Setters & Spotters

Our son Russell was a bit of a trend setter at his Montessori School. During the winter months he didn’t want to stop wearing his favorite short-sleeved tee shirts so he simply layered them over turtlenecks or long-sleeved tops. More than one mother came up to me came up on the playground during pick up time to moan about how their kid insisted on dressing just like Russell (which given the winters in New England seemed like a good thing so I was unclear what all the moaning was all about). Then there was a “unicorn horn” phase, which is where he made a ponytail from his bangs and give this tuft of hair the illusion of being more horn-like he gloped on copious amounts of hair gel (there were not too many copy cats for that trend). He really knew how to rock the mix and match look as you can see below, I’m sure you’ll agree the dinosaur tie is an inspired addition. My son’s personal style was unique and a perfect reflection of who he was. Sometimes I wished I was as self-assured as he was when it came to wearing clothes.Russells favorite mix and match outfitMy Mom likes to tell me I too had some trendy moments in my youth, though they were more focused on food. Thinking back it seems totally logical. Julia Child had opened culinary doors in the 1960s so that by the time I was a teenager, busily taking every home ec course offered at my high school, all sorts of foods were starting to appear in restaurants, cookbooks, some of the more upscale grocery stores, and on TV. Looking back I realize I wasn’t a trend setter like Russell, but rather a trend spotter. Which makes complete sense since my hyper focus on food and cooking allowed me to know when something new, exciting or different was happening. One of the advantages of middle age is that, much like a five-year-old, you really don’t have to give two figs for what other people think, which leaves you wide open to follow your own path – starting a trend, finding one to follow, or merrily pursuing your own non-trendy path. Your choice.Cauliflower on cutting board Though I have practically no interest in current food trends, it doesn’t mean I don’t pay attention to what they are. In case you were wondering cauliflower is the trendy vegetable of 2017 (bye-bye kale and brussel sprouts). Continue reading

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Dashing Through The Snow

It’s December 31st and I’m pretty sure I won’t be awake when 2017 rolls in.

Which is just fine.

Vintage noisemakers from Caldwell's Miscellaneous Fancy Goods

My strategy this holiday season had been to do as much ahead of time as I could manage, though this strategy backfired somewhat. I was trying to address the Christmas shopping preemptively – finding the perfect thing, then hiding it away. One of the problems with this strategy was that when I started pulling out my various stashes of goodies I found I’d gone rather overboard. I guess I should have kept a list. Plus there were a few things I just know I safely put away but have yet to be found. Apparently my efforts to be organized meant that I had turned into the human equivalent of a squirrel.

Then there were the cookies. It felt like I’d gotten a nice jump-start on making Christmas cookies and baked plenty to last through the holidays. The thing is when you bake lots, and lots, and lots of cookies the question you should be asking yourself is,

“Are there ever enough Christmas cookies?”

Because the answer is no. You may see box upon box of buttery, sugary holiday cheer and think there is a glut, but trust me there isn’t. Nineteen-year-olds, the friends you want to give “a little something” to, the cookie tithe you pay to your sister for borrowing her Kitchen Aide mixer yet another year, and to be perfectly honest your own sassy self – all those factors add up fast. The perceived hoards of cookies disappear quicker than you can say Jack Brownie.

So enough with doing things ahead of time! It’s New Year’s eve and I’m going to live in the moment (or at least try to). Which means I’ll only think about what can get done today. Snow shoveling, a quick trip to the post office and transfer station, then baking up Rick’s Turkey Meatloaf.

Turkey meatloaf dinner

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Afternoon Tea

It’s fall, my favorite time of year. With the glorious blow-out of leaf colors it’s as if Mother Nature wants to give us one last hurrah before we enter the quiet time of late fall which then slides into winter.

Fall in the Pioneer Valley

I’ve loved waking up to misty mornings where you could barely see down the hill or cotton candy sunrises. Loved taking Oliver for walks as the leaves drifted down around us. Well okay, the ticks sucked, and there sure were a lot of them this year, but the leaves have been stupendous. I was even happy to watch the colors dampened down from bright reds and yellows to russets and burnt umbre.

Fall mornings

Fall walks

Fall colors starting to quiet down

The other night there was a frost advisory so I grabbed a flashlight and went out to pick the last of my mint. Bundled and tied, I hung it on a drawer pull to dry a save as a last vestige of summer. Then today it snowed. Seriously. October twenty–seventh. So when better to sip a cup of summer than during a weirdly early snowstorm.

Snow in October

Steeping a cup of home grown mint tea Continue reading

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Easy Italian Plum Cake

Sometimes things don’t have to be complicated.

Like chores. With our youngest going to college locally this semester household chores somehow got into a boondoggle. Then came the chore wheel and the quagmire of who was supposed to do what evaporated as the house settled into a clean (or as clean as we get) routine. I got a chuckle when I realized that every time MOM (i.e. me) was on dump duty or bathroom cleaning I was WOW. I love the fact that being upside down makes me wow!

Chore wheel

Another thing that isn’t too complicated is getting our dog Oliver to come back into the house after chasing bunny rabbits. Just open the back door and yell, “Steak” and he comes dashing. It works because he is a very clever Jack Russell Terrier, who has a formidable understanding of the english language. So much so that we’ve gotten into the habit of spelling, rather than saying, certain words. A friend cautioned us against making him food-centric, but I’ve found it very helpful over the years, especially owning a breed of dog who thinks about whether or not he wants to obey. Plus it costs us nothing. I simply cut up the scraps leftover from any meat dinner we have and pop those morsels into a bag we store in the freezer. Oliver knows he’ll get a frozen tidbit if he comes running at the “S” word.

Oliver coming home for steak

This week I was tickled to come across the most un-complicated cake ever. One of those oh so simple recipes that I somehow missed when Marian Burros first published it in the NYT thirty plus years ago, but which thankfully circled around and around, ultimately finding me again through a news feed. If you have the ingredients on hand you can pop it into the oven in less than ten minutes. An hour later you have the perfect Friday afternoon plum tea cake. Which can then morph into Saturday morning breakfast before you head out to the Farmer’s Market. Or turn into a late night snack as you finish your homework.

Fresh out of the oven italian plum cake Continue reading

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Baking Up Some Happy Mail

It’s blueberry season and all I want to do is bake a pie. But I can’t.

Bowl of summer blueberries

Not because it’s too hot to bake, I just don’t want to heat it up to 350º (or 375º or 400º) since a stupid mouse wiggled its way into my stove, couldn’t wiggle back out, and died! I have taken the stove as apart as I am capable of, but cannot find the darn carcass. Since a service call would probably cost more than the stove is worth I’m trying to figure out what my options are. Trust me when I say roasted mouse is not an enjoyable aroma.

So instead of baking up some of summer’s bounty I’ve been making a load of non-baked happy mail. It requires a glue gun, but no oven. The genius behind these mailable treats is Sandra Denneler over at sheknows, and so far this summer I’ve made a whole bunch of popsicle postcards, ice-cream sandwich postcards and one fabulous watermelon mailing package. Basically I’d say just follow the links to Sandra’s instructions and you should be fine. My tweaks to her “recipes” are below.

Cool Summer Happy Mail

Popsicle postcard happy mail Continue reading

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Twisting Together – Blueberry Corn Muffins

It started with a dry wall screw in my tire.

The cause of my low tire pressure warning light

Actually let me back up. This recipe really started with me getting in my car the other day to go grocery shopping then seeing a light on the dashboard I hadn’t seen before. Some weird symbol I had to flip through my owner’s manual to figure out – which turned out to mean low tire pressure. And even though my car is computer enough to tell me that salient fact, it isn’t clever enough to tell me which tire. So I drove to the grocery store via our favorite garage – Fisher’s. They were able to figure out which tire it was, and my mechanic Jeff was able to take care of it right away, but he needed 20-30 minutes.

low tire pressure light

So I trotted across the street to Jerry’s Place, another South Deerfield institution and ordered a grilled blueberry muffin. They split a blueberry muffin in half, slather it with butter, grill it till it’s crispy golden, then top off with more butter and pop it on a plate. You can watch the butter melt into the hot muffin and know, just know, that it will be delicious. Which it was. However as I sat there nibbling bites of my muffin I thought of how I could ramp up this concept. Add a little more tooth to it.

Blueberry corn muffins for breakfast

Which is when Davis Bates came to mind. Bates is a brilliant storyteller who the kids and I would often go to see at various events, most often libraries, where he was performing. We bought his cassette tape to listen to on car rides (and what trip isn’t a car ride when you live in Whately?) and we listened and listened and listened to that tape so much and so often we finally wore it out. His stories are wonderful; and Russell, Isabelle and I could, and probably still can, speak his monologues right along with him. So what I recalled as I sat there munching on my blueberry muffin was Davis & Gramp Bates eating corn muffins up in Maine.

“I liked going for walks with my grandfather. Sometimes we’d get up early in the morning, before my parents were awake, and we’d walk down to Gilbert Brother’s Wharf and have some muffins. Corn muffins or bran muffins. Gramp would have a cup of coffee. Then we’d come back and have breakfast.”

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Keeping Things Cool

My sister is a very wise person. She is kind and funny and thoughtful and tries hard to live her life in a way which honors and celebrates all of those things. A few summers ago she taught me about this person who lives inside of me. Her name is Judy Judger. Judy is not kind, in fact I’d say she’s the queen of snark. Judy pops out especially when I am in someone else’s kitchen or home and she whispers things to me like, “Can you believe these people don’t have any books in their house? That’s just creepy, a house with no books.” Or she’ll snicker, “Oh my gosh, look at this kitchen they don’t even have a _______. How are you supposed to make meals without a ______?” Yeah, Judy is a bee-otch with a capital B.

Ever since Heather made me aware of Judy Judger I’ve kept a close eye on her. She is not to be trusted. That said, sometimes the things Judy says are frankly the bald, honest truth. And I find myself wanting to listen, wanting to voice her comments out loud. Bad Judy. Bad, bad Judy.

Since I’ve been paid to cook since I was 13 and I fell in love with cooking long before that,  it is safe to say I’ve been in a lot of kitchens, more than most people. Everyone sets them up differently and has a different definition of what is essential. There actually are a few items which it’s hard to do without. A knife, a large pot, a sauté pan. I could go on, and while it would perhaps be interesting to see what my list of essentials are, especially with two kids who will soon graduate from college and be setting up their own apartments, today’s post is not about the full list rather focusing on one of the items on said list. Below there are a few links to some food writers listing what they consider essential and I invite you to take a look.

Cooling almond clementine cake

Anyhoo, this past weekend I was out of town and I thought I’d make my niece and nephews an Easter surprise, which would then be waiting for them in the freezer the next time they visited the apartment I stayed in. I brought all the ingredients, including a cake pan and parchment paper. What I didn’t think to pack, since I figured everyone had one, was a cooling rack. Queue Judy. “What the heck! How does a kitchen not have a cooling rack?” she snipped in my ear as I rummaged through every cupboard sure there had to be one somewhere. Apparently to some folks a wire cooling rack is not an essential item. Continue reading

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