Archive for August, 2012

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies are so-oo good.  They have an unusual crumbly texture.  I was nibbling one to give me inspiration to write, but decided I should put it aside until I finish because cookie crumbs are not the best friend of a computer keyboard.

I came across this recipe in the food section of the Chicago Tribune on 4/13/2005.  The Tribune writer  found the recipe in Big Fat Cookies by Elinor Klivans.  They tweaked the recipe a tad.  And, in turn, I tweaked their recipe a tad.  The result is a favorite of young and old in my family.

Because of the crumbly texture, I “suggest” that my grandchildren eat the cookie at the table instead of while they are meandering around my living room.

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

1 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup smooth peanut butter at room temperature (I use Planters Natural Creamy.)

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 unsalted butter, room temperature

1/4 cup shortening

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

10 ounces miniature peanut butter cups, unwrapped, quartered.  (I found no 10 ounce bags at the store on my shopping trip so I bought a 14 ounce bag which gives Grandma some tasty treats to have on hand. I weighed out 10 ounces from the bag to use in the cookies.)

Heat oven to 325 degrees.  Stir together flour, baking soda and salt and set aside.

Beat the peanut butter, sugars, butter and shortening in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until smoothly blended, about 1 minute.  Add the egg and vanilla; beat 1 minute.  Reduce speed to low; add the reserved flour mixture, mixing until incorporated and the dough is soft and smooth, about 1 minute.  With a large spoon carefully fold in the peanut butter cup pieces.

Drop by heaping tablespoons onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper.  I used my cookie scoop that is 1.5 inches in diameter.  Space the cookies about 2 inches apart.  I gently patted down the cookie a tad.  The cookies will not spread very much.

Bake 18-20 minutes until the top is firm and several small cracks appear in the top.

Cool the cookies 5 minutes on their baking sheets.  Use a wide spatula to carefully transfer the cookies to a wire rack.  Cool cookies thoroughly.

Prepare to enjoy and to reap compliments from those sampling the cookies.  My taste testing panel of 2 children and 2 adults gave thumbs up and “may I have another one” when I brought them out recently.

And now back to that cookie that I put down to write this post.

Thank you for stopping by Grandma in the Mailbox.  Next week brings the 5th Wednesday in  August.  I shall take a 5th Wednesday holiday.  See you again in September.


Wild about Parks Quest

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

My grandchildren love scavenger hunts and treasure hunts.  We always have one as part of Grandma Camp when they visit me.

This summer we used our detective skills in a program offered by the Urbana, IL Park District –  Parks Quest.

Wild About Parks Quest is a letterboxing event that celebrates the Urbana Park District’s many parks and facilities.  Letterboxing can be compared with a treasure hunt – where the treasure is a hidden box and the map is a set of clues used to find the box.

To learn more about this intriguing pastime, letterboxing, you can check out this website: You can click on the map to find letterboxes that are hidden in your city.

Back to Parks Quest.  To become a quester you need a clue booklet.  These can be picked up at the Urbana Park District office or can be downloaded from their website.  You use this clue booklet to find each letterbox.

For example, at one park  you are told to follow the path into the Gazebo and take a seat on one of the benches.  You then read about the large oak tree nearby with a plaque telling how old the tree is.  Reading on, you are asked to look for one tree that is not like the rest.  This tree has blue leaves or needles.  Search below the needles on the south side of the tree and there is the park’s letter box.

My granddaughter agreed to be the one to shimmy under the big blue spruce.

Out she came with the letter box in her hand.

My grandchildren opened the letterbox and took out the stamp.  They inked it up and stamped their Quest Clue Book to show they had found the treasure.  Then they signed the notebook with our names and the date to show when we found the letter box.  Finally it is really important to put the letterbox back where you found it so it will be ready for the next quester to find.  Yes, my granddaughter had to shimmy back under the blue spruce.

“Let’s go to another park, Grandma.”  SO we did.

In some of the parks the letterbox was hidden in a hollow of a tree.  My grandson considered for some time if he wanted to plunge his hand in for the letter box.  He was wondering what besides the letterbox might be in that hole.  We found no wild critters.

Off to another park and then another.

Time out.  It was hot and we were tired and needed a break.

No better way to cool off than with a yummy dip (or two) of ice cream.  As we sat eating, we looked at the booklet planning our next park.  Guess what – there was one right across the street from the ice cream shop.  When we finished, we headed over to look for another letterbox.

The most difficult quest required us to walk on a trail through a park with many gardens.  In each garden we were instructed to find a letter.  The letter was put into numbered blanks in our book.  When completed we would have the title of a sculpture in the park.  The letterbox was behind that sculpture under a flat rock in the brush.

My granddaughter was filling in the blanks so we could find that elusive letterbox.

We explored eight parks and have eight stamps in our Park Quest book.  However, the children were a little unhappy.  The car was packed and it was time for them to head home.  I promised that when they come for another visit, we’ll explore more parks.  I did add that it might be cold weather when they return.  ”We’ll bring boots and gloves and warm jackets, Grandma.  Can we do it?  Can we do it?”

I called the Park District and verified that the letterboxes are left out all year around so yes, we can go out even in the snow – and that might be really fun – to look for the treasures.  I was also told that the Park District sends someone out every few weeks to check on the letterboxes so there will be no missing boxes.

When Daddy asked the children if they had fun doing Parks Quest, I saw two smiles and two thumbs up.

Thank you for stopping by Grandma in the Mailbox.  Next week a recipe for some yummy cookies that have chunks of peanut butter cups in them.  Hope you stop by to visit again.


Time for Grandma Camp

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

It has been a very hot and dry summer, but there has been fun.  My grandchildren from near and those from far have all stopped by for some Grandma Camp action.

When we have Grandma Camp, we always start the day by going to the public library – sometimes by car and sometimes by mass transit.  This time we visited a library, but it was not the large brick and mortar one.  This was a neighborhood “little library.”

Are you familiar with the little free library movement?

Their mission is to promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide.  To build a sense of community as people share skills, creativity and wisdom across the generations.  To build more than 2,510 libraries around the world.

They offer kits and building plans so folks can set up their own free little library.

The little library a few block from my home is not housed in one of these designed little structures.  It is the Free Mini Library, housed in an insulated cooler.  It rests next to the street in front of a home.  There are two little tree stumps for browsers to sit upon as they look at the books.  There are books for adults and for children.  The premise is – leave a book; take a book.

I have picked up a mystery story for myself and I have taken my grandchildren to pick out books to read at my house.  Of course, we leave a book for each book we take.


What a great idea.  After seeing the library, one of my sons plans to set up a library in his front yard for the neighborhood to use.

A walk on a sunny summer day means that you are hot and sweaty when you return.  We had the perfect remedy for this.  We made strawberry popsicles before we left and enjoyed one when we returned.  These are so fresh and tasty that I’ll probably make them even when the children are not visiting.

I altered a bit a recipe that I found on the internet to make this fruity treat.

1 cup of cut up strawberries

1/2 cup water

3 tablespoons sugar or less if the strawberries are really sweet

a couple of squeezes of lime juice.

Put all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until the mixture is smooth.  Pour into popsicle molds and put into the freezer.

An enjoyable treat for all ages.

One of my grandsons usually has a “bucket list” when he comes for Grandma Camp.  Sometimes it is “things Grandma never let’s us do” or “can we do this again this year.”  Can we paint the driveway? We have done it before, but he and his sister wanted to do it again so we did.  On the day of camp it was extremely warm and the driveway was in the blazing sun so I suggested they paint the front porch.

The children donned their hand-me-down black tee shirts from a grandpa to keep the “paint” off their clothes and they divided the front porch into – my space and your space.  A yellow chalk line was drawn down the middle of the porch.  We mixed up 4 bowls of “paint.”

The recipe for driveway paint is simple:  1/3 cup of cornstarch, 1/3  cup of water, and food coloring.  Stir the mixture until it is smooth.

Armed with a handful of sponge paint brushes, the painters set off to work on their creations.  My grandson who is a devotee of Star Wars decided that he would paint a solar system.  He added some space ships shooting at the invaders.

My granddaughter’s painting showed her on a giraffe, her favorite animal.  She also included one of her brother with a tiger, his favorite, and of course, there was one of me with a cat.

A rain shower, yes, unbelievable during this drought, but a rain shower washed away the collection of animals.  The space craft are still battling on my front porch.

More tales of Grandma Camp to come next week – a lemonade stand and Park Quest.

Thank you for stopping by Grandma in the Mailbox.  I hope you return next week to read other adventures we had in Grandma Camp.



A Recipe – Cuban Bread

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Let me be the first to welcome you to July 32.  Last week I mentioned that this week was the 4th Wednesday in July.  WRONG.  Last week was.  So I am starting off August with a recipe and I shall finish August with a recipe.

Cuban Bread is a crusty bread requiring few ingredients – no milk and no shortening.  The recipe that I have used for years was clipped out of the local newspaper on September 28, 1974.  An interesting aside  - on the back of the recipe is a coupon for Keebler’s Pecan Sandies cookies.  And the price $.89.  Wow, 38 years ago cookies (and everything else) certainly were less expensive.

Jane’s Crusty Cuban Bread

6 1/2 cups flour

2 packages dry yeast

2 cups water

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons salt

yellow cornmeal

Stir together 2 cups of flour and the yeast in a large mixer bowl.  Heat water, sugar and salt, stirring until very warm to the touch; add to the flour-yeast blend.  Beat about 3 minutes at high speed with mixer.  Stir in enough additional flour to make a stiff dough.

Turn out on a lightly floured board and knead 12 to 13 minutes or until the dough feels elastic.  Cover with a large bowl and let rest 45 minutes.

Grease a large baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with cornmeal.  (Rather than grease a baking sheet, I cover the sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle cornmeal on it.)

Divide dough  into three portions.  Roll each  portion into a rectangle about 13 X 10.  Roll up jelly roll fashion from the widest side; press ends together to seal and then fold ends slightly under the loaf.  Place seam side down on the baking sheet.

Make small diagonal cuts across the top of each loaf with a sharp knife.  Brush all over with water.  Let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 20 minutes.  Set oven temperature at 400 degrees and without preheating the oven, place the loaves in it; bake 45-50 minutes.  Cover lightly with foil if the loaves brown too rapidly.  Cool on racks before cutting.  Makes 3 loaves.

When the daddies were young, they loved this bread with pasta.  The loaves can also be cut into thirds and split for hoagie or hero sandwiches.  The loaves freeze well.

When the daddies were young, one loaf was often gone before dinner time.  Nothing like a hunk of warm crusty bread with a little butter spread on it.

Thank you for stopping by Grandma in the Mailbox.  Summer time and Grandma Camp time.  Next week I’ll talk about the fun things that we did a few weeks ago at Grandma Camp and the yummy strawberry popsicles that we made.  I hope you will stop by again.