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

Five Bucks to Anyone Who Can Identify This

It’s the week before Thanksgiving and two days ago I was doing what I do every week before Thanksgiving — cleaning out all the forgotten crap in my fridge, so I can fill it with new crap that I’ll forget about in another 1.5 weeks.

rotten

I put it on the nice table runner to dress it up a little.

I came across this beauty of a…well, I’m not sure exactly what it is.  I’m thinking maybe a desiccated apricot…but I’m not sure. So, if you have any ideas, please respond. Continue reading

A Day in the Life of a Soldier

Dad with Army Buddies

Dad in front, with Army buddies holding a fish.

My father proudly served in World War II as a medic in Patton’s army. When he came back from the war, he never wanted to talk about it. All he would say was is it was hell.

He did tell me that the Germans used the red crosses on their helmets as targets, and my brother tells me that the medics were eventually armed with guns for self protection.

My dad’s job was to help the wounded after they became injured in battle, so he saw the tragedy and human price of war close-up. By the time he was in his 90’s, more than 65 years after the war, he was finally able to talk about trying to piece bodies together and stop the bleeding.

I hate to even imagine what that must have been like. It affected him so much that he said when he died he wanted people to donate to the Wounded Warrior Project, which they did.

My mom kept some of the letters he sent during the war and this was a page from one of them. The date was July 26, 1945. The war was over in Europe, but Japan had not surrendered yet and there was the possibility that he might be shipped there. Continue reading

Your Mother’s Proud of You, No Matter What You Think – An Election Day Distraction Blog

Today’s election day,  and you’re going to need a distraction. I’ve got a little story about my mom and a good, easy, Italian, comfort food recipe because we’ll all need some comforting today, and probably for a while.

But be sure you vote.  Too many people have risked and lost their lives for freedom in this country for you not to vote.

Now back to the distraction.  I was responding to blog  comments a few days ago about my new job and there was one from George that said, “I am quite sure your mom is proud of you.”

I know it’s kind of crazy to worry if someone who’s been dead for 24 years is proud of you, but of course I went there. Probably because, whether your parents are alive, or dead for decades,  you still hope for their approval.  I wanted it years ago and I still do today.

I remember sitting in my dad’s car with my mom in the Northern Lights shopping center on a gray western Pennsylvania day many years ago and asking her about it. I was the only child who moved away, who pursued something out of the ordinary, who didn’t feel I’d had any particular success at that point, and who didn’t feel quite up to snuff when it came to accomplishments in life. I knew she loved me, but I wondered if she was proud of me, so I got up the nerve and asked her.

Mom and Me

She was proud of me after all!

She got the most horrified look on her face and said, “How couldda you askka such a ting? You done a so much, you went to school, you went outta dare alla by yourself, you work, you’re such a smartta gal…of course I’mma proud offa you! I can’d a believe you would askka me dat!”

I was amazed because I really didn’t think she was proud of me (which says more about me than her). I’m so grateful I asked her, and her response is something I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.

Sometimes that vicious little voice inside you convinces you of all sorts of things. You just have to know that the voice can be a liar and a big jerk. The best thing to do is say thanks for sharing, then tell it to buzz off. And remember this: Your parents are probably far more proud of you than you’ll ever comprehend.

Since I’ve been thinking about my mom I keep hearing  another, much nicer voice in my head that keeps saying, “Hey, make pasta fagiolo,” it was your mom’s favorite comfort food and you’re gonna need it today!  Plus, it’s easy! There’s no arguing with a voice like that.

Plain ceci di' pasta.JPG

Plain Ceci di’ Pasta

My mom used to call it Ceci di’ Pasta, because she used chick peas instead of cannellini beans. It’s delicious, fast, easy,  healthy, and simple to modify! You can whip it together in about 20 minutes then go back to nervously watching election coverage.

You can add vegetables like sauteed spinach or zucchini, or you can make it with just pasta and beans and it’s great!  And now that I’ve made it, I’m certain my mom is even more proud of me.

And hang in there, the election will be a mere memory by the time Thanksgiving rolls around and our country will slowly move forward as it always does.

Ceci di’ Pasta

1/2 lb elbow pasta or whatever kind you like

img_6380

Ceci di’ pasta with spinach

1 Tbsp olive oil

5 cloves of garlic

1 medium onion diced

1 can chick peas (do not drain) or canellini beans

1 cup tomato sauce with fresh basil (I can never find sauce with basil, so I buy the canned whole tomatoes with basil, then puree them in my food processor).

(Optional: Sauteed spinach or zucchini or whatever veggie you like. You could even add meat if you want.)

Bring a pan of salted water to boil and when it’s done, add the pasta, cooking till it’s al- dente.  onions-and-garlic

While the water is coming to a boil, saute the chopped onion and garlic.  After 2 to 3 minutes, add the entire can of chick peas liquid and all. Next add the tomato sauce and cook it over low heat.  By now the water should be boiling, so add the pasta.  When the pasta is cooked, drain it and add the pasta to the chickpea and tomato sauce mixture.  Toss the pasta until it’s thoroughly mixed with the sauce and add salt and pepper to taste. Add whatever sauteed vegetable you like, or don’t add any, it will still be great. Serve hot with lots of grated Parmesan or Romano cheese. You may add crushed red pepper also.

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait…and Wait…and Wait.

You probably think I died in my sleep since it’s been three weeks since my last blog post, but big things have been happening. This was foretold in fortune cookies, which usually say things like:  “You will prosper in the field of invention,” but were right on this time.better fortune shot.JPG

Continue reading

When Brownie Mix is Your Best Friend

My apartment can go from immaculate to disgusting in about 2.5 days.  Having my Corgi, Topper in the house makes it all possible. Clumps of dog hair the size of tumbleweeds are rolling around as if it was the high desert. Newspapers are toppling over the basket where I usually have them neatly stacked. Dishes are piled in the kitchen and I am too stinking tired to do them. I am pooped. Working numerous jobs will do that to you. That’s why I had to turn to brownie mix tonight. Continue reading

What Love Looks Like

I’m writing about love today, which is rather ironic given that I’m a divorcee. But it’s the month of October. My parents married on October 7th, I was married in October and I’m going to a cousin’s wedding later this month, so it has me thinking about what love is, and what it isn’t.

My father was not a man who showed great emotion – as you recall, he never even told me he loved me until I was 21. But I had no doubt he did. He was the same with my mom. He’d pat her on the shoulder and call her Grandma, but there were no great physical displays of tenderness.

When you’d talk about marriage to him, he always made the same remark about his marriage to my mom. With a wry smile, he’d quietly say “Well, everybody’s entitled to one mistake.” Sarcasm was his forte.

And if you asked my mom, she’d say, “Eeef I had to say datta a your fodder made a my heart go pitter pat – I’d a be lyin. But he’s a gooda man, he always treats a me witta love, honor anna respect.” She admired how hard he worked and marveled at his stamina, even while she grumbled that he expected her to work as hard as he did.

They disagreed on lots of things and many of their conversations included a few fireworks because my dad knew how to bait my mom, and she always took the bait.

Love may accept lots of things, but fights for what’s important. Dad got impatient with Mom over her weight because he wanted her to stick around, be healthy and grow old with him, but she wouldn’t listen.

Yet, when she put her foot down, forcing him to see a doctor about a mole on his chest, he listened. The mole turned out to be melanoma, they successfully removed it, and he lived for another 36 years.

My parents agreed on the big things: right and wrong, money, kids, the house, religion, how to treat people, cleanliness and what constitutes good food. In Italian families, food is a pretty big sticking point

Mom relied on Dad to provide for her, take her places, and be a good father to her kids. In return she had a hot meal ready for him every night and raised his kids to be “mostly” normal. She would occasionally give him a hug or a kiss on the cheek, and wrote sweet cards to him in her broken English, but wild passion was not what we saw.

Yet, when my mom passed away at 78, I think even my dad was surprised by how much he missed her. Just after her death,  one of my college roommates and best friends, Dawn, send a lovely card that held a photo of my mom.  That card sat on the small buffet next to the kitchen table for 21 years. The corner of the card, picked up time and again, was worn and dirty with my dad’s finger marks. Spots on my mom’s face were almost rubbed off from all the times my dad picked it up and talked to my mother. “You left too soon!” he’d admonish her as he touched her face on the card. I can only imagine the conversations he had with her when I wasn’t around.moms-worn-photo

And that, I believe, is what love looks like.

other side of card.jpg

This is the back of the card. The tape held the card open so he could see her face.

Love apparently puts up with crap. Love fights when necessary, but tries to overlook weight, bad breath, a quick temper, a weakness for lottery tickets, old age, sarcasm, and a tendency toward being a workaholic.

Love quietly mourns  a lost partner and talks to her picture time and again, sometimes for decades. Love knows every relationship has to involve give and take, and love’s OK with that.

Love is not the Hollywood version – don’t believe that for a second. Love is day to day –learning to be kind and live with each other, and then trying to learn to live without each other.

Shakespeare said it much more beautifully than I ever could — but I get it, it’s all about acceptance.

Happy Anniversary Mary and Robert 1940 to the present — because real love never dies.

                                           Let me not to the marriage of true minds
                                           Admit impediments. Love is not love
                                           Which alters when it alteration finds,
                                           Or bends with the remover to remove:
                                           O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
                                           That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
                                           It is the star to every wandering bark,
                                           Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
                                            Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
                                            Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
                                            Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
                                            But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
                                            If this be error and upon me proved,
                                            I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

William Shakespeare – Sonnet 116