Sunday, February 11, 2018

Flower Day

heart sugar cookies with pink frosting

  A version of this story appeared in the Falmouth Bulletin, February 2008

  The teenage years were the worst: full of unrequited love and hormonally charged crushes on fellows who did not even know of my existence let alone my name. A long tradition at Falmouth High School always magnified my feelings of lovelessness and teen angst.  The kind illustrated so well in all of those John Hughes movies of the 1980’s, like "Pretty in Pink" and "Sixteen Candles". I'm pretty sure it was called, “Flower Day”-the Honor Society raised money by selling flowers during the week before “Black Friday” as my friend Ted put it, so pained by this event that he actually remembers that it was on a Friday in 1986.  You could choose a red carnation for love, pink for like and yellow/white for friendship.  According to my sister Karyn, there was some unwritten rule that red was reserved for official boyfriends/girlfriends, but I don’t remember that. The flowers were distributed during home room on Valentines Day.  I was always among those who ended up in a cold sweat as the smug delivery geek called out the worthy people’s names in the front of the entire classroom. All the world would be a twitter as no one “knew” who sent the flowers until they got an opportunity between classes to visit the six foot table manned by the Honor Society and payed a dollar (double dipping??) to receive the message attached to the flower order.  Scandals were abundant, as they always are during the high school years.  My friend Debbie recalls a fight between two suitors who both sent her red carnations (ignoring Karyn’s rule mentioned above).  It ended in the much smaller of the two being thrown down the stairs into House B cafeteria.  Her boyfriend at the time, who did not send her any flowers and was not bothered by the suitors at all, seems to have won in the end as he is now her husband.
  If Flower Day caused stress, there was something at home that made it better.  My mother, Val chose funny cards that she placed at each of our chairs at the dinner table.  (At least my parents loved me during those awkward years!) She also made her traditional heart cookies.  She sent us to school during all of our elementary years with enough for our entire class of the yummy heart cut out sugar cookies covered in light pink frosting with a single red hot in the middle for extra flair.  As the years went on, she made two sizes of hearts, some small and some large to fit any appetite and left a few unfrosted for my father, Dick who never liked things to be too sweet. I could always count on those melt in your mouth cookies stored in the large square Tupperware on the kitchen counter to make me feel the world was still o.k. after a long day of teenage drama.
 Valentines day in 1987, my senior year of high school, was on a Saturday. (Don’t worry, Flower Day still happened on Friday the 13th!)  It was icy, cold and snowy as the month of February in New England can often be. Earlier that evening, I had been to a party with my best girlfriends: Jen and Jenny.  It was pretty uneventful. The only thing I recall about the soiree was the family dog.  It had 3 legs and we called him,“Tripod”. Around midnight I was home and standing in the kitchen with Val who was made sure she was awake to see that we arrived home safely and in the proper state.  As I talked about the night, the past week, whatever (it didn’t really matter), I savored those divine heart cookies out of the square tupperware and drank a large glass of cold milk while Val listened and enjoyed her usual: specially made hot cocoa with semi-sweet cocoa and milk. The comforts of home trump a wilted carnation any day.

Valentine's Day Heart Cookies
(Cut Out Sugar Cookies)
(makes about 48)

2 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

  Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.  Using a stand mixer, beat butter and sugar, well.  Add eggs and vanilla and mix until light and fluffy.  Add flour mixture and mix until combined.  Shape dough into 2 disks.  Wrap disks in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 1 hour.
  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Roll out small portions of dough on a lightly floured board to 1/8" thick.  Cut cookie shapes using well floured cookie cutters and place on parchment or silicone mat lined baking sheets.  Bake for 8-10 minutes until edges of cookies just begin to turn golden.  Remove from pan onto wire racks to cool.  Repeat process with remaining dough.  Cool cookies completely before frosting.  

Frosting for Sugar Cookies
(makes enough to frost one batch)

2 tablespoons softened butter
2 cups confectioner's sugar
about 2 tablespoons milk, room temperature

optional: red food coloring, assorted sprinkles

  Combine butter and 1/2 cup sugar using a stand mixer.  Slowly, add 1-2 teaspoons milk and alternate with remaining sugar and milk until desired frosting consistency is achieved.  If it's too runny, add a little more sugar, too stiff, add a drop or two of milk.  Add a few drops of food coloring and mix well.  Frost cookies and add sprinkles on top immediately before frosting sets.  Allow frosting to harden overnight before storing cookies in an airtight container. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

French Toast with Vanilla Bourbon Sauce and Caramelized Bananas

French Toast with Vanilla Bourbon Sauce and Caramilized Bananas

 School for Thursday was cancelled the night before based on the weather forecast of heavy, wet snow and wind gusts of potentially 70 mph.  However, the predicted snowfIall of up to a foot for the upper Cape (Falmouth, Bourne, Mashpee, Sandwich and parts of Barnstable) was right on the line.  The snow/rain/sleet line that had already moved considerably in the last 24 hours from just south of Boston to our neck of the woods.  On Wednesday morning, the weather people were predicting all rain for the Cape and Islands, anything north of Plymouth county would be walloped with snow, now they were changing their predictions about every five minutes and I swear one of them said, "Boston may get anywhere from 8 to 12 inches and as for Cape Cod, we really don't know at this time." Considering the wavering snow lines and clearly defeated weather channel personnel, I decided to consult my own personal weather guru.  I texted Val.
  "We are right on the storm line.  "Wiggle" is the watchword."  she texted.
 Great.  Even my oracle was at a loss when it came to predicting this storm.  Meanwhile, all the news stations and the Weather Channel continued to throw out phrases and words such as "Blizzard of 2018" and "bombogenesis".  Winter storm "Grayson" was looking like quite a nuisance and potentially dangerous.
  Of course, with these types of forecasts, the supermarket shelves looked like Armageddon.  Not a loaf of bread to be found and gallons of milk were at a premium.  People scrambled to gas up their cars and numerous additional tanks.  Generators were tested and retested and tested, again.  As for my part, considering I keep an additional refrigerator well stocked and numerous pantry items on hand including instant coffee for when the power goes out (I can still light my gas stove to heat up the water.) and my car's gas tank was already full from my weekly fill-up, I was not in as much of a panic as the rest of the town of Falmouth.  Oh, I was full of dread, anticipating downed wires from the high winds, but that was about it.  I did make my way through the grocery store but only for some extra eggs, bacon, maple syrup and a big, sturdy loaf of day old bread.  I was armed and ready.
  I woke up early on Thursday and immediately pulled the curtains to look out the window.  Nothing.  But I know better.  In an instant, the winds can pick up, roads can turn to ice and a light rain can become a white out of snow and fog.  As the day progressed, the rain fell.  The wind did howl and the lights flickered enough to make me flinch.  Everytime the kids said, "Mom, the lights just blinked!", I hushed them as if not mentioning it would make the power stay on.  I finally managed to keep those kids quiet with French toast smothered in maple syrup and creamy, vanilla bourbon sauce.  Although I am the only one who ate the carmelized bananas, they were intrigued by my use of the kitchen torch.  We stayed in our p.j's for most of the day and watched recordings of our favorite shows.  And as for "Grayson", she reaked havoc with coastal flooding and farther north, brought down heavy snowfall.  But I would like to let the weatherpeople know that I think that using a term like "bombogenesis" may have been a tad too dramatic to describe a little winter Nor'easter on Cape Cod.  Perhaps they will consult me next time when they really don't have a clue about the weather on the Cape.

French Toast withVanilla Bourbon Sauce and Caramelized Bananas
(Serves 4)

For the French Toast:
5 eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup brown sugar
8 thick slices day old bread such as Italian or challah

For the Vanilla Bourbon Sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon bourbon 
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons vanilla

2-3 bananas

optional: maple syrup

  Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  Combine eggs, 1 1/4 cups milk, cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar.  Heat a griddle on medium high.  Dunk and submerge slices of bread on both sides to absorb egg mixture.  Use butter or cooking spray to grease griddle.  Place egged bread slices on griddle and allow to cook until lightly browned on one side, about 3 minutes.  Flip slices and brown on the other side.  Remove browned slices of French toast onto a cookie sheet and place in warmed oven.  Repeat process until all bread has been dipped and browned.  Keep French toast warm in oven while preparing vanilla bourbon sauce.

Vanilla Bourbon Sauce

  Melt the butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat.  Add the flour and stir to combine.  Allow to cook and become light tan in color for about 2-3 minutes.  Warm the milk in a micorowave for 30 seconds.  Slowly add to butter and flour mixture while stirring to prevent lumps from forming.  Add sugar, bourbon and pinch of salt.  Stir to combine and allow to simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.  Cool for a few minutes before serving with French Toast.

To caramelize bananas:

Slice bananas on diagonal into 1 inch pieced.  Coat top and bottom with sugar.  Melt with a kitchen torch until sugar is browned and creates a hard shell.  Alternately, place sugared banana slices on a cookie sheet and broil for 3-4 minutes until browned.  Serve with French Toast, Vanilla Bourbon Sauce and maple syrup.


Saturday, December 30, 2017

New Year's Eve

 I always used to call New Year's Eve, "Amateur Night".  I couldn't stand waiting in line in the frigid cold to get into an overcrowded  bar after paying an inflated cover charge.  Battling twenty somethings who couldn't hold their liquor spilling their cosmos down my back and crying in the bathroom mirror.  After all, they weren't used to going out and having a few drinks.  And I never thought that standing in the cold with my fingers and nose freezing off waiting for a ball to drop or lights to light up to celebrate "First Night" in a crowd full of strangers would ever be any fun.  I always much preferred a house party with friends. Someplace where there were others like me who wanted to dress up in something fancy rather than a hooded parka and heavy boots and drink a toast to the New Year.  Good music, delectable treats, fancy cocktails and great fun.  I have some fantastic friends: hosts and  hostesses who know how to throw a bash. They always provide the best of times.
  There have been New Year's Eves when I had no plans, working late and getting home to a night of movie watching, junk food and pj's.  A spur of the moment invite to a tiny apartment in the top floor of a triple decker where a spirited quarter's game took over the entire room and a few guys sat on a large red cooler in the corner while their girlfriends danced to the top 100 countdown of 1997 on a boom box cranked up to ten.  And other years when we made elaborate plans such as the "Pimps and Ho's" party Rob and I threw with our upstairs neighbors in a joint double apartment house party.  Music thumping so loud, the upstairs floor shook over our heads, ridiculous costumes with feathers and leather and way too much booze to ring in the millenium.  Everyone thought all the computers would crash, there was a certain unknowing in the air and I was dressed as dominatix.  Rob getting pneumonia after too many trips outdoors to the keg for a refill in gold lame boxers and my light blue silky robe put an end to any future wintertime costume parties.  After moving back to Falmouth and realizing there was nothing much in the way of preplanned New Year's celebrations, I began to have my New Year's Day party, a solution to the anticlimactic holiday season.  Friends came over and watched bowl games all day.  They nursed their hangovers with some hair of the dog and naughty snacks such as buffalo fingers with blue cheese dip and spicy bowls of chili loaded with cheddar, sour cream and pickled jalapenos.  I cooked a lot of food and drank margaritas.  Then everyone left by the early evening.  Perfect in everyway except that the cleanup and personal recovery required that I have a full day off on January 2nd.
  This has all evolved into my current plans to ring in the New Year which involves warm slippers, some gourmet food, lots of bubbly and possibly a Scrabble game or two.  I invite my crew and now their kids, too,who run up and down the stairs shooting Nerf guns and stealing cookies.  We pour the glasses full and nibble on trays of snacks.  You can wear what you want: high heels and lipstick or pj's under your parka.  There may even be dancing during Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve as we wait for the ball to drop.  We keep the beer and proseco cold out on the deck and dunk baguette crusts into hot cheese fondue.  Guests gather around plates of sweets and gooey chocolate for dipping, a last indulgence before the resolutions kick in or lounge on the couch having just arrived home from a ski trip in negative double digit weather.  I am so glad to have them all here.  Saying, "Good bye!" to the old and ringing in the new seems so much more ceremonious when everyone is gathered together. 

Uncle Dana tries to steal a bite of Declan's chocolate fondue

Chocolate Fondue*
(Serves 6-8)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
24 oz. semi sweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla

for dipping:
pretzel rods
dried apricots
donut holes
kettle cooked potato chips

  In a medium sized saucepan, combine cocoa powder with 1/2 cup water and cook over low heat, stirring constantly for one minute.  Stir in the milk and sugar and bring to a simmer.  Add the chocolate chips and cook, stirring until the mixture is smooth, about 5 minutes.  Add vanilla and stir to combine.  Serve the fondue warm in a fondue pot along with items for dipping.

*Adapted from Rachael Ray Magazine