Monday, December 30, 2013

Good bye 2013

I have to admit, I'm glad to see 2013 end. Though there have been lots of bright spots in this year: each of the boys graduating and being so happy in their new phases of their lives, wonderful vacations with friends and family, I think I will always associate this year with the passing of a generation.

Just in my own family we lost my mom, her brother (my uncle), and my grandmother's husband just this past week. On top of that, there are half a dozen friends who've lost one of their parents this year. It feels strange and lonely to be the oldest generation in our family now. 

I guess the best thing to take away from losing all these loved ones is to strive to give as much love and support to our families as they did to us. To try to model their humility, sense of humor, and generosity in our own lives. And to remember them. Always.

Here's to hoping 2014 is a year of beginnings, not endings. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Holiday Traditions

Nana (Kate) and baby Bobby
I think one of the wonderful things about the season is the traditions that each family creates. The familiar rituals and customs are something we all look forward to and it is interesting to see how they evolve as the kids get older.

Our starts early with the tree. My husband is responsible for selecting the tree (sometimes we accompany him, sometimes not) and putting it up. I put the lights on (a mistake I started when we were still dating...warning: be careful of what becomes a tradition!) and decorate it. Bobby usually helps with the decorating and the putting up, though this year the tradition had changed, since he is in college.

Food is always a big part of our holiday, starting with the cookies. Usually just after Thanksgiving, I'll send out a note confirming which cookies everyone wants and my sister & I will divide up the list, usually consisting of: Fudge, orange cookies, pineapple cookies, shortbread, sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, ginger snaps, chocolate-toffee crackers and butterscotch haystacks at a minimum. I like to wait until a few days before everyone arrives to make the cookies because I'm not a fan of freezing them.
Ocean Pines Christmas
For Christmas dinner we usually repeat the thanksgiving menu: turkey, oyster stuffing, horseradish carrots, beets for my sister, sweet potatos, mashed potatoes etc. A few years ago, I decided to try making a Christmas goose. My logic was that most of us like the dark meat and I figured a goose is more like a duck but bigger and would have the "darker" flavor. Well....it was a fiasco...not enough meat and I don't think I cooked it right. So now it is back to the Turkey. I've heard of "heritage" turkeys that are of a more diverse variety and uncaged so that they build up their legs and thighs, hence more dark meat. I need to see if I can find one of those!
Christmas in Tokyo (1968?)
We've always included a Chinese meal before Christmas day, often going on Christmas Eve to our favorite, Margaret Kuo's Mandarin. We've gone to this restaurant since before we had kids and for both the boys, it was the first restaurant food they ate. Kids LOVE chinese dumplings! We used to make our own Chinese meal. My mom had taken Chinese cooking lessons when we lived in Japan and made wonderful Peking Duck among other dishes. We would each have a responsibility. I would make the spring rolls, my mom would make the duck (she even had a hook installed over her kitchen sink to hang it from), my brother would carve the duck, my sister would do the fried rice. For years it went great. And then one year, we added another large group to the dinner and it was a mess. Nothing turned out well. Ever since then we've gone to the Mandarin...the meal is always perfect and after going there for over twenty years, it feels like family too!

A relatively new tradition we started is a jaunt into Philadelphia. We take the train into Philly and do a progressive lunch in a selected neighborhood of town. Usually we are going on December 23rd or so and restaurants are quiet at this time of year and happy to have a large group. We try to hit at least 3 places, plus a Christmas "sight". Last year, we stayed around Rittenhouse Square and did a.kitchen, Zama and then Parc for dessert. We also went to the Comcast building to watch their holiday show on the big screen. The year before we focused in Old City and had tapas at Amada, sushi at Zento and Chinese at Han Dynasty and ended up at the Franklin Fountain for hot chocolate and dessert. Someone usually brings a flask to "enhance" the hot chocolate! One of these years we need to catch the light show at the old Wanamakers building.

Games are  part of the tradition. Often we will drag out the mahjong set, each time trying to recall and bickering about the intricate rules of Japanese mahjong. Balderdash is a favorite (though I often seem to devolve into potty humor with my words as I drink more eggnog).

And of course there is Charades. Ever since we were young, this has been a part of our holidays as well as other gatherings with good friends. I think we first started playing with my god mother's family when they would come over the holidays when we lived in Oakmont. We had a family we were close to in both Japan and Pittsburgh with whom we shared Christmas and they were some competitive games! Back in the day, we'd include advertisements and quotes (categories now abandoned). Some of the classics were the quote on the back of the toothpaste tube "The American Dental Association has found that a preventative...." or old Wheaties commercial. Then there was the song, "Die Gotterdammerung, Siegfried's Rhine Journey", and yes, you had to get EVERY word right! It got to the point where we had to institute the two person rule where at least two people on the opposing team have to have heard of the clue. There are Charades acting bits that have become family legend: my uncle Danny acting out "Birth of a Nation"...  a fifty year old man writhing on the floor giving birth, and with our friends, Jim being "Forrest Gump" running back and forth (and back and forth) across his living room...run Forrest, run! and of course Dave's brilliant guitar rip for Bohemian Rhapsody!

The joy of traditions is that they give you an anchor for your memories, years and events blending together but all sharing that warm and fuzzy feeling that defines the holidays.

I hope you are enjoying a joyful, happy, warm and fuzzy holiday season.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Art of Gift Giving

Gift giving is a under-appreciated art, I think. It takes a lot of work.

In our family we have two styles: the make a list style and the surprise approach.

Making a list: this is the efficient method and my boys, at a young age, became adept at creating an excel spreadsheet (complete with links to Amazon) with the various games etc that they wanted. For the gift giver, especially when you are thousands of miles away, it guarantees that you are giving the person something that you know they want. For the receiver, it is satisfying knowing that you will get something that you looked forward to and asked for.

But I always like going rogue, and going off list. Shopping for the boys, I've always made sure that the main gifts from us were not on their list, a complete surprise. My mom also taught me to make sure the nicest gift was from "Mom & Dad"; let Santa give the others! Billy expressed that he found these to be the most exciting part of the gift experience because they have always been a wonderful surprise (and usually something "really, really cool").

Part of the thing I love about Christmas is shopping for my siblings, especially my sister. I guess it is because we share many of the same tastes and also she loves gift giving herself. She is a wonderfully creative gift giver. When the boys were young, she alway came up with fabulous gifts that they didn't know they wanted. One of the biggest hits was an Indian teepee. They received it when Bobby was about 6 and it remained in our basement until last year, and I swear they used it all those years. I think there were sleepovers into high school, when someone slept in there!

My brother Bill claims to hate buying gifts, but whenever he picks out something for me or my sister, it is always perfect!

It takes a real skill to learn how to be a good gift giver: time, empathy and creativity are important and really knowing the person helps a lot! Not that there aren't mistakes, and I've made my share of those. But a lot of the fun of the season is thinking about the other person and trying to imagine what they would enjoy or.... you can always refer to the list!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Anticipation...

One of my favorite images of Christmas was when I was pregnant with Bobby. I was due at the end of January, so we celebrated at our house since I wasn't supposed to travel. Billy was 3 and a half and was so excited about Santa arriving that when the rest of us came upstairs on Christmas Eve to go to bed, we found Billy, asleep, on the top of the stairs. Waiting for Santa.

Half of the fun of the holiday season is the anticipation that builds. Some of my favorite memories of our Christmases in Japan were of the build up to the holidays.

One of the things I looked most forward to was the arrival of my brother, Bill, who was in school and later college in the States. He'd spend nearly a month back in Japan with us and I loved it when he was home. He would take me to movies: I still remember seeing Oliver in one of the huge Japanese movie theaters and Tora, Tora, Tora (that was an experience in Japan!). The movie-going seems to be a theme with us. When I was unhappy in high school, I'd often go down to visit he and his wife and see classic movies in Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh. I learned to appreciate Bogey and the Marx brothers through him. As the kids grew and we'd go to visit him, he introduced the boys to Mel Brooks and Kurosawa among others.


I remember the Christmas when we lived in Korea. Bill had arrived the night before and I wanted to show my wonderful brother to my friends. We crept into his room, four of us, and gathered around the head of the bed and just stared at him, like he was an amazing specimen! He woke up, jet lagged, to find 4 eleven year olds staring curiously at him.

I think one of the other reasons I liked Bill being home was that we lived in 3 bedroom apartments in Tokyo, and so when he arrived, I'd have to move in with my sister. Now for me, as a seven or eight year old, this was a wonderful thing, sleeping with my big sister. Not only did it save me the bother of sneaking in her room, which I did on a regular basis to "explore" her stuff, but I loved the proximity to her. During the rest of the year she was busy being a typical teenager, and this was for me, our special time together. But for her, being seven years older than me, maybe it wasn't such a thrill! Still, she was usually especially nice to me when I shared her room and this was the best Christmas gift she could give me.

Once I was married and had kids, their anticipation took over. For many years we'd go to my parents when they lived in Ocean Pines. We'd talk daily, sometimes more in the week before.  By the time we pulled into the North Gate, across the pond, the boys would be jumping out of their skins. Mom would have everyone's favorite cookie (I mean each grandchild and her own kids' favorites...a LOT of cookies!). The tree would be up in the sun room, with the little train set under it and gifts strewn everywhere. They'd get to spend time playing with their cousin, their aunt and uncles and even take a dip in the hot tub that sat, strangely enough, in my parent's garage. My mom made sure everything was perfect. The whole experience was a gift.


When I asked my eldest what he looks forward to about Christmas he talked about the games we play: mahjong, various board games, charades, the wonderful food and most importantly, no one working, just enjoying the warm and fuzzy feeling of being together as a family. And that's what it's all about isn't it?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Christmas Cookie Recipes!

Every year, we make mountains of Christmas cookies, ensuring that everyone has their favorite to gorge on! Some of them are made only over the holidays...I don't know why this is, as they are so delicious. It used to be that way with fudge. My mom would make it at Christmas and no other time of the year. However, once I started making it for my boys and they took it to school, it became famous! It even made an appearance at two of their after proms in high school. So I am going to share my mom's fudge recipe, which is a little tricky but worth the effort and also her Orange cookie recipe which is one of my favorites. I've even invented a variation of it with lemon and lavender, but you have to wait until Springtime to get that one!

Kate's Fudge

Ingredients:
·         4 cups granulated sugar
·         1 can evaporated milk
·         1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
·         12oz package of chocolate bits (I prefer the Ghiradelli's bitter sweet bits for a deeper chocolate taste)
·         24 regular sized marshmallows
·         1 teaspoon vanilla
·         1 cup of walnut pieces if desired (I don't usually include these though it it delicious with them)

1.       Butter the sides of a heavy 3 quart sauce pan and also butter the sides of a 9x13 pan.
2.       Add the sugar, evaporated milk and butter to the sauce pan and cook, stirring constantly to soft ball stage (240 degrees). I recommend using a candy thermometer.
3.       Once it hits soft ball, remove from heat and add the chocolate, marshmallows, vanilla and nuts (if using).
4.       Beat/stir aggressively until chocolate and marshmallows melt.
5.       Pour into prepared 9x13 pan and score pieces while warm.
6.       Cut when cool and firm. If you didn't get it quite to soft ball stage, put it in the frig to help firm it up.
Note: soft ball stage is usually 20-25 minutes after it boils, with the heat on medium-low, but this is very dependent on your stove (electric or gas etc)

Kate's Orange Drop Cookies (with Lee's addition of cranberries)

Ingredients:
·         1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
·         1 cup of granulated sugar
·         1 egg
·         1/2 sour milk (or buttermilk)
·         1/4 cup orange juice
·         grated rind of 1 orange
·         2 cups flour
·         1 teaspoon baking powder
·         1/2 teaspoon baking soda
·         1/2 teaspoon salt
·         1/2 cup chopped cran-raisins (dried cranberries)
·         1.5 cups powdered sugar
·         orange juice for icing

1.       Mix the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder & soda, salt AND orange rind) in a small bowl with a whisk.
2.       Cream the butter in a mixer, adding in the sugar, blending well
3.       Add the egg, milk and orange juice to the butter/sugar mix, beating till smooth.
4.       Add the dry ingredient mixture to the wet, beating on a low speed till well mixed and then add cranberries.
5.       Drop rounded teaspoon onto baking sheet and cook at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.
6.       Let them cool on cookie sheet for about 10 minutes, then move to cooling rack to add frosting.
7.       While the cookies are baking, mix the powdered sugar with enough orange juice to get to icing consistency (start slowly with the OJ).

8.       While the cookies are still warm, frost them with the icing.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

I'm making a list...

I have a confession to make...I'm an semi-obsessive list maker.

I make lists when I'm entertaining, starting with the menu, going to the shopping list and finally a fairly detailed task list of what to do when. It's almost like a project plan. My sister does this as well, but she is even more detailed than I am! I have a notebook with the menus and invitees to parties going back to 1997! It's kind of fun, seeing who was coming, what we had etc. And it can be useful...there are recipes I've forgotten and these old menus jog my memory. Plus it's fun to look back and remember the events. In 1997, Billy was 6 and Bobby 2! No wonder I had to make detailed lists.

Of course, I make holiday lists. What I'm buying everyone, when guests are arriving, what needs to be done on a daily basis.

I also make long lists when I'm planning a trip. Especially as it gets close to departure date. I obsess about all the details: how are we getting to and from the airports? do we need dinner reservations anywhere? what are the backup plans? did I call the credit card companies and bank to let them know we are traveling? is everything arranged with the house sitter? It goes on and on.

I discovered a few years ago that my oldest brother is similar in his list making...we actually make the same kind of notations: drawing a little square box next to each item that we check off when completed. Now, I don't see RD very often and he went to college when I was 3 or 4 and we haven't lived in the same city since then. But we still have this weird note taking habit. I don't remember my mom doing it, but maybe Dad did? It's not something I consciously remember. Very curious!


I do use my iPhone apps to create lists too, but I find it more satisfying to have them on paper. The physical sensation of checking off the item feels like more of an accomplishment and boy, do I feel great when the list is completed. Almost a feeling of nirvana...am I crazy or what? Perhaps just a tad OCD! Oh well, I'm off....I have a list of other things I need to accomplish today!

Friday, December 6, 2013

West Chester Raves...

I feel so lucky to live near West Chester. It's a fabulous town to stroll around, with a great selection of restaurants and boutiques. You could easily spend a few days, exploring them all. I discovered the town when my kids started going to West Chester Friends School, a Quaker elementary school in the heart of the borough. We were embraced in this wonderful community and love the school and the foundation it gave our boys.

After I dropped them off at school, I would explore the town, walking the various streets and alleys. I started going to the dry cleaner in town and have now been going there for over 15 years. I love Eunice, the lovely Korean lady who runs it. We've shared experiences of raising boys over the years.  She even brought me back souvenirs when she returned from a trip to Korea, after learning I had lived there.

When I took a hiatus from working, I began taking photos of town and began painting watercolors. All my early work was of West Chester architecture. I've done several commissions of some of the lovely old homes in the borough.

As the years have gone by, I feel like this has become "my" town, becoming a regular in many of the shops and restaurants. There is a special feeling when you walk into an establishment and are greeted like an old friend. I rarely go to a mall to shop; they are so impersonal and sterile.

There are quite a few fooddie shops in town that I love. I've mentioned Eclat,http://www.eclatchocolate.com/, the best chocolate in the world, owned by Chris Curtain. There is also Carlino's,http://www.carlinosmarket.com/, a wonderful Italian market with a great cheese, italian specialties and great bread selection. Taste of Olive https://www.atasteofolive.com/ carries vinegars and oils; my favorites are their fig vinegar, which is excellent over roasted vegetables and their truffle salt, which I put on everything from omelettes to spinach to popcorn. All three of these places have websites, so you don't have to be local to experience them. Eclat chocolate in particular makes a truly spectacular gift.

There is a newcomer in town that I wanted to highlight on the corner of High and Miner Streets, called Dia Dolce http://www.diadoce.com/. This is a cupcake shop and coffee bar extraordinaire! The baker won the Food Network's Cupcake Wars. Now I have to admit that I am not normally a cupcake fan, but after trying her's, I'm a convert. The flavors are very creative and delicious. I have brought them home, telling myself that I will only eat half at a time, but my self control is lost after the first bite; I end up devouring the whole cupcake.

The coffee bar/store itself has a wonderful funky vibe. The coffee is first rate and it is a great place to sit and watch the town walk by, with several seats looking out of the window. Also, be sure to check out the bathroom...it has a fabulous hand painted mural of West Chester.  Their hours are 7:30am-7pm(T-Sat) and 7:30am-2:30pm on Sunday, but they are experimenting with staying open late on the weekends which I think is brilliant. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, after we've had dinner or happy hour in town, my husband and I would stop at the D'Ascenzio's for gelato, but they close from October to sometime in the spring and we would love to grab a cupcake at this time of year! In fact if you are heading to the Christmas parade tonight...stop by. I know they are open!

They say that the "urban suburbs" are experiencing a resurgence and with West Chester it's easy to understand why. It's an architecturally lovely town, with great restaurants and shops and every thing is walkable. Now all they need is a Trader Joe's in town and it would be absolutely perfect!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Ah nuts!

During the holiday season I like to have extra snacks or appetizers around, in case people stop by or who knows,we may decide, spur of the moment, to entertain. One of the easiest treats to keep around is spiced nuts and by this I mean they are simple to make ahead and store. However be warned! They are so delicious they quickly disappear.  The  recipe is from the Barefoot in Paris Cookbook (Barefoot Contessa), which in turn based it upon the nuts served at the Union Square Cafe in NYC. I've added suggestions for modifications that would use other spices or other nuts. I love the nuts from Trader Joe's. Make sure you buy unsalted nuts as you add salt in the recipe.


I was going to try one of the variations of the savory recipe below before Thanksgiving. I had bought pecans for a pie but decided we didn't need a third pie for 10 people! So I was going to try them with the chili powder. However when I pulled the nuts out, I had purchased the pieces, rather than the full nuts which would not work great for the savory recipe. So instead I decided to make a pecan brittle. I found a recipe online(http://www.averagebetty.com/recipes/no-corn-syrup-nut-brittle-recipe/) that I adapted by adding pumpkin spice and OMG, were they out of this world. They were devoured every time I put them out. The recipe makes a big batch (We had them 3 times, served in a cocktail sized bowl). The inspiration for this adaptation came from the caramel popcorn lady at the West Chester Artisan's Exchange (http://www.mojospopco.com/). She makes a superb caramel popcorn with pumpkin spice and pecans mixed in...I can't stop eating it when I have it in the house. My sister and I quickly went through the large bag on a road trip to Pittsburgh! 

So here are two recipes for nuts...one sweet and one savory...keep them on hand for the holiday season, if you can keep Y/OUR hands off of them!

Pecan / Pumpin Spiced Brittle 

Ingredients:
3 cups pecans pieces (a pound)
2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 TBSP butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice
several shakes of cinnamon

1) In a saucepan over medium/medium-high heat combine sugar, water and salt.
2) When the mixture comes to a gentle boil and the sugar is dissolved, set a timer for ten minutes.
3) Stirring occasionally, watch for the color to change from clear, to a light amber color. This may take 10 minutes or up to 20, depending on the heat of medium/medium-high on your stove. As soon as the color is a light, golden amber – get it off the heat! If you’d like, use a candy thermometer and when the mixture reaches 300(F) take it off the heat.
4) Working quickly, and stirring continuously, add butter, vanilla, baking soda and spices. The mixture will foam. Continue stirring until the foaming subsides and the mixture starts to get glossy.
5) Stir in the nuts all at once and quickly turn out onto a silicon baking mat or very well greased baking sheet or a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Another blog recommended heating the baking sheet in a warm oven (about 200 degrees) before you pour the brittle onto it. This would allow it to spread a bit easier. I didn't try it but it makes sense to me.
6) Flatten the mixture as needed and allow to cool for about 20 minutes, until brittle.

Salty / Savory Cashews (or other nuts)

Ingredients:
1 pound roasted unsalted whole cashews (or pecans or almonds)
2 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon chili, curry or five-spice powder)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper  (cut to 1/4 teaspoon if you like, if you are using chili powder)
2 teaspooon brown sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter.

1)Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the nuts on a sheet pan and toast in the oven for 5 minutes.
2)In a large bowl, mix the rosemary (or other herbs), cayenne, sugar, salt and butter. Toss the warm nuts with the butter-herb mixture.
They can be served warm or cold. They keep in an air-tight plastic container for a week or two.

Monday, December 2, 2013

And so it begins....



Phew....what a weekend! We had a wonderful Thanksgiving...relatively small, starting with six of our family for dinner, then augmented by four friends joining us for desserts and drinks. The turkey tasted great but had the challenge for the second year in a row, that I didn't cook it long enough and had to return it to the oven. That's the thing that drives me nuts about roasting meats...it's a real challenge in timing the meal. Next year, I have to listen to the butcher rather than the recipe.

We did have great success in creating a new drink...dubbed the "Blizen" by my sister. It is 1 shot of rosemary simple syrup (see earlier simple syrup blog), juice from half a lemon, a teaspoon of grenadine,  and 3 shots of gin. Put it all into a cocktail shaker with lots of ice and shake till you can't feel you fingers anymore (because of the cold) and then pour into a martini glass rinsed with bourbon...and Voila! You have (and become) a Blizen! Oh and don't forget the sprig of rosemary to garnish!

We made this our signature drink at the neighborhood gathering on Saturday night. What a great night that was....it is so wonderful to have this second family of friends, with shared memories that stretch back 20 years! The group has gotten so large, 22 in total and now they are nearly all adults with only 3 left in high school. (10 adults and 12 kids). We start off with all the chaos and chatter and catching up over hor d'oeuvres and then progress to sit down dinners with the adults in one room and kids in the other, though as they graduate from college, the line blurs, but the dining room table constrains us. I think once we start adding in significant others and eventually the kids' kids, we will have to rent a hall to handle us all!

Jack & Bobby 2013!
Jack & Bobby 2000
Over dinner we slip into re-living neighborhood memories: the first time we met ...Maddie coming down the street in her Fred-Flintsone car, red hair shining or the naughty night the adults crashed another neighbor's hot tub. Then there is the infamous Beanie Baby Caper, when the boys snuck into Emily's house, crept to the basement and stole her favorite beanie babies, making sure to give a shout as they exited, so they couldn't be accused of true robbery (only a 6 year old boy could come up with that logic!).



Finally we end the night with Charades, with much consideration given to the teams...you can't have spouses or siblings on the same team and how to divide up the natural actors and psychic guessers...there's a lot of strategy involved in just team creation. The game itself is a riot...very raucous and sometimes a bit heated on the rules but always a good time. We missed Billy this year but did skype him in from China at the very end.

So now the holiday season is officially kicked off...starting it with a marathon weekend of family, friends and food. What could be a better expression of the spirit of the holidays?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cheesecake, munching on a Cheesecake, munching on a Cheesecake...

I am obsessed! As mentioned in my last post, I planned on making 3 cheesecakes this week for our neighborhood gathering next weekend. Well, mission accomplished! They are all sitting in my freezer now, with the 2 lasagnas as well. It was interesting to make three different recipes in a short period of time, as they all had different cooking techniques. I learned some things along the way that I'll share.

My mom's cooking technique, was definitely the easiest, which was to cook at very high heat (500 degrees) for a short period of time (5-8 minutes), then much lower heat for an hour (300 degrees), and then leave in the oven (turned off for another hour). It was the easiest because there was no messing with a water bath, but I have to admit that the finished product did have a cracked surface. This can be covered up with a cherry topping but if you are particular about aesthetics, you might have a problem with it. BTW, I've updated that post to reflect that you should soften the cream cheese to room temperature and also added some photos.

The Deep Dark Chocolate Cheesecake recipe from Epicurious (http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/bestof/toprecipes/bestcakerecipes/recipes/food/views/Deep-Dark-Chocolate-Cheesecake-236209) looks even easier with instructions to bake in the oven at 350 degrees for an hour and then cool 5 minutes before refrigerating. But one of the reviews recommended placing a pan of water on the rack below the cheesecake, cooking for about 50-55 minutes, then turning the oven off and opening the door and leaving the oven off for an hour with the cake still in the oven. This worked well! The cake didn't crack, though it sunk a little.

Lastly, the Pumpkin Cheesecake from Fine Cooking (http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/spiced_pumpkin_cheesecake.aspx) calls for the traditional water bath technique, where you place the cheesecake pan in a roasting pan then add hot water up to about the height of half the cheesecake pan and cook for and an hour and 35 minutes. Well, this produced the most beautiful of the three! You just have to be careful with the hot water, and it's a bit stressful, worrying that somehow the water will seep into the cheesecake pan (make sure you have the bottom set properly in the pan!).

One other thing I noticed is that chocolate cheesecake didn't have you put the crust up around the edges...this made it a lot easier. Sometimes getting the crust to stick to the side of the pan is a pain. So when I started having difficulty with it on the pumpkin version, I decided to forget it and just let it be on the bottom. I have to mention, my mom's method of putting the crust on the bottom, cooking it (as all called for) and then adding the side crust and cooking it along with the filling worked great. It was more of shortbread crust, so I'm not sure this would be a good idea with one that uses cookie crumbs.

Okay, so lessons learned:

  • the baking methods do produce different results, but all taste good so use whichever you are most comfortable with.
  • the crust doesn't have to go up along the sides...less stress if you just put it on the bottom.
  • Cheesecakes are EASY to make...really they are and homemade ones are SOOO delicious so give one of the recipes a try!
Lastly, if you are wondering about my reference in the title and need a chuckle, check out this link...it is from a Louis Armstrong song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqrhdYQ_wMg

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Putting down roots (plus my mom's cheesecake recipe!)

We moved into this neighborhood twenty years ago...this blows my mind! My kids have always lived in the same house (well, the eldest moved in when he was 2 so it's the only house he remembers). When I was growing up, it seemed like we moved constantly. At 6 we moved to Japan, and though we lived there for 5 years, we lived in three different apartments. Then we lived in Korea for a year, and moved back to Pittsburgh when I was entering 7th grade. Then when I was out of college, I lived in 4 different places until we finally settled here. I feel like I've grown roots that anchor me to this house.

When we moved into our neighborhood, it was brand new and there were lots of people starting families as we were. We've stilled stayed close with five of these families, our children having grown up together, some even going to the same university now. They are like a second family in a way. We've watched our families grow and change but still share the common experience of raising our kids together.

When the kids were small, we started the tradition of having a Christmas celebration. For years we'd go on a railroad ride to nowhere, where Santa was on the train and we'd sing Christmas carols. Then we'd congregate at one of our houses and have dinner and rousing charades games. This tradition has continued without the train ride....dinner and charades. The crowd is now over 20, nearly all adults now and it is a blast. I'm hosting this year. Everyone brings a dish so that makes is relatively simple.

Since the kids all have different college schedules, we are having it Thanksgiving weekend...so my planning has doubled. This week, I'm being efficient and making two types of lasagnas and freezing them as well as three types of cheese cakes. The lasagnas are both from Epicurious: the "Grandma's" and the Portobello mushroom and proscuitto one with a white sauce. The cheese cakes are going to be pumpkin, chocolate and my mom's recipe, which I'll share with you.

Kate's Cheesecake


Crust:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 t lemon peel, grated
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 egg yolk, slightly beaten
  • 1/4 t vanilla
Cheese filling:
  • 5 8oz packages cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 T flour
  • rest of lemon peel
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1/4 t vanilla
  • 5 eggs + white from yolk in crust
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
Crust: Combine the flour, sugar & lemon peel.Cut in the butter. Add egg yolk and vanilla. Pat 1/3 of the dough on bottom of 9" spring form pan. Bake at 400 degrees about 6 min. Cool and pat remaining dough evenly on side of pan.

Filling: Beat cream cheese till fluffy, add sugar till well blended, then flour, peel, salt and vanilla gradually. Add eggs one at a time, till blended (Don't over beat). Gently stir in cream. Pour in pan and bake at 500 degrees for 5-8 minutes, reduce oven to 300 degrees and bake for 1 hour longer. Leave in turned off oven for 1 hour more then refrigerate.

This can be frozen after it has sat in frig for a bit. Defrost it the day before and store in frig.
Crumbled crust with melted butter poured in but not mixed yet.

Finished crust patted onto bottom of pan before baking

Bottom crust baked, unbaked side crust added. Ready for the filling!


Ready to go into the oven!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Thanksgiving... the planning begins!

We are having a relatively quiet Thanksgiving this year, but the quantity of people doesn't seem to matter, I still make the same variety of dishes so the planning begins. I usually layout a "project plan" noting when I have to make everything as some dishes can be made ahead and others like the turkey need to be started two days before Thanksgiving.

I always make a cider brined turkey, which is a combo of two Epicurious recipes plus an oyster stuffing. The oysters make the stuffing so moist and you can't really taste the oysters (I don't advertise the fact that there are oysters in it, though I do make sure guests don't have allergies or are kosher...in those cases, I will pull aside some and make it without). Mashed potatoes are a must and some kind of cranberry relish or sauce. My husband, who usually does not care for cooked carrots, loves my mom's recipe of horseradish carrots. They are one of those old recipes that are so easy but so tasty...they have quite a bite! This year, I may do a recipe I found that is butternut squash and brussels sprouts. The original recipe was a bit bland, but I think with the addition of some of the sage/rosemary/garlic salt that I made, it will be delicious...plus the orange and green of the vegetables will add the right colors to the plate. I'll often make beets, though my sister and I are usually the only ones that eat them. When I did this years ago one Christmas, we had an awkward conversation the next day. We both thought we had contracted a rare disease...our pee was bright red. Fortunately we traced it to the beets...so be prepared if you over indulge in them!

For dessert it's often the usual culprits: pumpkin and pecan pies, but sometimes I'll deviate and do a pumpkin flan or cheesecake. I think this year, my sister is going to make an apple pie, which I love. I may make a cinnamon ice cream to go with it if I have the time. Still need to have some pumpkin flavored dessert, though. I'll need to ask my youngest son, what he wants: pie, pumpkin roll, whoopie cookies?

So here is the horseradish carrot recipe, an oldie but goodie. You can assemble and make up to 2 days ahead (gotta love that!).

Kate's Horseradish Carrots

Serves 6

  • 1 pound plus 3 carrots
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 4 Tablespoon horseradish
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 3/4 cup breadcrumbs
Peel the carrots and cut into julienne strips about 1.5-2" long, 1/4" wide. Cook about 10 min in salted boiling water. Drain and transfer to a 1 quart casserole. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and sugar.

Mix the horseradish and mayo together and spread the mixture over the carrots. At this point you can cover with foil and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Remove from frig 2 hours before baking. Bake in 350 degree oven for 25 minutes. Cover with the breadcrumbs for the last 15 minutes of baking (in other words, add the bread crumbs after it's baked for 10 minutes).


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

My mom's voice...

It's strange how it hits me. I was leaving Wegman's on Monday, and loading my groceries into my trunk, when I felt a nearly physical pain. It was a stabbing sensation that I missed my mom. I wanted to talk to her, to hear her voice, to give and get a kiss. I don't know what brought it on. Perhaps starting to plan the Thanksgiving holidays and realizing this is the first major holiday without her.

My sister called last night and expressed the same thing...she really wanted to talk to Mom. Our mother was a great listener...she'd let me vent all my frustrations at the little annoying things that build up and I'd feel guilty expressing to my friends or even sometimes to my husband. She wouldn't judge, she'd just listen and somehow by the end of the conversation, we'd be laughing about it and I feel so much better. She never lectured and though I guess she did offer advice it didn't feel proscriptive.

Before she had dementia, I would talk to her nearly every day; usually just about mundane things: recipes, the kids, frustrations at work. Not always just to vent, but just to chat. Now when I get the urge, I call either my brothers or my sister. When I talk to them, I am hearing my mom through their voices. I can't imagine what it would be like to not have them to talk to. I usually feel lucky that I'm the baby of the family (by 7, 10 and 14 years)...the pampered one, I admit it! But as we grow older and I'm seeing my mom's generation disappear, I'm not so sure. I don't think I want to be the last one left of our generation. How lonely.




Monday, November 11, 2013

A drawer of memories...

As I've mentioned earlier, I've been a cleanup-clean out tear through the house; first the garage, then the unfinished side of the basement, our office and even the bedroom. We are leaving a huge pile for one of the charities that picks items up at the front door this week, so I cajoled my husband into going through his clothes and donating those he doesn't need. He filled two huge trash bags!

The last group of clothes we culled through were his tee shirts. He loves these shirts; as soon as he gets home from work, he tosses on a graphic "t" that he's picked up on one of our trips. Going through these shirts was like taking a step into the past. We laughed our way through the drawer.
 There were shirts from relatively recent trips, such as all the college shirts he collected as we traveled around the country looking at schools for our oldest, combining college evaluations with visits to old college friends and relatives.

Then there were shirts that went back to the trips we took when the kids were really young. Cayman Islands, where they ate turtle and went snorkeling and jet skiing for the first time and Legoland in California which we visited within a month of opening and were in awe of the huge, elaborate models of dragons and animals.
Then there was the shirt from Goombays, a bar in Kill Devil Hills, NC, which really took us back. This was from a vacation we took with two other families when Bobby was 6 months old and Billy was 4. We all had small kids and we rented one of those lovely large houses in Corolla on the beach. We had a fabulous time and one of the days, the guys went golfing and then hit this bar. We used to drink the rum drink "Goombays" with these couples when we were in the "pre-child" stage, and so when they saw this place they had to go in. Well, they stayed a lot longer than they should and came home to some annoyed wives (and 6 kids under the age of 4). They thought we'd be so thrilled because they bought us all these Goombay shirts!.

But the shirt that really got us was the National Aquarium, Baltimore shirt. This was from the time we took Billy there when he turned 5. We decided to make it a special day for just him and so we took Bobby to daycare as was the usual routine. But of course, Bobby, 18 months old at the time, knew something was up, because normally only one of us would drop him off before work, and here were all of us taking him there, and waving lovingly as we rushed to get the train to Baltimore. We were taking the train out of Wilmington and were cutting it close so Dave dropped me off at the station to get the tickets while he and Billy parked the car in the garage. Well, it was one of those multi-story garages that winds around and around...and around and Billy (to this day) gets car sick. So after about the 3rd floor he's feeling nauseous and by the time they park on the roof, Billy just barely makes it out of the car and gets sick. Once we were on the train we figured we were safe, as he usually feels much better after he tosses his cookies. Well...he wasn't finished and even the train made him sick and this time he got his shirt and shorts as well. So, we show up in the Baltimore train station with a much recovered but stinking 5 year old. I ran to the train station souvenir shop and they only have tee shirts, no shorts or pants. Thank god Billy has always been an easy going kid and not a fashionista, because I ended up buying him an adult sized shirt that hung beyond his knees and that is what he wore for the trip to the aquarium. And he loved the aquarium, we ended up having a great day (that we obviously never forgot), with Dave picking himself up the fore mentioned tee shirt as we left. Of course, as we were returning home, we had a call from Dave's mom telling us that the daycare had called her within an hour of us dropping Bobby off, saying that Bobby didn't feel well. She had him for the entire day with no signs of illness. We think he realized that something was up when the three of us dropped him off so cheerfully in the morning and he sure wasn't going to stick it out in daycare while we were off gallivanting around without him!

So in the end my husband donated 13 shirts but kept 28! Each of the 28 is a memento of the fun trips and journeys we've shared with our kids. I will not push him to ever toss a single one of these remaining shirts and I'm so glad we went through them and delved into this drawer of memories.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Fall Fruit...and two recipes!

One of my favorite things about the fall in Pennsylvania is the bounty of amazing apples I get from the growers market. I belong to a CSA from North Star Orchards, http://www.northstarorchard.com/index.php, where we get a huge share of seasonal fruit each week, starting in August and running into November. In August, they start with peaches and plums and as summer fades, apples and asian pears make up the share. They have heirloom varieties of apples, types you never see in the grocery store. Now that I've had these, I can't buy them in the store...the ones from the orchard are so full of amazing flavor.

Asian pears are my favorite fruit of all. I grew up eating these in Japan, calling them Nashis, and was so excited when I started finding them in the US. North Star Orchards has the best and quite a few different varieties. They are the juiciest, sweetest fruit imaginable. Perfect to eat alone or cut up in a salad (they don't brown as apples do when cut). Also you can make a wonderful fall bruschetta, by placing a slice of Nashi, a crumble of bleu cheese or slice of brie and a dollop of honey on a crostini and stick in the oven till the cheese melts a bit. Yum.

To make a delicious fall inspired salad, use fresh greens or tender farm market lettuce, tossed with the dressing below and then topped with either cut up apple or nashi and dried cranberries, crumbled bleu or feta or goat cheese, and sweetened nuts, such as the Honey Roasted Almonds or Sweet and Spicy Pecans from Trader Joes. So easy and so good!

Apple Honey Salad Dressing


  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 1 T apple cider
  • 1 T apple cider vinegar
  • 1 T honey
Combine all the ingredients in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid and shake to combine. I usually double the recipe so I have enough for several nights. This recipe came from Nort hStar Orchards.

Sometimes, the apples get away from me, and I'll make a simple baked applesauce that is scrumptious; it takes like the inside of an apple pie! If there are leftovers, it is great added to oatmeal or I put a dollop in a bowl of greek yogurt. This recipe is adapted from Cooking Light.

Baked Apple Sauce


  • 4 pounds apples, peeled, cored and quartered
  • 1 heaping teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 2 T fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup water (optional)
Combine all the ingredients in a large Dutch oven, tossing to coat the apples. Cover and bake at 375 degrees for an one hour and 15 minutes total or until the apples are tender and mash when stirred. Be sure to stir once, after about 45 minutes.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

W(h)ine and Restaurants

There are so many things that affect my experience at a restaurant. Of course, the food is paramount but also important are the wait staff, the wine list and the ambiance. We've had a couple of experiences lately that though the food was good in one case, excellent in the other, the attitude and wine list knocked both places down a notch in my husband's and mine estimation.

The first was a dinner we had in Philly to celebrate our anniversary. We hadn't planned far enough in advance since we thought we were going to Pittsburgh for the weekend so we had a limited selection. I got us reservations at Bistrot La Minette, which is off of South Street in Philadelphia. It had a typical French bistro menu that looked good and I had a friend who enjoyed their experience there, so why not? I made the reservation via OpenTable and in the comment section, let them know it was our 25th anniversary.

For some reason I thought the restaurant was BYOB, so since we were celebrating 25 years, we brought along a really special Bordeaux to drink. When we arrived, I scooted to the ladies room while my husband got settled. When I returned he looked annoyed.  Apparently they weren't BYOB and the waitress, while acknowledging that they could open our bottle for a corkage fee, was really snotty about it. Then to make matters worse, the manager came over and again, acknowledged that yes, they could open the bottle and charge a fee, but also made it seem as though it was a major inconvenience and faux pas, even when my husband explained that it was our 25th anniversary and we wanted something really special and had obviously made a mistake about the BYOB thing.

Now I can understand that they wouldn't want everyone doing this, but it was obviously a mistake on our part and they did have the capability to still open the wine for us. But what they did was start the whole experience off on a discordant note and insure that we would never return. If they had been somewhat gracious about the whole thing, we might have felt differently. The food was pretty good, though the foie gras was just plucked from a can and it did feel like a bit of Paris but we won't be going back.

The second experience was at Stateside, a bar on East Passyunk that I love. We had been there for drinks and a cheese board in the summer and went with friends for dinner last weekend. The menu is small plates and everything was delicious, though you need to pick wisely as some are really small. The waitress was wonderful, very helpful and attentive. The cocktails were fabulous...that is their specialty. But three of our party ordered a bottle of wine rather than cocktails and that's where they feel short. The wine list prices were grossly inflated. It's reasonable for restaurants to charge double or a little more the state-store (we are in PA) price, but these prices were nearly four times as much. It's hard not to resent being gouged. So though we would go back for the bar experience (and snacks at the bar), it's unlikely we'd return for dinner. A shame because there is a lot to like about this place.

It makes me really appreciate a restaurant that can pull it all together and get every facet right.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Simple syrup...more ways to use sage and other herbs

I have been primarily a wine drinker, lving full bodied reds as well as Chardonnays and other dry whites. However, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, I have started to enjoy herbal, non sweet cocktails.

We went out to dinner this weekend with friends to a bar/restaurant in Philly called Stateside, which is known for their cocktails, using liquor made in small batch American distilleries. I had the "Talkin John Birch Society Paranoid Blues", quite a mouthful to say but also a mouthful of intriguingly delicious flavors. So good I had to have two! It had Blue coat gin, sage, lemon, a "bourbon rinse" and a tiny bit of grenadine for color.

It was so good, we tried to recreate it when we got home...with limited success. After a few tries, I consulted with my oldest son, who has become adept at making flavored vodkas (bacon, pepper, various and sundry herbs) as well as simple syrups. He suggested what was missing was a sage simple syrup and I think he was spot on! So yesterday I decided to use up more of my prodigious sage crop and make a simple syrup from it. I looked up various methods on the internet and adapted a recipe that doesn't have to be refrigerated and should last a good six months.

Well, it turned out fabulous! I'm going to make some more this with the fresh lavender I have growing in one of my flower beds. So here you go:

Sage (or any infused) Simple Syrup


  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 pinch of cream of tartar
  • 20 sage leaves, rough chopped (or 4 teaspoons of lavender)

Bring the water, sugar and cream of tartar to a boil, then turn to simmer and add the herbs.
Simmer for 20 minutes, then remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, and strain out the herbs.
Store in a clean glass jar for a good 6 months.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Boo!

Halloween has always had a special place in my heart. I love the time of year, with the smell of drying leaves and the chill in the air. I love carving pumpkins and baking the seeds. That reminds me of my Dad; he loved the baked and salted seeds and so do my kids.

The first time my husband and I flirted was at an engagement party of my roommate and a fraternity brother of his. We clicked immediately and I invited him to the Halloween party we were having the next weekend. It was a great party...lots of college friends as well as work ones came and many of them really went all out on their costumes.

I had visited my parents a few weeks before and my mom made me a "Wilma Flintstone" dress out of an old beaver coat that had seen better days. Yes, even when I was 26, my mom made my Halloween costume! I bleached a chicken leg bone and stuck it in my hair to complete the look.

Dave showed up dressed as Robin Hood. Now this impressed me. Not only did he look good in tights, but I was impressed he had the nerve to wear green tights! Plus he had a sword, that was fun to play with. So for us as a couple, Halloween is special.

Once the kids came, it became even more fun. There were several years when we'd go to a local farm and take wagons into the pumpkin patch to pick out our pumpkins. We'd get one for each of us. When we returned home we would put on a "Halloween" themed CD, that had old rock songs like Monster Mash, and Time Warp...I remember the four of us dancing around the family room to these funny songs.  The theory was that everyone would carve their own, or at least the kids would sketch their design and I'd carve it. Somehow over the years though it has devolved to me doing all the carving...which I don't mind though I've scaled back the number in the past few years.

My kids were never into the candy so much and so dressed up only until they were about 10 or 11.Then we started have a "post trick or treat" party with the neighbors, on the back patio, with the chiminea going and marshmallow roasts.

One of my favorite costumes was their first, which was passed down from Billy to Bobby. I bought white baby sized sweat shirt and pants, and made two black felt pillows stitched to look like Oreos. I velcroed each pillow to the front and back of the white sweat shirt and then we carried them around as our little cookie!

Billy, our older preferred animal costumes, while Bobby liked to be super heroes or ninjas. I wonder what says about their personalities?


One of the funniest years was when Billy broke with the animal theme and went as Darth Vader. The visibility of the helmet was poor and he kept walking into trees, poor guy.

For me Halloween is all about kids, neighbors, autumn, silliness and Dave in his green tights...

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sage Advice

If I had to pick two herbs to take with me on a desert island I think it would be cinnamon and thyme. But lately I have become more enamored of sage. Especially with autumn menus, sage goes so well with winter squash, potatoes, and pork as well as eggs, and pasta.

I have an inordinate amount of sage growing in my small herb garden, so I've looked for some ways to use it up in condiment recipes so that I'll be able to enjoy it once the garden is gone for the winter. I've found two winners so far.

One is a sage pesto that I found on the excellent food blog, FOOD52. It calls for pistachios which I didn't have yesterday, so I used walnuts instead. Here is my slight variation on their recipe, plus a link to the original: http://food52.com/recipes/19492-grilled-aged-cheddar-cheese-sandwich-with-pistachio-sage-pesto

I used this on roasted butternut squash last night and it was fabulous. Tonight, I'm going to make my old stand by of "egg on pasta", basically a softly fried egg, cooked in the grease from crisply fried pancetta on top of whole wheat pasta, with the pancetta, pesto and a bit of Parmesan. YUM!

Walnut Sage Pesto

  • 1 cup sage
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
Combine the first 4 ingredients in the food processor until well blended, then slowly pour in the olive oil through the feeding tube while the processor is running. Add salt and pepper after the oil and to your taste. 

The second recipe is a herbed garlic salt mixture that I found while listening to NPR's Splendid Table. http://www.splendidtable.org/recipes/fragrant-tuscan-herb-salt. It is wonderful on oven roasted potatoes and popcorn (try cooking the popcorn in either duck fat or marrow fat if you want to be truly decadent!)

Tuscan Herbed Salt
  • 4 to 5 garlic cloves, peeled
  • Scant 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • About 2 cups loosely-packed, pungent fresh herbs such as sage, rosemary, thyme, savory, or small amounts of lavender
(For Tuscan herb salt use a mix of fresh rosemary and sage leaves, 50/50 or whatever balance you prefer)

Cut each garlic clove lengthwise through the center, remove the sprout (if any) in the center and discard. Note: if you don't like garlic, you can leave it out.

Mound the salt and garlic on a cutting board. Use a chef’s knife to mince the garlic, blending it with the salt as you work.

Place herbs in a mound and coarsely chop them. Add the herbs to the garlic salt and chop them together to the texture of coarse sand.

Spread the salt on a baking sheet or in wide flat bowls and leave near an open window for a couple of days to dry. Store in clean, dry jars. I put the baking sheet in the laundry room on the top of the dryer and that worked well with the added benefit of making the laundry room smell yummy (if a little garlicky!).

Monday, October 28, 2013

Family visits...

My husband went to a reunion while I spent the weekend at my sister's and had a wonderful time. There is something so relaxing visiting someone in their home, especially when they are such excellent hosts. I love the luxury of escaping all the to-do's that would normally nag at me if I were at my own house on the weekend.

Being a good host is an art, of which my sister and soon-to-be husband are masters. They made me feel special, remembering my quirks of loving greek yogurt and rooibus tea. We went out for a fabulous dinner at Hooked in Ocean City (http://hookedoc.com/), and then returned home and spent time looking at the stars, while drinking B&B in the hot tub, which kept the chill in air at bay.

We spent Saturday shopping and having a lovely lunch on the bay, then relaxed and cooked dinner in the afternoon, wrapping up happy hour with another dip in the hot tub, wine in hand as we watched the sun set.

My sister lives in the same town as my parents had lived for many years after leaving Pittsburgh. It was the first time down there since my mom had died, and felt a little strange as I turned onto Rt. 589, and saw all the familiar landmarks that would signal to my kids that we were almost at "Nana & Poppy's".

My parents had a great house down there. Their bedroom was on the first floor and the second floor was ours when we stayed. Upstairs were 3 huge bedrooms. The best part of the design was that they had two separate toilet and sink rooms, with cubbies built into the wall for your toiletry kits and then there was a separate shower room. It gave lots of flexibility when it was a full house. There are so many good memories for my kids in that house...they loved going to see Nana and Poppy. We'd  race go carts, and play miniature golf. Once we went to "Frontier Town", a very hokey western themed park that was a riot.

At Christmas, Santa would stop by the house (thanks to the local fire department) and we'd go see the Christmas light display on the boardwalk. One year, we attended midnight mass in the old chapel in Ocean City. It was very quaint but Bobby, who was three, kept asking where the baby Jesus was (as we had told him he'd be there in the manger). Then, during the overly lengthy sermon, he kept asking, "who is that man and why is he talking so much?" Obviously, we hadn't taken this kid to church enough! Fortunately, my mom agreed with his assessment, the priest was talking way too long!

Visits to family should make you feel good. After visiting my sister in Maryland and my brother in Pittsburgh, I feel coddled and loved and so relaxed. That's how we always felt after visiting my parents in Maryland.

We are so lucky that we get along as siblings. While I was with my sister, my two brothers were traveling together. We've made it through the death of our parents and division of the estate without any bitter feelings. If anything, we've grown closer. Another gift from our parents...

Friday, October 25, 2013

25 years....

My husband and I just celebrated our twenty-fifth anniversary this week. It's so cliche, but I don't know where the time went.

When I was in college, I never imagined that I would marry and have kids. I thought I'd be a super high flying career woman, traveling the world! I never dated anyone for longer than a few months until I met my husband when we were in our late twenties. I think it helps when you marry later; we both had our wild times before we met.

I think about the different phases of our marriage. First the newlywed years when we were madly in love and learning our way around each other. We worked a lot and traveled a lot; he had never left the continental US until our honeymoon in Hawaii and then we went to Spain and Paris before kids. I think I threw my birth control pills in the Seine as we started to try and get pregnant.

Then our first son, Billy arrived. I've always felt somewhat bad for the first child as it is the one parents are going through the steepest learning curve with. I remember the shocked look on my mom's face as she watched us give him his first bath. We were doing it in the kitchen, with the baby tub in the sink and for some reason, when we went to rinse the shampoo off his bald head, we were going to stick his head under the faucet! With truly admirable restraint, she stopped us and suggested that perhaps it might be easier to use the wash cloth to remove the shampoo.  Then there was the shared anxiety of listening to his breathing on the monitor. Believe it or not, Billy slept through the night within his first week! But when it happened, we were panicked! We kept going in to check his breathing.
Then three and a half years later Bobby arrived. Just when we were feeling like pro's, we went from the two to one defense, to man to man coverage! Of course we thought we knew it all but everything we learned with our first son went out the window with the second. Sleep through the night? Not until he was six months old and I was heading back to work, did he finally bless us with a full night's sleep! Where as Billy didn't walk until he was 13 months, Bobby took off at 9 months. They were two completely different (though wonderful, of course) kids!

So we've spent twenty-two years in the hands-on parenting roles. We've had great adventures with the kids, through years of Quaker education and sports, showing them the world, as well as making time for ourselves. But now the house is empty of children. We are no longer defined as "Billy/Bobby's Mom or Dad". We are back to being a couple. And you know what? We love it! It is such a relief to come out the other side of raising kids, and realize that you still love your spouse. When the house has gone quiet, and it is just the two of you across the kitchen table, it is a wonderful thing when you still love talking to each other. We've known enough people where that hasn't been the case, so we feel very fortunate.

When I look at my husband, I see my best friend (with great benefits!). We don't share every interest, but we love being together. Vacations are a joy together. I plan, he follows but redirects when we need a midpoint correction. We are different in some ways: I explode, he stews;  I'm the project manager, he's big picture and better on the fly. But we have our similarities as well: we are both outgoing, we are both fairly cautious, we are NOT outdoor adventurers. We complement each others quirks and traits. What more can you ask for?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Chocolate thoughts...plus a recipe

The best chocolate I've ever had comes from Eclat Chocolate in West Chester: http://www.eclatchocolate.com/  Chris Curtin makes the most delicious varieties of chocolate truffles and caramels, bar none (sorry for the pun!) The chocolate caramels are a near sensual experience: you have to take it in one bite, as the liquid caramel center oozes into your mouth as your teeth pierce the chocolate shell. The truffles, such as lavendar and passion fruit, have such a "true" flavor and the champagne truffle is sublime. We are lucky in that we can give in to our cravings easily, since his shop is 10 minutes away. You may have to order online, but they are worth the wait!

For a more pedestrian, but still good chocolate flavor, my husband likes Wilbur buds: http://www.wilburbuds.com/docs/category/wilburbuds.html . These were actually created before Hershey's Kisses and are far superior. I ordered the 5 pound box for him (that's a LOT of buds!) but it seemed silly to only order 1 pound...the shipping cost would nearly exceed the product cost.

For a REALLY simple homemade chocolate treat, I am giving you the recipe for Chocolate covered cornflakes. I first had these in Japan. They packaged them in a snack box, similar to a Cracker Jack's box and I ate them all through elementary school. I could never find anything like them in the States, but when my own kids were in school, I saw a recipe on the back of the Kellogg Cornflakes box and made them. Wow! They tasted just like I remembered. They are completely addictive so make sure you share, as it makes a big batch and you could easily gobble them all up and want to kill yourself from the chocolate induced guilt afterwards.

Chocolate Covered Cornflakes:
1 package of semisweet chocolate bits
1 package of milk chocolate bits
1 package of butterscotch bits (don't leave these out!)
1 large box of Cornflakes (18oz)

Melt the 3 packages of bits in a large bowl in the microwave, stopping to stir relatively frequently.


Once the bits have melted, stir till thoroughly blended and then dump in the cornflakes and stir till the flakes are completely covered by the chocolate mixture.

Pour the chocolate covered flakes onto a jelly roll pan and using a piece of wax paper, mush them down so that they spread and fill the pan.




Let the chocolate flakes harden and then break them up into chunks and store in a plastic or tin container and eat at will!