Monday, December 30, 2013

Miracle on Libbit Avenue

In the days leading up to Christmas, the volume of visits from representatives of the United States Postal Service* goes way up everywhere, not just in New York City courtrooms.

Thanks to the Post Office, and my wonderful cousin Janet, we had a little miracle on Libbit Avenue this year.

A lost recipe from Mom. Not just any recipe, but one that tastes exactly like Christmas.

Turned out, I had everything I needed in the cupboard**.  I doubled the recipe, diligently following her handwritten notes on the back***.  As the bars were baking, the house began filling with the unmistakable scent of warm cinnamon and spice.  Now thoroughly in the mood to tackle a task I'd been putting off for far too long, I finally pulled the holiday boxes out of the garage to start decorating.

Mom's Christmas Stocking

And there she was.

Almost like the cane left in the doorway at the end of my favorite Christmas movie of all time.  I honestly didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so I did both.

Mince Bars | Cheesy Pennies

I hope your holiday was full of warm, spicy, heartstring-tugging miracles, too.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Charlie Browniest Time of Year - Part II (with Brownies!)

Yep. Walmart and Target were open on Thanksgiving Day this year.  I just read an article about a Toys 'R Us store in Times Square that is going to stay open for 586 hours straight so people can buy toys every single minute from now until Christmas. I cannot click anywhere on the web without running into glossy, adjective-laden gift guides featuring the "must have" items for each and every person I have ever had even a passing acquaintance with. Amazon wants me to know they deliver on Sundays, and that time is running out.   Fortunately, I'm going to be saving Big Bucks, thanks to all the one-day sales, 4 hour sales, lightning deals and first-come-first-served, once in a lifetime bargains out there.

It's literally insane, this frenzy.  It's like nobody even pays attention to old Christmas specials anymore.

In the spirit of the Whos, and in case you are panicking a little and don't live near that Toys 'R Us in Manhattan, I thought I'd share some alternative ideas for Christmas giving.  I've been on both ends of all of these on one Christmas morning or another, and love them.*

1.  Treat to something they'd normally do for themselves.  Call the place down the street where Mom escapes for a manicure, does yoga, or gets her hair done, and arrange to chip in for the next one.  If your daughter stops at Starbucks every day on the way home from school, pick up the tab for the week.  Fill a tank with gas and get your teenager's car washed.  You get the idea.  It shows you notice, and want to take one little thing off their list.  My sister does this for me, and now I do it for her.  I literally feel like a fairy godmother, and it's so easy.

2.  Spring for tickets. It's like magic, seeing someone open a stocking or a box and finding seats to a concert, a play, a basketball game, or even a pair of movie tickets and popcorn money.  You are giving not only the actual experience, but the anticipation of the event, and the planning and the hoping and the talking about it after and all those photos on Instagram.  Plus, tickets take up zero space in anyone's room, and you don't have to take them to Goodwill a few months later.

3. Take them away.  Book a room in town and whisk your spouse away for the night.  Send your son on a flight to see Grandpa, or your daughter to see a friend that moved to a new city.  Wrap up a travel poster from a vacation spot you have in mind for Spring Break and put it under the tree.   Sign up for a scavenger hunt or walking tour around town as a family.  You might wind up with a little souvenir clutter afterward, but its a small price to pay for that break in routine.

4. Classes.  Find one that will kindle an interest, or feed a passion. There are baking classes, wine-tasting evenings, photography workshops, guitar lessons, trapeze instruction, beer-making, cheese-making, getting scuba certified, surfing camp, improv lessons, Drivers Ed (yikes!)'s kind of incredible how many options there are.  The trick is not to imply that the classes are actually needed:  e.g. "Your pot roasts suck, so I'm getting you cooking lessons."  Tread carefully.

5.  Upgrade something worn or replace something lost.  Find a jacket just like one that was lost and sorely missed.  Get new running shoes so the ones with the lopsided heel can be retired, a wallet to replace the one that is fraying around the edges, or a favorite pair of jeans in the next size for a kid who is sprouting like a weed.   Can be as small as keychain or as large as, say, a Sub Zero refrigerator. Hint. Hint.

Above all, use the person you are buying for as the gift guide, not some magazine or website**.  You know what will make them happy.  Put a whimsical colored spatula in a chef's stocking. Get a jersey from a favorite sports star, or frame a picture they made in school and hang it up. Pick up the next book in a favorite series, or the missing quarter from their 50 state collection.  Send a funny e-card. Donate a rabbit in their name. Take a girlfriend out to lunch, buy her a glass of wine and just listen for an hour.  It might be the most perfect gift they've ever received, and it might not. But they'll love it anyway, because you took the time to think about them, and it shows.

If you do want some kind of insurance policy though, you might want to make them these brownies.

Amaretto Brownies with a Cream Cheese Swirl

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Charlie Browniest Time of Year - Part I


"There must be something wrong with me, Linus.  Christmas is coming, but I'm not happy.  I just don't feel like I'm supposed to feel." 

It's not just you, Charlie Brown, believe me.  Every day the calendar* creeps closer to December 25 makes it 15 minutes harder to get up in the morning, and hours harder to climb into bed at night. I could easily be completely wiped out by Thursday.

I don't think I will be.  Because I have people around me with blue blankets** and many moments during these long stressful days that do give me that good Christmas feeling.

The one I'm supposed to feel.

There was a charity pop-up bakery this weekend that completely fit my mood.  

Almond, Pecan and Cacoa Nib Brittles | Cheesy Pennies

Walking in with my contribution was one of the good moments***.   Not a cure, by any means.  Just a really, really nice break.

Bacon, Rosemary and Cacoa Brittles | Cheesy Pennies

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Handle with Care

These are The Traveling Wilburys.  They contain George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, and Roy Orbison.

These are The Traveling Cookies.  They contain butter, sugar and pecans.

As long as you pack them well, they're good to go pretty much anywhere by USPS, and arrive as delicious as the day they left.  No special handling required.

Plus, unlike the Wilburys, they'll definitely stay together*.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

You don't even need the cocktail part

Shriveled up baby sausages floating in warm barbecue sauce from a jar?

But, add a jaunty frilled toothpick, and call 'em Cocktail Weenies?

Now they are adorable, slightly naughty, and imply I will soon be having a frosty martini.

That's the power of marketing**.

These delectable, sweet-savory cookies, on the other hand, did not even need to be called Cocktail Shortbread. They could have been called Shriveled Up Baby Sausages in Warm Barbecue Sauce From a Jar with A Side of Tepid Tap Water and the stack would still have flown off the tray.  They are that delicious.

The implied frosty martini is just a lovely bonus.

Rosemary Raisin Shortbread - Close Up

Thursday, November 28, 2013

It's not about the food after all

The turkey comes out dry as a bone.  The mashed potatoes are suspiciously lumpy, in solidarity with the gravy.  You have too little sparkling apple cider and way too many vegetables*.  Someone at the table hates onions, and you spent an hour caramelizing an entire skillet full of them. The stuffing needs more salt and something else you can't put a finger on. The pie is distinctly dark brown on one side.  Plus, to add insult to injury, the cream won't whip properly and is runny as all get out.

It doesn't matter.

Because this happens.

And you can't imagine a more perfect Thanksgiving.

Grateful beyond words for all the lumps and the leaps today.

* You should be so lucky as to have too many of these brussels sprouts.  They are incredible.

Grilling 'em? Genius!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Double Rainbow from a can (with a side of grilled cheese)

When the sky looks like this:

The ground looks like this:

And you feel like this:

Give yourself a break.  Stop stressing about work and Thanksgiving and whether you remembered to clean the gutters in time for the storm.*

Pop open a couple of these cans of sunshine:

And enjoy this:

It's like a rainbow, I'm telling you.
It's that good.

P.S. This trick also comes in handy on snowy days, sleet-y days, foggy days, freezing days, and all the days when a bunch of crappy stuff happened and nothing but a crispy, gooey, buttery grilled cheese sandwich with warm, smokey tomato soup will do.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Are those real chocolate covered cherries?

That line comes at the end of this wonderful scene in Tootsie.

Teri Garr points an accusing finger at the lying Michael, says the line, then grabs the box of cherries and stalks out, slamming the door.

I won't lie.
Unlike Sandy, I don't like chocolate covered cherries.
But I'm crazy about this chocolate cherry fudge cake.

Here is the big reveal scene in the movie:

Here is the big reveal scene of this post:

That's how you make it.  The cake is completely, ridiculously easy.

Michael Dorsey would probably have found a way to complicate things:

Michael Dorsey: Are you saying that nobody in New York will work with me?
George Fields: No, no, that's too limited... nobody in Hollywood wants to work with you either. I can't even set you up for a commercial. You played a *tomato* for 30 seconds - they went a half a day over schedule because you wouldn't sit down.
Michael Dorsey: Of course. It was illogical.
George Fields: YOU WERE A TOMATO. A tomato doesn't have logic. A tomato can't move. Michael Dorsey: That's what I said. So if he can't move, how's he gonna sit down, George? I was a stand-up tomato: a juicy, sexy, beefsteak tomato. Nobody does vegetables like me. I did an evening of vegetables off-Broadway. I did the best tomato, the best cucumber... I did an endive salad that knocked the critics on their ass.

Critics. Agents. Men being women.

This cake could knock all of them on their ass.  

Monday, November 4, 2013

I had the extra hour, so...

I went to the farmers' market and got a pile of organic fruit and vegetables.

And, then I made fruit-flavored candy.

Look, the time changed. I didn't.

Apple Cider Caramels
The basic idea here: Concentrate fresh cider into the most flavorful sweet-tart-apple-y syrup stuff you can imagine.  OMG already, right?  Then, add butter and sugar and cream.  And, because it's exactly what these need to be perfect, just top that off with a little cinnamon and flaky sea salt.  These chewy, intense little bites of Fall are rich and tangy and sweet and salty all at the same time and I loved them.

I'm not going to post the recipe, because I simply followed the original, from Deb of SmittenKitchen, to a tee without adapting a thing.  It is available online here and also in her wonderful cookbook*.  The most important two things about making these are to let the apple cider really boil down (mine took nearly an hour), and to let the caramel cook to the firm ball stage  (about 250 degrees) so the candy will have that perfect soft caramel texture.

* The reminder to give these a try came from a lovely recent post over on Annie's Eats. (I used a few of my extra minutes to browse the web, too.)  She actually baked her version of Deb's caramels into brown butter sugar cookies.  Damn.  If only I had another 30 minutes....

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Next year, I'm going as Denny's

Hope you had a wonderful, charred potato-free, Halloween.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Sliced bread did not make the cut either

The Atlantic just published a list of The 50 Greatest Breakthroughs Since the Wheel*.

On it:
Paper (#6)
Refrigeration  (#13)
The automobile (#18)
Anesthesia (#46)
Alphabetization (#25)
The pill (#20)
The Internet (#9)

Not on it:
Pumpkin Spice Lattes from Starbucks**

So just calm the f#%$ down, people.

It is OK, though, to get a little happy about this (Pumpkin) Spiced Brown Butter Cookie Brittle.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Falling Back

Here's the thing about blogging, at least the way I do it.  I cook something, and then I write about it after we eat it*.   Days, weeks, or even months pass between consumption and posting, because honestly, that's just how s@#$ goes around here.

The problem with this system** for the reader***  is that there can be a bit of a timing issue. For example, last year I posted the recipes for a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner shortly before Christmas.  I have been known to suggest making eggnog scones when the aisles of the grocery store are full of frilly red boxes of chocolate.  And recently, I dangled tantalizing images of heirloom tomato pies just in time for people to head out to their local U-Pick apple orchard.

As Charlie Brown**** would say, "Argh!"

I think about this sometimes and despair.  Like today. I was driving through vast stretches of the midwest admiring the spectacular foliage while having a mild panic attack about the fact that daylight savings time is ending soon and I'm still grappling with a post about summer corn salad.  Then, it hit me.

I could truly fall back.
As in, resurrect some autumn favorites from the archives, and share them ahead of time*****.

Good grief, Charlie Brown! Why didn't I think of this sooner?******

Sunday, October 20, 2013

I'll turn it in later for partial credit

I gave myself an assignment to post about this*:

But then I came home and found this:

Sigh.  The damn dog actually ate my homework.

* A gluten-free version of my Sugar and Spice Pumpkin Bread with a Pecan Glaze.  I'm pretty sure it was good, but only the furball can say for sure.  I'll have to make it again later this week, taste it real quick, then let you know.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Slumber Party

I just got back from a slumber party with my girlfriends*.

The view from our slumber party locale

Aside from the improved scenery, things have definitely changed since I was my daughter's age.

What we ate then:

Potato chips
Cupcakes with sprinkles
Candy that makes your tongue turn blue and/or red, preferably in powder form from a stick
Bubble Yum, all flavors
More soda, even though mom really wanted you to stop jumping around and go to sleep
Jiffy Pop popcorn, burnt on one side where the foil got too hot
Stacks of pancakes, bacon, sausages and extra syrup the morning after

What we ate now:

Oreccehiette pasta with kale and lean chicken sausage
Carrot sticks and raw peppers
Blue cheese, salami and rosemary crackers
Fennel soup
Butter lettuce salad with shallot vinaigrette
Burrata burgers with heirloom tomatoes and pesto
8 bottles of chardonnay
2 bottles of pinot noir
2 six packs of beer
Half a bottle of gin
Dark chocolate covered marshmallows**
Several rounds of cocktails with names like "The Recovery" and "The Reef"
Strong, strong coffee the morning after

The aforementioned burrata burger

But a lot of things hadn't changed at all.

There was an inordinate amount of giggling, inappropriate language, and gossip. Grown-ups shushed us, and at one point during lunch we all had to hide our faces, dying of a combination of embarrassment and hysterics. We talked about boys we liked***, danced around in our pajamas, watched videos, and played games.  Somebody snuck a cigarette. Plans for the weekend and the rest of our lives were given serious consideration and debate. We stayed up way past our bedtimes****, wore sweatpants and fuzzy socks, and made fart jokes. And when it was time to leave, we couldn't believe how fast the time had gone.

Don't get me wrong. I loved a good slumber party when I was a kid. But I have to say, the adult version is a gazillion times better.

And tastier.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Possibly over-reacting

Him:  Hey, Mom, I need your credit card so I can pay for my college applications.

I may have also threatened to impale myself on these skewers.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Koyaanisqatsi incarnate

In the Hopi language, the word Koyaanisqatsi means "unbalanced life"*.

I'm pretty sure some time-travelling Hopi shaman followed me around for the month of September, went back home, gathered the village up to tell them of his terrible visions, and, after the children stopped crying, decided to pray.

Shaman: "Oh, Spirit of the Sun!  Let us never, ever, work so damn much that we cannot type up a recipe and put it on the Internet!"

Sun Spirit: "For sure, my son. That existence doth suck** and shall make you fat and grumpy.  Here is a word with a lot of vowels and a Q with no U.  Say it in pity for that poor woman, six times slowly and portentously, in a really deep voice.  I'm talking rumbling, auto-tune deep here, understand? Now go in peace, with my blessing."

Then all was right again with the great Hopi nation.

If it worked for them, it can work for me. I am going to grab a kachina doll***, rumble a little, and try to get my life back into balance.

Starting with this recipe I typed up to put on the Internet.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Best in Show

I would like Jane Lynch to play me in the movie please.

From the LA Times

That's right. 

The latest sequel to The Marvelous Misadventures of the Fabulous Baker Girls (and the lesser known but no less heartbreaking Scientific Method of Pie, and If at First You Don't Succeed, Pie, Pie Again) has an incredible surprise ending*.

This pie...


Plus it was the winner of Best Fruit Pie and Best Crust!

I'm speechless with happiness**.  And really full of pie. 

Here's a slideshow from the event, before the unexpected plot twist *** left me with my mouth hanging open in front of all those people and my camera stuck in the bottom of my bag.  

Thursday, August 15, 2013

New to Coffee



Let's just say that having coffee worked out way better for our steak than it did for Will Farrell*.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

I put an extra pluot on the barbie for you

And some pound cake, too.
Let's just say it was a very good day, mate.

I totally remember watching this on TV, partially because everyone kind of wants to go to Australia and see koalas, but mostly because we couldn't skip the commercials.  I mention this to the kids --- minds BLOWN!

Thursday, August 1, 2013


21 years and counting.


* Why I am not really allowed to use hashtags.  Per the kid on the left, "Mom, it's just embarrassing." #teenagersareannoying.  #amIright?