LIFESTYLE: Girl Scouts, It's more than Badges | Part 1

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Girl Scouts is often thought of as an organization known for it's delectable cookies as well as it's reward system of badges for young girls as they accomplish various skills. These skills have been historically "domestic" in flavor, as well as outdoorsy. As the organization has been trying to stay relevant to today's girls, the badges have also changed to become what are called "journeys" versus one of badge work. They have also tried to include activities that are more 21st century like digital photography, business plans, green initiatives -just to name a few. But as badges and activities change, the core of scouts has not changed. That is the sisterhood that is at it's heart and soul.

I remember as a child really wanting to be a Girl Scout. My "off-the-boat" Italian parents did not understand the whole scouting thing. In fact, I think they were weirded out by it. I had a colleague once tease that it was a "quasi-para-military organization " Maybe my parents were uncomfortable by the uniforms, oaths and badges, being children of WWII and from Italy. I, however, was envious of scouts in my class. The pins and badges were so sparkly and colorful. The activities sounded so fun, and the scouts got to be out-of-uniform on the day of meetings. Those days they got to show off there cute caps and sashes to the rest of us lowly girls. I never got to join, but I swore if I had a daughter, she was going to join scouts as a Daisy.

And we did. And as we came to meetings, I gradually became inducted as a leader (HELLO? Look at my blog? Crafting, gardening, cooking on scrappy budgets? Hell yeah, I'm a scout leader!). I thought, I would stick with leading until my daughter wanted to move on to other things. Like most parents, scouting is cyclical. Many come into it when they were young and carry those learnings and experiences with them as they moved on through life. Then as many find themselves with daughters, they rejoin the organization for a time. For many it is quite fulfilling but activity ebbs and flows,

What I have come to discover, however, is that for other women scouting is a family-a sisterhood. The saying, "A sister to every scout" runs deep and true throughout the volunteer-led organization. I have met amazing women who are not only my coleaders but have become fast friends. We grow together as our scouts grow under our tutelage. But through these connections I have been introduced to a larger group of committed leaders and volunteers that have deepened my experience as a sister scout. This truth was galvanized at a recent leader-only event called "Sno-Joke", a weekend girlie trip held at one of the scouting camps in WI.

At this outing, the feelings of sisterhood and community was pervasive. As we all had a chance to stand up and introduce ourselves to the larger group, an elderly woman stood up and said, " My family keeps asking me when I'm going to stop scouting. They ask me, isn't it time after all these years? I told them, when I say good bye to family, I'll say goodbye to scouts." I was not only moved by this comment, but it was made real to me time and time again throughout that weekend among these wonderful women.

As I looked around at all of us enjoying a cozy weekend in a cabin in Wisconsin, I saw women sharing crafting ideas, sharing tips, exchanging recipes as well as gossip. They coordinated get well cards for fellow sick leaders as well as visits and meals to help these same women. A few retired beauticians cut and styled hair for free, shared baby pictures and swapped badges to troops in need of them. They complained about where the organization was going, pumped up volunteer work weekends for various camps and got others excited about upcoming events for the kids. The sense of community and love that these women had for each other and the feeling of responsibility they had for each other-to take care of each other-went much deeper than even the community at my own parish.

I don't know where the corporate entity is taking scouts. There seems to be a lot more emphasis on profit over community and more importance on the organization versus the girls they serve. There seems to be a forgetfulness that it is a volunteer driven organization. Without the countless women donating their time, inspiration, resources and energy to it, they would have no organization. Of these points, there was much complaining. I do feel some of this points need to be addressed, and I will in "Part 2" of my posts on scouting. (The organization isn't getting off that easy).

But as many of these changes are being debated, one thing I hope never changes. And that is the sisterhood that scouting creates.  A sisterhood that you, as a little girl, are welcomed into and always can be a part of well into old age, should you want to be a part of it. It's a place where others will care about you, and care for you should you need it. A place where you will be supported and inspired by others, and where you'll be reminded that there is a bigger world out there. And though you are a very important part of it, you have a responsibility to contribute to it, too. Juliette Gordon Lowe, the founder of Girl Scouts, said it best...
"Ours is a circle of friendships united by ideals."

I am so proud to finally have made it into the sisterhood of scouting.

RECIPE: Lemonade Squares with Graham Cracker Crumble

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What can cheer up anyone in depressing Winter with Summer flavors?

Lemon bars!

My little family has been begging me to bake some. Not chocolate. Not red velvet. Lemon.

Maybe we are all a little tired of gray days and cold feet? Maybe we are longing for a little more sunshine when we come home at night? Well, these can cure those Winter blues, even only for a little while.

These lemon bars cut down on some of the fat by replacing some of the butter with canola oil. It also cuts down on lemon work (I secretly hate juicing and zesting a lot of lemons). I used Trader Joe's concentrate because all there really was in it was lemon juice, lemon zest and sugar. Pretty basic. You gotta love Trader Joe's.

Lemonade Squares with Graham Cracker Crumble


1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. butter, cut into small pieces
4 Tbsp. canola oil
2 Tbsp. water
1 tsp. vanilla extract

12 fl oz. frozen lemonade concentrate, defrosted
4 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
4 large eggs
2 large egg whites

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
5 Tbsp. melted butter
2 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. sugar
powdered sugar for garnish


Preheat oven to 350˚. spray an 11 x 17 or 12 x 15 rectangular pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

In a food processor, make the crust. Mix the flour with sugar by pulsing a few times. Cut in the butter and pulse until mixture resembles course bread crumbs. Add the oil, vanilla and water and pulse a few more times. Mixture will begin to stick together but still will be crumbly. Pour into prepared pan, and press evenly into the bottom, using the palm of your hand or the back of a spatula. Bake crust until lightly golden, about 20-30 minutes. Let sit out to cool slightly as you prepare filling. Lower oven to 325˚.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and egg whites until combined and foamy. Add the lemonade concentrate, flour and zest. Whisk together and pour into the crust gently. Bake for about 10 minutes, the filling should be beginning to set. At this point, sprinkle the crumble top along the surface, and bake for another 5-10 minutes. The crumble should be lightly golden and the filling completely set. Let pan cool on a wire rack.

Once cooled, sprinkle with powdered sugar and cut into squares.

For the crumble, just mix with a fork the crumble ingredients in a small bowl. It should feel like clumpy bread crumbs with large clumps that hold together and small crumbs. You may not need to use all of it.

RECIPE: Eggs Benedict Florentine

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How do you make Sunday special? You gather your loved ones. You open a kitchen window and let the sun shine through. You put on a cup of fresh coffee. You put on a cozy sweater. You make sure your favorite coffee mug is clean. You put on some music.

And you make an eggs benedict.
We had a handful of spinach to use up, so we made a Florentine version of these delectable open-faced sandwiches. If you have extra veggies laying in your crisper drawer, you can saute them in the same manner and make your own version-just replace the spinach layer with your own concoction.

Happy Sunday!

Eggs Benedict Florentine
4 servings

Hollandaise sauce:
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 tsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice (or more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried tarragon (optional)
pinch of ground white pepper

Spinach topping:
2 -3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup onions, diced
1 cup mushrooms, diced
1 cup thawed frozen spinach, chopped
1/4 cup white wine
1/8 teaspoon salt

8 eggs, poached

8 slices Canadian bacon or smoked deli turkey

4 English muffins

Optional chopped parsley


For Hollandaise Sauce:
Whisk 3 egg yolks and lemon juice in medium metal bowl or top of double boiler. Gradually whisk in melted butter. Set bowl over medium sauce pan of gently simmering water (or double boiler bottom pan of water), whisk constantly until mixture thickens and thermometer reads 140˚F for 3 minutes, about 5 minutes total. Remove from heat; whisk in last ingredients.

For Spinach topping:
Heat olive oil and butter in a frying pan over medium high heat. Add onion, garlic and mushrooms; cook until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add spinach and wine, cook about 2 minutes or until wine is absorbed and spinach heated through. Salt to taste and set aside spinach mix in a bowl.

Add Canadian bacon to 12" frying pan and brown slightly on each side. Set meat aside and rinse pan. Fill frying pan with 1 1/2 " of water. Bring to boil, reduce heat to just lightly bubbling for poaching eggs. Add 1 teaspoon of salt to water. Crack 1 egg into a small custard type bowl and gently slide eggs one at a time into the boiling water so they hold shape. Work in batches of 4 eggs at a time. Cook just until whites are set, about 2-3 minutes.

Meanwhile fork split English muffins and toast in toaster. Once toasted put muffins on plate (spreading butter on them optional). Top with Canadian bacon, then spinach mix, poached eggs and finish with hollandaise sauce. Sprinkle with a little chopped parsley.

RECIPE: Risotto Verde Provencal

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So it seems this February all the posts I write will be an homage to this vintage French book I found over Christmas to give to my hubby, called "Cooking with Provence Herbs". As herbal cookery has been a new obsession of mine, and French cooking has always been an obsession of his, this seemed a great gift (for both of us!). Recently, we had a ton of extra spinach left over from a salad we made the night before, so we decided to make this the next night using up all those leafy greens.

We changed the recipe up a lot (after all, risotto is really Italian, phft! and Rich insisted on some Herbs de Provence for a recipe in a Provence cookbook). So we had some fun with it. It was really fresh, green and light. It seemed a fresh breath of Spring in the depths of Winter. Although, the weather has been so warm in the Midwest it sure seems like Spring, even though it's just February.

Well, at least I'm hoping. My neighbor's bulbs are 2 inches out of the ground, NO JOKE!

Risotto Verde Provencal

1/4-1/3 cup chopped parsley
3-4 Tbsp. olive oil
2 lb. (32 oz.) spinach leaves
10 oz. button mushrooms, sliced
1/2 yellow pepper, cored and diced
4 1/2 cups chicken broth
3 onions, chopped
5 artichoke hearts in oil, drained and diced
3 cups short grain rice
1  1/2 Tbsp. Herbs de Provence
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt


Boil spinach in a large pot of salted water for 4-5 minutes. Drain and cool. Squeeze most of the water from spinach. Chop the blanched, cooled spinach and set aside. In a saucepan, heat the broth until just to a boil. Lower the heat to low and keep hot.

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium low heat. Add mushrooms, yellow pepper and onion and cook about 5-7 minutes until onions are starting to get translucent. Add rice and artichoke hearts. Stir to coat the rice in oil, and saute the onions and rice until the onions begin to brown with the rice. Stir as it sizzles loudly. The rice will become translucent, about 3 minutes. At this point, add the wine. Allow the rice to absorb the liquid while stirring frequently.

Add Herbs de Provence and the chicken broth, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cover pan for 10-12 minutes. Add water if rice gets too dry but still too firm. After 10-12 minutes add the spinach and artichoke hearts. Cook for 2-3 min. Check rice to determine if it's al dente (soft with a lightly chewy middle). Take off heat and mix in Parmesan cheese and serve hot. Garnish with extra cheese and dash of parsley on top of servings.

HOME: Homemade Spiced French Anisette Liquor

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I posted late yesterday a recipe I played with from an out-of-print French book I found at the trusty library. Hidden in it's pages was a wonderful entry on how to make a homemade anisette. Anisette is a staple in my family. My Nonna would sneak big splashes of it every time she had coffee. She also used it liberally in her biscotti. A bottle of Sambuca is always offered during the fruit, nut and dessert course at an Italian table. It's as common as wine.

So this French version caught my eye. I also never thought to make it from scratch. But as in all things, that's how it was made originally. Harvesting the green anise seeds is what the original recipe recommends. I decided to switch out with dry (being that it's February). I also had a lesson on eau de vie, which is what French families use as a base. This is a traditional French fruit brandy, but any fruit based brandy would work-or even Grappa.

The French drink this neat or as an aperitif on ice with a little water to pair with cheese and olives. We decanted this last night and bottled it, and we were sipping it neat while watching Walking Dead. (Well, husband was watching it, I retired to some "me-time" and blog upkeep. Zombies eating people's faces off-with a wonderful anisette or not-does not appeal to me!) Needless to say, this was DELICIOUS.

I also plan on bringing some to my parent's house for dinner tonight. Let's see how the Italians like how the French make anisette.

Spiced French Anisette Liquor


1/3 fresh green anise seeds (or 8 tsp. dried anise seeds)

4 coriander seeds

Pinch of ground cinnamon

Two whole cloves

1/2 orange's rind

1/2 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise, exposing the seeds

1 quart "eau de vie" or other fruit brandy (such as apple or pear, or even grappa)


Sterilize a wide mouth mason jar and it's top and seal in hot boiling water for 5 minutes. Let drain on paper towels, using a spoon and tongs to take them out of the water carefully. Let cool down until able to be handled.

In a mortar and pestle, grind the anise seeds roughly, releasing the aroma and oils of the seeds. Pour them in the prepared jar. Add the other ingredients and pour the brandy into the jar, just under the top. Seal tightly. Label the jar and store in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. Let steep for 2-3 weeks. I prefer 3 weeks, because the longer steep time deepens the flavor.

When ready, strain the liquor through a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth into a clean glass bowl. You may wish to do this twice if there are still a lot of particulates in the liquor. Cover with plastic wrap while you prep and cool down things in your next steps.

So meanwhile, heat up 4 cups of water to boiling. Dissolve 4 cups of sugar in the hot water. (This is a pretty basic simple syrup, and a good thing to remember as you make liquors and cocktails. Equal parts sugar and water is a good ratio.) Stir until dissolved, then take off the heat and cool it down. Don't get anxious. Hot liquid in the liquor will cause the alcohol to evaporate, and this is a grown up drink with a grown up punch. So take your time and cool things down to room temp.

Meanwhile, sterilize a bottle(s) that can hold about 2 quarts of liquid in the same manner you sterilized the jar in the beginning. When the simple syrup and the bottle has cooled down enough, its ready to combine everything.

Mix the syrup into the steeped liquor. Using a funnel, pour into final bottle and store with you other liquors. Be sure to label this lovely concoction. Store in a cool, dry place.

RECIPE: Honey Rosemary Sweetbread

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I love the library. I love the vibe it has. I love that I can check things out on whatever whim I have that day and it's all for free. All that knowledge is right at my fingertips. I especially love trolling the cookbook section. You never know what wonderful, out-of-print treasure you're going to find. Recently, I came across a wonderful French Herbs of Provence Cookbook. The recipes are unique, old family recipes and written in a story format (making it hard to cook from). It has inspired us to plant some new things in the backyard, notably a laurel tree, some anise and an elderflower bush. We have been making our way through this cookbook (I ended up buying one at a second hand bookshop, we couldn't bear to return it). One of the recipes that caught my eye was a thyme cake. The "cake' was very rustic, and made very similar in style to some European cakes my Italian Nonna and my Great Aunt in Savoy, France made. I decided to add my own touches to it, as well as make it with rosemary instead. What we discovered is that the "cake" was really more of a dense bread, and perfect for breakfast coffee or afternoon tea. Be careful to not let it fall or take it out too early.

Honey Rosemary Sweetbread


3 Tbsp. strong floral honey

1 1/4 cup powdered sugar

1 cup boiling milk

1 Tbsp. Galliano

3 cups flour

1 tsp. baking powder

3 whole eggs

1/3 cup melted butter

1/2 tsp. grated lemon zest

2 tsp. fresh, finely chopped rosemary leaves (1 tsp. dried)


Preheat oven to 350˚. Spray a 10" cake pan with nonstick cooking spray. Cut a circle the size of the pan from parchment or wax paper, and place it on the bottom of the pan. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix the flour with the baking powder. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the honey with the powdered sugar until smooth. Add the Galliano. Heat the milk until just boiling, and add to the honey mixture. Whisk until smooth. Set aside.

In another large mixing bowl, whip the eggs until light and fluffy. Add the lemon zest. Mix in half the milk into the eggs. Add half the flour mixture using the paddle. Add the rest of the milk, then the melted butter. Add the chopped rosemary and mix. Add what's left of the flour, and mix until just combined. Be careful not to over mix. The batter will be thick.

Pour batter into the pan, and bake in the center of the oven for about 45 min. or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack for a few minutes, then unmold the cake and peel off the paper to cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the glaze. Mix 1 Tbsp. of fresh lemon juice with 1/2 cup powdered sugar until smooth. Add a dash of vanilla. Add more juice or sugar until the glaze is able to be be drizzled with a fork, so not too thick or to runny.

Place the cooled cake on your serving platter, and drizzle the bread liberally with the glaze. Take a damp rosemary sprig and press both sides of it into some sugar. Use it as a garnish and serve in wedges.

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