Saturday, December 28, 2013


What a year! A wedding. A divorce. Selling a home. Buying a home. Losing one life style. Nurturing a new one.  Saying goodbye. Saying hello. Dark nights. Bright mornings. A roller coaster ride to be sure! 

In my late 50's and thinking that I had mastered the art of living with enough experience to pass it forward, I blinked... and life turned me into a student. And its most important lesson was that all of us have within the ability to be stronger than we think. So, I am standing here to tell you, if your resolve is tested, and you find a door closing, find an open window...and climb through!

And in the multitude of changes of these past 12 months, there are two defining, breath-taking moments I'll keep with me always. Actual times when there was a catch in my breathing pattern. One, was observing my oldest son's expression as he watched the love of his life walk toward him on their wedding day in June. The blue sky, sandy beach, the salty air added to the perfectness of this life changing moment. For both of us.

The other was observing the pride on my youngest son's face as he closed and latched the door on a rented moving truck and headed to settlement on his new home. Our addresses separate for the first time in his life. And in mine. Knowing I too was packing, he hugged me and said "Let's do this Mom!" And so I did! A few months later, I sold a home at 11:00 in the morning and bought a home at 3:30 in the afternoon!

In 2013 I was "schooled" as the kids would say. I did things I never thought I could do. I learned things I never thought I needed to know. Yes, I made some mistakes. But I also made some gains. And along the way I even picked up some tidbits to pass forward: 
  1. Know when you're about to fly solo, and being conscience of a budget, while packing the contents of a four bedroom colonial to move, the size of the moving truck is not the place to economize.
  2. When you're standing in your new home, surrounded by boxes of pictures, clothes, dishes and's on you. So don't hesitate to pull in every favor that is owed!
  3. And since you will never know when you will need them, stay in good standing with your family. They will make the difference. Trust me here.
  4. There are only one or two things you can't do without a man, but there is almost nothing you can't do without quality duct tape!
  5. When you're full of yourself after taking carpentry courses at Home Depot to fix up your new place, remember there is a difference between masonry drill bits and those used on wood. Remember this before you leave the store and go home to put on sweat pants...which don't flatter anyone.  
  6. It is a real joy to select all the paint colors for your new home without compromising with someone else's preference. To stand with paint chips in your hand and say "I'll take this one and this one..." is exhilarating. BUT only buy a quality product that already has primer in it. You don't want to have to paint twice! (This one should be highlighted)!
  7. When you are picking your lifelong friends, select a couple tall ones. They come in handy when scraping wallpaper.  
  8. ...But be careful of their choice of beverage.You're the new kid in town. The contents of your recycle can will be judged.
  9. And remember, no matter how tired you are, the car key remote will not turn off the TV, so don't ignore the horn blowing outside.
  10. You have to go through a divorce to really appreciate country music.
  11. Most important, if you don't already know how, learn to pray. It always gives you someone to talk to when your alone. And the results are amazing.
I entered 2013, knowing major changes were ahead and completely apprehensive as to what they would bring. I enter 2014 living in a home that I love with an independent lifestyle that I am embracing. A sidebar to this whole New Year's thing is that January 1 is my birthday. A date, in spite of its personal significance to me, I usually hate because it brings an official end to the holiday season. But this year, for some strange reason, I am eager to put away the decorations. Eager to throw out the eggnog and that strange cheese ball thing. This birthday girl will be looking toward the sky and waiting the ball to drop! (Just please, 2014, don't let it be on my head.)

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Unexpected Gift...

If I've learned anything worth remembering in the last year, it's that as long as you keep one foot moving forward, you're going in the right direction. But the real trick isn't just to keep moving, it's not to lose sight of the important things your peripheral vision is trying to provide when you're working so hard to to stay focused. I almost did that recently. Allow me to explain.

I started the Kitchen Clatter blog a little over two years ago when my life was a world away from where it is now. My original premise was that in almost every home life is lived in the kitchen and I wanted to share the stories, recipes, the laughter and warmth that my family and friends created in mine. I started it in April, 2011 and quickly became stunned by the amount of readers the blog was attracting. So the family stories and recipes continued weekly, and all was good. Until it wasn't.

The thousands of people who read Kitchen Clatter each week know that a sudden divorce changed my personal landscape. No need to rehash everything, but needless to say, writing funny, family stories became somewhat of a challenge. At the time, my kitchen went from being the place that everyone wanted to hang out in, to the place no one wanted to be. It was a death zone. And I had to decide whether or not to end the blog or adapt it to accommodate a journey. I'm so glad I decided on the latter.

The best thing, the very best thing, that this blog has done was to force me into the world of social media. You can't promote your product (a term I learned from social media) without getting people to share it, to talk about it, to connect with it. Enter Twitter and Facebook. I now have a host of friends, people I can confide in, at times, commiserate with, discuss world events with, always laugh with, and on occasion, cry with. People I have never even met in person have become my soul mates. In spite of efforts to always present myself as a woman of strength to those around me, even now, I'm not immuned to waking in the middle of the night wondering what happened to my world. Then, somewhere, someone who is willing to listen, is always just a keystroke away. And it never ceases to amaze me.

And then there are the readers...they came to me, supported me, stayed with me. Most not comfortable with leaving comments on the blog site for the public to see, emailed me to explain how a particular story resonated with them in one way or another. Oddly enough, readership doubled when I finally admitted online that my 40 year marriage collapsed. Surviving an all too common situation had somehow bonded us. And I am grateful for each and every one of them.

Now, with all this going on; writing, blogging, holiday decorating, shopping, hanging with family and friends, I almost lost it all! Short lesson needed here. Blog domains (web sites)  must be renewed each year, usually automatically, with the fee coming from your registered bank account with your host. Before the divorce, I changed my accounts. Never thinking of the renewal until Goggle emailed me that the site had been suspended. I froze. I panicked. I couldn't find a way to fix it.

Because of the collapse earlier this year of my email accounts after moving into the new home, there was no way to recover the information needed to renew the domain. No way, that is, without a Goggle expert named Oliver who called me and spent hours getting Kitchen Clatter back online. I couldn't have done it without him. We actually became quite friendly after two days of working together. And I couldn't help but laugh when he ended the conversation with a reference to a recipe in the blog by stating, "By the way, my wife is making the ricotta cookies." Boom! I loved it.

So it's back! Kitchen Clatter is renewed and secured for another year. I did lose a few emails in the interim however, one especially that tugs at my heart because I no longer have the address to respond to. So to the solider in Afghanistan, who emailed me to say that the blog about my Aunt Lee had encouraged her to get passed an argument and call an aunt that she hadn't spoken to in years, I am beyond thrilled that you made that call. You, and the many others who have taken the time to tell me how Kitchen Clatter has effected your lives, is a gift I never saw coming. I honestly don't think I could have gotten through the last year without all of you dropping by my virtual kitchen to lend support.

"Ding, ding, ding"
The journey has led me miles away from where I was this time last year! My kitchen, where cooking and hosting have also been renewed, is wide open! I even danced to "What does the fox say?" with my nephew and niece this past Thanksgiving as I was preparing dinner for my family!

I am home. And there are so many more stories and recipes to share! Please take a few moments each week to pull a chair up to the table. We need to talk!

Photos by ImageGoggle and Betty Shepard

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Aunt Lee...The Christmas Cookie Queen

It seems every family has one. Most times they’re called matriarchs, sometimes they’re called divas. My Aunt Lee was both the family matriarch and a kitchen diva, loved by all who would tread softly in her court. Her passion was baking. Blueberry pies in the summer, Jewish apple cake in the fall. Cakes and pastries for her ladies club. At Halloween, she would gather the kids in the neighborhood to bake cookies. This was a trade off so they would know not to trick or treat at her house since a bad hip made it hard for her to get up and down. 

But come Christmas, oh baby, the flour would fly like snow! Starting in early November, sprinkles, silver balls, maraschino cherries, pineapple preserves, chocolate buds, sugared stars and anise were among the many ingredients spread out on the counter next to the butter, flour and sugar. Cookie sheets were lined on the table next to an old metal cookie press and Pizzelle maker. We all had our favorites, but tops on everyone's list was Aunt Lee's Ricotta cookies, Soft, sweet and cheesy, these tasteful delights were baked and sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Each day, in the early winter morning hours, she would start her annual ritual of making the dough. And here is where the mystery started... Aunt Lee's cookies were wonderful, flavorful, fragrant, and well, simply delicious. But like most of her recipes, she wasn't too keen on sharing her secrets. "Oh, a little of this, and a little of that. It's hard to say." she would respond when pressed for details. It was her "thing" and gave her much pleasure. Once baked and decorated, the tasty morsels were placed between layers of wax paper and stored in tin containers till ready to present. And presentation was a big deal with her. If you were on her cookie "receiving" list, your tray would come wrapped tightly with sprigs of fresh greens on top, tied with with seasonal ribbons.

And while the cookies were in her oven, you could be sure that chicken soup was on the stove. It was the one demand that her many nieces would insist on when we stopped by. Her and my uncle had built a house, by themselves, from the ground up in the Pine Barrens, near the Jersey shore. When the house was being built, much "cousin fun" was experienced.Sleeping bags lined on the floor in front of the fireplace on winter weekends. Legendary muck fights in the lake during the summer. 

A brief history of her legacy is that Aunt Lee (whose real name was Angelina - a name she detested) was my mother's oldest sister. She had one son and no daughters. When my mother passed away at the very young age of 39, Aunt Lee kept me, my sister Betty, my youngest brother Tom, and to be truthful, most of my cousins, under her wing on weekends and summers. But never close enough to see what she was actually doing in the kitchen. Which she felt was her prerogative....of which she had many. She ruled, we eagerly followed, and all was right in her world.

Aunt Lee was a loving and strong women who also fought Crohn's disease for years. The irony here was that this nasty gastronomical affliction often prevented her from tasting many of the wonderful things she made. Its punishment on the body often put her in the hospital where her age and weakened condition would cause us to fear the worst time and time again. On one such occasion, my sister and I were summoned by my uncle to visit her bedside as she seemed to be getting worse. We were standing around her bed quietly as she lied sleeping, when Betty leaned over and whispered "Aunt Lee, how did you make the gnocchi's?" Everyone knew about her unwillingness to share her best recipes, and I believe my sister was just trying to lighten the mood a little...but instead, Aunt Lee opened her eyes for the first time in days. She turned to glare at my sister as if to say "I'm not dying today!" The probing of the ever-light gnocchi's recipe resurrected her. That was nine years before she actually passed...and not the only time we were summoned to her bedside. This lady had nine lives!

I was blessed to have Aunt Lee spend her last several Christmases at my home. She lived about an hour away and would drive up to spend the holiday. Her trunk filled with cookie trays and tins that she would deliver to relatives as I drove her around. What most people don't know is that one tray always went to a women's shelter. "For the kids", she would say. "No one needs to know" and I never mentioned it, until today.

When finished, she would treat me to lunch and a little last minute shopping. It was always a good day. She would also bring some cookie dough to my house so we could decorate and bake them together and so the kitchen "would smell  like Christmas". (Never actually making the dough used for most of her cookies at my house, although under cousins orders, I tried each time to get the recipe). On Christmas Eve, my Uncle Andy, her youngest brother, would pick her up and take her to Mass. A venture she eagerly awaited each year. I can so clearly see her sitting on my couch, dressed and waiting for him. 

As she got older and more frail, making the hour drive to my house became too much. It was then that I started picking her up so she wouldn't be alone during the holidays. When I got to her house, spread across the kitchen were cookie trays filled with Biscotti, pineapple squares, butter and ricotta cookies, spritzes, and homemade chocolate truffles, her new passion to make. I would carry some trays to the neighbors and put the rest in my trunk just as she had for years. 

It's been a few years since I had to make that trip and I miss her each holiday season. I think of her often as I bake my own Christmas cookies these days. I don't have her recipes, (although the internet has helped me to figure a few out), but the first year without her was when I realized how she had been leaving her decorative tins behind when she went home. I now have most of them. 

Another reminder is that at her last Christmas with me, she brought a large wagon table ornament that she had bought the first year she was married - over 60 years ago. It's heavy iron wheels made it hard for her to carry into the house, so she handed me the bag as we unloaded her trunk. "I got this at Strawbridges in the city the first year Uncle Al and I were married, I want you to have it now." I adore it. 

Since so much of Christmas is about the memories it creates, it would be hard not to write about her during this season. I am sure that at least one memory of her will be in the mind of my Uncles, Aunts and cousins this holiday. Below, is a ricotta cookie recipe that most closely resembles what I remember as the decadent creation that came from her kitchen.  It took me a long time to find a recipe that equals hers...almost.

To all of the "Aunt Lee's" in the world, a Very Merry Christmas!

Ricotta Cookies
1/2 lb. butter -- 1 3/4 cups white sugar -- 2 eggs -- 15-ounce ricotta cheese -- 2 Tbsp. vanilla extract -- 4 cups all-purpose flour -- 1 tsp. baking powder -- 1 tsp. baking soda.
Preheat oven to 350. In a med. bowl, cream together butter, white sugar, eggs, ricotta cheese & vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder & baking soda, blend into the creamed mixture, mixing in additional flour as necessary to form a workable dough. Roll dough into teaspoon- sized balls & arrange on a ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 min. or until lightly browned. When slightly cooled, sprinkle with powdered sugar. 

Or - if glaze is preferred add:
5 Tbls milk
1.5 cups confectionery sugar
1 tsp. almond extract

In a medium bowl, beat milk, confectioners' sugar, and almond extract until smooth. Spoon over warm cookies, and sprinkle with colored candy sprinkles.

Photos courtesy of Jason Sowders and Jo Ann Phelps

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Magic in Dark Decembers...

"The woods are lovely dark and deep"
The days are shorter, for sure. A few weeks away from the Winter Solstice, we are reminded daily now that we have entered the dark pages of the calendar. But this weekend, I was reminded how all of us will seek a way to find the light in winter by a simple post on Facebook. I was looking to change my "cover" photo from a Thanksgiving theme to a Christmas theme when I stumbled upon a picture that captivated me...and 200 others.

Deep within the snowy woods stood a fully lit tree illuminating its surroundings. With snow covering the ground, there's no sign of where the lighting wires lead to, but its placement there speaks volumes. Each colored light reaches within our souls and rescues hope from the darkness that is often buried beneath our struggles.

Now, social media can be a great measurement of how people that you know, and people you have never met, are feeling. And in the four years that I have been posting photos, I have never had one that stirred so much emotion, or was "shared" on both Facebook and Twitter as much as this one little picture. One tweet that came back to me said "holidays depress me but that picture made me smile. #warmth". On Facebook, a friend who had taken a sleigh ride in Vermont with her husband and actually came upon a decorated tree in the woods, shared the photo and posted "It was the most magical experience!" I can only imagine!

But one tweet I received absolutely hit close to home. "I can't help but wonder, what would Robert Frost think if his horse stopped here?" Of course! "Stopping in the woods on a snowy evening" is by far my favorite poem. His words perfectly captured the elegance of a snowfall deep within the woods witnessed by someone most likely both tired and cold but humbled by the wonder of his surroundings. And he pays homage.

Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   
My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   
He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.
Robert Frost

   This poem is my quiet place. It's an image I call on when I'm stressed or overwhelmed. Although, this time it took a stranger on twitter to point out what drew me to this photo of a Christmas tree deep in the woods on a snowy evening. It's a reminder, that as we attempt to cram so much into the short days of December, we take a moment to sit back and quietly breath it all in. We all have "many miles to go" before we sleep. But please make a moment to find that "the woods are lovely, dark and deep."

Photo by ImageGoggle

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Battle of the Turkeys...Roasted, Deep Fried or Both!

Promise! A very moist turkey!
I don't remember how or even when it started. As my sons grew older, I do remember a year when I noticed a bottle of hot sauce on the dinning room table. Since our table is where the family Thanksgiving is celebrated, it is often rather long with anywhere from 16 to 23 people seated around it. So, even as the head chef at this festivity, it wouldn't be unusual for me not to know everything that is going on at the other end. (Since this end has been deemed "the cousins" table, I have been assured that it is best I don't know.) Any way, About 13 years ago, I asked to have the big bowl of stuffing passed forward... and there it was, a bottle of Franks Hot Sauce hiding behind it.

Always cook outdoors!
The explanation was simple. Since neither one of my sons were real turkey fans, they thought the addition of hot sauce would kick up what they considered a rather bland meat. Even their father, who sat at the other end of the table with turkey and gravy covering his plate, looked at the orange colored bottle with longing. So, it was then decided that we would try something different (along with the traditional of course) the following Thanksgiving.

Creole "Butter" (it's non-fat) and spice!
Enter, the purchase of a deep fryer. To give you an idea of how long ago this was, it came with a VHS tape of safety instructions. Basically, it was a video of how not to drop a turkey into a deep pot of boiling oil causing a splash into the open flame below. Duh. And since this is not a "how-to" blog on deep frying turkeys, I suggest a little research before investing. But I can tell you is amazing!

Like so many other things, the secret to a great taste is in the prepping. There are now so many seasonings on the market, the only difficult part is finding your favorite. But we still use the"tried and true" product we started with "Creole Butter" injected into the turkey and Butterball Cajun Spices sprinkled on the skin. (Doused may actually be a better word here). Because turkey skin is so thick, when the bird is inserted into the preheated oil, the meat under it actually boils in its own juices. NOT at all greasy! It is simply the moistest turkey you will ever eat. And, basically healthy (unless, like my sons,  you can't resist the crispy, spicy, brown skin to snack on)!

The aroma alone has caused neighbors to hang over the fence with a longing in their eyes. And, in my family, it's a "man" thing. A common site in our backyard is a bunch of men standing around a deep fryer with a cigar in one hand, a beer in the other...all staring at the pot. So this year, thanks to Rachel Ray, I am making a fried turkey "gravy" that is guaranteed to knock your socks off! One of the ingredients is a 12 oz bottle of hot sauce. We'll see if it makes a repeat appearance next year. (if you're going this route, email me for recipe).

Now, all that being said, it is Thanksgiving Day, and I NEED my house to smell like it. I NEED a turkey roasting in the oven! I NEED homemade gravy to smother it! I NEED a late night turkey sandwich with mayo and cranberry sauce! (Okay, I'll stop now, I'm starting to drool.) NEEDless to say, my family has both. And since we always have a decent size crowed, leftover bags of turkey-to-go are an easily solved request.

But let me add one more thing about the deep fried turkey. Since it is cooked outside, and since its aroma and flavor from all the Cajun additives sort of take it out of the "Thanksgiving" arena, it can and should be made year round. It is great on a summer Sunday afternoon with corn on the cob and a salad! At 3 minutes a pound to cook, it is ideal for all types of celebrations! My son Kyle, took our deep fryer to a tailgate party for the Philadelphia Flyers last season, and the spicy aroma wafting into the air on a very cold winter day attracted the police...who demanded a sample!

So, if you want to add a deep fried turkey to your menu this year, assign the task to the males in your group. It is a great way to keep them out of the kitchen while your trying to keep the "real" star of the day basted!
Ahh! Roasted turkey and gravy! Still nothing like it!

Photos by ImageGoggle, Jo Ann Phelps

Monday, November 11, 2013

November...It's On!!

Cranberry Bog...A gorgeous Autumn site! 
Almost mid-November, and we are full on Thanksgiving! When I recently sold my larger home and was looking for a smaller one, the question would always arise "Can I host Thanksgiving here?" If the answer was no, we'd move on. It's my day! How can it not be? It's all about family, friends and food! My three favorite "F" words! It's also the official start of the frenzy holiday season.

So to me, it's just the best day! From the first beat of the drum in the annual Thanksgiving Day parade, to the late night turkey sandwich, I savor every minute. I don't think that there is another holiday steeped in so much tradition and memories.

Speaking of which, I can't enter the Thanksgiving arena without going back many, many years to when I was a young reporter sent by my editor into cranberry bogs nestled in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. Cranberries grow well in sandy soil conditions making the bogs of this pine covered acreage perfect! Quick lesson on harvesting cranberries is required so you can visualize this wondrous site. First, cranberries float (as so many of you crafters know), so a specialized tractor travels through the lush fields stripping the berries from their plants. Then, the fields are flooded with water, the berries rise to the top where they are corralled and loaded into crates.

Cranberries are harvested in September and October. I remember my outing took place on a rather chilly, late October day. The bright blue autumn sky reflecting off of the deep crimson colored red ponds was visually stunning. It is a site I will always remember. Also, I learned that day that it is almost a certain that cranberries were at the very first Thanksgiving since northern native Indians tribes used them in the making of pemmican, a primitive jerky formed with venison, cranberries and nuts. A high protein snack that was used frequently in trades. Apparently, it stored well, lasting for months. Perfect for travel which worked well since we essentially started chasing them off their land right after the pumpkin pie was served.

Enough said...
One more note on this favorite holiday staple. We might want to find a way to incorporate the consumption of cranberries into our diets year round. The Proanothcyanidins found in in this small but powerful fruit can prevent painful urinary tract infections by inhibiting E. coli bacteria from attaching to the urinary tract wall. In fact, The National Kidney Foundation recommends drinking at least one large glass of cranberry juice a day to help maintain urinary tract health. I will admit that I don't consume it on a regular basis. However, I am very fond of the "Malibu Bay Breeze" which is made with coconut rum, cranberry & pineapple juice. All healthy fruits. 

Now, since Kitchen Clatter is kicking off holiday postings with the topic of the wonderfully versatile cranberry, I thought I'd add one of my favorite healthy recipes. I actually found this a few years ago on the side of a Kellogg's cereal
box and make it, not just at holiday time, but right through the winter as well. Since an egg allergy limits me to the use of egg substitutes, it's inclusion in this recipe is what attracted me at first. But it's moist texture and wonderful flavor, pushed it to the top of my "must bake" list. So take a look, and more to point, take a try. And, stay in touch with Kitchen Clatter because for the next few weeks, it's all Thanksgiving!

Cranberry Pumpkin Muffins
  • 1 1/4   cups   all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2   teaspoons   baking powder
  • 2    teaspoons   pumpkin pie spice, apple pie spice or cinnamon
  • 1/4   teaspoon   salt
  • 1    cup   Ready-To-Eat Cereal Smart Start® Antioxidants (crushed to 3/4 cup)
  • 1/2   cup   low-fat buttermilk
  • 1    cup   canned pumpkin
  • 1/2   cup   refrigerated egg substitute* or two eggs slightly beaten
  • 1/2   cup   firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2    tablespoons   vegetable oil
  • 1/3   cup   dried cranberries

In medium bowl stir together flour, baking powder, spice and salt. Set aside.
In large bowl combine Kellogg'g Smart Start Antioxidant cereal and buttermilk. Let stand about 2 minutes or until cereal softens. Add pumpkin, egg substitute, brown sugar and oil. Beat well. Add flour mixture and cranberries, stirring until just combined. Portion evenly into twelve 2-1/2-inch muffin-pan cups coated with cooking spray or lined with foil bake cups.

Bake at 375 degrees F about 15 minutes or until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool in muffin pan for 5 minutes. Remove from pan. Cool completely.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Complications of an Empty Nest...

It can be complicated...
Until recently, for the past 40 years, I was the only female in our house (except for our dog Maxine, who often sided with the male members…except at meal time.) After 9 years of marriage to one male, I gave birth to two more in a 10-month span, increasing the odds against me.
So, for four decades, I was the lone person on defense while the offensive players lined up opposite me. At stake, were meals and clean clothes. (Actually, the clean clothes were my insistence. My sons believed that a spray of Frebreze was all any clothing article picked off the floor needed.)

As for meals, all three of them believed that unless chili had enough "heat" to melt the spoon you were serving it on, it wasn’t hot enough. Chili nights were coincidentally my "Rice Krispies" nights.

Well, my sons have aged out of the system, so to speak, and my (ex) husband has moved on. (I took him from boyhood to manhood; I guess someone else can take him from manhood to Depends). Anyway, while my home is still often full with family or friends, it is mostly me now. And I must admit, I sometimes feel like a kid in a candy store. (Literally, a chocolate bar stays in the fridge for longer than five minutes…um, most days.) But living on my own for the first time EVER, has presented some issues.

Like, when I use the bathroom, is it necessary to close the door? I do, but I never do so without wondering why. I’m on a second floor unit and the front door is always locked. The same thought occurs when I shower. I not only close the bathroom door, I close the bedroom door as well! Why? I think years of only needing to use the bathroom one second before someone else needed to use it has altered my perspective.  

And while we are "in" the bathroom (a room that truly exasperates the differences between men and women), I offer the following. As a woman who often witnessed one son exiting the bathroom and getting a thumbs up from his brother for leaving it smelling like road kill, I am thrilled now that not only is the toilet seat always down, the floor around it is clean!! (It always amazed me that both my sons could shoot 3-pointers in basketball at will, and still not be able to hit....well, you know where I'm going with this.) I can burn a fragrant candle without a 12-year old coming out with his finger in his mouth, gagging. On the downside, it is no longer the room I can hide in until all the groceries are unloaded. 

For years, my two sons had alternate weeks assigned to take the kitchen trash out. For years, my two sons played trashcan Jenga, each perfectly balancing items as far up the wall as they could before absolutely having to pull the bag up and carry it 20 feet to the trashcan outside. I'm not good at this. I don't know how they pulled the bag up without knocking trash to the floor. As I recently scrapped coffee grounds from the floor back into the filter, I was actually jealous of their skills.   

And after years of spending fall Sunday afternoons watching football (which I do like), I discovered that you don't have to suffer watching a team that continues to play badly week after week, season after season. (If you live in the Philadelphia area, you know the team I"m talking about). No, if by halftime you are screaming obscenities and throwing the remote across the room, it's time to pick it up and change the channel! What a concept!

And though 799 channels belong to sports programmers on Sunday afternoons, I promise, the 800th one will show a Meryl Streep movie! How did I not know this before now? Last week by halftime, I found "It's Complicated", this past Sunday, "The River Wild". (I actually didn't have to wait till halftime this week. When watching the game became as painful as slamming my head in the car door, I switched after the 1st. quarter. Only a woman would do this.)

It's not that I don't miss the sound and feel of a family constantly around me, I do. But everyone's
 nest empties at one time or another. I'm just getting use to it a little younger than I had anticipated. There are pros and cons to this lifestyle. I use to take cooking classes, now as a first time solo home owner, I recently attended "Beginning Carpentry" at Home Depot.

I miss snuggling on the couch, but I absolutely LOVE that there is never a need to compromise. It's my way because I own the highway! One day, I may open myself to the possibility of allowing someone into my life...but not now. And though it really may seem complicated at times, my nest is solidly on the limb...and never really empty. I'm there!

"It's Complicated" photo courtesy of ImageGoggle

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Those who know me, know of my passion for October. We are almost 3/4 of the way through, but my schedule has not permitted me the time to pay proper homage to it until now. But I can't let another day, another moment pass without acknowledging what this month means to me...which is everything.

October has attitude! It says to those who feel gloom over the loss of long days spent on a sandy beach, "Really? I will dazzle you with color so brilliant you will forget about cold tea and sunscreen." If October were a flavor it would be caramel. Warm, golden and soft...and never lasting as long as you want it to.

October is the matriarch of the calendar family. After months of vacations, getaways, and self-anointed time alone, it calls everyone back home. It's cooler temperature keeps a fire burning in the hearth. Its shorter days draws us in from the dark to the warm glow of a soft lamp in the window. Its longer nights force contemplation as winter is about to set in and the need to be surrounded by family is ever so strong.

And its flavors!!! Where do I begin? Okay, I will start with my favorite...apples! From the Winesap's, to the Golden Delicious, or the tangy Cortland's, there is just nothing better. I assume that this was God's favorite fruit too since He used it to have Eve tempt Adam, so who am I to question this preference! While some apple varieties are available in September, hardcore apple snobs, like myself, prefer the tarter varieties of October.

And then there is the symbol most associated with my favorite month:  THE PUMPKIN!!
This beta-carotene rich fruit was once mainly used for pies, decorating or carving into Jack-O-Lanterns at Halloween. But pumpkin lattes, soups, muffins, breads, ice creams and many other culinary sources have laid claim to this fall favorite causing its farm market status to rise dramatically!

October resonates with my soul. From a young child cutting crimson colored construction paper along stenciled leaves to hang in the classroom window, to a young mom decorating the front porch with corn stalks and haystacks for her little boys, it owns me. Not even December makes me as happy.

Like Linus in "Its the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown", I believe in the magic of October. I refuse to let the sudden, unexpected end of a marriage, in this very month last year, taint my feelings. Some things you just can't take from me!

So, step outside and breath it all in. The golden colors, the cool air, the slightly musty scent of leaves decaying into the damp earth. And if your schedule, or maybe even your geographical location, doesn't allow a glimpse of all that October has to offer, click on the video below. You'll be glad that you took the time.

Photos by ImageGoggle, Video by Youtube & Barry Manilow

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Kitchen is Open...And Baking (Almost)!

Wheat and cranberry paint replaced...
It's a little smaller, but at least the pink and black wallpaper is gone. It's still minus the upscale granite counter tops, tiled back splash and center island that my other kitchen was decked out in...but it's now cozy and adorable (these are real estate terms I learned over the last year that actually mean "functional but small".) And it's all good! I actually have more cabinet space than I previously had, so it's a wash. and black wallpaper!
But more importantly, after weeks of scraping, painting, hammering, nailing, cleaning and decorating, my new place is ready for fall and the holidays to come. There is a bit more work to do in the bedrooms and bathrooms, but that can wait till January when we are in full blown hibernation mode and there is not much else do to. For now, let the party begin!

Hardwood floors replaced white Linoleum 
On a recent cool, rainy Sunday when the leaves were swirling by my window, I wanted to fill the house with the warmth and aroma that comes with fall baking. But weeks without grocery shopping prior to the move have left my pantry somewhat challenged. Then I remembered my niece Beth telling me about a cookie recipe that she found on Pinterest that only needs two ingredients; a box of spice cake mix and a can of pumpkin. Both of which I had surprisingly, (okay, there were left over from last year, but still usable.) Beth made them and loved them! (Shh...and between you and I, she has rather discriminating taste, so they must have been good.) Also, must give a shout out to the site that originally posted this recipe, a web page I always find user friendly with very flavorful ideas! So here it is!

  • 1 box Spice Cake Mix
  • 1 15oz can of pumpkin
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Grease cookie sheets
  • In large bowl, stir together the cake mix and pumpkin until well blended
  • Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto prepared sheets
  • Bake 18 to 20 minutes
  • Allow cookies to cool five minutes before moving to wire racks
Found room for Buyers Choice chefs!
Now you know me, I actually made this a three ingredient recipe by adding raisins. But I must say, these cookies were moist, chewy and wonderful. (And, if such things matter to you, each cookie is only 2 Weight Watcher points!) And even if you don't eat cookies, if you just want to capture the essence of autumn, nothing does it better than the waft of spice and pumpkin flowing through the house!

I am so glad for the timing of my kitchen re-do. With the big holidays coming up, so much time will be spent there. Granite counter tops and tile will come eventually, but for now, each day I add something that makes it more "mine", and I am grateful to be home again. Cozy is okay with me!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Lobster Rolls & Maine...Perfect Together

Rocky coast and cold waters are perfect for lobster harvest
Two days after I made settlement on my new home, I climbed over the boxes and left for vacation. The trip had been planned and paid for long before my other house sold, so even though the timing was crazy, it seemed the best thing to do. And, boy, I am so glad I did.

Long a lover of coastal views and lighthouses, I never knew how beautiful both could be when sweeping mountains meet the salt air . It is a true meeting of the natures's masses and I was mesmerized from day one!
Sweet, fresh lobster, mayo and celery! So good!

Add this to the fact that I was also in search of the perfect lobster roll! I had heard about them, I had seen pictures of them, I have (sorry to say) dreamed about them from the moment we plotted our course north. And although I thought I had a pretty good one in a New Jersey restaurant, the people of Maine assured me that I had not. If you want a great tomato, stay in Jersey. If you want a juicy grapefruit, go to Florida. But if you want a true buttery, sweet and succulent lobster roll, go to Maine. And so we did.

First, it must be noted that spending a couple days in the beautiful Acadia National Park does wonders for the soul. It puts your life, in the main scheme of things, in perspective. It is hard not to sit on a rock, way above the waves crashing on shore and not think of such things. With each slow breath, the ragged edges of a rough year began to smooth and I was grateful to witness what has to be some sort of master plan.

That said, hiking makes you hungry! So back to our quest! Now, you might think that the most important ingredient in a lobster roll would be lobster, right? Well, yes and no, because equally as important is the roll. It has to be, must be, a New England style hot dog roll with no crust and split on the top. Right before adding the lobster mixture it is buttered and grilled and amazing.

So naturally the next ingredient to concentrate on is the lobster! And in Maine, it is everywhere. And, relative to the rest of the east coast, it is plentiful and the $3 a pound range. So, during a weeks stay, it can be eaten in some form or the other almost every day. (Yes, we did!)

The mixture that makes a lobster roll can vary from place to place. The three main ingredients are lobster, mayonnaise (just a small amount of mayo is perfect) and chopped celery. My personal favorite had a pop of Old Bay as well, but others added a hint of tarragon, or chopped tomatoes, chopped onion or, as most did, a slight squeeze of fresh lemon right before serving in warm, buttery roll.

The popular hunt for the perfect version of this tourist favorite is evident when riding through many of Maine's small towns, as most roadside stands, some with boats docked behind, all claim "Best Lobster Roll in Maine Served Here"!

Quiet dock side restaurant waiting for daily catch...
I think what I loved most about dining out in Maine was that there is nothing fancy or pretentious about most restaurants. In fact, old clothes are best for pulling up to a paper covered table where lobster juice and butter are sure to join forces below your bib.

Lobster, of course, isn't Maine's only claim to fame when it comes to a food source, it's just the most popular. Their wild blueberries are wonderful and served in in a variety of ways. I even (with some prodding) had a filet mignon, wrapped in bacon and served in a blueberry compote. It was amazing! (In case you're wondering, it also came                                                                                          with a lobster tail!)
....calm evening on the harbor waiting for morning 

Other notables are the wonderfully large and oh, so sweet, bay scallops and shrimp. Okay! So seafood in Maine is abundant, fresh, and wonderful!

Let's go ashore for this northern states other claim to fame...the popover. If you are ever in,or near, Acadia National Park, a stop at Jordan's Pond Restaurant should be mandatory. You won't even have to order a popover, they will bring one for each person seated at the table. It will be served warm from a basket covered in cloth and served with a side of honey-butter. It is both decadent and airy. Their recipe can be found on the internet and I suggest you look for it. The hardest thing about making it is finding a popover tin. They are much deeper than muffin pans and absolutely necessary for baking them. With the holidays coming up, the aroma in the morning will be a great way to surprise your overnight guests!

I will end with one more fabulous find in Maine. Bloody Mary's are a passion of mine when traveling. My friends, Karen, Pam and I have consumed and rated them around the world. So far, a small bar on Fisherman's Warf in San Francisco holds the number one spot. But the Bar Harbor Grill, situated on the mouth of a massive inlet, has now moved into second place. Spicy, with olives and shrimp, lemons and limes, this was a true masterpiece! Had they rimmed it with Old Bay, it may have knocked its West Coast rival from the number one spot!

Photos by: Jo Ann Phelps

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Do Overs...A Small Restaurant Comes Swinging Back!

Small business owners are brave warriors in today's world. Surviving in the shadows of large conglomerates and established franchises is not just tough, it can be down-right intimidating. Once knocked down, it is easily understood why small, independent entrepreneurs pick up their stools and leave the ring.

That's why it is so refreshing to see someone like Jim Brandenburger who's restaurant District 611 closed less then a year after opening in Riverton NJ, put the gloves back on, re-do the menu, chef and staff, and seemingly say "okay, let's go another round". And judging by a recent visit, this time he could easily score a knockout!

Jim and wife, Janet, have teamed with top notch talent by bringing in established restaurant business manager Ken Merrimen, and former Le Bec Fin Chef, Dan Maher.  To help make the District more "family friendly" then it's predecessor, a second wood burning pizza oven was installed to help alleviate weekend backups. And while a more traditional style pizza is now available, Maher used his CIA training to keep and enhance popular 611 versions such as the "Little Italy" (a personal favorite) with prosciutto, arugula, figs and a balsamic drizzle over mozzarella cheese, along with an Italian Sausage Broccoli Rabe pizza that is aimed to please a a more sophisticated palate. It hits the target.

Another change to the menu is the "Cozy Comfort" section which was honed to bring home-style meals to those seeking more traditional fare. And to be honest, with pricing competitive with most local diners, the flavors are still off the chart on such standards as "Country Meatloaf" and Chicken Pot Pie. I spoke to one local business person who ordered the meatloaf and mashed potatoes, and then proclaimed it "the best meatloaf I ever had in my life. And at my age, that is saying something"! The pot pie is amazing with a light and flaky pastry covering fresh chicken in a white wine and Dijon gravy with vegetables. It just doesn't get any better.

"Most decent restaurants can pull in customers on a Friday and Saturday," explained Chef Dan, "we needed to create dishes that will bring them in on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays as well." The concept of homemade favorites (with a gourmet flare) at a great price, may just be the ticket for those looking for relief during a busy work week.

But for those looking to reward kicked-up culinary expectations, the entree section of the menu is where to focus attention. With choices like the "Sirloin Tower", "Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes", and "Stuffed French Cut Chicken" with figs and blue cheese in a Port Wine demi sauce, it is hard to choose. My dining partner and I went with the latter two and then agreed to share the large portions so we could sample other selections. And although after one bite we both were reluctant to surrender portions of either choice, I'm glad we did. It quickly became apparent that this chef is a true culinary master.

The appetizers such as "Warm Ricotta Flat Bread" made with homemade lemon ricotta cheese, a cheese board, chicken wings and (are your ready for something different?) pig wings, cooked in a spicy Thai sauce, alone are worth stopping by for.

Riverton, a small town with large Victorian style homes nestled along the Delaware River, is a great destination for any reason. In fact, two years ago, Travel Magazine voted it as one of the best small towns to visit on the Forth of July. The renovation of style and menu at the District, is one more reason to get in the car and head towards the river. "We want to be the place that anyone can come to relax and mingle with neighbors and friends while having a really good meal." said Brandenburger.

With a softened interior, a new outdoor seating section and menu that appeals to everyones palate, this BYOB could be just that! Do-overs are never easy, but it is obvious that a lot of effort and thought went into restructuring this dining experience. It deserves a second chance.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

...No Place Like Home!

Floor install not finished, but starting to look like home!
Finally! After all the heartbreak of divorce, selling a house, finding a place to live, and then the awful chore of moving...I am home! It was almost this time last year when my life crashed into a wall at full speed. Everything I knew was about to change and after accepting that there was no way to stop it, I gathered up the pieces and set the journey compass to forward! (That sounds easier than it actually was.)

Initially, I felt the smartest thing to do would be to find an apartment, settle in and ride out the emotional storm I was going through. Unfortunately, the transition from a large Colonial house to a small (and relatively expensive) apartment was a much harder transition then I expected. Nothing seemed appealing. Each afternoon I would set my sights on a different complex full of hope, only to come out dejected and depressed. One final search broke a standing resolve I made to myself to never to shed tears during the daytime, when I rested my head on the steering wheel and cried, "I can't do this."

I need a real home. I need a place that is the central homestead for my family. A place to entertain my friends. A place I can do what I want, when I want. It became apparent that an apartment, no matter how large or modern, wasn't going to do it for me. Step in, my sister Betty, the Realtor!

She is by definition, a woman's advocate. She promotes the cause and beliefs that, given the opportunity, we can do anything. At first I was skeptical. I had been my father's daughter for the first 19 years of life and my husband's wife for the next 39. Buy a house on my own? Be responsible for the mortgage on my own? Make repairs? Plunge a toilet? (Okay, I have plunged a toilet before...but only because someone else made sure that a plunger was available.)

Bring in South Africa! After several attempts to find something in my price range and likability, a condo unit less than a mile from where I lived came online at more than $20,000 under market value and well within my budget. Betty immediately set up an appointment and that afternoon we set out to change my life When we pulled into the community, it was apparent that it was a well kept 55+ development, with manicured landscape and flowers in hanging baskets . When we walked into the unit, it was apparent why it was selling under market value.

A lovely, elderly Brazilian couple had spent a great deal of time in South Africa and when they moved to America, they attempted to bring the motif with them. Jungle green walls were decorated with masks and spears. Large paintings of tribal dancers in full regale lined the walls (even in the bathrooms). The large living room lamps were carved replicas of a lion on one side of three couches and a tiger on the other.

A second floor unit, I stopped when I got to the top of the stairs in total wonderment. My sister, came up behind me and whispered "we will paint it" as she went around and extended her hand to the owners. As she was making the introductions, I was standing still so not to be in the way when Tarzan swung through the room. I was actually about to start back down the steps when I heard Betty say "yes, please show us the rest of the house."

I will admit to not having a designers eye. The price and location were perfect but the decor scared the hell out of me. Quite frankly, I didn't know if I had the energy for what this house needed. But Betty and others convinced me that with $20,000 in instant equity, a little money, sweat and paint was all that was needed to make this a sound investment...and a place of my own! So I bought it.

When final walk through occurred before settlement, I was relived to see that with the jungle decor and furniture gone, all it really did need was new flooring, paint and some cosmetic updates. This could be the perfect place for me after all! A nice neighborhood close to my sons, my girls, my sisters and my friends, all who have been so could I not make every effort to bring it all home!

At this post, most of the wood flooring is down and most of the paint it up. Still much to do but already loving it. One glitch has been some internet issues that are being worked on. Once resolved, many pictures will follow. And now, after re-reading this, I'm off to the local improvement store for more paint...and a plunger. Check back!

Friday, September 6, 2013

My Grandmother, Ninth Street...And Rocky!

Note: The following is a re-post of one of Kitchen Clatter's most popular blogs. It was picked up by a local paper which then started a Tomato Pie craze! Next week? Celebrate Autumn with a new post from an all new Kitchen Clatter. Please stop by and pull a chair up to the table! 

There is a scene in the first Rocky movie where the fighter in training runs down the middle of the 9th Street Italian Market in Philadelphia, and one of the fruit vendors throws him an orange. I thought about that recently as I walked down 9th St. recently. That was 37 years ago, and while there are many more vendors from other country's here now, the concept has not changed from when my grandmother, an Italian immigrant, shopped here over 50 years ago.

The market, in the heart of South Philly, was actually formed in the late 1800’s, as masses of Italian laborers migrated from Italy to work in the shipyards and factories along the Delaware River. Sadly, most, if not all,  of those jobs are gone now, but the market of vendors, who sell produce from wooden carts on wheels, and  line the street in front of butcher shops, bakery's, cheese and spice merchants, remains as vibrant as ever. While many other immigrant nationalities have joined the ranks now, its roots remain Italian. This is still a neighborhood where pasta sauce is simply known only as “gravy”!  

My grandmother, Rose, worked in one of the area factories that manufactured men’s pants, trousers, as they were called then, and did most of her grocery shopping on 9th St. before heading home. As she would say, “acquistare prodotti freschi, cucinare prodotti freschi”, meaning; buy fresh produce, cook fresh produce, and she did, every day. Grandmom was born in Palermo, Italy where marketing was done on a daily basis. And on a recent trip to Tuscany, I discovered that this is an age-old practice that continues there today.

She was a rather large woman, my Grandmother, and could usually handle the bags of peppers, onions, eggplants and fresh sausage (when her budget allowed) in a canvas sack that she carried on the bus to New Jersey. On days that her stamina would exceed her 10-hour shifts, she would walk a little further down 9th St. and get fresh, crusty bread at Sarcones Bakery, which would eventually get stuffed with fried peppers, onions and eggplants.

As one of the many grandchildren who would sometimes spend weekends with her, the best days for us would be when she would stop by Di Bruno’s Brothers Cheese Shop and buy a wedge of Locatelli Romano Cheese, a sharp form of parmesan that has a salty bite. She would grate it into small, fluffy mounds, and we would scramble over who would get to eat the last tiny piece that was too small for her to use. To this day, I can’t eat chicken soup without it.

On Friday nights, she would roll out dough, spread on the gravy and load the top with the Locatelli before putting it in her oven. This was tomato pie, not pizza, and it was heaven. While it was baking, five, sometimes six, chattering cousins would roll the leftover dough into balls for her to fry and then roll in sugar. This was dinner and dessert at Grandmom’s and it just didn’t get any better.

On Sunday’s, the day our parents would come to gather us up; we would stand at her apron and roll meatballs to go with the pasta, veal cutlets, sausage, and antipasti that would soon fill the dining room table. Chianti and orange soda were the beverages of choice. The meal would end when my mother and aunts would put out the cannolis and cookies from Isgro’s Bakery, along with an ample arrangement of fresh fruit; all bought in the Italian Market, carried in canvas, on a bus to New Jersey.

It was the sites, the sounds, the smells of 9th street that brought these memories back to me on a recent winter day. The aroma of garlic sautéing in olive oil from restaurants, the warming scent of bread coming from bakeries, and the waft of hickory-filled smoke coming from wood burning in large metal drums along the street, helps keeps the atmosphere of this historic area in a magic type of time capsule. I can’t see it ever changing.

As I walked back to my car, I saw an old women standing at the bus stop with a bag of groceries in each hand. She set them down momentarily to pull her collar up against the winter wind and I couldn't help but hope that there were grandchildren waiting for her to come home.

Photos supplied by ImageGoogle and Jo Ann Phelps