Monday, November 30, 2009

Lunch Buddies and Chocolate Cherry Cookies

For years I’ve been so lucky to share my lunch hour with my friend Sue Valenti. Sue is retiring in a few weeks, and I can’t imagine a lunch hour without her. We became fast friends across a cubicle divide about ten years ago, and it soon became evident that this friendship will last long beyond one person’s retirement. She’s a friend for life. Now we can look forward to spending non-work time together, without watching the clock to rush back to our offices. There are good times ahead.

Sue is a very good baker and every year at Christmas time she bakes dozens and dozens of cinnamon rolls as gifts. She’s not limited to cinnamon rolls, though. She has a great recipe for chocolate glazed cookies stuffed with cherries (recipe follows). She’s from Michigan and likes to bake “bars” as they’re called there. She also has a recipe for raisin pie and one for gum-drop bread. Her favorite cake is lemon, and I make one every year for her birthday. Here’s Sue’s recipe for Chocolate Cherry Cookies! They'd make a nice addition to your Christmas Cookie repetoire.

Chocolate Cherry Cookies

1 1/2 C flour
1/2 C unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 C butter
1 C sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 10 oz jars marashino cherries (drained, reserve juice)
1 6 oz package semi sweet chocolate chips
1/2 C sweetened condensed milk

Sift dry ingredients together. Cream butter and sugar well. Add egg and vanilla and blend well. Add dry ingredients and belnd well. Roll mixture into 1-inch balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Press a cherry into the center of each ball. Over medium heat, melt chocolate chips with sweetened condensed milk until melted and well blended. Stir in 4 tsp. cherry juice. If the mixture gets thick, add more cherry juice. Prior to baking, spoon 1 teaspoon of the frosting over each cookie.

These cookies are baked frosted. Bake at 350 for 10 - 12 minutes.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Power Outage

The Saturday after Thanksgiving can typically be a laying-low day of post-gorging rest and comfortable TV watching. That was not the case in Middle Grove, New York, where our power went out around noon and wasn't restored until after 8:00 p.m. The lack of heat was not an issue since our heat is not yet functioning. To warm things up, I usually bake something or run the dishwasher which always seems ready to go. With digital TV, our reception depends on the whimsy of the wind and external forces, so having no TV wasn't life-altering either.

I managed, during the daylight hours, to find treasures in the basement and bring them up to my apartment in an attempt to make this space feel more like home. Russ was here in the morning and hung my wall hutch on the kitchen wall. After much measuring and calcutating and leveling, the hutch was up, securely fastened to the wall, though in the end it is neither centered nor exactly level! Still, it holds a few favorite things and pretty glasses, and reminds me of my life which has been packed away for many months. I also brought up some pictures to hang on the wall. My father's portrait is now hanging and I feel secure in his presence, as if his gaze is overseeing the happenings in my home, bringing a depth of generational wisdom to this space. Next to his portrait are beautiful 1920s-era photos of my mother as a young child. In one she is seated with her sister Jeanne. They must have been three and four years old. The other is a montage of my mother at about a year and a half, the same age Henry is now. She is shown sitting naked on a rug with a little doll, on a bench all dressed in white lace with tie-up shoes, and perched on a stool. There are two close-ups of her face, her short dark hair cropped unevenly, big blue eyes looking directly at the camera. Other pictures now gracing my walls are two Charles Wysocki winter prints, two Cate Mandigos, a pastoral farm scene by Jean Calqohoun, a portrait of me with Russ's dog Jette as a puppy (last year's Christmas gift), and a collection frame of Eddy kids during the early years. I look at them and wonder where the time has gone, how life has changed for the beautiful little faces in these photos, how life has changed for all of us.

As evening fell in cold darkness, we decided to escape our power-less environment and go in to Saratoga for dinner. We went to Sabina's on Union Avenue, where we all sat and relaxed in the warm and well-lit environment. It's certainly true that you don't miss the simple conveniences until you suddenly have to do without. That was the case with me and I was very happy to spend a while at Sabina's for more than just their good food!

As we drove home, we realized that the power had not yet been restored. Almost as soon as the candles were lit, the power returned to cheers and gratitude that we were, once again, powered. Our adventure was over. The rest of the night, I noticed all the things that I typically do not -- that I can push a button to wash my dishes, that I can turn on a TV to hear the news. That I can turn on a light or flush a toilet or hear the sound of my refrigerator freezer dispensing ice. It is the little things.


Friday, November 27, 2009

More than Black Friday: Thoughts the Day After Thanksgiving

We enjoyed a very nice Thanksgiving dinner hosted by my ex-husband Gene and his wife Catherine. They have a beautiful old home on the Hudson River, north of Schuylerville. As Russ and I arrived , a huge flock of geese was landing across the river, making an incredible noise as if to welcome all arriving. And we were a crowd! With Catherine's two daughters and four of our five children, and associated parters and babies, we totalled 17 and managed to sit all around one expanded table. Catherine is a vegetarian, and she and her daugther Marcy cooked the entire traditional meal, turkey and all, along with vegan offerings for the vegetarians among us (at least four).

This was our third joint Thanksgiving dinner, and it's a happy occasion for our kids who don't have to choose which of their divorced parents they're going to share the day with, and an especially happy day for a Mom who doesn't have to miss the party while her kids are all off having a great time without her! It's a great solution, though I doubt many divorced families can get beyond some of the heavier baggage to allow themselves this liberation. I'm so glad we did. It provided a rare opportunity to appreciate the good things and silver linings that always come after a storm. It's easier on the kids, too. Rather than rush through a meal here and run to a meal there, they get to enjoy their family all at once. I loved sitting at the table and listening to my kids enjoy each others' company. 'They spent all those years together, and after things warm up, we're right back to the comfortable familiarity that makes us a family. My son Joe wasn't there, and he was missed, and I look forward to the Thanksgivings in the future when he takes his place at the table.

I don't get together with all of my children often enough, and I miss that. I really am grateful to Gene and Catherine that they've opened their home to me, Russ, and all the kids. Ours may not be a conventional holiday gathering, but it feels like family, through and through.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake with Ginger Snap Crust

I hesitate to share this recipe because it is one of my favorites, and like other favorite things, sometimes it's nice to keep them to yourself. But it's Thanksgiving, and you may be wanting just one fabulous dessert, something that brings the best of cheesecake and pumpkin pie to the table. This big, moist cheesecake is cradled by a gingered graham cracker crust. It mixes up easily with fairly simple ingredients. There's nothing simple about its presentation or taste - both are spectacular and real show stoppers. This is not any one person's recipe. It's my adaptation of many cheesecake recipes, made to be my own. It was served at my daughter's wedding, one of the many items on the dessert table, playing second fiddle only to the wedding cake.

There's a formula to cheesecakes. For each half pound of cream cheese, it's one-quarter cup of sugar and one egg. So if this is too big for your cheesecake pan, change it by using three of everything: 3 packages of cream cheese, 3/4 cup sugar, 3 eggs... It's pretty simple, and you can always refer to your favorite cookbook since most include a variety of cheesecakes. This one is very good, and I hope you like it.

Oven 350 degrees F

Place top rack in middle of oven. On bottom rack below, place a cake pan filled with hot water to act as an indirect water bath. (This will minimize cracking after baking.)

Makes one 10-inch cheesecake

Crust:


  • 1.5 sleeves graham crackers to make 2-2 1/2 cups crumbs (in blender or food processor)
  • 1 bar butter, melted
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dry ginger

Mix all ingredients. Pour into base of spring form pan. Using the bottom of a metal measuring cup, press crumbs on bottom and half-way up sides of pan. Make sure the crumbs are tightly packed. Place pan in freezer while you prepare the batter.

Cheesecake batter:
  • 2 lbs. cream cheese
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Beat cream cheese with sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in vanilla. Add cornstarch and sour cream and beat until very smooth, scraping sides of bowl to incorporate all ingredients well.

Pour three cups of batter into separate bowl. Pour remaining batter in to pie crust. To the remaining batter in the bowl, beat in pumpkin and cinnamon, mixing very well. Drop pumpkin batter in dollops over the plain batter in pan. Using a large soup spoon, very loosely turn the batter over in large swirls. Take a butter knife and marble in one direction. Rotate the pan a half turn and marble the batter in the opposite direction.

Place cheesecake on cookie sheet on top rack in middle of oven and bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes. Turn heat down to 320 degrees and bake for another 45 minutes. Turn oven off and leave cheesecake in oven, door propped open an inch, for an hour. Remove from oven. Let cool completely. Run thin knife around outside edge of cheesecake. Release spring form.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Photo credit: http//:farm4static.flickr.com

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Roasted Green Beans with Onions and Walnuts

There's a lot of good cooking on TV the week before Thanksgiving, and I found some on PBS. This weekend, Christopher Kimball and Cooks Country offered this take on green beans, roasted rather than boiled with a balsamic vinegar honey coating and tossed with crunchy, toasted walnuts. I happily discovered the recipe on a favorite foodie Web site, SimplyRecipes.com.

Roasted Green Beans with Onions and Walnuts

Ingredients

* 1 lb green beans, stem ends snapped off
* 1/2 medium yellow or red onion, cut into 1/2 inch thick wedges
* 1 Tbsp olive oil
* Salt and pepper
* 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
* 1 teaspoon honey
* 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
* 2 medium thin-sliced garlic cloves
* 1/3 cup toasted chopped walnuts

Place rack in middle position, preheat oven to 450°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil or Silpat. Spread the beans and onions on the baking sheet. Drizzle the beans with olive oil and use your hands to coat the beans evenly. Sprinkle the beans with 1/2 teaspoon of salt, toss to coat, and distribute in an even layer. Roast for 10 minutes.

While roasting the beans, combine the balsamic vinegar, honey, thyme, and garlic slices in a small bowl.

After the beans and onions have roasted for 10 minutes, remove from oven. Drizzle the vinegar honey mixture over the beans and onions; use tongs to coat evenly. Put back in the oven and continue to roast until onions and beans are dark golden brown in spots and beans have started to shrivel, about 12-15 minutes longer.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to serving dish, sprinkle with toasted chopped walnuts, and serve.


Serves 4.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Mashed Potato Casserole


This recipe comes from "Cook's Country by America's Test Kitchen," episode 102, "Sunday Dinner." PBS has a channel, "Create," which is a blessing for us in geographically cable-free zones. It hosts cooking, travel, and build-it shows so my detox from the Food Network, The Travel Channel, and HGTV is buffered (well, maybe a little). "Cooks Country" is a BEAUTIFUL show, set in a gorgeous farmhouse in Vermont, with Christopher Kimball hosting. Each week they take a classic recipe and test and test to come up with the very best version of the dish. Katie and I were watching one day last year as they concocted their best rendition of Mashed Potato Casserole. We couldn't wait to try it, and when we did, we agreed. It is worthy of a primary place on your Thanksgiving (and every holiday!) table.

Mashed Potato Casserole from Cooks Country

SERVES 12

Ingredients

* 4 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and cut in 1-inch chunks
* 12 tablespoons butter (1 1/2 sticks)
* 1/2 cup half-and-half
* 1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
* 2 teaspoons kosher salt
* 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
* 1 garlic clove, minced
* 4 eggs
* 1/4 cup chopped chives

Directions

Place potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a bare simmer and cook until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Potatoes are done when a fork or paring knife can be inserted into a large chunk without much resistance.

Place butter, half-and-half, chicken broth, salt, mustard and garlic into a small saucepan. Heat until butter melts, about 5 minutes.

Drain potatoes well. Put potatoes in work bowl of stand mixer. Using paddle attachment, slowly add butter mixture with mixer on low. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

Stir in chives by hand. Pour into a buttered casserole dish. Scrape top with tines of a fork to allow browning and texture. Place in upper middle 1/3 of a preheated 375°F oven for 35 minutes until golden-brown.

Photo credit: http://www.cooksillustrated.com/images/document%5Crecipe%5C4704_SFS_DJ08_MashedPotatoCasserole_1_article.jpg

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Orange Cranberry Muffins

This is my very own recipe, a moist, delicious muffin to be enjoyed any time of year, and is especially welcome around Thanksgiving time. It can hold its place nicely as part of a Thanksgiving morning brunch. I make it all the time and can probably put it together with my eyes closed. Tiny bits of orange rind join dried cranberries in this sour-cream-based batter, resulting in an exceptionally moist muffin. I made them last night and little Henry wanted to help, which meant I was using a mixer with my right hand while I balanced a curious 18-month old on my left hip. Did I mention that my beloved, decades-old Kitchen Aid bit the dust? Well, it did succumb after a long and useful life, and it will be a while before it is replaced. We're in a period of appliance mourning right now. Luckily, I have a terrific heavy-duty hand mixer I once bought as back-up. It's risen to the challenge and taken on full mixing responsibility now, though I'm afraid I'm wearing the poor thing out! I don't know if Santa considers requests from 55-year old good girls, but I have been nice! (and S.C., you know the cookies will be great!).

Orange Cranberry Muffins
Makes 1 dozen

Oven - 375 degrees F

  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon orange rind (dried) or 2 tablespoons freshly grated
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries, coarsly chopped or 1 cup whole, fresh cranberries

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

In separate bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add flour mixture to wet ingredients, mixing well. You can beat this for a minute, unlike other muffin recipes.

Toss chopped dried cranberries (barely chopped, mabye in half) or fresh cranberries with about a tablespoon of flour, and fold into muffin batter.

Spray muffin pans with cooking or baking spray (or line with muffin papers). Divide batter among 12 muffin cups (I use a level ice cream scoop for each one).

Bake for 20 minutes or until muffin tops are dry in the center and bounce back to the touch. Cool in pan for about 15 minutes and remove to rack to cool completely. If a muffin sticks to the pan, run a thin knife around the edge to release.

Photo credit: le petit pierogi

Friday, November 20, 2009

Thanksgivings Past

I've written about this before, in other venues outside my blog. This is where I describe what I once considered to be the supreme-and-never-to-be-surpassed Thanksgiving dinner of my childhood.

Disclaimer: my mother was not a "scratch" cook (though we loved her food). She always used processed food but never store brands.

We were delighted to find, on our Thanksgiving table, the following:

  • A big turkey (Butterball) and in later years, simpler-to-cook turkey breasts.
  • French's instant mashed potatoes
  • Franco American turkey gravy
  • Pepperidge Farm stuffing
  • Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce
  • Parker House rolls (with real butter. We were a butter family.)
  • Birds-eye peas
  • Birds-eye creamed onions
  • Green and black olives
  • Celery Sticks
  • Mrs. Smith's Pumpkin Pie
  • Friehofer's Apple Pie
  • Cool-whip
  • Instant Maxwell House coffee (adults only)

If someone were to serve me this dinner today, I would be thrilled. It elicits the fondest of memories of happy times with my family of nine. I credit my mother with inspiring my interest in cooking, because though she was not particularly interested in recipes or anything more than basic cooking, she did encourage my budding interest and enjoyed helping me discover recipes. She let me mess up her kitchen. Her words of advice (that I still hear as I begin a cooking project) were: "Always make sure you have all the ingredients you need before you start" (after starting something and making her run to the store mid-recipe) and "Cleaning up is part of cooking."

If my mother loved to cook, this blog might not exist.

This Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for every meal my mother prepared day in and day out for nine people, for the happy memories of time in her kitchen, and for the inspiration to learn to love something she didn't.

Thanks Mom!

Photo credit: http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.brantfowler.com/blog/uploaded_images/thanksgiving-768059.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.brantfowler.com/blog/2006/11/happy-thanksgiving.html&usg=__7zvCh_b0c-lkeUDReJ1JhNzEGcw=&h=357&w=526&sz=70&hl=en&start=26&tbnid=TmL4UGLPqPp9BM:&tbnh=90&tbnw=132&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dthanksgiving%26gbv%3D2%26ndsp%3D20%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DN%26start%3D20

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fool-proof Make-Ahead Gravy and an Easier Thanksgiving




Make Ahead Gravy

Go ahead. Make your Thanksgiving Day!

This recipe comes to us via good friend Jodie Shepson. It's her most-shared recipe from an old issue of Women's Day magazine, discovered in the waiting room of her dentist's office many years ago. Women's Day notes that it is their most requested holiday recipe. You can make this well-ahead of time and know that the one most complicated and uncertain task of your Thanksgiving dinner is going to be perfect and done before the turkey is even purchased! This recipe can change Thanksgiving forever!

Jody's words: "I was always gravy challenged. My mother or mother-in-law handled the Thanksgiving gravy, I never really learned all the secrets of good gravy, and in my mind, it was a very stressful, last minute thing that did NOT have guaranteed results. That flour shaker thing and the skimming of the fat, stirring….what if the bird didn’t produce enough drippings, what if it’s too floury or watery, no flavor, too greasy……to me, gravy was always a very scary thing. And….it’s the thing that ties the whole meal together. Once I started hosting the Thanksgiving meal, I would assign the gravy to someone else; but there was never any sense of confidence about how the all-important gravy would turn out.
Then…I was sitting in the waiting room of Dr. Palmer’s dental office one April day, while some of my kids were having their teeth cleaned. I picked up the November Woman’s Day magazine, which happened to be on the table next to me, and leafed through the Thanksgiving recipes and tips. I came across this recipe for “Make-Ahead Gravy” that’s foolproof and delicious. I read it excitedly and vowed to remember it when Thanksgiving rolled around again. (Of course, I did not do that) Luckily, computers had been invented, so I searched on “Make-Ahead Gravy” and there it was. I tried it, and the vat of rich, perfect gravy was an incredibly beautiful sight to behold.
I’ve given this recipe to countless friends and family members, and even a few strangers. I’ve also gotten more thank yous for this recipe than any other! One friend writes every single year, a few weeks before Thanksgiving, to tell me she’s just made the gravy, and to thank me once again for taking the last-minute stress out of Thanksgiving. It’s just so wonderful to have that pot of gravy simmering on the stove, smelling great, and to not have to worry about all the stirring and skimming right before dinner. I also make a batch every now and then and freeze it in small containers. It’s great to thaw one out and make hot turkey sandwiches with very little effort. There’s still the mashed potato stress, but they’re not nearly as scary as gravy used to be!!"


Makes: 8 cups

Time: About 3 hr (mostly unattended)

Planning Tip: Make up to 3 months ahead and freeze in an airtight container. Refrigerate 2 days to thaw. Reheat in a saucepan, whisking often.

4 turkey wings (about 3 lb)
2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
1 cup water
8 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup chopped carrot
1/2 tsp dried thyme
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp stick butter or margarine
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

1. Heat oven to 400°F. Have ready a large roasting pan.

2. Arrange wings in a single layer in pan; scatter onions over top. Roast 1 1/4 hours until wings are browned.

3. Put wings and onions in a 5- to 6-qt pot. Add water to roasting pan and stir to scrape up any brown bits on bottom. Add to pot. Add 6 cups broth (refrigerate remaining 2 cups), the carrot and thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 1 1/2 hours.

4. Remove wings to cutting board. When cool, pull off skin and meat. Discard skin; save meat for another use.

5. Strain broth into a 3-qt saucepan, pressing vegetables to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard vegetables; skim fat off broth and discard (if time permits, refrigerate broth overnight to make fat-skimming easier).

6. Whisk flour into remaining 2 cups broth until blended and smooth.

7. Bring broth in pot to a gentle boil. Whisk in broth-flour mixture and boil 3 to 4 minutes to thicken gravy and remove floury taste. Stir in butter and pepper. Serve, or pour into containers and refrigerate up to 1 week or freeze up to 6 months.

Per 1/2 cup: 52 cal, 2 g pro, 6 g car, 0 g fiber, 2 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 4 mg chol, 516 mg sod


Photo credit: http://www.womansday.com/var/ezflow_site/storage/images/wd2/recipes/make-ahead-turkey-gravy-recipe2/279879-1-eng-US/Make-Ahead-Turkey-Gravy-Recipe_slideshow_image.jpg


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

And for the traditionalists: Chocolate Whoopie Pies!

Yesterday's pumpkin whoopie pies seem to be a big seasonal hit, but I must say that there was a little protest from self-described "whoopie traditionalists." They can't be disloyal and are true to the original. In the spirit of equal confectionary opportunity, I offer you the Food Network's Whoopie Pie, originally featured on Bobby Flay's Food Nation: Coastal Maine episode. Flay credits Moody's Diner with the recipe. I say, have a Whoopie-off! Bake both and let your audience decide! Looks like winners all around! And sorry Jen, as far as I know, there's just no healthy substitute for this one (though you are in Maine and may know of one!)...

Ingredients:
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups milk
  • Filling, recipe follows


Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, or preheat a convection oven to 315 degrees F.

In a large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the sugar, butter, and eggs together until well combined. Add the oil and vanilla and beat again.

In a separate bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients. Add half of the dry mixture to the egg mixture and beat or stir to blend. Add 1 1/2 cups milk and beat again. Add the remaining dry mixture and beat until incorporated. Add the remaining 1 1/2 cups milk and beat until blended.

With a large spoon, scoop out 32 circles of batter onto a baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool.

Spread filling onto 16 circles and place remaining circles on top, to make 16 Whoopie Pies.

Filling:

  • 1 1/2 cups shortening
  • 3 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups marshmallow topping
  • Dash salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup milk

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine all ingredients except the milk and beat well. Add just enough milk to achieve a creamy consistency. Spread filling across cooled cookie circles.

Photo credit: Food Network Web site: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/foodnation-with-bobby-flay/whoopie-pies-recipe/index.html

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Whoopie Pies, Pumpkin Style!

I used to bake Maine-style Whoopie Pies when my kids were little. The little, soft pillow cakes of chocolate were filled with a thick vanilla cream, and created the most delicious dessert sandwich. These are not an elegant dessert by any means. Whoopie Pies are rustic food, meant to be considered along with other basics like banana cream pie or a hot fudge sundae. They do not occupy the same elevated dessert tier as Cherries Jubilee or Baked Alaska--nor should they--Whoopie Pies are preferable if considered as the pb and j of the dessert set. There are wonderful recipes all over the web for the basic Whoopie Pie. You can find one in two clicks of a mouse. Here you'll find an autumnal rendition, which Martha Stewart credits to Matt Lewis of the famed Baked bakery. I'm lucky enough to have the Baked cookbook, thanks to two lovely and thoughtful friends who appreciate great food (Thank you Sari and Holly!). I read it before I go to sleep!

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies by Baked bakery (courtesy of Martha Stewart)

Ingredients

Makes 12 whoopie pies

FOR THE PUMPKIN WHOOPIE COOKIES

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon ground cloves
  • 2 cups firmly packed dark-brown sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 cups pumpkin puree, chilled
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

    FOR THE CREAM-CHEESE FILLING

  • 3 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Make the cookies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat; set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves; set aside. In another large bowl, whisk together brown sugar and oil until well combined. Add pumpkin puree and whisk until combined. Add eggs and vanilla and whisk until well combined. Sprinkle flour mixture over pumpkin mixture and whisk until fully incorporated.
  3. Using a small ice cream scoop with a release mechanism, drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto prepared baking sheets, about 1 inch apart. Transfer to oven and bake until cookies are just starting to crack on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of each cookie comes out clean, about 15 minutes. Let cool completely on pan.
  4. Make the filling: Sift confectioner' sugar into a medium bowl; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter until smooth. Add cream cheese and beat until well combined. Add confectioners' sugar and vanilla, beat just until smooth. (Filling can be made up to a day in advance. Cover and refrigerate; let stand at room temperature to soften before using.)
  5. Assemble the whoopie pies: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Transfer filling to a disposable pastry bag and snip the end. When cookies have cooled completely, pipe a large dollop of filling on the flat side of half of the cookies. Sandwich with remaining cookies, pressing down slightly so that the filling spreads to the edge of the cookies. Transfer to prepared baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate cookies at least 30 minutes before serving and up to 3 days.


Photo credit from Martha Stewart's website: "Baked: New Frontiers in Baking" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, coauthored with Renato Poliafito, October 2008)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Quaker's Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies


Under the heading of Cookies to Crave, this one is high on my list. It's a warm, bendy, chewy oatmeal cookie with raisins. There's just enough spice to make it interesting. I made these recently and actually grabbed them for breakfast on-the-go when I realized how "not bad" they are! Quaker is famous for its oatmeal and also for its oatmeal cookie recipe. I remember baking these years ago, when my kids were little. My then-husband called and I told him we were baking cookies. Its embarrassing to admit that they flew off the plate so quickly that I had to make a second batch before he got home from work, just so he wouldn't know we ate all of them! And I wonder why that marriage didn't last!


Quaker's Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies


Ingredients


* 1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 6 tablespoons butter, softened

* 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

* 1/2 cup granulated sugar

* 2 eggs

* 1 teaspoon vanilla

* 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

* 1 teaspoon baking soda

* 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

* 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)

* 3 cups Quaker® Oats (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)

* 1 cup raisins


Preparation


Heat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, beat butter and sugars on medium speed of electric mixer until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; mix well. Add oats and raisins; mix well.


Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.


Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets; remove to wire rack. Cool completely. Store tightly covered.


* Prep Time: 20 min * Cook Time Time: 08 min


Variations:
Bar Cookies: Press dough onto bottom of ungreased 13 x 9-inch baking pan. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars. Store tightly covered. 24 BARS. VARIATIONS: Stir in 1 cup chopped nuts. Substitute 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips or candy-coated chocolate pieces for raisins; omit cinnamon. Substitute 1 cup diced dried mixed fruit.


HIGH ALTITUDE ADJUSTMENT: Increase flour to 1-3/4 cups and bake as directed.Nutrition


Information
* Serving Size: 1 cookie

* Calories: 100

* Calories from Fat: 35

* Total Fat: 4

* Saturated Fat: 2

* Cholesterol: 20

* Sodium: 55

* Total Carbohydrate: 14

* Dietary Fiber: 1

* Sugars: 7

* Protein: 1

Friday, November 13, 2009

Food - is it all about me? Not anymore.


I often think of food as a communication tool. If you ask women, particularly, to think of their relationship with food, the response is usually in terms of the personal: how much is eaten or ingested, how it is personally satisfying, or how many calories and the repercussions of indulgence. After decades of food=me=mood, it's a relief to realize that as I’ve gotten older, my own ego-centric view of food has shifted outward to consider it as more a social medium than something so specifically personal. Food is something we do as much as it is something we consume. Food sets a mood, creates a tone, and invites community.

Think about walking into someone’s home, perhaps for a party, and the aroma of something cooking in the kitchen greets you before you have a chance to take off your coat. Food is atmosphere. It is setting. It’s as much a part of the environment as the host’s living room furniture and potted plants. Food serves a purpose. It welcomes us home. It celebrates a marriage or birth, and it soothes a grieving soul.

Do you ever wonder why it is that we respond to life's most significant events with food? We bring a lasagna to a family with a new baby, or a cake to a reception after a funeral. There’s always too much, but it is exactly enough because the food brings more than the servings it provides. Delivered with a casserole or a bundt cake is the message “I care. I want to nourish you at this important time. You are important to me.”

I am so glad that I see food differently at this stage in my life, and I feel fortunate to share occasional recipes for my food, and my thoughts about it, with you.

Photo image: http://i.ehow.com/images/GlobalPhoto/Articles/4845294/bundtcake1-main_Full.jpg

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Free! and delicious! Chocolate Dipped Macaroons


I've had a lot of requests for "free" baking lately: egg-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, and gluten-free. I am not yet confident in the "free" department to offer a satisfactory product. There are special flours and specific ingredients the everyday amateur baker doesn't have on hand. Looks like it's time to do some experimenting for good recipes that can cater to people's specific dietary needs.


"-Free" cooking is requested more and more. Last weekend I made sugar-free cupcakes for a friend's birthday, and I am afraid they were more like short-cake muffins than birthday cupcakes, texture-wise. I used Splenda and a four-star recipe (from Splenda's website) and while they may have tasted fine, I could tap the top of them and hear a hollow echo. Not really ideal for a cake. Then trying to make sugar-free frosting was a challenge, and I ended up mixing a sugar-free white-chocolate instant pudding mix with heavy cream and beating the bejezus out of it until it was stiff enough to pipe through a bag. I think the frosting tasted fine and it looked pretty. I shaved some dark chocolate over the top and the cupcakes were very pretty, but I am concerned that they were a disappointment. I haven't heard. No news is, so far, good news.


My friend Peggy follows a gluten-free diet for medical reasons, and shared with me her cookbook Easy Gluten-Free Baking by Elizabeth Barbone. Ms. Barbone is a frequent guest chef on our local tv station WNYT Channel 13. I'm taking the cookbook home for the weekend, but before I do I'm sharing with you her recipe for Chocolate Dipped Macaroons:


Chocolate Dipped Macaroons


1 13-ounce package sweetened coconut


1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk)


1 large egg white



1 cup chopped dark chocolate



  • Preheat oven to 350F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.In large mixing bowl, combine coconut, sweetened condensed milk, and egg white. Mix well with wooden spoon.

  • Drop by rounded tablespoons onto prepared cookie sheet.

  • Bake 10-12 minutes or until deeply browned. (You want to really brown these lovely cookies. A nice brown crust will provide for a wonderfully chewy cookie, somewhat reminiscent of a campfire-browned marshmallow).

  • Allow cookies to cool on the baking sheet. Don't move until they are completely cooled.

  • Melt the chocolate in the microwave in 20-second increments, stirring each time. Continue until all the chocolate is melted.

  • Dip macaroons in chocolate. Place dipped macaroons on a clean sheet of parchment paper and allow to set until firm.


2 dozen cookies



Photo image: http://www.wrightangle.com/food/blog/wp-content/uploads/2008/04/mg-8541.jpg

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Brownies, NPR, and Chef Thomas Keller


I always listen to NPR's Morning Edition on my way to work, and since I have a 20-minute drive it's enough time to learn something. Today I enjoyed an interview with Thomas Keller, the famed chef owner of French Laundry and other notable restaurants. Born in 1955, he's a child of the sixties, and his life story is fascinating. You can read about it, and listen to the interview (well worth the time), here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120133084#120131387

Chef Keller was cooking during the interview, preparing an iceberg salad, caramelized sea scallops (yum!), rainbow chard, and brownies. I couldn't wait to go to the NPR site to read more and see his recipes in print.


(Chef Keller's recipe is excerpted from his new cookbook Ad Hoc at Home, highlighted in his NPR interview, which aired this morning, November 11, 2009)

Keller's words: "Brownies embody so much of what I love about dessert generally — they remind me of family, comfort, childhood. They draw you to them. You can turn these into a special dessert by serving them alongside caramel ice cream or with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce, but they're great with just a little whipped cream or powdered sugar — or all by themselves."

Chef Thomas Keller's Brownies
Makes 12 Brownies

Ingredients:

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened alkalized cocoa powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 pound (or 3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces
3 large eggs
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste or pure vanilla extract
6 ounces 61- to 64- percent chocolate, chopped into chip-sized pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)
Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. We use a 9-inch square silicone mold, because it keeps the edges from overcooking; if you use a metal or glass baking pan, butter and flour it. Set aside. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt; set aside.

Melt half the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Put the remaining butter in a medium bowl. Pour the melted butter over the bowl of butter and stir to melt the butter. The butter should look creamy, with small bits of unmelted butter, and be at room temperature.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, mix together the eggs and sugar on medium speed for about 3 minutes, or until thick and very pale. Mix in the vanilla. On low speed, add about one-third of the dry ingredients, then add one-third of the butter, and continue alternating the remaining our and butter. Add the chocolate and mix to combine. (The batter can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.)

Spread the batter evenly in the pan. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until a cake tester or wooden skewer poked into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs sticking to it. If the pick comes out wet, test a second time, because you may have hit a piece of chocolate chip; then bake for a few minutes longer if necessary. Cool in the pan until the brownie is just a bit warmer than room temperature. Run a knife around the edges if not using a silicone mold, and invert the brownie onto a cutting board. Cut into 12 rectangles. Dust the tops with powdered sugar just before serving. (The brownies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days.)

Excerpted from Ad Hoc At Home by Thomas Keller. Copyright 2009 by Artisan.

NPR Story and photo credit (Artisan): http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120133084#120131387

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

November 10


November 10

My mother Virginia McGeehan O'Farrell was born this day in 1918 in New York City. She used to say she was born on Armistice Day. My mother was the fourth of six children, born when her mother Loretta was 42 years old. She was raised on Liberty Avenue in New Rochelle, New York. A grocery store now stands where their house was located. My mother often spoke fondly of her childhood in New Rochelle. She was close with her siblings and cousins who were just like siblings. She graduated from Blessed Sacrament School and after school worked on Wall Street. She was voted "best legs" in her high school class and used to brag that, on her swim team, she had a killer "ten beat flutter." Her sister Jeanne was just eleven months younger than my mother, and they were always the best of friends. They grew up in a time of greater social formality, noting that they'd never go in to New York, or to visit a friend in the hospital, or even go out to a movie without dressing up. It was a glamorous time during their coming-of-age years in the 30s and 40s, and there are beautiful pictures of my mother and Aunt Jeanne that attest to that fact. And it was a magical time when she met my father and fell in love. The Jimmy Dorsey band played at their engagement party. My parents were married in 1942, raised seven children and moved often. With each move, we were aware that our family was its own community and that we would face new challenges together.

There are many days throughout the year when I am reminded of my mother. After she first passed away in 2002, every day was filled with nostalgic remembrances. Seven years later, there are often moments when I am touched by her memory. Some are spontaneous and unexpected; others are deliberate efforts not to forget.

In my earliest memory of my mother, I see her from across the room, her dark hair framing her face so beautifully, her big blue eyes twinkling, and a huge smile directed right at me. I must have been a very little child, perhaps even a baby, but I still remember the joy of that moment. It came back to me with my own children, and now my grandson when, before there are words, there are connections that create a life-long bond. It is one of the most vivid memories of my life.

I miss my mother today. I want to call her up and say "Happy Birthday Mom!" I want to bake her a special cake, like I do for so many people to whom I am not so nearly attached. I want to tell her my joys and hear her happiness for me. I want to tell her my troubles and hear her words, "It will be alright." I want her to know Henry and to share grandmotherly wisdom.

I see my mother's face reflected in my daughter Meghan. I hear her voice when I speak with Aunt Jeanne. I realize her challenges as I face my own, some the same but some very different. My mother was a stay-at-home Mom with a husband who loved her unabashedly. He'd cradle her face in his hands and say the most affectionate things. There was no doubt that he adored her, and she him. I don't have that permanence in my life. As a divorced woman and a single mother, my life has taken a very different route, yet I benefit from witnessing my parents' love for each other. It gives me hope that my own children will experience long-lasting and nurturing relationships like their grandparents. It is a different world but I think there's room for that in their lives. Like my mother used to say "I'll say a little prayer."

Happy Birthday Mom!
Photo: Jeannie Eddy

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Sunday Drive, A Sunday Dinner, and Bourbon Glazed Carrots


Sunday dinners at my house are not what you might expect to see in a Norman Rockwell painting. Since my daughter's house is not yet done and she has no kitchen, her new Sunday tradition has begun while they're staying with me, with an open invitation to all who might like to join. While ours is not a Rockwellian family composition, it is a happy group and our current round-up includes Katie, Bill and Henry with any and all grandparents (me, Bill's father Richard and his significant other Sydney, and Bill's mother Penelope). Also invited are Henry's aunts and uncles, though my sons Joe and Jeffrey are the only ones to make it so far. Meghan and Tricia typically work on Sundays and haven't yet joined us at my new table, though they are palpably missed and I am looking forward to the time when they will be able to make it.

Hayden the Bloodhound and Oden the Black Lab would be eager dinner participants, but I insist that they go outside when dinner is served, lest we all deal with the pathetic eyes and jowl-ful drooling that inevitably accompany their presence. They are fed well ahead of the rest of us, and just as dinner is about to be served, I lure them outside with two dog biscuits with an invitation to play in the yard. They are welcomed back in as soon as the table is cleared. I don't know about you, but for me it's pretty difficult to enjoy dinner when there's a whining dog waiting anxiously by your side. Perhaps a session with the Dog Whisperer is in order.

Last night Katie made individual meat loaves (I have a special pan), mashed potatoes, and bourbon-glazed carrots. I exchanged kitchen duties for Henry supervision, happily. Katie, Penny, and Sydney peeled carrots, apples, and potatoes. I read to Henry. I did set the table and took care of the dishes, so I don't feel too guilty about it! Sydney put together another one of her lovely apple pies, and with it we served Mann's scrumptious pumpkin ice cream, hand-packed at the "Ice Cream Mann" shop in Greenwich, New York. We'd traveled through Greenwich earlier in the day on our way to see a lovely house for sale, just for fun. My sister Anne is a local realtor and she was hosting this open house for the owners who are being transferred. It was a beautiful, light-filled farm house in Salem, New York (a very New England-y town, just a few miles from the Vermont border, and about 45 minutes from Saratoga) with nine acres of rolling hills, two barns, fancy chickens, friendly goats, and a sun-drenched front porch! The huge country kitchen is perfect for preparing big, celebratory dinners. It will make a lovely home for one fortunate family.


Katie's Bourbon Carrots

5 lbs. carrots, peeled and cut in to 1/4 inch slices
3 tbs. butter
3 tbs. dark brown sugar
1 shot bourbon (1 oz.)

In large skillet, melt butter and add brown sugar. Add carrots and simmer till soft. Add bourbon and cook a few minutes more.

Norman Rocwell's Freedom From Want: http://farmchronicles.files.wordpress.com/2006/10/1943-03-06-saturday-evening-post-norman-rockwell-article-freedom-from-want-430-digimarc.jpg

Friday, November 6, 2009

It was COLD this morning!


It was COLD when I woke up this morning. My lovely new apartment is still sans heat, but it'll warm up once some valves and gadgets and other things are tinkered with and thermostats are finally in place. My son-in-law is taking all of next week off to get such things done. Not that I'm suffering. I was warm and toasty under my lofty down comforter as long as I didn't move an inch. When I woke up this morning, the only thing that really jolted me awake was an encounter with some cold porcelain, which was much more effective than my cell phone alarm at waking me up! To warm up the apartment, I ran the dishwasher on the "pot scrubber" cycle last night since that pumps out a good amount of heat during the drying cycle. Then, this morning, I decided to produce a dozen cinnamon rolls for the family just because I craved the oven's heat.


My apartment will be warm tonight. It's one of those Fridays when I go into the weekend facing a lot of baking. I have the usual muffins, scones, and cinnamon rolls in the cue, and also two dozen sugar-free cupcakes for a co-worker. I've never baked sugar-free before. I've baked egg-free and dairy-free and even gluten-free, but never sugar-free. I hope it works out well and I don't want my contribution to his party to be a disappointment. I'm also attending a bridal shower for my nephew's fiance tomorrow, at Limoncello in Saratoga Springs, and it's nice because I am not providing the cake. I get to be "just a guest" and that's always a welcome relief from responsibility!


I have no recipe for you today, just best wishes for a relaxing, rejuvenating weekend. We're expected to see some snow flurries flying by here in upstate New York. My aforementioned son-in-law Bill encountered some very large, fat snowflakes last night when he was driving through the Berkshires on the Mass pike. It won't be long for us, I'm sure.


Eat good things and stay warm!


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dinner for Seven and A Sinful Sundae


It may seem that I rival Paula Deen when it comes to fat and sugar content in some of my recipes. I must admit that my tastes tend to veer toward the rich and decadent, though I do bring balance to my epicurean world with the occasional healthier offering. This blog isn't going there. I'm staying to the right of the dessert highway by sharing last night's sweet ending with you.

We took (we being six O'Farrell siblings) our brother Michael out for his 61st birthday celebration. This tradition started when my mother was still alive, and she loved nothing more than eating out with her family. When she passed away in 2002, we continued this birthday tradition more in memory of her than anything else, and it is something we have grown to love ourselves, for ourselves. Five times a year, seven siblings get together to honor each others' birthdays. Because there are two sets of joint birthdays (mine with Steven's, Ginny's with Anne's) we are able to accomplish this in just five dinners out, not that we wouldn't love any excuse to do this more often.

We always go to either Red Lobster or The Outback Steakhouse. Before you judge us too harshly, know that we are not food snobs on this night, and we go for the easy time spent with each other more than for the standard fare. Last night found us at the Outback in Clifton Park, New York, a fine representation of the Outback chain. The staff is friendly and charming, and our server, Randy, had a lot of fun waiting on us. He even asked us to ask for him if we ever come back!

After dinner and before dessert, Michael opened his gifts. He's a movie aficionado and a book lover, so most of his gifts were geared that way. I have the most fun picking out border-line (if not) inappropriate cards. It's a lot of fun to watch a sibling open a card, read it, attempt to muffle a laugh at the message, and then laugh out loud! The card is then passed around the table where the rest of us act offended but then become a hysterical group, laughing until tears run down our faces. You wouldn't want to be seated near us on a birthday night.

My dessert choice was Outback's Sinful Sydney Sundae, a ball of vanilla ice cream rolled in toasted coconut, sitting on a pool of hot fudge, and crowned with whipped cream, all surrounded by slices of strawberries. It is heavenly, so much so that I have successfully duplicated this one at home. You can do this too by toasting your own flaked coconut for a few minutes in the oven, watching carefully so it doesn't burn. Just a few minutes spread out on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees until it begins to brown and smells wonderful. Take it out of the oven and let it cool. Then do what Outback does and enjoy!


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Nostalgic Food: Sweet and Sour Meatballs

In the 60s and 70s, it seemed we were a more social group, hosting pot luck dinners, fondue parties, and progressive dinners. One dish I remember really falling for was my sister Patsy's "Sweet and Sour Meatballs." It was really delicious and different than anything I'd had before.

Most people hear this recipe and are surprised at the ingredients, but ask for the recipe anyway. And this recipe could not be simpler – it uses only three ingredients, and is made in a slow cooker (also popular in the 70s--or a large stock pot on the stove--heat set to low). It basically takes care of itself. All you have to do is accept compliments. It has a popular retro flavor since it comes from the era of easy-serving food and happy gatherings.

This is a terrific recipe for the upcoming holiday season, either to have at home or to take to a party. No accompaniment is needed – just a serving spoon and cocktail picks. Enjoy!

SWEET AND SOUR MEATBALLS
  • 1 lb. 93% lean ground beef or ground turkey breast, formed in to 1” meatballs (no other ingredients needed)
  • 1 one-lb. jar of grape jelly
  • 1 jar of cocktail sauce

In slow cooker on high setting, melt grape jelly and stir in cocktail sauce.
When hot, add meatballs to sauce mixture and turn heat to low. Stir gently to cover the meatballs in the sauce. Cover and let cook all day long. Stir now and then.

Photo credit: http://www.mrsdash.com/images/dbrecipes/0984.jpg

Monday, November 2, 2009

All treats, no tricks


This Halloween weekend was the kind of weekend that gives Halloween a good name. For me, it meant time spent with my daughter Katie making a special cake for a friend's baby's first birthday on October 31st. On Saturday morning, I carefully drove the completed cake to Troy (about 45 minutes away). After a missed turn and some bumpy roads, the only casualty was a fallen zebra, who was perched back up on the first tier upon arrival.

Saturday was also Henry's second Halloween and since he is now 18 months old, he really seemed to enjoy it. He was dressed as a train conductor with overalls, a red bandanna, and an engineer's cap. His curls peeked out from under the cap.

Halloween is also my mother-in-law Marylou's birthday, and when we went over to visit, she had a house full. Making up most of that crowd were seven great-grandchildren in Halloween costumes, three grandchildren, three sons, and more than a few daughters-in-law. I'm legally no longer her daughter-in-law since the divorce, and my ex-husband and his wife were there, but everyone treats me as if I am still just as much a part of the family, and for that I am forever grateful. I love Marylou. She's a special woman and an important person in my life.

Later that afternoon Katie and Bill took Henry trick-or-treating in a friend's neighborhood, since we live in the country and there are few houses around. Home alone (!) I took the opportunity to sit on the couch, put my feet up, and watch a movie! It's the first time I've done anything like that in months, and it was great. When they got back, we went to visit my sister-in-law Carolyn's family, where again we were surrounded by babies and children and their parents exhibiting their inner children, costuming themselves for parties later that evening. My niece Lauren was the tooth fairy, proud (after three babies) to fit in her prom gown which was embellished with fake and actual teeth as were her wand and tiara. Lovely. Her brother Gordon was the Wicked Witch of the West, green face and all, and continuing with the Oz theme, his wife Mary was Glinda, the Good Witch. Mary transformed her beautiful wedding dress by spraying it pink. I gasped, but she didn't blink an eye! It was chaotic and fun. Carolyn had made a pot of chili, baked a couple of quiches, and there was candy everywhere.

I left there realizing how fortunate I am to be part of a family that enjoys each others' company so much. Very, very fortunate.
Photo by Greg Magin, Julia's dad!