We have one peach tree, a fairly early variety.  The little thing produced itself proud this year; we kept thinning, and thinning those peaches throughout the season, fearing the weight of the ripened ones would damage its fairly young form.   We still got somewhere around 1 1/2 to 2 bushels of ripe ones.  Most of them were preserved as rolls of fruit leather, with many more eaten fresh, made into creamy smoothies, or baked into this favorite coffeecake, which we serve as breakfast food.  I got the recipe when I was nineteen and in college, from a friend my age who also loved to bake.  She ended up living in the same apartment complex and I, and we shared several food-related experiences.  She and I drowned our boy-centered troubles one night by staying up late, crying with each other's stories, and consuming an entire cheesecake.

But back to the peaches...
There's nothing like biting into a warm, juicy peach fresh off the tree... or a tree-ripened peach from wherever you can buy them.  If you're not so fortunate, you can use either fresh, frozen, or canned (and drained) peaches for this, but the best flavor- as you'd expect!- will be from using the freshest, sweetest, juiciest peaches you can get.  

Peachy Pecan-Streusel Coffeecake
Cake:
1/2 c. butter, softened 
3/4 c. sugar (1 cup if you like things very sweet)
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. sour cream or yogurt
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. sliced peaches

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Butter or spray a 9x13 pan; set aside.  Cream together the butter and sugar; beat in the eggs.  combine all dry ingredients, add to butter mixture alternately with sour cream and vanilla.  Beat just until smooth.  Spread batter in prepared pan.  Arrange peach slices over batter.  Combine the streusel ingredients and sprinkle over peaches.  Bake 25-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean (no batter clinging, only crumbs if anything).  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Streusel:
1 c. chopped pecans
1/4 c. brown sugar, packed
1/2 tsp. cinnamon


 
 
Santa Rosa plums are dark on the outside, often with a bluish hue that rubs off, ruby-colored inside, and explode with sweet juice when you bite into a fully ripe one.  They are apparently highly prized, which is nice for me, because my 3-in-1 plum tree is about half Santa Rosa.  They tend to ripen pretty much at once, which means we have only about a two-week window for eating them fresh, and need to be quick about canning, drying, making jam, or otherwise using them.  

Gelato usually uses milk instead of cream, and sometimes fewer egg yolks, as well.  If you use whipping cream in place of the milk, you'll have plum ice cream instead.  You can triple this batch if you really, really want to pull out your ice cream maker, but this smaller batch can be made using a high-speed blender. It's lightly sweet, with just enough brightness from the fruit, and full of flavor.  And yes, you may use other types of plums.  The color may or may not be the same, though, depending on the variety you use.  If you can't have eggs, you could thicken the milk with 1 Tbsp. cornstarch instead, but it won't be as creamy.

One pound of plums can mean anything from 4-10 plums, depending on their size.  If yours are small, ping-pong-ball sized, you'll need about ten.  If they're big ones, 2 1/2" across or so, you'll likely need only 4-5.  Either way, the goal is to end up with about 1 3/4 c. puree.

Santa Rosa Plum Gelato
Makes about one quart

1 lb. Santa Rosa plums
1/8 tsp. almond extract, optional but delicious!
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. whole milk, divided (dairy-free options include almond milk, rice milk, or coconut milk)
2 egg yolks
pinch of salt
1/2 c. sugar

Wash plums and remove stems.  Remove pits; you'll to cut them out.  Drop the pitted plums into a high-speed blender, add almond and vanilla extracts, and blend until smooth.   Pour into two empty ice cube trays.  Pour 1/3 c. of the milk into the blender and swish it around to get more of the puree; pour this into the ice cube trays as well.  Put them in the freezer.

Combine the two egg yolks, salt, and the sugar in the unwashed blender.  Heat the remaining 2/3 cup milk in the microwave for 1 minute, until steaming.  Meanwhile, turn the blender on to beat the yolks and sugar.  With the motor running, pour the hot milk in a thin stream into the yolks.  Once it's all in, increase speed to high, and run about two minutes, until the custard thickens slightly.  It will begin to coat the blender sides with a slightly thicker, opaque coating, and the mixture will steam quite a lot.  

Pour the custard into a container with a lid; refrigerate. Wash the blender; there's not much more unpleasant to wash off than dried egg yolk!

3-4 hours later, pull both the now-frozen puree and the now-chilled custard out.  Pour the custard into the (washed!) blender, add the puree cubes, and blend, using the plunger handle to get them to mix.

The gelato will be a soft-serve consistency.  If you want to be able to form round scoops, pour in a container and return to the freezer for another 1-3 hours.

 
 
The fastest, simplest S'mores ever!  My 6-year-old had a blast making these nearly by herself.  If you have a toaster oven, you can make just a few and hardly heat the kitchen up at all.  Even a big batch doesn't make your whole kitchen hot, or make you smell like campfire, or have the neighbors wondering what's on fire.  
If you use GF/CF chocolate chips and GF grahams, these are also a gluten-free, dairy-free treat.

For a big batch, you will need:

1 cup chocolate chips (milk chocolate or semisweet, you choose)
one 10-oz bag regular marshmallows
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs (I used precrushed ones) OR 4-5 crackers, crushed
Also:
A cookie sheet, an oven with a broil setting, and a sheet of parchment if you want the easiest cleanup.

Put the oven rack in the highest position.  Dump the chocolate chips into a microwaveable bowl; I used a Corelle cereal bowl.  Microwave for one minute; stir.  If it's not quite melted, microwave 30 seconds more; stir. Repeat if needed, but once you get past 2 minutes it overheats and clumps.  (You can rescue it by stirring in 1-2 tsp. oil.)

Dip the bottom half of a marshmallow into the chocolate, then dip into graham cracker crumbs.  Place on cookie sheet, at least 1/2" apart.

Turn the broiler on and put the marshmallows in.  If you have HI and LO options, here's what happened in my oven with them:

HI:  browned at 35-40 seconds.  Centers were still firm.
LO:  browned at 1 1/2- 2 minutes.  Nearly the whole marshmallow was now melted and gooey.  

Either way, watch these things closely!   Don't walk away for even a few seconds or they may be black when you get back.  Flaming marshmallows over a campfire in the dark may be entertaining, but they're not nearly as amusing in the house!

The marshmallows ready to be broiled.
 
 
The monthly envelope full of local ads and coupons arrived a couple days ago.  As I flipped through it, one summery dessert caught my eye:  a dessert pizza.  It was an advertisement for a local pizza buffet, "only" $5.99 for the buffet.  
Well, we have 7 people at home, so $6 x 7 is not something we're willing to spend very often.  :)  Instead, I could make this for under $4 with what I had on hand.  Frozen blueberries and strawberries are always in the freezer here; I get them at DollarTree in the frozen section.  Cream cheese stores way beyond its sell-by date, so I stock up when it's $1 for 8 ounces.  A local store recently had whipping cream at $.33, and it stores quite a bit past the sell-by date, plus it can be frozen.  And I stock up on butter when it's on sale, then keep it in the freezer.

What are some of your must-have-on-hand ingredients?

Cookie base
1 stick butter (1/2 c.), softened
1 c. sugar
1 egg
1/3 c. buttermilk, kefir, OR sour milk (add 1 Tbsp. lemon juice to fresh milk to make 1/3 c.)
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 c. flour

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Cream the butter with sugar; beat in the egg, buttermilk, and vanilla.  Combine baking soda, baking powder, salt, and flour; stir in to the other ingredients.  Grease or spray a 10x17 rimmed cookie sheet or 14" or 15" round pizza pan.  Drop cookie dough on top and pat into an even layer; wet your fingers so the dough doesn't stick so much to you.  Bake for 14-20 minutes, until light golden brown on edges and underside.  Cool completely.  

Topping/Frosting 
3 oz cream cheese
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla

2-4 cups berries or other fruit (I used 1 cup frozen blueberries, about 1 1/2 c. frozen strawberries)

Spread the topping over cooled cookie, cut into squares, and then sprinkle or decorate with fruit.  Serve; cover and refrigerate any leftovers.
 
 
Sometimes you pick a perfect watermelon:  firm, juicy, sweetness dripping from every piece.  Sometimes the melon could use a little bit of help.  Or sometimes you just want a little variety in the flavor department.

Several years ago I found a recipe for a lemon-and-mint-infused syrup to pour over watermelon, or over a mixture of watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew.  It took a few hours to make the syrup, though.  Now that I have essential oils on hand, the flavor base takes almost no time at all!

Citrus-Mint Watermelon Salad
(enough syrup for 4-8 lbs melon while weighed with the rinds still on)

1/4 c. sugar (OR 3 Tbsp. honey)
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1-3 drops mint essential oil (1 for subtle flavor, 3 for very noticeable)
6 drops any combination of citrus oils (lime, orange, lemon, grapefruit... I used 3 drops lime oil, 3 drops grapefruit oil)

Stir together the sugar and lemon juice; bring to a boil, stirring just until sugar is dissolved.  If using honey, there is no need to heat it; just stir the honey and lemon together.
Let the syrup cool slightly (if the sugar version), then add mint and citrus oils.

Pour over cut-up melon- plain watermelon or a combination of melons- and stir well to coat.

This would make a fun Fourth of July salad if you added some fresh blueberries to the watermelon.  

BONUS:  the juice left in the bottom is delicious plain (you might prefer it diluted with some water) or added to smoothies.

 
 
This is a refrigerator cheesecake; no baking needed!  It takes only about ten minutes until the filling is set enough to serve. This one has a rhubarb topping, but use whatever you like on the top!  The cheesecake can be made gluten-free, and this version is sweetened with honey.  It can even be dairy-free if you have a nondairy substitute for cream cheese; use any milk you prefer in place of the milk called for in this recipe.
This makes one 8x8 pan or one 8" pie pan.  Pick your shape.  :)

Crust:
3/4 c. quick-cooking oats (GF if needed)
1/4 c. oat flour (whirl oats in the blender until powdered)
2 Tbsp. coconut oil (melted) or butter
1 Tbsp. honey, liquid

Stir all four ingredients together, then press into the bottom of an 8x8 pan or up the sides then along the bottom of an 8" pie plate.  Put it in the freezer to firm up while you make the filling.

Filling:
6 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. lemon juice (fresh is best)
pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla1/2 cup evaporated milk, half-and-half, or whipping cream (or coconut cream)
2 Tbsp. Ultra Gel

Beat the cream cheese until softened, then mix in the honey, lemon juice, salt, and vanilla; beat until smooth.  Gradually add the  milk/cream and Ultra Gel; beat until thick and fluffy.  Spread evenly over the chilled crust.  Let chill for at least 5-10 minutes away if you like. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.

Lemon Topping:  1/4 c. lemon marmalade (use this recipe, substituting lemons for orange), thinned with just enough water to make it a sauce.

Rhubarb Topping:
1 c. chopped rhubarb (about 1 big stalk)
1/4 c. water
1 1/2 - 2 Tbsp. honey, to taste

Combine in a microwave-safe bowl.  Microwave for two minutes; stir.  Repeat until the rhubarb is soft.  Mash and taste to see if it's sweet/tart enough for you.  
 
 
My 11-year-old daughter had decided she really, really wanted some Frozen dolls.  However, having used all her spending money previously on a couple plush My Little Pony toys, the ones we found were way out of her price range.

She flipped through a girls' sewing book, spent a couple days thinking about how to possibly make the dolls instead, and came up with this plan:  find a picture, use it for a pattern, sew two identical pieces together, color, stuff, and stitch closed.

We used plain white knit fabric from my fabric stash so the doll would be softer and a little more forgiving, stuffed it with plain old fiberfill For the Anna doll, we used this coloring page 
Elsa:  in her coronation dress, or with one hand out.  (The one hand out was pretty tricky to turn right-side out, but it worked.)

You'll need a picture, 1/3 yd of fabric (for 11" high dolls, but you'll have enough width for 4 dolls!), needle and thread, sewing machine (optional), a handful or two of fiberfill, and some non-water-soluble markers  (we used a combination of Sharpies and fabric markers).

1- Resize the picture to make the size doll you'd like. 
2- Add 3/8" all the way around the picture*, for a seam allowance, and cut this paper pattern.
3- Pin onto a double layer of fabric, and cut this out.
4- Unpin the pattern from the fabric, take ONE of the fabric pieces, put the pattern piece behind it, hold it up on a window, and, using a Sharpie or fabric marker, trace all the lines you'll need to color later.  Draw in the facial features, neck, dress design, etc. Invent what the back should look like, for the second fabric piece. :)
5- Put the right sides (drawn-on sides) together, and sew 3/8" from the edge, almost all the way around.  Be sure to backstitch when you start and stop!  Leave 2" open.
6- Turn the fabric right-side out, stuff with a handful of fiberfill.
7- Turn the raw edges of the opening inward, and stitch closed, knotting well at both ends.  
8- Color your doll with the markers, front, back, and sides.

*On the coloring pages, the necks are too narrow to pull the rest of the body through when turning the fabric right-side-out after sewing, so shoot for a finished measurement of 1" wide, and just draw the neck the width it should be.

She had a lot of fun marking these- so much that she also made Kristof and Olaf the same way.  

The only question she has left is how much of the ink will survive their first trip through the washer and dryer!

 
 
Salty, sweet, crunchy, and chewy!  Makes one 8x8 pan.

Crust:  
3 oz pretzels (about 1 cup), crushed 
3 Tbsp. melted butter
2 Tbsp c. sugar
Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until it starts smelling delicious.

While it's baking, make the filling: 

Filling:
3 Tbsp. butter
1/2 c. packed dark brown sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 large egg
1/4 c. corn syrup*  (or use mild molasses and sub light brown sugar for dark, above)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 C. pecans, toasted and chopped coarsely
1 c. semisweet chocolate chips

Melt the butter in a small saucepan.  Mix in the brown sugar and salt, stirring until the butter is absorbed.  Beat in the egg, corn syrup/molasses, and vanilla.  Continue to cook and stir the mixture until it is shiny and hot to the touch but not near boiling.  Remove from heat; stir in pecans.  Pour onto the hot crust.  Bake at 350 about 25-30 minutes, until it jiggles like Jello and not like water when shaken.  Cool at least 20 minutes before cutting if you want them to keep their shape.
 
 
Warm, chocolatey, just sweet enough, high fiber, and with little pockets of gooey melted chocolate chips!   My sister-in-law posted a similar recipe on Facebook.  It sounded delicious and had very little added sugar.  The original recipe called for applesauce instead of oil, but I'm a fan using healthy fats alongside carbohydrates so that my kids and I aren't hungry again an hour after breakfast!  It helps you process the fiber in these, too.

Chocolate Fudge Banana Muffins - makes 12
(can be gluten-free and dairy-free)

3 medium bananas, very ripe, mashed (about 1 cup)
2 eggs
1/4 brown sugar
1/4 c. oil or melted butter (I like coconut oil in these)
1/3 c. cocoa powder
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/3 c. oat flour (or you can use all-purpose flour or whole wheat flour)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
chocolate chips, optional (1/4- 1/2 cup)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 12-cup muffin tin.  
Whisk together eggs and brown sugar.  Mix in the oil, cocoa powder, and vanilla.  Mix the dry ingredients and add to the wet.  Stir in chocolate chips.

Divide between the muffin cups; bake about 17-23 minutes, or until the top of a muffin springs back lightly when gently pressed.
 
 
These are fun.  We made them as a little homeschool science project.  EVERYONE in the family thought these were awesome, and we had enough to give a couple to some of my son's friends who are fascinated with rocks.  My next-door-neighbor, the Webelos Scout leader, pointed to a pile of broken rocks on her sidewalk.  "This,"  she said, "was what we did so the boys could feel like they might find a geode- we gave them hammers and rocks from our yard.  We should have made these instead!"

They'd love them too.

These would make some amazing and unusual Easter eggs, too:  make a bunch the same size and wrap two halves together to form a ball.

Edible Geodes
Crystal-growing solution (Rock candy syrup)
1 ½ c. sugar
½ c. water
Mix the two, heat on high in a small saucepan, and stir until the sugar completely dissolves.  Add several drops food color if you want, along with ½ tsp. flavoring (optional). Let cool a bit while you make the rock shells.

Rock Shell (Marshmallow Fondant)
8 ounces marshmallows
2-4 Tbsp. water
1 lb. powdered sugar
¼ c. coconut oil or shortening

Mix marshmallows with 2 Tb. water in a microwave-safe bowl, heat for 30 seconds in microwave.  Stir.  Microwave 30 seconds more, stir. Repeat until it’s melted and smooth.  Add the powdered sugar and mix with a spoon and then with your hands.  Spread 1 Tbsp. coconut oil on clean counter, knead the fondant on top adding more coconut oil when needed.   When smooth and stiff, take half of it and set aside.  Take other half and knead in ¼ c. cocoa powder to make fondant brown.  Roll out ¼“ thick.  Roll out the white half to the same size and stack them on top of each other.    Line a few bowls with aluminum foil, sprayed with nonstick spray.  Cut a piece of the two-layer fondant to fit, and line a bowl with it, with the brown side touching the foil.  Repeat until you run out.   Trim off any fondant that is beyond the lip of the bowl, using scissors.  Set aside.

Pour the sugar syrup into the fondant-lined bowls.  Let them sit, undisturbed, for at least a day (or 2-3 days for bigger crystals).  When ready, break the surface and pour off the syrup. Turn the geodes upside down to drain for an hour.  They’re ready!