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, 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 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 website, learn more about Not On Our Watch at,  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.

Did I measure anything when I made it? Of course not, so I had to make it again, and measure for you guys. And it was just as good the second time as it was the first!

Soaking leeks

Leeks being de-gritted

You just have to watch out for those sneaky leeks. If you don’t cut them lengthwise and let them soak, then separate the layers and check each one, you may be unpleasantly surprised by some grit, and I hate grit. It can ruin an entire dish for me.  But leeks are delicious and worth the trouble.

I used good sized shrimp 16 to 20 count per pound. Finding shrimp from a sustainable source is not easy, in fact, it was impossible at Vons where I shop. I found a great article in the Huffington Post that tells you what to look for. I’m including a link to the entire article. It’s called, How to Buy the Right Shrimpby Matthew Thompson, the Associate Food Editor of Eating Well Magazine. 

Basically he says to look for shrimp certified by an independent agency like Wild American Shrimp (sounds like a teen movie) or the Marine Stewardship Council. The Council apparently certifies that wild fisheries are well-managed and sustainable.  He also says to look for the Best Aquaculture Practices label and that’s for farmed shrimp raised without antibiotics and in conditions that exceed local environmental regulations.

I looked every where in Vons and in Trader Joes and did not find either of those labels on any of their shrimp. Most of it was from Indonesia, India or Thailand. But after reading that article, I’m going back this week to ask if they can start carrying shrimp that does. He says lots more in the article, so you should check it out, but if you can’t find a certification, he says you should buy wild caught shrimp from North America because it’s more likely sustainably caught.

If we each don’t do something to make a difference, I’m afraid we’ll run out of really great seafood and that would be a disaster.  If your grocery store doesn’t carry sustainably farmed seafood, ask for it.  Grocery stores do listen to their customers.


Andy on his last bite. You can see I devoured mine already!

I made this risotto for my son on Halloween night. It was the first Halloween in more than 20 years that I didn’t make my old standby, Slow Roasted Chuck Roast in Wine Smothered in Onions. Every so often you gotta shake things up, but I’m including a link to that recipe because it is utterly delicious and a perfect warm your bones, fall and winter recipe. The post was called, Halloween in the ’60s, We Worked Hard for Our Candy.

I hope you’re enjoying the fall. Here in California, it’s been in the 80’s. Hardly fall weather, but it does cool off at night, so I keep my window open, let the cool air in, and snuggle, pretending I’m back home in Pennsylvania. Besides my family, I think fall is what I miss most.

So, do me a favor, go out for a walk on a nice brisk day and shuffle through the leaves for me while eating a crisp apple. Then stop and get yourself a hot tea, hot chocolate or a Pumpkin spice latte, channel me, and enjoy it. Then go inside and make this dish. You will love it!

medium shot risotto edited.JPG

You can see how full of veggies it was.

Risotto with Shrimp, Leeks, Mushrooms, Spinach and Zucchini

I sauteed all my veggies first, it’s easier that way. Don’t freak out over how many veggies you use, they cook down to half as much.

6 Tbsp. olive oil (use 1 1/2 at a time –     1 1/2 for the leeks,  same for the spinach, mushrooms and zucchini)

1 large leek or 5 cups — thoroughly rinsed and halved lengthwise and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces (It ends up being about 2 cups)

1 cup cooked spinach (about 5 -6 cups fresh)

4 cups sliced mushrooms (ends up being about 2 cups)

2 medium 6 inch Italian zucchini halved and in 1/2 inch slices (about 3 cups) I used gray squash but it all cooks the same

1 1/4 cups Risotto

1 32 oz box vegetable broth.

1/3 cup Parmesan or Romano Cheese plus more for sprinkling

1-2 tsp. fresh thyme

1 oz. Chardonnay (Just a splash is all you need)

1 Tbsp. olive oil

8-12 medium to large shrimp

1 Tbsp. chopped parsley for garnish

Salt and Pepper to taste

First saute your leeks in the olive oil until they are tender. Set them aside.

Next saute the mushrooms until they are tender, set them aside

Saute the zucchini- lightly browing it, and set it aside.

Saute the spinach  and set it aside.

Place 1 Tbsp. of butter and 1 Tbsp. of olive oil in a large saute pan.  (I used my wok because this makes a lot.). Heat until the butter melts then add the risotto. Stir it until it’s coated. Then add the vegetable broth, one cup at a time and stir until it’s incorporated. Keep adding and stirring one cup at a time. By the time you are on cup three, place the shrimp in a separate saute pan with 1 Tbsp olive oil and cook them lightly on both sides. Once they’re not transparent anymore, remove them from the heat  so they don’t overcook.

Keep stirring the risotto adding the last cup of broth. It should look creamy and should be no longer tough to bite, (don’t cook it so long it’s mushy – it should have a little firmness) then add the 1/3 cup of cheese and stir. Next add the leeks, mushrooms, zucchini, spinach and the shrimp. Taste it and add salt and pepper to taste.  Stir to combine and heat through.

Sprinkle with parsley and cheese and serve. My son loved it with crushed red pepper flakes too.






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. Cool happens when someone younger has spoken to you and decides you’re OK. They then proclaim you cool. As in, “Wow, Milena, your mom is so cool.”

I loved the cool days.

However, I’m noticing lately that I’m going from cool to cute and often it’s younger people who make this proclamation. I know it’s a compliment.  They could just ignore me or say nothing, but they do seem to like me, and so now they say, “You are so cute!”

But it’s a dangerous transition because I’ve just gone from someone who appears fairly young and vital, to someone so grievously old that the younger person cannot believe you’re able to feed yourself, let alone function in society.

And since you’re clearly in control of your faculties, you’re proclaimed cute.  She’s so adorable. Look, she can still speak in full sentences and carry a train of thought, even in her doddering old way, isn’t she cute? You’re reduced to the likes of a clumsy, puppy.

It’s worse for men.  Once a man is proclaimed cute by women, he’s pretty much a eunuch. She would never have sex with him, but he’s sweet and kind of grandfatherly, so he’s cute.

Some people navigate it well. Look at Betty White, she’s both cool and cute, and she’s 96. Maybe by the time I’m 96, I’ll handle being called cute a little better. Until then, I pray I can go back to cool.

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. I’d walked blocks and blocks down Broadway in New York City and not one person noticed me. Not one! I could have robbed a bank and totally gotten away with it. That was really sobering for me. It was the first time I realized I was getting older.

I wish I was more like those women who can just let their hair turn gray and be cool with it. I’m not. Or the ones who smile and say, “I’ve earned every one of these wrinkles.”

No, I’m the woman, who when she accidentally sees her own face in the camera of her phone, screams, “Aaaaaah!” as if a monster has been sighted.

I’ve earned my wrinkles too,  but I’m very happy to let go of some of them, which is why I decided to go ahead and have the Liftique procedure. Liftique is a non-surgical, procedure that can help you look a little younger by stimulating the collagen under your skin, so your skin looks lifted and a little tighter.

I found out about it because Liftique advertises on the radio stations owned by the company I work for. I write their commercials and, apparently I’m so good,  I convinced myself. The more I wrote about it, the more I thought…hmmmmm, wonder if I should do this?

I finally decided it was a good idea, so I took the plunge and had it done over President’s Day weekend. I did it on a Thursday afternoon and was back at work the following Tuesday. Aside from a tiny bit of bruising that I hid with make-up, no one even knew.

I told a few people, but the lid got blown off when Liftique asked me to do a testimonial for them, which turned into a commercial, which apparently runs incessantly here in Los Angeles because all my friends have called me about it. So, I figured it was time to just tell everybody and post a link to it. Why not?

Am I glad I did it? Yeah, I am. It left me feeling better about my neck, which was starting to look too much like the scarecrow’s in the Wizard of Oz. And when you feel better, you’re a little friendlier, a little more outgoing and a little more fun. And when you’re single and in your 60’s, you need all the help you can get.

When I was in my 20’s,  I never thought I’d do something like have surgery or any kind of procedure, but that changed after I worked in a plastic surgeon’s office. I saw people come in the door, self conscious — and leave a totally different person. The surgery changed them slightly on the outside, but the  biggest difference was clearly on the inside.

And I think anything that can give a person back her or his confidence, is ultimately a good thing.




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. Some people like the Hachiya ones, that are short and fat. You don’t have to wait for them to totally ripen, but I always do. You can eat them like an apple before they ripen or put them in salads, etc. The type I prefer are the Fuyu’s, the more slender elongated ones that have to be squishy before you can eat them.  Check out Fuyu vs. Hachiya for more information on the subject. I think theFuyu’s flavor is better.

I remember buying some persimmons at Farmer’s Market in Los Angeles,  and bringing them home to my mom because she loved them. Unfortunately, they were very, very ripe. I caught her blissfully happy with a little juice running down her chin. My dad must be trying to get her to focus on me taking the picture and not the persimmon on her plate because he’s pointing to the camera. Mom and Dad with persimmons

Anyway, due to the plethora of persimmons in Glendale, I always buy too many and then am forced to make persimmon cookies because God forbid anything goes to waste. These cookies are very autumnal and wonderful with cream cheese frosting. (Is there anything that isn’t wonderful with cream cheese frosting?)

So, get yourself some persimmons, then go for a walk in the nice crisp air, come home and make these cookies. They freeze really well too, so you can save them for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Persimmons are only around for a little while in the fall, back east, so buy them when you see them. Then let them ripen to the point where they’re squishy. Then you can just cut them in half and scoop out the insides. You need about a cup of pulp for these cookies, but if you have extra, they’ll be more moist, which is never a bad thing. Enjoy!

Persimmon Cookiescropped persimmon cookie.JPG

2 cups flour

1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

3/4 tsp ginger

1/4 tsp. cloves

1 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup raisins (optional)

1/2 cup butter

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 tsp baking soda

1 cup pureed persimmon pulp

Sift together flour, cinnamon, ginger and cloves,

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg until smooth. Stir baking soda into  pureed persimmon. Add persimmon mixture and dry ingredients alternately to creamed butter and sugar mixture, mixing well after each addition. Add chopped walnuts and (if desired) raisins.  Drop batter by heaping teaspoons onto greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees about 15 minutes. Makes about 2 dozen.

Fran’s Cream Cheese Frosting 

1 – 8 oz. package of Philadelphia Cream Cheese

1/2 c. butter

1 lb. confectioners sugar

4 Tbsp. half and half or whipping cream

Pinch of salt (to taste)

1 to 2 tsp. vanilla

Bring cream cheese and butter to room temperature.  Mix well in an electric mixer until fluffy.  Add confectioners sugar, vanilla, half and half and salt. Be sure to taste to see if there’s enough salt.  When thoroughly combined, apply to cooled cookies. Cover them with plastic wrap (make sure to put toothpicks in the cookies so the plastic wrap doesn’t stick to them) and refrigerate until ready to serve.



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.

To understand why, you have to know this man.  He is spry, sweet and sarcastic, with a wacky streak I love!

The way he rolls his eyes when I walk in the door and says, “Oh God, look what the damned cat dragged in,” is his way of saying, “I’m happy to see you.” Then he wraps me in a tight hug and we end up sitting at his dining room table drinking wine and eating home made Sopressata with chunks of sharp cheese while he tells me stories.  Aunt Blanche used to hover in the kitchen, constantly putting food on the table, and never sitting.  Now, sometimes she sits with us, but because her eyesight’s bad and she’s very deaf, she interrupts a lot without realizing it. She’s adorable though. And because Uncle Richard is her hairdresser now, her hair was an interesting shade of purple when I saw her last. God bless them both.

I love hearing my uncle’s stories about growing up in Italy during World War II. He tells the remarkable story of  how he blew two fingers and part of his thumb off playing with a bomb someone found and kept after the war. (You’ll see it hasn’t stopped him at all!) He has dozens of stories and remembers details like it was yesterday.

He is a wonder, with more energy at 89 than people half his age. And he is still a fabulous cook, but when I’m home I’m always so busy visiting people, I’m never able to make the time to cook with him and learn his secrets. You have to cook alongside him to learn, because he says he doesn’t use a recipe. And, if you’ve spent any time with Italians, you know, none of them measure. I don’t even measure, but I force myself to for this blog!

meatball and sauce on bread.jpg

Uncle Richard’s meatball

Every time I’d ask how he makes his sauce or his meatballs, he’d emphatically reply, “I DON’T HAVE A RECIPE, I JUST MAKE IT!”

But I got lucky over Labor Day weekend. I knew he was making pasta for a party my brother was throwing. I couldn’t wait, I called him within an hour of my arrival, to ask if I could finally be his sauce apprentice. He said he’d be cooking on Sunday and he’d call me when it was time to come over.

Finally circumstances came together perfectly and I was going to get the chance I’d waited for, for decades! The Holy Grail of sauce was near.

I didn’t hear from him Sunday morning, so I called at 10 a.m., hoping he hadn’t started. When he said he wanted to begin soon, I said, “I’m not showering, I’m coming right over!”

“I don’t want you stinking up my kitchen!’ he said, “Go take a shower, I have to take one too.”

When I arrived, we started in his garden with beautiful, fresh tomatoes that were red and gigantic. He said his neighbors were eyeing them, but he told them he was saving them for me.

We picked tomatoes, fresh basil, fresh parsley, and fresh rosemary. We put the tomatoes in a pot of boiling water to loosen their skins and make the sauce.  Then we rinsed the herbs, dried them, and added them to some chopped garlic in a food processor. Then he handed me two slices of Italian bread that he wet with water, then squeezed.

It was only then I realized he was letting me in on the meatball recipe too, I could hardly contain myself. (I know, I need to get a life.)

Once the herbs, garlic and bread were processed together, I scraped them into a bowl with about two pounds of beef, two pounds of pork and a few Italian sausages he said he’d had in the freezer for 17 years. (Let’s hope he was kidding.) He mixed them together, added a dash Worchestershire sauce, a dash of hot sauce, two eggs, some breadcrumbs, a sprinkling of cheese, some salt and pepper.

How much of any of this? Well, I’m going to approximate, but if you can eyeball it from the video or photos, better than my guess, more power to you.  I tried to get it all on videotape, but my battery kept running out. I think I deleted 10 apps just to get as much as I did.

jars of tomatoesThen came his sauce, which is so good, and so simple. (It helps if you have beautiful fresh herbs and  tomatoes growing in your yard and recently canned about 8 million jars of them.) He canned all the tomatoes you see here himself.

The video only gets most of the meatball action, I didn’t get to show our meatball taste test, or how he rolls the meatballs in wine, then flour, then fries them.  And while I was rolling the meatballs in wine and flour, he started on the sauce, so I couldn’t tape it all, but I did my best. If you’re wondering who the woman in the video is, she’s my cousin, Nancy.

When it comes to special people in my life, Uncle Richard, or Zio Riziero is one of my absolute favorites. The My Sauce is Better Than Yours apron is really perfect for him, but was inspired by my mom and the six simple words that can end your life story .

His sauce is simple, creamy (because the meatballs rolled in flour are cooked in it) and just wonderful. I can’t believe I actually got to cook with him and he’s finally sharing his elusive recipes. I am a firm believer that moments like this are to be treasured. I hope you enjoy him as much as I do. Here is the video:


Happy Birthday Uncle Richard. I wish you many more years filled with the good health you enjoy today. Cent’anni!

Uncle Richard’s Meatballs (WOO HOO, I can’t believe I’m writing this!)

4 cloves of garliccropped meatball ingredients with bread.jpg

1/3 cup fresh basil

1/4 cup fresh parsley

1 sprig of  fresh rosemary finely chopped

2 slices of white bread (soaked in water or milk then squeezed.

1 tsp Worchestershire Sauce

1 Tsp. Hot sauce

1 Tsp. of pepper

1 Tbsp. salt

3/4 cup of Italian style bread crumbs

1/4 cup grated cheese

2 eggspork cooking

2 lbs. ground beef

2 lbs of ground pork

2 sausage links (remove casing)

1 glass of red wine (cabernet or merlot is fine)

1 cup flour

2 to 3 cups of canola oil

2 to 3 large pork neck bones or pork ribs

Mix together the basil, parsley, garlic, and rosemary in a food processor. Then add the soaked, drained bread and process until combined.  Next, mix together the three meats and add the bread mixture. Then add the hot sauce, the Worchestershire sauce, the bread crumbs, the salt, pepper, cheese and eggs. Mix thoroughly. Then take a small piece and fry it in some oil in a pan, so you can taste it and see what it needs.

meatball in flourIf they’re good, start rolling them. Then roll the meatballs in the red wine, then in the flour. Set them aside until you’re ready to fry them (I think he used canola oil, for the frying, but I’m not sure. (I’ll get back to you on that.) Then add them to the pasta sauce and cook them about an hour and a half over low to medium heat, making sure the sauce doesn’t burn on the bottom. (I always use a trivet.)

Uncle Richard’s Pasta Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 to 4 garlic cloves finely chopped

1 Tbsp. fresh basil finely chopped

1Tbsp.  fresh parsley finely chopped

2 large fresh tomatoes peeled and crushed

2 large bottles of homemade canned tomato sauce

OR: 3 to 4  large cans Cento Pomodori Pelati with the seeds removed (or not)

Or 3 to 4 cans Cento tomato puree

If you don’t have homemade, Cento Pomodori Pelati (peeled tomatoes) are pretty good, but you have to process them in a blender before adding them (I remove the seeds, but it’s not necessary) .  If you can find Cento tomato puree, that works too.

Pour the olive oil in a large, deep pan and saute the garlic and herbs for a minute, then add the whole tomatoes, pulverizing them with a masher. Add the herbs and let the mixture cook down until some of the water boils off. Then add the canned sauce and stir to combine. Then fry the meatballs and add them. Then fry the pork and add it. Let it all cook together for about an hour and a half.






Judging Others — What’s That Say About Me?

I admit it, I am a judging judger.

I try not to judge people, but there are people who you instantly click with and people you don’t.  Some people I instantly make decisions about, based on what they wear, how they speak, how many nose rings, tattoos or piercings they have, or what their political party is.  It’s not good. Continue reading

My Peanut Butter Phase

When I was young, my mom went through phases in her food. There was the red wine and onion phase, the hot dog phase, the chocolate chip phase and the peanut butter phase. Although the hot dog phase made for some interesting combos, like the hot dog pizza she made once, it wasn’t her most shining culinary moment. But her chocolate chip and peanut butter phases still fill me with longing.

I think I’m in my peanut butter phase right now.  Last blog post was about peanut butter pie with peanut crumble topping. I think I even inspired my brother to make a couple of pies. Thankfully,  this week’s recipe is much simpler. It’s a peanut butter and apricot preserve roll.


My apricot and white nectarine preserves with some labels that were my mom’s. The pen is from Wholey’s Fish Market in Pittsburgh!

I bought a bunch of apricots at Costco the last few weeks and made preserves because they’re so stinking good! I made the lower sugar variety this time and they were every bit as good as the regular preserves. I think 4.5 cups of sugar seems like plenty for 7 jars of preserves, right? Normally apricot preserves take 7 cups of sugar! Holy overload, even for a sugar lover like me!

The preserves were so tasty, it inspired me to make one of my mom’s old favorite recipes.  It’s a great one to make when you’ve made a pie and have leftover pie dough. children love this and can help make it too!

You just take the remaining scraps of dough, squish them together, then roll them out like a pie crust.  Then you spread it with smooth peanut butter and on top of that you spread a thin layer of whatever preserves you like. (I’m a real fan of apricot and I think it tastes the best in this recipe.) Make sure you leave about a half inch all around the edges with no peanut butter or jelly, so you can seal them. Then you start as one end and roll the whole thing up. Once it’s rolled, you dip your finger in water or egg, and run it along the edges and press them together to seal up the dough. You place it on a small cookie sheet and bake it for 20 minutes or until it’s golden brown.   Then you cut it up and try desperately not to eat the whole thing in one sitting.

Full roll cu.JPGYou could do a whole pie crust if you wanted to get crazy.  Even buy one at the store, if you don’t want to mess with the whole crust making ordeal. But make sure you roll it out a little more because store bought crusts tend to be a little thick.   Then get the kids to spread it with peanut butter and jelly, and you can all roll it up, bake it quickly, and have a simple, yummy summer treat!

Peanut Butter and Apricot Jam Roll-ups.

1 pie crust (bought or homemade)

Enough Laura Scudder’s Smooth Peanut butter to lightly cover the dough – about  1/4 to 3/4 cup (but the amount depends on how much crust you’re covering)

Enough apricot preserves to lightly cover the peanut butter – about 1/4 to 1/3 cup (again that depends on how much crust you’re covering)

Roll out the pie crust so it’s fairly thin, Spread the peanut butter, then the apricot preserves over the crust. Be sure to leave about a half inch with no peanut butter or jelly along the edge.

Starting at one end, roll the pie crust so it becomes one big roll of dough and seal the edges with a little water or raw egg on your finger.

Place the roll on a baking sheet and bake at 350 for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. For a larger roll made with a whole pie crust and not just scraps, you might need to bake it 30 minutes or more.  Just make sure it’s golden brown.

Eat it warm or cold, it’s great!

Blackberry Pie with Peanut Butter Crumble? – Oh Yes!

Good pie shotWhat pushes a mostly sane woman to wade into a flesh-tearing patch of blackberry brambles? The promise of hot, crisp blackberry pie with peanut butter crust and crumble. Add vanilla ice cream and you have a holy experience.

And I must say thank you to Brian and Pam Ellis, my former next door neighbors, who always let me know when the berries in their yard are ripe for picking. Good neighbors, are a treasure.

fresh berries in basket

Fresh blackberries, (or Marionberries – I think) so worth it!

I’ve written about pie before. This was one of the pies included in my Pies and Virginity blog. But, in retrospect, I think  blackberry pie with peanut butter crust and crumble really deserves its own blog post because it’s a delicious pie, that’s destroyed many a diet. It was pioneered by my mother, and proudly carried on by me.

I may not remember the name of the actress in the movie I saw 20 minutes ago, but I never forget a life-altering food moment. One of them was the time my mom decided to put peanut butter in a crust she was making for a blueberry pie. I tasted it and knew my mom was a food genius, it was that good.

Then, I decided that if a peanut butter, double crust pie was that good, how great would a peanut butter crumble be, especially one with crunchy peanut butter? And if blueberries were good, wouldn’t blackberries be great? That question got answered a few years ago when I made it for a family get together.  Both my brothers, who don’t throw food compliments around liberally, said, “I think this might be the best pie you’ve ever made.”

You can also just make this a crisp, by eliminating the pie crust bottom. It’s also killer good, faster, and a lot less work.

As I’ve said many times, we are all ho’s for blackberry pie and the peanut butter puts a blackberry pie in a whole new category of yum. To make the crust, I just take my regular pie crust before it’s rolled out, put a tablespoon or two of peanut butter in the middle,  fold it over, roll it, and fold it again a few times, then roll it out. It leaves the crust looking swirled with peanut butter.

*Also, make the crust first, then the crumble so it’s easier to assemble quickly. You don’t want to put the berries in the crust too long before you bake it, or it will get soggy.  And bake it closer to the bottom of the oven so the bottom crust gets crisp.

Mary Tunno’s Pie Crust with Peanut Butter Swirl 

2 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup Butter Flavor Crisco

1/2 cup butter

1 tsp. salt

1 Tbs. sugar

1/2 to 1 cup very cold whole milk (you can put an ice cube in it to make it colder but remove it before you add the milk)

Mix flour, salt and sugar together then cut in Crisco and butter.  Mix well, it forms small crumbs.  Add enough milk so that dough can be molded into soft balls.  Better that the dough is too soft and sticky than too hard. Once you add the milk and have made about four or five balls, wrap each one in flour coated plastic wrap, flatten it into a disc, and cool it in the refrigerator or freezer.

Then take one of the flattened, cooled pie crusts, roll it slightly, and add one to two tablespoons of creamy peanut butter to it.  Fold it over, roll it out a little,  then fold it over three or four more times. The peanut butter should look like swirls in the crust. Roll it out on a floured board and place it in bottom of a pie pan.  Flute the edges then fill it with berries.

Peanut Butter Crumble

1 cup flour

2 cups whole, uncooked Old Fashioned Quaker Oats

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 stick melted butter (not unsalted)

1/2 cup chunky peanut butter (I use Laura Scudder’s)


Blackberry Pie with Peanut Butter CrumbleBlackberry crisp close up

6 to 7 cups blackberries or blueberries

1 cup sugar

2 1/2 Tbsp. flour

Mix together the berries, flour and sugar thoroughly, then place them in the bottom peanut butter swirl crust. Sprinkle a light covering of the peanut butter crumble top of the pie. You don’t want too much because the crumble absorbs a lot of the liquid, so you’ll have all crumble and not enough fruit.  (You may need to lay a piece of aluminum foil lightly on top of the pie or crisp, so the crumble doesn’t burn.) Bake at 350 for an hour or more or until you see the pie really bubbling and crust is brown.  Use a pie crust shield to protect crust from burning. And make sure you put a cookie sheet underneath or some aluminum foil to catch the drips!

How Safe is Your Non-organic Fruit?

I was just at the grocery store, drooling over all the beautiful nectarines, apricots and peaches that are out and looking ripe, juicy and utterly delicious. But I always wonder, is it safe to eat if it’s not organic? My friend, Dawn, a Key West artist, has always been a big proponent of eating healthy, which means organic food to her, and most people.

But do we have to eat organic? Dawn sent me a print out from a magazine article about what non-organic fruits and vegetables are OK to eat, and what should always be bought organic. A lot of people don’t have the luxury of buying organic food because it can be pretty pricey. I happen to be one of them,  but when you think of pesticide residue going into your body, I guess I can’t really afford that either because one day I may be paying for it with my health.

I wondered, do pesticides really hurt you? How could a beautiful apricot be bad for me?

Innocent apricot

It looks so innocent. Apricots didn’t make the dirty dozen list, so there’s hope!

There isn’t much research on how harmful pesticides are when ingested with fruits and vegetables,  but there has been research on people who work with pesticides — either applying them, or picking the fruit –and that shows pesticide exposure definitely hurts you. I thought this article in Consumer Reports  called, “Eat the Peach, Not the Pesticide,” was pretty good.

I did some research and it looks like the article Dawn sent me was also in some other publications, like this one from 2010 on PBS So Cal. There is The Dirty Dozen, which you should always buy organic, and The Clean 15, which don’t need to be organic.

I’m listing them because it helped me and hopefully it can help you. I just broke down and spent the extra buck fifty for organic strawberries at Costco yesterday, so I’m hoping the more common organics become, the less expensive they’ll be! Thanks Dawn. (Writing about food is much more pleasant than tackling politics!)

The Dirty Dozen (Always Choose Organic)

  1. celery
  2. peaches
  3. strawberries
  4. apples
  5. domestic blueberries
  6. nectarines
  7. sweet bell peppers
  8. spinach, kale and collard greens
  9. cherries
  10. potatoes
  11. imported grapes
  12. lettuce

There was a slightly different list on the publication she sent me. It didn’t include domestic blueberries, but did include tomatoes and hot peppers. It didn’t specify imported grapes — just grapes, and it included pears.

The Clean Fifteen (Doesn’t Need to be Organic)

  1. onions
  2. avocados
  3. sweet corn
  4. pineapples
  5. mango
  6. sweet peas
  7. asparagus
  8. kiwi fruit
  9. cabbage
  10. eggplant
  11. cantaloupe
  12. watermelon
  13. grapefruit
  14. sweet potatoes
  15. sweet onions

And on this list,  watermelon  is listed as clean, but on the list Dawn sent, honeydew melon and cauliflower are listed as clean, which are not on this list. But overall, the lists were very similar.

Listen, don’t worry too much. Just go shopping and buy a juicy, (hopefully) organic nectarine, take a big bite, let the juice roll down your face and savor the sweetness. Now that’s summer! Hope you had a Happy Summer Equinox!