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. 

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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.