Wednesday, January 10, 2018

January - - A New Beginning

I don't make New Year's resolutions. I've tried in the past but as they usually don't last past Valentine's Day...well, you see where I'm going here. Instead, I reassess. On New Year's Day, as I enjoy my black eyed peas, ham, cornbread, and college football, I take a good look at what I accomplished in the previous year and how I would like to spend the new one ahead. It's a blank slate, just waiting to be filled and on that first, bright, shiny day of the year, anything is possible.

2017 was an exciting year for me. I've always loved to travel, meeting new people, and exploring cultures different from my own, but I hadn't been out of the country since 2006. Thanks to good friends, I traveled back to Italy, the country of my heart, last summer. It was exhilarating, soul-satisfying, and reminded me how much I've always loved exploring beyond my own shores. This year, I plan to venture out of my comfort zone once again with a trip to visit family in Sweden. I've never been to Scandinavia and am excited at the prospect of learning its history and experiencing her charms with people who call this region home.


Cooking. I've always enjoyed being creative in the kitchen but it's a skill I've let lapse over the past few years, falling into the habit of going with whatever is easiest and quickest. This year, that changes. I may be cooking for only one but that doesn't mean I shouldn't take the time and energy to create imaginative, colorful, healthy, delicious meals. I mean, I'm worth it, right?

Exercise. Ah, exercise. The bane of my existence. I need it. I know that. But I find it utterly boring and much too easy to avoid. Let's face it, I'm a master of procrastination. Procrastinate long enough and - oops - day's over and time for bed. No fitness center today! So, this year, my plan is to find something I like doing. Something that challenges my body, builds my muscles, and doesn't feel like exercise. Any suggestions?

Before selling my home and moving into a condo in another state, I was an active volunteer for many years. It's something I've always enjoyed but haven't done since moving. It's time to change that. I've missed it. This year, I'll find a cause to which I can give my time and energy. It's good to have a purpose. It's good to give back.

I'm always amazed by how much lighter and better I feel when I'm not surrounded by clutter and yet I never seem to be able to maintain a de-cluttered home. Do things creep back in while I sleep? Sometimes, it seems that way! This year, I'm determined to rid my home of the things I don't need (let's face it - if I haven't worn that dress in 12 years chances are I never will again), organize what's left, and keep it that way. I don't anticipate complete success - years of habits are not easy to break - but I do plan for improvement. I'll take it.

Maybe by writing these thoughts down it will help keep them in the forefront of my mind and improve my chances for success. Wish me luck!

Grandma's Kitchen

Some of my earliest memories are of being perched on a stool at my grandma's kitchen counter, hanging onto her every word as she taught me how to wield a rolling pin, create flaky melt-in-your-mouth biscuits or golden brown, perfectly baked cookies. Much of what I know about baking was learned at my grandma's side but baking wasn't the only thing I learned in her kitchen. Sprinkled so lightly among the various techniques that I was hardly aware of them, were gentle lessons that have guided my life over the past 50+ years. From that wise and kind woman I learned to find joy in creating something with my own hands and mind, to take pride in my accomplishments but not be boastful about them, to share willingly and joyfully with others, to have compassion for those lacking the skills or resources with which I was blessed, to treat others with the same kindness and respect that I wish to receive from them and to honor those who have gone before me by sharing my love, my time, my knowledge and a few gentle life lessons with the young people in my life.

Grandma has been with the angels for many years now but, to this day, I can still feel her gentle hand on my shoulder, guiding me in the right direction. A few years ago I was visiting with some cousins that I hadn't seen in almost 30 years. One of them said to me, "You're so much like Grandma it's almost like having her with us again." I can think of no greater compliment.

1 cup solid Crisco shortening
2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. lemon extract
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
dash of salt
Cream shortening. Add 1-1/2 cups sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs and flavorings; beat well. Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Stir into creamed mixture. Drop by heaping teaspoonfuls 2-3 inches apart onto greased cookie sheets. Dip a fork into flour then lightly press on each cookie to flatten. Sprinkle cookie with remaining sugar. Bake at 375° F. for 9 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool.
YIELD: 9 dozen

** For a festive appearance, sprinkle cookies with colored sugar before baking or forego the sugar and frost or glaze the cookies after they have baked and cooled.  .

1 cup butter
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons brandy
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups chopped pecans
Powdered sugar
Melted milk chocolate

Cream butter.  Gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy.
Add brandy, vanilla and salt; mix well.
Add flour, stirring until blended.  Stir in pecans.

Shape dough into 1-1/2 x 1/2 inch logs.  Place two inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake at 325° F. for 15 to 20 minutes.  Cookies should not brown.

While warm, roll cookies lightly in (or dust with) powdered sugar. Place on wire racks to cool.  When completely cool, dip one end of cookie in melted chocolate.  Let stand on wax paper until set.

Makes 4 dozen cookies.


1 cup melted milk chocolate
1 cup melted white chocolate
1 cup smooth peanut butter

Melt milk chocolate and white chocolate in separate double boilers over 120° F. water. Stir peanut butter into melted white chocolate until blended and smooth. Gently swirl melted milk chocolate into the white chocolate/peanut butter mixture.

Ways to serve: 
Pour into a wax-paper lined baking dish. Chill then cut into squares.

Pour into candy molds. Chill then pop out onto wax-paper.

Spread onto wax-paper lined baking sheets. Chill then break into "bark" pieces.

*Your family will fight for the right to lick this bowl!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Taste of Christmas

Some people say they know the Christmas season has arrived when they see colored lights, decorated trees and yard decorations. Others mark the arrival by the sounds of their favorite Christmas Carols. While I enjoy both the lights and the carols (a lot), for me, it's the tastes and aromas emanating from my kitchen that signal my favorite time of the year - the trays of warm cookies covering every available surface in the house, the happy laughter of the children who share my cookie baking traditions and the two dogs sitting in front of the oven, swishing the floor with their tails as they excitedly await the trays of their very special treat: homemade dog biscuits!

I kicked off my baking this week with two perennial favorites from my holiday repertoire: M&M Cookies and Dipped Log Cookies. My family's love of my M&M Cookies goes way back to my college days when I would make them as a special treat for my (nine year old) younger brother who then sold them at school for a quarter each. (which I discovered many years later) Apparently, they were quite popular! Back then I made them with butter and regular M&M's but nowadays I use Butter Flavor Crisco, which makes them soft and chewy, and green and red M&M's which give them a festive flair. The Dipped Log Cookies are my all-time favorites and the first to disappear at any gathering. They're similar to Mexican Wedding Cookies but with a touch of brandy in the dough. After baking, the warm cookies are rolled in powdered sugar and dipped in rich, milk chocolate. I've never met anybody who could eat just one. I know I can't! 

1 cup (1 stick) Butter Flavor Crisco
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 eggs
2-1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 bag (12-14 ounces) M&M's

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Cream Crisco, brown sugar, granulated sugar and vanilla until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Stir in flour, salt and baking soda. Stir in M&M's.

Drop by tablespoon onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 9-10 minutes; until golden brown. Transfer to cooling rack