Saturday, October 30, 2021

Jack - o' - lanterns


The annual Halloween pumpkin carving has been going on long before I would have ever given my kids a sharp blade to create their masterpieces. Val used to ask us what design we wanted to add to the one large pumpkin she brought home from the store just a few days before the scariest night of the year. Once agreed upon, she deftly wielded a sharpened carving  knife to reveal a ghastly smile and sinister eyes that would greet the one or two trick - or - treaters who darkened our doorstep on October 31st.

Years later, Karyn got into a carving frenzy to make at least a 1/2 dozen ghoulish decorations lined up on the steps to her mudroom. They could be seen from the street but hardly any children dressed in costume appeared at her door. Her mother -in - law hid in her adjacent apartment and turned out all the lights signaling to everyone that no one was home while Karyn and her her kids ransacked another neighborhood for candy just a few streets away.

Seacoast Shores has always been alive with homes ornately decorated with tacky flair and multitudes of kids running from house to closely built house raking in loads of candy. While the evening is fun for the kids, I find it a bit exhausting having to answer the door every few minutes instead of relaxing with my feet up and savoring a glass of wine. And while the exact night may not be my favorite, I do love some tastefully chosen decorations: a few carved pumpkins, a witch's hat and some lights but never those horrible blow - up things that are deflated across every lawn when the sun comes up the next morning. That's why I still love and will always want to host a pumpkin carving party. It's low key, we can enjoy good snacks, wine, sharp blades and creativity. What could be better?

The kids have not only embraced the knives and gourds tradition, they have essentially taken it over, inviting friends to participate, too. All I need to do is supply pumpkins and carving tools, some newspaper for the mess and Sharpies for the pre-planning designing stage. But don't forget the snacks. Creativity, laughter and focus requires fuel especially now that they are teenagers. Their skillfully finished products reflect how much they have grown. Their adolescent appetites remind me that they will be eventually leaving the nest way too soon. But until that finally happens, there are snacks to be eaten and s'mores to make over the fire on one of the best days of the year when laughter fills the house as we light up the jack - o' - lanterns.

Libby's Pumpkin Roll

Those of you of a certain age will likely remember seeing a photo and recipe of this nostalgic treat on the side of cans of Libby's 100% Pure Pumpkin. I hadn't been able to get it out of my mind until I made not one but two of these recently. The recipe is ridiculously easy and the "fancy" look of the cake makes it festive. I created some "monsters" this year by serving it on pumpkin carving night. Perhaps offering to make it a tradition will be enough to entice my favorite ghouls to come back every year to carve jack - o'- lanterns.

1/4 cup powdered sugar (sifted over a sheet of wax paper the size of a jelly roll pan)

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 large eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

2/3 cup canned pumpkin

12 oz. cream cheese, softened (1 1/2 packages)

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar (sifted)

9 tablespoons butter, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease 15 x 10-inch jelly-roll pan; line with wax paper (trim to fit). Sprinkle a sheet of wax paper with sifted powdered sugar and set aside.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt in a small bowl. Beat eggs and granulated sugar in a large mixer bowl until thick. Beat in pumpkin. Stir in flour mixture. Spread evenly into prepared pan all the way to the edges. 

Bake for 13-15 minutes or until top of cake springs back when touched. (Darker colored cake pans will make the cake bake faster.) Remove from oven and immediately loosen around the edges using a table knife. Turn cake onto wax paper dusted with powdered sugar. Gently peel off wax paper that was used for baking and discard. Roll up cake and wax paper with dusted powdered sugar together starting at the narrow end. Cool on wire rack for 30 minutes to an hour.

Beat cream cheese, 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, butter and vanilla extract in a medium bowl until smooth. Carefully unroll cake. Spread cream cheese mixture evenly over cake (all the way to the edges). Reroll cake (without the wax paper). Wrap cake in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour and up to 24 hours before serving. To serve: trim off each end and place on a platter with decorations and/or dusted with powdered sugar. Slice into rounds and enjoy.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Fresh Corn Panna Cotta with Blueberry Sauce and Crunchy Corn Crumble


The perfect accompaniment to BBQ chicken grilled on a summer evening? Potato salad? Coleslaw?  Those are both solid choices. But I prefer the sweet and slightly savory taste of a corn muffin studded with juicy blueberries. Weird choice? You can't deny it once you try it.

Val has been baking blueberry corn muffins to go alongside grilled chicken slathered in her homemade barbeque sauce since as long as I can remember. Using freshly ground corn from the gristmill in neighboring Sandwich, MA and tiny Maine blueberries. For parties and celebrations, she offers her famously delicious potato salad and vinegary coleslaw. Sometimes baked beans, too but those are not my favorite.

We have been eating a lot of corn on the cob lately. Tis the season for Silver Queen and Butter and Sugar. Purchased from Tony Andrews Farm, a stone's throw from Val's and shucked on the picnic table the same afternoon before a quick dip in a steaming pot of scalding water. A cold stick of butter and a salt shaker are set on the table alongside placemats and napkins. It is just as easy to shuck and cook a dozen as it is to prepare eight ears (there are four of us, so that means two each). Throw the leftovers in the fridge and cut the cooked kernels off the cob for a delectable corn and tomato salad with some chopped jalapeno thrown in for color and heat. Save the cobs for what I am about to tell you next.

Just about everyone loves ice cream and cold treats in the summertime. Ice box cakes and popsicles, Mississippi Mud Pie and frozen margaritas, too. But all of those take time to assemble, set-up and freeze. If you don't have the foresight to get going on one of these recipes at least 24 hours in advance you are out of luck. Summer moves fast around here and I just don't have the time or the patience for this kind of waiting. 

Lack of self-restraint and a craving for that cornmeal and blueberry combination led me down another path. Sure, I could have heated up the oven to make the muffins, but who wants to think about that on an 85 degree day? I want something frosty, cold, corny, creamy and sweet. The soft sweet, give of a gently cooked blueberry and the sensation of the crispy crust from a muffin baked in a cast iron pan. 

I began by scalding milk, cream and sugar, then added the bare cobs I had leftover from a few nights earlier, squirreled away in the back of the refrigerator. I let it all steep for about two hours while I cleaned up the breakfast dishes and hopped in the shower. Then I got to work. A half hour was all it took, start to finish. Once the process was complete, we only had to wait until after dinner to assemble our own individual odes to those perfect blueberry corn muffins.

Fresh Corn Panna Cotta with Blueberry Sauce and Crunchy Corn Crumble

(serves 8)

For the Corn Panna Cotta:

3 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 cup milk

1/2 cup sugar

4 corn cobs (kernels cut off and reserved for another use)

1 tablespoon gelatin (one packet from the box)

1/4 cup water

Heat the cream, milk and sugar to scalding (just shy of a boil.) Turn off heat and add corn cobs. Allow to steep for 1-2 hours. 

After 1-2 hours, sprinkle gelatin over water in a thin, even layer to bloom. Set aside.

Remove the corn cobs and discard. Heat the cream mixture to scalding. Turn off heat and dissolve the gelatin mixture into scalded cream mixture. Stir to combine. Pour through a strainer into a bowl set over an ice bath and stir until it begins to thicken. Using and immersion blender, blend for a few turns or use a whisk and whip for about 30 seconds. Portion out into 8 servings. (I used 8 oz. mason jars for this one.) Chill for 6 hours or overnight.

For the Crunchy Corn Crumble:

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, slightly softened but straight from the refrigerator is fine, too

3/4 cup cornmeal

1/3 cup brown sugar, packed

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup old fashioned oats (or whatever you have on hand.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix all ingredients except oats by working the butter into the dry ingredients with your hands until the mixture is like soft sand then add the oats and mix well. Spread mixture onto an ungreased or Silpat lined baking sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes until edges begin to brown and the the entire thing looks like one big cookie. Remove from oven, allow to cool and break into chunks.

For the Blueberry Sauce:

12 oz. blueberries (about 2 cups)

1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon cornstarch

3 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan. Stir to dissolve the cornstarch and sugar. Cook on medium high until sauce thickens and becomes a deep, dark purply blue, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool to room temperature before serving.


I prefer to bring all the components to the table and have everyone assemble their own. If you would rather have more control, I suggest topping the panna cotta with a dollop of blueberry sauce on the side and some crispy crumble to finish it off for texture. Whatever you do, assemble at the last minute so that the crumble stays crispy and the blueberry sauce does not seep into the panna cotta.

Friday, May 14, 2021

I would die 4 Magic Cookie Bars



We played the boombox as loud as we dared from the back seat of the bus. Prince and Chaka Khan blared through the speakers. We hoped the coach wouldn't yell for us to turn it off as long as we didn't sing too obnoxiously over the music (is there any other way?). Usually it was the same song played over an over again by rewinding the cassette tape until it finally wore out that made the bus driver and the coach pull the cord on our fun.

Two paper shopping bags wedged between our feet on the floor covered, hastily hidden with our Falmouth Athletics gray warm-up hoodies were filled with oranges cut into quarters then stashed into plastic twist-tie bags -enough for both home and away teams. At the beginning of the season, our mothers signed up to "bring" oranges to games on the schedule. Today was Val's turn. In her usual fashion, instead of me having to lug the half-time snack to school, she dropped them off at the main office. I was promptly summoned by the school secretary over the intercom during last period, sophomore English. But of course, Miss Mormon, that crotchety old lady would not let me leave even for just a few minutes before the last bell. 

Jenny and I crouched down behind the seat in front of us, quietly pulled a tinfoil wrapped package from the bag of oranges and slowly opened it. We had to cradle it gently as not to spill the contents. We found layers of still slightly warm chocolate chips, chewy coconut and buttery graham crackers cut into perfect 2-bite sized squares signaling Val's intention for us to offer them to all. 

Our attempts at keeping the treats a secret didn't last long in a bus jammed with teammates who are use to sharing everything from lockers, gossip and the occasional pair of socks. Jill, sitting in the seat in front of us, immediately knew something was up when our heads disappeared mid- conversation. She leaned over her seat and became part of the secret snacking. That was all it took. The clandestine information rippled and spread from a small cluster of seats throughout the rest of the bus until everyone had a piece of sticky goodness in hand. It's a good thing Val had carefully portioned and packaged what appeared to be at least two batches of Magic Cookie Bars. They were devoured in an instant, just in time for us to belt out our version of "I Would Die 4 U" before pulling up to the field, ready to play.

Magic Cookie Bars

(Makes one 9"x13" pan)

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter

1/3 package (9 full cracker sheets) Graham Crackers, smashed to crumbs

1 can (14 oz.)  sweetened condensed milk

1 bag (7 oz.) sweetened, shredded coconut

1 bag (12 oz.) semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Place butter in 9"x13" baking pan and place pan in oven until butter is melted. Remove pan from oven. Add Graham Cracker crumbs, stir to coat. Spread mixture evenly to cover the bottom of the pan. Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over the bottom of the Graham Cracker/butter mixture. Sprinkle shredded coconut evenly over the sweetened condensed milk. Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over coconut. Using a wooden spoon, spatula or your hands, press down on layers to compress so that they will stay together better when portioning.

Bake bars for 25-30 minutes until edges begin to brown. Remove from oven, run a knife around the edges so the bars won't stick and allow to cool for at least an hour before cutting into squares. 

Share with your friends.

Monday, April 12, 2021

1980's Homemade Pizza

I am after the recipe for the homemade pizza I remember so vividly from my teenage years. A pillowy crust made from Val's homemade white bread recipe, red sauce (from a can?, doctored?), sliced green pepper (red was too exotic and would never have been found at the Stop & Shop back in 1980 something), sliced white onion and thick slabs of mozzarella (the basic kind you can still find with the store brand name on it near the individually wrapped slices of American cheese). No time to shred it on the box grater, Val needed to get dinner in the oven. Pre- shredded cheese had just come out but if you are going to be a purist and make your own dough, why would you put cheese mixed with "anti-caking agent" on it?

Val made pizza often but especially on the night before Thanksgiving, after the parade down Main Street and the pep rally on Fuller Field. We rolled into our driveway and before the rest of us were out of the four door brown Nova with the tan fake leather seats, she was in the kitchen stretching the dough onto coarsely ground cornmeal scattered on a cookie sheet. She still had her coat on. We were hungry and likely driving her crazy. I am sure she was stressed thinking about the huge meal she was going to begin making as soon as she woke up the next day at 4:00am. While my sister was upstairs fixing her hair before one of her friends picked her up to go out for the evening, I whined and slouched my shoulders when Val asked me to set the table and my younger brother ran around, harassed the dog and begged to drink some of the Cott Cream Soda she allowed us only in such moments of weakness. 

But when that pizza came out of the oven, even my sister, who was now running out the door, grabbed a square that was destined to ruin her lipgloss with her first bite. I don't know why my 13 year old self would ever have thought that the addition of sliced green peppers, mushrooms and slivers of white onion would taste good enough to try or maybe that was all that was left after my brother devoured the "plain" slices. It was a smart move on Val's part to throw these vegetables onto the pizza hoping to get some sort of nutrients into her kids. Of course, if my brother ended up with a piece that had vegetables hidden under melted mozzarella, he left the evidence on his plate. 

The Best 1980's Homemade Pizza

Pizza Dough:

At dinner time the night before you want to make pizza, mix the dough. Cover with a plastic bag and place in the refrigerator. Pull it out the next day 2 hours before you plan to cook your pizza.

2 1/4 teaspoons yeast (1 package) OR 1 teaspoon yeast and 1/4 cup starter that was fed 8-10 hrs before.

1 3/4 cup warm water

2 tablespoons olive oil plus more to oil the bowl

2 teaspoons sea salt

4 cups AP flour, more if needed


3 tablespoons coarsely ground cornmeal

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

4 oz. can tomato sauce

2 teaspoons dried oregano

mozzarella cheese, grated

1/2 green pepper, sliced thin

1/2 small onion, sliced thin

2 oz. mushrooms sliced thin

sliced pepperoni

parmesan cheese

To serve:

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

crushed red pepper flakes

Proof the yeast by placing it in a measuring cup with the warm water. Allow to rest for 10 minutes until it becomes foamy. 

If using starter with the yeast, scoop out 1/4 cup and place in water and yeast mixture. Add olive oil to the water/yeast/starter mixture.

In a stand mixer with a dough hook, place salt 2 cups flour and salt. Mix wet mixture into the flour and salt with a spoon or rubber spatula. Use the dough hook on medium to continue the process. As the dough becomes sticky, slowly add more flour, 1/2 cup at a time until all 4 cups of flour are incorporated. Add up to 1/4 cup more flour if needed while keeping dough slightly sticky. Continue to mix with the dough hook for a few more minutes. Turn dough out into a bowl greased with olive oil. Turn to coat dough. Cover the bowl with a plastic bag and refrigerate dough for up to 24 hours.

2 hours before baking, remove dough from refrigerator. 1 hour before baking, preheat oven to 500 degrees. Grease a half sheet pan with cooking spray. Sprinkle with cornmeal. 30 minutes before baking, remove dough from bowl and place on prepared baking pan. Sprinkle with olive oil. Gently push the dough from the center into the sides and corners of the pan. If the dough springs back, allow to rest for a few minutes and gently work it again until it reaches all edges of the pan. Cover with plastic and keep in warm place (on top of the stove) until ready add toppings.

Meanwhile, shred the cheese and slice the vegetables. Top dough with tomato sauce. Sprinkle dried oregano over sauce, top entire pizza with shredded mozzarella. Place vegetables together in one section, place pepperoni in another section, leaving the third section with just cheese. Top the entire pizza with parmesan cheese. Place in oven and bake for up to 20 minutes until the cheese is golden and bubbling and the bottom of the pizza is lightly browned.

Loosen edges of pizza and immediately remove from baking pan onto a cutting board. Allow pizza to cool for 5 minutes, for the cheese to set. Cut pizza into squares and serve from cutting board.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Self Care


It's so God damned cold today I can barely make it through my morning workout. I pushed it from the usual 7am to 3 hours later allowing for the outside temperature to rise from 12 degrees to a tolerable 20 degrees. But 20 degrees has proven to be less than bearable, and I dragged myself through the neighborhood all in the name of getting some fresh air.

I've been popping vitamin D pills and trying to remember to take fish oils after each meal to lower my cholesterol. Going to bed at a decent hour, avoiding stress, eating pretty well and exercising. All of the things that one is "supposed" to do in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle. But honestly, I don't know how well all this is working. The only thing that truly feels like self-care is my daily dose of vitamin C shaken with vodka and ice and served in a chilled martini glass. 

You may think I am joking, but I am not. I come by this healthy advice honestly. My grandmother, a retired nurse who lived into her nineties, notoriously hated salad and I never once saw her eat a piece of fresh fruit. But she enjoyed good health throughout her years which must be somehow attributed to her daily ritual of a cocktail before dinner. Vodka and Fresca (a carbonated soft drink made with grapefruit juice) later gave way to vodka and lemonade which she enjoyed served in a tall glass with ice, gently stirred. 

My grandmother began her evening this way whether at home, dining out on the town or attending a family gathering, of which there have been many hosted by Val. My mother taught us our manners well. Upon our guests' arrival, we took their coats and offered a beverage. Of course, we knew Grammy's choice and had the ingredients ready. She didn't mind a heavy pour but always admonished us when we attempted to stir her drink with a table knife, for lack of proper bar ware, "Don't stir with a knife, you will stir strife!", she warned which left the junior bartender charged with making her drink to stir it with a fork or her finger when Grammy wasn't looking.

While I was growing up, my grandmother escaped the harsh New England winter months to her condo in Florida. We went sledding, made snowmen and shoveled driveways while she golfed and swam in the pool. Then, eventually, she pointed her Cadillac north and made her way home. I anticipated her arrival with excitement. She always brought gifts for each of us along with bags of fragrant smelling Florida oranges and juicy grapefruits. I didn't like the grapefruit, but my sister devoured them for breakfast sliced in half and caked in granulated sugar. I preferred the oranges, quartered and served in a small bowl, juices running down my forearms as I sat on the floor after school and watched re-run episodes of Gilligan's Island until my mother made me shut off the t.v. and go outside to play.

My taste in assorted citrus fruit has expanded along with the offerings in local supermarkets. Blood oranges, Cara Cara, Ruby Red grapefruit and more can be found on any day during the frosty winter months. I look forward to their arrival in the produce department and grab bags of them for various recipes: Sweet Orange Marmalade, a favorite fancy citrus salad and of course, cocktail experimentation. My new favorite: Blood Orange Margarita. Not only is it beautiful to behold, bright and welcoming while the snow is falling outside but it is also tart, not too sweet. Mixing one puts a smile on my face. The same feeling, I get when I see the sun shining bright in a clear blue February sky. I know that the arrival of springtime isn't far behind. And I pat myself on the back for taking pretty damn good care of myself at the end of a cold, harsh winter day.

Blood Orange Margarita

(makes one)

1 1/2 oz. fresh squeezed juice f(rom one medium sized blood orange)

1 oz. lime juice (from 1/2 medium sized lime)

2 teaspoons agave 

1/4 oz. triple sec

2 oz. tequila

lime wheel or 1/2 orange wheel for garnish (optional)

  Fill a martini or margarita glass with ice and water. Set aside to chill.

 Add all ingredients except garnish to a shaker filled with ice.  Shake vigorously for 15-30 seconds. Empty ice water from chilled glass. Strain cocktail from shaker into chilled glass, garnish and serve.

Blood Orange Martini

(makes one)

1 1/2 oz. freshly squeezed blood orange juice (from one blood orange)

1/2 oz. lime juice (from one 1/4 lime)

3/4 oz. St Germaine elderflower liquor

1/2 teaspoon agave 

2 oz. vodka

lime wedge or wheel for garnish

Fill a martini glass with ice and water. Set aside to chill.

Add all ingredients except garnish into shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously for 15-30 seconds. Empty ice water from chilled glass. Strain cocktail from shaker into chilled glass, garnish and serve.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Gingerbread Party

  I know I am not the only one who is missing gathering with friends this year. Getting together for a spur of the moment meal on a Saturday or out for a drink to celebrate in a cozy restaurant on Main Street that has been decorated and lit up for the holidays.
  As the calendar moves closer to Christmas, I miss the festivities: the multiple school events, the hustle and bustle of shopping on the last weekend before Christmas: shopkeepers thanking customers with a "Happy Holidays!", even the obligatory work parties in a crowded bar where someone inevitably drinks too much and becomes the subject of gossip the next day around the water cooler. And I never thought I would ever say that I miss the annual Falmouth Christmas Parade. The long wait for Santa to finally arrive, stomping my cold feet in an effort to fend off frostbite, avoiding drinking hot chocolate to keep myself warm lest I need to use the bathroom and take off my multiple layers and the crowds pushing me off the edge of the sidewalk, into the street. I have to admit, I miss grumbling about that, too.
  But of all the events leading up to Christmas Day, I probably miss Sheila's gingerbread house party the most. My friend Sheila bakes homemade gingerbread dough into walls and roof pieces for an entire week, every night after working all day and puts together an individual structure for each of her guests. The spicy, sweet houses are put on Christmas paper wrapped cardboard with a name card designating where each person will sit once placed on extra tables brought into Sheila's mom's kitchen. Not only is this process obviously laborious but the placement is as thoughtful as setting the table for an impressive dinner party so that the guests will all have lively conversation and ensure a fun time will be had by all.
 A huge spread of candy, rivaling that of Willy Wonka's magical kingdom is spread out in the side room where partygoers choose and fill bowls full of candy canes, red and green M &M's, gumdrops and so many other confections they will use to decorate their soon to be masterpieces. 
  The frosting bags are my domain. I'm the type of guest who loves to have an "important" job. I station myself by the savory appetizers, the ones brought by the adults to offset the sugar high and absorb all the wine that the mom's need to drink during this wild (kids eating ridiculous amounts of candy!) afternoon. I fill and refill disposable pastry bags with canned frosting, that is stacked in a huge pyramid by the stove. A can of frosting and a bag of candy is the price of admission for a coveted seat at this event and most of us bring more than just one. 
  I fill multiple bags as a backup for when decorators begin to ask for more. Then I make my rounds, taking photos of the emerging works of art and demanding that my own children, "Look at me and SMILE!" as they lick frosting off their fingers and nibble from their bowls of candy. I am called back to my post as the artists begin to demand more "glue" to continue work on their elegant sugar mansions. 
  I am happy to spend much of the party in that space: facilitating the fun. And, I get to sample all the savory pot-luck delights. My favorite: Sheila's hot spinach and artichoke dip that she serves with Triscuit crackers every year. The crusty, gooey edges from it baking in the oven are what really get me. Sheila's recipe is perfect for a crowd- a piping hot centerpiece in the middle of an array of offerings from salsa and chips, carrot and celery crudite, basic cheese and crackers, etc. In my opinion, this hot appetizer is always the star of the show. 
  I devour a few crackers smothered with the spinach, artichoke and parmesan combination and wash it down with the rest of my glass of wine and then it's back to work. More requests for filled frosting bags! At this point, the demands for additional frosting are from the die-hard adults who are looking to finish their houses and drive home before dark. The kids have abandoned their work to run around the yard, sugar coursing through their veins. I can hear them yelling as they kick around the soccer ball, the sun setting off on the horizon. The table where they were sitting is now a war zone of candy and wrappers but their work is pretty impressive. Some houses are a bit more refined and some a little haphazard but all of the kids are proud of their gingerbread art and so happy to be together, shouting, laughing and eating way too much candy just a few days before Christmas. 
  Of course, this December, I am missing this party oh so much. I look back on the photos I have taken year after year. It's amazing how much the kids have grown up, how lucky we are to have these close friends. The other day, Declan emerged from his room, dragged himself away from his xbox game which he would much rather do than hang out with mom and her friends now that he is fourteen. So, I was surprised when he asked for a gingerbread house this year. "Because we can't go to Sheila's", he stated sadly. This is the kid who would eat a bowl full of M&M's, attach about three pieces of candy to the side of the house, then call it quits before he went outside for the rest of the party leaving me to finish decorating his gingerbread house so that he would have something to bring home. I was never quite sure how he felt about participating especially as he became a teenager, always acting awkward when we arrived and seemingly just going through the motions unlike Ava who couldn't wait to create a magical candy abode and giggle and hang out with her friends. But he must have a warm place in his heart for this annual occasion, even hanging out with his older sister and her pals, the little kids running around and the older ladies hunched over their creations. It is truly a party that celebrates creativity, camaraderie and CANDY. 
  I don't want to talk about "pivots" and "new normals" because I'm truly hoping that this year is a one-off, not to be repeated in any shape or form. I'm looking forward to gathering in a tight space, elbow to elbow, kids and adults laughing and munching candy (and adults drinking plenty of wine!). Sticky fingers and frosting all over the front of my favorite green sweater. We will build colossal gingerbread dwellings and I will devour an enormous amount of warm spinach and artichoke dip. Until then we continue to stay safe and warm while we dream of next year. We do our best to celebrate this holiday season minus some of our favorite traditions. The kids will decorate gingerbread at home and I will bake my own version of my dear friend's spinach and artichoke dip.

Warm Spinach and Artichoke Dip
(Serves 6-8)

2 tablespoons butter
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 small jalapeno, diced fine
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
5 oz. frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
6 oz. cream cheese
2 tablespoons Hellman's Mayonnaise
1/2 cup (divided) grated parmesan cheese

Chips, Triscuits, for serving

Melt butter in an oven proof skillet on medium heat. Cook garlic cloves until softened. Add jalapeno, artichoke hearts, spinach, salt, pepper and cream cheese. Stir while cream cheese softens. Once all ingredients are incorporated and cream cheese has melted, add Hellman's Mayonnaise and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese. Mix to incorporate. Top mixture with remaining 1/4 cup parmesan cheese. Broil until dip is browned on top. Remove from oven and serve warm with chips, crackers, etc.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Sunshine Cake

  There was a period of time, at least a few months and maybe even an entire year during the four years I spent at Falmouth High School, when I ate a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread and drank a carton of chocolate milk every day at lunch. I wanted nothing to do with the daily offerings from the public-school lunch menu. In the 1980's, items such as the greasy Steak-umm with melted orange American cheese on a sesame seeded sub roll, made ahead and wrapped in foil and saucy/soggy meatball subs were teenage favorites. And let's not forget the square slice of pizza served every Friday that never delivered on taste although out of the three items, I thought it looked half way decent enough until the day one of my table mates placed a stack of flimsy paper napkins on top of his slice to absorb all the oil before he shoveled it down and got up to buy another. No, there would not be any school lunch purchases made by me for the entire four years of my high school "career". 
  However, there were some sugary sweet items that caught my attention while I was purchasing my daily dairy. I have an enormous sweet tooth. How could I resist those impossibly huge sheet cakes topped with inches of frosting and decorated with sprinkles? My friends may have gravitated toward the Peanut Butter Crunchie bars and the assorted shakes: chocolate, vanilla or coffee, depending on the day, but I didn't have time for such nonsense. Of course, if I happened to have packed some of Val's chocolate chip cookies, toffee bars or any other baked item from her arsenal, my eyes did not wander. No one, nowhere could ever compete with her homemade sweets. But, believe it or not, there were times when the cupboard at home was bare, her children having devoured every last sugary crumb. Instead, she sent me to school with a few dollars and told me to, "Buy dessert."
 The chocolate sheet cake never did it for me. The chocolate wasn't chocolaty enough and the frosting tasted like whipped sugar air as I am sure that making a pure buttercream would have wrecked the public-school cafeteria budget. After sampling that cake once, I gave up on it and instead often chose a Peggy Lawton Brownie: super fudgy goodness packed into a dense 3"x3" pre-wrapped square.
 Anything with chocolate has always been my go-to. I must have been convinced by my bestie, Jenny that the yellow cake layered with white frosting, adorned with yellow and orange sanding sugar was even worth a bite. That square slice perched on the flimsy white cardboard just big enough for an individual serving almost toppling over from its own weight? I don't know. And the name? Sunshine Cake. Seriously? Jenny ate a lot of junk food, but I trusted her judgement when it came to sweets. After all, she spent so much time at my house that she knew of the high standards established by Val in the baking department.
  So, on one of the days when I did not have a home baked dessert and Sunshine Cake adorned the menu, I purchased a slice. And I can tell you that it was awesome. Two moist layers of soft yellow cake, fluffy white frosting, the top encrusted with bright yellow and orange sprinkles. I never looked at yellow cake with white frosting the same way, again.
  Years later, in my quest to find a yellow scratch cake recipe that is moist and light, I have baked quite a few clunkers. Most them have been dense and dry. Not at all like my memories of the legendary, elusive 1980's Sunshine Cake. Whenever I come across a recipe that looks promising, I try it out but have been sorely disappointed. My family still eats the cake and enjoys it enough but to me, it's never been quite right. Not until now. 

FOOD52 has excellent recipes, especially the nostalgic type. This one for "Yellowest Yellow Cake with Fudgy Chocolate Frosting" already looked promising to me considering the amount of fat and eggs listed in the ingredients. Don't freak out! Cake is supposed to be decadent and this one is so moist and delicious, you won't care about the indulgence.

Sunshine Cake
(makes a 6"x 8.5" layer cake)

cooking spray
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cold, cubed
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric (for yellow color)
3/4 cups canola oil
4 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2 cups buttermilk, room temperature

  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12"x 17" half sheet pan (jelly roll pan) with cooking spray. Line the bottom with parchment paper and spray the parchment paper. Sprinkle with flour and tap around to cover entire inside of pan. Toss any extra flour and set aside.
  Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and turmeric in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and set to medium-low. Let that go until the butter is completely incorporated and the mixture is pale yellow. Meanwhile, combine all remaining ingredients in a separate bowl and mix well with a fork or whisk. 
  With the mixer on low, slowly pour in the wet ingredients. Stop after a few minutes to scrape the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula and make sure the dry ingredients are not clumping. Mix until the batter is cohesive and smooth.
  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth out to edges. Bake for 20-22 minutes until the edges are golden and a pick inserted into the center comes out clean. 
  Cool in the pan on a wire rack. Allow cake to cool completely (at least a few hours) before frosting.Loosen the edges of the cake with a knife and gently flip the cake onto a cutting board. Remove the parchment. 
  Measure 8.5" on the long side of the cake and cut a horizontal straight line to create 2 layers. Place one layer on cake plate and frost the top with half of the frosting (recipe below). Top with second layer and the rest of the frosting. Generously sprinkle cake with yellow and orange sanding sugar or yellow and orange sprinkles or all of the above to create a glorious Sunshine Cake! Keep covered and enjoy for up to 5 days, if it lasts that long.

White Frosting

1 1/2 cups butter, softened
1/2 cup Crisco
4 cups powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
approx. 3 tablespoons milk, room temperature

  Combine butter and Crisco until smooth in the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment. Slowly, add 3 cups sugar, a cup at a time. Add salt and vanilla. Add 1-2 tablespoons milk. Slowly add the last cup of sugar. Combine until smooth. If the frosting is too thick to spread, add approximately 1 tablespoon more milk until desired consistency is reached. Use immediately.

*Wilton Sanding Sugar was used on the cake in the photograph


Thursday, September 10, 2020

September's Favorite Sandwich


At the beginning of August, I am dying for some garden tomatoes. They seem to come in at a snail's pace, one maybe two, here and there. Slowly ripening, so slow. As the first fruits ripen in Val's garden, I covet them. Then when she begins to give me a few at a time, I hoard them and hide them from the rest of my family. Eating them when no one else is home to ask me what I am having for lunch.

September sneaks up on us just before Labor Day and tomatoes are everywhere. Val drops them off at my house bags at a time, when I am not home. So, I can't object by protesting that I already have way too many to eat.They soften so fast in the big bowl on my kitchen table. Displayed as the centerpiece instead of a vase full of flowers. 

Getting creative is the only way to trudge through the abundance of tomato season. I roast them with olive oil, a pinch each of salt and sugar, maybe some balsamic vinegar, rosemary or thyme. There is always the easy side dish, Caprese Salad: slices of tomatoes and mozzarella with basil leaves layered in between. But neither of these options make up a rounded out meal requiring extra thought in these last lazy days of summer leading into the school year. 

If September was a sandwich, it would most definitely be a B.L.T. Piled ridiculously high with sliced red, ripe Beefsteak tomatoes rendering it nearly impossible to eat and making the tomato it's star. It should be called, T.B.L. (Tomato, bacon and lettuce sandwich). Sturdy white bread is a must. I prefer thinly sliced sourdough or pain de mie from the local French bakery. A smear of Hellman's mayonnaise is a lovely addition in most cases and necessary as this sandwich needs something to bring the crunchy green lettuce and salty bacon together with the show stopping acidity of the tomatoes. But I prefer  a sandwich spread with a little more personality. It's actually Hellman's, lemon juice and another summer favorite: basil. So simple, it can be thrown together in a flash in a food processor. Make a larger batch than what you need and you can use it for a vegetable dip or put it on any sandwich to add character and zip.

If you aren't totally sick of tomatoes by the end of September, then you haven't had your fill. I suggest you take a trip to your local farm stand or farmers' market, STAT. Fill a bag with all the colors of the heirlooms: yellow, orange, red and pink. Pick up a loaf of freshly baked bread. Eat this for B.L.D. (breakfast, lunch and dinner) for the rest of the week. Only then will you be ready for fall to arrive and finally become tired of tomato season.

B.L.T. (Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich)

(Serves about 4)

1-2 large Beefsteak or or other locally grown tomatoes, sliced

6 leaves of Green Leaf or other locally grown lettuce

sliced sourdough or other favorite white sandwich style bread

cooked bacon slices 

Lemon Basil Mayonnaise (see recipe)



Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with tinfoil, long enough to reach over each edge. Spread out bacon in an even layer over the tinfoil. Place bacon in oven.

While the bacon is cooking, slice the tomatoes. Wash and thoroughly dry the lettuce. Place bread slices in a dish (up to eight for four sandwiches). Make the Lemon Basil Mayonnaise. 

Frequently check the bacon. After about 10 minutes, move bacon around sheet with tongs if some pieces are baking faster than others. Flip slices if undersides need browning. The bacon should only take about 15 minutes to cook and can go from slightly browned to burned in a matter of minutes. Once desired browning is achieved, gently remove from oven as not to splatter bacon grease. Remove each bacon slice to a plate lined with paper towel to absorb excess grease.

Once the bacon has cooled to room temperature, place slices on a clean plate. Serve all components of sandwich: tomatoes, lettuce, bread, bacon, Lemon Basil Mayonnaise, salt and pepper so that everyone can make their own.

Lemon Basil Mayonnaise

(makes about 1 cup)

3/4 cup Hellman's Mayonnaise

1/4 cup sour cream

juice from 1/2 lemon

1 handful of fresh basil leaves

2 shakes hot sauce (I use Tabasco)



Place mayonnaise, sour cream and lemon juice in a food processor. Roughly chop the basil leaves and add to mayonnaise, etc. Add the Tabasco and blend until the basil turns into tiny specks. Taste and add salt and pepper. Blend again. Refrigerate Lemon Basil Mayonnaise until ready to use and up to one week.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Falmouth Road Race 2020

black t-shirt, racing number


This August, instead of moving cones, directing runners, folding t-shirts, greeting VIP’s and generally running around putting out fires, I will be a participant in the Falmouth Road Race. This is not at all what I expected the end of the summer 2020 to look like for me. I am sure that most people are saying the same thing, our lives having been upended by COVID-19 and all the changes that we have been forced to make. In fact, back in February, I was asked before being offered my new job if I ran the Falmouth Road Race? To which I replied, “I have but I am never running that race again!” I immediately regretted blurting out my true feelings until I was told that my answer was pretty much what they were looking for as race organizers have no time to even think about participating in the Falmouth Road Race during the madness of race weekend.

I pride myself in handling crazy, busy situations from working in retail during the height of Christmas season and at a more recent job, corralling customers at the Street Fair held on Main Street in July so, I was actually looking forward to an insane week of working the Expo, the race and the aftermath and of course, lots of t-shirt folding. When Falmouth Road Race made the decision to move to a virtual event that would invite runners to participate “At-Home” instead of organizing the logistics of getting 12,800 runners to the starting line in Woods Hole on the second Sunday in August, everyone on the team decided that we could "run" this year and wouldn’t it be fun to actually be a part of it? Yes, that idea was “fun” in April. Training or should I say, dragging my body through barely four miles, hoping I will eventually be able to do the required seven in the August heat is a special type of torture. Now, I remember why I said to my future boss, “I am never running that race, again!” I should have known those words would come back to haunt me.

 The first time I ran, I truly did not know much about the race other than the crowds clogging the streets along the shore and having to leave for work earlier than any other summer morning to ensure that I would arrive in time for my shift at a busy restaurant in Woods Hole located right on the starting line. I am sure my friends and I all thought it would be a great idea to run the Falmouth Road Race when we mailed our applications in February of 1986. It is likely that we planned to run it together not thinking about how we would coordinate our hectic summer work schedules and convince our bosses to give us that Sunday morning off during one of the most insane weekends of the season. The restaurants and resorts needed all hands on deck to accommodate the crowds that invaded the town for race weekend. I was still unsure if I was actually going to run the race at all coming into the month of August. I worked a lot of hours as part of the kitchen staff and I was often so tired when I wasn’t at work on my feet all day that I didn’t run at all that summer. Not that I especially liked to run, anyway.

When one of the cooks who worked with me started spouting off about running the race, I casually mentioned that I had a number and was thinking about doing it, as well. He was so glib and cocky that I ended up being swept up into the kitchen banter that night and somehow agreed to a bet to see who would run the race faster. What was I thinking? Since I had never run the route before or even ran seven miles together at one time, I really don’t know what possessed me to say anything about it.

My boss pulled me aside between orders and yelled into my ear to be heard over the hood fan sucking all the smoke and hot air out of the kitchen.

“You better kick his ass” she hissed in my ear. "And you have to wear one of our t-shirts."

There would be no backing out now.

I was nervous that morning, afraid I wouldn’t make it to the finish line, forget beating that arrogant cook in the race. But I had a few aces in my pocket: I was only seventeen, just home from a week of field hockey camp where we sprinted and ran miles every day, all day from 8:00 am-8:00 pm and I didn’t drink lots of beer after working a fifteen hour shift like the older, college age cooks in the kitchen.

We ran slowly at the start, jockeying between bodies trying to find some space to open up a longer stride. Then, once we neared the lighthouse, he turned to me and said, “Don’t try and keep up with me!” and sprinted ahead into the crowd of runners. I was stunned. I guess I thought he would run with me for a while, the bet only a joke, a way to pass the time at work.

So, I ran and took in the scenery, trying to figure out how far and long I had to go. I was a little scared but comforted myself with the idea that there were so many people running and cheering on the sidelines that it would all work out. Then, into about the second mile, I saw him up ahead. I began to feel good, even strong. I knew in that moment I could take him and beat him to the finish line. Especially since he chose to wear work boots to run seven miles. As I came up behind him, I yelled, “Don’t try to keep up with ME!” and sprinted ahead so that I was no longer near him.

The story of my first race ends with a crazy busy summer night in the kitchen back at work that evening. (No, we could not get the entire day off.) And me collecting on the bet I didn’t think I could possibly win.  For my prize, he bought me a handle of vodka and the biggest bottle of Peach Schnapps they had on the shelves at the Woods Hole Liquor store. Fuzzy Navels and Sex on the Beach drinks were all the rage but I had never had one back then. Just as well, my best friend’s older sister and her friends commandeered the booze for an after work party before I was forced to figure out what to do with it.

The weather was typical for a Sunday in mid-August that year: hot, humid and sunny. But on occasion there have been some tough conditions. Fortunately, I didn't personally have to deal with them. My friends and I became huge fans of the party scene on Road Race Sunday and it certainly helped that one of my closest pals lived just behind the ball field at the finish line. That was my experience of Road Race until the year that I agreed to run with my then fiancĂ© and soon to be husband. In 1999 it rained like crazy on Saturday night into Sunday morning. But the race was still on in spite of the deluge. My father’s truck tires splashed water over the windshield from the enormous puddles that had formed all night as he drove us to our impending doom at the crack of dawn on race day. When we arrived at the starting line and we hopped out of the truck to join the thousands of already drenched runners, I stupidly declined the black trash bag he offered to keep me dry.

Of course I did it, I’m not one to give up but I really didn’t want to run. I knew within minutes waiting in the coral at the start that I would soon be soaking wet and miserable. I don’t even like to run through a hose held from a ladder, showering runners as they go by on the sunniest and hottest race day. About 3.5 miles in, half the race through, along Surf Drive Beach, I just wanted to stop. The water had flooded this stretch of road so it felt like trudging through knee deep water in the ocean located just feet away. But if you’ve ever run Falmouth before, you know if you made it that far, you might as well keep going. There was no sense in throwing it away at that point regardless of the horrible circumstances.

The rest of the 7 miles was as cold and miserable as anyone can imagine. Rivers of water pooled in the streets. Soaking wet spectators cheered us on as it continued to rain throughout the morning. When I heard my father in his orange rain gear and my mother under her yellow striped umbrella yelling our names as we rounded the bend at Scranton Ave. and Robbins Rd. (behind the 7-11), I knew I didn’t have far to go and all I could think about was a hot shower and dry clothes. Finally we climbed the last hill and crossed the finish line. I don’t even think we tried to wait under the tent on the ball field to grab a hot dog before we made a beeline for our car parked conveniently at our faithful friend’s house on North Grand Ave. where the party had already begun before the starting gun went off in Woods Hole.

I got my shower and warm clothes then cruised on back to the party which I should have left early but I know I didn’t. (I always took the following Monday off from work ;)) But I vowed, and I have kept it until this year, to never ever run that race again!

racing bibs

When DeKuyper Peach Schnapps became all the rage in the 1980's, Fuzzy Navel, Sex on the Beach and the Woo-Woo were popular drinks served at the huge post race parties held at the Wharf overlooking the Heights beach at the Falmouth Road Race finish line. These cocktails are various combinations of vodka, peach schnapps and fruit juice (orange or cranberry) and way too sweet for me. They will also give you a killer hangover! Here is an updated version of the Woo-Woo which was served as a shot. The addition of lime juice makes it less sweet and creates the perfect post race celebration cocktail! 

woo-woo martini in a short cocktail glass


Woo-Woo Martini

(Makes one)


2 oz. vodka

½ oz. peach schnapps

2 oz. cranberry juice

¼ oz. lime juice

lime wedge (for garnish)


Fill a shaker with ice. Add vodka, peach schnapps, cranberry juice and lime juice. Shake well, until chilled. Pour into chilled martini glass and garnish with lime. Sip and enjoy!


Sunday, August 2, 2020

Where's the Zucchini?

green zucchini held in front of garden patch

A contest is held every year at the Barnstable County Fair to see who can grow the largest zucchini. A first prize ribbon is bestowed upon the grandest of the green fruit. There are no other awards, no second place. You are either the biggest and the best or you are out of luck.

There are a lot of people on facebook showing off their zucchini harvest. The squash piled high, photographed on a kitchen counter, bad lighting and poor composition. The text imploring fb friends to send along their favorite recipes. I have a few recipes. But I don't have any zucchini.

I planted seeds early, in April. They did well in their flats and I transferred them to my small garden plot on the back side of my house where the sun shines all day. The plants seem to be thriving, covered in bright orange blossoms sheltered by massive green, fan shaped leaves. Where is the zucchini? I have yet to reap the benefits of babying these plants. Maybe not babying them, but watering them and shooing the dog away. That and keeping a vigilant eye for any pests who may invade. I once had a battle with a zucchini worm. I don't like to talk about it. Not only was it devastating but it was so gross, it makes me want to gag just thinking about it. So, I look under those big leaves everyday, searching for signs of hope but I haven't seen anything promising, yet.

Val has a good crop of zucchini this year but it's not yielding an overabundance. She gave me a pretty big zucchini which I promptly used in one of my favorite summertime recipes: Chocolate Zucchini Cake. Served warm and topped with vanilla ice cream or cut into small squares for my beach cooler, it really is one of the best chocolate cakes, ever. And it's one way to get my fourteen year old carnivore to eat some vegetables.

A tart made with a crisp biscuit dough filled with ricotta and Parmesan cheeses and topped with a layer or zucchini and/or yellow summer squash seems to please everyone and looks pretty impressive, especially if you are bringing it to a party. I've made other versions of this zucchini tart idea based on a classic one from Ina Garten. Crust, cheese and just a little vegetable, how can you go wrong?

Of course, there are methods of cooking zucchini that can go terribly wrong, in my opinion. Zucchini was a tough sell back in the 1980's when every restaurant on the Cape offered it as the classic summer vegetable side to accompany dinnertime entrees. Cooked ahead of time in large hotel pans, steamed with summer squash, carrots and sliced onions. "Summer Vegetable Medley" was scooped and served in white monkey dishes alongside expensive grilled swordfish steaks and filet mignon. Soggy and lackluster, I'll pass, thanks.

But by far the best recipe and one that is not often considered because of the work involved is Zucchini Relish. The recipe comes to us by way of Norma, my grandfather's second wife and her cousin Elmira from Lubec, ME. These women knew how to put up vegetables and in spite of the heat from the canning pot and the amount of chopping and salting, they managed to preserve just about anything that came out of a summer garden. I must admit that I didn't really like this relish until recent years. I was not a fan of the sweeter pickled taste. Maybe it's the bright yellow/green color or the appreciation of the effort, there is truly nothing better than smothering a grilled hot dog with this magical concoction of zucchini and spices.

I'm impatiently waiting and inspecting every morning with my coffee in hand. Hoping for enough zucchini for a batch of Zucchini Relish. There are a lot of buds that have yet to open hiding under those big leaves. Who knows, maybe I'll get enough from my harvest, when it finally comes, for two batches of relish this year.


jars of zucchini relish and cucumber pickles

Zucchini Relish

(makes about eight 8 oz. jars)


10 cups cubed zucchini (smaller than 1/8" cubes)*

4 cups finely chopped onion

5 tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 teaspoons celery seed

1 red pepper, diced (smaller than 1/8" cubes)

1 green pepper, diced (smaller than 1/8" cubes)

5 cups sugar

1 teaspoon black pepper**

1 tablespoon turmeric

2 1/4 cups vinegar


Combine zucchini, onion and salt in a large bowl. Set aside for 3 hours. 

Drain thoroughly in a strainer by pushing water out with hands. Combine drained zucchini and onions with all other ingredients: cornstarch-vinegar in a large stockpot. Bring mixture to a boil then turn down heat to simmer for 30 minutes. Ladle zucchini mixture into prepared sterilized jars. Wipe rims and threads with a clean, damp towel. Place sterilized lids and rings on jars. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove processed relish jars to rest on clean towels on counter top overnight. The next day, test seals. If seals are tight, store in a cool dry place for up to one year.


*The original recipe notes suggest a choice of cubed or shredded zucchini

**1 teaspoon black pepper "2 if you like!" noted on original recipe card


Val usually doubles this recipe as it is a lot of work and everyone likes to receive a jar for Christmas!


Canning Basics:

-Use new canning jars and lids. Re-using rings is fine.

-Sterilize all by running through a dishwasher cycle or placing washed jars, lids and rings in boiling water for 10 minutes. 

-After placing filled jars in canning pot, bring water to a full boil, then time for 10 minutes. Be sure the water covers all jars with at least 1 inch of water during the process. 

-Gently remove processed jars after water has stopped boiling (wait 5 minutes) then place on clean, dry towels on counter top. 

-Do not disturb jars for at least 8 hours.

-To check seals, remove ring, lift up gently on edges of lid. If lid stays secure, it is sealed properly and can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to one year. If lid pops off, refrigerate jar and use within one week.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Frozen Treats and Sweet Friendship

chocolate and vanilla ice cream sandwiches on a white plate

"The most underrated ice cream treat is the ice cream sandwich. They are soooo good!" -Ava Norris

 I agree. I love a soft chocolate wafer cookie with creamy, melty ice cream. I love that as I smoosh the two cookie layers together, the ice cream, if melted to the right consistency,  pushes itself out along the edges so that I can lick it off until finally, there is no ice cream left between the two cookies. At that point, the cookie layers have become soft, they are thin enough to be pliable and as they are sticking to my fingers, I try to slowly savor the chocolaty goodness before the cookies completely disintegrate in my hands.

It just so happens Food and Wine magazine this month has a feature recipe recreating this favorite frozen treat. This version includes the recipe for a cookie that is both crisp enough and has the ability to become perfectly softened as the ice cream melts between the layers. And to top it off, it does not require that I churn my own gourmet ice cream. In fact, the ice cream component listed in the ingredients is none other than one of my absolute favorites, Cherry Garcia.

Way back during my first two years in the early fall weeks at the University of New Hampshire, my friend Holly and I would abandon the institutional food at the dining hall for two heaping scoops of Ben & Jerry's ice cream doled out from a single freezer case by some upper class man who knew Holly's older sister. Perhaps he had a crush on Holly or was trying to impress her sister, those small plastic cups could barely hold the portions he jammed into them. This ice cream paradise was a hidden gem, located in a small convenience store on the outskirts of campus. But Holly could always find the ice cream as if she had an internal GPS tracking for the icy sweet goodness.

My choice of Cherry Garcia and Chocolate Fudge Brownie and Holly's: Cherry Garcia and Peanut Butter Cup was a splurge for us. We had to scrounge loose dollar bills and change. I think the portions cost $4.00 each which back then equaled four loads of laundry, running at four quarters a load. Wearing old t-shirts and not wearing socks for a week was a small price to pay. I loved escaping the structure of classes, studying and schedules for a few hours of freedom. Our friendship growing through our appreciation of really good ice cream.

We pulled our ratty sweatshirt sleeves over our hands to protect our fingers that were becoming red with cold and walked faster as we gossiped and ate, making a big loop around campus taking us past Frat Row, up by the clock tower of Thompson Hall, the dorms farthest out, (I don't recall the names) and finally back to our rooms at Hitchcock Hall. Our hall mates asking why we missed dinner and where we had been until it became a normal occurrence for me and Holly to disappear for a couple of hours every week. Ice cream hasn't tasted so rebellious, secret and special for a long, long time.

My new partner in crime is nearing the age I was during those clandestine ice cream adventures. Ava knows really good ice cream, small batch, made in gourmet shops and scooped to order. But she won't turn up her nose at a treat from the ice cream man. Even if it is artificially died cream substitute wrapped in paper and served on a stick. Nothing goes better with salt, sand and sea with the sun beating down, melting it all over your hands and arms. In the summertime, Ava scoops ice cream in a small shop down the street. At the end of her shift, she gets to choose some for herself. I admire her flavor experiments: Red Razz Truffle and Cookie Dough, Chocolate Peanut Butter and Black Raspberry. Fruity and creamy with candy and crunch. I couldn't have chosen better myself.

Ice Cream Sandwiches
(Adapted only slightly from "Black Cherry-Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwiches"-Food & Wine Magazine, June 2020)

1 1/4 cups flour, plus more for rolling
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon instant coffee
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 quart of your favorite ice cream

Stir together flour, cocoa, salt and baking powder in a medium bowl; set aside. Beat butter, sugar, instant coffee in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. With mixer running, add egg, beating until well combined, about 30 seconds. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 2 hours or up to 3 days.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll dough out sandwiched between two large pieces of parchment paper. Use a small amount of flour, if needed to prevent sticking. Trim to a 13"x 10" rectangle (bake scraps on another cookie sheet and devour later). Slide trimmed rectangle with parchment underneath onto a cookie sheet and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Remove dough rectangle from refrigerator. Using the blunt end of a wooden skewer, prick holes all over dough about 1/4 inch apart. Bake in preheated oven until set but still soft, about 9-11 minutes. Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack and let cookie cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Cut cookie crosswise into 2 rectangles. Invert one cookie half onto a large sheet of tinfoil. Top with ice cream, spreading evenly to edges. Place remaining cookie half (do not invert) on top of ice cream. Wrap the whole thing in foil and freeze for 8 hours.

Remove frozen sandwich from foil. Cut into 12 bars. Serve immediately or wrap individual bars in wax paper and store in freezer for as long as you can keep them a secret or up to one month.