Monthly Archives: January 2008

A Taste From My Childhood: Chocolate Butterflies

chocolate butterfly cookiesHave you ever noticed that certain tastes can bring back memories or remind you of people? Warm crusty buns with melted butter remind me of one Grandma’s house while a Brach chocolate star tastes just like the other Grandma’s. And these cookies, Chocolate Butterflies, taste like home.

These are my mom’s signature cookie. If she needed to bring treats somewhere, these would be the cookies she made. They were one of the first things I learned to bake and I even brought them to the County Fair!

My daughter made them herself this week using my well-stained handwritten recipe from 7th grade. She asked why they were called Chocolate Butterflies and I had no answer! Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies would be a more accurate name, but it isn’t quite as poetic!

Here’s the recipe:

Chocolate Butterflies

Cream together: 1/2 cup peanut butter, 1/2 cup butter or shortening, 1 1/3 cup sugar.

Add: 2 eggs, 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla.

Add: 2 cups flour, 2/3 cup cocoa, 2 tsp. baking powder, and 1/3 cup milk.

Drop by teaspoonfuls on ungreased cookie sheets. Press down with a fork to make crosshatch designs on the top of each cookie. Bake 400 degrees for 4-6 minutes or until the top is set and not shiny.

The milk gives them a more cake-like texture and they freeze very well. I really can’t tell you how many the recipe makes because we always eat so much dough while we are setting them out. Someday though, I will use extreme self-control and make an entire recipe without snitching so I can get a good count, but don’t hold your breath, that could be a while!

Setting Up a Bluebird Trail Part 2: Location

eastern bluebird The location of a bluebird box is critical if you wish to attract bluebirds. The three things to remember are short grass, not to shady and a place to perch.

Bluebirds love to eat grasshoppers, crickets, flies, spiders and many other pesky insects. (One more reason to attract them to your yard!) They perch until they locate a tasty tidbit and then they dive down, pine the bug to the ground and eat it. Bluebirds will nest in an area that has available perches and short grass with minimal shade so it can easily see it’s prey.

Meadows, pastures, cemeteries, golf courses and yes, even yards will work as long as they have the key elements, short grass, not to shady and somewhere to perch. Fence lines, electric lines, branches, even a clothesline will work for a perch.

Locations that don’t work well would be forests, cultivated fields, areas that are too stony or have only long grass, and yards that are too shaded.

Bluebirds are very territorial so if you plan to locate more than box make sure they are at least 300 feet apart. It might be possible to place them closer together if the boxes are not in sight of each other.

A bluebird trail is simply several bluebird boxes along a trail. If you would like to make a trail, as we have, start with putting up one or two boxes the first year and every year add one or two more. It’s well worth the effort to attract these beautiful and beneficial birds!

Hot Chocolate for a Crowd (or at least a large family!)

Homemade Hot ChocolateIt is cold.

Try -20 degrees last night – breaking the record set in 1914 – and that was just air temperature!

Factor in the wind chill and it’s much worse.

I decided the children needed something warm for breakfast this morning to get them ready for the day. So we enjoyed a family favorite, Breakfast Hot Chocolate.

I discovered this recipe a few years ago in my vintage Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook and have adapted it many times to adjust to what I had on hand.

I have used fresh goat’s milk, raw cow’s milk, good old 2 % milk, skim milk and even dry milk. I think this recipe has a richer chocolate flavor than the powdered kind and my children love it! Here’s the recipe:

Breakfast Hot Chocolate:

Traditional recipe:
Mix together with a wire whisk: 1 cup cocoa powder, 1 cup sugar, dash salt. Add one cup boiling water, stirring. Then add 7 cups of milk and heat to the boiling point, but don’t boil. Stir well before serving.

Or my shortcut version:
Mix together with a wire whisk: 1 cup cocoa powder, 1 cup sugar, dash salt and 2 2/3 cup dry milk. Stir in 8 cups of boiling water and stir well. Serve immediately.

Either version is great garnished with whipped cream or marshmallows. I personally love a scoop of ice cream in mine with an Andees mint or two melted inside. Around Christmas we love to use candy canes to stir the hot chocolate and have even drowned an unsuspecting marshmallow Peep on a cold Easter week-end.

However and whenever you serve it, hot chocolate is a warm and inviting family tradition!

Setting Up a Bluebird Trail Part 1: Why?

This is the perfect time of year to plan and prepare for the coming of the bluebirds. If you are serious about birding, you really should consider putting in a bluebird box or two. Several years ago my husband and his father started putting in blue bird houses following the trails that we had developed throughout our rural properties. Now every Spring we anxiously wait to see the first bluebird pair fly in and routinely check the boxes to watch for nestlings. Some years we’ve been successful, others we have not, but every year has been worthwhile!

Years ago bluebirds had many natural nesting cavities. They prefer open spaces at the edge of forests and would use old woodpecker nests, open knot holes in trees and other natural cavities or even rock crevices. But the introduction of the house sparrow and European starling changed all of that. These two invasive species not only took over those natural nesting cavities, but they began to prey on the bluebirds themselves, causing the bluebird population to dwindle.

Now, these beautiful birds are on a comeback thanks to many bird lovers who have put in and maintained man-made nest boxes. But the bluebirds are not the only ones to benefit. It is a joy for any bird watcher to hear the beautiful song of the bluebird and to watch the brilliant flash of blue as it flies by. As Henry David Thoreau said, “He carries the sky on his back.”

Fresh Warm Hershey Bars Anyone?

My little sister surprised my with a short visit yesterday afternoon. She stopped by with her husband and 6 of her children (including Butter Buns!) They were en route home from the airport after a January trip to sunny Florida. They left sunshine and beaches to come home to Arctic temperatures and sub-zero wind chills!

To warm them up and welcome them home, I made some fresh Auntie M yeast rolls and (of course) a chocolate treat! Since I didn’t have much time, I made one of my favorite quickies, Hershey Bars.

I first tasted these at a Potluck when I was pregnant and literally could not stop eating them! I begged for the recipe and I still can’t stop eating them! Here’s the recipe, but be careful, they are addicting!

Hershey Bars

Mix together: 1 white or yellow cake mix, 2 eggs, 1/2 cup of oil.
Pat 2/3 of the mixture into a greased 9 x 13 pan (or jelly roll pan for thinner bars)

Melt in microwave: 1 can sweetened condensed milk, 1 1/2 big Hershey Bars (6oz), 1 stick butter.

Stir till smooth then pour over cake mixture in pan. Drop remaining cake batter by spoonfuls all over the melted chocolate.

Bake 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Although the name on the recipe was Hershey Bars, with the spots on top they could also be called Tiger Bars, or Polka-Dot Bars or even Spotted Bars. But no matter what name you give them, I promise that you will also call them delicious!