Baking Bones for Bowser!

My disappointment with corporate stores during the holidays – Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, pick one – is that they seem to be entirely focused on selling their souls out, rather than on giving something BACK to their customers at this special time of year, even when the messaging from these very same stores professes GIVING, CARING, and SHARING.

I’ve been around long enough to remember how much we kids (and adults) looked forward with great anticipation to what the Christmas windows would look like “this year.” There were themes and wonderful scenarios created in store windows that would lead the observer into a fantasy land, and for at least a moment, it was not about the buying but about the wonder and magic of it all. Even SEARS, a totally middle class store, went out of its way to set up a beautiful nativity scene in its picture window on the corner of Geary Boulevard and Masonic Avenue. One did not have to be a Christian to enjoy the fun and beauty of these decorations which proclaimed that this was not any ordinary month but one of celebration and appreciation.

Fast forward to our age of technology, and we are shopping less in stores, more online and hardly the tide will turn. So where and from whom can we experience the joy of celebration and appreciation? From BOWSER!bowwowbones

This year baking homemade treats for the special four-legged friends in my life has given me more joy than shopping for any present. The feedback from my furry friends is more than gratifying!

It takes no time at all to whip up these savory crackers. While designed with canines in mind, even Bowser’s owner can to dip a “bone” into a hot cup of coffee. Make them, share them and experience the magic of the holidays, when caring about BOWSER gives back  in spades.  Tessie’s Treats are sure to bring an enthusiastic woof from your pet(s) at home. Happy Holidays, one and all.

Tessie’s Treats: 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour or gluten free flour, 1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour, 1 1/4 cups cornmeal or polenta, 1 1/4 cup rolled oats, 1/2 cup wheat germ (toasted, optional), 1/2 cup date sugar, 1-2 tablespoons baking powder, 1 1/2 tsp. sea salt, 6 ounces sweet butter (cut into pieces),  1 full cup filtered water, 1/2 cup chopped herbs – optional (parsley, dill).

Directions: Pulse dry ingredients in a food processor to blend. Add butter, and pulse again. Add water, and pulse until a large ball forms. Divide the dough into two pieces, wrapping one in plastic wrap until you get to it. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. On a well-floured board, roll out one of the balls to 1/3 – 1/4″ thick. Use a cookie cutter (shaped like a bone) to cut your biscuits and place them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet (those with air pockets work best for even browning). Close spacing is o.k. as these do not spread.

Gather leftover dough, and roll again to make more cutouts. (Optional: brush the biscuits with an egg or your favorite wash to make them glisten. Bake for 25-35 minutes until done and dry. Makes 5-6 dozen. Pack in festive cellophane bags for gift giving.

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A Milestone for Lady Tessie

Extra, Extra, Read All About It!….On Friday, July 8th Lady Tessie of Castle Gordon celebrated her 11th birthday in good health and good spirits.

This year, surrounded by family and fans, this spry Spingset wonder received congrats and felicitations from the Gordon Setter Club of Canada. This is the 4th international communique received by this extraordinary setter. GSCC President, Roberta Tucker, expressed it perfectly: “I understand you and your owner have surmounted many obstacles in achieving this landmark. The black and tans in Canada wish you many more years of good health, romps in the grass, cuddles on the couch (not allowed! – editor), and of course special edible treats (absolutely allowed – editor), that all Gordons enjoy.”IMG_0515 IMG_0516

Lady Tessie is a member in good standing with the Gordon Setter Club of America (GSCA). Since her adoption 4 years ago, she has received acknowledgments  from  the GSCA, the Gordon Setter Club of Scotland, the GSA-UK, and now the GSCC. Most deserving of such accolades, Lady Tessie continues to bring joy to her community and takes her responsiblity as Sonoma’s Four-legged, Black and Tan Goodwill Ambassador, very seriously.

The official celebration (her actual birth date is July 9th) included homemade lasagne, Caesar salad, champagne and a custom-designed black and tan cake from Scandia Bakery. IMG_0513Party favors were homemade jars of peach jam decorated on top with printed medallions of Gordon Setter cameos. Tessie was showered with attention, birthday cards, and wonderful gifts. Way to go, Lady Tessie! May the future continue to bring you good health and happy adventures.

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Crispy on the Outside, Moist and Chewy on the Inside, Enrobed in Silk

Go DaddyIt’s a riddle worth solving and sampling. Expecting guests this weekend, I decided to continue testing my cake recipes for The Lobanovsky Family Table. Here’s the cake, complete with memories:”I treasure the three recipes I have for ‘Mrs. Amo’s’ wonderful tortes. While the other two were barely legible notes scribbled on slips of paper, I found this one in my recipe box complete and typewritten when I was selecting my favorite cakes to include in The Lobanovsky Family Table. It’s a mystery and an amazing stoke of luck as to how that happened.

I attended George Washington High School with Zora’s son, Alex, daughter, Tania, and a number of other Russian kids from the Richmond District. It was during our lunch breaks that we would trade food. Everyone wanted Tania’s dessert because her mother made these amazing cakes. As for Zora’s nickname, Val Alexeeff was the one in our crowd responsible for affectionately calling her “Mrs. Amo,” and the name stuck.

Having sampled Zora’s cakes in school, I took advantage of my sessions with her to get her recipes and baking tips. Zora was an expert seamstress and sewed for many women in San Francisco’s Russian community. I loved Vogue patterns. It was the era of Paco Rabanne, Courrèges, and Valentino. On occasion my adventures into haute couture would drive my normal seamstress, Mama, straight into the stratosphere. Some Vogue patterns were very complex and beyond my mother’s willingness or patience. So off to see Mrs. Amo we’d go. She would either rescue (translation: finish) the outfit my mother began or in rare cases, sew the whole thing, like my Valentino strapless formal for the Invalids’ Ball. While Zora was pinning me during a fitting, she also served as my pastry coach and my other’s therapist, as they chatted about how ridiculous were the directions for this particular dress or gown. Most likely my notes were jotted down during these visits to the Amochaev home.”

CAKE RECIPE1 1/3 cups egg whites, 3 cups sugar, superfine if available, 1 teaspoon vanilla or 1 vanilla bean, scraped, 3 cups finely ground walnuts, Butter to grease three pans

Grease 3, 9” round cake pans and line with a round of wax paper. Grease again and flour lightly. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Beat whites to soft peaks. Gradually add the sugar a tablespoon at a time and beat until stiff. Fold in the vanilla and the nuts.

Divide batter equally among the pans. Bake for 25 minutes; reduce the temperature to 225 degrees, and bake another 30 minutes. The cakes will rise and then fall. When done, cool the pans on a rack for 10 minutes; then remove the layers from the pans and cool thoroughly.

The cake may look pretty gnarly. The top of each layer will be crunchy and dry. Inside the cake will be moist and chewy. It’s best to slide each layer onto a piece of wax paper for easier handling and assembly. However, if the cake starts falling apart during the process, gently push a layer together and glue it together with the filling if necessary. No one will care. I guarantee it!

Chocolate Mousseline Filling: 3 egg yolks and 2 whole eggs, 5 heaping soup spoon full’s of sugar (about 8-10 measuring tablespoons), 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, Baker’s or Valrhona, 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract or 1 bean, scraped, 2 cubes (8 ounces) sweet butter, softened, 1-2 Tablespoons rum, optional

Beat the eggs and sugar together until fluffy and pale yellow. Transfer the mixture to the top of a double boiler and cook for 8-10 minutes over simmering water, stirring constantly. When the eggs thicken and expand forming a custard that won’t easily drip from a spoon, remove them from the heat. Break the chocolate into small pieces and add it to the hot eggs. Stir until the chocolate melts and blends in evenly. Stir in the vanilla and allow the filling to cool completely.

In a mixer, beat the butter until very fluffy and white, about 10-15 minutes. Combine with the cooled chocolate mixture, adding a few tablespoons at a time until all is incorporated. Lastly, stir in the rum, if desired.

The cake layers are likely to be uneven and gnarly looking. If necessary as you are assembling the cake, trim them to be as even as possible, saving the crumbs to decorate the cake top. Fill the layers with the chocolate cream, turning the last layer upside down, flat side up. Cover with the remaining cream and sprinkle with trimming crumbs. This recipe makes enough filling to generously frost a three-layer cake and sides. You may also opt to leave the sides “naked.”


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The Great Lent, Almost

While Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday herald the coming of Easter Sunday for much of the Christian world on March 27th, the Eastern Orthodox celebration of the same event will be quite late this year, May 1st to be exact. What separates the two Easters? In simple terms –  an out-of-date church calendar.

It would be a miracle, if the meeting of the two Christian heads of state, Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis in Havana, Cuba this week resulted in the melding of these two calendars of the Christian faith. The last meeting of the faiths was about 1,000 years ago. How’s that for “staying in touch?!” Wouldn’t it be cool to finally follow the same calendar, and spare  Russian, Greek and other Slavic kids the pain of celebrating Christmas two weeks late and Easter, well…that varies and rarely coincides, adding the the difficulty of explaining to one’s friends the how and why of it all.

However, both Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Easter are preceded by lent, fasting for the soul and a benefiting to the body. This is the time to get out your vegetarian and vegan recipes. Fit for the challenge, is my mother’s recipe for Sirniki. These cheese cakes can be breakfast delights or luncheon or dinner entrees when paired with a light, greens salad.Sirniki_2



Mama would often alternate between Sirniki and Lazy Vareniki during the Great Lent when farmers’ or pot cheese was one of her favored meat replacements during those seven long weeks. Here’s her recipe from The Lobanovsky Family Table:


1 lb. pot cheese (or farmer’s cheese), 1 egg, beaten, 1 Tbsp. sugar, 1/4 cup flour,  1/2 cup (approximately) breadcrumbs –preferably not Panko, butter or ghee for frying. Garnishes: Sour cream or crème fraiche, melted butter, honey or jam


Beat the egg. Add to a medium bowl with the cheese in it.  Then mix in the egg, sugar and flour until smooth. (If the cheese is particularly dry add another yolk or a whole egg, as long as the cheese is not so soft that you cannot handle it easily). Scoop about a cup of the mixture into a shallow dish filled with the breadcrumbs (or more flour if you wish). With floured hands, make balls the size of a large golf ball and roll them in breadcrumbs.

Flatten the balls into patties and place on a wax paper lined and floured baking sheet. Fry them in butter or ghee until golden, about 5 minutes per side on a medium flame. Turn over and fry on the second side until browned. Serve with sour cream or crème fraiche, melted butter and honey or jam.

In some regions Sirniki are known as Tvorozhniki, same dish, same recipe! Any leftover patties may be frozen, packed away into zip lock bags and finished later. In that case, heat your ghee in the pan, place the sirniki right into it, and cover with a lid while frying on the first side. This will auto-defrost your patties. Then flip them onto side two, cover agin but leaving a small gap between the lid and pan to allow any excess moisture to escape. After 5 more minutes, check for if done. The patty should be soft, heated through and brown on both sides. You’re there. Enjoy!

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Super Bowl Meatloaf

It’s 11:30 a.m. on Super Bowl Sunday and there’s still time to make a touchdown of a meatloaf before the game! This traditional and delicious comfort food, credited to Jenny Jones is the perfect, simple and very American dish to enjoy today. Jenny even shows you how to make the grease “melt away,” that results in a healthier version then if one  made it in a loaf pan. Get your quick cooking lesson, recipe and appetite going by checking Jenny out on YouTube:

There’s hardly anything better to go with any meatoaf than mashed potatoes. For four, use 2 pounds of Yukon Golds, peeled and rough cut into smaller pieces. Cover with water, add salt to taste, and 2-3 cloves of peeled garlic. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, simmer for 10 minutes. When potatoes can be pierced easily, drain, and mash with 2 tablespoons olive oil. When smooth dribble in 1 cup heated low fat organic milk. You can skip the ricer on Super Bowl Sunday, but truthfully, if your potatoes are fully cooked, a masher with some muscle power (apropos for the day) will give you silky smooth potatoes anyway.

So run to the store (no one will be there now..), get your ingredients and score a touchdown at home. You’ll be glad you did. As to who will be the winner today? I say it will be Denver, only because I have friends in Boulder, and that’s about as close to the crystal ball as I am going to get. Who knows and who cares….there will be a winner, but given that neither team is from San Francisco, so I am still perplexed why the city has so much “skin in the game.”

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“Oh, Fudge!”

Having missed sending out her holiday greetings on time, the incredible setter, Lady Tessie of Castle Gordon, offers her apologies and secret fudge recipe, apropos her faux pas. Please find it in your hearts to forgive her and wish for her a Happy, Healthy 2016, as she does for you!IMG_0720_2

Lady T: “It may not be the white or tan kind, but don’t let it’s thick, brown color keep you from enjoying this favorite delicacy of mine. I licked my chops just smelling it cooling. To my fans with love,” Lady T –

In a large, heavy -bottomed saucepan, mix a 5 oz. can of evaporated milk with 11 oz of superfine sugar, 2 oz. of sweet butter and 1/2 tsp. salt. Bring to a rolling boil and cook stirring frequently for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and immediately mix in one-12 oz. package of semi-sweet chocolate chips (Ghirardelli or Guittard), one 7 oz jar marshmallow cream, 2 more ounces of sweet butter, 1 tsp. vanilla and one cup coarsely chopped walnuts (pecans opt.). Blend until smooth; then pour into an 8×8″ pan lined with buttered foil. Allow to “cure” for a few hours. Cut into large pieces, wrap well in plastic wrap, and store at room temperature. IMG_0726You won’t need to worry about long term storage with this treat. It’s best to cut the pieces into bite size bits when you are ready to serve it.


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Nuts to You!

It’s almost time to harvest walnuts in Sonoma. Some trees are already releasing their taupy-brown treasures from the green cocoons that enfolded them gently through spring and summer.

Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, the “baking holidays” are just around the corner. Make it easy by being prepared. Choose a simple recipe, freeze your creations, and then serve or wrap-up for the specific occasion.

The following two recipes make about 5 dozen each. If there is a trick to them it’s to drop only by the half teaspoon and leave plenty of room between each, about 2″.  And, use a cushioned cookie baking pan lined with baking parchment to prevent burning. When baked, let them rest on the baking sheet for a few minutes to stiffen and set, then remove to a cooling rack until ready to pack.IMG_0531

Farmer’s Lace Cookies (like Florentines without the fruit): 1/3 cup sifted flour, 1/2 tsp. baking powder, pinch salt, 1/4 cup softened sweet butter, 1 c. brown sugar, 1 egg – well beaten, 1 c. somewhat finely chopped walnuts. Sift dry ingredients together. In a medium bowl, blend butter and sugar, then the dry ingredients. Add the egg and walnuts and blend thoroughly.Preheat oven to 350.

Drop the thin batter onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for  5 – 6 minutes, following the “tips” above.

Wing’s Walnut Cookies: 1/4 lb. softened butter, 1 c. sugar, 1 c. flour, sifted with 1 Tbsp. baking powder, pinch of salt, 1 egg, 2 Tbsp. milk, 1 Tbsp. vanilla, 4 Tbsp. finely chopped walnuts.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the flour, baking powder and salt, and blend well. Beat the egg, milk, and vanilla together. Slowly add to the flour mixture. Add chopped nuts, distributing evenly. Drop by the teaspoonful onto a well-greased cookie sheet two inches apart. Bake at 325 degrees for about 12 minutes or until the edges are light golden brown.IMG_0594

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Go Fig-ure

According to the dictionary, “figure out” can mean “get the hang of,” which is exactly what happened to me this fall when I enthusiastically pursued the art of making jam with figs. Some of these provocatively-shaped fruit may still hanging on the tree in your area, particularly the green ones. The dark, Mission Figs may be gone, unless you’re in an area that was spared the late summer’s heat wave. Not so for Sonoma. The rising temperatures created a crisis. Either cook your figs NOW or hold your peace – until next year.

One of the delights in jam making, as I discovered this year, is having a proper, copper pan. That’s half the fun. These gorgeous orange metal vessels can be converted into vases for gourds to decorate your fall dining table, once jam making is done. Jams cook better and faster in a shallow, wide, specialized pan. Maybe the figs also “felt better” in a “special situation” and therefore more joyfully cooperated in their transformation. Who knows.IMG_0583 All I can say is that my normal peach jam making expanded to organic strawberry with kumquats and finally to fig jam accented with homemade port. Yum. The results were astronomically successful. My garage shelves are now laden with various-size jars “jammed full” of goodness for either my guests, friends or future hostess gifts during the holidays.FullSizeRender(1)

Here’s the recipe that paid off this year: 2 lbs. figs, tipped, chopped and mixed with 2 cups sugar and the juice of one lemon. Mix well and put into the jam pan with a pinch of salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until a drop of the sugar syrup sets up on a cold plate (about 20-25 minutes).  Remove from the heat and stir in 2 oz. sweet port. Fill sterilized jars to within 1/4″ of the top, seal and process for 15 minutes in a water bath. Makes 2 half pints.

Enjoy the fall. It’s time to go for this season’s bounty: pumpkins, squash, pomegranates and more!


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Better Late Than Never- thank God the Kulichi Came Out!

I wouldn’t have thought that this saying would apply to Russian Easter bread, but it does. Try as I would to avoid the whole production, memories of kulich sandwiches filled with paskha, the traditional Easter cheese dessert, would not leave me in peace. So, out came the forms, the myriad of recipes for purposes of comparison, and finally, voila, the kulichi!Kulichi 2015 I must say, these little creatures have a mind of their own, and require a certain level of physical ability because they MUST be kneaded until very elastic or they will not rise. Even with warm Sonoma sunshine and heat, they SLOWLY climbed their way up the bowl and again in the forms over a 36 hour period last week, way slower than they ever performed in foggy and cooler San Francico, even with the help of a heating pad! Go figure.

Now as I enjoy every morsel of every slice, I rejoice in the fact that my kulichi are fragrant, light, moist and well – almost perfect. A few inches higher would have been ideal, but as they lost their interest in rising, an executive decision was made to crank up the oven and get them baking before it was too late.

Don’t know why but ever since relocating to Sonoma, kulichi have caused me mental anguish every year. Last year was the worst – total failure – my only one in all the years. I could have knocked out my neighbors’ windows had I sent one of those yeasty trajectories sailing across the street. But all’s well that ends well. Next year’s goal will be to get the family recipe down to one dozen eggs from the 48 originally required when my mother and I baked kulichi for the 75+ guests who came to our Easter open house.

To finish off this Easter season (40 days after Sunday in the Eastern Orthodox tradition) I plan to make paskha. It’s getting harder and harder to find the most required ingredient, bakers’ cheese. My longtime friend, Katia Troosh of Katia’s Russian Tea Room in San Francsico, claims that it’s simpler than simple to make the cheese. So next week, my mission is to give it a try and if successful, I’ll be following up with the famous Lobanovsky paskha. Wish me well…and I’ll promise another update with a picture of the second most necessary dessert for the Russian Easter celebration – paskha. Kulich and paskha, like peaches and cream, Bogie and Bacall. There’s nothing like them!

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“My Heart Belongs to Albert” – admits Lady Tessie

It’s not often that a certain someone steals your heart forever, but that’s exactly what happened to Tessie, my adopted Gordon Setter. In June of 2013 Tessie was still recovering from countless procedures and me, from the resulting vet bills. Albert’s “parents”, Lisa and Vegard, were among the visitors that I hosted in Sonomimagea that year. Once home, Lisa and Albert (a most handsome Doxie!) “discussed the matter” and decided to offer help, via social media. I was touched beyond words. In fact it’s taken me this long to find a way to tell the story. By mid-2013, however, Tessie was getting healthier and the bills, smaller, from the time I rescued her in early 2012.

But what came from that initial visit would be a friendship that crossed oceaAlbert, Christmas 2014ns and went beyond species. This year, Tessie and Albert exchanged Christmas cards.Who knows what’s next? For me, this demonstrated the IMG_1807unexpected gifts one receives from the sharing economy and social consciousness of communities like Airbnb. Love on steroids in so many ways – as confirmed by Tessie and Albert!

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