Wednesday, December 7, 2016

What is it about this Pineapple Christmas Cookie Recipe?

Aunt Lee's car trunk at Christmas!
It's amazing how a an incidental moment, like a benign text, can transform you several years back, to a kitchen about a mile from my current one, where I spent years making holiday memories. Before life was interrupted, I would sit at the center island watching my Aunt Lee roll out cookie dough. The kitchen window sparkled with tiny white lights, wooden trees and reindeer's. A Christmas movie would be on the TV, and two young boys, enticed by the aroma, would take turns coming in to check on the progress. Good memories, all!

My Aunt Lee was the cookie queen. Baking for weeks before the big day, making festively decorated cookie trays as gifts for special family members! And she always saved some baking to do at my house, which was a gift in itself! But I have to be honest here, Lee Lee, as her nieces called her, was very generous with her cookie gifts, but not so much with the recipes. "Oh, a little of this and a little of that", she would say when pressed for details. "You'll figure it out." Only I never did. I love to cook but not strong on baking. If I had been, I would have mastered her fabulous Ricotta cookies, or my absolute favorite, Cucidadi Cuccidada, an Italian cookie filled with figs and raisins and iced with a sweet glaze. I miss these. I don't attempt recipes I find hard to pronounce.
Cucidadi Cuccidada! The best!

But, let's get back to the text from my sister Betty that led to all of this reminiscing. "Can you send me Aunt Lee's pineapple cookie recipe...I don't eat many cookies but I love these." She wasn't alone. This cookie was my Dad's absolute favorite, anytime of year. My brother Cee Jay's as well. I didn't have many of her recipes. But several years ago, on one bitterly cold December night, we had cleaned up the kitchen, and the two of us sipped tea and ate bagels (heavily buttered, her preference). She talked about this recipe and how it was her husband's favorite cookie as well. He had passed a few years earlier and Christmas was hard for her without him. Forgive me Lord, but I saw a softening in her cookie armour, took a shot and asked her how she made it. Her surprising narrative follows:

Ingredients:
1/2 lb of soften butter (room temp, not melted)
8 oz of soften cream cheese
1/2 cup of sugar
2.5 cups of flour (it may be 2.75 cups, she added. If the dough feels a little soft or sticky, add another quarter cup of flour)
Jar of quality pineapple preserves (not jelly!)
1 cup of well crushed walnuts

Directions:
Blend ingredients in a blender (this, she offered, is when you will know if you need more flour. 
Form dough into a ball and divide in half.
Put both halves in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least four hours. Overnight is better.
When well chilled, roll out the dough and place the one half in the bottom of a 13"x 9" baking dish (bottom only, not the sides.)
Spread half the jar of preserves on the dough
Roll out second half and place on top of the pineapple spread
Brush top of second one with egg white
Generously, sprinkle the walnuts over the egg washed dough
Then, take a fork and prick the dough all over.
Place in 350 degree preheated oven and bake for 30-45 minutes (depending on oven) until golden brown.
While the cookies are still warm, cut into diamond shapes but leave them in the pan. 
Aunt Lee, the Cookie Queen

I was so surprised that all of this information was coming out! I was writing quickly, trying not to ask questions that might break her momentum. And then, there it was, a start to finish, Aunt Lee cookie recipe! This was a coup! And unlike her other recipes where she might leave an ingredient or two out to throw you off, this one was perfect. A must try for cookie bakers! 

Until the day she died, Aunt Lee kept her reign as Cookie Queen. I actually don't know what happened to her recipes but it really doesn't matter. I have something so special. Memories of baking and chatting the winter days away, many Christmas's ago. Much better than a recipe.



Sunday, October 30, 2016

Groom's Side V Part II...The Bridge is Open

Who can make it to this wedding?
Never have four words made me happier. "The bridge is open!!" reverberated throughout the house. With Trevor and Betty constantly monitoring the Dare County Emergency Management site, that was the announcement we were waiting for. Within a few hours, after a three day wait, after three nights in three different hotels...Beth and the kids were in the house! And, after three days of having my heart in my mouth, the possibility have actually having this wedding was once again in site!


The Phelps/Shepard Hotel...

As quests starting heading onto the island and finding their houses under water or inaccessible, our house became the stop over while busy realtors looked for alternative accommodations. Since my brothers, wives and other sister were not coming until the end of the week, most nights, we had some spare bedrooms to offer to the temporarily homeless . Our only rule was "when you get up, wash your sheets and put them back on the bed" since we never really knew who'd be spending the night. Or even staying for a meal! Cooking (especially with limited supplies in the one store that remained open) and cleaning became controlled chaos. The glue that kept it all together is that we were family and friends, so it just worked.

The house had seven TV's, but only three of the seven cable boxes were not fried by lightening, so a pool table on the first floor, board games, cards, a hot tub and a fridge full of beer, kept most of us entertained. At one time or another, laughter could be heard on any of the three levels. My nephew Scott, along with his alter-personality of a civil war era southern general, kept us all entertained. He would cover the faces of the young ones with his entire hand and yell "face hug" They loved it! By the end of the week, even my 17 month old grandson was placing his little hand on my forehead and telling me "hug".

Wedding House Under Water...

 A year before the wedding, the groom and bride had rented a beautiful home that slept 22 people. It was their gift to the bridal party and their spouses. There were BBQ's, bonfires and pool parties in the planning. Hurricane Matthew changed it all.  The first floor of the house was under water. Kyle and Melissa spent the first few days of what was suppose to be the "best wedding week ever", in one of our spare rooms, trying their best to keep hopes and spirits high. The bride's two sisters, Jen and Violet, stayed with us as well!They took out storm insurance, but money wasn't what they needed now. The bridge was open and they had to find a place big enough to host the bridal party. Fortunately, (a shout out here), Resort Realty called owner after owner until they found them a large beautiful home right on the Currituck Sound. Spectacular sunsets included!
I will face hug you Lucas...anytime!

Unexpected Memories...

The storm initially made things difficult for sure, but in the same way that strong winds and waves often expose amazing ocean relics on a battered, eroded beach, its challenges brought to surface the true love and support of all in my life. I will never forget the road conditions of those coming from the south. My oldest brother Cee Jay, his wife and a Jeep, endured detour after detour, turning what was to be an 11 hour trip into 20.  The same for my brother Tom and his wife. But they made it. I will forever remember how Tom, my oldest son Trevor, my brother in-law Pat, and a rare bottle of bourbon kept Beth and me laughing for hours. Speaking of Beth, the storm showed me what a  truly tenaciousness woman she is., I will always remember how the day after the storm, when things seemed at its worst, a phone call from my friends saying "even if we have to paddle across the sound, we will make it." I will never forget how my sister Betty stood hours making wonderful home-made gnocchi's that fed everyone in the house (I'd lost count by this time)..including my friends! Hurricane Matthew made it such a special week in ways I had not anticipated. Amazing relics were exposed.

What A Beautiful Day For A Wedding...

In the end, on the day of the wedding, the sun shined strong, causing the large ocean-like sound
surrounding the Whales Head Club in Corolla, North Carolina, to sparkle in celebration. Every day that led to it paled in comparison. Almost everyone made it to see Kyle wed the love of his life. To see the beautiful bride Melissa take his arm to start their journey. To see an amazing couple who refuses to let obstacles stop them.

Well over a year ago, when Kyle and Melissa told me that they wanted to get married on the Outer Banks, I was worried. I told them that not everyone they know will travel to a destination wedding. That people would have to use vacation time, spend money for housing. And that our budget would be limited. But it didn't deter them...at all. "We understand that. We understand that not everyone will come, but it's what we want. It's where we want to be married." And so it was. And not even an unexpected storm could deter them. They started their wedding week in 90 mile an hour winds and flooding rains. They ended it on the warm, sunny shores of the Outer Banks. Just where they wanted to be.


In the Outer Banks, with all of their family and friends around them, these two were married! 



Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Groom's Side IV The Wedding, Part One...An Unexpected Visitor

WRONG!!!
It first appeared as just a blip on the radar. "A small area of disturbance, that may or may not form a tropical depression," explained the Weather Channel (which from this point on will be referred to as WC, and further on as FWC, for obvious reasons). A year ago, my son Kyle and his fiance decided to get married in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Knowing the two of them as I do, this event was a party to be had!

My sister Betty and I rented a house large enough to accommodate our entire family such as our grown children, grandchildren, sister, brothers and spouses. A much anticipated family reunion of sorts. Matthew was not on the guest list.

Now, when my son, his then fiance and myself visited the northern Outer Banks last November, we were reminded that October is still "technically" in the hurricane season but that there hadn't been a late fall storm in the last 30 years, so no worries....really?

As the wedding date of October 14th got closer, I started paying more attention to the weather, mostly because the ceremony was to be on the shores of the Currituck Sound. A beautiful location on the banks of the Whale's Head Club in Corolla, North Carolina. And a week before our scheduled departure, that "area of disturbance", did turn into a tropical depression before turning into a hurricane. The WC's cone of "spaghetti models" had the storm going through Hati and the Caribbean islands. It was sheer devastation for both. After that, they had the storm  heading  far out into the Atlantic Ocean with no real threat to the eastern seaboard of the United States. Whew, that was a relief to hear.

Millions of dollars in satellite driven computer models and not one was right??? 

Just days before we were to leave, it became apparent that the storm was going to hit Florida hard. As my brother and wife, who live just outside of Miami, were posting Facebook pictures of securing their home with metal shutters, I became obsessed with watching the WC's tracking of the storm where their infamous red "cone", indicated that the hurricane, bearing the name Mathew, would hit the southern east coast of Florida as a Category 4 storm, head on. Then it would go up the east coast, grazing Georgia and South Carolina, before looping east and then south, and possibly hitting Florida again. So the WC said. That never happened.

According to the National Hurricane Center  and the FWC, only the southern tip of North Carolina which is 200 miles south of where we were going in Corolla, would experience storm-like conditions, and minor at that. That's what we were told. Over and over again. Believing what we were seeing and hearing, Saturday, October 8th, my sister Betty and her granddaughter Lauren in one car, Kyle, Melissa and Jen, in another, and Trevor, grandson Lucas and myself in his Jeep, caravaned down to the northern Outer Banks. The red cone still had Mathew veering east, away from the North Carolina coast.

Are you kidding me???

The "bridge". The only way on or off the northern Outer Banks
As we neared the end of the seven hour ride, conditions were deteriorating. We didn't know it at the time, but as we made our way over the Wright Memorial Bridge onto the Outer Banks, officials were preparing to close it down, the only link to the northern section.

Later that night, my niece Beth, along with her children, the ring bearer, 7, and the flower girl, 2, drove 12 hours to get to Corolla, only to get stuck on the other side of the bridge...for three days. And because those who knew the situation before we did, evacuated the island and filled the inland hotels, she had to drive almost 2 hours west to find a room. Now the FWC was waking up to the fact that part of North Carolina was going to be effected! This scrolled on the bottom of the station screen when I turned on the TV in my bedroom!
Lauren, Trevor & Lucas 

"The current forecast track brings Hurricane Matthew approximately 80 miles south of Ocracoke as a strong tropical storm .  The Entire Outer Banks is currently under a Tropical Storm Warning, Tornado Watch, and Flash Flood Watch.  Conditions are expected to..." WTH? (In the end, the death toll in North Carolina stood at 26. More than any other of the states on the east coast.)

With Beth's worried mother coaching her on the phone, and her GPS failing under the conditions, my son, Trevor, stayed with her on his computer, finding routes and hotels that she felt comfortable staying in with two kids. There were not many options. My sister Bet so wanted to leave the house and go to her daughter to help, but we convinced her that the bridge was probably closed in both directions. Beth left her house in Alabama Saturday afternoon, She did not get onto the island until Tuesday. Throughout the ordeal, she defined the word "trooper"  in every sense.

What I didn't know about hurricanes...

My bedroom was on the end of the house on the third floor, which was the top level. I fell asleep watching the FWC and their red cone of deception telling me I had nothing to worry about. I woke up around 2 a.m. with my bed shaking. I knew there was no power because the ceiling fan had stopped and except for the occasional flash of lightening, it was pitch black. The force of the winds pushing against the house, actually made all of our beds shake. The flat screen TV on the dresser was moving. We all had thought to bring flash lights and candles (just in case) but being ocean-side with three large windows under constant pelting by heavy rain and wind,  I was too afraid to get out of bed.

That was until a gust of wind so strong it blew open a door on the second level, drenching the maid of honor in her bed. The velocity came through the house and collapsed something in the attic over the brides room (which was right next to mine.) She woke up screaming and I ran out into the hall... and smacked right into my sons as they were running up the steps! "Mom it's okay, it's okay" they kept saying as they pulled me in, but my heart was pounding. "Lucas" was all I good say. My sons, who stayed up all night to watch over the house, assured me he was alright. "His crib is in the middle of the house, he is sleeping soundly." His father was watching the monitor on his every move. I spent most of my life protecting them, and now my sons were protecting me. We gathered in the living room where I laid on the couch, as the groom, the bride, the best man and the maid of honor, stood around the kitchen island playing word games and sipping Bourbon (much needed, I am sure). Their presence was a comforting site, but I can't ever remember being so glad to  see the light of day.

What I didn't know about the Outer Banks... 

There is no drainage. There are no sewers. The only way to rid the streets of 13" of rain and any storm surge, is pure evaporation. When we left the island 7 days after the storm, many roads were still under water. The day after the hurricane, Melissa, and her sister Jen, took a walk in the warm sunshine through the flooded streets, only to be warned by a local resident "Girls, be careful, there are snakes in that water." Be still my heart!

Hurricanes, floods and snakes! But it could have been worse!!

As morning approached, and we had all safely made it through the night, our next big worry was how to make coffee with no power. And boy, was it needed! The day before, after we had checked in, and before the weather took a turn for the worse, part of the group piled into a car to get to a local store. Most isles picked over, they still found some food, but no way to cook on an electric stove now. And just as we were searching for a 12V outlet in a car that could power a coffee pot, the lights came on. Divine intervention, I was sure!

The groom and the bride kept spirits high!

In the light of day, it became apparent that travel on the island was limited, at best. Kyle and Melissa, somehow kept positive, for the most part. I was so proud of their spirits. But in reality, I was worried. No bridge, flooded streets and inaccessible rental houses for the wedding party and guest. Even the bride's parents were still off the island. How can we pull this wedding off? Who would be able to come?

Next Week, Part II: Washing sheets, face hugs, and throwing one unforgettable wedding!






Saturday, July 23, 2016

"One By One...They Disappeared"

The pool, like the people who used it, began to fall apart.
One of the reasons Kitchen Clatter goes into a hiatus during the summer is that I have worked in the pool industry for almost 16 years and this is the time of year where my time is limited, my brain exhausted and my pockets full enough to help carry me through the winter months. Not sure how I ended up here, but here is where I am.

In the northeast, this business is seasonal, and it is my job to talk people into spending thousands of dollars on a renovation for something they, if lucky, get to use for four months out of twelve. Most times it's exciting, going through stone, tile and plaster samples trying to piece together a vision. Most times it's just necessary because cold winters, freeze lines, thaws, and the ageing process of natural products forming the structure and aesthetics of these backyard vessels, causes them to eventually break down. And then I come. Most times it's fun...today it was sad.

I knew when I pulled into this rather wealthy suburb of huge tree lined streets and stately homes, that I had a pretty good shot of getting this one. There was obvious money. BMW and Lexus SUV's in the driveways, professionally landscaped lawns and a pool in almost every yard. Slam dunk.

I was so busy looking around, that I was startled when my GPS announced that I had reached my destination. I eased my car up the driveway of a large house that surprisingly may have needed just a little attention. My eyes immediately went over to the pool area in the rear of the yard. As I walked over, I noticed a raised spa spilling over a decaying wall into the pool. A quick glance around told me that there was severe tile and coping damage. In the rear of the pool area was a gazebo large enough to hold a table and chairs, and even accommodate a large outdoor kitchen-so popular these days, but instead, stood empty and decaying, its use long abandoned.

I was trying to gather my thoughts when the homeowners, a lovely middle age couple, noticed me in their backyard and approached. "Welcome," they said, arms outstretched. "Think we have a problem here?" I nodded, reassuring them that almost anything can be fixed. The three of us walked around, poking, prodding, tapping and talking. I couldn't help but steal occasional glances to the rear of the property also once obviously prominent, but now covered with large ornamental grasses bent from neglect. This property, that looks like it once ruled this neighborhood, was now the outcast. The question spinning in my head was "why fix the pool?" And then came the answer when the husband took a call from his office leaving just two women talking.

"Look, to repair this pool is going to be an expensive project." I told her. "And you want to know why now," she answered. The smile on her face faded as she too took a long gaze around the property. "Jo Ann, we use to have the most fabulous gatherings here. Almost every weekend we were BBQ'ing and partying. Over there", she pointed to a piece of the property that I missed, "there was once a professionally installed Boccie Ball court. The matches were legendary." The court, covered in growth, was barely distinguishable. And I couldn't help but ask "what happened?"

"Well, we were only blessed with one daughter." she answered. She was so popular in high school. Her friends were here every weekend. Soon, their parents began to hang here. Neighbors would join in and it was wonderful. Neither my husband or I have much family to speak of so this became our life...and then" please don't say she died, please don't say she died, I kept repeating in my head. She didn't. "...and then, 8 years ago, my daughter was diagnosed with a severe brain tumor. Surgery was extensive and her personality changed and her abilities are limited. Forever.." her thoughts faded off. "One by one, her friends stopped coming around, as well as the parents, our friends and even the neighbors. One by one they disappeared" The party stopped.

I stood there holding my measuring wheel, not able to utter my usual babble about how we could turn this pool into a showcase. "So you're putting the house up for sale and you know this pool won't pass an inspection?" She smiled slightly "Exactly. She is not capable of being on her own. There is no need to keep this big house." Her eyes misted. "There will be no grandchildren or growing family. It's just the three of us." My heart was breaking and I could barely swallow.

She could see I was a little taken and she took my hand in both of hers. I looked up and said "if you're just trying to get me to low ball this quote..." and she broke into laughter. A much needed laughter for both of us. When her husband returned, he couldn't help but smile. "What are you two up to?" She turned and said "Bill, this is the lady I want to work with."

We continued our stroll around the deck talking about the possibilities and about how much they wanted to invest into something they don't use anymore. It comes down to "what is the least I can do to make it sell." That, I've heard before.

When they walked me back to my car, I extended my hand and was a little surprised that the woman came in for an embrace. "Thanks Jo Ann, for your advice and compassion." Her husband patted my shoulder. "In spite of the fact that my wife adores you, please go easy on our estimate." I had to laugh. I liked them both so much.

Driving back to my office, I was haunted by "one by one they disappeared." How does that happen? When I was going through a really rough time a few years ago, it was the support of my family and friends that kept me upright! I understand the circumstances are different, but need is need. I can't see myself abandoning a friend who's child became sick or injured. That's when it is time to step up...not away.

Ironically, while driving home that night, the digital compass on my dash started flashing. Being the nudge I am about my car, I immediately pulled over, and took out the owner's manual to troubleshoot. It read that "occasionally" it is necessary to "re-calculate the compass". I followed the instructions and was once again heading west, heading home.

I'm actually not surprised lately that the directional forces of earth have to be recalculated now and then. The shootings, mass killings and too many months of a presidential campaign that is more about hating and meanness than issues, has taken its toll on me. I'm a news junkie who just can't watch it anymore. But I'm blessed that my inner compass is easily recalculated by just laying eyes on my boys or simply holding my grandson. "No grandchildren, no growing family..." The lump in my throat came back.

How I wish there was an owner's manual to help adjust the direction of the people who drifted away from that warm couple who stood waving by their deteriorating pool until I was out of sight. How I wish I could fix so much more than the pool.









Sunday, May 15, 2016

Memorial Day Coming...Introducing The Sister of Ice Box Cake!

In spite of the blustery, 50 degrees outside, the calendar claims that it is only two weeks till the unofficial start of summer, Memorial Day weekend! And the faithful readers of Kitchen Clatter (and the 1,500 who have downloaded the recipe) know that I always kick off the "hello-summer" season with an Ice Box Cake. A simple no-bake recipe that only requires cooked pudding and Graham crackers. A family favorite! A recipe that I can't wait to introduce to my one-year-old Grandson, Lucas.

But recently, a co-worker, brought in what can only be considered as a
close relative to the beloved traditional summer dessert that I make, and I instantly fell in love with it. And with this one, you don't even have to cook the pudding!!  (A challenge that requires two pots, two wooden spoons, two arms stirring constantly.)

Her recipe, which she calls an "Éclair Cake" is so creamy that after one delicious bite, I stopped eating it because I was afraid it had eggs (hello, my name is Jo Ann and I'm allergic to egg yolks), so imagine my surprise when she said "no eggs, it's instant yellow pudding" No eggs, instant pudding...I'm in! So, I am now including this recipe to my summer array of no bake desserts. Trust me when I tell you it's a must try recipe!

Cake layer:
1 box (16 oz) graham crackers
2 packages (3.4 oz each) instant vanilla pudding
3 1/2 cups whole milk
8 oz Cool Whip
Chocolate Frosting: (This frosting is just like the top of an Éclair pastry. Do not skip this and substitute a canned version of frosting-it truly won't be the same!)
3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 Tbsp of salted butter, melted
3 Tbsp whole milk
Instructions:
1. Whisk together the pudding and milk in a large mixing bowl until thickened, about 2 minutes. Fold in the Cool Whip.
2. Spray a 9×13 baking pan with non-stick spray. Line the bottom of the pan with a single layer of graham crackers, breaking them in smaller pieces to fit the edges of the pan.
3. Spread half of the pudding mixture evenly over the bottom layer of graham crackers.
4. Top with a second layer of graham crackers, followed by the second half of the pudding.
5. Top with the third and final layer of graham crackers.
6. Whisk together the cocoa powder, powdered sugar, melted butter and 3 Tbsp whole milk to make the chocolate frosting.
7. Spread evenly over top the third layer of graham crackers.
8. Refrigerate overnight so the pudding has time to set up and the graham crackers soften before serving. 

So, if you are into simple desserts that will not heat up the kitchen during those long summer days, this is deliciously perfect! Bring on summer!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Groom's Side III...Parties, Showers and Planning



She tried to act surprised!
Parties: I'm going to start this update with the one wedding celebration that all mothers of the groom dread. The event that causes you to inhale, hold your breath and whisper that grooms mother's silent prayer "please don't let them do anything stupid." The one occasion where mothers are allowed no questions. No prying, no suggestions, no information...and certainly no details. Of course, I'm referring to the the dreaded  bachelor party. It happened and I survived. As did all who attended, apparently. I haven't actually seen all of the 18 men who chipped in and rented a mansion outside of Philadelphia with an indoor pool, spa and tiki bar. And I wasn't allowed to ask any questions. But those related to me, two sons and a nephew, resurfaced apparently unscathed. That's all I can tell you for now. You know everything I know.

Showers: And while the boys were away doing whatever it is they do, the girls got together and held a beautiful shower for the bride to be! Now, my almost daughter in-law, Melissa, is a nature lover. From the bridal shower, to the bachelorette party (which centers around a hike in the mountains) to the beach wedding, surrounded by the ocean and grassy marshes, she thrives in nature.

Mason jars (a favorite of Melissa's) filled with baby's breath, adorned the tables, thanks to my sister Betty. Surrounding them were home made soaps scented with mint, lavender and pomegranate as favor's made by the bridesmaids. All natural, all nature, all Melissa. And, now I don't know what the boys were eating, but we were doing all right, as you can see! From the brides' mother, Marie's keilbasa and sauerkraut, to Betty's meatballs, and trays of Italian sandwiches, it was all there. I'm sure we ate better than the men in their mansion!

Planning: With the wedding still a few months ahead of us, most of the plans are set. The venue, the music, the menu all handled by the bride and groom. There is still of course my responsibility of planning the rehearsal dinner...from 554 miles away. Thank heaven for the internet! The bride and groom want a relaxed event. Nothing formal. They actually asked if I could do a pizza party! And they want it held at the site where we will actually be rehearsing, the Wales Head State Park. So, as co-host with the Groom's father, I had to do some research in finding a caterer who would work with us to create this special event in, of course, a natural setting. And I did. He is even bringing his brick ovens and bartender with him! Score!!! My son Kyle, the groom, loves a good party. Well son, I think we will have one! And, I was smart enough to ask my niece, Beth (who truly should become a professional event planner) to decorate our tables using the abundance of cranberries and persimmons that grow wild on the island in October. Family and friends, celebrating by the ocean in autumn. I don't know how to improve on that! Bring on the Outer Banks!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Easter Ham...What's On Top Matters!

What's On Top Matters!
It's a wonder how we associate certain things in our lives with past memories. When I was a young child, maybe around 11, my mother had passed away and my Dad was doing his best to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. It's that last part that often comes back to me in waves of nostalgia.

As I remember, for the first several weeks after Mom passed, we ate a lot of Spam. You know, that mystery meat packed in a can. Lots of Spam. Spam with home fries. Spam with canned macaroni and cheese (that were in the shape of O's), Spam with baked beans. You get the picture.

Anyway, we must have began to grumble because he eventually hired a woman to come in and cook meals two nights a week. And why I can remember her name, Mrs. Gizzlebeck, and not what I was looking for yesterday, escapes me. But I do remember her frying pork chops and pouring some 7 Up into the cast iron pan to make gravy. It was amazing! I didn't realize it then, but it was my first exposure to that wonderful combo of sweet and savoury. I think of that often, especially at Easter when I'm picking out a glaze for the ham.

Pork, smoked like ham, or fresh, has always paired well with the sweetness of fruit. Which is my favorite part of Easter! When I grew out of impatiently waiting to eat the ears off of the chocolate bunny (okay, I would still do that if there were chocolate rabbits in my house), the aroma coming off of the peaches and brown sugar dripping into the salty juice of the ham sends me back to a young child smelling 7 Up breaking down pork chop drippings.

So when it comes to glazing a ham...it matters how this ends. Okay Adele fans, it's my favorite line on here new CD and it applies here! Having a fantastic glaze to bubble over the top of the ham the last 30 minutes is so important to impress your holiday guests...and your palate. There are so many glaze versions available, you just have to find one that has ingredients that appeal to you. Check out below:

Tasty:
After cooking a whole ham studded with gloves;
Mix 1 cup of firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup prepared mustard
2 tbls cider vinegar.
When the ham is about 30 minutes from making it's exit from the oven, brush the mixture over the top.

Very Tasty:
1 cup of honey
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp dry, ground mustard
1/2 tsp cinnamon.
Mix together and baste the ham, pouring remainder over the last 30 minutes.

Grandmom Tasty: 
1 20 oz can of pineapple slices. Cover the ham with the slices and save the juice
Put a whole clove in each pineapple ring
1 jar maraschino cherries. (cut in half and lay the cut cherries on the clove)
Then mix the reserved pineapple juice with 3/4 cup of brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of yellow mustard as use as a baste.

Ode to Mrs. Gizzlebeck Tasty: (And the one I'm using this year):
1.5 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup grainy whole mustard
2 tbls apple cider vinager
6 oz of Dr. Pepper
Mix together and use as a baste the last 30 minutes of cooking.

I can't end this without acknowledging the great cook my Dad became. He is the one who taught me how to make homemade soups on winter Saturdays and an Easter dinner from start to end. My Dad's "never let them see you sweat" mantra served him well in the kitchen and in life. And lucky for us, he passed it down to his kids!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

St. Patricks Day and Corned Beef & Cabbage...An American Tradition

  • St. Patrick's Day in Ireland is a little more low key than here in the states. As a matter of fact, when I was in Ireland, people told me that tourist trips from the Emerald Isle to New York City are very popular in March.

  • Part of the reason is that St. Patrick was a missionary who was anointed a saint after helping to bring Christianity to Ireland. So it is more of a religious holiday. And the fact that, until recent years, the pubs were closed on March 17th, (the assumed date of his death) in religious observance, which definitely held the type of celebrations that we have here to a minimum in Ireland. But times are changing. Now, in an effort to promote tourism, parades and party's are in abundance in large cities like Dublin.  

Here, as we all know, St. Patrick's Day is a party to be had! The Kilroy"s, friends of mine, host an annual party that is a two week event! The week before for food preparation and the week following for detox. There will be pans (several) of Sheppard's pie, corned beef and cabbage, Irish soda bread, and whatever else over 100 people will bring. And of course, the whisky, Guinness and Baily's will be flowing. Along about nine o'clock, musicians will stroll in and play the music of Ireland. St. Patrick's Day the way it is meant to be celebrated...in America. 

Speaking of corned beef and cabbage, Americans have made this a must have on the day we celebrate the life of an Irish missionary. It's hearty, it's flavorful, and easy. Really easy. Especially when using a crock pot. Just throw everything in and leave for work. Done. Most corned beefs come with a seasoning packet containing peppercorns, allspice, bay leaves, course salt, etc. If not, there are several varieties available. Below is an easy version that is amazing! NOTE: I serve mine with a grainy mustard. But that is totally a personal preference. (But a strong recommendation!)


Corned Beef & Cabbage
  
Ingredients:

Directions:

Place the vegetables on the bottom of the crock pot

Lay the brisket on top

Rub the seasoning's into the meat.

Add about 8 cups of water

Cook on low for 7 hours

It is that easy! A great meal. A great tradition...in America, anyway!


Sunday, February 28, 2016

So Much Has Changed Since His Last Birthday...Four Years Ago

When my son Trevor had his last birthday, February 29, 2012, both of our worlds were so different. I was married, he was not. I had two boys, he had none. Things have changed. And for the most part, they are good changes. Great changes. The majority of us get to mark our milestones through the annual dates of our birth. But those who only get to celebrate once every four years, have to acknowledge their markings a little more quietly in the off years. 

A brief explanation of why this magic leap day pops up every four years is, well, a little complicated. But in lieu of using charts, easels and graphs, here goes: A complete orbit of the earth around the sun takes exactly 365.2422 days to complete, but the Gregorian calendar uses 365 days. So, leap seconds (and then leap years) are added as a means of keeping our clocks and calendars in sync with the Earth and its seasons. Whew. 

As is it, only .024 percent of our population shares Leap Day as a birthday. My son is one part of that small percentage. I urge you to look in the archives of Kitchen Clatter and read "Happy 7th Birthday My 28 Year Old Son" for the full story! Today is Trevor's 8th birthday and he is actually celebrating it quietly with family. Having been there over the last 32 years for every one of his 8 birthdays, I will glow as he blows the candles out on his cake.

Since Trevor's last actual birthday in 2012, his family dynamics were altered by his parents sudden divorce. A surprise to us all. But he refused to let it alter his family values. Trevor stepped up and became the balance that helped himself, his brother Kyle, and his mother, stay a strong family unit. A newer version perhaps, but certainly not a diminished one.  I treasure that trait, a trait I am blessed to have in both my sons. In his 32 year, he has become the man every mother would want and I couldn't be more proud. So, since it is his nature to be rather quiet about his accomplishments and milestones, below, me...his mother, will proudly post them! Since his 2012 birthday he:


Got engaged

Got Married to Kathleen in 2013
Became a father in 2015


And in 2016 he became a protector, a mentor...
...and a buddy


Happy Birthday Trevor!

I look forward to the next one.
Four years from today!










Wednesday, February 24, 2016

No Trees Were Harmed In The Making Of This Cheese...

Just say cheese!
I feel sorry for people who don't live near a major city. People who are forced by geography to only shop in chain grocery conglomerates and dine in franchised restaurants. These people don't know the splendor of walking city blocks that divide into small neighborhoods where ethnic vendors specialize in selling the foods of their cultures. I live just outside of Philadelphia where in 10 minutes I can visit German Town, China Town, Queen Village (great Irish bars) and of course, the Italian Market along 9th St. in South Philly.
It's where butcher shops still cut your veal into paper thin slices. It's where any Sunday morning will find a line outside of Sarcone's bakery where the aroma of hot crusty bread wafts into the street. After all, Sunday, in this town within a city,  a pot of gravy is on the stove in every brick rowhome that lines the narrow streets, and you can't have gravy without bread. It's illegal.

And mixed in this street of butchers, fruit vendors and bakers, are fabulous shops where aged cheeses hang from ropes in store front windows. And I promise you, none... not one, will have wood filler mixed in. Just a simple coagulation of milk protein and fat from cows, buffalo, goats or sheep. The way nature intended.

77 years young and still going strong
The discloser from the Huffington Post recently that most, if not all, grocery store shelved containers of Parmesan also contain a form of wood pulp known as cellulose, a.k.a. "dietary fiber" was unsettling to me. It is not harmful and usually passes through your digestive track without leaving splinters in your colon. It's also...not cheese. But it is used to keep grated cheese particles from clumping together in that green carton purchased by the oblivious. It's also not new. McDonald's and Burger King have long used cellulose in the breaded coating on chicken nuggets. It's actually used in quite a few things. But why put it where it isn't needed?

A few years ago, I wrote about my Italian grandmother who shopped on 9th St. frequently on her walk from her job as a seamstress to the bus taking her back to New Jersey. "As one of the many grandchildren who would often 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 the cousins 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." I remember that as if it was yesterday. A little pinch of that white, soft, fluffy mound would melt on your tongue. How did we get from that to mixing in parts of a tree?


A charcuterie of cheese and salami hangs from the ceiling!

So here is the answer to this dilemma! Go to a store, preferably a shop that specializes in cheeses and ask for a sample (yes, you get to try before you buy in speciality shops) and then select a quality Parmesan Romona cheese, and bring it home. (If you don't have a grater, and your on 9th St., walk down to Fante's where they have 42 types of them). Then, when the meatballs and pasta are ready, only grate what you need. What a concept! No coagulation, no wood particles, no green cardboard box. Only cheese in it's purest form. Seal the remaining piece in a plastic bag and refrigerate. Afterall, we may not have control over everything in our lives, but what goes into our mouths, and the mouths of our families, should be never be compromised...or, made from wood.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Super Bowl & Crock Pot...Perfect Together!

A little provolone cheese, or horseradish mayo? OMG!
If you are in charge of throwing this year's Super Bowl party, you need to consider the crock pot your best friend. Nothing is worse than everyone being in front of the big screen hooting and hollowing while you are stuck in the kitchen. I've been there...it sucks! Morning prep and slow cooking will keep you with the party, watching the year's best commercials, and, oh yeah, there's apparently a football game going on.

So, with all of that in mind, I was searching for the best one pot recipe I could find. And, I found it! For those of you who remember the time when looking for a good recipe meant coffee at the kitchen table thumbing through a stack of women's magazines, well, I have a folder stuffed with those clippings. And, I still go through them, especially when something jogs my memory.

Such was the case with my Super Bowl find. A similar recipe to the one listed below, was in an early 80's issue of Family Circle. Then recently, a smart Mississippi woman, Karen Chapman, kicked it up a notch with the addition of the Hidden Valley Ranch dry packet to the ingredients. It has made all the difference and the internet took notice! Now, I am not a chef but I do love to cook, I can best be described as a "tweaker". I find something interesting and then try and determine flavors that would work well layered in.

Recently in my own test kitchen, I was slow cooking this roast, while simultaneously hosting a luncheon for my family. I was serving homemade chicken soup and sandwiches (hoagies, for those who know what one is). My sons couldn't resist the amazing aroma coming from the crock pot. Reaction tells me everything! "Oh man, Mom, that is really, really good. I am making this for my party next week," said my oldest, Trevor. Then the younger son, Kyle, a culinary school graduate, offered, after his taste. "Mom, this is some good sh**!" I'm assuming that's a compliment.

After smelling this roast cooking all morning, I must agree with the boys...this is an amazing crock pot recipe. And, easy, easy easy!

From this...
Ingredients:
·  (3-4 pound) roast, (a chuck roast works best here, it is flat and marbleized) 
·  One stick butter
·  1 package au jus gravy mix
·  1 package Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix (dry)
·  Pepperoncini peppers and a little of the juice, (add  as many as you would like. I used half a jar, both of my sons said they will use the whole jar.) Also, Trevor is adding garlic gloves pressed into the roast. Garlic and butter, how can that be anything but good?

That's it! Put the beef in first, layer everything else on top and cook on low for eight hours. Shred beef with a fork and serve on crusty bread (to stand up to the amazing gravy the combined ingredients make.)! This is not the time for hamburger buns! 

Now, back in the 80's, the original version was made as a pot roast. You could certainly do that here, just cook about an hour less and remove before the meat totally falls apart. The gravy would be awesome over mashed potatoes. I am actually having the small amount my boys left me over noddles for my Sunday dinner! 

My tweaked version? Same recipe but using (4) large boneless, skinless chicken breast and adding a cup of hot sauce. Shredding chicken when done and serving as a a hot appetizer! I will let you know how this goes!!!!

...to this!!! Score!!!


Photos by Jo Ann Phelps, GoogleImage

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Smart Bra...Seriously?


THIS JUST IN..."Researchers at Microsoft have developed a prototype of a "smart bra" embedded with physiological sensors that seek to monitor a woman's heart activity to track her emotional moods and combat overeating. The sensors can signal the wearer's smartphone, which then flash a warning message to help her step away from the fridge and make better diet decisions." CNN NEWS

Sometimes, like most people, I make the wrong decisions. And sometimes, I realize my mistakes at the worst times. Like when I decided that pulling the couch away from the wall and killing the dust bunnies on the wood floors beneath it, could wait until after the busy holidays. And then on Christmas Eve, my seven month old grandson is placed on the floor and the whole family joins him. I'm wondering if a smart mop would have helped me make a better decision in early December.

I thought of that after hearing that Microsoft is putting time and money into a bra that will not just track our heart rates, but also our "emotional moods" and then send warnings to help make better decisions. I'm not talking about a Fitbit type device (which I wear), that tracks footsteps, heart rate, miles walked and calories burned. These are things we can't track on our own and are useful when trying to reach daily goals.

I'm talking about a bra that will gauge your emotional stress, send a message to your smart phone, which will then alert you that reaching for the refrigerator door might not be a wise choice. The fact that anyone even thought this was necessary bothers me on so many levels! First, the refrigerator is where I keep my personal stress reliever...the white wine. Secondly, I don't want my underwear to be smarter than me.

And how will this bra differentiate between a the emotional stress of a bad day, or simply the normal day of the average working mom? The typical woman navigates through a busy work day, then picks the kids up from school, drags them through the supermarket, drops one off at practice, rushes home to start dinner before she has to return to pick that one up and drop an older one off. She finally gets back to her kitchen and her phone rings..."Hello, this is your bra. Please calm down and center your thoughts before proceeding towards the refrigerator." I vision cell phones flying out of kitchen windows at an alarming rate!

I'm trying to think at what point does a smart device cross over from being helpful to interfering with our lives? Okay, here is one situation where I don't always use the best judgement and could use a little help. Picture this; you're walking through the mall and your phone rings..."Hello, we just received a message from your bladder. We know you think you can make it home without leaking, but you can't. Please proceed to the nearest restroom." That could work.

But, it did not escape me that no money or research is being put towards inventing sensors for men's boxers that could send a warning when they are about to make a really bad decision. Even though I'm sure it would be much easier to detect! Or, (better yet) design the sensor in a man's underwear to call his wife when a mistake is about to be made. Hoping, of course, that she is on the phone with her bra.

Look, I am not going to deny that technology has made our lives so much easier. I just don't want sensors anywhere near my business areas, judging my emotions. Besides, I already have a device that tells me when to stay away from the kitchen. It's called a scale. And my underwear gets nowhere near it since it weighs about 2 ounces!


Photo by ImageGoggle


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Storm Warning! Bread ✔ Milk ✔ Eggs ✔...Crock Pot Recipe ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔


Those of us in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast are about to get hit with the first storm of the season! It won't be our biggest, but 12"-18" is enough to keep us busy. The grocery isles are packed with people who, I think, were actually a little excited. As I fought the crowds at the store yesterday, I couldn't help but notice the contents of their carts. It is clear that during snow storms we gravitate towards comfort foods and ignore the remaining New Year's resolutions! Potato chips, pretzels, cookies, brownie mix and toilet paper were in 90% of the carts. Not additional comments needed.

Snow storms are both inconvenient and productive at the same time. They do, for a short while, interrupt normal activities. But they also force families to reconnect by nesting and huddling together in a warm home. Like most mothers, I hated the wet gloves, boots and scarves by the front door,but I also enjoyed our time inside baking brownies and watching movies.

The man of our house worked in health care and had to be at the hospital during storms, so it was up to the boys and I to keep the driveway and sidewalks clean. It was a chore to be sure. But the best part was coming in to the smell of Sloppy Joe's cooking in the crock pot. It was an absolute family favorite. Snow days, were not the time to force healthy meals into my young snow clearing crew. Sloppy Joe's, chips and chicken soup was always the meal of the day! I used a recipe out of an old Family Circle magazine. The canned stuff does not even compare.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef (I usually used ground chicken).
(16-oz.) package ground pork sausage
small onion, chopped
1/2 medium-size green bell pepper, chopped
(8-oz.) can tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
hamburger buns, toasted (I usually used kaiser rolls because they held up better and I live in the Philadelphia area where we have the very best bread...just saying.)

Directions:

1. Brown beef and sausage with onion and bell pepper in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, stirring 10 minutes or until beef and sausage crumble and are no longer pink. Drain well.
2. Place beef mixture in a 4 1/2-qt. slow cooker. Stir in tomato sauce and next 9 ingredients. Cover and cook on HIGH 4 hours. Serve on hamburger buns or rolls. 

It is certain that everyone has their storm favorites. This is simply one of mine. Today, I have a HOA who will shovel and de-ice while I work in the basement on my latest project. And even though I once complained about all the wet outer gear in the hall, what I wouldn't give to see a pile of coats and melting snow at my front door. Enjoy it all!