Monday, August 31, 2009

Seafood Chowda

This weekend my daughter Katie made a great big pot of seafood chowder (chowda, she says, in a mock-New England accent) and it was GOOD!

We’d been to the Hand Melon Farm stand in Greenwich, New York, on Friday and picked up some nice veggies. We left with two huge tomatoes, radishes, celery, and Montauk corn – a baker’s dozen – and of course a sampling of their chocolate raspberry and chocolate cheesecake fudge (just to see if it was any good, and it was!). The stand is directly across from the Washington County Fairgrounds. The fair was in full swing and it was fun to see the rides in operation. Henry (now 16 months) was mesmerized by one ride that went forward at full speed, and then backward, (Tilt-a-Whirl?) all the while making interesting whistling and clanging noises. There's something about a fair and summer. Very Americana.

It's always good to travel east a few miles. It's a beautful ride across the Hudson River from Saratoga through Schuylerville and on to Greenwich. The sun was out and it was a warm, sunny late summer day, perfect for a short jaunt.

We had the corn that night (delicious) and there were many ears left over, so we decided to make a chowder the next day. We had a lot of the ingredients on hand and stopped by the store the next morning for seafood.

I was out running errands when Katie got started. When I came back, the aroma was heavenly, as if I were in a seaside restaurant! I couldn’t wait to ladle me a bowl of that chowda. It was GREAT and here’s the recipe in case you find yourself with a few extra ears of corn and most of the fixings. It’s well worth the ingredients and the time it takes to put it together.

Katie’s Seafood Chowda

3 strips bacon
1 Vidalia onion, diced
1 c. chopped carrot
1 c. chopped celery
4 red potatoes, skin on, diced
Kernels from 3 ears cooked, sweet corn
3 cloves chopped garlic
3 tbs. cornstarch
32 oz. seafood stock
6 oz. bottle clam juice
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig dill
½ lb. bay scallops
1 lb. medium shrimp, cleaned, tails removed
2 cans chopped clams
1 pt. heavy cream

Cook bacon in large stock pot to render fat. Once crisp, remove bacon and add onion. Saute until soft. Add cornstarch and stir until incorporated. Add corn kernels, carrot, celery, garlic, and potatoes. Saute until vegetables are soft. Add herbs, salt, pepper, and then stock and clam juice. Bring to a simmer. Add seafood and cream and simmer for about a half hour or longer until it thickens up a bit. Remove sprigs of thyme and dill. Ladle into bowls and garnish with crumbled bacon.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

I have a dishwasher!

This may seem like a very little thing to be excited about, but I am. This is the first dishwasher I’ve had since 1996, when my home was sold as part of the divorce, and I moved into rentals. Since that time, everything has down-sized, including conveniences.

There are many things that are not so little when it comes to doing without. No dishwasher? That’s not ideal, but OK. There’s a double sink and a bottle of Dawn. I’m all set. No washer and dryer? Hold on. That is NOT OK. While I realize many people in this world still heat their dish water over an open flame and wash their clothes in rivers, in this society having a washer and dryer is not a luxury. It is a necessity. And it’s been a long time. The one washing machine in my 12-unit apartment building was often in use, or broken down. I mean, it’s a real pain to gather laundry, bundle it up, lug it out of your house, load it into the car, drive to the Laundromat (a cultural study in itself), score the machines you need and pump quarters into them like slot machines (with no potential for a jackpot) wash, fold, bundle, and then haul it all back to the house. And those quarters! During apartment living time (many years) I held on to quarters like they were platinum! I’d see things in terms of laundry currency. Five empty bottles of Diet Coke equaled one quarter. Twenty-five returnable bottles equaled $1.25 which translated into one load of laundry in one of the small machines at Bubbles Laundromat. (A recent trip to Bubbles found the machines begging for an additional 50 cents!). I’d go for a ride in my sister’s car and notice an abundance of change in a dash compartment. Coveting the quarters, I’d think, “…wonder if she has any idea how many loads of wash that’d take care of?” I’d deliberately pay for things with an extra dollar bill rather than use coins in my purse in order to score more quarters. Sometimes I’d even drive to a Laundromat for the change vending machines, load up my pockets, and use the quarters in my apartment building’s washer and dryer. (That seemed a little sinister, somehow, as I walked past people actually doing laundry there, and leaving with heavy pockets.) Other times I’d get rolls of quarters from the bank or from the office at the grocery store. I loved those quarters! It was a sickness, this quarter obsession. If I found myself one quarter short of a load (!) I’d proceed to tear through my apartment in the quest to find just one – through pockets and pocket books, couch cushions and under furniture. Quarters were like crack to me!

In the new house, the washer and dryer are ready to go. Well, not exactly ready. The washing machine is all set. The dryer, however, requires a propane conversion kit which neither Sears (who sold it) nor any local plumber seems willing or able to convert. So, I’ve had a load of clothes in the wash for two days now, and no way of knowing when the dryer will be functioning. Now I have the joy of hauling WET if not stinky clothes to the Laundromat to rewash. If anyone knows someone who is willing to convert a brand new gas dryer to propane, we need to talk.

Hold on to your quarters if you see me coming. Seems my Laundromat days are not quite over.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Nest leaving

My sister Anne is missing her son Patrick, who is transferring from Marist for the prestigious PGA program at Florida State in Tallahassee. He’s worked especially hard to get there and deserves this wonderful opportunity. I know all moms miss their kids when they leave for college. This particular saying good-bye seems especially hard. Tallahassee is much farther away than Marist, though my practical daughter Katie reminds me that “it’s just three hours away by plane.” We’ll see how that plays out when Henry goes away to school!

Patrick is a terrific kid. He’s the kind of nephew who comes up to you, wraps his arms around you, and says, “Hello sweetheart!” and not in that Eddie Haskell, brown-nosing way, either. He is playfully affectionate but he really means it.

When Patrick was born, he joined two older brothers, Jack and Ben, and he was followed by Will, brother #4. I refer to them as the “Boys Bishop.” Patrick is not one to get lost in the crowd. He’s always made his presence known, establishing his individual personality early on. Patrick was a little baby when I made him a patch-work quilt for his crib and a muslin bunny to keep him company in there. He loved the blanket, hated the bunny. I’d find it thrown on the floor. Rejected and ejected. It seemed to creep him out. The blanket, however, was so loved that it eventually fell completely apart. So, when he was a bigger little kid, I made him another blanket, this one reflecting his love of baseball. I had to smile last week at the beach house in North Carolina, when I went into his room and saw the baseball blanket there, on his bed. I love that he still has a place for it in his grown-up life.

Patrick (Pat to his brothers and friends – always Patrick to me) expresses his emotions openly. When he was just a tiny little guy, I’d visit their home in Cazenovia and he’d open my door in the morning, the first to greet me. When I’d get ready to leave, he didn’t want me to go. He threw himself on the floor, wrapped his arms around my ankles, and held on as I pulled myself to the door. I’ve always known him to be just as happy to see me, and that’s a precious thing in anyone’s life.

I consider myself very lucky to know such wonderful people in my children and my nephews and nieces. Whenever something terrific happens in any of their lives, I feel that joy. Whenever something difficult or challenging happens, I share that, too. Right now, I’m understanding how hard it is for my sister and her husband to say good-bye to Patrick, for now, but I am also feeling the excitement and optimism he must be feeling as he starts this exciting new chapter in his life.

Hey buddy, I’m proud of you!

Photo by Suzette O'Farrell

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Banana Walnut Muffins

Not to seem too blogger-schizophrenic, today's entry is short, simple, and deliciously sweet. I made these last night and they came out beautifully! I made 32 for a crowd but I'm pretty sure you won't need that many, so here's a recipe for a good baker's dozen, plus some.

(Makes 12-16 standard-sized muffins)

1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 over-ripe bananas, cut in chunks
1 cup light sour cream (1/2 pt.)

2 cups flour (all A.P. or half A.P./half whole wheat)
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Beat together oil and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla and pieces of banana, mixing well. Add sour cream. Mix well.

In a separate bowl or over wax paper, mix flour with baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add this dry mixture, along with chopped walnuts, to banana mixture, incorporate well.

Fill muffin cups (sprayed with cooking spray or lined with muffin papers) 2/3 full. Bake at 375 degrees Farenheit until tops are dry and muffins begin to brown on edges (about 18-20 minutes, depending on oven).

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Coming back from vacation

It’s the pink elephant in the room as your vacation ends and thoughts of going back to work invade your psyche. It’s there, but you don’t want to acknowledge the fact that your total escape from accountability is coming to an end.

When I’m away, I try to be away from everything. This trip to North Carolina found me packing basically a swimsuit, flip flops, a night shirt, shorts and t-shirts. The one pair of pants I wore on the plane served me well for our solitary restaurant night. Not packed in my bag was a blow dryer or my new big-barreled curling iron for my new, shorter “do.” Nope. My hair took a vacation too and it was pretty interesting given its propensity to curl in a not-so-lovely way with sea-side humidity factoring in… Despite my hair’s self expression I enjoyed the freedom from maintenance and all things typically required in regular world. I was not ecstatic at the thought of resuming real life. Sometimes, though, the end of something wonderful opens the door to another thing totally unexpected.

My trip home was eventful in regard to meeting a very interesting person. I chose an aisle seat because I hate having to climb over two people if, God forbid, I have to use the plane’s bathroom. I was sitting there anticipating which of the people approaching me was going to occupy the center seat, hoping it would stay empty. I usually prefer not to chat (believe it or not!) and would rather sleep or read on such trips. But, the flight was oversold so I knew that seat would be filled. The man who sat next to me (man – actually, the same age as my kids) turned out to be one of the most interesting people I’ve EVER met, and we had such a terrific conversation that I’ve thought about it a lot since saying good-bye. Adam Sabourin is a Black Hawk pilot, a West Point graduate, now a full-time pilot in the Army National Guard. Adam was part of the Class of 2002 at West Point, written about in Bill Murphy Jr.'s book In A Time of War (link here: While an Army pilot, he served two tours of duty in Iraq. When I met him Saturday, he was on his way to a wedding for his friend Katie, the widow of his best friend from West Point. Her husband, Timothy Moshier, was shot down and killed in Iraq (his company replacing Adam's) in 2006, leaving behind his wife and one-year-old daughter. Adam had been to Albany once before, when he bore the honor of returning his friend's ashes to the Moshier family in Delmar. And now, he was flying in to Albany again, to attend Katie’s wedding to her second husband, also a graduate of that same West Point class. Adam spoke with such respect and regard for Tim, and for Katie, and was attending this new wedding with happy optimism for her while remembering his lost friend. What an emotional day it must have been for him.

Adam and I spoke of my connection to West Point (I was married there, at the Catholic Chapel of the Most Holy Trinity, in 1974. A family priest assigned to West Point officiated). We also spoke of our families (babies - his daughter, my grandson), work, backgrounds, and even cakes, and weddings. He told me that his mother is an accomplished cake baker. He knew a lot about the process and the demands of baking cakes for people. I told him about my blog so he added it as a “favorite” on his Blackberry, and he said he could see comparisons with my masters thesis topic and Paula Deen’s life. Turns out he knows Paula Deen’s family well, and has met her on occasion. He said she’s just as lively and vivacious in real life, a treat to know. What a wonderful two-degrees from Paula Deen I’ve experienced!

Adam and his wife Erica live in Sacremento now, have a brand new house, and are expecting their second child, a son who will join their 3-year old daughter, in October. Adam is an accomplished, confident, and honorable young man, and I’m happy to have met him. I hope to find him on facebook to continue the conversation that seems to have just begun.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Dinner Out and Key Lime Pie

One of the best things about the beach house is its massive and well-equipped kitchen. We hadn't been to a restaurant once, which was a welcome break for me since I'd been eating out much too much at home, waiting for my new apartment's kitchen to be operational. I love to cook for a crowd and this week we've stayed in for dinners except for last night. We decided to make reservations at a near-by restaurant. We went to Riverside Steak and Seafood in Swansboro, on the other side of the bay. It was nice change of pace. The service was excellent and we all enjoyed our dinners. My brother Danny ordered a seafood pasta dish that had him wrestling with lobster claws, but once he was provided some apparatus, it all went very smoothly.

Typically, I don't order dessert, especially after salad and a good meal. Last night I decided to go for the Key lime pie. My sister-in-law Suzette ordered the same. We are both big fans. Ours was very good, but not the best we'd ever had. I look for a graham cracker crust. Suzette prefers a meringue top rather than whipped cream, and we were expecting a bigger lime punch. Still, it was a cool and refreshing finale to a delicious meal.

I've heard a number of stories about the origins of Key lime pie, and the universal thread seems to be that, until the 1930s and transportation and shipping improved, there was no refrigerated milk available on the Keys. Canned milk was used for milk recipes. The silky smoothness of sweetened condensed milk, when combined with the citric acid of the Key lime, produced this heavenly dessert, and we're the lucky beneficiaries of that set of circumstances.

Once home, I decided to look up the recipe in Joy of Cooking, one of the cookbooks here at the beach house. Authors Irma Raumbauer and Marion Raumbauer Becker offer the following:

This pie owes its distinctive character to the pungent citrus variety--native to Florida--called the Key lime. It may be used in any other recipe calling for either lemon or lime.

A 9-inch Single-Crust Pie

Prepare a baked pie shell, 640 (I don't know what that number indicates!)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Mix together well:

1 can sweetened condensed milk: 15 oz.
1 tablespoon grated Key lime rind
1/2 cup Key lime juice
1/4 tsp. salt
2 slightly beaten egg yolks.

Stir until thickened, a result of the reaction of the milk with the citrus juice.
Pour the mixture into the baked crust and cover with a meringue made by beating until stiff, but not dry:

2 egg whites

to which are gradually added:

2 tablespoons sugar.

Bake pie 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned.

Eggless version: Use 1/3 cup juice and omit egg yolks. Use whipped cream as a topping. No baking.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pelicans and other coastal creatures

If you sit on the beach long enough, you'll see flocks of pelicans flying overhead. These massive birds look like they've been immune to evolutionary forces and retain an almost prehistoric apprearance.

Especially fun is watching these birds at meal time. You will see one out above the ocean, surveying the water's surface and then suddenly dive-bombing down at a 90-degree angle to catch its prey.

There's a lot of wild life here on Emerald Isle. During last night's walk, my brother-in-law John saw a fox. Anne's seen something, while sitting out on the porch late one night, that we have yet to identify! There are deer walking down the street at night, or nibbling at bushes during the day in groves of trees. One of us noted that deer are as plentiful here as squirrels are in New York!

Poolside, in the flora surrounding the back yard we've seen some substantial webs with proportionately large spider residents. My daughter Katie has a morbid fear of spiders so we sent her that photo, right away!

I've been scanning the ocean to see any trace of dolphins, but so far, no luck. While we were bouncing around in the waves yesterday, a man a few yards away said he saw a little shark, and held up his hands to indicate something about a foot long. He seemed unphased and stayed right where he was, so I guess it's nothing to be afraid of! Still, when I'm out in the water, the dark theme song to JAWS is thumping in the back of my head. I'm always scanning, but love my time in the water so much that I'll take my chances.

Two more days of fun-in-the-sun are in store. While Hurricane Bill might make his presence known in the form of bigger waves and rip tides, the sun is shining bright and we plan to enjoy every second!

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Easy Livin'

This isn't real life, this beach living. I realize that. Today is the mid-point of this vacation, the day when you realize that soon enough, you'll be leaving this escape from regular life and return to your normal day-to-day existence. It's not an oppressive feeling, yet, but it is an awareness that what's left of this time here, in our own nirvana, must be savored.

I haven't baked one thing yet and may not for the whole week. We're concentrating on creating simple, delicious dinners to be enjoyed around a big table -- dinners where we sit and talk and hang around for a long time after. After a few hours at the beach and a post-beach swim in the pool, late yesterday afternoon my sister Anne, brother Danny and I drove across the bridge that connects Emerald Isle to the mainland to find the makings of our dinner. Danny chose rib-eye steaks, one for each person, and we picked up white corn (on the cob). I made a sea-shell macaroni salad with tuna, chopped roma tomatoes, cucumbers, and a little onion. Anne tossed a salad. Danny grilled the steaks with a lemon-pepper rub, and my sister-in-law Suzette made me a Cosmo (wow!) but even better, a mushroom sauce for the steaks with olive oil, butter, and garlic. It was a summer night's feast. My nephews Patrick and Will made hot fudge sundaes for anyone who could manage it after dinner, and later we went for a walk on the beach. The moon was not visible but the stars were brilliant. We futily tried to identify consetllations, but most of us have forgotten our elementary school astronomy. Must brush up! After our walk, we hung out on the front porch and could hear the surf along with the cicadas and tree frogs, in what Anne called a symphony of nature. I thought to myself, as I walked with my family, how lucky I am to have this time with them.

I have just awakened to another beautiful day. The sun is streaming in through the dining room window. All is quiet in the house. Will and Patrick are already off to a nearby golf course. My brother-in-law John is sitting on the couch reading a newspaper. Anne, Danny, and Suzette have yet to make an appearance. I'm sitting here, at the granite counter of an expansive kitchen, blurry-eyed while I type this blog, more relaxed than I've been in a year. My hair looks like I've had a terrible fright, I'm in my Skidmore t-shirt and flannel p.j. bottoms, thinking about what today will bring - sure to be another day of time spent with people I love, planning a delicious dinner, and walks along the beach. If I'm dreaming, please don't wake me up!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The beach at night and baby sea turtles

Last night we took a walk on the beach, expecting to see crabs scurrying around. When we arrived at the beach, we saw on odd silouette in the distance: a large mass of people with tiny red lights, all lined up from the dunes to the water. It was eerily and oddly quiet, and seemed almost cult-like. We had no idea what we were encountering. We approached and I asked what was going on, and one of the volunteers told me it was the annual migration of loggerhead sea turtles from their nest to the sea. From one mother turtle's nest, up to 150 babies find their way to the sea, with human guardian's guiding their way. I was told that out of 1000 baby sea turtles, just one will survive the 40 mile swim to the gulf stream and subsequent 20-year journey back to the place of birth. It was fascinating and while I was filled with optimism for the many little turtles we saw making the procession from the nest to the ocean, I am sad to think that the odds for each one to actually make it are so poor.

More from Emerald Isle tomorrow!

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Monday, August 17, 2009

On Vacation!

I'm on vacation in Emerald Isle, North Carolina. It's part of the formation of barrier islands that run along North Carolina's coast, the southernmost portion of the Outer Banks. We're in a beach house with a name -- Starry Nights -- and last night it was obvious why this house has that moniker. After a cloudy, humid day, the sun set and the skies cleared to reveal a beautiful, celestial sky. Will and I decided to take a dip after dinner. We all ended up outside by the pool, and if there's a pool, I'm in it!

Arriving here was just what I needed. You can never just go on vacation, I can't at least. I had to work twice as hard, twice as fast to be able to leave my regular job and to get baking done for commitments I'd made. I found myself, the day before leaving, with a small wedding cake and a 3-tiered anniversary cake to complete. It always seems that when it's time to make a really special cake for someone, the temperature escalates to ninety-five degrees and the humidity reaches record highs! Such was the case this weekend, and one cake's frosting decided, on its way to being delivered, to separate from the cake. A quick trip to my friend's second refrigerator, and some minor cosmetic surgery, as well as some strategically placed flowers and babies breath, hopefully kept the cake's troubles under wraps. I finished baking about 4:00 a.m. early Sunday morning, hopped in the shower, packed a bag in about 10 minutes, and took off to the airport. No sleep that night! I had two connections on my way here, so I cat-napped a little on each flight, but you know how that is! Did'nt matter. As soon as the cab dropped me off at the house, all the tiredness and hectic pace of the previous week vanished. I saw the beautiful lime-green 3-story house, with porches galore, and took a deep breath! Today - the beach!

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Meaningful Cakes

I’m baking cakes for all sorts of celebrations this week. One is for a 50th wedding anniversary; another is a small cake for an intimate wedding reception, and then finally a surprise birthday cake for a 40th birthday bash. These cakes will be for parties on Friday and Saturday, and at 7:20 a.m. Sunday I’m on a flight headed toward a long-awaited vacation in Emerald Isle, NC (see my blog dated June 22, 2009 about Shrimp Scampi and EI, NC).

It’s such a pleasure to bake cakes for happy occasions. More than any, I have especially loved baking my own children’s birthday cakes. When they were little, I made a Batman Cake for Joe, a Holly Hobbie cake for Katie, Strawberry Shortcake cake for Meghan, and a Cabbage Patch Doll cake for Tricia. Each year the kids would pick out the cake they wanted, and were enthralled watching the creations come to life.

For all their growing-up years, I baked a cake on January 3. My kids would always ask, “Who’s the cake for?” and I would answer, “It’s just for us.” In reality, January 3 cakes were baked for a child I didn’t yet know. This annual cake marked the birth of my first son, born when I was just sixteen, and relinquished for adoption days later. Every year since, that date was such a sad one for me, filled with open-ended grief for the child I’d lost, and regret that I wasn’t older and more capable at the time, despite knowing that I couldn’t possibly keep him. Baking his cake on his birthday was one way to feel connected, hoping the energy put into it would somehow generate outward and find him, so that on some level he’d know I celebrated his life and wished good things for him. Life was very different in 1971, and my secret was well-hidden, even from my own family, until just before his birth. When Jeffrey (named Patrick John O’Farrell) was born, there was no way an Irish-Catholic sixteen-year-old girl could openly raise a child. There were too many prejudices and repercussions, so I made the most difficult choice of my life. When we were twenty, I married his father and we went on to have four more children, all full siblings and beautiful reminders of my first-born, yet distinct individuals unto themselves.

It’s been almost eight years since I was “found” by my first son’s relatives, and it was months before Jeffrey and I met in early June, 2002. All his life he’d been living in Colonie, near Albany, New York, just 30 miles away from Saratoga Springs. My own mother had died just two months before that first meeting, and I was aware that Jeffrey’s mother, Rosemary, had passed away a few years earlier. Mothers Day was going to be impossibly hard for me, and I could only imagine how hard it would be for him, as her only child. I decided to send him a letter and included a photo of his four siblings. I wrote it at work and everyone in my office was encouraging me to mail it right away! It wasn’t long before I received an email back, and we met just weeks later. I saw his face and it was such a familiar one – he looks like a compilation of all of us and the reunion was joyful. We’ve had an easy and comfortable relationship ever since, and I’m so grateful for this time that I could never have hoped to expect. This reunion is my life’s gift. One of the first things I learned about Jeffrey is that he is a baker. He has been baking cakes since he was a little boy! We’ve worked on a number of baking projects together.

Jeffrey now has a nephew Henry (my daughter Katie’s son) who looks very much like the photos I’ve seen of his Jeffrey as a baby. It’s such a special connection for him. We’ve come full-circle, and on his nephew’s first birthday, Jeffrey carried Henry’s choo-choo train cake in to the party. It was a moment I’ll always remember, as I watched him and thought “I wish I could have been there to make your first birthday cake, and for every birthday after.” I am so grateful that Rosemary was there for him, as his true mother for every year in-between. Now I’m Mom, Second Shift.

The photo to this blog was taken on October 1, 2005, the day Katie and Bill were married.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


My new home has no TV reception (yet) and at first I thought, “How can I live there?” I mean, I need the Today Show to wake up to. I need HGVT to fall asleep to, and in between, it’s Food Network for entertainment and inspiration. How can I function without my TV?

It’s day four, and for some reason, I feel strangely liberated. I haven’t gotten much news, which means I haven’t gotten much bad news. I heard that a plane and helicopter collided over the Hudson River, which is terrible news and I felt bad about it, but I didn’t have to watch the grisly scene replayed on CNN or cry during interviews of grieving family members (I always cry in such situations). I’ve heard about town hall meetings where shouting matches have erupted over the Health Care plan, but I didn’t have to watch them and get frustrated. Politics, and politicians, always frustrate me. As for the weather, when I wake up I can see what’s happening and I do listen to NPR on the radio, both in my car and in my new home. It’s not so bad. Dr. Andrew Weil, in his book Eight Weeks to Optimum Health, prescribes a moratorium on print and television news (and I assume, now, internet) for the first few weeks of his get-well program, saying that being bombarded with bad news is bad for our health. I’ve always wanted to incorporate that philosophy but found it virtually impossible because I’m too curious. If the TV is there, I turn it on to see what’s happening in the world. Now I can’t, and oddly, I am feeling better, with a new sense of peace, after just four days. The bad news can get along just fine without me.

Soon enough, there will be TV. If not cable, I’ll have a digital conversion box and there are many channels available there as well, but not the kind of TV I’m accustomed to. I’ll adapt, and I hope I remember that, for a short time, life without TV was just fine.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Movie night - Julie and Julia

Last night I saw the movie Julie and Julia. While I have little in common, life-experience-wise, with Julie or Julia, there were so many moments of connection in this film.

Connections to Julie: An office-worker by day, she cooks at night. As an aspiring writer and a good cook, she thinks about her creations all day long. She reads cookbooks before she falls asleep. She made a commitment to write a blog, and to post something regularly. She thinks no one is reading her blog, but then someone makes a comment and it makes her day. Through her blog, she connects to the larger world, and it connects right back with incredibly positive feedback. That’s where the similarities end. Julie gets noticed by the right people, is invited to morning news shows and is asked to write a book. Her blogging life gets made into a movie. I could take some of that! Let the fantasy begin!

Connections to Julia: When I was a kid, I found her televised cooking show entertaining but it never inspired me to cook. Her voice was so shrill that I didn’t enjoy listening to her. But seeing her in the movie—as a woman in love, who wanted to be challenged every day, who had ambitions and hopes and disappointments in life—she became much more real. I did enjoy her guest appearance on The Martha Stewart Show one Christmas where she one-upped Martha by successfully spinning sugar into a golden nest. (Martha made everything seem like a contest – and Julia was a super competitor!) It was the same show where Martha delegated her friends to wreath-making in a back room, tables of worker ants drilling through hard nuts to be wired onto metal frames (sweatshop anyone?). More about Martha on a future post….Anyway, now that I’ve seen the movie, Meryl Streep seems more Julia than Julia, and visions of SNL’s Dan Akroyd as Julia, spouting blood from a kitchen wound, keep replaying in my head!

French cooking has always seemed an echelon or two above my capabilities and interests. I don’t, yet, own Julia’s cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I’m inspired, now, to attempt a number of the dishes when I have the time, especially after seeing the reaction to the recipes. In this movie, the food deserves top billing, right alongside Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, and Stanley Tucci.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

I Am Home

On Saturday I moved in, after a long period between homes. I’d stayed with my sister Patsy and her husband Britt since the end of February, expecting to need their hospitality only until early spring. They were incredibly generous and hospitable during the unexpected months that followed. We’re well in to August now, and I’ve finally set up residence in my own place. It’s disorienting waking up in a new home, those first few days. At first I wondered, “Where am I?” but quickly realized that this is it, the place where I’ll wake up from today on. This morning, as I had my bowl of Cheerios, I sat at the kitchen island and looked out the window at a sea of green. The lush, leafy trees and tall pines outside my window are not familiar to me yet. I expect that one day I’ll recognize these trees as more than scenery and know them as individuals, but for now, they’re all part of one wooded family.

I don’t want to rush summer away, AT ALL, since it is by far my favorite season, but I can only imagine how beautiful the scene from my kitchen window will be when the leaves are at their peak of color, or when freshly fallen snow frosts the pines.

This living in the woods has its perks. At 7:15 this morning, driving to work for the first time from my new address, the sun was shining in fragmented beams through the forest of pines lining Young Road on both sides. The beams aimed downward on an angle, in that ethereal, dream-like way, and it was incredibly beautiful. I have to deliberately notice the beauty around me every day, and not take it for granted or let go of it by getting caught up in the hectic pace of my life. A change of perspective can be a gift.

After all this time, it is good to know, that finally, I am home.

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Friday, August 7, 2009

The Lunch Table

Yesterday at lunch I picked up a grilled-right-in-front-of-me (outside over real flames) chicken sandwich and sat down with four friends to enjoy conversation and a little bit of this summer’s oh-too-rare sunshine. My friend Sue chose the chicken as well, though hers was sans bun. As we whiled away our lunch hour on the patio overlooking the parking lot, it felt more like we were sitting by a pool at a country club (imagination is a wonderful thing!). The hour spent was restorative and filled with interesting conversation and insights into each others’ worlds and family histories. I squinted through most of the lunch, since my sunglasses were left behind at my desk doing no one any good. My ears and mouth worked fine, though, and I heard some really wonderful commentary on how our mothers used to cook.

It started with a comment about my never-ending quest to find the perfect vanilla yogurt, of which my now eight readers are well aware. Ellen said her perfect-appearing vanilla yogurt, in a glass container from home, was a combination of Stonyfield’s French vanilla and plain varieties. She loves plain but I can’t do it. The conversation shifted to Ellen’s mention of Ina Garten’s recent show where she made grilled Arborio rice cakes with cheese, topped with a Greek-yogurt sauce. Everyone had just eaten and still there was a collective “mmmm.” Mary spoke of how, back in the 80s, she used to make her own yogurt with a Salton yogurt maker, something that plugged in and had four containers and sat on the kitchen counter. Through some kind of heat and vibration the Salton eventually produced yogurt. With four children, she couldn’t keep up with the demand and reverted to store-bought.

Today Lisa had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat (and a bag of gorgeous strawberries), and I remarked how sometimes, a pb&j just hits the spot. All agreed.

Tracy took one look at our grilled chicken and abandoned her brown-bag lunch for something off the grill. She had brought from home a container of salad greens and one of sliced cucumbers in a soupy white sauce made from mayonnaise, something she says is big in Michigan. We got on the topic of mayonnaise vs. Miracle Whip. Sue, also from Michigan, prefers Miracle Whip. If you want to polarize a group of women at lunch, talk about Miracle Whip. I happen to like its spicy sweetness, but I wasn’t raised on it. Sue was raised on it and loves it. Others talk about MW as if it is the red-headed step-child – not really wanting to admit that they once liked it on their bologna sandwiches with white bread. It’s almost PC to dislike Miracle Whip (and white bread) today.

The most politically incorrect admission of the lunch hour was a conversation about the grease can on top of our mothers’ stoves. It seems most mothers had a grease can (though my mother did not) and whenever eggs or potatoes were fried, a spoon was dipped in to the grease can and the eggs or potatoes were cooked to a crisp deliciousness in the verboten ingredient. Mary said that someone she knows even cooked eggs in residual bacon grease after frying up the crispy strips, to which I replied that my Aunt Loretta did the same thing, that they were the best eggs I’d ever tasted, and once in a while, I do it too! Such admission/confessions are made only to the closest of friends, or to the eight readers of a particular blog, but there is beauty in truth. If most days you have yogurt or oatmeal for breakfast, and if you fry your maybe-one-a-month occasional egg in bacon grease, I say, enjoy it, and you might as well butter your toast that day, too!

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

CHOCOLATE CAKE! with Cocoa Frosting, the old-fashioned way

Chocolate cake gets attention. Whether you’re in a restaurant and the server saunters by with the layered confection for another table, or you’re in a check-out line at the grocery store and an in-your-face magazine features a chocolate cake on the cover (the same cover that says you can lose 25 lbs. in three weeks by walking), you notice. You might think, “I could go for a slice of that right now!” Chocolate and cake are a marriage made in heaven. Many of us have happy memories of family celebrations where some form of this popular dessert was the star. As a cake baker, I’ve made many, many chocolate cakes: frosted with vanilla buttercream, or filled with ice cream and frozen, or portioned in little paper cups, even stacked in tiers for a wedding cake. The recipe that follows is adapted (notice how many bloggers “adapt” recipes) from Bon Apétit, but don’t fret; this one’s easy, almost as easy as a cake mix, but sooooo much better! It uses AP flour and is mixed up in a flash. It’s a moist, dense, old-fashioned cake, with, surprisingly, no eggs. Reviewers of this recipe note that this is their go-to chocolate cake, and they make it over and over again. One note: line your pans with wax or parchment paper. It just takes a second and eliminates any chance of the cake sticking. I never bake a cake without lining the pan. It’s like cake insurance. Try this recipe and let me know how you like it!

For Cake:

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold water
1 cup cold coffee (can be made with instant)
¼ cup canola oil
¾ cup buttermilk (substitute: ¾ cup milk soured with 1 tbsp. vinegar – let stand for a minute)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

For Frosting:

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
5 cups powdered sugar
8 tablespoons (about) whole milk
1 ¼ teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ cup plus 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa


Preheat oven to 350˚F. Butter and flour two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 ½ inch-high sides. Cut two circles of parchment or wax paper to line the cake pans (just a bit smaller than the pans). Line the pans with paper and spray the paper lightly with cooking spray.
Sift first five ingredients into a medium bowl.
Mix water, oil, buttermilk, and vanilla in large bowl, then whisk in dry ingredients.
Divide batter among pans.

Bake cakes until tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on racks 15 minutes. Cut around pans to loosen cakes. Turn cakes out; cool completely, for at least a few hours but I recommend overnight.


Beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Gradually beat in 3 cups sugar. Beat in 6 tablespoons milk and vanilla. Add cocoa and remaining 2 cups sugar; beat until blended, thinning with more milk if necessary.

Before frosting, level cake layers if necessary by shaving off any "dome" with a sharp knife. Place 1 cake layer on platter, top side up. Place a few strips of wax paper just underneath the perimeter of the cake to keep frosting from getting on the platter. Spread 2/3 – 1 cup frosting over. Top with second cake layer, top side up. Spread frosting over sides and top of cake. Remove wax paper strips.

Recipe adapted from which credits Bon Apétit and Sweet Dreams Bakery in Memphis, Tenn.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Skidmore College's Chicken, Strawberry, and Spinach Salad

On a hot summer night, a dinner salad might be the most refreshing thing to serve. My dad used to make us tuna salads on plates of iceberg lettuce with slices of tomatoes and cucumber, dressed in Good Seasons Italian, the kind you mix in the free cruet. The thought of it makes my mouth water!

I love a nice dinner salad, and was very happy when I came across this Chicken, Strawberry, and Spinach Salad (recipe follows) a number of years ago. It was so delicious that I had to find the recipe right away. It’s another gem from award-winning Skidmore College’s Food Services. It is served at many of the fanciest dinners, and the presentation is beautiful. The fact that it is easy to throw together, and the flavor combinations are so delicious, makes this a recipe you’ll reach for over and over again on warm summer nights.

Chicken, Strawberry, and Spinach Salad
6 side servings/3 main-dish servings

½ c. poppy seed dressing
1 teaspoon orange rind, grated
1 tablespoon orange juice

6 cups spinach, or assorted greens, torn
1 pound asparagus
2 cups fresh, sliced strawberries
1 pound baked chicken, cut in to julienne strips
¼ cup pecan or walnut halves

Snap woody base from asparagus and, if desired, scrape off scales. Cut asparagus into 1” pieces and cook until just crisp-tender. Drain and rinse with cold water. Mix poppy see dressing, orange peel, and orange juice; set aside.

Combine greens and put on serving plates. Mix the asparagus, chicken, and strawberries. Place in the middle of greens and top with pecans. Just before serving, drizzle dressing over salad.

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More and more, we hear the health and community benefits of “eating locally.” That’s easy to do if you live in the Saratoga Springs area. Most local communities host a farmers’ market at least once a week in the summer. We are fortunate to have a well-established farmers’ market that operates all year long. In the warmer months, it is located on High Rock Avenue, and is in operation Saturdays and Wednesdays. In addition to fruits and vegetables, you can get everything from heirloom tomatoes to grass-fed beef to cut flowers to artisan breads (and there are always cookies and pies). Our FM also has vendors who sell their own salad dressings, jams and jellies, and even home-milled soaps and lotions. You could create a lovely gift basket in just a few minutes from finds at the farmers’ market.

Some of Saratoga’s best restaurants procure their finest ingredients from the farmers’ markets. Located in the heart of Saratoga’s Art District, Beekman Street Bistro (on the street of the same name) has a distinctive menu that changes according to the day’s freshest finds. If you haven’t been there yet, let me encourage you. Reservations aren’t always necessary, but calling ahead is a good idea. The dining room is beautiful and showcases the work of local artists. My daughter Meghan waits tables there, and works with a wonderful team of people. Owner/managers Tim and Meghan (another Meghan)would love to see you. Tell them Jeannie sent you!

My new town of Middle Grove has its own farmers market now, held Friday afternoons from 4:00-7:00. It’s worth the ride (about 8 miles west of Saratoga Springs at the intersection of Middle Grove and Lake Desolation Roads). If you can only wish for a garden and long to enjoy the bounty of the season, stop by a farmers’ market and load up!

Today’s recipe is adapted from the Williams-Sonoma Seasonal Celebration Series, Summer, by Joanne Weir (Time-Life Books, 1997).

The WS website notes:
“Farmers' markets are cropping up everywhere, offering an incredible selection of fruits and vegetables. Most provide a variety of fresh red, yellow and orange summer tomatoes, all of which need little embellishment to highlight their sweet, sun-ripened flavor.”



• 1 very small yellow onion, cut into paper-thin slices
• Salt, to taste
• 1/2 cup milk
• 1/2 cup plain yogurt
• 1 to 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
• 1 garlic clove, minced
• 1 Tbs. chopped fresh oregano
• 1 1/2 Tbs. chopped fresh basil
• 2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
• Freshly ground pepper, to taste
• 6 ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
• 1 English (hothouse) cucumber, peeled and cut
crosswise into thin slices
• Handful of fresh basil leaves
• Handful of fresh cherry tomatoes

Place the onion slices in a bowl and sprinkle with salt. Pour the milk over the onion and let stand for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper to form a vinaigrette. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

Arrange the tomato and cucumber slices on a plate. Drain the onion slices and pat dry with paper towels. Scatter the onions atop the tomatoes and cucumbers. Drizzle with the vinaigrette, top with the basil leaves and cherry tomatoes and serve. Serves 6.

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Monday, August 3, 2009

White Chocolate Bread Pudding with Irish Whiskey Sauce

This weekend during the Hats Off to Saratoga Music Festival, my sister Anne and I walked the few blocks from her house to downtown to hear Maggie Doherty and Zac Rossi perform. They were terrific and it was exciting to be there among their fans, families, and friends. After the performance, we joined the others at Irish Times, a new restaurant and bar located on Phila Street, former site of The Trattoria, and before that, The Tin Shop. It’s a beautiful building with lots of atmosphere, a central bar underneath a huge black iron chandelier, and a number of outdoor terraces. An Irish band performed while we had a drink and then dinner. Because of the festival, it was crazy-busy. We both ordered Caesar salads which were fine, but sometime soon, on a quieter evening, I’d like to order something a little more authentically Irish. While Bangers and Mash are not on my list of must-have Irish foods, I just might stop in to try one of their desserts.

In the spirit of desserts with an Irish flavor, I provide here a recipe for bread pudding. This isn’t just any bread pudding. This recipe comes from the kitchens of Skidmore College, with an award-winning Food Services staff who have won national competitions. The Alumni Affairs Office shares note pads imprinted every few pages or so with some of these award-winning recipes, and I find myself flipping through the blank pages to find the next one!

White Chocolate Bread Pudding with Irish Whiskey Sauce

1-1/2 c. whipping cream
¾ c. Irish whiskey
9 tbl. Sugar
½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 tbl. Cold water
¾ tsp. cornstarch

Bread Pudding:
2 c. whole milk
1 c. sugar
6 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract
8 oz. day-old French bread cut into 1” pieces
1 c. semisweet chocolate chips (about 6 oz.)
3 oz. white chocolate, cut into ½” chunks

For sauce: Combine cream, whiskey, and sugar in heavy small saucepan. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add bean. Bring to simmer over high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low. Mix 2 tbl. water and cornstarch in bowl until smooth. Add to cream mixture; simmer until sauce thickens slightly and leaves path when finger is drawn across back of spoon, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes. Strain sauce into small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, about 1 hour. (Can be made 1 day ahead – keep refrigerated).

For bread pudding: Preheat oven to 400°F. Whisk milk, sugar, eggs, yolks, and vanilla in large bowl until well blended. Mix in bread. Let stand 20 minutes. Stir both chocolates into bread mixture. Transfer to buttered 8” square glass baking dish. Place baking dish in large baking pan. Add enough hot water to come 1” up sides of baking dish. Bake until pudding is set, about 1 hour. Remove baking dish from water. Cool pudding slightly and serve warm with chilled sauce.

Makes 12 servings.

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