Fresh Strawberry Shortbread Bars

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Strawberry season is in full swing here in California, and little roadside fruit stands are popping up every couple miles.  It’s hard to pass up berries that are sold within 50 feet of the field, so when I was assigned to bring dessert to our Mothers’ Day dinner, I decided to take advantage of the season.  I had the perfect dessert in mind: a shortbread crust, cream cheese layer, and fresh strawberry sauce.  Apparently my good idea was also somewhat unique, because search as I might, I couldn’t find anything that fit the bill.  I combined and adapted a different recipe for each layer, and the results were strikingly awesome.  Here, for posterity and to better the world, is the result of my experimentation:

 

Fresh Strawberry Shortbread Bars

(or as Johnny suggested I call them: “Goooooooood.  With lots of O’s.”)

Crust (from Cooks’ Illustrated Perfect Lemon Bars)

  • 1 3⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2⁄3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1⁄4 cup cornstarch
  • 3⁄4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons sweet unsalted butter, at cool room temperature, cut into 1 inch pieces

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1 8-oz. package cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Strawberry Sauce (source, slightly adapted)

  • 3 pints (6 cups) fresh strawberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice, or to taste

To prepare crust

Line 9″ x 13″ cake pan with foil and grease, then set aside.  In a food processor, pulse together the flour, powdered sugar, cornstarch, and salt to mix well.  Add 12 Tablespoons butter and process to blend (about 8 to 10 seconds), then pulse until mixture is a pale yellow color and resembles a coarse meal, (about three-1-second bursts).  **Lacking a food processor, you can mix the first ingredients by hand, and grate cold butter into the bowl using the large holes of a box grater.  Toss butter with flour mixture, then rub coated butter pieces between your fingers for a minute, until flour turns pale yellow and coarse.**

Pour crust mixture into the pan and press firmly into the bottom.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes, while oven heats to 350 degrees.  Bake crust for 20 minutes or until light golden brown.  Let crust cool completely before adding cream cheese layer.

To prepare cream cheese frosting

Using hand mixer, beat cream cheese with sugar and vanilla until it reaches a spreadable consistency.  Using spatula, spread it over cooled crust and refrigerate while you make the strawberry sauce.

To prepare strawberry sauce

Remove stems from strawberries and slice them in halves or quarters depending on size (most of them are uncooked, so don’t leave them too big).  Put 1 cup of berries in a bowl and mash them with a fork or pastry blender (if they’re too firm to mash easily, microwave them for 10-20 seconds).

Combine sugar and cornstarch in a large saucepan and add water.  Whisk until lumps are dissolved, then add mashed strawberries.  Cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly, until sauce boils and thickens.  Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.  Stir in remaining strawberries and add lemon juice to taste.

Spread strawberry sauce over crust, working quickly so that the warm strawberries don’t melt the cream cheese layer.  Return to refrigerator and chill until serving.

 

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{p,h,f,r}: Spring flowers, little babies, and big troublemakers

Because I’ve got a ton of pictures to post, time to post them, and it happens to be Thursday!

{pretty}

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I’m not sure I ever appreciated rose bushes until this spring.  We have several well-established bushes outside our front door, and it seems like every day there are twice as many blooms as the day before.  They’re not wimpy, either; it’s hard to get a sense of scale from the photos, but most of them are bigger across than my hand.  I’m finding myself outside taking photos of them pretty often, and an important part of Maddy’s morning ritual is to go look at the blue sky and the pink flowers.
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{happy]

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After some lengthy scheduling delays, we got to take a peek at Baby Spike (so named thanks to all the people who have told us that our first child was so good that our second is destined to be a terror).  Our last ultrasound was a pretty disappointing experience, with a tech who wouldn’t let me look at the screen until the last 10 seconds or so.  This time, we got to go to the fancy imaging department at the children’s hospital, where the whole thing was broadcast on a big HD screen for our viewing pleasure.

Everything looks great, but Johnny was once again unable to determine the gender, try as he might.  He leans toward wanting to find out, and I do not, so our deal is that if he can tell by himself without professional help, he can know.  It’s amazing how the resolution is so good that they could count every individual finger bone, but the two of us totally had no idea if we saw anything or a lack of anything in the gender department.

 

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The new morning calisthenics routine never fails to amuse us (and that ponytail doesn’t hurt, either!).

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In case I ever doubted it, it has become abundantly clear that Johnny and I do not dictate all the activity of this house anymore.  Just yesterday, Maddy realized that she could suddenly reach both Johnny’s guitar and the coveted (and full) coffee mug on its formerly-safe shelf.  With the help of those admittedly-cute tiptoes she’s demonstrating above, she can pretty much reach any flat surface in the house, and it’s time to do round two of baby proofing*.

*The lazy kind, where I pretty much just make sure there are no knives near the edges of the counters.

 

Linking up with Like Mother, Like Daughter for {pretty,happy,funny,real}

7 Quick Takes: Easter Octave Edition

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Happy Friday!  Here I am blogging instead of watching the just-released-for-home-viewing Star Wars movie, so…you’re welcome.  We have big plans to watch it after Maddy goes to bed tonight, so I should need to make a popcorn and wine run this afternoon.

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We had a lovely Easter.  The Triduum looks a little different when you’ve got a toddler and no really stellar Mass options, but we made it work.  There’s a Ukrainian Catholic option in town, so we went to some of their services and really enjoyed the change.  Plus, the congregation is very small (as in, under 10 most days) and child-friendly.

On Holy Thursday, every Mass option was bilingual, which meant things took about twice as long as they would have at an English Mass, but Maddy was a trooper past her bedtime.  I don’t think I’ve ever been to an authentic Spanish Mass (no, I don’t count my Midwestern university’s attempts).  The enthusiasm of the musicians was really something to see.

On Friday, we went to the Ukrainian Mass, which was celebrated for the Feast of the Annunciation.  Maddy was good for the first hour or so, and then lost interest and needed to sit in the car eating Cheerios.  She enjoyed climbing freely around the backseat.

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Happy as a clam and totally stuck.  She just politely said, “Hey, mama?”

We laid low at home on Holy Saturday; our bedtime disruption capital had all been spent on Thursday night.  On Sunday, we woke up bright and early and went to Easter Matins, again at the Ukrainian church.  There was a procession involved, and the priest’s wife gave Maddy a set of bells to ring whenever we said, “Christ is risen!”

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Hard to get a picture while carrying her and processing through the bushes, but you get the idea.

Johnny was conscripted into leading the procession, which ended with Father knocking on the closed church doors with a crucifix and announcing three times, “Christ is risen!”  It was great.

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Maddy is enamored by his hat and the bells on the thurible.  The Roman Rite is pretty dull in comparison.

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We didn’t manage to get a family photo because (ahem) someone changed out of his church clothes too early.  I may make everyone wear the same thing this weekend for a staged picture.  Pretend it’s real.

I did think to take photos of Maddy.  “We have lilies and a stuffed lamb!” I thought.  “How hard could a photo be?”

This hard.

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Fittingly for Easter week, our kitchen is full of various baked goods.  But they were all made under duress!  Really!  We couldn’t not have Easter brunch, and the pound cake was my contribution to Easter dinner.  And the cookies were because I thought Johnny was going on a business trip.  And the bread is there to go with the ham.  In short: I should’ve bought butter and flour shares.

 

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We totally skipped an Easter basket for Maddy this year, because she still thinks raisins are candy, but her grandparents and great-grandparents came to the rescue.  My mom sent her the Our Lady of Czestochowa Shining Light Doll, and she’s been carrying it around everywhere asking, “Who’sis?”  She’s currently fascinated by all depictions of Mary and Baby Jesus, so having a portable version is fun.

Johnny’s grandpa made her this rocking fish, which she likes but isn’t quite sure how to approach.  In a month or two, she’s going to be a rocking fool on it.

 

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The weather has been great this week, and Maddy has been begging to spend every moment outside.  It’s tough, because every surface is covered with pollen, and all three of us have allergies.  I’m trying to bite the bullet, though, so we’ve been to the playground a few times.

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Just practicing for Baby.  Given that she flipped it immediately after I took this photo, I think we’ll keep practicing.

 

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We have a lot of time to spend outside because she went down to one nap pretty much every day.  It’s great that we can count on her to sleep through the night now, but I’m missing the time I used to have to myself during the day.

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All I need to do is figure out how to eat in the shower while making phone calls, without anyone on the other end getting suspicious.  I can do this.

 

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We spent the last month dealing with a ridiculous car repair situation that resulted in finally getting a loaner car from the dealership for a couple weeks.  Any excitement I may have had about driving a cute Fiat was quickly squashed by the fact that it was electric and had a range of 74 miles.  Ever forget to plug your phone in at night?  Yeah, now imagine being stuck at home the next day while the car charges.  Needless to say, I’m not planning on a purchase anytime soon.  Once my car came back (two weeks later), I sent the list of repairs to my dad and asked how long it would take him.  Response: “Two hours including lunch.”  Awesome.

 

I’ve typed away a pretty fair portion of naptime, so it’s time for me to go do some adulting.  Enjoy your weekend – we’ll be going to something called Big Hat Days!

Linking up with Kelly, because of course.

7 Quick Takes, mostly about food

Geez, two posts in one day! If you're thinking that I must have lots of spare time…well, you'd be totally wrong. I have a lengthy to-do list, and this is my chosen means of avoidance.
1:
Yes, so much food. Why? Because being pregnant (not to mention living with a ravenous toddler), it's a major theme of my life right now. I can't say I have any cravings, per se, but I'm very suggestible. Watching Food Network becomes a constant litany of, “Oh, I'd eat that…” Sure, the rest of the house is slowly declining into a huge mess, but now that I'm not averse to most everything, I'm cooking like crazy.
 
2:

It doesn't happen to me too often, but yesterday I had the most spectacular baking failure. A loaf of bread from an America's Test Kitchen recipe looked promising going into the oven, and then went downhill from there. Down, and down….and down. Even after it came out of the oven, the top just kept sinking. I was looking forward to the easy sandwich bread they promised, but I think I'll keep looking. But hey! At least I knocked the bread knife off the counter and reflexively reached to grab it, so I've got a bandaid souvenir.


3:

I went to a tea party last night, so in addition to the ill-fated bread, I whipped up some lemon bars. I've been baking significantly less during Lent (and no desserts at all), so I seized the opportunity to use up some sugar on an all-Protestant crowd. I should really know better than to try a new recipe when I'm on a deadline and have a new audience, but I was looking for a way to showcase some beautiful fresh lemons we got from a friend, and this recipe seemed like just the ticket. A stick and a half of butter, six eggs, a cup and a half of sugar, and three lemons? What could go wrong?

I'll spoil the ending and say that they did turn out fantastic – the flavor is amazing, and the shortbread crust has great texture. However…I baked them for 4 times longer than the recipe called for, and I still wasn't convinced they were set. After some refrigeration, they were fine but still gooey. Next time, they need to be in a bigger pan so they can cook a little faster.

In other news, this was the first time I've left home after Maddy's bedtime, and she (and Johnny) missed me so little I may have to do it more often. She slept through the entire night for only the second time in her life. Of course, I still woke up every few hours in a panic that she was still quiet. I managed not to go check on her at all, because I didn't want to have to explain to Johnny that I had woken her up.

 

4:


After months of waiting (yes, I need another hobby), I was really excited for the opening of a new grocery store near our house – a sort of Whole Foods Lite, where most of the produce is local, and it's all cheaper than anywhere else. I managed to go to the big opening all by myself – Maddy was with Johnny's mom, so circle the bulk section repeatedly while ogling the granola variety like the very very cool person I am.

I texted Johnny a picture of my cart and told him, “I think we have to become salad people now!” One whole week later, and we haven't let anything languish in the fridge yet, so I'm counting it as a win.

We've been back a few times, and Maddy found a barrel of dried cranberries bigger than her, so I think she's a fan too.

 

5:

Not to brag, but I'm doing pretty well at Lenten Fridays so far. We eat meatless on Friday all year round, so it really shouldn't be any different, but for some reason I've been putting a little more thought into dinner the last few weeks. I learned recently that Johnny doesn't actually hate shrimp like I thought he did; he just hates overcooked shrimp. Fair enough. I've always been a seafood lover, so I'm happy to have this territory opened up for exploration. Last week, we had this lemon shrimp pasta, which was certainly one of the more photogenic dishes I've cooked in a while.

 

6:

Okay, enough about food (she writes, while pondering leftover lemon bars and a cup of tea). We recently got a chance to try a free trial of Google Express, and I'm afraid I might be hooked. With a pretty low minimum purchase, they'll deliver my order from Costco, Target, and other stores the next day. It's a very first-world service, but I had one Costco order delivered, and I can see myself getting used to it. We're at the point when a shopping trip can't be spur-of-the-moment, and once we have two kids under two, I may never leave the house again. Time will tell if I actually pay for the service ($10 a month) once my trial runs out, but I'm keeping my options open.

 

7:

On the agenda this weekend: the usual housekeeping catch-up and a little adulting (gotta get the cars registered in this state, among other things). Hopefully we'll balance that out with a trip to the zoo with the membership Maddy got as a birthday gift. It's supposed to be 80 and sunny, so it would be a shame to waste the nice weather.

Enjoy your weekend and Leap Day!

Linking up with 7 Quick Takes at This Ain't the Lyceum.

 

Maddy’s First Birthday!

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We did it!  A whole year of living for Maddy and parenthood for us.  I may have missed the last several months of updates about her, but darn it, I can snap my 3-month non-blogging streak long enough to commemorate her birthday in the correct month.

We had a pretty low-key dinner celebration (our family and Johnny’s), and then cake and gifts.  Maddy “helped” me “decorate” her cake (see above), which was just banana bread with frosting.  The adult cake was a flourless chocolate cake that was absolutely fantastic on it’s own, with the added bonus of being gluten-free (important for one or two of us).

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Maddy was pretty much totally uninterested in the candle or singing, but fascinated by Daddy holding the video camera.  Here’s the other angle of this photo.

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Cake eating montage:
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Yes, I did get all the chocolate out of her tutu.  Thanks, Zout!

We had have a few decorations up at our house still: a banner of monthly photos – which is a project I’m sure I’ll never do for any subsequent birthdays – and a sign, courtesy of Maddy’s cousins.

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Maddy is running headlong into her second year of life.  In the space of an hour earlier this week, she learned how to open the container of wipes and scatter them, pop the lid off a full cup of milk, smash a plate against the tile floor, and say, “NOT DIS!”

On the other hand, she’s also figuring out how to go play by herself, reading board books voraciously, and adding new words to her vocabulary every day (“breakfast” and “outside” are the ones I’m most impressed with).  She greets everyone with either a high-pitched “HIIIIIIIII!” or a very solemn “Hewwo.”  Her favorite things include string cheese, Daddy, and the stand mixer.

Happy birthday, Maddy C!  We think you’re pretty great.

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Yes…she got a ball pit for her birthday. What else are bachelor “uncles” for?

The New House (Selective) Tour!

We’re mostly unpacked in our new house, which mostly means that we have to look through every drawer and closet to find anything.  We’ve got a lot more space here than in our last place, which is great for Explorer Baby.  The first thing we did was set up her room, and thanks to the marvels of a well-fitted baby gate, she can play in there relatively unsupervised (at least until her attention span runs out).

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Outside our front door are several rose bushes that we’re not responsible for maintaining, which is an ideal situation for me.  I’m looking forward to getting some plants and exploring the potential of this much warmer growing zone, but I don’t think I’d ever achieve the level of success that these have reached.

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There are some quirky elements that we’re still getting used to in this house.  At this point, I’m just curious to see how long we can last without a microwave (the answer is probably closely related to how many times I forget to take meat out of the freezer early enough).  We’ve got an abundance of cabinets, though: so many places for Maddy to hide our stuff!

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The kitchen was clearly built in an era before tall appliances – our coffee maker doesn’t fit under the cabinets, and the idea of fitting the Kitchenaid mixer is laughable.

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The utility sink is, for me, a hallmark an “adult house,” and it might be sad how much I’m looking forward to hand-washing delicates in it.  The little space underneath is – you guessed it – another place for Maddy to hide stuff (picking up on the theme yet?).

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Our bed wasn’t worth moving across the country, but the result is that we’re temporarily camping out on our mattress on the floor.  On the bright side, though, it doesn’t creak, and I’m never worried about Maddy rolling off.

We have two spacious bathrooms…

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…with a large window right outside the shower.

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Nice lighting, poor privacy.  The view from the shower:

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Next up on the shopping list will be better curtains.

There are fans in every room, which is delightful for the babe of the house.  She’s started checking every time we go into a room; I’m pretty sure the word “fan” will be in her vocabulary any day.

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Speaking of Maddy, here she is in her favorite habitat: leaning on the coffee table.  Sitting is passe these days, and the coffee table is currently the last place anyone should set their coffee cup.

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Maddy at Eight Months

 

 

Two-thirds of a year! Time is flying! This month's quick update brought to you by photos from my phone, and mobile blogging from the midst of our moving-box maze.

Maddy had a big month of mobility, perfecting her crawling and learning how to pull up to standing on everything. She's going to be standing independently in no time, I'm afraid, and walking won't be far behind.

 
Besides calling me “mama,” it seems that “dada” is beyond her grasp. It sounds more and more like she's calling Johnny “Bubba,” which I find pretty hilarious. At our prompting, she said, “bye bye” – clear as day- to a cat; neither of us would've believed it if the other hadn't been there.
 

The day we left California, it was 94 degrees. Last Sunday in Massachusetts, it snowed. True to her Minnesota ancestry, Maddy enjoyed it (though she's still confused by precipitation in general).
She's been spending a lot of time exploring the very small territory of our non-childproofed apartment, reading books to herself, and conducting in-depth studies of her own toes. Real troublemaking is just around the corner!