A Holiday Message in My Favorite Christmas Carol

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the Feast of Stephen
When the snow lay ’round about
Deep and crisp and even

This is my favorite Christmas song, but I could never listen to it without getting teary eyed.

Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath’ring winter fuel

The story always touches me no matter how many times I hear it…

“Hither, page, and stand by me,
If thou know’st, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?”

Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine-logs hither
Thou and I shall see him dine
When we bear them thither.”

Such goodness is a beautiful thing to witness…in a song, or in your fellow man.

Page and monarch, forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather.

“Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how
I can go no longer.”

I could never get past that stanza without crying after my mom passed away. The part about the failing heart got me every time.

She’s been gone almost 26 years – you’d think I’d be over it by now. And missing her made me question my tradition of offering my baking to others as a gift.  I started asking myself why I do it, thinking maybe it’s an old custom and not necessary – other people don’t do it.

Then I played the song again and in the King’s lines, I heard my mom’s message…

“Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shall find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.”

And I knew that I should’t quit, but boldly follow in Mom’s footsteps because she created a beautiful tradition. She showed me the way to treat friends, family, co-workers, even strangers.

In his master’s step he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed

Those were some pretty warm foot prints to walk in.

Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye, who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.

Generosity of spirit never goes out of style.

I wish you all a beautiful Christmas. May you find joy in whatever the day brings, Drop your expectations and just accept what happens – it makes for a much happier time. And hang on to your traditions — they are priceless.

 

 

If It Isn’t Broken, Don’t Fix It

I always worry that I’m not experimental enough in the kitchen. I find a good recipe and then stick with it for the rest of my life.  This worry was spurred by a friend once comparing me to another friend who cooks.  She said, “You’re a great home cook, but ______, well he’s a chef.”

My pride was wounded, but I understood. The friend who she was talking about is a fantastic cook and loves to experiment in the kitchen with whatever the latest food trends are. If they don’t sound good to me, I don’t. So, black pepper never makes it into my ice cream and I’m OK with that.

But this year, I figured my rosemary with garlic and butter under the skin turkey was getting old, so I thought I’d try something new.  I went with a Pancetta Sage Turkey recipe I found in Bon Appetit. I almost did a recipe with lemon rind, Italian parsley and saffron but decided I didn’t want to spend 12 bucks on saffron.  So I did a twist on my rosemary butter and added a little lemon rind to it instead.

Know what?  My guests preferred the rosemary turkey over the pancetta sage, which is too bad because the pancetta sage turkey was a lot of work!

And this year I didn’t stuff my turkeys. I got two smaller ones instead of one larger one. I think I prefer a larger bird than two smaller ones and I miss the stuffing in the bird.  So, lesson learned. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.  My family loves turkey with rosemary, garlic butter under the skin, so that’s what I’ll make.  But the lemon rind was a nice additional touch of flavor.

And the winner of the Annual Cutthroat Tunno Pie Competition is my nephew Chris. Yes, Chris again.  Clearly, he is putting crack in his pies, because everyone says they are absolutely the best.  One day, I will drug him so I can extract the secret to the pie and share it with you! Chris came in first, my big brother Bernie came in second and Nate, (my, I’ll make my own damned trophy) great nephew from my blog two years ago came in third.  C’est la vie. It was evenly split among the generations. (I had reported it incorrectly earlier, and thank God, Donna set me straight. No fake news here!)

However, I did try a new pie crust recipe and it was good. Not sure if it was better than my mom’s recipe, but it was definitely tied. The thing I discovered was that using a food processor when making a pie crust is absolute genius, takes one fourth the time and makes a flakier crust!

But one thing that I never see in any article about pie crusts is information about how to protect your crust from burning, especially if you have a deep dish apple pie,  because they take long to bake.  I use a Mrs. Anderson’s pie crust shield and it works like a charm. That is a link to Bed, Bath and Beyond, but you can get them at Amazon too. Both places have them for 5.99.  They also have an adjustable one, you can cut to size if you don’t make a deep dish pie size. They’re a little more expensive, but they are all worth it!

Here is the pie crust recipe. I found it in a Los Angeles Times article by Noelle Carter.

Flaky Pie Dough

1 Tbsp. sugar

1/4 cup water

2 1/4 tsp. cider vinegar

2 1/4 cups flour

1 tsp salt

4 Tbsp cold shortening or lard

1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes

Ice water if needed

Egg White for brushing crust

(The recipe in the Times said to chill everything, the blades for the processor, even the flour, but I didn’t and mine turned out fine.)

Mix together the sugar, water and vinegar until sugar is dissolved and put it in the refrigerator to chill.

Mix the flour and salt in the food processor. With the machine running, add the shortening and butter. Pulse until it resembles small pebbles. Add the vinegar water and when it starts to come together, stop the machine.  Remove the dough. If it needs additional water, add a little ice water to make it hold together. Then wrap it in cellophane and put it in the freezer for a few minutes to chill.

Remove and roll out on a lightly floured surface.

 

 

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Trophy close up- note Elissa clutching glory.

Who wouldn’t want this?

I’ll fill you in on the great Tunno Pumpkin Pie competition which is at Bernie and Donna’s house this year. We’ll see who goes home with the coveted trophy.

Enjoy your day with family and friends. If things get sticky, just remember, politicians come and go, but family is with you through thick and thin — if you’re lucky — for a lifetime.  So, celebrate the things you DO have in common – like an addiction to corn casserole.

And Happy Black Friday too! I know my Zazzle website, GettaSommaDis,  has some pretty great deals on Black Friday, so take advantage of the sales! You know you need some Italian Curse Word Wine Charms.

Topper and I send our best wishes for a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Apparently, I AM My Mother

Last Sunday, just before my daughter left with her boyfriend to take some things to college, she mentioned that the refrigerator light wasn’t on and the refrigerator didn’t appear to be working.

I leaped into panic mode because:

  1. Getting anything repaired in Los Angeles is usually expensive.
  2. Getting anything repaired on a Sunday in Los Angeles is usually very expensive.
  3. I just bought a plane ticket to go back to visit family for Labor Day, which I probably couldn’t afford, and this was God’s way of showing me that, (in your best God voice) “Yes, it’s true Fran, you probably can’t afford to go anywhere, and I arranged for your refrigerator to break down to beat that into your thick head.”

Thanks God, I needed that.

Then Hamlet showed up.  Hamlet was the repair guy from MK Appliance Repair, who not only came on a Sunday afternoon, less than two hours after I called him, but showed me that my refrigerator was not broken! We just had so much crap piled in it, a habit I picked up from my mother, that the air flow was restricted and therefore it wasn’t cooling like it was supposed to. And Hamlet replaced my refrigerator light for nothing!

The whole thing cost me 40 bucks.  I almost hugged him, but it would have been a really awkward moment. In my joy, I tipped him five dollars,

The only bright spot in all of this was that Hamlet forced me to take everything out of the freezer so he could check it.  It was a humbling experience because the contents of my freezer looked scarily like my mother’s, minus the small package of chicken feet she was hiding. Otherwise we could be freezer twins.

I found:

All the stuff.JPG

Some of my freezer stash

3 separate bags of grated cheese, one with less than a teaspoon of cheese.

Two very small pieces of frozen pie dough that, together, would barely even make a small tart.

4 bags of frozen bananas – some horribly brown, some hideously brown (the ones pictured are the hideous ones)

1 large bag of lemon juice left over from a wedding I catered last January

Lemon juice.JPG

New Year’s Eve Lemon Juice

1 small bag of frozen diced quince from God knows when

2 leftover ham bones (I had to throw one out – it was like Sophie’s Choice for me)

2 bags of chopped walnuts

1 small bag of hazelnuts

1 mostly empty container of leftover pesto

3 bags of Nestle’s white chocolate chips (I’m testing a theory that they last longer if you freeze them after opening them — I’ll let you know the results.)

1 container of chopped peanuts

3 bags of coconut

1 container of leftover peanut butter icing

1 container of vegan coffee icing from a blog over a year ago – Dear God what was I thinking?

2 peanut biscotti – those had to be from Christmas!

Coffee icing-vegan.JPG

When would I use this again?

1 bag of wheat buns

And that isn’t even all of it.  That was just what was in the door of the freezer. I’m sure this proves I have freezer-hoarder syndrome.  But, like my Greatest Generation parents, I hate to throw out perfectly good food. If I just baked a ham, I save the bone for soup. I do the same with chicken. If I make icing and have some leftover, I save it for the next cake.

I honestly can’t help myself. I can hear my mom’s voice in my ear. “Honey, dond a trow datta out — dattsa good a food!” I freeze nuts because they last longer that way. I freeze buns thinking I’ll make burgers, then never do.  I make plans for baking things that never transpire – that explains the brown frozen bananas. Even as I type this I was thinking about how many eggs it would take to make lemon bars from that lemon juice I found. But I decided to chuck it all since the plastic probably leached into it by now and I’m better off without lemon bars anyway.

The good news is I just made delicious split pea soup from the ham bone that won the Sophie’s Choice decision. Here’s a link to an old blog post with that Split Pea Soup Recipe. It’ll come in handy this fall and winter. I’m also going to wash all my plastic bags, then dry and re-use them. Then I’ll figure out what to do with all the Costco ravioli in the freezer, pick out some recipes for the frozen fish, then tackle the frozen meatball problem, then probably pass out.  But at least I’ll rest comfortably knowing my mother’s legacy lives on.

 

What Happens When You Stop Making Plans

Back in 2010 when I moved back to Pennsylvania, post divorce, I spent a lot of time with family.  My brother Bob, who was semi-retired at that time and I would occasionally go for walks, and he’d start reflecting back on his life.  He’d ask me things like what I wanted to be remembered for.

I kept thinking,  What the hell! I’m only 55, do I have to reflect already? I’m just getting started on my new life. I want to make plans, not reflect! I thought he was getting really morbid and it worried me. But he was sort of semi-retired after a very fulfilling career as a successful president of a company and he was in his reflecting phase.

Fast forward to today – guess who’s reflecting now? I think finally turning the age when a person can successfully apply for Social Security is what’s made me princess of the dark side.  Plus, working in a place filled with nubile 20-somethings sometimes inspires you, and sometimes makes you want to drag your withering corpse to the crypt already.

I’ve been torn recently, between making plans for the success I still feel like I haven’t achieved, and saying terrible things to myself about what the point is now anyway. After all, the painful truth is I’m closer to death than birth, unless I live to be 125.

But, you know me. I sometimes slip into a funk, but I always spring back because I know a powerful truth.  When you stop making plans and following dreams, you die.  I watched that happen to my ex mother-in-law and I know it’s true.

Life is just a series of goals you set for yourself. Some goals you reach, some take you down paths you never even imagined, and some never materialize. But pursuing them is what gives you a reason to get up every morning. And achieving them makes you feel amazing. And there are a ton of people who found amazing success when they were older. You can never give up the dream of being one of them.

So, maybe it’s crazy to want to finish this screenplay, or keep pursuing the other goals I’ve set, but the alternative is so much crazier. How could a totally healthy woman, with tons of energy, in one of the best countries in the world, with limitless possibilities at my fingertips, not set goals? That would be much crazier.

Happy Groundhog Day!

I am clearly still getting used to being a full-time writer, but in an effort to not look as lazy and shifless as I clearly am, I am re-posting an old favorite of mine, “The Real Truth About Sex and Love, A Groundhog Day Story.”

I wish you all a Happy Groundhog Day full of fun and surprises, like one of mine was many years ago! Click on this link to find out why:

https://atfranstable.com/2016/02/01/the-real-truth-about-sex-and-love-a-groundhog-day-story/

My First Christmas Alone

Most of you will read this and think, “Oh God no! Fran had to spend a Christmas alone?!!!” I didn’t have to, I chose to, and actually, it was pretty wonderful. (Especially since hazelnut thumbprints were involved.)The kids and I celebrated on the 23rd with dinner out and gift giving, so when they left on the 24th, I was OK. (If they hadn’t celebrated with me first, I don’t think I’d have felt as magnanimous.) I had a party to attend and new pajamas to sleep in on Christmas Eve, a DVD waiting with eight – yes eight, English movies to watch, so I was set.

This was after a week of maniacal shopping, sending packages, and a little baking, but not nearly as much as I usually do. Even so, I was really ready to relax.

I went to the party, came home, slipped into my new PJ’s and woke up Christmas morning perfectly happy. I had nowhere to go and nothing to do, so I had a leisurely morning latte, read the paper for the first time in over a month, walked Topper,  went through receipts, then ordered a pizza with exactly what I like (pepperoni and mushrooms) had a salad, ate  a See’s pecan turtle and a lemon cheesecake bar, and a hazelnut thumbprint or two, listened to Christmas music, basked in the beauty of my not-dead-yet-tree, watched a movie, and relaxed.

Honestly, I think some people can be lonely in a crowd, and some are perfectly content at home alone, even on Christmas Day. Not that I want to do it every year, but it was comforting, relaxing and felt good.

hazelnut thumbprint.JPG

As for the hazelnut thumbprints I tried n my last post.  they turned out wonderfully. I would have eaten more of them if my daughter hadn’t beaten me to them.

I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas and that 2017 brings each of us the fortitude to accept and embrace everything that comes our way — even a Christmas alone…and the energy to try even more cookie recipes.

As you may have noticed, I’ve not been able to put out a blog a week lately. I’m still regrouping and will figure out a rhythm as soon as the holidays are over. Thanks, as always, for reading! You are the best! Happy 2017!

I Want to Bake Christmas Cookies

For eight years, I wanted nothing more than a full time job so I could live like a normal human and not worry 24 hours  a day.

Now I have a full-time job and I’d really like to blog and bake cookies, but I’m so pooped by the time I get home, get something to eat and clean up, I don’t have time or the energy. I also want to finish decorating the tree, buy people gifts and send lovely packages – we’ll see how much of that gets done.

I’m planning a huge intake of caffeine this week so I can whip through the decorating, cookies and packages and collapse in a lump  on the couch with a hot toddy maybe by the 24th. So far, I got the house decorating done, the tree is up, but still in need of ornaments and I have bought 1.5 gifts.

When you’re a kid, all you can think about at Christmas is the presents. When you’re a female adult, all you can think about is what you probably won’t get done in time.

I’ve been itching to bake Thumbprint Cookies. I love Thumbprints. I learned to make them in seventh grade. Wilma Heiberger was my partner in Home Economics and we had a great time dropping the balls of dough from as high as we could reach so they made a big splash into the cups of egg white to coat them before we rolled them in nuts.  This did not please our Home Ec teacher, Miss Hartley. Do kids even have Home Ec classes anymore? Probably not.

I also love baking this time of year because it reminds me of the hours I spent at our dining room table baking with my mother.  The clear plastic cover over the tablecloth was dusted in flour every December, as I helped Mom bake and get ready for Christmas. Man, what I would give to have one more evening of baking with her.

One year we were baking her favorite, Banana Cookies. They’re a filled cookie that’s very time intensive. You make the dough, then the filling, then fill them, roll them, bake them and ice them.  We’d already made several dozen and she was tired that night.  There was a fist sized mound of dough left and a good cup of filling left, which would have made at least another dozen more cookies.

I’d walked away from the table to take the cookies out of the oven and came back to my mother laughing so hard, the table was shaking.  She looked up at me repentantly and showed me the  gigantic cookie she’d made with the rest of the dough and filling. Tears rolling out of her eyes with laughter, she said, “Don’d a worry Frenzy, your fodder (father) will eat it.”

Cookbook.JPGBefore she passed away she told me about a book she got from Hershey’s loaded with recipes for chocolate cookies and cakes in it. She wanted to bake them with me. I wish I’d been able to do that, but we never got the chance.

So, if you’re lucky enough to still have your mom, or grandma, or aunt or anyone who wants to bake with you, do it! You never know how much time you have left.

This year,  in honor of mom,  I’m trying a twist on the original Thumbprint recipe, making mine dipped in toasted hazelnuts with a dollop of chocolate hazelnut Nutella in the center. I think Mom would approve. (The originals have walnuts on the outside and either icing or jam in the middle. I love them with icing too.) I’ll post photos once I bake them.

I also want to bake Mini Carrot Cakes and Mini Cheesecakes and Brownies with Chocolate Ganache, Seven Layer Cookies, Russian Teacakes, Almond Cookies, Peanut Squares, Lemon Ricotta Cookies, Lemon Cheesecake Bars, Hershey Kiss Cookies, and my mom’s favorites, Banana Cookies, which I may try next week…if the espresso holds out.  Wish me luck.

Hazelnut Thumbprints

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1 cup butter (softened)

1 tsp. vanilla

2 egg yolks

2 cups unbleached flour

1/2 tsp. salt

2 egg whites slightly beaten

1 1/2 cups finely chopped hazelnuts (I get the dry roasted ones from Trader Joes)

Cream the sugar and butter, then add the vanilla and egg yolks. Mix together the flour and salt.  Combine the flour with the butter mixture.

Roll the dough into small balls, then dip them into the slightly beaten egg whites, then roll them into the hazelnuts.  Place them on a baking sheet and press the centers to form an indentation.

Bake at 350 for 8  minutes,  remove from heat, reset indentation and bake for five more minutes. Remove from heat and once they’re cooled, drop Nutella into the indentation. You can sprinkle them lightly with powdered sugar when they’re done also.

 

 

 

 

Winner of the Cutthroat Tunno Pumpkin Pie Contest and a Killer Pecan Pie Recipe!

Yesterday was my sister-in-law Patty’s birthday. She is one of the nicest humans on the face of the earth and watching her raise her kids showed me the investment of time and love that goes into raising children.  Why do you think I put it off for so long?

I mention her because after many years of either not placing or not baking, she is finally the winner of the CTPPC, and it’s about damned time! Continue reading

And the Mystery Food is:_________

Well, I soaked it and soaked it. And after a lot of scraping, I uncovered what is definitely an apricot pit. the-pitSo, since several of you answered correctly, I have to send the five dollars to the first person who guessed correctly, Nicol Zanzarella.

So Nicol, I will either mail it to you, or hand it to you next time we meet for coffee because a promise is a promise. Who knew a person could have so much fun with food gone bad? Continue reading