Unplugged – A Great Way to Start 2019

My position for the past week.jpg

This has been my position for the past week. Feet on the table, tree lit, Netflix on, candy untouched — that’s how you KNOW I’m sick.

Last week my throat started hurting. I thought it was the beginning of a cold. I took a day off thinking it would go away. But that night I was nauseous and the next day I felt like I got hit by a truck. I was exhausted, achy and cold.  The only good things I can say about being sick are:

a. It’s good for weight loss.

b. No cooking is involved so your kitchen stays clean.

c.  You develop a new love for the most bland food possible.

d. You totally get caught up on every episode of Law And Order SVU Season 18.

e. You get to thoroughly enjoy your Christmas decorations.

f. You have an excellent excuse for not going to the gym.

g. Your horizons are open to a new line of work doing phone porn.

baked potato

Who knew a microwaved red potato with butter could be so satisfying?

For the past five days I’ve eaten only white food. Microwaved potatoes with butter, cream of wheat, apples, eggs, leftover ramen noodles — you get the idea. So my stomach feels better, but now I sound like Harvey Fierstein when I talk and when I laugh I sound like Muttley the cartoon dog. (Go ahead, click on that link and you’ll hear what I sound like.)  It’s a three pack a day sound, so, I’m off to the doctor tomorrow.

But you know what? Instead of leaping right into the New Year like I usually do, all hyped up and ready to set the world on fire, I am slowly easing into it and it’s been kind of nice. I’ve been reading that book I got for Christmas, Almost Everything, By Anne Lamott. There was a sentence in it that I loved. I’m paraphrasing but I think it said something like, “Everything works better if you unplug it for a while — even people.”

So, after all my elf-like madness in December, it’s been nice to take it easy. I usually only have two speeds, supersonic or asleep. But this third option is kind of a nice way to move slowly but purposefully into 2019. I wasn’t ready to take down the Christmas decorations anyway.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! Start it with Delicious Man Food – Pork and Sauerkraut!

GREAT PORK AND SAUERKRAUT SHOT.jpg

Today, like every New Year’s Day for years, I am making Pork and Sauerkraut for luck. It’s a Pittsburgh tradition and is man food at its finest. Not hard to make, ridiculously good, and includes beer. Men love it. Women do too…especially when paired with creamy mashed red potatoes.

And it’s good all winter long because it’s hearty (especially if you’re back east where winters make your nose hairs freeze) delicious,  and a good hot meal. An added perk is, it looks like the food Ralphie’s mom fed their family in A Christmas Story.

This is another great recipe I got from my sister-in-law, Donna and brother Bernie. They were also the origins of my carrot cake recipe and the Danish Pastry Puff recipe, so you know this is going to be good too.

I just went back over my prior recipe for this dish and discovered a big error — I am so sorry! So, I’m re-posting it today. It really needs two 32 ounce jars of sauerkraut, one is not enough. So, if you ever made it and found it lacking, I am so sorry for that oversight. The other weird thing about this recipe is if you cover the pan with aluminum foil, something strange happens to the foil. It starts to pit or disintegrate because of the acidity of the vinegar in the sauerkraut combined with the barbecue sauce. If you can, use a pan with a metal or glass cover instead of foil. I read that the tiny particles won’t hurt you, but who wants to eat foil?

Good table shot

I have a few resolutions this year, including approaching life with less fear and more determination.  I have a few books on my table that are helpful right now, including a Christmas gift from my friend, Dawn. It’s called “Almost Everything” by Anne Lamott and is about hope. Without hope, we have nothing, so I love anything that can keep hope alive and well in the world. I’m also reading “The Power of Starting Something Stupid,” by Richie Norton. Those two, and an old favorite, “Tattoos on the Heart,” by Father Gregory Boyle (which I’m hoping is making me a more compassionate person) are a good way to start 2019.

Last year ended with too much loss for me. Let’s hope 2019 brings us all the health, happiness, prosperity and common sense leadership we need to be comfortable and safe in the world.  Thanks for always reading.  Here’s some hearty man food to get you through 2019.

Man Food – Lucky Pork and Sauerkraut

Here it is before cooking, ready to be covered and bake for three hours.

Here it is before cooking, ready to be covered and bake for three hours.

2 – 32 oz. jars sauerkraut

1 – 12 oz bottle of beer (Miller or Bud light works)

1 pork shoulder roast – about 4 pounds — sliced about 1 inch thick (about 6 to 10 pork slices)

1/2 to 1 lb of Polksa Kielbassa sliced into 2 to 3 inch pieces

Garlic salt

Meat tenderizer

1 large apple shredded

1 large onion chopped

Bull’s Eye Regular Barbecue Sauce

Take the pork and slice it into 1 inch slices.  Lay slices on sprayed baking sheet or large casserole dish and sprinkle with meat tenderizer and garlic salt.  Place it, uncovered, in the oven about 45 minutes – until just cooked.

While pork is cooking. Remove sauerkraut from  the jars and drain out juice.  You don’t have to squeeze it, just drain it. Place drained sauerkraut in large bowl.  Chop onion into a small dice.  (I use the food processor because I hate crying when I chop onions – and it’s easy!) Process apple into small dice also.  (It’s ok if it’s a little mushy looking.) Add apple and onion to drained sauerkraut and mix well.

Remove pork from oven. (There will be juice in the bottom of the pan – I leave it in there for flavor.) Place sauerkraut-apple mixture evenly over the pork. Place in chopped kielbassa pieces wherever they fit. Pour the whole beer into the pan then drizzle barbecue sauce over the sauerkraut. Cover with a glass baking lid or  casserole cover because if you use aluminum foil, it will pit and start to disintegrate in tiny spots because of the acid in the sauerkraut. (It’s not horrible, but you probably don’t want to eat that.) I used a cookie sheet to cover mine and that worked. Bake at 350 for three hours or until the pork is fork tender. Serve with mashed potatoes.

Mashed Potatoes 

8 large red-skinned potatoes cut into 1 inch chunks

1 cup or more of half and half (or whipping cream if you want them to be really decadent and killer good)

1 stick of butter (melted)

Sea Salt

Scrub the potatoes and remove any eyes, then chop them into eighths (or smaller)and place them in a large pot. (I don’t peel them because the skin is supposed to be where the nutrients are, plus with red potatoes,  the skin is so thin it really doesn’t detract from the taste at all.) Fill the pot so the water  is about an inch over the top of the potatoes and let them boil.  While they are cooking, take a small pan and put the butter in to melt. Do not let it brown.  Set it aside.

When the potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork, drain them and immediately add the butter and mix it into the potatoes. I read somewhere this makes the potatoes fluffier and creamier, and in my experience that is so true.  Then add the half and half, or whipping cream (or do a mixture of half and half and whipping cream).

But take heed! (Once, in my 20’s,  I made the mistake of draining the potatoes and waiting a while to add the butter and half and half, and they were like stucco!  You could have plastered walls with them. I never lived it down.) I use a hand mixer and just mix them with the half and half and butter, until they reach a creamy consistency I like. Then I add the salt to taste.  (If you want to get crazy you can rice them with a ricer, but I never take the time to do that and they turn out fine.)  Then serve them with a little dollop of butter in the middle.

Christmas is a Friggin Exhausting, Happy/ Sad Affair – You’ll Need the Best Lemon Cheesecake Squares.

Christmas thoughtfulness IS friggin’ exhausting! After writing like crazy for the past three weeks to make sure all my commercials were done at work, I leaped into frantic home decorating mode, then shopping mode, then wrapping mode, then cookie mode, then elf delivery mode. And now with about 12 cookies left and people I still want to gift, this elf is beat!

But I ended up baking with my kids the day I wrote this, because I’m nuts — and because holiday baking with my kids is what I love most! It takes me back to my sweetest memories of my mom. (Plus, it helps me perfect recipes I thought were already perfect, like my Lemon Cheesecake Squares.)IMG_2759

Christmas has been a combination of exhausted, happy and sad for me. This year,
the sad was magnified because my college roommate’s sweet father
passed away recently.  And last week, a friend was at work when he got the news that his mom had died suddenly.

He only took a few days off, then came back to work because he said it was too hard because of all the traditions they shared. He needed something to take his mind off what he’d lost.

I can understand that, although it’s the opposite of what I did when my mom passed away. I dove deep into baking and crying. I listened to Christmas songs, baked, cried, wrote a book for my family with her recipes and stories, and cried some more. I thought I was all cried out.

It’s been almost 27 years since my mom passed away, but just remembering can still reduce me to tears – partly because I have the constitution of tissue paper, and partly because no matter how many years pass, you never get over losing someone you love. And the holidays, without the person who shaped how you celebrate, can be tough.

Unless you tread boldly in their footsteps.

No matter how many Christmases I live through, I re-realize the wisdom of that line from my favorite Christmas song, “Good King Wenceslas. “Mark my footsteps my good page, tread thou in them boldly. Thou shalt find the winter’s rage, freeze thy blood less coldly.”

It’s not in blocking the memories and traditions, but in boldly embracing them, and re-creating them, as our mothers and fathers would want us to, that makes us, not only able to go on, but able to go on joyfully.

“In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dented. Heat was in the very sod, which the saint had printed.”

Treading in those steps is hard without them at first, and then you realize that, it’s in carrying on those traditions, you feel the presence of your loved one the most strongly.

They’ve been there all along.

Merry Christmas to each of you. I am thankful for you every day. I wish you a Christmas with no expectations, only pleasant surprises and really great cookies! And now, with no humility whatsoever, here is my recipe for:

The Best, Easiest Lemon Cheesecake Squares with Buttery Crust!

Crust

1 cup + 2 TBSP flour
1/2 cup butter melted (regular butter, not unsalted)
1 Tbsp. powdered sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
Combine flour, powdered sugar, melted butter, vanilla and salt in bowl until mixed thoroughly. It will be pebbly,  like pie crust starts out.  Press it into an 8×8 square baking pan. Bake the crust at 350 for 8 to 10 minutes. Then prepare the next two layers.

Lemon Filling

3 eggs
1 cup sugar
½ cup or 7 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. lemon extract (or 1/4 tsp Boyajian Lemon Oil)
In medium bowl, mix eggs, sugar, lemon juice and extract with mixer or a whisk. Set aside, and mix cheese cake layer.

Cheesecake Layer

8 oz cream cheese softened.
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg

Mix cheesecake ingredients with mixer until smooth.

(Before you pour the cheesecake and  lemon layers over the crust, be sure to lightly grease the sides of the pan above the crust.) Pour the cheesecake over the crust first. Then whisk the lemon topping once more and pour it gently over the cream cheese mixture. (Be sure to reduce oven temperature to 325) Bake for 30 to 35 minutes in 325 degree oven, or until lightly golden on top.

Then watch baking magic happen as the lemon layer goes to the bottom and the cheesecake layer is on top!

It’s National Tie One On Day!!!

Fran in 50's apron

Me, in my younger days, having tied one one.

Today is National Tie One On Day. If you want to go out and get wasted, be my guest. But I will be in the kitchen tying an apron around my waist – which is the real meaning behind the day, according to the National Day Calendar. Since it’s the day before Thanksgiving, tying on an apron is what most red-blooded Americans will be doing. I’m proud to say I’m one of them.

I will also be making and sharing some food, since my two kids will be here for Thanksgiving and my other son and his family are visiting this weekend. I get to see sweet Brandon, Ingrid and those cute little blonde-headed grandkids, who call me Fran-ma…since I’m not technically their Grandma. But try to convince me of that. Continue reading

How Do We Help Veterans?

SignIf you’ve ever wondered how you can help Veterans — there’s a way,  and some dedicated people are doing it every day.  I just ran into some a couple months ago.
 

I walk my dog every night and in mid-September, I was walking past a local park and saw it all lit up at ten o clock at night. There were flags planted in the ground, and chairs all set up, as if something was about to happen — but there were only two or three people  milling around.

I thought it was a film crew getting ready for the next day’s shoot. There were a couple people walking on the sidewalk in front of the park, so I asked them what was going on. They said they were with a group called, Not On Our Watch.

WalkersI’d never heard of it and asked what their group did. They were taking turns walking 24 hours a day, for three days straight, so there was never a time someone wasn’t walking in honor, or in memory, of a veteran . They were doing it to bring awareness to military suicides and the difficulties veterans have reintegrating back into society after being at war.

They told me 22 veterans a day, take their own lives, once they leave the military. That’s an astounding number and there are those who dispute it.  On a website called Military.com, there is a story about the numbers.  The story says the 22 number was taken from a report done in 2012 and a more recent report with data from 2005 through 2015 says the actual number is 20 and that includes active duty and veterans. So, 16.8 are veterans and 3.8 are active duty who are taking their own lives every day.

But the people walking for Not on Our Watch say that any number of suicides is too many, and I agree. Clearly, something is wrong when there are these kinds of numbers. And the recent killings in Thousand Oaks California by a Marine, who murdered 12 people in a bar, re-confirm, something has to be done to help these veterans.

I don’t know that war is hell from my own experience, but my father, a man of few words, said it was, and I believe him.  The fact that he wouldn’t even speak of it until he was 95 years old, and probably had forgotten the worst of it, speaks volumes. He served as a medic, and did his best to save the lives of those were in battle. I’m sure he saw things he wished he’d never seen.

Hoping to learn more about his experience, a few months ago, I watched a documentary on World War II by Ken Burns on Netflix and it was incredibly well done, showing the tragedy of war and the unbelievable human cost.

I get whiny when I have to get out of a warm, clean bed on days when I don’t feel like going to work — and these men and women, in times of war, have to eat, sleep, stay awake, and do everything outdoors, in rain, freezing snow, floods, or in suffocating heat and sandstorms, while being fired upon, or taken prisoner and tortured. I can’t even imagine what that must be like and hope I never have to.

It’s no wonder they’ll do anything to stop living that reality, leaving their families and friends heartbroken.

The brochure I got from Not On Our Watch states that their mission is to promote the optimal reintegration of veterans back into the community.  They do this while honoring their service, working to strengthen the community bond and helping restore a sense of wholeness of mind, body and soul to veterans and their families.

Their website is WellnessWorks4Veterans.org and I think it’s  a very important, and necessary undertaking.  You can’t take months teaching people to kill, send them to kill, then just put them back into society, and expect them to do just fine. There’s an interesting article at this link: National Council on Family Relations that explains what the returning veteran can experience.

Check out the WellnessWorks4Veterans.org website, learn more about Not On Our Watch at WellnessWorks4Veterans.org,  and donate, so they can continue doing this fantastic work.

Dad Saluting

Dad in the front yard saluting.

And if you know a veteran, or see a veteran (since we celebrate Veteran’s Day today) thank them. To all you veterans out there, Thank You For Your Service! I salute you, and so does my dad!

 

Veggie and Shrimp, Risotto — Delicious and Good for You!

shrimpRisotto is one of those things I don’t usually make because I always worry about the carbs. But, I just made it on Halloween night and it was creamy, delicious heaven. Not only did I not gain an ounce, I actually lost a pound, so go figure! Maybe it was because this had so many veggies in it — spinach, zucchini, mushrooms and leeks — and it was perfect!

And for all my vegetarian friends – it’s vegetarian! You could even make it vegan by eliminating the pat of butter, the cheese and the shrimp and it would still be good. Continue reading

Beware the Transition from Cool to Cute

Fran in green dress

Formerly cool, now “cute” Fran.

This is the second in my series of blog posts about not aging gracefully.

I remember the day I became invisible. I was in New York City. I was 55-years-old, walking down Broadway, and couldn’t get a soul to look at me. Not one person.

My first thought was, Wow, I could rob banks now and it would be months before I’d be captured because I don’t register on anyone’s radar anymore. It could have been liberating, if it hadn’t been so ego deflating. My daughter sometimes complains about men making comments about her and I always tell her, “The only thing worse is when men stop noticing you completely.”

I was almost over being invisible, when I started going from cool to cute. Continue reading

Growing older Gracefully? Nah.

A friend of mine sent me a link to a website where a woman talks about growing older gracefully now that she’s in her 60’s. God bless her, God bless anyone who can be graceful about growing older…I just don’t happen to be one of them.

I look in the mirror and pull my cheeks up a little and think, Yeah, that’s how I should look. But  you can’t walk around looking like Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone all the time, so I just dealt with it.

But it does a number on you. I just didn’t feel cute anymore, and when you don’t feel cute, you’re less outgoing because you feel like no one will respond. This was quietly reinforced by the fact that I seem to have turned invisible sometime in my 50’s.

I remember quite vividly when I noticed my new invisibility.

Continue reading

Persimmon Cookies – Fall is in the Air!

group persimmon shot.JPG

Persimmon cookies with cream cheese frosting.

There is nothing like the first cool wave of fall after a long, hot  summer. The day you actually get to wear a sweater or pull out that corduroy jacket  is the best!

God I love and miss those days! We don’t get fall until mid to late November here and that means about six trees in southern California turn red or orange.  But they sure do look great when they turn. I make a point to go for a walk down the one street I know that has autumnal foliage and always kick through the leaves.

I live in an area where persimmons are very popular and I love them, but only after they’ve totally ripened. Continue reading

Uncle Richard’s Meatballs and Sauce!

edited Uncle Richard in sauce stained apron

Uncle Richard and his son, Rich, in their fully equipped basement kitchen – because what’s an Italian home without two kitchens?

Today is my Uncle Richard’s 89th Birthday.  To honor him, I’m posting my most prized possession, my video of him showing me how to make meatballs and sauce. (It’s at the end of this post.) It was the highlight of my year!

Most people’s bucket lists are filled with things like: Stay in a Scottish castle, or dance in the sand in Greece. But at the top of my list has always been: Cook with Uncle Richard and learn the secret to his meatballs and sauce. The opportunity has eluded me for years, but every time I’d visit Pennsylvania, I went in hope it would happen. Continue reading