Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Rooms of Our Lives - Happy New Year 2014!

“We spend January 1st walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives...not looking for flaws, but for potential.”  
 ― Ellen Goodman

This quote from Ellen Goodman reminds me of Norman Vincent Peale's quote, "Change your thoughts, change your world." The power of positive thinking…it's a message that resonates this year. I'd like 2014 to be the year that I flip the switch from focusing on my own demerits and start noticing the positivity that others see, and look for the potential of each situation. Like many women I know, there's a tape that plays in my mind constantly about how to do better, how to be better, how to get more from every day. I wake up every morning feeling already behind the 8-ball, and go to bed every night hyper-aware of all the things I didn't accomplish or could have done better. I've heard this referred to as "negative self-talk" which, in psych speak, means we don't treat ourselves as well as we treat others. Sometimes, I have to have that inner chat and say "Be as nice to yourself as you are to your friends." 

When one of my daughters was in a particularly difficult teen-age phase, she'd make a statement about something that distressed her. The statement, expressing a situation, would be oozing in negativity. I would say "Think of a way to say the same thing, but with positivity." It wasn't always possible, but it was a conscious effort to look at the world with different eyes, to lift the emotion of the situation up and rid it of troubling energy. I don't even know if she remembers those little exercises (sometimes futile, sometimes not) but I do, and they were lessons for me as well.

So, I don't plan to enter 2014 obsessing about all the things I do wrong, the "cracks to be patched" with the intention to make them right. The cracks are there -- I make mistakes all the time and have learned and earned some of life's most valuable lessons in doing so. Without those cracks, I might never have come to realize that there is nothing, nothing more meaningful than family and cherished friends, especially when times are tough and I don't do it right, when I neglect these relationships because I am too busy or too tired or just don't feel like it at the moment. I suffer for the mistakes made along the way in the name of ego, pride, vanity, selfishness - those self-protective devices we all employ to some extent to stake our claims in the world. I hope to find forgiveness for the mistakes I've made, but if not, I have learned to forgive myself and move forward with optimism and positivity. There's nothing more worth claiming than the precious relationships nurtured through a lifetime of shared experiences. 

What I will do as I make my way through 2014, as Ellen Goodman suggests, is search out the potential in every symbolic room of my life. I will pick up the phone rather than text and connect, voice to voice, or preferably, face-to-face, with those cherished relationships. I will better anticipate those "unexpected" expenses and not be caught so off-guard when one arises. I will plan ahead so that I'll be able to take those trips that mean so much. I will invest in a more sophisticated camera so I can continue to capture, with even more detail, those precious moments with my grandsons and children, or a landscape along a highway, or a breaking wave, or a spontaneous moment of creativity in my kitchen.  I will look for the potential in each day, each challenge, rather than start out checking the tired, old demerit column. I will stop waiting. Waiting for the perfect moment to do whatever. Because the perfect moment may never come. I will dive in to the potential that all the moments of 2014 will provide.

These little guys know how to have fun!

Happy New Year to you all!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Perfect Gift from Katie and The Beekman Brothers!

I love cookbooks. Read them like novels at night before I fall asleep. I especially love and appreciate reading about handed-down recipes that carry on tradition. So, you can imagine my happiness at receiving an autographed copy of The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook: 100 Delicious Heritage Recipes from the Farm and Garden. It is my Christmas gift from Katie and Bill. This year, they decided to do all their Christmas shopping at the new Northshire Bookstore in downtown Saratoga Springs, and chose books geared to each recipient's particular interests. They hit the nail on the head with this one. It is a visually beautiful cookbook, with stunning photographs, personal commentaries, relevant quotes, and histories of traditional recipes. I SO love it!

The chapters of this beautiful recipe book are divided by seasons, starting with Winter. Some of the recipes in the Winter chapter are:  marble pound cake, gingerbread cookie ice cream sandwiches, snow cream with sweetened condensed milk, chocolate espresso soup with marshmallows, salty nougat fudge brownies, malted milk chocolate cake, and many more!

I'll be bringing you samples from this cookbook very soon. For now, here's a photo of this beautiful cookbook. It makes me happy!

This is one of my favorite things!
Thanks so much, Katie and Bill!

Friday, December 27, 2013

EASY Pineapple Upside Down Cake!

For my son-in-law Bill's birthday yesterday, I made his favorite: Pineapple Upside Down Cake. It's a very easy recipe using canned pineapple, its juice, and a butter-recipe yellow cake mix. Using the juice from the canned pineapple with the mix gives this cake a delicious edge. The upside-down part, the topping of melted butter, light brown sugar, pineapple rings and cherries creates such a delicious cake that you will want seconds immediately, or as in Bill's case, for breakfast the next morning! Just make sure you have whipped cream for the crowning glory! Happy Birthday Bill! You know you will always have your favorite cake for your birthday, as long as I am baking!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit
13x9-inch pan or 10-inch round (that's what I used)

Cake batter:
1 butter-recipe yellow cake mix
1/3 cup soft butter (or amount specified on mix)
pineapple juice from canned pineapple plus enough water to equal 1 cup
3 eggs

Mix ingredients together until moistened and beat for two minutes. Set aside while you prepare the pan and toppings:

Melt 6 tablespoons butter and pour into pan
Sprinkle 3/4 cup light brown sugar evenly over the melted butter in the pan. Distribute evenly over surface of pan with a fork.
Place pineapple rings in an even formation over brown sugar/butter mixture. I used 8 rings for a 10-inch round pan.
Place cherries in center of each ring and in between, as many as you like.

Pour batter over center of pan and allow it to spread to the sides. Gently nudge it to the edges with a spatula if necessary. Use all the batter.

Place pan on cookie sheet (in case of any spill-over) in oven.

Bake until cake tests done. My 10-inch round Wilton cake pan took 46 minutes. Try testing at 35 minutes on, depending on which pan you use and your own oven.

When done, remove cake from oven and set your timer for 5 minutes. At 5 minutes, invert hot cake onto a serving plate or platter and gently remove pan. If a pineapple ring sticks, don't worry. Just remove it from the pan with a knife or spatula and put it back in place.

Serve warm or cool to room temperature, and don't forget the whipped cream!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Egg Nog Fudge - Encore!

Who doesn't like fudge? No one I know. Fudge is the perfect little package of sweet, creamy, and satisfying. A little goes a long way. Just one 1-inch square of fudge is all I need for a luxurious indulgence. Last year I posted this recipe, one that my son Jeffrey made and shared for Christmas. It does taste like egg nog - you'll just have to try it to know. But you don't have to wait. Here's an encore of that great recipe, just in time for your cookie and candy platters, or as a sweet remembrance for someone special. 

made by my son Jeffrey from a recipe
he found at inspiringpretty.com/2012/12/12/eggnog-fudge

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup eggnog (full-fat will make it creamier)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 10-12 ounces chopped white chocolate (chips are fine)
  • 7 ounces marshmallow creme
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • Line a 9x9 pan (or 8x8 depending on your desired thickness) with wax paper or foil.  Set aside.
  • Combine butter, eggnog, and sugar in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium heat stirring occasionally.  Once boiling, reduce heat a bit.  Using a candy thermometer, continue cooking until temperature reaches 234 degrees (soft ball stage). NOTE:  I constantly stir with a wire whisk during this time, but this recipe does not call for that. Personal preference, and it does get hot!
  • Remove from heat and stir in white chocolate.  Continue stirring until chocolate is completely melted and blended in.  Add in marshmallow creme, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla.  
  • Spread into prepared pan.  Sprinkle the top with a bit more nutmeg if desired.
  • Let cool at room temperature completely before removingfrom pan and cutting into squares.
  • Store at room temperature for up to a week or in refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Cherry Coconut Thumb Prints

Last night I baked up a storm, getting ready to send out a package of cookies and scones to sunny F-L-A while our temps here get colder and colder. It was warm in my kitchen last night, though, as batch after batch of cookies went in and out of my oven. There were cooling racks everywhere as the assembly line of goodies went on. I baked from 9 pm to about 1 am, and woke up to a kitchen that looked like a bomb went off! Oh well, the price I pay for creativity!

One of the cookies I made last night was a thumb print cookie - basically a sugar cookie dough, rolled in a ball, then rolled in egg white, then coconut, and finally indented in the middle (with the end of a wooden spoon actually, not my thumb) and filled with cherry preserves. This recipe can be customized to your own preferences - don't like coconut? Used finely chopped walnuts. Have a favorite jelly or jam? Use that. There's no one way to make this cookie. I just happen to love coconut and cherries!

This recipe begins with my favorite sugar cookie dough. I had pouches of sugar cookie mix in my pantry (for those quick projects with my grandsons) but for Christmas, I wanted something great, and that's Alton Brown's Sugar Cookie Recipe, the gold standard in my experience. The only real differences between Alton's recipe and what I do are that I add vanilla for a punch of flavor, and I do not refrigerate the dough. For rolled cookies, I find it rolls out beautifully just after mixing, and that works for me. Alton also suggests rolling out with a dusting of confectioners sugar - I use flour. That's where we differ.  But there's no rolling pin for this recipe - you only need your hands!

So, here's the recipe. It's beautiful, delicious, and fun to make - pretty much a perfect combination for a great cookie!

from Alton Brown's Sugar Cookie Recipe
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F
Line cookie sheets with parchment paper (Always!!!)

Stir together:
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Set aside.

In mixing bowl, cream:
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar

1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (my addition)

Using your hands, roll dough into 1-inch diameter balls.

For coating and filling:
1 egg white, beaten with about a tablespoon of water to break it up
1 cup sweetened coconut flakes (or 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts)
A few tablespoons cherry preserves or  your favorite jam

Drop about 3 or 4 dough balls into egg white, coat evenly. With a fork, pick up and drop into coconut, rolling around until well coated. Place on parchment-lined cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart. Make a dent in the middle (about half-way down into the center) and fill each dent with about 1/4 teaspoon preserves or jam.

Bake until coconut is browning nicely, 10-11 minutes at least. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before removing to cooling rack. Cookies may seem soft in the center but they will firm up as they cool.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Easy White Cake Recipe from Kitchenaid

Tonight I took my brand-spanking-new RED Kitchenaid Artisan Mixer for a test drive. It seemed appropriate to initiate this beautiful machine with a recipe straight out of the booklet that came with it. It's as simple as can be - dry ingredients are dumped in the bowl. Wet ingredients are added all at once. It's mixed for about three minutes. That's it.

Ready for her very first project!

Here's the recipe. Enjoy!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit
Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans (I line mine with parchment rounds)

Dry ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Wet ingredients:
1/2 cup Crisco shortening
4 egg whites at room temperature
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Place dry ingredients in mixer bowl and combine. Add Crisco, egg whites, milk, and vanilla. Mix at low speed for 1 minute.  Scrape bowl. Mix at medium speed for another minute until smooth. Scrape bowl and give one final mix.

Pour batter into pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until cake tests done.

VERY pleasantly surprised!

Look at that beautiful crust! 

Ready to get dressed up!

Time to celebrate!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Bringing Back a Classic: My Mother's Meatloaf Recipe

Saturday night Russ and I had dinner out with good friends Frank and Sue. We decided to go to Jacob & Anthony's in downtown Saratoga Springs. I love the atmosphere there, it's dark, and warm, and cozy yet upscale and a little bit sophisticated. They have a 3-course menu for $20 which includes a generous salad, a hearty entree, and a small dessert. Russ, Frank, and I all ordered the same thing - meatloaf with mashed potatoes. I told the server that we must all be missing our mothers (true!). I ate half of mine and saved the rest for Russ to take back to Connecticut. He and Frank enjoyed it so much that they ate all of theirs. I gave Russ *most* of my dessert - a fudge walnut brownie sundae. Those two bites were worth it!  It was a little indulgent for me but I tried to estimate the calories and stop within reason!

Meatloaf brings back happy memories, so I'm linking here my post from last December with the recipe for my mother's meatloaf. I call it Virginia O'Farrell's Meatloaf. It is wonderful.

Enjoy this little walk down my memory lane!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes!

While most people are still discussing what to do with left-over turkey this day after Thanksgiving, I'm thinking about how to use even more of that canned pumpkin that's been working overtime the past few weeks. And today I hit a home-run with Pumpkin Spice Pancakes. I simply added 1/2 cup pureed pumpkin (canned) and a teaspoon of cinnamon to a tried-and-true pancake recipe. Here it is, for you to enjoy!

Serves 4
You'll use a moderately hot griddle or pan.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups milk (more if needed)
1/2 cup pumpkin puree (canned pumpkin)
2 tablespoons melted butter

Maple syrup
Chopped walnuts for garnish


Lightly coat pan or griddle with vegetable oil or melted butter before heating.

Whisk dry ingredients together (flour, baking powder, granulated sugar, salt, and cinnamon).

To the dry ingredients, add eggs, milk, pumpkin puree, and melted butter. Mix together all at once, but just until combined. Lumps are fine. If batter seems a little to thick, you can thin it a bit with more milk.

Let mixture sit while griddle or pan heats up.

Drop pancake batter by 1/4 cup-fulls onto hot griddle or pan. I used a levered ice cream scoop for consistent sizing, and smoothed each pancake into a nice round shape with the scoop, but you don't have to do this. I'm just a little OCD about perfect pancakes!

Cook until you see bubbles around the edges, the edges seem dry, and the pancake starts to brown on the bottom. Flip over and cook the other side until it begins to brown.

Serve with warmed maple syrup and a sprinkling of chopped walnuts.

They stack up beautifully!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Roasted Butternut Squash Mac 'N Cheese

We had a lovely Thanksgiving yesterday. My daughter Katie outdid herself in every way, though there were a lot of contributors to the feast. Katie provided her own home-grown turkey (all 34 pounds of it!), pies, gravy, mashed and sweet potatoes. Her mother-in-law Penelope made the dressing. My son Jeff made a delicious smokey corn chowder. My contributions were a green bean casserole and a butternut squash mac 'n cheese (recipe follows). My daughter Meghan's boyfriend Mark made home-made baguettes - SO good! My daughter Tricia's mother-in-law Carol made her famous Snickers brownies and an apple crumb pie. Katie also made a layered sweet potato and apple bake (ala Cooks Country!). It was just a wonderful day all around, with a fantastic meal around their new table. Bill made this giant table from wood his father had saved for many years, and we sat 14 easily, with room to spare.  After dinner we were all groaning in satisfied pain for the feast we'd just enjoyed. I paced myself and was very aware of every bite, given the program Katie and I have been participating in for the last 11 weeks, but it was Thanksgiving so we gave ourselves permission to enjoy these holiday dishes. It was back to a whey protein shake this morning. It's all about balance!

Mark's beautiful bread!

34 pounder!

Pete peeking out from his "house!"
Henry, ready to take advantage of a white Thanksgiving!
Katie and Meghan setting a beautiful table
Tricia and Meggie

Anyway, the recipe is one I've adapted from many I've researched online, based largely on Ellie Krieger's great recipe I posted a few years ago. Here it is, with photos:

Serves a crowd!
Oven - 375 degrees F

1 pound of your favorite pasta, cooked firm, and drained - set aside (I used ziti)
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup all purpose flour
4 cups milk
4 cups grated cheeses (I used 3 cups New York State Extra Sharp, 1/4 shaved Parmesan, and 3 slices Cabot American cheese - that's what I had on hand)
1 wholes butternut squash, halved, peeled and seeded, and cut into 1-inch slices (or already cut-up in the produce section)
olive oil
salt and pepper
onion powder or garlic powder
1 cup plain breadcrumbs (I used Panko)
2 additional tablespoons melted butter

Butter a large casserole dish or deep baking pan.

Place squash slicees on parchment-lined cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle generously with salt, pepper, and onion powder or garlic powder. This provides most of the seasoning for the dish, so be generous. Bake for up to 40 minutes OR (important) till they begin to brown and are fork-tender.  Remove from oven and set aside.

In medium/large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat, melt 4 tablespoons butter. Reduce heat to low and add flour, stirring with wooden spoon, and cooking until flour begins to just brown and get toasty. This happens fast so watch carefully.

Gradually whisk in 4 cups milk, a cup at a time.  Return heat to medium and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens and bubbles, and coats a wooden spoon. Remove from heat.

In blender, puree squash in 2 batches, with a splash of milk to get it moving. Puree well to break down any fibers. Pour pureed squash over milk/flour mixture in pot.  Whisk together. Add cheeses and combine thoroughly.  Add drained pasta and coat thoroughly with sauce.

Dump pasta/sauce into buttered baking pan, making sure to get all the sauce. Spread to even out. Sprinkle top with bread crumbs. Sprinkle with more salt and pepper. Drizzle melted butter over bread crumbs.

Bake for 40 minutes or until top is golden brown and mac 'n cheese is bubbling.

That's it - enjoy!!!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Potato Turkeys!

Today the Tang Museum at Skidmore College hosted Family Saturday, and the craft was Potato Turkeys. Pipe-cleaner artist Ginger Ertz, art teacher Karen McEachon, and Skidmore students put together a craft-buffet of feathers, beads, pipe cleaners, and other embellishments that participating children and their families used to create their own unique Thanksgiving centerpieces.

Henry and Peter joined me and we had a great time. Here are a few photos of our art work!

Henry's Tae Kwan Do Black Belt Turkey

Pete's blue turkey (with a little help from Karen McEachon!)

My embellished turkey!

Pete took this photo of Henry and me.

I don't know what will be gracing your Thanksgiving table, but I doubt it can be as beautiful as Henry's and Peter's turkeys!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Pumpkin Spice Scones

I love tradition. Thanksgiving is all about tradition. And it's never too late to begin new traditions. Maybe it's time to bring a new recipe to your holiday routine. Are you looking for something easy, delicious, and special to serve up Thanksgiving morning while you're all gathered around the TV to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade? Well, I've got just the ticket: Pumpkin Spice Scones. I took my basic scone recipe and added pureed pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice. Once the dough was mixed, I dumped it out (in a shaggy mess!) on a heavily floured surface and kneaded it, divided it in fourths, and shaped each fourth into a circle. The circles of dough were placed on parchment paper on a large cookie sheet and the whole thing went into the freezer for a quick chill. This is a crucial step in scone-making - the freezer keeps the butter particles solid so that when the scones go in the oven, the butter doesn't melt so quickly and has a chance to form those delicious little, buttery pockets we all love. Once out of the freezer, the rounds are cut into sixths, given an egg wash and a sprinkling of coarse white sugar (also known as sanding sugar), and sent on to the oven where the scones come to life. No matter how many times I make scones (which is ALL the time!) I find it to be such fun. No mixers, no big utensils, just a stir with a fork and hand-shaping. Adult play-doh and easy peasy!

The dough coming together!

Scone dough rounds...

Ready to go in the oven!


Oven 375 degrees F
Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper

Stir the following dry ingredients together:

2 cups all-purpose flour (I love King Arthur unbleached)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (or a combination of your favorite fall spices)

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, firm, not soft:
With pastry blender or two knives, cut in butter until it resembles coarse sand with pea-sized pieces of butter. Place flour/butter mixture in freezer for 15 minutes.

In separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients:

2 beaten eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/2 cup milk soured with 1 tbsp. vinegar)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup pumpkin puree (canned is fine)

Stir wet ingredients into cold dry ingredients until all dry has been incorporated (or most of it). Turn the dough out onto a heavily floured surface. Knead 10 times (important - creates layers). Pat dough into a square and divide into fourths. Shape each fourth into a 6-inch round circle. Place on parchment paper on cookie sheet. Place in freezer for 15 minutes or until nice and cold. Remove from freezer and cut each round into sixths. Separate on cookie sheet, leaving a little bit of space between each scone. Brush scones with beaten egg and lightly sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Bake for 22-25 minutes or until the scones begin to brown around the edges.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Pumpkin Walnut Fudge for Thanksgiving!

Here's a recipe for Pumpkin Walnut Fudge, a great addition to your Thanksgiving dessert table. It comes together very easily, and cuts beautifully. I do recommend a candy thermometer - they're inexpensive and a great kitchen tool, so if you don't have one, pick one up the next time you're out.

I got up before sunrise this morning to cut into the pan of fudge and take photos before I headed out to Skidmore College for some additional testing for the exercise science study. I wrapped the plate of fudge and brought it as a token of appreciation to the staff and student researchers in the lab. They were very happy to receive it!

Here's a photo of frost on my windshield this morning as I was leaving:

Isn't it beautiful - I'm in awe of the pattern!

Line 13x9 pan with foil, extending over long ends. Spray foil inside pan with cooking spray. Use a slightly smaller pan if you want thicker fudge.

1.5 cups granulated sugar
1.5 cups packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup evaporated milk
6 tablespoons soft butter
3/4 cup pumpkin puree (canned pumpkin)
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, or cinnamon if you don't have it
7 oz. marshmallow creme
2 cups white chocolate chips (like Ghiradelli)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Butter the inside of a heavy-bottomed sauce pan (I used my big enameled pot), and over medium heat, bring sugars, evaporated milk, butter, pumpkin puree, and spice to a rolling boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.  Continue to boil, stirring constantly, until mixture reaches soft ball stage (232 degrees F).

Take off the heat and stir in marshmallow creme, white chocolate chips, and vanilla. Stir until creamy and all chips are melted. Stir in chopped walnuts. Carefully pour into prepared pan. Do not scrape bottom or sides of pot since this could make the fudge grainy.

Cool for a few hours or overnight. Lift foil and turn out fudge to cutting board. Remove foil. Cut into squares.

Can be stored for two weeks (if it lasts that long!).

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Secret to Losing 25 Pounds in 10 Weeks

Photo by my grandson Henry, age 5
The secret is, there is no secret. It's math. Just math. Expend more energy than you take in. Simple, right? And even though I've just done it, just lost 25 lbs. in 10 weeks, it's not so simple, it turns out.

I've been dieting ever since I can remember. I dieted myself from a thin person in my teens (115 lbs.) and 20s (125 lbs.) into an overweight person in my 30s, year after year, losing a little, gaining back a little bit more, until by my 40th birthday, I was very overweight, close to 200 lbs. at just 5 feet, 4 inches.  I would go through phases of no carbs, or no fat, or just yogurt, or Slim Fast, or Weight Watchers, or Nutri System. All temporarily successful, but all a waste of money, and all in vain. In 1993 alone, I struggled through the tragic loss of my dad, the devastating loss of my marriage, the loss of the intact family that was my dream, my life. Everything and everyone I cherished was either gone or hurting. I had to find a new direction, a healthier way to be, emotionally and physically, not just for me, but for my kids. But I didn't know how. The next year, 1994, my sister Patsy hosted a surprise 40th birthday party for me. I had gained even more weight by then. I remember buying a new outfit at Bon Ton for a dinner I was going to that weekend, which I ended up wearing at the party. It was a loose, lacy sweater and big baggy pants. I thought it was pretty, but it wasn't. It was huge and an outfit that fit my body but not my psyche. I felt completely alien in it. At the party, there was a poster with photos from my younger years. One, my high school senior portrait, had someone at the party ask "who is this?" He loudly refused to believe that thin, pretty girl was me. That was a very sad moment on what should have been a joyful day. It's what I took away from an evening meant to be a celebration, and as much as I love my sister and family for such a wonderful party, I allowed that 10 seconds of shame to be the lasting memory.

So I needed a new start, a way back to me after such a difficult few years. I started by taking courses at Skidmore College, at first one, then a couple more, and then more until I had an English major under my belt. Ten years later, in 2003, I graduated with honors from Skidmore's English Department, under the guidance of Catherine Golden, a superb professor and a forever friend. I went on for my masters, and took my time, earning my degree, again from Skidmore, in January of 2010. Even with all that accomplishment, the weight was never under control. I'd lose a few, gain a few, back and forth, year after year. I was either dieting or feasting, aware of every single calorie or point, or completely oblivious. I exercised like a fiend for months on end, with obsession, alternating with months of inactivity. I had a masters degree, but felt that I was a failure at the one biggest challenge in my life - my weight. Ever since 1997, I have had encouragement from my boyfriend Russ, an accomplished athlete, a chiropractor, and the epitome of fitness. His efforts to help me were at first welcome, then resented. I wanted him to love me for me, but I didn't… I was self-sabotaging. I would not allow myself the gift of a healthier self. I seemed to be punishing myself in a body that always felt foreign and not my own. I have always felt that I've been hidden inside a cocoon, one that would one day miraculously unzip and release the real me, but not wanting to do the real work required to get there. I just wanted it to happen, to wake up and find my old self. It was a delusion.

Then I was diagnosed with diabetes II, just this past February. I started nutritional counseling and learned of an upcoming study at Skidmore College. (I'd participated in studies before, with great success, and then they were over.) What I need is a way to end a study and maintain the momentum, the good habits, the lifestyle. I believe I have finally found it now, along with my daughter Katie, and we just completed a 10-week program with incredible, yet hard-won, results. For the past 10 weeks, we've lived on Isagenix products and one healthy dinner every day, with one "cleanse" day a week. Going forward, we'll continue with Isagenix products, but fewer, incorporating more whole foods for the next 6 months, and an exercise component. We're more on our own, and with Katie as my partner (and me as hers) I know we'll continue to have tremendous and healthy results. I am more joyful for her success than my own. There's something about seeing your child accomplish something so significant, knowing it will make her life so much healthier and happier, that can't be beat. And she's done so much to be proud of in her life already, but this is special because we are doing it together.

So, the secret is, there is no secret. It's hard work, commitment to yourself, and a willingness to keep going when it seems too hard. You'll have weak moments, and tough choices, but you'll get through it with self-respect and determination. If you don't do it for yourself, it will never happen.

The secret is, you deserve to live the best life you can, in the healthiest body you can give yourself. That's my gift to myself for my 60th birthday, March 15, 2014. It's going to be the healthiest birthday of my adult life, and I am running to 60 with arms wide open. I can't wait!

(I'll post before and after photos when I am more "after" than I am now. - thanks for your patience!)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Cakes, Cookies, and Christmas Trees!

Hi there! Please forgive my lapse in blog-posting! I am in the final week of a 10-week study that has strictly limited the foods I eat, and therefore, bake, so I haven't been as creative in my kitchen as I would be otherwise. The upside of that is a weight loss of about 25 lbs. (depending on the day) and I've signed on for another 6 months, modified a bit, so I should be in really good shape (health-wise) going forward. Still, I have been baking the regulars, muffins and scones, for my little gig at my favorite Saratoga Hotel, mostly just weekends here and there. I made "everything" cookies for my brother Michael's birthday dinner last week. And, I'm baking the occasional birthday cake as well and getting ready to do some Thanksgiving baking, and then it's full steam ahead to Christmas!

Yesterday I delivered a cake for a friend's little guy, Aiden. Aiden is 2 and his cake came out really well, especially with the very appreciated assistance of my daughter Katie who did wonders with fondant.

Here's a photo of Aiden's not-so-little cake (3 tiers!). Unfortunately, it didn't take the drive too well on the 1/2 hour trip from my house to his, and it shifted a bit even though it was very secure in the box and well-structured with internal supports. Just one too many curves on the way there! Aiden's mom, Jen, was great about it. Transporting a cake like this is always a tricky thing. I've had my share of transport mishaps, and this was mild as things go, but a little disappointing to say the least. But, I am sure 2-year old Aiden didn't mind. Glad I got a good shot of the cake before it left my house.

3 tiers for Aiden's 2nd birthday!

Michael's "everything" cookie!

For the everything cookies, I took a basic oatmeal cookie recipe and added chocolate chips, dried cranberries, and roasted and salted sunflower seeds. The saltiness of the sunflower seeds complimented the sweetness of the fruits and chocolate beautifully, and oatmeal made it all very healthy (right?)! You can use any good oatmeal cookie recipe and add whatever you like for your own everything cookie. If I had had them, coconut and walnuts would have made their way in as well.

Finally, here's a photo of Henry and Peter yesterday as they, with their Mom and me, tagged their Christmas tree at Bob's Trees in Galway, NY. They'll go back after Thanksgiving to cut it down.

Thanks for reading. Come back soon for more tasty goodness!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Daylight Savings Time, New York City, and October Baking Recap!

Blueberry Coffee Cake Muffins
Hi there friends. Happy "Daylight Savings Time" here in the northeast! I woke up early to deliver muffins and scones to my favorite hotel, after arriving home late last night from a bus trip to New York City with my friend Catherine Golden and her Skidmore College Honors Forum group. We had a GREAT day in the city, arriving just before noon near the New York Public Library and Bryant Park. The city was very busy yesterday, with so many people there for the New York City Marathon today. Sidewalks were crowded and the city seemed to be buzzing with energy. It was a perfect day for walking around New York, temps in the mid 60s, and I was prepared with a light-weight jacket and my most comfortable shoes (lesson learned from previous trips!).

From the library, we walked to Madison Avenue to the Pierpont Morgan Museum where we took in the Edgar Allen Poe exhibition, which was incredible. From there, we walked to the Bernard Jacobs Theater on Broadway and saw the Irish musical "Once." I loved it. Now I plan to see the movie but I can't imagine loving it more than the Broadway production. To think of the energy that these actors/performers put into this show over and over again - it's so impressive. No wonder "Once" has been the recipient of eight Tony awards! Amazing. Of course, the "Irish" of it all wasn't lost on me!

We left the theater and walked one block to John's Pizzeria (est. 1929!) where almost 20 of us sat down  to share pizzas and salads in a large but cozy dining room with great architectural detail and low lights. The pizzeria handled our group beautifully and soon it was time to walk back to Bryant Park to wait for our bus. We left the city just after 7 pm and had a quiet ride home, pulling in to the Skidmore campus shortly after 11 pm. When I got home, I struggled with the decision to either go to bed and get up early to bake, or bake then and sleep a little later in the morning. I decided to go ahead and bake last night because I knew I had that extra precious hour to sleep this morning. Blueberry coffee cake muffins and strawberry jam-filled scones were out of my oven in about an hour, and I went to bed with the sound of the dishwasher humming in the background.

I don't have a recipe for you today. But, I do have a photo recap of recent baking that happened in my kitchen.

And before I go...

Happy November, everyone, and especially to my brother Michael O'Farrell whose birthday is TODAY! Love you, Michael, and can't wait to celebrate your birthday at our family dinner (with the siblings) very soon! xox

Enjoy this photo journal of my October baking (with a little Henry and Peter thrown in!)...

Pumpkin  Muffins
with Sunflower Seed Topping

1st Anniversary Cake for Tricia and Jeff
Pumpkin & Chocolate Layers with Cinnamon Buttercream

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cinnamon Buttercream 

Pete's Birthday Cake - "James"
Petey is 3!

My super  Super Heroes!
Pete is Batman, Henry is the Power Ranger!

For my boys' Halloween Party!
A 3-tiered spider cake (xoxox!)

Finally, THE COMMENT CONTEST IS BACK! Leave a comment on any post and you'll be in the running for some seriously great holiday prizes (edible, of course!).  Once my facebook page reaches 700 "likes" the first drawing will happen.  Here's the link - please LIKE!!!  (and share!)

Good luck!