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.