Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Katharine Hepburn's FAMOUS Brownie Recipe!

One day at work a few years ago, one of my favorite professor friends in the English Department at Skidmore College brought in a crinkled foil package and placed it on the counter in my office. Suspicions aroused, I immediately investigated the contents of the package and was hit with the most intense chocolate aroma. Asked if she'd made the brownies, she confessed she had, and said that these weren't just any brownies, they were Katharine Hepburn's brownies. The best she'd ever tasted. Knowing that this professor is a chocolate fanatic if not epicurean snob (that's a compliment), I tried the recipe and agree completely. These are the best brownies I've ever baked.

This recipe is written, from what I understand, in Katharine Hepburn's exact words! You can almost hear her distinctive voice say "and beat like mad!" Please make these. You just have to.


Katharine Hepburn's Brownies

2 squares of unsweetened chocolate (2 oz.)
¼ lb. sweet butter (1 stick) (aka unsalted butter)
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of walnuts
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla
¼ cup flour (yes, just ¼ cup)
¼ tsp. salt

Melt unsweetened chocolate and butter in a heavy sauce pan. Remove from heat and stir in sugar. Add eggs along with vanilla and beat like mad. Stir in flour, salt, and chopped walnuts – not smashed up, you know, but just chopped into fairly good sized pieces. Now mix that all up. Butter a square tin (8x8 inches) and dump the whole thing quickly into the pan. Stuff this pan into a preheated 325 degrees oven for 40 minutes. Take out the pan and let it cool. Cut into 1 ½ inch squares.

Photo credit: http://www.katharinehepburntheater.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/chs_nn_katharine-hepburn-seated-possible-with-golf-club-4.jpg

Monday, June 29, 2009

Cake Season

It is cake season! This weekend I delivered three graduation cakes. The first one was for my nephew and godson Ben, who graduated from Marist in May. I put an edible photo of Ben and his long-time girlfriend Megan (also Marist ’09) on the cake. We cut around the photo so all that was left was the picture, but then I noticed someone ate Ben’s right leg! It was all over after that! The second cake was for twins Emmet and Jesse, sons of my friends Catherine and Michael. Emmet and Jesse graduated from Saratoga High this weekend and are on their way to Brown University in the fall. Their cake had Brown University’s logo as the design. The third was for a woman at work whose daughter graduated from Lake George High School, also this weekend, and hers was done in the school’s colors, blue and white. Luckily, the cakes were for parties on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, so I was able to pace myself and get it all done. I can’t say I was fully functional by the time it was all over. After I was done baking Saturday night, I realized I needed more ingredients for Sunday’s baking. I went to Walmart after midnight, realizing I was wearing flour and sugar on my black shirt. I didn’t think too much of it. It was Walmart, after all, and it was after midnight. People were friendly and smiled as we passed in the aisles. When I got back to my sister Patsy’s house, I said “Yeah, I am a mess but I had to go to the store anyway.” She pointed to my shirt. I was unaware that I was sporting a good 2-inch circle of white frosting dead center on the right side of my chest – right there!!!! No wonder I got smiles in Walmart! Yikes.

I know a number of people who, when they hear I bake cakes, say “Oh, I used to do that.” Or “My mother used to bake cakes.” For a lot of people, baking party cakes seems to be something that used to be done. It’s a lot of work and takes precious time, and can be an expensive hobby. Still, I don’t see myself ever stopping this practice of baking cakes for people as long as I can make the time to do it (not always possible). It is a very big part of my life. I love to participate in celebrating important milestones in life. The actual design and decorating of the cake is usually an act of inspiration and based on impressions of the guests of honor, with knowledge of their particular personalities and passions. It’s that personal touch that seems to mean the most.

I watch cake TV: Duff and his Charm City Cakes, Food Network cake challenges, and now the Cake Boss on TLC (something has to take the heat off Jon and Kate!). If there’s batter going into a pan and fondant being rolled out, I’m hooked. It’s like cake school. I have learned so much just by watching these people work. You realize that baking cakes is a matter of consecutive steps. If you can follow through from A to Z, you can bake and assemble a cake. It helps to have some artistic inclination. I used to paint in oils and watercolors. Early in my twenties my artistic direction changed from paint and canvas to food coloring and blank cakes. Sometimes I think that I don’t want to bake cakes anymore. I want a break – nights to watch Law and Order or the Food Network, time to read a book for pleasure, or time to do nothing and be fine about it. I don’t see that day coming any time soon. As soon as I sit down, I start to think about the next cake, and then it starts all over again.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Schuyler Farms Dairy Bar

Back in the 1960s, my parents used to load all of us up in the family wagon and drive about ten miles east to Schuylerville, New York. Schuylerville sits on the Hudson River and is well-known as the site of the Battle of Saratoga, the turning point of the Revolutionary War. Our trips to Schuylerville weren’t motivated by becoming well-versed in local and national history (though we took trips to the battlefield, too). We were going for hot dogs and hamburgers.

The Schuyler Farms Dairy Bar is no more. The familiar building on Route 29, just entering the village, closed its doors years ago. The building subsequently went through a number of incarnations and is now home to a Chinese restaurant. In its day, the SFDB was hopping. Schuylerville High School was just across the street. It was very much like a 50s diner, with two hair-pin curved counters that ran the length of the dining room. I still remember feeling lucky when we walked in and there were nine empty stools all in a row. Sometimes other patrons moved down a stool or two to make room for our large family, and my parents were often asked, “Are they all yours?” to which they’d proudly respond affirmatively. The orders were always the same. Hot dogs or hamburgers with French fries and a chocolate shake. The just-blended milk shakes came in those tall, frosty metal canisters and the waitress would pour half into the glass, and there’d always be a little rivulet streaming down the side. She’d leave the rest of the shake in the canister, something that seemed so generous to me at the time! I seriously believe that my love of hot dogs originated then and there. An order of two hot dogs, French fries, and a chocolate shake is an abundant amount of food for any one, but feeding it to a young kid is like over-feeding your dog. The food is there and it tastes so good that they’ll eat it until it’s gone! I remember riding home in the car and my childhood belly feeling absolutely bursting with fullness. There’d be a chorus of seven kids groaning “I ate too much!” Whenever I drive by the old building, it still rings in my ears. Sometimes my father would call ahead and I’d hear him say something like this: “This is Mr. O’Farrell. We’re coming in for dinner. We’re going to be needing ten hotdogs, eight hamburgers, nine orders of French fries, and nine chocolate shakes. See you in twenty minutes.” Yikes!

I always find it interesting when restaurants place coin-operated scales to measure body weight right in a dining room. There was one at the SFDB, right next to the door. I wondered: did people use it before they came in and again when they were leaving, to see how much they got for their money? Thinking back, it seems quite ironic (a word I didn’t know at the time) that the very place that serves full-fat ice cream, milkshakes, hotdogs, and cheeseburgers would even employ a device to indicate just what gluttons we’d become!

Despite the overindulgence, we always had a great time. Those were the days when parents paid close attention to their kids in restaurants, and most were very well behaved. We knew it was a privilege to eat out. It didn’t happen often but when it did, we were so excited and appreciative for the experience, we wouldn’t dare act up! Today it’s not unusual to be seated at a booth in a restaurant and find yourself being whacked on the head by the toddler in the booth behind you, whose parent then looks at you as if to say “Isn’t she cute?” and obliviously continues a conversation with a dinner partner. I miss the days when behaving children and attentive parents were the rule, rather than the exception, in restaurants. My sister Patsy and I were in TGI Fridays last week. The toddler at the neighboring table disintegrated into a serious melt-down, and rather than ignore it or wait for it to pass, the parents (thank you!) asked to have their meals packed to go. I was impressed by their consideration of the other patrons.

Every now and then when we’re trying to decide on a place to eat, and there are so many chains to choose from, I miss the Schuyler Farms Dairy Bar. It was one of a kind.

Photo credit: http://dinertuesdays.files.wordpress.com/2007/08/shake_res.jpg

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Chunky Chicken Salad

I find that chicken salad purists are loyal to their one way of having it. Some like the chicken really shredded up in tiny pieces with equally tiny bits of spices and flavoring so that it’s hard to tell the difference between it and tuna salad. Others like chunks of chicken mixed with chunks of fruit and nuts, like an expanded Waldorf-type salad without the apples (or with, if that rings your bell). Lillian's Restaurant on Broadway in Saratoga Springs has a great chunky chicken salad served on a croissant. During the summer months, you can sit outside at a table under the canopy of trees lining Broadway and watch the world go by, all while enjoying their excellent chicken salad!

Here's my recipe:

Chunky Chicken Salad – enough for at least four sandwiches

2 boneless, skinless breasts of chicken
Enough chicken stock (or water with desired seasonings) to cover chicken
1 rib celery
½ cups walnuts
½ cup crisp red or green grapes, sliced in half (or diced apples, or craisins or raisins)
Enough mayonnaise to coat, about half a cup

In large saucepan, cover chicken with stock or water and seasonings and bring to a boil. Poach very gently for 20 minutes. Turn off heat, cover, and let sit for half an hour. Remove from water, pat dry, and cool until you’re ready to assemble the salad.

Cut chicken into ½ inch cubes. In bowl, mix chicken with remaining ingredients, adding mayonnaise last to make sure you add only as much as you want.

Pile on lettuce leaves or stuff into a sandwich.

It’s really good!

Next post: Memories of the old Schuyler Farms Dairy Bar!

Photo credit: Google Images by Randy Mayer http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://img.timeinc.net/recipes/i/recipes/ck/05/04/chicken-salad-ck-1041889-l.jpg&imgrefurl=http://find.myrecipes.com/recipes/recipefinder.dyn%3Faction%3DdisplayRecipe%26recipe_id%3D1041889&usg=__R3_yrKCFNS-G06FxzqOWPpUqNh8=&h=300&w=300&sz=24&hl=en&start=62&tbnid=naefDF5_xWKYtM:&tbnh=116&tbnw=116&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dchicken%26gbv%3D2%26ndsp%3D20%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DN%26start%3D60

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Tuscan Bake

Sometimes it’s a wonder that I’m 100% Irish. For some reason, the inherited O’Farrell and McGeehan DNA do not compel me to cook as my ancestors did. No disrespect intended, I don’t cook Irish food, ever, and wouldn’t be at all familiar with most recipes from the old sod. I never cared for the obligatory corned beef or cabbage. My tastes lean toward Italian food, and though I’ve never been to Tuscany, or Italy for that matter, I love to cook as though I have!

This is my interpretation of a sausage and peppers dish that my sister-in-law Carolyn makes. She is half-Italian on her mother's side, and learned to cook in her Grandma DiBlasio's kitchen, so there's credibility here! Adapting her recipe, I add potatoes and chicken because there’s a local restaurant, Forno Tuscano in Saratoga Springs, that serves it this way and my son Jeffrey orders it every time.

In the rare case that there are left-overs, you have the makings for a terrific hot sandwich.

Tuscan Bake - Serves 4 or more

1 lb. sweet Italian sausage links
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about a pound)
2 Vidalia onions (or any onion you like)
2 green peppers
2 red peppers
4 red potatoes, unpeeled
¼ cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
Fresh black pepper
Grated parmesan cheese

Cut sausages and chicken into 1-1.5 inch chunks.
Quarter red potatoes.
Cut peppers and onions into bite-sized pieces.

Toss all together with garlic in olive oil in roasting pan. Add a little more oil if necessary. Grind black pepper over it all and sprinkle lightly with salt.

Bake at 400 degrees F, stirring half way through, until sausage gets crispy, the chicken is fully cooked, and potatoes are fork-tender, about 40 minutes (depending on your oven). Sprinkle with cheese and let that melt for a minute or two.

Serve with a green salad, soft rolls or Italian bread, and a side of marinara.

Upcoming Post: Chunky Chicken Salad!

Photo credit: http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.big-italy-map.co.uk/maps/italy%2520400.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.big-italy-map.co.uk/&usg=__9dqGXcG3gxhcrowLNuQzHqJhs8c=&h=458&w=400&sz=51&hl=en&start=1&tbnid=GgTaNZVHyLacwM:&tbnh=128&tbnw=112&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dmap%2Bof%2Bitaly%26gbv%3D2%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Beach House and Shrimp Scampi

For a number of years, my sister Anne and her husband John have rented beach houses in Emerald Isle, N.C. Each year they rent a different home in the same neighborhood, since there are many and each one is more spectacular than the previous year's rental. The homes have names like Sunny Bunz, No Regrets, Wind-N-Sea, and Flip Flop Inn. Painted in all shades of Caribbean pastel (with color-coordinated golf carts!) these homes are three stories high with the main living area and kitchen on the top floor. The living area spills out onto spacious outdoor decks allowing for panoramic views of the ocean. Typically, bedrooms are below, on the second floor, and rec rooms on the ground floor. There's a service elevator to help haul the many bags of groceries up to the the kitchen. Most homes have their own in-ground pool, providing a refreshing and relaxing post-beach experience! I've been so fortunate to be invited to join their family three times, and my main activity while there, other than playing in the ocean with the kids (like I'm one of them!) and loving the beach, is preparing meals for everyone to enjoy. Our sister Patsy joined us last year and, among other things, she cooked up her specialty and our nephews' favorite, chicken parmesan. Lunches were simpler. Each day we'd pack a cooler full of sandwiches and drinks for the beach and go stake out our spot, close enough to the boarded walkway so that we didn't have to lug anything too far! Early each day we decided what it was we would make for dinner, and after our late afternoon swim in the pool we'd go shopping for ingredients, including fresh seafood.

An abundance of fresh seafood is available at stands along the highway, or sometimes right off the shrimp boats just returning to shore. The first year I was there I made shrimp scampi, remembering in my head the recipe from my friend Liz who cooked it for us at one of our Girls' Night In evenings. Winging it, the dish was a huge success (many thumbs up from Anne's family) and Anne said, "It smells like a restaurant in here!" Music to my ears.

Here's my interpretation of Liz's recipe for shrimp scampi. It's a rare indulgence, so go ahead and enjoy the butter and olive oil and eat more conservatively the next day. It's worth it!

Liz's Shrimp Scampi

1 lb. linguini or pasta of choice
1 4 oz. bar of butter
1/2 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced (can be from a jar)
juice of one lemon
1/2 cup white wine (something you'd drink)
1 - 1.5 lbs. fresh shrimp, cleaned and deveined
1 cup grated parmesan cheese - the good stuff
1 lemon, sliced

Bring large pot of water with a little bit of salt to boil and add linguini. Cook according to package directions, but remove from heat and drain while it's still al dente.

While the pasta water is coming to a boil, over very low heat in large skillet, melt butter in olive oil. Watch it so it doesn't brown. Let garlic sit in this over the lowest heat until just before the pasta is finished. Five minutes before the pasta is done, take 1/2 cup of the pasta water and add to butter mixture. Add lemon juice and white wine, and to thicken, add 1 tbsp. flour mixed with about 1/4 cup cold water and stir slowly into butter mixture. Increase heat to medium low and bring just to a very light boil. Add shrimp and cook only until it turns pink and is just done. Turn off heat.

In large bowl, mix drained pasta with butter/shrimp mixture, and toss with half the parmesan cheese. Platter the shrimp scampi and sprinkle the rest of the parmesan cheese on top. Arrange lemon slices around the shrimp scampi.

Provide extra napkins. You'll need them.

Photo Credit: Artwork from website for Spinnaker's Reach Realty, Emerald Isle, NC

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Father's Day

My nephew Adam became a dad for the first time yesterday, on Father's Day. He and Rebecca welcomed Max a little after 5 a.m., a hefty 9 lbs., 1.4 oz. Max would have been my father's fourth great-grandchild, and he'd have fallen in love immediately with this little guy. When we speak of my father, it's often said, "No one loved babies more."

My dad passed away in 1993, the week before Father's Day. Alfred Jospeh Henry Lewis O'Farrell (Val to most) was the son of a noted New York City police detective, Valerian O'Farrell. He had a very interesting childhood, went to Notre Dame, and joined the army where he was stationed at Pearl Harbor after the attack. He was a tall, handsome Irishman and could charm just about anyone. The greatest gift he gave us was his love for our mother. He died in his 76th year, much too early for his wife, three sons, and four daughters who appreciated his life but felt cheated out of more time. He had always been so vital and youthful. He never became an old man, except for those last months in a nursing home after suffering a devastating stroke. Those months were not what he would have wanted, and I'm grateful that, as time goes on, that period of time has faded from prominence in my memory. Now, I remember my father as the strong, younger man of my childhood, who'd lift me high in the sky, whose wingtips I'd clunk around in, who let me dance on his feet. He loved to listen to baseball on the car radio. He rarely missed his kids' meets or games, and he played golf (no cart) whenever he could, right up until the stroke. He was a decent man who treated people with respect. My dad traveled for a living and loved to be with his family whenever he was home. Despite the size of our large family (seven kids), when we were young our parents enjoyed taking us out to dinner, to hotels, to vacations on the Jersey Shore. We traveled more than I ever did with my own children, and perhaps that's why I am always ready to pack a bag today to experience the next thing.

I was 39 when my dad died, and it was a rough year. It was also the year I became a single mom after nineteen years of marriage. I had a job I didn't love and kids who needed more from me than I could give at that time. Little did I know then that life could get better. My dad would have said, "Sister, you'll be fine" and I would have believed him, but he wasn't there to say it. Life did get better, and sometimes in dreams I sense his presence and fatherly assurance that I am, indeed, doing fine. I'd like to think he's somehow aware during life's successes, and guiding me through its challenges.

A friend I knew lost her father who was well into his nineties when he passed away. She was in her sixties at the time, and devastated at his passing. People at work were wondering why she was having such a hard time of it. Ater all, he'd lived a long, productive life. She missed work for a long time and had trouble resuming the life she had before she lost her father. I was curious about how hard it hit her, and when we talked about it she said, "No matter how old your father is, when he's gone, he's gone. You only get one." I understood.

This was posted on Monday, June 22, 2009

photo credit: google images

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bolton Landing

This is a photo of my great-neice Lili having fun in Lake George last summer. We were at a beach in Bolton Landing on the west shore of Lake George, about 10 miles north of the village. It was a picture-perfect summer day. Bolton Landing is one of my favorite places on earth, and it is less than an hour away. Part of the reason I love it is because that’s where I visit my daughter Katie’s family. Katie, her husband Bill, and little Henry live in a cute bungalow on the road that leads up to the Sagamore Golf Course. They have a one-bedroom home on a couple of acres with a pond and an impressive waterfall. Needing more elbow room, they’re building the new home in Middle Grove. There they’ll have much more living space and many more acres of land, not to mention a Grandma right over the garage!

Even though they won’t be living in Bolton Landing for much longer, we’ll still continue to be regulars there. Katie and Bill are boating enthusiasts and can’t stay away from Lake George for long. Reasons for loving Bolton Landing are many. First of all, it’s on Lake George. There’s pretty much nothing better than that. It’s a small town with everything anyone should need. There’s an ATM, a Ben and Jerry’s, a post office, a Grand Union, a Stewart’s Shop, a good deli, a Laundromat, a liquor store, and very good restaurants (I love Cate’s for Italian food). There’s a boutique, a new pizza shop, a few bars, gift shops, soft ice cream, an antique dealer, an internet café, a cute produce stand with seasonal offerings, a library, a museum, churches, free parking, two great beaches, and more. And of course, there’s the Sagamore Hotel. All this is found within about four walking blocks. On the Fourth of July, you’ll see one of the best fireworks displays in the area, originating from a barge out on the lake, just south of the Sagamore. Boaters drop anchor to watch the fireworks from the water. Others gather at Rogers Park and along Route 9N for their view.

Katie says they roll up the sidewalks between Labor Day and Memorial Day, but that’s a bit of an exaggeration. You will find people milling about through the holidays. Between January and March, there’s too much snow and it’s too cold to notice what is or isn’t going on!

In the summer time, I love the beach at Roger’s Memorial Park. Nestled in a cove with expansive views of the Sagamore and pretty boat houses along the the lake, this beach is Bolton Landing’s best kept secret. Locals know it’s there, but more people go to the larger Veterans' Beach just north of the last traffic light. I often take Friday afternoons in the summer and spend them at the beach at Roger’s Park. Pleasure boats use the long wooden dock for easy access to town and swimming. The large Mohican and Minnehaha boats steam by. Parasailors ascend and land out on the water. Teenagers jump off a nearby pier. The sandy beach is perfect for little nieces and nephews who come with sand toys and kites. Sisters and friends join me for sun-filled afternoons talking about everything and nothing. We pack a picnic lunch or pick something up at the deli across the street, and hang out until it seems the right time to leave. Somehow, though, that time always comes too soon.

Driving home after a day like that is a pleasure. I turn the radio on to the oldies station, open the sun roof and let the wind dry my hair. The slow, winding drive down Route 9N to exit 22 of the Northway is a beautiful experience. There are gorgeous vistas of the lake, and lots of one-of-a-kind motels and stopping points. It seems as though time has stood still in this small little portion of the world. Looking forward to the next time, I never feel as though I’m leaving this favorite place for long.

It's a Different World

It’s been a rainy June in Saratoga Springs, and we’ve only had one day this month that’s reached 80 degrees. Days like this find me longing for the warm, long, lazy summer days of my childhood, when blue skies and sunshine were the only formula necessary for a good time.

When I was a little kid on MacArthur Drive, summer seemed so much longer than it does now. Then there was time to be bored, time to lie on the grass, contemplate the clouds, and watch the world go by. I often hear “it’s a different world now” usually in regard to politics, personal finances, or raising kids. It’s also a different world for the way kids experience life. During our 1950s and 60s summers, we’d run out the door after breakfast and wouldn’t return until lunch time. It was the same for the hours between lunch and “supper” as we called dinner then. Our mothers knew we were outside playing, but didn’t have to know exactly where. Play wasn’t structured or organized or considered a “date.” It didn’t cost a thing. It was spontaneous and creative. Most mothers were home then, not burdened by the worries of parents today. We didn’t take snacks with us everywhere we went. We ate when we were home. We didn’t lug water bottles or vitamin-infused drinks with us. We drank from water fountains or garden hoses. We rode our bikes or walked, and family dogs tagged along. We were participants, more than mere observers, of the world around us. We didn’t have to pay fees to be part of a team. We just signed on and anyone who wanted to, played ball. When the sun went down, our parents would gather on lawn chairs in a neighbor’s driveway and watch as the kids played Red Light Green Light , Red Rover, or Freeze Tag. On the Fourth of July, we’d gather together and swirl sparklers in glimmering spirals, with minimal caution from our parents to be careful. My mother, her world passing by more quickly than ours, would sigh, “After the Fourth of July, summer’s over…” and we’d protest, “Mom, don’t say that!” Our summer was just beginning.

Summer hasn’t yet officially started. The Fourth of July is approaching, and I can’t wait. There’s so much summer to enjoy after that!

Tomorrow's blog: Bolton Landing!

photo credit: http://images.quickblogcast.com/101258-93957/Boy_Drinking_Water_from_Garden_Hose.jpg

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

GNI and Spinach Salad!

Girls Night In is often more fun than Girls Night Out. Rather than scouting for a good parking space, jostling for a table, and paying restaurant prices for food and drink, many women are opting for GNI as an affordable, and more relaxing, alternative.

My first GNI was about six years ago when I moved from a large apartment into a much smaller place. Despite the tight quarters, with a galley kitchen and a living room the size of a match box, eight of us gathered to enjoy a few hours together. Everyone brought something to share. I provided the drinks and dessert (I typically provide the dessert!) and we had a great time. It started a monthly round-robin of sorts, with one friend offering to host the next GNI, and another the one after that. We all looked forward to sharing our own homes and hospitality which allowed us to get to know each other quite a bit better than if we were spending time in restaurants or pubs.

The other night a number of friends with our daughters (and my grandson Henry) gathered at my friend Diane’s home. We enjoyed Diane’s Chinese chicken salad, Tina’s terrific spinach salad, Lynn’s home-made macaroni and cheese, and a key lime pie for dessert! It had been a long time since we’d all gotten together. We laughed over shared memories and talked about the future. Henry entertained all by scooching -- fast as lightning -- his mode of transportation rather than crawling. He’ll be walking any time, but for now, it’s something to see him sitting upright, his movement powered by thrusting his arms up and down simultaneously as his little legs pull back and forth!

Since that first GNI I’ve enjoyed many fun evenings with friends in and out of our homes. Every now and then we head to downtown Saratoga Springs instead of someone’s kitchen, when there’s that need for a spontaneous get-together and you just want to sit and talk, and get waited on! But when you have time to plan a casual evening together for no other reason than to enjoy each others’ company, nothing is more relaxing than a Girls Night In.

Here are the makings for that wonderful, simple spinach salad. The ingredients are listed but quantities are up to you:

Spinach Salad

Baby spinach leaves
Crisp bacon, broken up into bite-sized pieces
Blue cheese crumbles
Very thin slices of red onion (if desired).*
Glazed pecans or walnuts
Toss all together, and serve raspberry vinaigrette dressing on the side.

Make it a meal by adding grilled chicken or shrimp, and serve with a crusty loaf of bread.

*You can tame red onion a bit by soaking slices in ice water or milk for five minutes or more before using. It removes some of the bite.

Photo credit: http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://i.ehow.com/images/GlobalPhoto/Articles/2285422/spinach_Full.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.ehow.com/how_2285422_boost-health-five-healthy-foods.html&usg=__FkmNhujG7WILRPuSLF42bu_-oLk=&h=564&w=498&sz=60&hl=en&start=65&tbnid=0cmymJdBe0COUM:&tbnh=134&tbnw=118&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dspinach%26gbv%3D2%26ndsp%3D20%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DN%26start%3D60

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Summer Confetti Salad

This is one of the most colorful, healthy, and refreshing salads you can make. It's also one of the easiest. I first had it when I participated in a comparative weight loss study at Skidmore College sponsored by the Exercise Science Department and Body for Life. We were all monitored for six months and exercised six days a week! We started in August and by Thanksgiving I’d lost the equivalent of a good sized Butterball turkey! You know how it goes -- once the discipline and oversight of the study ended, life got in the way and the structure of the program faded. Still, there are remnants of that experience that have stayed with me, and among them are recipes for good, healthy food. This recipe is one that I use again and again. It’s a huge hit at summer barbeques. With the rice, beans and colorful veggies, it's very pretty and looks like confetti, so that’s where it got its name.

Summer Confetti Salad

4 cups cooked brown rice (instant or regular), cooled
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
½ green pepper, chopped
½ red pepper, chopped
½ yellow pepper, chopped
½ cucumber, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
2 tbsp. chopped red onion
1 small container feta crumbles
1 small bottle light Italian dressing, more or less to taste

In large bowl, combine rice with beans and chopped vegetables. Add feta and Italian dressing. Mix well. Chill. That’s it!

Next blog: Girls Night In Food!

CALLING FAMILY COOKS WITH RECIPES! Please join in as a follower (you know you want to!) and start sending me your recipes and stories to jeddy001@hotmail.com. I'd love to feature something that's special to you. You don't even have to like cooking, but if you have something you remember fondly or are loving today, make a suggestion and I'll put it up! Thanks! - Jeannie

photo credit: http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://soul-sides.com/uploaded_images/SummerSunflower1-742749.jpg&imgrefurl=http://soul-sides.com/labels/summer%2520songs.html&usg=__RG8WSvWYg82UYvX4RMGZQMqm35c=&h=216&w=320&sz=12&hl=en&start=29&tbnid=5QN1qt0Ao3Hv2M:&tbnh=80&tbnw=118&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dsummer%26gbv%3D2%26ndsp%3D20%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DN%26start%3D20

Monday, June 15, 2009

Lake George Wedding!

This weekend I attended a wedding on a magnificent old boat, The Horicon, on my beloved Lake George. This wedding is a second chance at happiness for both the bride and groom, whose calm certainty fills me with confidence that they will live out their lives in happy couple-hood. There were six little children, all nieces and nephews of the bride, celebrating the day: four girls, two baby boys, all decked out, appropriately, in nautical navy-blue and white.

My gift to the couple was their wedding cake, featuring three tiers of cupcakes and an 8-inch cake on top. All this confection was displayed on a custom-made stand. I’d looked and looked and couldn’t find a decent cupcake stand for wedding cakes, so I hired a friend to make one for me. It cost me $35.00 and two cases of Corona and is one of the best investments I’ve ever made! French vanilla along with pineapple-coconut were the flavors of the day. Since not everyone loves coconut, there had to be an alternative, so classic vanilla it was. I adorned the cake with white flowers and baby’s breath, and it was really beautiful in its simplicity (she says humbly).

I love weddings. They remind me that there’s optimism in this world. They prompt us to appreciate our own relationships, past and present, which have formed us. In celebrating a new marriage, weddings also provide opportunity to pause for a moment to acknowledge all forms of love in our lives.

Baking a couple’s wedding cake is certainly a lot of work, and in this case it was particularly a “labor of love.” It is an honor that very few people realize, and I am very grateful.

Photo credit: Jeannie Eddy

Next blog: Summer Confetti Salad (hint: brown rice, black beans, chopped veggies, feta cheese, italian dressing - SO good!)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Basic Muffin Recipe

Wouldn’t you love to provide your guests with home-baked muffins in the morning? Wouldn’t you like to be the guest presented a beautiful muffin in the morning? Even better, wouldn’t you like to give yourself a warm-from-the-oven muffin on a not-so-special day? This is an especially good recipe, adapted from a beloved coffee cake. It is a very basic batter made from all good things, and is wonderful on its own as a sour cream muffin, but even better when you add ingredients. If you want to lighten it up, use egg whites and low-fat sour cream, but leave the real butter in. It’s works out to be a minimal 1 teaspoon of butter per muffin, and the flavor is well worth it. Make a bunch and flash freeze any leftovers, then keep frozen all together in a large zippered freezer bag. Take one out the night before and the next morning – happiness!

Basic Muffin Batter – Makes 24 regular sized or 12 super sized muffins

¼ lb. butter, softened
2 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 pt. sour cream
3 1/2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt

Beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and beat well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add sour cream and beat well.

In separate bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add to the wet ingredients, about a third at a time, mixing well.

Add ins:
Blueberry: 2 c. frozen blueberries dusted with flour and ½ tsp. lemon OR almond extract

Coffee cake: 1 c. brown sugar mixed with 1 tbs. cinnamon. Layer batter, sugar mixture, batter, sugar mixture. Bake and when cooled, dust with confectioner’s sugar or drizzle with glaze.

Chocolate chip: Add 1 ½ c. mini chocolate chips dusted with flour

Orange cranberry: Add 1 ½ c. craisins and 1 tbsp. grated orange peel. If you have orange extract, add 1 tsp.

Or anything else you like in your muffin!

Use paper liners or spray muffin tins with non-stick spray. Bake at 375 degrees F for about 21 minutes (for regular size, longer for larger muffins) or until tops are dry and bounce back when touched.

I'll be blogging again on Monday. This weekend I'm making a cupcake wedding cake for a good friend!

Next blog: Lake George Wedding

Photo credit: Sydney Waring

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cruise Food!

Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas, pictured here, is the first cruise ship I’ve ever been on, and I was reluctantly ready to have a good time when we boarded in March of 2007. Joining me were my friends Cathi and her sister Barb, Toni, Angela, and my sister-in-law Carolyn. I’d always heard the same hesitation from people who’d never been on a cruise: “I can’t imagine being stuck on a ship out in the ocean,” “The last place I want to vacation is on a cruise,” or “I think I’d go stir-crazy in those little cabins.” Well, those notions were very quickly dispelled as soon as we were on-board. We walked into an Oz-like city of a gorgeous Main Street lined with shops, restaurants, and pubs. Sky lights of stained glass drenched the street with sunshine by day, and at night street and shop lights transformed the main boulevard into a Mardi gras atmosphere. There was so much to discover and we needed our full seven days to take advantage of all the ship had to offer.

You might think that when meals are included in the price of a cruise, you’ll be settling for sub-par fare. Not so! If you’ve never been treated like royalty, go on a cruise and you will be. Each table is assigned its own personal wait staff (not a waiter, a staff of attendants to cater to your every whim!). Every time I said thank you, the staff responded with “my pleasure” and meant it. Each evening’s meal concludes with a menu for the following evening’s meal, and choices are made. Change your mind the next day? No problem. You can basically have whatever you want. Our friend Barb requires a gluten-free diet, and they baked her a loaf of gluten-free bread every day! The ball rooms are impressive, with tiers of one elegant dining room over another, all overlooking a magnificent central staircase where, at the end of the meal, the entire wait staff join together to perform for the diners. It’s really amazing. I had the best glass of wine I’ve ever enjoyed on that cruise. It was Santa Margarita’s Pinot Grigio, and I am not even a wine drinker!

Since there were six of us, my friends and I had our own table and were not joined by other cruisers, though if we had to share a table with others, we would have enjoyed it. There’s something about a sense of community that evolves as people travel together. It’s a lot of fun and by the end of the cruise people say hello to many familiar faces.

Room service is always an option, but we loved getting dressed for our 8 p.m. dinner seating (not too dressy, though some did get dolled up!) and also enjoyed breakfast on our own balcony overlooking the ocean or ports of call. There are many options for casual to elegant dining, and the strangest thing to get used to is the café on the main drag where you could choose a snack any time of day, at no charge, ever! For me, one of the biggest highlights of the trip was a guided tour of the fantastic 3-story kitchen by the head chef. Now that was impressive! I bought Royal Caribbean’s cook book just so I can remember the wonderful meals we were served.

I could write about my happy cruise forever, about the comfortable cabins, the live entertainment, the casino, the beautiful pools, the ice skating rink and skaters, the movie theater, the internet lounge, the library, the beautiful shops, THE PORTS OF CALL, being made to feel like a queen, and the overall quality of the experience, but I’ll stop here. If you are considering a cruise and hesitate because you feel it’s too confining or that you won’t like the food, I’m here to tell you to go for it. Even if you never step foot off the beautiful boat, you won’t be sorry!

Photo: Jeannie Eddy, March 2007

Next blog: Basic Muffin Recipe

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


I have a friendly relationship with cats. We nod, acknowledging each others’ presence, and move on. Once in a while a cat will misread my intentions and proceed to rub up against my leg. I don’t shy away but it stops there. Any closer and my eyes will itch and the sneezing will begin. My sister has a neighbor cat, Maurice. Patsy and her husband swear Maurice is dog-like as he approaches with obvious happiness and curiosity, not with the stealth wariness I associate with many cats. Maurice is big and white with black spots. If he were a dog, he’d be a bull dog. His coloring is just right. He’d love to be friends with Roxie, my sister’s boxer, and she will have none of it. Maurice wants to love Roxie. Roxie wants to eat Maurice. I understand that people really love cats. Even though I had a cat for many years, a white and orange kitty named Marmalade, I could never get too close because of the allergy situation. So I don’t have the same affinity for cats as some, though I can understand when considering how I feel about dogs. I come from a long line of dog lovers. Roxie is but one dog in my life. For someone who doesn’t own a dog and hasn’t in decades (my kids say I should never own a dog or a houseplant? - nice), I claim close friendships with a lot of dogs.

First are my “grand-dogs” Apple, Oden, and now Hayden. Apple (named before Gwyneth Paltrow's Apple) is a petite black lab mix, very emotional, and belongs to my daughter Meghan. Oden is a gentle giant, a massive black lab with a big block head and belongs to daughter Katie and her husband Bill. Hayden is the newest member of the family. My son Joe adopted Hayden last week. He’s a 7 month old blood hound who looks like a Disney character! He’s all legs and ears with a forlorn face and a furrowed brow. He drools abundantly and lopes as he follows Joe everywhere. It’s only been a week but he’s already etched a place in our hearts. He’s also left giant paw prints on the seats and drool marks on the head rests of my almost-new car.

Jette is one of my all-time most favorite dogs, and belongs to my boyfriend Russ. She’s Apple’s sister, from the same litter. Their mother, Dakota, was one of the smartest dogs I ever knew. Dakota was a border collie, and their father was a yellow lab from downstairs that happened to break through a screen door, resulting in a litter of black lab-like dogs with the acuity of a border collie – adorable little bundles of black with eyes that don’t miss a thing and the ability to catch any ball! Jette “speaks” with intonation and Russ knows what she’s saying! He runs a vocabulary list by her every morning and she reacts to each word. It’s hysterical.

Roxie is my sister Patsy’s boxer, a tawny-coated petite pup with a black face. She’s almost two years old and just entering canine adolescence. Roxie follows Ali, their beloved boxer of twelve years. Ali is a hard act to follow and Roxie is her own dog.

Petey and Beasley are PBGVs, or Petite Bassett Griffon Vendenes, a small breed with the body of a basset hound and the face and fur of a terrier. Imagine that! They are owned by my sister Anne’s family. Beasley has the longest eye-lashes I’ve ever seen on a dog – so long that they have to get trimmed!

Leila is a gentle, blond, furry golden retriever who lives in Hatfield, Massachusetts, and is owned by my friend Jan. She’s got soulful brown eyes and a light brown nose. When I visit, Leila usually ends up finding me in the wee hours of the morning and hangs out with me until everyone is up. She’s a hugger.

Maggie and I were roommates at Patsy’s house for a while when my nephew Adam was waiting to close on his new house. Maggie is an English bulldog, and as a puppy she was adorable. Maggie and Roxie are great buds, and together they are a whirling mass of muscle, jaws, and playful growls! After playing together they both drop to the floor and fall sound asleep in exhaustion.

Such is my tribute to the dogs in my life, and fortunately I get to love them without the associated food or vet bills! I bake them treats for special occasions. Life always seems better when there’s a dog sleeping at your feet.

Photo of Maggie as a puppy by Patsy Britten

Tomorrow's blog: Cruise Food! (or croose food, or cruz fud, or cruise fuid, tell me to stop!)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Dinner in the Country

Traveling east of Saratoga Springs last Thursday evening, my friend Claire (of Bitchin’ Bette’s fame) and I drove to have dinner with her sister Kathleen and her husband Ed. Recent transplants from Westchester, PA, Kathleen's and Ed’s new home sits on six acres on a quiet country road somewhere between Greenwich and the Vermont border! There’s a garden started, and six new chickens have begun laying eggs. Before we arrived, Claire and I stopped at the Hand Melon Farm and picked up Georgia peaches and nectarines.

Upon our arrival, Kathleen greeted us with South Hamptons, a refreshing non-alcoholic drink of tonic water, lime juice, bitters, and a slice of lime. Just a splash of bitters gives the drink a pretty pink color. Perfect for a summer night. Ed makes a wicked Manhattan, but I wanted to be able to function. Claire and I always talk about how much we love Ed’s “Mahhnhaaatans.” That’s what that drink does to me!

We sat chatting in the kitchen while Kathleen effortlessly (it seemed) prepared chicken a la king. She’d picked up fresh asparagus and a chicken at a local farmers market. I remember this dish from my childhood, though ours was prepared by S.S. Pierce (an especially good specialty food company) and my parents had to open many small cans to feed a family of nine! Kathleen’s version stirred up happy memories of my family enjoying that meal together. I watched as Kathleen thickened chicken stock with flour, added mushrooms, pimento and shredded chicken, and I’m sure other ingredients, but I wasn’t paying complete attention since I talk a lot! We ate dinner outside on their screened-in porch. The chicken a la king was served with brown rice, perfectly steamed asparagus, and a simple salad of baby greens with Kathleen’s own vinaigrette. It was perfect.

For dessert, Kathleen served sliced organic strawberries topped with a little bit of vanilla ice cream. As we enjoyed our meal, we were entertained by a mother bird feeding her young in a nest perched just outside the porch. There were all kinds of little country animals and birds on display. Bunnies, hummingbirds, squirrels – as if Walt Disney himself had set the stage for our beautiful evening.

Here is Kathleen's recipe:


2 TBS butter or substitute
3 TBS flour
¾ tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
¾ cup half and half or canned skim milk
½ cup hot water
1 tsp instant chicken bouillon
2 cups cut up chicken or turkey (cooked)
1 can mushroom stems and pieces (small can)
2 TBS chopped pimiento (or cut up roasted red peppers from jar)

Melt butter, add flour, salt pepper and gradually add milk, stirring constantly. Add hot water and bouillon. Stir until thickened. Add remaining ingredients and cook until heated through. Serve on toast points, over rice, or puff pastry. Serves 4

Photo by Jeannie Eddy

Next blog: dogs

Monday, June 8, 2009

Other Women's Kitchens!

For the past several months, I've been baking in other women's kitchens! The kitchen in my new home will be functional within a few weeks (it's been "two weeks" for a lot of weeks!). This need to find baking space has been a mixed blessing. I've been combining baking with visiting good friends, and it's been a lot of fun.

Sydney: Sydney is the significant other of my daughter's father-in-law. Say that ten times fast! She has offered up her beautiful country kitchen, and that's where the "blueberry muffins" slide-show was photographed. What you don't see is her well-stocked kitchen and gorgeous, cobalt-blue Kitchen Aid with two sizes of mixing bowls! I get excited just thinking about it! We usually bake while little Henry is napping, or sometimes she'll graciously welcome me in the evening and we'll throw together muffins, scones, or cinnamon rolls. One week I made coconut cupcakes with coconut frosting for a taste test for a friend's upcoming wedding cake. Sydney is a quilter-extraordinaire, and has made precious gifts for her family, including Henry. She's about to become a grandmother again soon, and she's thrilled about it. We have lots of fun in that kitchen. The deal is that I leave her with samples. It works well.

Barb: My friend Barb is a lovely woman, and as a recent young widow with grown children, her house is quiet these days, unless she's hosting her new grandson Joey! Joey, the son of her daughter Tracee, brings along his mom and her husband Joe, and Barb loves every second of their visits. When her son Jeff joins them, it's even better. When I asked Barb if I could come bake one evening, she was very welcoming. We enjoyed mudslides while I got flour all over her kitchen. I even left with one of her measuring cups and must remember to return it. We sat and talked about all the fun we had when our girls were Girl Scouts together. We took trips to Philadelphia, the Jersey shore, Walt Disney World (twice!), and just had a great time watching our kids (and ourselves!) grow up together. When my kids were young, there were many Girl Scout outings where all my kids were welcome, and because of Barb and her sister Cathi (GS leader) my children experienced many wonderful trips and outings that they otherwise would have missed. What I didn't mention is that I started out as the leader, with my friend Christina, and neither one of us were anywhere near as enthusiastic about the job as Cathi was, so she happily took over and was an exceptional leader. I was demoted to Cookie Mom, but that was good, too! At least we didn't have to spray paint gold any more macaroni sculptures!

Carolyn: my sister-in-law Carolyn not only provides me baking space, she feeds me too. When I was there last, she and her husband Bill made a great dinner of grilled chicken (marinated in ranch dressing), asparagas, and rice. We always have a great time together. Of our combined nine children, three of mine and three of hers are the same ages, and grew up three houses apart. One memory that's funny now, but wasn't then, is of a birthday party at Carolyn's house for her daugther Louise. I asked if I could help and was told I could make Kool-Aid for the kids. I took the sugar from its canister in the pantry and stirred up a big batch. The kids took sips from their cups and their faces contorted in reaction to the Kool-Aid. Seems I mistook the salt for the sugar. Like I said, it's funny now! We had so many fun times. We used to take the kids to the drive-in movies. They'd be all set in their pajamas with pillows and blankets and we parked our two massive station wagons side by side. Some of the kids sat on the roof of the car, some had lawn chairs, and the little ones fell asleep in our laps. We'd light those misquito-chaser coils and hang the metal speaker on the window. The kids would beg for treats as the loudspeaker announced "five minutes to show time" while hot dogs and tubs of popcorn danced across the screen. Those were wonderful summer nights.

Anne: My sister Anne is the youngest of seven siblings. Her husband John is a great guy. Anne's a realtor in Saratoga and has four boys of her own, almost all grown up. She has a beautiful kitchen and I LOVE baking there -- partly because of the beautiful kitchen -- but more because her boys are there and they are so much fun. Ben just graduated from Marist, where his brother Jack graduated two years ago and where brother Patrick just completed his sophomore year. Will is incredible. He just turned sixteen and is the nicest kid you'd ever want to meet. When I was moving boxes from my apartment to storage, he helped a lot. I wanted to pay him and he refused. He said "That's what family does for each other!" I mean, really. He's sixteen, and so NICE! Plus, like his brothers, he's very handsome and smart! (I'm not biased!).

Katie: I drive up to Bolton Landing to bake in Katie's kitchen, and the bonus is that I get to spend time with her and little Henry. It's the best way to spend a day, that's for sure. Can't wait until we have dueling kitchens in the new house! Neither of us got double ovens because we figure we can bake in each others' kitchens! We're so excited about hosting big meals for family and friends, SOON! I love watching Katie "be" a mom. She's relaxed, confident, and loving. She is patient and doesn't panic when Henry bumps his head. She talks him through the little bumps and bruises and he reacts accordingly. Not like her mother who ran screaming through the house searching for band-aids or said to her husband "You look, I can't!" And I wanted to be a nurse... Yikes.

Patsy: my sister Patsy has been the most gracious host while my "short" stay has been extended beyond three months! That seems unbelievable. I don't typically bake in Patsy's kitchen because she's got a renovation going on, and I'm not the neatest baker. I figure if I bake where I'm not living, I can be tolerated. So, most of my pantry is in the back of my car which now smells like vanilla extract (yes, the good stuff, Ina!) and cinnamon! Patsy has three grown sons, two grandchildren (with #3 due any minute) and fiercely loves her family and friends.

What I'm attempting to say here is that there are many wonderful women in my life, sisters, friends, relatives -- all of whom are so generous and kind. It's so easy to have a great time, and really, what's better than spending a few hours with our best friends? This roving-baker gig has allowed me to impose on my friends and come away with so much more than a basket full of baked goods. I leave them with samples, but I take away so much more -- warm memories of wonderful conversations, laughs, and shared looking-forward to the next time, and the best I can say is, "Thank you."

Next blog: Chicken a la King with Claire, Kathleen, and Ed! And coming soon: my favorite dogs (real dogs, not hot dogs, though I love them too!)

photo credit: http://images.google.com/images?gbv=2&hl=en&q=coffee+cup&sa=N&start=80&ndsp=20

Friday, June 5, 2009

Ellie Krieger's Pumpkin Muffins

If you haven't met Ellie Krieger yet, you're missing out. She's one of the highlights of the Food Network, and the title of her show, Healthy Appetite, is deceptive. It should be entitled, "Beautiful Delicious Food (and healhty too)." Ellie is a nutrtionist, but not one of those too-skinny calorie counters resented for an impossibly disciplined lifestyle. She educates her audience on the benefits of good ingredients. She doesn't just say "Do this." She tells you what the ingredient has to offer that will enhance your meals and your life. She uses these ingredients in ways that transform our favorite foods into better incarnations of themselves. I love her cookbook "The Food You Crave" and have made many of her recipes. Her version of sloppy joes are incredibly good. In addition to her work as a nutrtionist, Ellie is a fantastic cook who loves food. The combination of these two parts of her personality result in great food for us. Yea.

Today I'm sharing Ellie's recipe for Pumpkin Muffins. There's nothing to say except that they're some of the best muffins you'll ever have. The fact that they are truly good for you is just a bonus.

Pumpkin Muffins

· Cooking spray
· 1 cup all-purpose flour
· 1 cup whole-grain pastry flour
· 1 teaspoon baking soda
· 1/2 teaspoon salt
· 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
· 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
· 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
· 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
· 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
· 3 tablespoons unsulphered molasses
· 1/4 cup canola oil
· 2 large eggs
· 1 cup canned pumpkin
· 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
· 3/4 cup lowfat buttermilk
· 1/4 cup raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the all-purpose and whole-wheat flours, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg.
In a large bowl, whisk the sugar, molasses, oil and 1 egg until combined. Add the other egg and whisk well. Whisk in the pumpkin and vanilla. Whisk in the flour mixture in 2 batches, alternating with the buttermilk. Whisk just until combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared muffin pan and sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds. Tap the pan on the counter a few times to remove any air bubbles. Bake for 20 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center of 1 of the muffins comes out clean.
Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the muffins to loosen them and unmold. Cool completely on the rack.

These are great any time of year, but especially good on cold autumn mornings (many months away). I just couldn't resist bringing Ellie to you now.

Next blog: Notes from the Roving Baker, or "Baking when you don't have a kitchen!"

Photo credit: http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.metroactive.com/metro/01.16.08/gifs/EVENTS_MT0803.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.metroactive.com/metro/01.16.08/events-0803.html&usg=__e0WVcyngOFrTQ5weHm3W4Dw11-0=&h=501&w=500&sz=232&hl=en&start=2&sig2=XjEhnIg4ETW4UMBzuSksFA&tbnid=xTCzt45CgCN55M:&tbnh=130&tbnw=130&prev=/images%3Fq%3DEllie%2BKrieger%2Bphoto%26gbv%3D2%26hl%3Den%26rlz%3D1T4DKUS_enUS282US282%26sa%3DG&ei=A18pSvgcj4WYB4PZ3IQL

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Ode to the Barefoot Contessa!

I REALLY love the Food Network. Sometimes I wonder if a twelve-step program is necessary to deal with the addiction. Turns out the FN has been my gateway "drug" to craving more reality programming. Recently I’ve been exposed to HGTV (interest due to construction of the new digs – love Property Virgins) and now I’m hopelessly caught up in TLC’s Jon and Kate plus Eight – a guilty pleasure. Despite all the doom-and-gloom press, there’s hope that they work things out and stay married. I am always so sad for divorcing couples and just love those kids. They’re so damn cute. Let’s face it, life is not easy and this show highlights just how hard it can be for young couples (they’re in their early thirties) facing challenges in their marriages, no matter the stressors. In my retrospective mid-50s mind, I wonder if they can get through this and be fine. (In my own life, I wouldn’t have known it might have been fine, but then, it might not have.) I watch it more than sometimes. It’s whenever I can catch that show. I can stop anytime, though. (Can you spell r-e-h-a-b?) Note: I do have a real life and it’s busy.

When I'm in TV world, I worship the Food Network’s Ina Garten, a.k.a. The Barefoot Contessa. She’s one of the best cooks I’ve ever watched on television. Her joyful manner and calm demeanor add to her charm. I’ve been told I “look like that lady on the Food Network” and while I don’t think so, I can see where people might make a comparison. We both have dark hair, are about the same age, and neither of us are a size six. She sees her husband Jeffrey, a professor, on weekends. I see Russ, also a professor, every third weekend or so. We both have important relationships with wonderful gay men in our lives. That’s where the similarities end. She lives in the Hamptons. I could only dream of living in the Hamptons (though my cousin Billy does!). She used to work in the White House as some sort of engineering, mathematical wizard. The last white house I lived in was a raised ranch on Salem Drive in Saratoga Springs. I took algebra three times before I finally moved on to geometry.

My admiration for the Contessa is great and I use her recipes all the time. She has a terrific approach to creating and serving wonderful meals. There’s no pretension as the food, rather than the cook, takes center stage. She presents a personalized, welcoming table geared toward her guests’ interests. My favorite of her recipes is for raisin scones, which I’ve changed up a bit. Ina calls for heavy or whipping cream and I use buttermilk. She kneads and shapes hers differently than I do. Still, it’s basically the same thing and it gets rave reviews. Rather than claim my scones as an old Irish family recipe (I’ve inherited no old Irish family recipes), I always give Ina credit. If I'm asked, I refer to the Food Network website (http://foodnetwork.com), my source for many favorite dishes.

If you're one of those who turns down scones because you find them too dry, do what our friends across the pond do - serve them with jam and/or clotted cream (found in specialty stores like Putnam Market in Saratoga Springs). No clotted cream? Just beat up a very firm batch of sweetened heavy cream, almost to the butter stage.

Next time I bake these I’ll take photos and add them to this post, but for now, here’s the recipe. (Though I swore I’d never use it after high school, algebra ultimately came in handy when I started baking and had to figure quantities! – and wasn’t there something about pie squared?!)

Raisin Scones - makes 24! (double batch – use your algebra and reduce by half if you prefer)

4 cups flour
½ cup sugar
2 tbsp. baking powder
2 tsp. kosher salt
3 bars ice cold butter, finely diced or grated (watch those knuckles)
scant cup of buttermilk – about a tablespoon short of a cup, or heavy cream
4 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ - ¾ cup raisins, tossed in a little bit of flour
2 tbsp. brown sugar tossed with 1 tsp. cinnamon
egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp. water)

In large mixing bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in butter until it mixes in enough and is the size of small peas.
In separate bowl, whisk together four eggs. Add buttermilk and vanilla and pour all at once into flour mixture. Mix until all dry ingredients are incorporated.

On floured surface, separate batter into fourths. Flatten each fourth into a disk about six inches round and one inch thick. For each disk, press one fourth of the raisins into the surface and sprinkle with 1/4th of the brown sugar and cinnamon mixture. Roll up jelly-roll style and then shape into a ball, seam side down. Flatten the ball into a new six-inch round circle with more height in the center and tapered a bit at the sides (1/2 inch at sides, inch in the center). Cut each circle into sixths and separate scones. Place ½ inch apart on parchment-lined cookie sheet and brush with egg wash. If you don’t have a pastry brush, just dab the egg on with a scrunched-up paper towel. Sprinkle with coarse sugar if desired.

Bake in preheated 400 degree F oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown on top. Cool for 10 minutes and remove to wire rack to cool completely, or not.

You will be adored for these.

Next blog: The Food Network’s Ellie Krieger. Her incredible and healthy recipes are the perfect antidote for all the butter in this recipe, and for my future tribute to Paula Deen!

(photo of Ina Garten from Google Images: http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.cardiogirl.net/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/ina-garten.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.cardiogirl.net/%3Fp%3D711&usg=__h-uAL2qHsN4pGx_ZQlEmK0-JdCk=&h=460&w=360&sz=40&hl=en&start=2&tbnid=rZYh1KzNXHl99M:&tbnh=128&tbnw=100&prev=/images%3Fq%3DIna%2BGarten%26gbv%3D2%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

It's Raining Cakes!

Shower Cakes

It’s that time of year when showers for new brides and new babies seem to fill weekend calendars. I remember a time when a shower was an intimate gathering of a few friends and family in a relative’s living room, and gifts were simple (wooden spoons and mixing bowls or baby booties and receiving blankets!). Today showers are often bigger productions, even extravaganzas, with expensive gifts from registries and catered meals with designer cakes. Recently my family held a luncheon for a soon-to-be new mother, expecting her second child. She didn’t want a shower and preferred something simple, so we all gathered at a Mexican restaurant and ordered and paid for our own meals off the menu. The cake was simple, from a local grocer’s bakery, and was very good (I love all cake, and sometimes even more when I don’t have to bake!). It was a lovely day.

In keeping with simple traditions, I’ve made my share of shower cakes for living room gatherings. Because I am closely connected with the guests of honor, these cakes take on special meaning for me as a baker. I aim to capture some personal essence and usually the result is a cake that receives an awesome reaction. I love that. If there’s no other moment when baking is worth it, it’s then, when the bride, or the new mom, reads my unwritten message to her in the cake, a message that says “You’re important, you are loved, very best wishes to you.” The cake featured in this posting was baked for my nephew’s fiancé, Emily. It was a bonnet cake featuring her favorite shade of green. In the slideshow of cakes on this site, you can also see a baby quilt cake, often requested because it can be so personally designed.

Showers are very happy occasions, filled with promise. Older women participate with a perspective of awareness, while younger women are awed by the possibility of what it all means. I do notice that showers are becoming grander in scheme, and gifts more elaborate. It’s not that I don’t appreciate upscale catalogues and posh furniture stores filled with everything a new couple, or a little girl or boy could dream of. There were times when I wished we could have started out with more, or provided our children with such a well-appointed initiation to life. Now and then I do regret that my kids’ first experiences were in a hand-me-down crib from the local Holiday Inn where my husband worked at the time, but when I look at the pictures of Joe smiling broadly from his crib, or Katie twirling with happiness in a “spin out” dress I bought at a discount store, I see happy babies. I love that their first outfits were stored in an antique armoire with personal history, presented to us by their great aunt. We were in our very early twenties as first-time parents, and money was tight. We did the best we could and those were happy days. The smiles in those photos tell me now that a happy start to life had nothing to do with gift registries, and those moments hold their own immeasurable value in my heart.

I’ve been to a baby shower where the only gifts requested were books for the baby’s library. I love that idea. Of course, it’s not practical. Young couples are faced with a very expensive life ahead, and need all the help they can get. Gift registries are an effective means to acquire fundamental necessities, and many gift-givers appreciate the convenience and efficiency of being able to choose gifts that way. It does seems less personal, somehow.

It’s tempting to imagine a return to earlier traditions, where humble expressions of love and personal generosity took precedence over grand displays of abundance. When it comes to showing you care, simpler just might be better.

Either way, there’s always cake!

Photo Credit: Jeannie O'Farrell Eddy

Tomorrow's post: Favorites from the Food Network

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bitchin' Bette's Blueberry Pie

Sometimes bad situations have happy repercussions. Such is the case for my friend Claire who, when visiting her last living cousin Bette in Maine, enjoyed an incredible blueberry pie.

Even though they’d been invited, Bette didn’t seem all that happy to see Claire, yet was very pleasant to Claire’s sister Kathleen. Claire could do no right in Bette’s eyes, and was criticized for the most minor infractions. The visit became so unpleasant that Claire and Kathleen packed their bags in the middle of the night and escaped before dawn, but not before she secured Bette’s recipe for an amazing blueberry pie, now renamed in honor of that challenging weekend!

Personally, I can claim happier memories of blueberry pie. For a number of Augusts in the 1980s we used to take our kids to a relative’s farm in East Corinth, Vermont. Betsy’s (not to be confused with Bette of Claire’s recipe story) family owned hundreds of acres with a huge yellow farm house, a big red barn, and a couple of ponds, all carved out of a pine forest at the top of a mountain. On this farm there were cows and chickens galore. The rule was that while we were there (three moms and twelve kids, from infants to early teens!) there was no TV. It was before cell phones and texting so no TV meant the kids had to find other ways to entertain themselves. Books were read. Cows were mooed at. Chickens were fed. Picnics were shared. Tennis was played. Hikes were taken. Art was created. Boats were rowed. Charades were performed. S’mores were eaten, wild blueberries were picked, and pies were baked. It was magical and those times created some of the happiest memories of all our children’s lives. I fondly remember, too, that when the kids went to bed in what was referred to as “the barracks” Betsy, Carolyn, and I broke out the wine coolers and red licorice! We indulged in a color-coordinated social hour! Actually, most nights we were so tired that we spent a few minutes together folding clothes, laughing about the day’s activity and then crawled into our respective beds.

While wild blueberry season is months away, I’m posting this now. Buy some blueberries in the produce section or save this recipe for the waning days of summer, and create happy memories of your own.

Bitchin’ Bette’s Blueberry Pie
by Claire

1 pie shell, precooked
4 cups blueberries (fresh)
¼ cup water
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tbsp. corn starch
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. butter
Pinch salt

Put 2 cups of the raw berries in the cooked pie shell. In a saucepan on medium heat, combine the remaining two cups of blueberries with the remaining ingredients; cook until thick. Cool a little. Pour over raw berries in the pie shell. Refrigerate.

Top with whipped cream or ice cream before serving.

Illustration credit: http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://comps.fotosearch.com/comp/ILW/ILW004/small-bunch-blueberries_~ungerj0055s.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.fotosearch.com/ILW004/ungerj0055s/&usg=__KK42kbRfRPJcxntpdxyQEOoujsc=&h=283&w=300&sz=20&hl=en&start=21&tbnid=v5AroxrcRLfLWM:&tbnh=109&tbnw=116&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dphotosearch%2Bblueberries%26gbv%3D2%26ndsp%3D20%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DN%26start%3D20

If you have a recipe story you'd like to share, and a photo if you're so inclined, please email it to me at jeddy001@hotmail.com. I'd love to feature your recipe in my blog.

Tomorrow's blog ~ shower cakes!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Carrot Cake!

Carrot Cake

The very thought of it makes people smile. This weekend I attended a graduation party in Hatfield, Massachusetts for my good friend Logan (UVM ’09), where wonderful foods were served. Her dad John manned the grill with offerings of steak, chicken, burgers, veggie burgers, etc., but when I got there I had just one request – a burnt hot dog. I don’t know what it is, but I just love a charred hot dog on a toasted roll with mustard and relish. I know the carcinogenic dangers of such foods, but one, once in a while, kicks off summer for me like nothing else. Once that was out of the way, there was a wonderful salad (dessert, really) of green grapes in vanilla yogurt sprinkled with cinnamon. It was so simple and so refreshing that I could have stolen the bowl and hid around the corner, but I controlled myself. My contribution to the evening was not to be shared by all, and was not on the table. It was carrot cake, in the form of cup cakes, and Logan’s personal favorite which I kept in the car and presented to her after the party, to make sure she and her college room-mates had them all! Her father cornered me and asked “Where are the cupcakes?” so we made a personal trip to the car (in pouring rain) where he scored his cupcake, and he almost convulsed in happiness as he shoved the whole thing in his mouth! Anyway… I make a loaded version with raisins, walnuts, crushed pineapple, and coconut. This much personality is over the top for a lot of people, so for the less adventurous the recipe gets toned down a bit with just raisins and walnuts, or just raisins. Rarely is carrot the only textural component in my carrot cake. The topper is a cloud of cream cheese frosting. This is a softer version of the same frosting used on the cinnamon rolls of a previous post. A generous dollop spread with the back of the spoon, exposing a bit of cake at the cupcake’s rim, is all it takes to transform carrot cake into a devine dessert.

A carrot cake recipe can be very much like a zucchini cake recipe, with lots of shredded veggies, a cup of oil, the standard dry ingredients and lots of cinnamon. There’s a short-cut that I’m sharing with you today. It uses a carrot cake mix. One made by Duncan Hines is great, with a recipe for the loaded version on the back of the box, and the results are spectacular. If you’re short on time, or don’t feel like shredding carrots, and can handle rave reviews, this recipe is for you:

Carrot Cup Cakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

1 carrot cake mix
1 cup water
4 eggs
½ cup oil
8 oz. crushed pineapple in juice
¾ cup raisins, tossed in 1 tbsp. flour
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup shredded coconut

Mix all ingredients together very well and fill paper-lined muffin cups half full. Bake at 350 degrees F until they are dry on top and bounce back when pressed in the center, about 22 minutes.

When cool enough to handle, remove from pans and cool completely on wire racks.

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
¼ lb. butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. lemon extract
1 lb. confectioners sugar
Up to 1/4 cup milk, a little at a time

Beat cream cheese and butter together. Add extracts and mix well. Slowly add confectioners sugar all at once, and milk, a little at a time, until you reach the perfect consistency.

Drop a generous dollop of frosting on center of cupcake. With the back of a spoon, spread almost to edges.

photo credit of Logan's cupcake: Jeannie O'Farrell Eddy

Tomorrow's Blog: contribution form Claire ~ Bitchin' Bette's Blueberry Pie!