar
1 cup chocolate chip 

Sweet Potato Pie Filling
3 cups fresh or canned pureed sweet potato
2 cups evaporated milk
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp nutmeg 
2 tsp cinnamon 

4 large eggs, slightly beaten
2 tbsp butter or margarine melted 

2 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp flour

1) Cream the cheese, sugar and egg well.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Set this filling aside.

2) Combine Sweet Potato Filling ingredients together; mix thoroughly.

3) Divide cream cheese filling in half; layer each half into two pastry lined nine inch pie pans.  Pat down so that the cream cheese forms an even bottom layer.  Pour the sweet potato filling on top of the cream cheese layer till quite full.

Alternately, you can fill the pies first with some of the sweet potato filling, then dab spoonfuls of the cheesecake into the center of the pie and top off with more sweet potato mix.  This will lead to a less uniform layer of the cream cheese filling when cut, and some may be visible on top.

For a "Snickerdoodle" touch dust the top well with cinnamon sugar.

4) Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes.  Reduce temperature to 350 degrees; bake for 30 minutes or until knife inserted in the pie comes out clean.  Depending on the consistency of the pureed sweet potato, this could take quite some time.  (For high altitude - extend second bake time to 55-60 minutes.)

5) Cool on wire rack for 1 1/2 hours.  Serve immediately or refrigerate.
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