Sunday, June 4, 2017

Ruthless Gardening

 I am impatient, critical, when all I can really do is let it all go.  I want everything to be perfect.  As if I know what perfect is.  I long for my house, my life, my world to be organized, neat and tidy.  And because I am the one who plants, weeds and waters, I want my garden to be exactly as I envision it: in neat little rows.  These delusions are my potential downfall.  Especially when it comes to nurturing plants outdoors.  Every year, I think that if I control the variables, or at least try to, that I will be guaranteed the results I seek.  But just like any living thing, plants will behave exactly as they need to in order to survive or die according to Mother Nature's plan.  No one ever consults me.
  I thought I was so awesome, planting cucumbers from seed.  I started them early, indoors.  I misted them daily with a spray bottle.  I rotated them in the sun.  I finally planted them into the ground and waited for them to grow.  After some heavy rainfall that seemed to last for days and days, I inspected them last Saturday morning to find that the tender leaves had been eaten on most of the fledgling plants. Only a stem left.  Dammit all!  I called Val immediately.  I needed answers, solutions and remedies...FAST!  She is far more knowledgeable and sympathetic in this department than Google could ever be.  In the early days of the internet, before Google took over the world, me and all my friends used to refer to her as "". She has proven to know what you need when you need it and give you a pep talk over the phone as well.
"It's probably slugs.  I will send Dad over with some diatomaceaous earth.  Sprinkle it all around your plants.  The tiny particles will lacerate their little bodies and they will crawl away and die."
I think her favorite part about giving gardening advice regarding pests is describing how they will suffer.  Disturbing.
  Within ten minutes, my dad was knocking at my door with an extra large Quaker Oats container labeled in black Sharpie: DIATOMACEAOUS EARTH  NOT POISONOUS  Still in my pajamas, teeth yet to be brushed, I was so mad at those leaf eating slugs, I dumped more than the Val recommended amount on and around those cucumber sprouts.  It looked like there was a King Arthur flour accident in the tiny garden.
  Aside from a wet and cold spring, my little garden is limping along.  Every morning, I get up, pour a cup of coffee and peek out over the deck in my stocking feet to inspect.  I don't know what I expect to see differently from the night before.  Perhaps some sort of miracle growth spurt like Jack's bean stock?  But I know what I don't want to see.  I don't want to see a rabbit hopping away after enjoying a breakfast of sweet pea tendrils and tiny pea leaves.  "BASTARDS!" I yell as I grab for the phone to place my call.  This time I am instructed to head to the local garden center for something that will irritate the nostrils of any four legged, cotton tailed intruders.
The lady at the cash register inspected my purchase as she rang it up.
"You should have a dog that can help you with this problem." she said
Yeah, I know.  Although our sweet dog, Stella is almost 15 and gets a pass on every dog "duty" now that she is old, she was never any good at keeping rabbits, squirrels or chipmunks away.  I couldn't wait to get home and shake my new pest eradicating product all over the remaining plants in my garden.
I am becoming ruthless and irritated over this process of growing seeds and plants.  It may be all in vain.  But I wait and coddle, weed and threaten anyone who dares step on a seedling.  Maybe, just maybe I will be able to harvest something soon out of all of this madness called gardening.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Baseball vs. Rainy Days

Mother Nature has finally released us from winter.  The flat faced pansies, the song of the peepers, red and yellow tulips have emerged.  Lush green grass, tiny leaves on tree branches are everywhere I look. The days are finally long enough to begin looking forward to the end of school and dare I say, "warmer weather"?
  But Declan couldn't be more frustrated.  So many soccer practices and baseball games cancelled due to rain, rain and more rain.  When it finally stops raining, the playing fields are so saturated, the powers that be keep the kids off the grass for fear the landscaping will be torn to shreds. 
  Like tonight.  The sun finally came out, warmed the air and created the perfect weather for an evening baseball game.  He packed his bag with sunflower seeds, the baseball player's healthier alternative to chewing tobacco.  After searching through his desk drawers cluttered with the odd birthday party favor, beach finds and pencils worn down beyond use, he found his "baseball" sunglasses that he hasn't needed since last summer.  He scurried around the house gathering his gear, anticipating that the game could possibly finish under the lights, if the innings stretch out that long.  Wait.  Cancelled.  Again.  Declan is devastated.  He longs so much to get out and play.  The tears are barely hidden under the brim of his red and white cap.  Oh, Mother Nature what an eleven year old boy has to go through to swing a bat and shag a few fly balls with his friends!
  I remember back in high school when I was dying to get outside and run around the fields after school instead of my winter time routine of heading home on the bus for another boring afternoon of homework and soap operas.  The chilly spring air stinging my face, my freezing cold, raw, red hands gripping my lacrosse stick.  I didn't care that my entire backside was covered in splashes of mud from running up and down the wet field in my cleats. To finally get outside, run until I was out of breath and laugh with my friends in the fresh air; I never felt the cold on my bare legs.
  I used to trudge through the school day. My only motivation for being there was all the good stuff I got to do afterwards.  Monday through Friday, at lunchtime, I crossed my fingers and looked out the cafeteria windows hoping to see the sun or at least just cloud cover, praying against the rain.  If the weather looked alright to my untrained eye, I was happy and went about eating my lunch, looking forward to slamming my locker shut at dismissal.  But if the announcement belted out on the loudspeaker declared, "ALL OUTDOOR PRATICES CANCELLED FOR TODAY" followed by the response of a collective heavy groan, I was left in a funk.
  Today, I am addicted to the weather app on my phone.  I check the radar hourly, making my own interpretations based on the patterns on the screen, not wanting to rely on the inaccuracy of those weather people who have no idea how to make predictions for Cape Cod.  I constantly put it out to the Universe for heavy rain clouds to drift north or be blown out to sea.  At the very least to provide light rain showers only in the middle of the night so that the kids can get on the fields the next day.  I don't know if this obsession does anyone any good but it comforts me, as if I am somehow doing my part to let Mother Nature know I mean business when it comes to baseball vs. rainy days.

  I'm sure the Falmouth High School cafeteria ladies made this cake year round but I connect the memory of it with springtime.  Yellow cake layered with thick, white frosting, topped with a heavy hand of yellow and orange sprinkles.  It was served in large squares cut from rectangular sheet pans.  I could never get enough of the sugary sweetness and bright colors.  It always made my day when I saw "Sunshine Cake" featured on the menu, especially if rain was in the forecast.  These cupcakes pay homage to that dessert.

Sunshine Cupcakes
makes about 24

2/3 cup butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups 2% milk

1/2 cup butter, softened (1 stick)
1/2 cup Crisco
4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons vanilla

orange and yellow sprinkles

Bake the Cupcakes:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners.
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in vanilla.  In another bowl, whisk flour baking powder and salt.  Add this mixture alternately to butter mixture with milk, beating well after each addition.
Fill prepared cups 3/4 full (just shy of 1/4 cup batter, each).  Bake 15-20 minutes or until a pick inserted comes out clean.  Cool in pans then remove to wire racks to cool completely before frosting.

Make the Frosting:
In a stand mixer, combine butter and Crisco.  Slowly, add powdered sugar, one cup at a time.  Alternately, add one tablespoon of milk.  Add vanilla and salt. Mix well.  If frosting is stiff, add a few drops of milk, if loose, add more powdered sugar, one tablespoon at a time.  Frost cupcakes and top with sprinkles while frosting is still wet.

Cupcakes will keep for up to 3 days in an airtight container.

*Cupcake recipe adapted from Taste of Home "Yellow Cupcakes Recipe"

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Just Get it on the Table Season

It's baseball season, spring recital season, everyone get outside because the weather is finally nice and the flowers are blooming after a long and dreary winter season.  There is absolutely no time to cook and sit down to dinner unless you want to eat at 10:00pm.  Which means how the heck will I get everyone fed without making myself absolutely nuts?  I could just eat crackers and cheese, pour myself a glass of wine (counts as a fruit/vegetable, right?) and be done with it.  But my children look at me with their big hungry eyes and rub their growling tummies.  Long before any sane person should even be thinking about an evening meal, it happens every afternoon just as the bus doors close.  As they burst into the house, they yell,  "What's for dinner?"
Short of offering them something prepackaged and microwavable, there is not much I can do unless I want to be cooking dinner at 800pm and washing dishes from 9-10pm.  Everyone knows I like to be in bed far before that snuggling up with the same book I have been trying to get through for the past six months.  Oh the exhaustion of motherhood!  I have reread the same page over and over again, before I drift off to sleep midsentence.
Of course, there is the trusty Crock Pot.  However, my picky eaters don't really like soup or stew.  A meat entrĂ©e usually still needs some starch like mashed potatoes or boiling up a pot of rice and maybe even the addition of a vegetable....I need it to be easier than that.  Even rice takes 30 minutes on the stove top.
In a moment of sheer genius, I placed skinless, boneless chicken thighs and 1/2 a bottle of BBQ sauce in the crockpot and set it on low.  Stopped at the store for sandwich rolls and a bundle of fresh kale.  Yes, that's right.  KALE for children who always complain about what is on the plate.
It's shocking, I know that my picky eaters might even try a kale.  But I tricked them.  I baked kale chips.  Chips sound like junk food, like something forbidden.  So at least they might try it.  Now here they are devouring the whole bowl before I can get a handful for myself.  Even more surprising is that I actually like kale chips.  I have always hated kale, was angry about those "Eat More Kale" t-shirts and bumper stickers.  Yes, I have finally came around to the kale craze.  Late to the party but ready to celebrate.
Especially because kale chips can be made ahead and served at room temperature.  I actually left them on the cookie sheet I used to bake them right on top of the stove.  Crockpot on low with the BBQ chicken inside.  Now I feel like super mom.  Now, I am ready to watch a  two plus hour little league game and know that I can crawl into bed to try and read, uninterrupted by whining and complaining while my people devour their dinner.

Easiest BBQ Chicken Sandwiches
makes about 8 sandwiches

1 package boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1.5-2 pounds)
8 ounces BBQ sauce of your choice (I use Stubb's)
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold water
8 sandwich or ciabatta rolls
8 slices deli cheddar cheese

Spray inside of Crock Pot with cooking spray.  Place chicken in a single layer inside Crock Pot.  Pour BBQ sauce over chicken.  Make a slurry out of cornstarch and cold water by mixing both together until smooth.  Add to BBQ sauce and swirl to combine.  Cover Crock Pot and cook on low for approximately 5 hours.  Once cooked, shred chicken and stir back into sauce.  Serve on toasted rolls or ciabatta bread.  Top with melted cheese, if desired.

Ridiculous Kale Chips

1 bunch of kale, washed and dried
cooking spray
garlic powder.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Spray 2 cookie sheets with cooking spray.  Remove kale leaves from stems and rip into small pieces about 2"-3" long.  Scatter kale pieces in one layer over the cookie sheets.  Spray kale leaves with cooking spray.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder.  Bake kale for 15-20 minutes until crisp and dark green and slightly browned on edges.  Serve immediately or leave out for people to snack on.  Great with cocktails!!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

TBT May 29, 2008 Falmouth Bulletin "Lessons from Val's Kitchen" Salad recipe adds some zing to spring

On May 29, 2008 this story appeared  in the Falmouth Bulletin: "Lessons  from Val's Kitchen"

Salad recipe adds some zing to spring
For years I have had what I call a “black thumb”.  No magic touch with vegetation, just a rotten rather than green thumb. Oh, I managed to keep a few house plants alive throughout the years.  This I believe happened not because I was trying. By chance, the only place in my apartment with sun was a large window with an ample window sill. My technique of barely remembering to water the plants on occasion somehow helped too. However, now that I live in a house with a yard, I would like to imbue it with life.  In the last couple of years, my sad attempts at planting seeds failed because I was always too impatient to learn the rules of gardening 101 or perhaps I just blocked it all out…

You see, Val has always had a very large, organic vegetable garden.  The planning started in the winter when the seed catalogs would arrive in the mail.  She would comb through them and choose the best seeds for her soil sometimes ordering various bugs and traps as well.  Once they arrived in the mail, the seeds would be started in the basement under the grow light and her careful watch. As the seeds sprouted under the eerie purple light, we knew what our fate would be come spring time, after the last sign of frost.

The truck loads of seaweed arrived soon after the plants went into the ground.  This would be used to mulch the entire garden, a task that seemed to take weeks in our young minds.  Karyn manned the pitch fork and loaded up 5 gallon buckets for me and Ethan to haul down to Val’s location in the garden.  We went up and down the sloping hill along the side of the house in the hot sun, until Val allowed us to take what seemed like a one minute break . The brown, moist seaweed got inside our shoes filling them with sand and slime mixed with sweaty feet. Yucky.

To my mother’s delight, sometimes we would have the pleasure of mulching with horse manure.  We thought she was insane not knowing the virtues of the fertilizer. Karyn dressed in tall rubber boots and a bandana over her nose like Jesse James, continued to man the pitch fork while Ethan and I gagged as we hauled our buckets in the hot sun.

Times were really tough when the seaweed wasn’t as plentiful and Val didn’t score her horse manure.  Instead of making lemons out of lemonade, Val made “manure tea”, a fertilizer out of our pet rabbit’s droppings.  The recipe is as follows:

Fill ¼ of a five gallon bucket with rabbit or chicken manure

Top off bucket with water

Leave in the hot sun to “steep”

After 4-5 days pour the mixture over your crops.

If the wind blows just right, you can smell the sweet aroma of the tea from anywhere in the yard while it is steeping.  Yummy.
The gardening trauma did not end with the mulching.  A whole new phase of torture began with harvesting the crops.  Raspberries proved to be especially gruesome.  The wild, unruly and very thorny bush would slowly envelope me as I inched my way in to pick every last one.  Even though it was best to wear long sleeves and pants as not to get my skin torn to shreds, a child never remembers to do that in July.  Don't think for a second that I could have gotten away with leaving a few berries on the most interior of the sharp vines.  Val always checked.
In spite of my memories of childhood gardening, I have been spoiled by the quality and taste of fresh fruits and vegetables harvested and consumed at their peak.  Luckily, I still reap the benefits of Val's garden.  I no longer have to help with mulching as she plants a little less quantity and variety.  Now, I know how fortunate I am when she says, "Do you want some tomatoes? Here's a bag, go and pick what you want."  As for my own yard, I don't have enough time or room for a vegetable garden but you should check out my potted herbs on the deck.
The following recipe is a springtime favorite.  Val's Aunt Viola, who was known for cooking and entertaining, made this often.

Aunt Viola's Special Salad and Dressing
1 large bag fresh baby spinach
1 large bag fresh salad greens
1 red onion, sliced thin
parmesan cheese, coarsely grated
homemade croutons (see recipe)
For the dressing:
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried mustard
1/4 teaspoon dried onion
1/3 cup poppy seeds
1/3 cup white vinegar
1/3 cup salad oil

Wash and dry green and toss together in a large salad bowl.  Arrange red onion rings over top of greens and sprinkle with parmesan cheese and croutons.  Combine all ingredients for dressing and shake well.  Dress salad and serve immediately.

Homemade Croutons
5-6 slices day old French bread
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3/4 teaspoon dried parsley
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Cube slices of bread.  Toss cubed bread with butter.  Spread bread onto a cookie sheet.  Sprinkle with parsley, garlic powder and salt.  Toast in oven for 5-10 minutes until browned on edges.  Allow to cool before adding to salad. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Warm Tarts for Chilly Spring Days

Easter falls later on the calendar this year although looking outside, you might not realize it.  Yes, there are crocuses and daffodils finally opening their buds to the sun but the air is chilly and raw.  We've had so much rain!  I suppose all this precipitation is a good start for the season but it sure puts a damper in everyone's attitude, especially Declan's.  He gets so mad when the coach cancels practice, again. 
"They are such babies! Why can't we practice in the rain?!  It's not that cold!!"
I try to calm him down.  Seriously, 38 degrees, torrential rain, it's just silly to cancel.  The weather is fine.  But I wouldn't want to be out in it.  That sideways rain, the kind that pelts your face and ruins your hair in spite of my best efforts to deal with it by wearing a thick rubber raincoat and still sporting my winter boots.  The rain manages to seep in wherever there is a crack in the armor.  Forget using an umbrella.  The wind is so strong, it renders it useless in seconds.  It turns the  pop-open travel umbrella into a little black kite, sailing 100 yards across the supermarket parking lot.  Or even better, forcing the umbrella inside out bending the metal prongs, warping them permanently and ripping the fine fabric into a spider web of threads before I am barely out of the car.
  When the sun finally does appear, on a few occasions in early April, the ground is so damp and the air still bitter, winter coats are de riguer.  Don't forget your gloves, scarves and hats, too.  All the parents at Declan's soccer game last Saturday looked like they were ready to go sledding instead of attending a springtime match.  No one dares put away the snow gear until we are well out of the woods, around June 1st, if we are lucky.  But who wants to adhere to such sensible rules on Easter Sunday?  Pastels and bright white fabrics are featured in the new Spring lines in all the fashionable boutiques and stores.  Pedicured toes show off the latest sandal styles in all the magazines.  Everyone is sick of drab winter colors: dark grey, black, hunter green.  We are ready to give heavy coats and big boots the heave-ho.  I've already spotted bare legs and ice cold feet belonging to shivering, yet stylish women.  I'm sure I will see plenty more goose bumped and red skinned outside church this Sunday morning.  Fancy ladies and chic girls rubbing their arms and hopping up and down and in an effort to warm up while the little children search for plastic pink, yellow and blue eggs filled with candy.  As soon as these fashionistas get home, I have a feeling they will be back to fleece and flannel for at least a few more weeks.  Mother Nature will make sure of it.
  Warmer parts of the country may be celebrating the arrival of new spring clothing lines and accessories but I envy them more for their earlier spring harvest.  While we are still eating the last from the root cellar, in warmer climes, they get to feast on spring greens and quite possibly, the first sprouts of rhubarb.  Although we are quite a few weeks away from harvesting any rhubarb on Cape Cod, as luck and advance planning would have it,  I still have some from Val's huge rhubarb patch stashed away in the back of my freezer.  I was so frantic last year when the weather began to turn hot, just before the rhubarb stalks grew fat and fibrous.  I harvested and chopped so much of the ruby red and dark green stems, that I thought I had gone to far.  Even though I filled half my freezer, there was still so much we left to wither in the hot summer sun.
  I pickled it, made elixirs, froze quart after quart.  I ate a lot of rhubarb in June, July and August.  Then, I forgot about my freezer stash.  It took the angle of the sun and the date on the calendar to remind me, again. 
"Wow, I need to use this good stuff up before Val's plants begin producing again." I said to myself.
  I've been making free form tarts and quick sauces to go alongside poultry and pork.  I eat any leftovers with vanilla yogurt and whipped cream.  I just can't get enough of the sweet/tart flavor and the promise that someday soon I will be able to take off my wool socks and let my feet feel the green grass warmed by the sun.

Mini Rhubarb (or any fruit) Tarts
(makes 4)

6 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon flour
1-2 tablespoons heavy cream
1-2 tablespoons Turbinado sugar

2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks cold butter, diced
6 tablespoons cold water

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
Mix the filling: combine rhubarb, 1 cup sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon and 1 tablespoon flour.
To mix the crust, place 2 cups flour, 1/4 cup sugar, salt and diced butter into a food processor.  Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse peas.  Slowly add enough water until the dough just comes together.  Separate dough into 4 small disks and wrap each in plastic.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Roll out the dough disks on a lightly floured board.  Place each section of rolled out dough 2 per cookie sheet.  Spoon 1/4 of the rhubarb mixture into the center of each dough piece.  Crimp dough up around the fruit, pressing down slightly on the bottom edges to make sure the crimp stays in place.  Brush the edges of the dough with heavy cream and sprinkle tarts with Turbinado sugar.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until tarts are golden brown.  Remove from oven and allow to cook for 10 minutes before serving.  Yummy with whipped cream and/or vanilla ice cream!


Saturday, March 4, 2017


"%$^*ing Nutella", I mutter under my breath at 6:30am every morning.  Declan has to have Nutella on toast, well not just on toast, on anything one can possibly put into the toaster oven: country white bread, English muffins, rolls, biscuits, even everything bagels.
  It all begins with the morning "helplessness".
  "Mama, can you split this, slice this, get this, for me???"
Declan is about to turn eleven years old.  I was making my own lunch to bring to school, cooking my own grilled cheese sandwiches and burning batches of cookies in the oven when I was younger than he is now.  I guess I created this baby monster by not wanting him in my kitchen except when invited by me.  The main reason is that he is a slob.  Not in the usual kid messy kind of way.  It's more like he is Pigpen and the Tasmanian Devil wrapped in one; the mess is so dirty and EVERYWHERE. I find evidence of his Nutella on toast all over the house, long after he has boarded the school bus. Dark brown, pasty chocolate and hazelnut spread on cabinets, drawer pulls and blankets.  I even once noticed a long, dark, trail made by small fingers at just the right height on the pristine white bathroom wall while I was using the toilet one morning.  You can imagine that my blood pressure spiked before I realized that it wasn't actually a poop hand print.   It would make my life far easier if I stopped supplying the Nutella.  However, the chocolate, hazelnut spread makes up approximately 95% of my son's diet.  It would not do to have a malnutrition-ed child in the house. By the way, this Nutella addiction is all my fault for introducing that drug in the first place.
  Once I've sliced, fork split or found the desired bread vehicle for his breakfast, I leave Declan to toast, watch over and retrieve his breakfast.  He then slathers the Nutella on top.  I cannot bear to watch this process.  It's slow and drama filled.  Declan, like myself, is not a morning person.  He is barely functioning at that time of day on top of being horribly messy.  As he manages to get Nutella all over the blades and handles of at least 3 table knives, the smearing takes approximately, 10 minutes with much of the gooey, now heated chocolate spread landing along the edges of the plate, not on the bread and all over his hands soon to touch everything in sight.  Then he takes his sloppy Nutella covered hands, plate and toast over near my couch to watch t.v. and prolong this daily agony we call, "breakfast".

  He is only allowed to sit on the floor-and yet, somehow I find on many mornings, after he has left for school, a shmear of Nutella on a light blue throw pillow, the buttons on the t.v. remote clogged with chocolaty goodness. I never know where I might see evidence of the offending meal as I get ready for my own day, once that kid has left the house.  I curse as I scrub the caked, muddy evidence of my child from every nook and cranny.  I shudder to know that I will find more evidence of this morning's meal throughout the day.  I wipe down the Nutella jar and go to put it away until tomorrow.  But then I stop and pull a large soup spoon out the drawer, unscrew the cap and dig out a glob.  While that slobby kid is at school, I secretly savor the Nutella chocolatey goodness as I lick it off the spoon.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Elegant Food

  We are a few snow days in, shoveled out and partially melted but tomorrow threatens another missed day of school due to predicted high winds and blizzard conditions.  Ugh.  Thankfully, I have a February winter reading arsenal at my disposal.  Among the books I secretly ordered from Amazon, I have two of the Pink Smock Provender cookbooks (Pink Smock Provender, 1980 and More Pink Smock Provender, 1988) put together by the ladies of the Falmouth Hospital Auxillary for fundraising  purposes and bragging rights.  I also scored the Woods Hole Golf Club Centennial cookbook, Simply the Best Course which features an array of favorites from ladies who know how to golf and entertain.
  In this food-focused time of super chefs and cutting edge restaurants, cookbooks, food blogs, competitive cooking shows and internet sensations, it can be hard to believe that some of these featured recipes were sought after secret weapons for these society dames.  Among some of my favorites: "Cheese Things" to be served as an appetizer with cocktails, "Deviled Egg Salad" made with mayonnaise, hard cooked eggs and gelatin to firm it all up, "Hot Dog-A-Cheapie" for lunch and let's not forget, "Tomato Soup Cake"  as dessert.  For dinner guests, "Beef Casserole" that according to my grandmother's good friend, Frances Eastman as she is quoted at the end of her entry, "Easy casserole to make and elegant to taste."  When Mrs. E deemed something to be "elegant", it was of the highest compliment.  If you need something to wash all this food down, you can find in all the books' pages some type of punch like the one Mrs. Eastman often served at bridal showers and luncheons.  It featured Cold Duck, a can of Hawaiian Punch, pineapple juice, ginger ale and 1 pint of vodka. This light and refreshing beverage is called simply, "Summer Punch".  Elegant, indeed.
 Although there are plenty of entries that leave me scratching my head at the list of ingredients and not at all eager to try them, there are a few (only about 3 in total, don't get excited) that I tagged with my trusty post-its.  In particular, "The Famous Faxon Fudge Brownies" are a must try.  A brilliant addition of 1/2 can of sweetened condensed milk makes them super fudgy.  However, I did opt to leave out the walnuts and bag of coconut since my people would have frowned upon the use of those ingredients.  They deemed the brownies utterly delicious.  I now have the recipe earmarked as a favorite to be baked numerous times again, in the future.

  While relaxing and perusing this tome late one night, I leaped out of bed in joy when I discovered Marty Patrick's recipe for her famous "Key Lime Pie", a dessert that I had tasted but one time in my life, but it still haunted me.  The taste of sour lime perfectly blended with smooth, sweetened condensed milk, nestled into a graham cracker crust. Marty had mixed in fresh blueberries that popped when bitten and added something for your teeth to sink into amidst all that creamy filling. I had felt that I may never get the recipe as sadly, Marty is no longer with us.  You better believe I tagged that one with a post-it.
  Many of these featured recipes may not stand the test of time but I enjoy reading what people ate in the past .  Val and I had a laugh when she texted me this photo of Mrs. E's "Summer Punch".

  I then I had to google Cold Duck...I was not surprised at its slip from popularity when I read the beverage's ingredients.
  Who knows?  Maybe someday, there will be someone just like me reading this blog and laughing out loud at my go-to recipes and concoctions.  Time and recipe ideas march forward for all of us. Until then, I will continue to create recipes and menus, trying out and tweaking some of the old ones and hoping that Mrs. E would think they are as "elegant" as I do.

I opted to make a graham cracker crust instead of the regular pie crust used in Marty's recipe in "Simply the Best Course".  Also, she does not mention adding fresh blueberries they way I remember her pie.  Like many talented cooks, I am sure she often played with her own recipes depending on ingredients on hand.
Key Lime Pie
(adapted from Marty Patrick, Simply the Best Course)
makes one pie

graham cracker pie crust
3 cans sweetened condensed milk
1 cup Key lime juice or fresh lime or ReaLime
1 teaspoon  salt
grated rind of 1 lime

Mix sweetened condensed milk, lime juice and salt.  Fill pie crust and chill until firm.  Garnish with grated lime rind.

To make a homemade graham cracker crust:
1 3/4 cup crushed graham crackers (regular or gluten free)
6 tablespoons melted butter
4 tablespoons sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a standard 9"pie plate.  Mix graham cracker crumbs, melted butter and sugar.  Press into bottom and up sides of pie plate.  Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool completely before adding filling.

The Famous Faxon Fudge Brownies
(Sandy Faxon, Simply the Best Course)
makes one 8x8 pan

4 squares (ounces) unsweetened chocolate
1 1/2 sticks butter
1 3/4 cups sugar
3 eggs, whipped
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
1/3-1/2 can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 can walnuts (optional)
1 small bag coconut (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease an 8x8 pan.  
Melt chocolate and butter on low in a heavy bottom saucepan.  Add sugar and mix well.  Add eggs and vanilla, mix again.  Add flour and salt; mix until just blended.  Pour batter into greased pan and top with condensed milk.  Swirl and mix in the milk a little bit.  Bake approximately 30 minutes.  (slightly under cooked)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

TBT February 7, 2008 "Cookies, cocoa, straight from the heart" Lessons from Val's Kitchen, Falmouth Bulletin

Another TBT from the Falmouth Bulletin.  "Lessons from Val's Kitchen" appeared once a month on a Thursday (whenever I could manage to get the story to the editor!...thanks for your patience!)  This one features my all time favorite Valentine's Day/holiday cookie recipe.

Cookies, cocoa, straight from the heart
February 7, 2008 

I never did like Valentine’s day, that is until I began dating my husband.  Finally, (it took until I was almost 30) I had found someone thoughtful and romantic who brings flowers, gifts in small boxes and remembers to make the dinner reservations.
The teenage years were the worst: full of unrequited love and hormonally charged crushes on fellows who did not even know of my existence let alone my name. A long tradition at FHS always magnified my feelings of lovelessness and teen angst.  The kind illustrated so well in all of those John Hughs movies of the 1980’s.  Take your pick: Pretty in Pink, 16 Candles, Say Anything…you get the picture.  I think it was called, “Flower Day”-the Honor Society raised money by selling flowers during the week before “black (fill in the day of the week here) day” as my friend Ted put it, so pained by this event that he actually remembers that it was on a Friday in 1986.  You could choose a red carnation for love, pink for like and yellow/white for friendship.  According to my sister Karyn, there was some unwritten rule that red was reserved for official boyfriends/girlfriends but I don’t remember that.  Anyway, back to the flowers.  They would be distributed during home room on Valentines  day so that you would end up in a cold sweat as the smug delivery geek called out the worthy people’s names in the front of the class room. All the world would be a twitter as no one “knew” who sent the flowers until they got an opportunity between classes to visit the 6 foot table manned by the Honor Society and payed a dollar (double dipping??) to receive the message attached to the flower order.  Scandals were abundant as they always are during the high school years.  My friend Debbie recalls a fight between two suitors who both sent her red carnations (ignoring Karyn’s rule mentioned above) that ended in the much smaller of the two being thrown down the stairs into House B cafeteria.  Her boyfriend at the time was not bothered by the suitors at all and seems to have won in the end as he is now her husband.
If flower day caused stress, there was always something that made it better.  My mother, Val would  have a funny card at each of our places at the dinner table.  (At least my parents loved me during those awkward years!) She also would have made her traditional heart cookies.  She had sent us to school during all of our elementary years with the yummy heart cut out sugar cookies covered in light pink frosting with a single red hot in the middle for an extra flair.  As the years went on, she made two sizes of hearts, some small and some large to fit any appetite and always leaving a few unfrosted for my father, Dick who never liked things to be too sweet. I could always count on those melt in your mouth cookies stored in the large square Tupperware on the kitchen counter to make me feel the world was still o.k. after a long day of teenage drama.
I remember Valentines day in 1987 (my senior year of high school) was on a Saturday. (Don’t worry, Flower Day still happened on Friday the 13th!)  It was icy, cold and snowy as lovely February can often be. Earlier that evening, I had been to a party with my best girlfriends: Jen and Jenny.  It was pretty uneventful. The only thing I recall about the soiree was the family dog: it had 3 legs and we called him,“Tripod”. Around midnight I was home and standing in the kitchen with Val who was always awake to make sure we arrived home safely and in the proper state.  As I talked about the night, the last week, whatever (it didn’t really matter), I savored those divine heart cookies out of the square Tupperware and drank a large glass of cold milk while Val listened and drank her usual: specially made hot cocoa with real chocolate and milk. The comforts of home trump a wilted carnation any day.

Val's Special Hot Cocoa
(Serves One)
1 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon unsweetened Dutch cocoa
1/2 teaspoon sugar

In a small saucepan, heat milk slowly over medium high heat.  (Do not let milk boil!)  In a mug, combine cocoa and sugar until well mixed.  Pour hot milk over cocoa mixture and stir until all cocoa and sugar dissolve.  Enjoy immediately with your favorite "sweet".  (Sweet= cookies, cake, etc.)

Valentine's Day Heart Cookies
(makes 5-6 dozen)
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 3/4 cup flour, plus extra for rolling

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
5-7 tablespoons milk
red food coloring, red hots, sprinkles, etc

To make cookies:
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar.  Add eggs and vanilla, mix well.  In another bowl, combine baking powder and flour.  Add dry ingredients to the butter mixture and combine until smooth.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour or freeze until ready to use.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchment or grease pans.
Roll out a small portion  of dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/8-1/4 inch thickness.  (Leave the rest of the dough in the refrigerator until ready to use.)  Cut out dough using floured cookie cutters.  Place cookies on prepared cookie sheets and bake 8-10 minutes until cookies are just golden on edges.  Remove from baking sheet and cool cookies on wire racks.  Once cookies are completely cooled (about 45 minutes), frost and decorate as desired.

To make frosting:
In a mixing bowl, cream butter until smooth.  Add 1 cup of sugar, and blend together.  Add vanilla and remaining sugar alternating with a tablespoon at a time of milk until desired consistency is met.  (The frosting should not be runny, but also not quite as thick as cake frosting.) Stir in 2-3 drops red food coloring for pink frosting.  Combine until all food coloring is incorporated.  Frost cookies and add red hots and/or sprinkles while frosting is still wet.  Let frosted cookies air dry for at least 4 hours before storing them in an airtight container.