My brothers and sisters and I, Christmas circa 1959
Most family have traditions around the holidays that they carry on year after year and even generation after generation. In my family growing up we had quite a number of them. I don't know how many, if any, were passed on from my grandparents to my parents though.
As Christmas approaches I have been thinking about some of those uniquely ours traditions. On Christmas Eve we always had tuna noodle casserole. Now some might think "How mundane." But we all loved it. Particularly because my mother served it in chafing dish with a small candle lit underneath to keep the food warm. It seemed so elegant and to the best of my knowledge that chafing dish was only used on that one night a year.
Posing for a Christmas Card, circa 1965ish
Christmas dinner was a very traditional English dinner including roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roasted potatoes, the ubiquitous trifle and Christmas pudding to be lit afire and brought to the table flaming away. It rarely flamed and no one ever ate it but my mother, but we went through the ritual anyway. We also always had English Christmas crackers we would open, share the riddles, and then wear the goofy hats included in the cracker throughout our meal. Inevitably getting through this process meant the meal would be nearly cold but it never mattered.
Another tradition was cookies. Lots and lots of cookies. We would start baking Christmas cookies the weekend after Thanksgiving and they would go into the freezer to be pulled out by the plateful during the holiday season. My 80 year old mother is still baking lots and lots of cookies to share with her ever growing family. And the most special cookies of them all were the angel cutouts for each of us. Always decorated in a light blue frosting dresses, blonde hair, food color drawn faces, and our names written down the cookie. Of course there were many other holiday shaped cut out cookies but the angels always tasted the best. Then there were a large variety of other cookies, some tried and true favorites with few new recipes each year, some hits, some misses.
The Christmas trees in our home had ever-changing decorations. Early on as seen in photos, my parents had the traditional green fir tree with lots of colored ornaments and copious amounts of tinsel hanging from the boughs. As we grew older they experimented with flocked trees decorated with different shaped gold ornaments or a green tree with red velvet ornaments and ornate red velvet birds. When we were young we would also have a tree in our basement "rumpus" room that was left to the whim of my sibs and myself to decorate. As my younger sister and I got older we often had our own little tree and decorated our bedroom as festively as we could.
Christmas decorations also always included a nativity scene set up on top of the big stereo which was usually playing Christmas carol records (any one remember Sing Along With Mitch?), a mistletoe ball hanging between the dining room and living room, the tree topper angel I made when I was a Campfire girl, and all the stockings hung on the mantle. There were lights hung on the outside of the house and wonderful smelling candles and fir boughs on the fireplace mantle top and Christmas china and the good silverware was brought out for our holiday feasting.
I think back on all of this with great fondness and appreciation for all the work it must have been for my parents. I recall no complaining from either of them as they made Christmas a magical time of year for all of us. For that I am forever grateful.
As promised on my Thanksgiving blog, I said I would post my grandma's delicious pie crust recipe. When I made my pumpkin pie, it was in a deep dish pie pan so I doubled the recipe and there wasn't much left as far as scraps go. The recipe card says this makes an 8" pie crust. It also makes approximately 16 muffin pan size crusts for tarts.
Grandma's Pie Crust
3 Tbsp cold butter, cut into small cubes
2 Tbsp cold Crisco shortening, cut into small cubes
1 cup all purpose flour
1 pinch of salt
2-3 Tbsp ice water
Cut the butter and Crisco into the flour and salt. Add the water, one tablespoon at a time and combine until a ball forms, but not sticky. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of 30 min before rolling out.
I do this in my food processor and with just a few pulses, it's done. Very simple. Happy Pie Baking!
Fall has never been my favorite time of year, but after the most wonderful walk recently, I've had a change of heart.
I started off early on a Sunday morning walk and I turned right instead of left. Being a creature of habit, I always turn left on my neighborhood walks. That morning something pulled me to the right and what a delightful change of pace and walk of discovery it turned out to be.
It was cool and there was a light fog shrouding the tree tops. The sidewalks were covered with the last of the falling leaves still holding on to their vibrant colors. The air was filled with the earthy, musty smells of decaying vegetation and wood smoke from house chimneys. Overhead flock after flock of honking geese flew by, making their amazing annual migration south to warmer climes.
I found myself walking down one of my favorite streets in town. It is in a well-established neighborhood and nearly every home is unique and charming. The flower gardens were put away until Spring, and all of the yards were neat and tidy.
On my way home I meandered through a city park which is one of my favorites. It is called Englewood Park and it's the last of what was known as the Englewood Forest. In our back yard we have a huge, beautiful cedar tree that is part of this old forest. The park has paths covered with fallen pine needles and the scent of the pine trees lining the path was intoxicating. The grey squirrels appeared to be on hyperdrive as they scampered up and down the trees getting ready for the cold weather ahead.
As I came home and walked in my front door, I felt relaxed and peaceful with a new found awareness of the beauty that is Fall.
I am thankful that my pie crust turned out beautifully on this Thanksgiving Eve. I have fooled around with many, many recipes for the perfect pie crust and tonight I had an epiphany. There is no better pie crust than my grandma's. I use it for tarts, I use it for pies, and it is perfect. The search has ended as of tonight. I will never try a new pie crust recipe again.
As I had to work all day today and then come home and bake a pie, I don't have the energy to post a recipe. But I will post this wonderful pie crust recipe very soon. My pumpkin pie filling was courtesy of the back of the Libby's pumpkin can. My mother always made her pumpkin pies using this recipe and it was always a hit growing up. Tried and True. That's the motto of the day.
P.S. I hate pumpkin pie. Happy Thanksgiving to you all.
I have two pianos in my home. The first one, pictured above, is an antique inherited from my two English great aunties who resided in Vancouver, B.C. This piano was made in England by a London company, Chappell and Company. Amazingly the company is still in existence today and located at the same address as is listed on my piano. Using the serial numbers found inside the piano, I was able to e-mail the company and found that the piano was built between 1880-1890.
My sister Linda at the piano at the great aunties house
It is not playable due to stuck keys and grossly out of tune strings but I love it nonetheless. I love that it has been a part of our family for many, many years. I love that it came from England, a country for which I feel such an affinity. And lastly, I love how it looks in my living room.
The second piano I obtained as a total impulse on an Easter Sunday, eight or nine years ago. I attended an estate sale in the neighborhood late in the afternoon when the sellers were anxious to close up the house. There was this perfect Howard spinet and its matching bench with a charming embroidered seat cover, marked from $600 to $350. On a whim I said "Would you take $300?" They said yes and it was mine, much to The Husband's chagrin. For it was he, with the help of our friends, who had to transport said piano from that house into our house. He claims it is the heaviest piano in the world, a claim I quesion. His efforts are still appreciated to this day.
The piano is my first musical love. Though I spent many more years playing the flute, I first learned to appreciate and play music on the piano. As a very young girl, I would listen to my mother playing magnificently moving pieces by Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, and Chopin. I was in awe of her talent. Her music books were a mystery to me, with page after page filled with lines of black notes I didn't understand.
I soon began taking piano lessons given by Sister Amy, a quiet, serious nun at the church we attended. She gently taught me to read music and play songs and I have fond memories of her. These memories come to a screeching halt with recollections of the recitals that were inevitable. Being a shy, introverted child, it was more than I could cope with, so the piano lessons came to an end. A year later in the fourth grade I started playing the flute and never looked back at the piano. Until I brought home the estate sale find.
I immediately went to a music store and purchased some books and started playing again. It is one of the most relaxing and enjoyable pastimes I now have. I practiced one piece enough that I even felt confident enough to play it for a group of friends one evening when we had "An Evening of Enlightenment" where we all had to bring something cultural to share with each other.
I know I will never play the piano like my mother, but I have returned to my first musical love and hope to continue tickling the ivories for years to come.
It is raining and grey with nothing ahead but the same in the forecast and I have a killer cold that won't go away and I want soup. I want soup that will warm me from head to toe with a little kick to try and clear the sinuses that seem to be clogged with cement.
I ran across this wonderful recipe from a fellow Oregonian's blog, Wives with Knives. The author speaks of having a rendition of this soup at a local McMenamins restaurant, which is exactly where I first tried it. And let me tell you, the first bite I had knocked my socks off, it was so good. For you non-Oregonians, McMenamins are a chain of establishments including restaurants, pubs, funky hotels, and entertainment venues around the state. The ones I've been to are all amazing. Check out their website if you are interested in reading more about this interesting corporation.
This soup went together in no time and the results were fantastic and very much like the restaurant version I have had many times. This will definitely be a go-to recipe in my soup repertoire. It was everything I needed and I do believe I can breathe a little more clearly now!
West African Chicken Peanut Soup
1 cup diced cooked chicken
2/3 cup diced onion
1-1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
2 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 cup chopped stewed tomatoes, drained
1/3 cup chunky peanut butter
In a large pot, saute the chicken, onion and garlic in the sesame oil until the onion is tender, about 10 minutes. Add the curry powder, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes, and saute 1 minute more.
Add the chicken broth, coconut milk, tomato paste, stewed tomatoes and peanut butter, stirring until well combined. Heat until very hot, but not boiling. Serve immediately
It starts out with a simple tea cup. A seemingly benign purchase. A pretty china cup and saucer picked out amongst all the many delightful cups and saucers on display in the china department in the big, beautiful department store in Vancouver, B.C.. The young girl and her sisters, led by their mother, select their pretty little vessels for purchase and therein begins the disorder. It's called Dishitis. It is a genetic disorder passed on in my family through the maternal side. We all have it and it's terminal and we will never be cured.
One shelf of my china cabinet
I was visiting my mother not long ago and we had a discussion about this infliction. I suppose there are far worse burdens to bear. But there is no more room in our china cabinets. Our dish cupboards runneth over. Another piece of glassware or vase will be the straw that broke the camels' back.
Some of my glassware
But there is always that "Just one more" moment when a dessert plate beckons with a pattern you've never seen before or that adorable egg cup shaped like a cute little chick peeps out your name. It's like a drug. You can't resist. There is always room for one more item. The Husband jokingly says when I die he will be selling my dishes for 25 cents a plate. It would seem he doesn't appreciate the seriousness of Dishitis and the inability of the women in my family to resist adding to our collections.
My mother's good china (inherited from her mother)
I have included just a small sampling of the collections of my mother and I. Mind you, she has a very large family, what with her own five children, our spouses, six grandchildren and their various spouses, and three great granddaughters. One needs a pile of plates to serve that brood. I, on the other hand, have only myself and The Husband to feed. Why do I need 10 place settings of everyday dishes and 8 place settings of china, and countless glasses, many teacups, etc, etc? Because I love them. Every last piece.
My mother's Blue Onion china (she has 3 other complete sets of dishes)
Both of my sisters have been stricken with this genetic disorder. They too have cupboards and cabinets full of lovely dishes that they have obtained as wedding gifts, inheritances, and their own purchases. I know if I asked them if they could part with any of it, they would be hard pressed to say yes. Time will tell if this dish curse passes on to their daughters and granddaughters. If it does, I know to whom I can leave my treasures!!
So now the world knows about our family disorder. I will no longer live in shame and I will hold my head up high the next time I walk out of the antique or collectors store with my newly purchased tea cup.
I have been giving a lot of thought to this blog which is now four years old. I have decided that I need to make some changes, both to energize my creative juices and to energize my desire to lose some weight. One of the problems with having a food blog is that there is always something to cook and then in turn, there is always something that needs to be eaten.
As much as I enjoy trying new recipes, my leaning has not been toward the most healthy, low cal foods. What fun is it to blog about celery sticks??? Well, my waist line has paid the price and it's time to pay attention. I will still be blogging recipes from time to time, but I am going to use this blog to post photos and writings of whatever strikes my fancy. I'm not going to feel tied to the kitchen every weekend cooking, but instead I am hoping to get myself outside and moving again.
Those of you who follow me on a regular basis are much appreciated and I hope I will still keep you as an audience as I venture on to new arenas, as I have subtitled my blog, A Slice of Life. Above is a picture I took last Saturday on a sidewalk on my block as I started off on a walk in between rain showers, with the sun peeking through the clouds.
I'm taking a little vacation from my blog for a week or two or three. I am working on a couple of time-consuming projects that require my undivided attention on the weekends. Because of this, I have no time to plan, cook, fashionably plate, photograph, write, and post my blog. As much as I love doing this blog, it does require a lot of time and effort.
So....I'm taking a break. Check in occasionally. I may need a change of pace from my projects and I often do get the itch to get in the kitchen if I'm away from it too long. I just can't promise anything! I leave you with a few pictures from the past glorious summer.
A lovely sampling of microbrews in Cannon Beach, Oregon
I am not going to say much about these cookies but WOW!!! These are really amazing. So quick to make. So few ingredients. Such a delicious end result. They're crackly, soft, chewy,chocolaty all in one cookie. If you are looking for a very chocolate cookie, may I highly recommend these double chocolate cookies.
The recipe makes 12 large cookies (size of my whole hand!). Next time I will make them using a teaspoon instead of a tablespoon. Give yourself plenty of room on the cookie sheet as the batter is very thin and they spread a lot when baking. Also, it is imperative to use parchment paper or a slipat liner as these cookies stick and need to be literally peeled off the paper. May I just say again, WOW!!
Double Chocolate Cookies
3 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 cups semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 (F).
In a medium bowl, whisk together 3 cups confectioner's sugar, 2/3 cup cocoa powder, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 1/4 cups mini chocolate chips. Set aside.
In a small bowl, stir together 4 egg whites with 2 teaspoons vanilla. Pour into the medium bowl filled with dry ingredients (from the first step), and use a rubber spatula to stir the ingredients together until well-combined. Don't worry if your batter looks too liquidy! This is normal. It should have a sludgey, paste-like consistency. If your batter is still too liquidy (if it has the consistency of milk, it's too liquidy), keep adding 1 tablespoon quantities of confectioner's sugar until you have the right consistency.
Line a baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat and use a cookie scoop to spoon 2 tablespoons of batter on top of each other (if you want to make smaller cookies, just spoon 1 tablespoons worth of batter). Leave plenty of space between the cookies because they will spread. Bake at 350 (F) for 14 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies are cracked, glossy, and flaky.
Rest the baking sheet on a cooling rack and leave the cookies on the baking sheet for 10-15 minutes. Once the cookies have set, use a metal spatula to turn them into the cooling rack to cool completely.
I have been reading about Buratta fresh mozzarella cheese for quite some time from other food blogs. I finally found some at Trader Joe's and brought some home to try.
Here is Wikepedia's definition: Burrata is a fresh Italian cheese, made from mozzarella and cream. The outer shell is solid mozzarella while the inside contains both mozzarella and cream, giving it an unusual, soft texture. It is also defined by some sources as an outer shell of mozzarella filled with butter or a mixture of butter and sugar. It is usually served fresh, at room temperature. The name "burrata" means "buttered" in Italian.
Let me just say, the concept and idea of it was much more appealing to me than the cheese itself. It was so very bland and the texture was just too mushy for my taste. The Husband wasn't thrilled with it either. It came in two 4 ounce balls and we still have one left. It has a very short shelf life due to its freshness. I was lucky to be given some beautiful Roma tomatoes (along with pears and apples) from a co-worker's garden, so another salad Caprise will be in order later in the week. I'm glad I tried this cheese, but in the future I'll stick to the basic fresh mozzarella.
School has started and I see the little ones walking toward the neighborhood school on my way to work. It reminds me of those long ago Fall days when my brothers and sisters and I would trek to our elementary school, lunch boxes in hand. Now kids seem to carry everything they need in backpacks nearly as big as they are. How much does an elementary student need anyway?
Back to my point. In our sack lunches besides a sandwich and a milk ticket, would be two or three cookies and an apple. Nothing fancy but certainly an adequate lunch to see us until dinner. One of my favorite store bought cookies, though not one we got in our lunches, was Grandmas Iced Molasses cookies. I loved the spicy soft cookie with the thin vanilla glaze on top. I'm not sure if they are even made anymore, but I looked up this recipe and they are so very reminiscent of those store bought cookies. One helpful hint. Do not overbake or they will not have that soft center and will be more like a gingersnap.
These are the perfect cookie for Fall with their warm spices to get us ready for the cool days ahead. Enjoy!
Iced Molasses Cookies
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus 1/3 cup for rolling cookies
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsulphered molasses
Preheat oven to 375°F. Mix together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice together in a bowl and set aside.
Use an electric mixer and beat the butter for 2 minutes. Add the brown sugar, and 1/2 cup granulated sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes with mixer set at medium speed. Add egg, vanilla extract, and molasses. Beat until combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula.
Add dry ingredients and beat at low speed until just combined, about 30 seconds.
Place remaining 1/3 cup of granulated sugar in a shallow bowl. Working with 2 Tbsp of dough each time, roll dough into 1 3/4 inch balls. Roll balls in sugar and place on ungreased cookie sheets, spacing them 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart.
Bake until the outer edges of the cookies begin to set and centers are soft and puffy, about 11 to 13 minutes. Cool cookies on sheets for 2 to 3 minutes before transferring them to cooling racks.
When cookies have cooled, lay out over a sheet of wax paper. Sift 1 1/4 cups of confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar) and then whisk with 2 Tbsp of milk until smooth. Dip spoon into glaze and dribble over cookies.
Yield: Makes 18 large cookies.
I don't often make my own barbeque sauce, opting for the more than adequate and copious bottled sauces available in the stores. This recipe caught my eye though. It sounded intriguing using stout beer as a main ingredient. It was a very good sauce for pork country spare ribs and I think it would be just as good for beef or even chicken.
Since I don't have an outdoor barbeque, I baked the ribs in the oven at 250 degrees (low and slow) for about 2 1/2 hours. basting with this succulent sauce every 30 minutes. When I make this again, I may look for ribs with bones, as the country ribs I used were a tad on the dry side. The flavor was outstanding with just the right amount of spicy zing from the Sriracha hot sauce addition. Before the summer grilling days are over you may want to give this sauce a try.
Stout and Sriracha BBQ Sauce
1 tbs olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
2/3 cup ketchup
2 tbs worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tsp sriracha
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 cup Stout beer
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp onion powder
(Yield, about 1 1/2 cups)
In a pot over medium heat, add the oil and allow to get hot but not smoking. Add the garlic and stir until you can smell it, about 30 seconds. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until combined. Allow to cook until thickened, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.
The beautiful berries of the Willamette Valley in Oregon are bountiful this time of year. I am always on the lookout for a new recipe to use these plump little jewels. Today the Triple Crown blackberries called out to me at the local Farmers Market here in Salem. A few weeks ago I had clipped a recipe from The Oregonian newspaper and these berries fit the bill.
This blackberry skillet cake was a nice recipe to make. It involves using a 10 inch cast iron skillet and this happens to be the favorite pan in my kitchen. I use it so often that I don't even put it away after each use. Every time I wash it, I dry it well with a towel then set it on a hot burner for about 2 minutes to ensure it's thoroughly dry. This inhibits any rust forming. I then put a dab of canola oil in the pan and use a paper towel to wipe it around the entire pan including up the sides. My garage sale $5.00 cast iron skillet is as good as any non-stick pan one can pay big money for in kitchen stores.
As this cake was cooking, the house was filled with such a wonderful aroma of the cake and the blackberries. It is delicious served slightly warm with a scoop of ice cream. This recipe is definitely a keeper!
Blackberry Skillet Cake
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
10 Tbsp butter at room temperature (divided)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 cup whole milk at room temperature
1/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3 cups blackberries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, using a mixer, beat 6 Tbsp butter and sugar on high until light and fluffy, about 6 minutes. Beat in eggs, vanilla and lemon zest until combined. With mixer on low, add flour mixture in 2 additions, alternating with milk, and beat until combined.
In an oven-proof 10 inch skillet, melt remaining 4 Tbsp butter over medium heat. Add brown sugar and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Remove from heat and arrange blackberries evenly in the skillet.
Pour batter over berries and smooth top. Bake until cake is deep golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes, rotating halfway through. Let cake cook in skillet on a wire rack 5 minutes. Run a knife around edge and carefully invert cake onto a serving plate. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 8 servings.
How has it taken me forever to discover the delicious cocktail called the Negroni? This is a drink made with an Italian apperitif called Campari. It is apparently really catching on here in the States. Not to long ago a Facebook friend mentioned sipping one on a Saturday afternoon and her photo looked very appealing. It wasn't until yesterday though, while thumbing through the latest addition of Bon Appetit magazine I saw a two page ad for Campari and I knew it was time to get to the liquor store.
It actually took me going to two liquor stores before I was able to get my hands on a bottle of Campari, the key ingredient in this drink. Let's just say apparently my town isn't a Negroni kind of place. With gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth in hand I mixed up one of the most lovely cocktails I have had in a very long time. It is one equal part of each of the three components and it can be stirred with ice and strained into a glass or served over ice, garnished with a twist of orange peel.
I don't know if this fantastic drink is going to totally replace my Perfect Friday Night Martini, but it certainly will be a very close runner up! For anyone who is interested in the history of the Negroni, here is the Wikepedia link that will tell you everything you want to know.
Make chocolate zucchini muffins! When a nice friend from work gave me two good sized zucchini I pondered what to do with them. Sweet or savory, I pondered? Since The Husband won't touch anything made with a squash product except pumpkin pie, I knew he wasn't a factor in my decision. I found this delicious sounding recipe and it looked like it was worth a try. And boy was it!
These went together in a matter of minutes. I actually only beat the eggs and sugar together with my mixer and stirred the rest together by hand. These are the most tender, moist, yummy muffins I have had in a very long time. There is no way an unsuspecting husband would know there was zucchini in these if a wife hadn't mentioned it. Live and learn. You gardeners out there with zucchini on your hands should give these a try. You won't be sorry!
Chocolate Zucchini Muffins
2 cups of shredded zucchini
4 oz of dark chocolate, semi-sweet, melted
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups of flour
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1. Preheat the oven to 350 and grease a muffin pan.
2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt, cinnamon and baking soda. Mix and set aside.
3. Beat eggs and sugar together on a medium speed for about a minute.
4. Slowly add oil while the mixer is on.
5. Add shredded zucchini and vanilla extract, keep mixing.
6. Turn the mixer to low and slowly add the dry mixture.
7. Add the melted chocolate and mix until all the ingredients are combined.
8. Divide the batter between the muffin cups and bake for 20 minutes.
These are amazingly good and it makes approximately 20 muffins.