Saturday, April 1, 2023

I just want to say: Avocado Toast

" I just want to say: [insert thought here]" -Nora Ephron

The late, incredibly great writer and film director, Nora Ephron wrote a number of essays beginning with this phrase. It's a brilliant tool to talk/write about any random thing that is on your mind. Avocado toast has been occupying my thoughts lately. So,

 "I just want to say: Avocado Toast"

If it appears on the menu, I am always curious to see how it will be prepared. It's one of those things that can go incredibly well or be completely lackluster. So often, it disappoints. But that doesn't stop me from trying. I am an eager believer at least before my meal arrives at the table. 

Don't present me with a small bit of mashed avocado that is likely just guacamole slapped on a toasted piece of bread. Let's be creative here. After all, just because it is called, "Avocado Toast" it does not have to be just avocado smeared on a crispy vehicle. Does it?

One local breakfast restaurant serves their version with a drizzle of balsamic syrup. A nice touch. I still feel the need to add a poached egg on top to liven things up a little more. Some may say that adding embellishments to the fruit and carb combo is not true "avo" toast. I don't care. I need more excitement in my life.

Where did the idea for smearing avocado onto bread come from? Some say it was the Aztecs thousands of years ago others claim it was an Aussie restaurant entrepreneur who made this brunch staple famous. Either way, I just want to be inspired, excited to dig in to something new and different. Is that too much to ask? 

I will keep searching until I find the place that serves the ultimate Avocado Toast. Until then, like so many other things that I find to be less than stellar, I will have to create it myself. Alone in the kitchen  with my own version of a fancy avocado toast.

Avocado Toast


2/12 cups water 

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1 egg 

1 piece bread of choice

olive oil

1/2 ripe avocado

sea salt

1 wedge lemon

balsamic syrup

1 small tomato, diced (one Campari tomato is the perfect amount)

microgreen sprouts, pea shoots, etc.

black pepper

hot sauce of choice (optional)

Set a small pot of water (approximately 2 1/2 cups) on to boil. Add 1 tablespoon white vinegar. Once the pot of water comes to a boil, decrease the heat so that the water remains at a steady simmer.

Place bread in toaster and toast to desired doneness. While bread is toasting, slowly drop the egg into the simmering water. Move it gently around with a slotted spoon so that it does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Set a timer for 4 minutes. Place a folded piece of paper towel onto a small plate for when the egg has completed cooking, set aside.

Remove bread from toaster, place on serving plate and drizzle with olive oil. Slice the avocado in half and scoop out the flesh of one half. Discard the skin. Slice the avocado and fan out the slices on the toasted bread. Sprinkle with sea salt and squeeze the lemon wedge over the slices. Reserve the other half, leaving the pit intact and smear it with olive oil to help to prevent browning. Place in a covered container in the refrigerator for another use. 

After 4 minutes, check the egg for desired doneness. Remove the egg from the simmering water with a slotted spoon and place the egg on paper towel lined plate.

Drizzle the balsamic syrup over the avocado slices. Place the now dry egg onto the avocado slices. Sprinkle with sea salt and add the diced tomato over the toast. Garnish the toast with sprouts. Season with black pepper. Serve with hot sauce. Enjoy your masterpiece!

Monday, March 6, 2023

Don't Even Dream of It


Rob asks, "Can I have the last piece?" 

Audacious. Rude. Not allowed. 

It does not matter if it's the last cookie in the bottom of the container, broken edges, slightly burnt. It does not matter if the slice of cake has been sitting there, crumbling, neglected a for a few days. 

It's mine.

If I made it, it's mine.

That's the rule in this house. The same rule that was passed down by Val. There is no deviating. It is hard and fast. The only person who can lift it is the person who baked/made/created/toiled at 10pm while half asleep on a Sunday night before an early Monday morning of a long week filled with school lunches to be packed. The only person who can give the o.k. for another to eat the last morsel is the person who produced the confection in question.

"The last piece is always reserved for the cook."

Back when we were kids, my sister Karyn would try and work around this law of the land. Val would remove the last square brownie from its pan and place it in a small bowl: up in the cabinet where the clean bowls and plates were housed, as if to hide it in plain sight. This only tempted and taunted Karyn. And we all knew where the "hiding" spot was anyway.

Karyn arrived home from school in the early afternoon, teenage stomach growling. Val was likely out grocery shopping for more food to feed three always ravenous children. Home alone and feeling bold, Karyn wielded a sharp paring knife and every so deftly shaved the edges of the brownie revealing a slightly smaller version of the same sweet. The phrase, "She will never notice." floated in a thought bubble above her head as she did her dirty work then devoured the slivered morsels.

And let's just say, "Val may never have noticed." (I truly doubt it. That woman always seemed to know what was going on even when she wasn't physically present.) But Karyn could not stop there. It just wasn't enough. She continued to shave a little more and then a little more until the new brownie was so noticeably smaller than how Val had left the original, that there was going to be no way out of this egregious trespass. I can imagine it now, Val was likely thinking about savoring that brownie for a late lunch with a tall glass of cold milk once she finally got home with her multiple bags of groceries only to find that the hidden last brownie had been reduced to a miniature version so small it would not have satisfied and ant.

(Before we move on, I will need to address the elephant in the room: Yes, my mother often ate sweets in the place of actual meals claiming such illnesses as "low blood sugar" and "headaches". These medical diagnosis were never to be questioned and are still referenced today.)

I probably don't need to reveal the outcome of the clandestine brownie surgery. I mean it was obvious to all involved. And while it did not technically break the house rule, it clearly did infringe upon it. I am not sure what would have been more effective: to actually hide the last remaining sweet in a better place or to inflict a steep punishment for those who break the law. In my house, I just instill the fear of God in my loved ones which I think is appropriate for any potential transgression. You may think this to be a bit harsh. I don't. Nothing is out of bounds when it comes to protecting my chocolate, butter and sugar.

Declan will claim that even though whenever I bake a batch of these brownies, that he as the inventor and winner of a blue ribbon and Best in Show ribbon at the Barnstable County Fair in the summer of 2022, should actually be the recipient of the last piece every damn time. I politely and firmly disagree.

Reese's Dream Brownies


1 package brownie mix

9 Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (full size)

¼ cup creamy peanut butter

Preheat oven according to brownie mix package directions. 

Mix brownies according to package directions. Pour half of the batter into a greased (8 x8) pan. Place Reese’s Peanut Butter cups evenly over batter. Top with remaining batter and spread out to cover the peanut butter cups. 

Heat peanut butter in a microwave for 10 seconds. Stir to achieve an even consistency. Drop in dollops over the brownie batter. Using a knife, swirl by dragging it one way, then the opposite way across the batter. Bake brownies according to package directions. (May need to add a few minutes to baking time.)

Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.

Cut into 9 even pieces. Keep in an airtight container.

Thursday, December 29, 2022


The charm bracelets are gold. Real gold, not gold plated. They are heavy and awkward to wear. They call attention to themselves. My grandmother wore both of them at the same time. That's just the kind of lady she was.

My sister, Karyn has one and I have the other. I wear mine on special occasions mostly because it's fancy but also because it is impractical for everyday. The dangling charms constantly hook on sweater loops and get snagged on loose fabric. I love it. The charm bracelet I acquired is filled with memories of my grandmother's life as a jet-setter. The soldered tokens representing exotic cities, countries, continents she visited: Rome, Australia, Africa, Sweden....

She and her husband, Dr. Edwin P. Tripp, Jr. went on long trips around the globe and spent many of their winters in Englewood, Florida (on the west coast of the state). Upon their return, they hosted endless, drawn out slide shows in their finished basement. I don't remember much of those events except for the musty smelling carpet and that I was always bored by the scenery photos. When the projector, whirring loudly and threatening to overheat, clicked to an image showing familiar faces, I perked up but there were hardly any of those. I was a little kid after all and when I saw a blurry shot of the African plains or the Australian desert, it all seemed to blend together in my mind.

She brought collectable dolls to me and my sister from the places she went. A man and a woman in traditional African clothing (from which country, I do not know), two wooden horses from Sweden, mine is orange, a navy one for Karyn. Those are the ones that stick out in my mind, most of all for the colorful clothing and because I still have my wooden horse housed safely on a shelf above my collection of cookbooks. There is one other standout: a very small doll, dressed in a light blue gown in the style of late 18th century European royalty: tight corset, full, billowing skirt, her white doll hair fashioned into a high pouf. I was enamored of this tiny delicate figurine. Too young to understand the adults' jokes poking fun and asking why she still had a head, I thought to myself, "Of course, she had a head! Why would my grandmother ever think to bring us a broken doll with out one?"

The Marie Antionette doll must serve as evidence that my grandmother visited France and likely Paris to be exact. But there is no proof in gold. Considering that one of the most iconic and recognizable charms to ever grace a bracelet of collected memories is one shaped as the Eiffel Tower, I wonder why there is not such a token on either bracelet?

Whenever I wear my bracelet, I rotate through the charms, examining one at a time, imagining her travels: the African lion, the Australian kangaroo, the bagpipes, the Viking ship, the statue of the she-wolf with Romulus and Remus. So many places, so far around the world, so many memories. Such an exciting life, wanderlust fulfilled! It makes me long to book a fight to... anywhere.

There is one charm that is constantly getting caught on everything due to its natural shape: a hook. If you don't recognize it right away, you may think it looks like an arm flexing a bicep muscle. Nope. It's a place. While it is not her birthplace or where she grew up, she called it home for most of her life. I find it interesting that this charm has a home on the bracelet nestled among all of the symbols representing far away foreign places. Perhaps it served as a reminder: No matter where you go, the people who love you will always be waiting for you to return home.

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.