Thursday, October 31, 2013


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:

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. 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 (, 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 a recipe

The best chocolate I've ever had comes from Eclat Chocolate in West Chester:  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: . 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!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Homemade Granola

Each day, I eat a combination of Trader Joe's nonfat Greek yogurt and their goat yogurt, with a tablespoon of my homemade granola mixed in and a few dashes of cinnamon. I love the slightly tart, slightly goaty taste that is slightly sweetened by the crunch of the granola.

I started making my own granola, because the ones you buy in the US are very sweet and high in calories. I discovered a mixture I love at the Borough Market in London ( called Fun Stuff. But since I can't pop to that market regularly, my sister and I created a recipe that has the same ingredients but with the addition of oats. I doubt my quantities are quite the same but we've hit upon a tasty recipe that comes in at 29 calories a tablespoon.

Feel free to experiment! On a recent batch, I threw in dried pomegranate seeds. I usually don't put in dried fruit, but this did taste good (added calories though!). If you like yours sweeter you could up the syrup or substitute honey if you like. It helps if you have a kitchen scale as some of the quantities are given by weight rather than volume.

Lee and Cathy's Granola:
Agave syrup 1 T
Unsweetend coconut chips 2 oz
Oats 1 cup
Raw sunflower seeds 1.25 oz
Raw sliced almonds 1/4 cup
Raw pepitas 1/4 cup
Hemp seeds .5 oz
Organic flax seed 1 oz
Cinnamon 2 tsp

Mix them all together in a large bowl and then spread on an ungreased jelly roll pan. Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for 15-20 minutes, checking after about 10 minutes and stirring. Let it cool in the pan and then store in a glass jar or air tight container. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

The nose knows!

For the past few years, I would occasionally notice a natural gas smell. Sometimes it was when I was out on the patio, others it would be when I went into the unfinished side of the basement or even other places in the house. By the time I grabbed someone to confirm what I had smelled, the scent was gone. So I chalked it up to a paranoia or my incredibly sensitive snout! My husband thought perhaps it was just the water heater kicking in.

I smelled it again on Wednesday, and as usual ignored it. But yesterday, Thursday, I started thinking about it and decided what the heck, I'm at the house all day, I'm going to call Peco, the local energy company and have them come take a look (or smell). The person showed up in under an hour and since I was having some outdoor painting done, said that I was probably smelling that. But I explained that I had experienced this the day before and at other times and so he got his machine and went to investigate.

First the basement....he went to the water heater: no problem, next the furnace (which was installed in 2010)....briiiinnnngggggggg, the alarm went off! The culprit was the pipe in the furnace that connects to the thermostat. Based on where it was, the smell would go through the duct work, so I was right! He recommended I call my heating people and come have them fix it, and he shut it off till they got there. He also did the "soap" test, which is kind of interesting. If you put liquid soap where you think there might be a leak, it will bubble, if gas is leaking out!

Then we headed outside where the gas comes into the house. Sure enough, briiiinggggg again! The meter was leaking gas, so he replaced it. That's why I smelled it on the patio. I thanked him profusely, saying that I'm glad he proved that I wasn't crazy. He replied that he couldn't really comment on that, and referred me to my husband for that guy.

Anyways, I called the heating folks, and they were out in less than 2 hours and all is fixed. I feel pretty good about this week...first proved that I am allergic to penicillin and now prevented my house from blowing up! So my message to you as you start the your nose. It knows!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Paper is Perishing

I've read a lot of books lately, now that I have the time. These have been real, paper books rather than Kindle ones. Since I've been reading so voraciously, I decided to go back to the library rather than spending a fortune on Amazon. Up to this point, I had completely converted to ebooks, loving the convenience of having a whole library on my iPad, not having to deal with the heft of 1000 pages of the latest Game of Thrones novel.  

But now that I've gone back to actual paper books, I've found that there is something special about the turning of a page and the feel of the smooth-rough paper on my finger-tips. The tactile as well as the mental stimulation makes it a different experience. It kind of reminds me of when we switched from dialing type of phones to push button. I miss the elegant movements of "dialing" a phone...letting your finger ride gently back with the dial as it returns to the home position. 

The book I just finished, A Lady Cyclist Guide to Kashgar (recommended), has a map in the front of the book. This is another annoyance when reading on the Kindle. I miss the convenience of been able to flip pages to see something earlier in the book. Or when I'm feeling particularly naughty, flipping to the end and reading the last page.

As I studied the map, it brought back memories of geography class, and creating maps of imaginary places, drawn to reinforce the lessons of what the various geographic symbols meants...little haystacks for mountains, brackets for bridges. Drawing my own little kingdom from my mind. I love maps, but they are also becoming quaint relics of the past. I remember when we'd return to the States each summer, I somehow assumed the job of navigator, reading the road maps as we drove from Pennsylvania to Georgia, or North Carolina. Folding the huge gas station maps so you could read the section where you were, but also unfolding to see the details of the whole route and routes not taken.

GPS systems are convenient, but so limiting. It drives me nuts to see everything through a small screen. There is no way to get a good view of the whole picture when it is shrunk down to a 4"x4" screen. How do we know what fascinating sites we may be missing? I've noticed that if I use the GPS for a route that I know well, it rarely takes me on my preferred path. Makes me wonder, when I use it for routes I'm unfamiliar with, what weird path it might be using. I love it when I decide to go my own way, and disregard the GPS recommendation. It's similar to that feeling when you were young and decided to ignore something your mother said. Even though you knew she was probably right, it made you feel good to make your own decision!  I think they should add a feature where the voice gets annoyed and makes you feel guilty; make it more life-like!

And don't get me started on the fact that there is a whole generation growing up, without the skill of navigating. How will they survive trying to find their way in a city without their iPhones? God, I sound old! Of course, I couldn't give up my Kindle or my GPS. I just hope that the paper industry doesn't completely disappear like Kodak or those phones I miss. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Cure: Best meal in a LONG time! In Pittsburgh...Lawrenceville to be more precise

We were in Pittsburgh this past weekend and wanted to take our son out to a special meal on Saturday night. Often when we stay in Pittsburgh, once we park our car, we walk everywhere as my brother lives in the downtown area and there are a wealth of good places to eat. But we'd heard that there were some interesting places opening up in Lawrenceville and decided to give Cure a try.

It was the best meal I've had in ages. It's been a long time since I have been blown away by a restaurant. Everything that the three of us had was out of this world. I ordered their gnochi appetizer that came with goat cheese and a ragu of beef, pork and goat. It was one of the best things I've ever tasted. The flavors melded together to create something exquisite! Then I had the duck confit with white beans, bacon and kale with a "slow-cooked" egg on the side. This was unbelievably delicious. The duck fell apart in the sauce as confit should and the egg was truly stupendous. I've never tasted an egg with such amazing flavor. My husband had the tuna crudo, and then the hanger steak, while my son had the beef tartare and the pasta with pork cheek. They both raved about everything they ate.

What makes a restaurant like this so special? Of course the food was absolutely first rate. But in addition, the atmosphere fit the cuisine...the emphasis was on the meats and the interior was rough-hewned, horizontal panels, with boars heads mounted on the wall. There was an open kitchen where there were at least five people working in this small space like a well choreographed dance troupe. And the servers were terrific; really informed and into the food, well versed in the wine selection, and very fun.

The restaurant is at the far end of Lawrenceville. We drove through a zombie festival  (it is October!) and the funky main street (Butler Street) to get there. You go past all of this until you start to think you may have gone too far (past the Allegheny cemetary). It's at the corner of Butler Street and 57th. Well worth the hike!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


My parents generation is disappearing. So many of our friends have lost their parents this year. In my own family there is only one of my mom's cousins left (there were 8 of them). These cousins grew up together until half of the clan headed to Florida. It was a family headed by my great grandfather, who was reportedly a lady's man and an SOB. (My uncle Danny, when he was about 5, saw his grandfather heading up the driveway, and repeating what he heard from the rest of the family, said "Here come's the old SOB"! So I have it on good authority!)

My great grandmother was the heart of the family...a lovely Irish-Catholic woman, Catherine, who both my mom and sister are named after. She was one of a large family of mostly sisters, the "Murphy girls", most of whom never married and had careers and lived together. My mom loved the Murphy sisters, spending many of her summers there when she was young. As she drifted into dementia, these were some of her strongest memories. My sister and I wearied of hearing the stories of the Murphy's over and over again, but now I'm glad we have those. One of the sisters was a baker, one a seamstress, another a nurse, one was the assistant to the city coroner, and one took care of the house (the wife to the rest). They were "lace-curtain" Irish, and my mom claimed that they were the ones who taught her how to properly set a table, have good manners and enjoy good food. They wanted to have her stay with them and go to a Catholic girls school in the city, but her mother pulled her out and wouldn't let her attend. We still have the "bishop's chair" that sat in their parlor and was reserved for the bishop's exclusive use when he came to visit.

My great grandmother was the only one of the Murphy girls to marry and lived in Oakmont. She had 5 children. One of those was my grandfather, named Daniel, like his father and he had two kids, my mom and her brother, also named Daniel. The cousins grew up in Oakmont and my great grandmother's house was the center of activity. My mom tells of her yelling out the back door for the grand-kids: "Buckey-Kate-Danny-Danny-Mary Alice", a bunch ofl their names rolled into one. I think my mom thought of how wonderful her grandmother was and used her as a role model for how she grandmothered my own children and my niece. My mom spoke of vacations they would take to Lake Erie, with her cousins, packing in the car in the middle of the night to drive up.

The vacation tradition continued into the next generation. We would visit our cousins (second and third cousins to us) in Florida or Georgia, or meet half way in  North Carolina for huge Thanksgiving celebrations. But as we got older, we've seen them less and less of them (with the exception of my brother living in Florida.)

And now my uncle, Danny has passed. He and my mom were very close. They grew up with a father who, my mom said, was a great dad but probably not the best husband: a charming salesman who liked the ladies. As a result, my grandmother left my mom and uncle (and my grandfather) when my uncle was about 13 or 14 and my mom was 17. My mother didn't really get along with her mom, but my uncle was his mom's pride and joy, her "pretty boy". So he was really broken up by the desertion and my mom took over as mother and sister. She was supposed to go to college, but gave up these plans when this happened.

So Danny was always an important part of our lives. Both my grandfather and Danny lived with my parents when they got married. My older brother talks of sharing his room with Danny when he was an infant, Danny in the bed, he in the bassinet. Danny used to come at lunch to visit mom and he taught my sister to play pool. She was only 5 but he would bring a stool up to the pool table so she could see over it and learn to shoot. She got so good in a year, that she was able to beat my brothers (she was 5 and they were 8 and 12!) My sister remembers going over to Danny's house and playing with his boys, wrestling, and rough housing, which she never did with my own brothers. It was her time to be a tomboy. Both my sister and I danced with Danny at our weddings, just after the father-daughter dance, as he was like a second father to us.

My parents moved to Florida for a number of years, and though I didn't like them living so far from us, the one positive about it was that Danny was down there. And since we would go down to see my parents, my boys got to know him and love him as much as I did. He would take them out in the golf carts and return, raving about what a crazy driver my oldest was. He had a great relationship with my youngest, baiting him on and teasing him. I remember the laughter of the two of them sitting on the couch, playing this "shut the box" game, with Danny being so silly and my youngest, laughing so hard he could hardly breathe.

We held a memorial for my mom in Florida in August and we had scheduled it there primarily so Danny could be there. The day before we all flew down, Danny fell and broke his hip. His heart was not strong enough for surgery. My brother, sister and niece, saw him in the hospital on Friday and were able to speak to him. My husband and younger son and I arrived late Friday and decided we'd go into the hospital and see him on Saturday after the memorial. Well, just as we were wrapping up the reception, we found out that Danny was in intensive care. We all went over to see him, going in to visit in pairs. Unfortunately, he couldn't communicate with us as he was connected to a forced air breathing apparatus. It was so frustrating to see him trying to communicate with us and not being able to understand him. I felt so badly that we hadn't gone in the night before when he could have spoken to us. We went back again that night and he was doing even more poorly.

We returned north on Sunday and Danny passed away a few days later. They had a service for him in Florida and one in Oakmont just this past weekend. Danny was the kind of man who made you feel loved and special. When my husband and son and I were driving from the Orlando airport to the Villages in August, anticipating seeing Danny, we were talking and reminiscing about him. Bobby asked if my other siblings felt badly because I was obviously Danny's favorite of them all. I laughed and cried at the same time. Because with Danny, each of us knew absolutely, that WE were really his favorite.

Monday, October 14, 2013

My mom was right!

I decided to get test for my penicillin allergy today. Ever since I can remember, my mom had told me that I was allergic to penicillin, as I had had it when I caught pneumonia as an infant and stopped breathing as a reaction to it. But over the past year when my mom was in and out of the hospital, an allergy to penicillin was listed on her records and I started thinking, was she confusing the two of us? Was she the one allergic or maybe she wasn't and she was thinking of me.

Also, I read a recent article in the NYTimes that said that 90% of the people who believe they have a penicillin allergy, are not, either because they grow out of it or because the allergy may have been to the delivery vehicle, rather than the actual medicine. So I decided I wanted to know for sure.

On my initial consult to the allergist, he was pretty certain that I would end up not being allergic since it had been 50 years since I had a reaction. I started to feel a bit mom was very descriptive in how I reacted (turning blue and not breathing) plus my doctor at the time was very good: my mother spoke of how he came and visited me everyday when I was ill. My mom had lost an earlier child to pneumonia and almost had a nervous breakdown caring for me day and night.

For the actual testing, I went to the office today at 10am. They said to plan on being there for 4 to 5 hours of testing. So off I went this morning, packing a lunch, books, iPad, knitting, ready to be there for the duration. As I was driving to the office, I was thinking that of course, I'd rather not have the allergy, but part of me wanted to prove the new allergist wrong, and have my mom's caution validated.

During the first test, they put small drops of various strains of penicillin, highly diluted, onto my forearm and then poke a small hole or slight abrasion and rub the medicine into the opened skin. They also do this with a histamine, as the control reaction. Well, my arm itched like hell, but it was only the reaction to the histamine, which did produce a hive. So far, so good, no reaction at the other sites.

Next test, they went to my upper arm and inject the same diluted penicillin strains.This hurt! It was basically getting six small shots. Now after each of these tests, the nurse leaves the room for about 20 minutes. I'm thinking, what if I start having a strong reaction while she is out of the room. She was at a station just outside, so I guess she would hear me keel over or start to thrash!

I couldn't see the injection spots for the second test as they were on the back of my upper arm. I didn't feel too much, though that portion of my arm felt kind of tired, that's the best description I can come up with. Well, she returned after 20 minutes and said, "oh my, you ARE allergic to penicillin!". I had nicely formed hives at the injection sites.

Seems my mom and Doctor Nicholas were right! So I need to dig out my medic alert bracelet and continue to stay away for any penicillin related antibiotics. The good news is that I didn't have to spend 5 hour at the doctor's office, and my mom was right (though who knows if she herself really was allergic); bad news is I am still allergic. It feels good to know though.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


My husband and I share our office at home. Since I've been unemployed, I have been roaming the house organizing the garage, the basement, cleaning the boys room and at the back of my mind, I am dreading the office. I think part of my dread is the potentially hopelessness of ever getting this office clean. Take a look:

At first this might not look so bad, so take a further look:

And I've actually worked on this a bit! I'm not sure why that wine bottle is being saved. My husband works on the theory that he knows where everything is in this pile of mess and if I start cleaning it up, I'll ruin his system. Usually he is correct, though every six months or so we have a panic when he can't find a bill or a particularly crucial piece of paper.There are some interesting studies on clean desk vs messy ones: Basically if you have a messy desk, you are creative and if you have a neat one, you get things done. Hmmm.

I have to admit, that I can go overboard. Once in a fit of organizational frenzy, I was cleaning out our closet and tossed a box of old tee shirts belonging to my husband. Now, these shirts had been in our closest for at least 10 years without ever being worn or even looked at. Did I tell you that they were his old tee shirts from his college days? Custom ones from Greek week, charity events etc. I've never seen him so angry at me! He didn't speak to me for days (and if you know my husband, you'll know how hard it is for him not to speak!). It's still a sore forgotten. So I'm a bit worried I might throw out something crucial. My strategy when I've attempted this before is to put the things I think should be tossed into their own pile and let him go through that, but often that just shifts the problem and creates new piles. And really, I do think that articles on financial strategy from 2004 are a bit irrelevant at this point! And there is a sweet side to this...he saves (or used to till I corrupted him), every card I've given him, whereas I read them and toss 'em.

However I discovered that I have similar issues, but on the computer desktop rather than my physical one. I never really paid attention to this until my sons started complaining when they would borrow my computer to look something up on the web. I keep a lot of tabs open in my browser and a lot of open applications. It drives them crazy! Plus my mailboxes in my various email systems are stuffed full of notes I should be deleting but haven't gotten around to. My husband by contrast, is vigilant in keeping his email box cleaned out. So what does this say about us? I'm virtually messy and physically organized, while he is the reverse. It's great that opposites attract but how is that going to help me get this damned office under control?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Fall. I love it.

Fall is my favorite season. It brings back memories of returning to college, football games (really the tailgates), the smell of leaves, the ritual of the boys helping their dad raking the yard (a good memory for me, lots of work for them!)fresh apples and Asian pears, and other comfort food. It's the time of year I feel most invigorated.

Below is a recipe from North Star Orchards for a wonderful apple cake. I have had most success making it in loaf pans as it sometimes sticks and the top comes off in a bundt pan. Plus making it in the 2 loaf pans allows you to not feel guilty when you eat a piece for looks like a quick bread that way. It is truly delicious...make sure to make the glaze as well, it gives an added umph.

Apple Cake

1 cup sugar
1 cup packed dark brown sugar (or TJ’s)
1 1/2 cup vegetable/canola oil
3 eggs
1 t vanilla
3 cup peeled & chopped apples
1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans) or raisins/cranberries or Trader Joes dried mixed berries (or 1/2 cup of nuts and 1/2 cup dried fruit)
3 cup flour
1/2 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t ground cloves
1/2 t mace or ground nutmeg 

Optional glaze:
1/2 cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup milk
2 T bourbon or cider.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Grease a tube pan or 2 loaf pans
3. Combine sugars, oil eggs, and vanilla; mix thoroughly.
4. Sift or whisk together dry ingredients then add to the egg-sugar mixture. Mix until just combined.
5. Fold in nuts and apples. Batter will be very lumpy.
6. Put batter in pan(s).
7. Bake in tube pan for 60-80 minutes or in loaf pans for 45-60 minutes.
8. Cake is done when inserted skewer comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then release to a serving plate.
For glaze: 
In medium saucepan, combine ingredients. Over medium heat, stir continually until butter melts and mixture is combined. Heat to a boil , stirring occasionally & boil for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add bourbon or cider. Spoon warm glaze over warm cake.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Gravity...I hate it!

No, I'm not talking about the movie, I haven't seen it yet but it's on my list. I'm talking about the force of gravity pulling my skin downward.

If you are of a certain age, you know what I mean...the pull of gravity is inflicting insults to my aging body. When I walk down stairs, my one knee talks to me. As I lower into a push-up in BodyPump, my left elbow creaks. If I look too closely at my face, I see my jaw line becoming less sharp and don't even get me started on my neck!

Even the parts of my body that I've been proud of are fighting a losing battle with gravity: I inherited my legs from my mom (she called them "Betty Grable" legs) and now they are getting wrinkles above the knees. My boobs, I got from my dad's mom...we always joked that hers rested on her waist; thank god for good bras as those days approach!

I have a problem with elective surgery....and which would I do first? Pull up my neck and firm my jaw? tighten the ta-tas? Why not take a piece of my belly and augment my flat butt? I'm afraid once I got started I wouldn't stop...

At least I still have my thick head of hair. I've finally let it grow longer after years of begging from my husband. I made him promise that he'll tell me to cut it when it gets to that stage: you know, you see a woman from behind, her hair appears to promise a young, vibrant face and she turns you see a much older woman fighting the aging process with everything she's got. Though now, I empathize with her, but I don't want to be her.

I'm not alone; my husband frets over his receding hair line. But I don't see it ...his hair is still brown, very little gray, maybe a little thinner. But to me he still looks like the adorable guy I met at Bennigans. Even better, since he's trimmed down and looks damned good!

So maybe that's the answer: don't get too close to the mirror,  find someone to grow old with...and look at yourself through your love's eyes.

Friday, October 4, 2013

My dad would be so proud...

I was obsessed earlier this week! Over the course of two days, I ripped down the 8x8 foot peg board and long shelf that was at the back our garage and installed four 4 foot shelves and two tool racks/holders. There was something really satisfying about the whole project. I got a real sense of competence and satisfaction working with hammers, nails and power tools! That's why I say my dad would have been proud, since he is the one who taught me how to use them.

When I went off to college, I was one of the few girls on my dorm that came equipped with my own tool box containing hammer, nails, and screw drivers, thanks to Dad. While in high school, he had me work alongside him finding studs and cutting wood. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the smell of cut wood brings back memories of him. His own father was a carpenter and craftsman who not only built houses but also created beautiful inlaid furniture and decorative items. All of my siblings and I have beautiful card tables with inlaid chess sets that my grandfather made for each of us. My dad also made some smaller inlaid items but sadly that skill was not passed down to our generation.

My father was an engineer, a life long reader of Scientific American and a firm believer in science. But he also had an artist's soul. He had a creative side that he was able to express once he retired by making stain glass items and then gold jewelry. He was the type of man who would stop to appreciate and point out to others, the beautiful sunset, the funny pelicans or the stars at night.

His job took us overseas to Asia, and every summer we would return home to the States via Hawaii. We stopped both coming and going and Oahu & Maui became our Jersey shore...a place to return to each summer. It became a running joke: each time we stayed on Oahu, Dad would make us drive around the island to appreciate the view of Rabbit Island, or stand in wind at Nu'uanu Pali lookout. And in Maui we always had to do the hair raising drive to Hana. At this point in our lives, my sister and I would have preferred laying out by the pool or on the beach but Dad loaded us into the car to see the island's natural beauty. And of course now, as I look back, I'm so grateful that he did.

My dad was the definition of a gentleman, a truely gentleman. He rarely swore or raised his voice. He was smart, honest and hard working. He put himself through college, the first of his family to go, working at a local diner. When he passed away and his passing was listed in Lehigh's alumnae bulletin, I received a call from a classmate of his. Consider that my father graduated college in 1939 and this was 2007 when this man called just to tell me what a wonderful guy my father had been.

He loved my mom passionately...the kiss he gave her every night when he returned home from work, was never perfunctory...he kissed her with all his heart. Once when I went to visit my parents in Florida, when my dad was in his late 80s, I heard Glenn Miller playing in the kitchen. The two of them were holding each other close and slowly moving to the music.

But  just because he was quiet didn't mean he was a push over...he had a stubborn German streak that many of us have inherited. My mom was definitely the expressive and stronger personality of the two, but he balanced her and didn't let her ride over him. And god, was he handsome! But the best kind of handsome because I don't think he really knew it or cared.

We went to the funeral of the father of a close friend yesterday and of course, funerals make you think more acutely of those you've lost. Plus his birthday is at the end of this month. Dad had a stroke when he went out for a walk and died. I would like to think that he was appreciating a cloud formation or a palm tree when he went.
Ralph W. Helwig, 1916-2007

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Japanese Glaze...a recipe adapted

When I start with a new recipe I generally give it a try as written ,while read the reviews when I get it online, and then play with it after the initial test.

Usually, the outcome is quite successful though not always without incident! A couple of weeks ago I was making a chocolate cake to take to a friend's house and instead of making it as a layer cake as the recipe instructed, I made it in a 13x9 inch pan. I was a little worried that there was too much batter in the pan...but fear not! Fate took a hand and I spilled a bunch of the batter down the front of my oven:

Anyways, one of my favorite recipes, I discovered when my husband and I had a long weekend in the Hudson Valley, the summer before last. We had a wonderful time: stayed at a lovely B&B across the river from Poughkeepsie, The Inn at Twaalfskill  (, tasted wine, toured the Roosevelt and other estates and ate at the Culinary Institute as well as at a great Japanese restaurant called Hokkaido ( in New Paltz. Both restaurants were fantastic...if you've never been to the Culinary Institute, it is worth the trip. The food is of course wonderful, but the best thing about it is the students; they are so passionate about what they are doing and they do everything at the restaurant: serving, cooking etc. The night after this meal, we were ready for something lighter and I found Hokkaido through TripAdvisor. It was a perfect counter balance to the prior evening, delicious, simple Japanese food: great sushi and there I discovered Nasu Dengaku which is japanese ggplant broiled with a miso glaze. Unbelievably delicious!

When I came home, I scoured the internet for the recipe and found it at I make this recipe throughout the summer, as long as I can keep getting the Japanese eggplants, which I love.

I made a batch on Sunday night and had leftover glaze. So last night I decided to roast some sweet potatoes, cut up to about inch or so chunks, and once they were nicely browned and soft enough, removed them from the oven and tossed them with the miso glaze. OMG...they were fabulous. Maybe better than the eggplant.

Here is the glaze repeated from the recipe linked to above:

  • 2 tablespoons mirin
  • 2 tablespoons sake (may substitute dry vermouth or white wine)
  • 4 tablespoons mellow white miso (reduced sodium, if available) I've used red miso
  • 3 tablespoons agave nectar
  1. Place the mirin and sake in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer for about 2 minutes to allow some of the alcohol to cook off. Then add the miso and stir until smooth. Stir in the agave nectar, reduce the heat to very low, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally. 
  2. Roast the sweet potatoes and when done to your liking, pour some of the glaze over top. I used the saved glaze right out of the frig for last night's meal and it was fine.
Bon Appetit or どうぞめしあがれ (douzo meshiagare) as they would say in Japan!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

I love farmer's markets!

Every Saturday, I have my ritual...I head to West Chester and go to the Growers Market (  on Church & Chestnut Streets, open from 9 to 1pm during the season and lately, I've now extended my routine to include the Artisan's Exchange that is on Carter Drive off of Matlack Street.
 At the Grower's Market, I buy my week's vegetables, pick up my fruit share at North Star Orchards, (they have the BEST Asian pears and heirloom apples),
grab some fabulous bread from Big Sky, maybe pick up some flowers and eggs and chat with people I have come to know either through the market or from the town, often running into teachers who taught my sons in elementary school. It's a wonderful place, full of great offerings of not only fruits and vegetables, but also meats, soaps, cheeses and more. Besides all those material items that it provides, it also gives me a sense of community; seeing people I recognize and now know through this shared experience. In this world of online communication and remote, at home offices there is something very satisfying in going and buying food from people I know, talking about the best way to cook a certain item, and catching up on town gossip. It is one of the highlights of my week.

Whereas the Growers Market's focus is on fresh produce, the newer Artisan's Exchange, open Saturday from 10 to 2pm, ( has more prepared foods. This market was created by Golden Valley Farm Coffee Roasters. In an ingenious use of extra space, they took extra warehouse facilities they had and not only created a space for the vendors to sell their products but they also lease out space for these vendors in a industrial kitchen created just for this purpose. It gives small producers a way to give their small business dream a try at a much lower entry point by sharing this facility. Not all the vendors use the kitchen but many do and rave about the set up.

My favorite vendor here is A Taste of Pueblo, a Mexican food vendor. They have the best salsas (the tomatillo salsa fresca is my absolute favorite) and freshly made chips that I've had. Often they also will be serving lunch food outside the market as well. I haven't tried it but have heard rave reviews. Other excellent items are the Irish pound cake, the caramel corn, the homemade takeaway pizza, my favorite sausage producer, Maiale, and the spreads and honey from Taste.

We are fortunately that there are quite a few farmers markets in the Philly area to choose from. I also sometime hit the East Goshen one on Thursday afternoon (3-7pm, in East Goshen Park). There is some overlap of vendors from both the West Chester Grower's Market and the Artisan's Exchange but some unique ones as well. There is a hydroponic vendor there that sells the best lettuce I've ever tasted and it can last up to 3 weeks in the frig!

So for me, these market not only nourish me through the excellent food they provide but also provide emotional nourishment, through the communities they create!