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HOWDY!

I am so glad you are here and I can’t wait to get started on this culinary blogging trail; one woman’s journey of exploring her French roots in Northern Michigan blended with a lifetime of adventure in America’s wild, way out west–Wyoming. As a child, growing up in Michigan, somehow I just knew my life would always revolve around horses, music, Wyoming, food, faith and family.

My 4-H leaders, Kimmer and Marla,  enrolled in the equestrian program at a community college in Northwest Wyoming. After two years, they returned and filled my head with big, wonderful horse stories. I vowed then and there (age 13) that I would be heading out to Wyoming someday.

Forty-two years later, my dreams fulfilled, horse trainer, musician, wife, mother, cook and writer, I am ecstatic to share my wild, western windblown life and eats with you.  So, tighten up your cinch, buckle on your spurs, and brace yourself for family and French cuisine, cookbook reviews, photos, fireside tunes and tales–Wyo-cowgirl style. (Don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of motherly (and wifely) secrets and advice along the trail as well.) Saddle up, Missy,  we’ve got a trail to blaze!

Addy at Irma

Me and my girl Blue Dover Boon…aka: Addy– out in front of The Irma, Cody, Wyoming spring, 2016

Claire’s French Bakery

bakery logo

As many of you know, I attended The International School of Baking last April. Since my return I have been on a dead run to try and establish a good, old fashioned French bakery including:  artisanal breads, croissants, pastries, tarts, cakes, pies and cookies. These things take time!

In May and June I baked at Cody Coffee Roasters, leaving there to sell my wares at the Big Horn Basin Farmers Market and providing cakes for birthdays and weddings. All my endeavors have been highly successful as people are truly beginning to enjoy my bakes. During this time we have been searching for the right location to open our doors and provide our area friends and family with the highest quality baked goods possible. Much to our dismay, the first building we decided to move forward on had too many complications with the electrical standards required. Ideally, if we are going to renovate at such a cost, we would like to own the building… not just lease. Keeping our eyes peeled and our ear to the rail we continue our search.

This last month has found me to be traveling and doing only birthdays and weddings, (which require a great deal of time and effort,)  along with some oven repairs, and most recently a bout with flu! (Are you kidding me? I really don’t have time to be sick!) Needless to say the farmers markets have been few and far between. My apologies to everyone. I thank you all for your business this summer. It was so great!!

I continue to bake my Wild Wyoming Sourdough and Russian Peasant Rye along with other popular goodies that private parties are ordering. Please feel free to call me with all of your cravings and baking needs! I will be traveling a bit, but will keep you up to date on my baking schedule. With the holidays approaching you may need some scrumptious breads, rolls, Buche de Noel (Yule Log Cake), croissants, French macarons, Christmas cookies, pies and tarts.

Again, thank you for your business and your hopes for Claire’s French Bakery to open real soon!

Saddle up, Missy. We got a trail to blaze!

Love you.

Laborious Chores and Such

As a mother and wife of 36 years, I have compulsory, built-in, labor intensive chores almost daily. I say almost daily as our house is empty nested and has been for a few years now.  Young mothers will not believe this, but if you are blessed and have done your job well, your children will fly the coop someday and you will only have yourself and hopefully your spouse to care for and clean up after.

There will always be four, no, five laborious chores that will need tending to for the rest of your days, guaranteed! These chores are “characterized by or requiring care and much attention to detail; exhibiting excessive effort, dullness and lack of spontaneity. (dictionary.com) I mean, how many ways are there to clean the toilet, sinks, countertops, and wipe up the floor? But, somebody’s got to do it, right?

  1.  Making that toilet bowl sparkle– I’ve always been a big fan of Comet cleanser. I suppose it’s because my mother used it when I was a kid and she still does today. However, I do like that Lysol spray w/ bleach, followed up by the antibacterial wipes for the rim, seat and floor beneath the throne. The joy truly comes the next time you use the commode. So fresh and clean!
  2. Dusting– We’re talking tv’s, bookshelves, knick knacks (defined as small worthless objects; especially a household ornament.) Not to neglect the tops of kitchen cabinetry, the refrigerator, your computer and window sills. The joy comes with the killing of spiders when you disrupt their nests in various hidden corners of your nest. (Fact:  you are never not within three feet of a spider.) Not to mention the tv and computer screen seem clearer… brighter, somehow.
  3. Taking out the trash– it’s magical really. (My hens certainly benefit from cleaning out the cupboards and refrigerator, but old condiments, mystery bowls of gunk, wrappings, cereal boxes, and general waste fill my trash bin.)  The garbage man comes right on schedule every Tuesday! I am grateful for those that collect my trash. I try not to have copious amounts of trash… but sh-t happens.
  4. Doing dishes– I do love me a sink full of hot, soapy water. I love soap and water. Did I mention I love soap and water. (I knit those old fashioned dish cloths, out of utter frustration and hyper activity, and I just love soaking them up and wiping down my  counters with hot soapy water!) But really! With two people in this empty house how do so many dishes pile up? None the less, the bonus is getting up in the morning to an empty, clean sink to start again.
  5. Folding laundry– I don’t mind washing clothes. It’s easy. The river is just out back and I keep the washboard by the door for a quicker get away when the temps drop below freezing. I don’t even mind hanging them out on the line to freeze dry in the winter, which is only eight months out of the year around here. But seriously, how many times, ways and tedious hours can be spent folding the same articles of clothing? The upside is you only have you and your hubby’s to do now–not three little girls who changed their clothes every hour all day long for eighteen years.

All joking aside, I am quite happily privileged to do such tasks in this lifetime. My life could have turned out so differently. I must declare, I have been blessed!  I am thankful to have a bathroom complete with running water–hot and cold. I love a toilet that flushes and works so magically and consistently. (I love soap!)

Dusting only emphasizes that I have extras. I have been given much. I love books, pictures of family, memorabilia of simpler times when the girls were little, and knick knacks that spur memories of beloved family and friends. To dust all of this keeps me hopeful and reminds me to watch out for spiders!

Taking out the trash keeps it real… really. I realize how blessed we are to eat food everyday, even if the packaging is ridiculous, and to pray for and help those who cannot afford to eat wholesome meals.

Again, doing dishes brings forth a grateful spirit. Dirty dishes means I ate and drank that day. Plus, I love dishes. I have a few sets and add to my collection regularly. I reassure Construction Man that I truly use everyone of those bowls in that cupboard!

The illustrious folding of the laundry is my weekly reminder that I am spoiled with such clean, warm, flattering habiliments with which to cover my nakedness. Plus, I get to pray for that person as I fold their shirt, that the Lord would bless their heart, make their shoulders and arms strong for the tasks at hand on the day they wear that piece.

There is good all around us. Especially in the mundane, laborious chores of each day. May you find joy today in your laboratory?!?! (That’s funny because laboratory, lavatory, laborious… oh well, forget it!)

Saddle up missy, we got a trail to blaze!

Love you.

A Dream Being Realized

I have to keep pinching myself and try to stop smiling so broadly as my cheeks are beginning to ache!

Because of my dear peeps of whom I derive my essence, my being, my determination to move forward each day (and you know who you are), I ventured out. All the way out to Bend, Oregon and the International School of Baking.

With the first four days of school under my belt and copious amounts of bread flour under my fingernails, in my hair and stuck to the bottoms and tops of my shoes, I am well on my way to that bakery I have always dreamed about.

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Who knew what a little flour, water and salt could do for the insides of this girl? I have always known that horses, dogs, and wide open Wyoming spaces healed my soul everyday of my short life, thank you Jesus, and now this!

I have been planning for months with the thought of some sort of culinary program in my future. I had heard of the International School of Baking in an article I had read of a doctor in Torrington, WY that attended this school to fulfill a dream of a family bakery. I read this article a few years back and then could not remember the name of the school. I searched the internet numerous times and could never come up with it. Then last December it simply popped up on my computer screen. The very school ‘The Bread Doctor’ attended. I gobbled up the web site’s information and quickly dialed the number. The director, Marda Stoliar, answered immediately. She informed me she was on her way to Torrington, WY  that very moment! WHAT? I told her that Construction Man and myself would try to get there as soon as we could to meet with her, see Ezdan’s bakery and sample his wares.

We jumped in the car and headed to the east side of the state. The meeting went spectacularly and from that moment on most conversation between the hubby and me has mostly encompassed the logistics of a bakery in Cody, WY.

Fired up, I have been non-stop baking up a storm practicing my pastry and bread baking arts. My sourdough starter has had quite a work out and it looks like increased, grand fermentation is in it’s very near future!

I left home on the third of April and had a very good day of travel. All flight connections, the rental car and the weather cooperated well enough to land me in Bend, OR at a nice, quiet lodge just outside of town.

The very next morning I was off for my first 8-10 hour day of doing something I truly enjoy… baking!

We braided Challah, 1 over 3, 2 over 3, 5 over 2. Marda, my teacher, believes you must create large quantities of each item. Number one reason- for practice, and secondly to begin the mindset of a real bakery setting where many loaves, muffins, etc. are made and sold daily.  Not to mention the fact that in a real bakery setting you are always doing more than one project at a time. So in addition to this, we fashioned English muffins, an apricot glaze, and sponge for the next day’s bread. Before I knew it, the first day was under my apron strings! (Literally… 🙂 munch, munch, sample, sample) With aching feet, a tired back and a smile that couldn’t be squelched, I fell into bed quite early.

The second day went just as well creating a Black Peasant Bread, Olive Focaccia dusted with Fennel Pollen, bagel make-up for next day cooking/baking, and almond tart dough to place in the freezer until further use. And of course sponge for more bread. Thinking ahead, preparation and planning is the name of the game. Just like in training horses one step builds on another. No wasted motion. Moving forward, sometimes teeny, tiny baby steps… but still moving forward.

And so it went for two more days. Creating, baking, cleaning, eating. Eating. Eating. Did I mention eating? A friend texted me and asked if I was going to gain weight at baking school.  I asked if she would still love me if I did. She replied, “only if you share!”

Today I rest and go have a look around this magnificent town of Bend. Many coffee shops and breweries. The landscape is wooded. Quite a contrast to the dry, rocky region I call my Wyoming home. There is much rain thus far and early spring flowers are coming on. The Deschutes River is beautiful and it smells green and alive here.  I certainly miss my family and walks in the early morning around the ranch. Ahhh… springtime in Cody, WY… meadowlarks and red wing black birds singing away. Green grass poking through the sleepy, brown pastures.  NOT!! It’s snowing and in the teens right now.

Ranch in Snow

My homesickness won’t last for long as fast as these first days have passed. I will be home in no time baking, planning, ordering, renovating, and praying for these plans of whipping up my French roots in cowgirl boots! Operation, french bakery. Oh me, oh my, what an adventure!

But as for now, I need coffee.  I’ll keep you in the loop here in Oregon.

Saddle up, Missy! We got a trail to blaze.

Love you!

Butter Tarts From the Motherland

Wheat Honey Pecan Bread and TartsRustic Pecan Butter Tarts

Today we celebrate the humble pecan. Although when paired with brown sugar and butter, these Three Musketeers comprise one of the tastiest, delectable, gooey, caramel-y treats to ever grace the palate! Eaten warm with a dollop of whipped cream, melting and pillowy, my life has been changed forever. This is not even to mention the crispy, buttery crust that simply adds that golden brown crunch to every bite.

And then the bread! What does one say about a Whole Wheat Honey Pecan Loaf? Doesn’t the name speak for itself? Tender crumb, doused with butter and a chewy crust baked brown to perfection. The honey comes through with just a hint of sweetness and a pinch of salt enhances the ensemble. Oh, and have I mentioned butter? (just kidding!)

My grandmother on my dad’s side was French Canadian, my grandfather on my mom’s side was French Canadian. I have tasted butter tarts in my dreams. I am made of brown sugar and butter. After all, they say we are what we eat… and today, this was the breakfast of champions.

This same savory crust that encapsulates these tarts is the same dough I use to make my Michigan Pasty.  However, with the German influence from Construction Man’s grandmother, I also incorporate fried cabbage and onions into mine. So good! So good! (in the famous words of Neil Diamond)

All is well here at the ranch. Well almost. Hank the Cowdog has developed some very mysterious allergies in the last few weeks. He is on some high powered steroids at the moment to help him stop scratching holes in his sides and his ears. 😦  We did some blood work to see just what was causing such an upset in his little system. You wouldn’t believe it if I told you. He is allergic to everything except black walnuts, oats and dairy. WHAT? Yep. Everything including various grasses, mites, corn, beef, chicken, lamb… the list goes on and on.  I am trying to take care of him the best I can. I still squeeze him, and call him handsome and smart, but I had to cut down on the food and treats. He was a bit overweight as well. (We’ll see if his new diet and meds will work. I hope so.)

What can I say? My love language is feeding people and things. I’m much like the mother and aunts on My Big Fat Greek Wedding!

“What? You eats no meats? That’s ok, I make you lamb!”

Rose Collage

By the way, Happy Valentines Day!

Saddle up missy! We got a trail to blaze.

Love ya!

Whipping Up French Macarons

What could be more French than whipping up a batch of macarons? Well…nothing!! Except maybe some choux paste, a croquembouche, or a cruller.

“Macaronage:  the process of incorporating the dry ingredients with the egg whites to make macarons.”

This is a bit tricky as you work to beat so much air into the egg whites and then you must deflate them to just a certain point with the folding in of the almond flour and confectioners sugar. The consistency makes ribbons as you fold it over and over with the spatula or whisk. The batter is then piped onto a baking sheet and baked at a low temp for 15-18 minutes. But, not before these delicate sandwich cookies are left to form a bit of a skin over them before baking. This helps insure proper baking to form the “feet” on the bottom.

So much fun! You can add food coloring to make delightful colors and then pipe jam, buttercream, and even flavored curd inbetwixed these light and airy creations.

Macarons

And there you have it. The ultimate, elegant sandwich cookie!

I filled these with a vanilla, butter cream. And, with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I plan on making lavender, lemon and orange as well.

Other baking news:  All is well in my kitchen. I continue to practice and experiment with my sourdough starter. It is amazing, living thing that never ceases to bring me surprises and joy with the versatility of it all.

Sourdough

One word:  Banneton! These little proofing bowls make a perfect round loaf with gorgeous markings.

Construction Man has been ice fishing on his days off. My beautiful daughters continue to make the word a lovelier place giving of their gifts and talents. The horses are duking it out with the colder temps. Hank the Cowdog is mamma’s boy and sticks pretty close to Diane. It’s good to be so loved and needed.  🙂

Keep up the good fight. We got this, cause God’s got us.

Saddle up, Missy!  We got a trail to blaze.

Love you.

My One Word for 2018: SWEET

So Christmas came with a bustle of preparations. As you know, we were due to feed quite a crowd– those plans did change a bit. We still fed about 16 people and later in the evening close to everyone showed up for dessert, Buche de Noel, pumpkin pie, cookies, hot chocolate, Tom and Jerrys, raspberry mules,  and of course a rousing canon of carols, with the infamous tune of ‘Grandma’s Feather Bed’ tossed in for good measure.   Now mind you, I’ve been singing this song to my nieces and nephews for most of their young lives. This year, much to my delight, everyone sang along with great, robust, glee! I am proud of each and every one of them, as it is a stretch for most to sing so boldly with everyone listening. Well done, family. Well done!

My prime rib roasts came out quite well. Thanks to my free- spirited girl, Taylor! We sat down earlier in the day and developed a plan. She kept me to it as I began to panic about mid afternoon wondering if the meat would be overdone, underdone, undone…

So what does one make when all the hullabbaloo ends and the curtain drops on holiday celebrations of such magnitude? Well, prime rib pot pies, of course! With mini, crust snowflakes for garnish sakes.

And, on those days inbeetwixed Christmas and New Years I rolled out some puff pastry which is so dang easy to do and tastes a gazillion percent better than that store bought stuff. I had some Amarena black cherries and tucked them into little squares of pastry for a very sweet, buttery, flaky and tender turnover.  I have named them Cheery Turnovers as they added much delight to sub zero temps and close to a foot of snow over the holiday.

We spent quite a bit of time outside moving snow and hauling in the big round bales of hay for the horses to eat. How does a horse stay warm in -6 temps? Feed them to keep their engines revved and the furnace turned up. They are waiting right now for the master of feeding ceremonies to arrive with their daily breakfast of molasses oats, plenty of hugs and sniffs. I just have to bury my face in their manes each day to remember my childhood and joie de vivre! I simply love horses.

So, the new year begins. Oh the plans and thoughts God has for us and towards us.

I originally chose the word “brave” for my one word this year. (I have such a hard time whittling my life down to one word, really!) But in my daily excursion around the ranch, I felt like the one word that will fully develop as the months unfurl is “sweet.”

I’ll have to be brave to be sweet. And I can see me producing many sweets this year as I remember to be sweet to those around me. Particularly Construction Man. I have a tendency to take this very lovely person, a gift really, for granted. I am even downright rude on occasion to this guy who loves me so much. 😦

Maybe you have some grumpy, mean spirited tendencies as well towards those family members who have been around forever. I believe we can all forget the blessings of loved ones in our lives. As if somehow they will be here forever, and were put here for us to treat badly when we are having a bad day. This is so not how these special relationships were intended to proceed. It’s gonna take some work for me to be sweet. But I am going to give it one hell of a ride. (With much prayer, rest and good nutrition!)

So enjoy January! My favorite month… NOT!  (FYI:  I don’t like February or March either.) Hold close those you love. May you be brave and try new things this winter. May you be sweet. I’m on your side, you’re not alone. We can at the very least try.

Saddle up Missy! We got a trail to blaze.

Love you.

Christmas Past, Christmas Now

You know those moments. Those moments when you just can’t put your finger on it. Those moments when you swear you can see Tinker Dust as you brush it from your eyelashes and shoulders. You know those moments, for lack of a better word, we’ll call magical. I seem to be having these at every turn. Like all over town, so to speak! Like all the way around the parking lot… like wonderment x 100. Call me a cornball, but I prayed for more wonderment in my life here about a month or so ago. Yep. WON-DER-MENT– in my face, in my heart, all up in my grill.

Today has been no different. My dough is rising peacefully in the oven (on proof mode,) my butter cookies are baked, frosted and looking rather coquettish. Let me just say they got the moves like Jagger. Do you think old Mick made cookies with his mum?

I know I did. She took the time to make the floury, powdered sugary, frosted countertops for miles kind of mess that only she was qualified to clean up when the dust finally settled. And, I did it with my girls too. I love those moments. They’re, well, magical.

I have written a Christmas chorus for the 2017 season. It’s been a few years since I’ve written a Christmas song to sing along with the fam.  It goes like this:

Good News and great joy     For unto you is born a Saviour

Who is Christ the Lord     Who is Christ the Lord

I wish you could hear it with my guitar. And in fine Chris Tomlin fashion, it pairs nicely with Away in a Manger. It completes that well known tune, and well, frankly, adds an element of truth to it! Now don’t take offense! “But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.” Really? A newborn baby in a manager with cows lowing and strange shepherds coming and going at all hours. No crying? Ok.

Last year I wrote a poem for my sister in law. It is entitled “Rebecca’s Poem”  (it’s quite fitting as her name is Rebecca!)

Rebecca's Poem

My prayer for you this Christmastime is wonderment. May the dust of fairies, well heck even better, may the dust of Heaven reign ( I know, I know, “rain”)  down on your plans. May you be surrounded by the beauty of the season. May you have peace in every circumstance. And may the miracle of Jesus’ birth shine truth in all of our hearts. We could all use the truth now couldn’t we?

Merry Christmas

Saddle up Missy! We’ve got a trail to blaze… and probably a few boxes, wrapping paper…

Love ya.