Friday, March 27, 2015

Spring Green Smoothie!


Last weekend I caught a show on PBS entitled "What Are You Hungry For?" where Deepak Chopra, among many wise and smart things, advised viewers to "Eat the rainbow." The more colorful the food, the more health benefits to be derived. One of the green foods he advised us to incorporate into our menus is, here it comes (and you know it already, I'm sure)…KALE. I am not a fan of kale. I have not given it a fair shot, though, and decided to let it back into my grocery cart and kitchen for another chance.

My work hours are crazy this time of year, and I am rarely home to cook a dinner meal. And when I am home, I tend to make it as easy as possible with (gasp) a bowl of cereal or, if I am feeling ambitious, a grilled cheese sandwich. True confessions from a food blogger, though I give myself a pass because most of what I post is baking-related!

So, I thought, how the heck do I actually get that kale into my body? The solution: a breakfast smoothie! I was hesitant to make a green drink, because, to me, they are visually unappealing. But, I decided to grow up, snap out of it,  and started stacking kale and other colorful ingredients in my Magic Bullet container.

Here's my recipe, in order of how I added them to the container:


1 serving scoop of vanilla whey protein (you can use whatever protein powder you prefer)
1 loose fist-full of baby kale
6-8 Frozen pineapple chunks - makes your smoothie nice and cold
1/4 sliced banana
10 red grapes

Over this stack of color, I pour in enough unsweetened coconut milk to bring it about 1/2-3/4 of the way up the container.

And finally, 1 or 2 ice cubes

I screwed on the blade section to the Magic Bullet and let it whirl until it all looked smooth and incorporated.

It wasn't an ugly green! It was a light minty green that seemed to say, "Welcome spring!"

It was cool, and delicious, and tropical! I tasted NO kale, but it was beautifully flecked throughout the smoothie. The primary flavors were pineapple and banana.

Now, that's my new way to start the day with lots of color!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Little Sunshine is the Best Prescription!

Sunshine and Warmth
My happy place!
This is a little photo-diary of a great vacation.

Last week my friend Joanne Dwornik and I finally traveled together for a little get-away to Boca Raton, Florida. We made our reservations in January when we both, at the same exact time, had had it with winter. Still, there were many frigid weeks between the reservation and the trip, and then more winter greeted us when we returned home on the official first day of spring - along with a 10-hour lay-over in Baltimore due to icing issues!

The older I get - my 61st birthday was the day before we flew out - the more I understand the snow-bird phenomenon. After December, winter no longer sparkles with crystal beauty as it does through the holiday season. By January, it's…

 "OK, I've seen you, I've felt you chilling me to the bone.  I thought you were really beautiful for those first few weeks, but now, you're not beautiful. You are work and all you are to me is dirty snow banks and difficult traveling. You can go now. Next time, remember that short-term guests are best!" Winter didn't get the hint. It's March 24th and this is what I see outside my window at work today:

March 24, 2015
Spring, where the heck are you???

Who could blame people who decide to "winter" in warmer regions? I can't, that's for sure. I say, the more power to you! If you can swing it, GO! Take those few months to refresh, to thaw out, to escape the harsh reality of a northeast winter, which really is a greedy season. It takes up more than its allotted months here. Winter seems to start at the end of October, and here it is, nearly April, no spring in sight.

So, off to Florida we went. Joanne has family in Boca Raton. We stayed in Joanne's father's beautiful home with his lovely wife Christa. Joanne lost her Dad last summer, and this was going to be an emotional transition for her, being in the home he shared with Christa, her Dad not there. Christa made it as warm, welcoming, and comfortable as possible, and I was happy Joanne wanted me to come along. There was so much happy talk of her father's life, his passions, his loves - of his daughters, of Christa, his grandchildren, great-grandchildren - but it seemed we talked a lot about his boats! It was a lovely little reunion for them, and I was a guest soaking it all in. Happy energy.

Needless to say, we had the BEST time in Florida. With two travel days (Monday and Friday) we had all of Monday evening, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday to soak up the sun. Monday evening, we had dinner at Villagio in Boca Raton.

Our first morning!
What a way to wake up! 

Happy Hour!
Joanne's killer margaritas!

Villagio, Boca Raton
I had spaghetti and meatballs outside under the stars!

Tuesday, we spent a beach day near the Boca Inlet, and since it was St. Patrick's Day, we stopped on the way home at an Irish bar, Duffy's, and picked up three corned beef dinners to go.

Boca Inlet - beautiful!

Just seeing this again makes me happy!

Sand Shamrock!

Photo shoot on the beach!

Take-out for St. Patrick's Day

Wednesday, we had another beach day, and then had dinner with Christa, Joanne's Uncle Dick and Aunt Helene at a lovely Chinese restaurant. The servings were so abundant, we had plenty for left-overs the next night.

We spent the day Thursday in South Beach! How I love it there! We strolled up and down the ocean-front restaurants and businesses, and went on to have lunch at Joe's Stone Crab, an iconic landmark and so, so elegant!

Loved watching this little girl enjoy the ocean!

Joe's Stone Crab
South Beach, Miami!

After left-overs Thursday night, we watched The Voice, and then Christa and I had to move to another TV to get our "Scandal" fix! We both screamed at one point during the episode, and if you watched the show, you probably know where!

Our last morning, sigh....

Hated walking away from the ocean,
but have happy memories to return to!

Despite our long, flight-delayed trip home, it was a wonderful five days. Joanne and I both wish we had stayed longer, but we had to get back to real life eventually. I must say, as hesitant as I was to leave the warmth and sunshine, it was lovely to come home to see the happy faces of my grandsons Peter and Henry, to reconnect with my kids, to see my siblings and realize that there's nothing more important than family - whether I am experiencing that myself, or feeling welcome as my friend generously brings me into her own.

Life is short, let them know you love them.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Pineapple Toasted Coconut Muffins, a Little Helper, and a Great Short-cut!

This morning, my grandson Pete came up to my Granny flat and said (he's four) "Hey Grandma, let's get baking!" I knew what was coming next, a suggestion for chocolate chip cookies. I intervened with my own suggestion for muffins, and he loved the idea. He wanted blueberry muffins, but I had no blueberries. I did have coconut and pineapple, and I also had a GREAT short-cut - a box of Krusteaz Cinnamon Swirl Crumb Cake and Muffin mix. I took the cinnamon topping packet away and will use that another time, for cinnamon rolls or some other treat. I urge you to buy a couple of boxes of this mix - it is so versatile and works great in a pinch! It's about $2.50 or $3.00 in the grocery store and worth its weight in gold!

Here's the recipe:

Pineapple Toasted Coconut Muffins
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Farenheit

Line a standard 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners

cake pouch from a box of Krusteaz Cinnamon Swirl Crumb Cake and Muffin Mix (save cinnamon mixture for another time)
1 egg
2/3 cup water (or pineapple juice!)
1 cup coconut, toasted (I used sweetened)
1/2 cup crushed pineapple, not drained
Sugar for topping, granulated or sparkling

In mixing bowl, with wooden spoon, stir together mix, egg, water, and pineapple. Stir in toasted coconut (directions follow).

To toast coconut: place coconut in dry skillet on stove top. Heat to medium/high heat and stir the coconut until toasty brown. Watch this constantly as it can burn in an instant. As soon as it's nice and brown, remove from the heat and stir into muffin mixture.

Using an ice cream scoop or 1/4 cup measure, divide batter evenly among muffin cups.  Sprinkle tops with sugar.

Bake for 20 minutes or until tops spring back when lightly pressed with your finger.

Cool about 10 minutes on a wire rack, remove from rack to finish cooling completely.


PS - don't forget the comment contest - FREE scones awarded to winner on April 1st. Any and all comments on any and all blog posts - even going way back - made during the month of March or late February are entries! See the comment section below? Where it says "Comment as:"  use the drop down menu and choose Name/URL or Anonymous and just write your name or include your name in the body of your comment. I want YOU to win!!!!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

It's all about the bread, 'bout the bread, no trouble!

I have avoided baking bread for years, decades! How can I call myself a baker and refuse to bake yeast bread? This fear of baking anything with yeast was unreasonable and unfounded. Recently, on a Sunday evening, I realized there was no bread in the house and the plan for brown-bagging sandwiches for work that week was stalled. Normally, such a bread shortage would send me to the nearest Stewart's Shop but on this particular Sunday night, it was snowing hard and the roads were bad. That was all the motivation necessary to bake my own bread, and bake bread I did! Taste of Home's warning to hold off on slicing the loaf until it's cooled down is a good rule! While it's so hard to resist the aroma of fresh-baked bread right out of your oven, if you try to slice a loaf of bread that's hot out of the oven or too warm, the loaf will collapse. So, go find something productive to do and come back to slice a cooled and delicious loaf with a slathering of soft butter!

The terrific recipe is linked here from Taste of Home, and it made two beautiful loaves. I read through the ratings on the site, and most were rave reviews. There were good tips about cutting and storing the loaves (I sliced both loaves and froze portions!). With packets of yeast in the cabinet, and all the simple ingredients on hand, I thought "Why not give it a shot?" and I am now a bread baker! That's a very cool skill to add to my baking repertoire!

So, check out this LINK to this recipe for Basic Homemade Bread from Taste of Home, and be brave. If you never have before, go ahead and bake your own bread (for less than a dollar a loaf!). Then, see if you ever want to pay almost $5.00 for a loaf of store-bought bread again! And tell me what you think about it!

PS - it wouldn't be a bad idea to have some lovely soft butter nearby once the loaf has cooled enough!

Beautiful loaves!

I am a bread baker!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Welcome Baby Cake and a Broccoli Salad!

Yesterday we celebrated the upcoming arrival of our family's newest member, a baby boy, due to arrive in mid-April. His parents, Jack and Kristin Bishop, are excited and ready to meet their little man. He will be the first grandchild for my sister Anne and her husband John, and this baby is already loved beyond measure by both families who can't wait to meet him!

To celebrate, we held a baby shower for Kristin. Baby Bishop has already had two parties in his honor! The first was in a restaurant in Brooklyn near where Jack and Kristin live, and was hosted by Kristin's Mom and three sisters. Yesterday's celebration was hosted by my sister Anne at her home, for those of us who live in the Saratoga Springs area where Jack grew up. It was a lovely welcoming party for the baby and a celebration for Kristin.

Kristin is an exceptionally beautiful mom-to-be, and she and Jack will be terrific parents, no doubt about it. I am so excited for my sister and her husband John, and for Kristin's parents. There's nothing like that first grandchild, and every grandchild thereafter, to experience again the beauty and wonders of the world, to see things with fresh eyes, things that may have escaped our notice as the demands of life and work have taken over. For me, becoming a grandmother was a life-changing experience, and continues to bring joy to my life that I never could have imagined. I so look forward to meeting Baby Bishop, and witnessing how his presence will bring that same joy to my sister and her family. Blessings to this little fella!

Below I share photos of the cake I made for Kristin's shower, as well as a recipe for the party. It's for a Broccoli Pasta Salad, and is so delicious, There were left-overs, so I had it for dinner tonight and didn't need another thing!

Two cakes, yellow and chocolate fudge, split and
alternately stacked to make a striped cake

I was up to 3 am working on the detail
for the fondant pieces. Labor of love!

Kristin loved it!


My broccoli pasta salad!

Hope you enjoy the photos. Here's the recipe for the broccoli pasta salad - it was de-lish!!!!

Early in day or day before

  • 12 oz. pasta, cooked al-dente and drained (I used gluten-free penne pasta but you can use anything you like)
  • florets from one head of fresh broccoli, cut into smaller florets
  • 4 slices of bacon, cooked crisp, and crumbled*
  • 3 tablespoons very finely minced red onion
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Dressing (much like a cole-slaw dressing):

  • 1 cup mayonnaise (I use regular Hellman's)
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk

In large bowl, toss together pasta, broccoli, crumbled bacon, red onion, dried cranberries, and walnuts.

Whisk together the dressing ingredients and pour over tossed ingredients, mix until everything is well-coated. Refrigerate overnight or for a few hours. Before serving, toss and if it seems dry, add some milk a bit at a time until it's moistened again.


*vegetarian version - omit bacon and substitute pan-fried provolone cheese - slices are heated up on a sprayed skillet until browned on both sides. Let cool and break into small pieces. This provides the same smoky element as bacon.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Thinking about what matters most...

This winter seems to be extreme in so many ways. Sub-zero temperatures, mountains of snow, more darkness than sunlight, and concern about the health (especially) and happiness of people I love - these factors have all come together in an imperfect storm to create the most severe craving for a brief escape - sunshine, warmth, and getting the heck out of Dodge (aka The Great Northeast)! In response to all of that, my friend Joanne and I are heading south to sunny F-L-A in 10 days, Boca Raton specifically, and just the thought of our 5-day jaunt is lifting me out of this winter fog.

I am NOT a winter person. If it weren't for my kids and grandchildren, I'd be figuring out a way to live in a place where palm trees always sway in the wind, where salt air kisses my face, where the sound of waves lulls me to sleep, where fish is always the main course, and where my mind and body can slow down. I can't have that permanently, but can escape to it once in a while.

As much as I love my job, I find myself calculating each day, each week, to get to the next weekend, to the next time I can just stop. It doesn't happen, though, because even on those precious days off, the hours are filled with things I don't get to do on a work day. That's why getting away, going on a vacation where I am physically removed from the to-do, should-do, want-to-do, don't-want-to-do lists is such a welcome interruption to a too-busy, though self-imposed, life.

This week I am attending a 3-night seminar on retirement planning. With my 61st birthday just around he corner (yikes), I find myself wishing to fast-forward to my "FRA" or full-retirement age of 66. How crazy is that? I don't want to rush the next five years just to collect my retirement and Social Security benefit. Maybe I'll get there and decide to keep working. Who knows? What I do know is that NOW is the time to savor each busy day, each crazy week, every packed weekend. Now is the time to enjoy my grandsons as I witness their growth and personalities developing in leaps and bounds, to spend MORE time with my kids and really talk to each other as they grow into their 30s and 40s, to realize just how lucky I am to have my sisters and brothers in my life, to appreciate the almost 18 years Russ and I have had together. Now is the time to cherish the friendships of life-long as well as good new friends and to deliberately tend to all those relationships instead of putting them on hold, waiting until this, or that, happens.

Because there are no guarantees.

Love to all of you, especially those who are facing the hardest trials right now. xox

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Melted Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

My grandsons always want to make cookies, always. Of course, I don't give in to that every time they climb the stairs to visit my granny flat, but this past Sunday, cookies were made. Henry's and Peter's number-one choice is always chocolate chip. I had just cleaned up my kitchen, and didn't want to make a huge production of it, so I went back to a very simple recipe that I adapted years ago from one my good friend Betsy always made. In one saucepan, she melted the butter, stirred in the rest of the ingredients in stages, and her cookies were in the oven in nothing flat. One pot, a wooden spoon, some measuring utensils and a cookie sheet are basically all the equipment needed. And because Pete (4 years old) is waaaay into it, he measured everything, cracked the egg, and stirred it all up. And because Henry (he's almost 7) would rather play games on my Kindl and wait for the cookie dough to magically appear (official taste tester - Little Red Hen anyone?), I didn't have too much work with the project, other than clean-up! Of course, they both like rolling the dough into small balls and placing them on the cookie sheet - which I rearrange when they're not looking! I had to remind them that if the dough went in their mouths, there'd be fewer cookies coming out of the oven. They seemed OK with that! Pete insisted on making a snake-shaped cookie that flattened into a very wide snake when it was baking. It was the first cookie he chose as soon as they had cooled to a safe temperature. There's nothing like little boys with melted chocolate on their faces as they enjoy cookies they just made!

Melted butter chocolate chip cookies! 


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line cookie sheet with a piece of parchment paper (an indispensable kitchen item!).

4 oz. (1/4 lb. stick) unsalted butter, but you can use salted if that's all you have
1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used Toll House)

In medium saucepan over low heat, completely melt one bar of butter. Stir in both sugars and mix well. Take off heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. With wooden spoon, beat in egg and vanilla.

Stir flour, baking soda, and salt together in a small bowl, and then add to mixture in saucepan. Stir until completely incorporated and there is no trace of flour. Let sit for a few minutes to make sure it's cool enough for the chips. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Roll tablespoons of dough into balls. Place on parchment-lined cookie sheet 2-inches apart. I can fit a dozen or 15 on a cookie sheet. Flatten balls just a bit with two fingers.

Bake 9-11 minutes (mine were done at 10 minutes). The lighter they are, the chewier they will be, at around 9 minutes. If you like a crisper cookie, go longer.

Cool for a few minutes and remove to wire rack until there's no risk of burning your mouth!

Master cookie makers! 

There's Pete's snake cookie, right there!

And I've done a little more baking, too. Delivered this one this morning to surprise Susan, a quilting buddy of my sister-in-law Lynn. Besides quilting, Susan loves her new motorcycle. Their quilting group was surprising Susan with it at lunch, and Lynn just called to tell me it was a hit!

Birthday cake for Susan who loves her motorcycle AND quilting! 

Happy March, my friends. I'll be back soon, promise! And don't forget the comment contest! A dozen scones go to the winner, announced April 1st. Comment on ANY blog post through March 31, as often as you like, and you are entered to win, and I'll ship if you are at a distance.  Just be sure to leave your name so I know who to award the scones to!