Granola Cluster Cookies –Even Your Healthy Friends Will Love Them!

Each winter my mother and I sported a light coat of flour from December first to the 25th. My mom flew into a baking frenzy and I was recruited to grease pans, sprinkle sugar on hot fried twists of lemony dough, and run up and down between our upstairs and downstairs kitchens like lightning for whatever mom needed  because she always said, “Honey, you gatta da fresh a legs.”

Once I remember her saying, “Honey go getta me da ting dat goes inna da ting I use to beat uppa da stuffa.” And I brought her back exactly what she needed – the beaters for her mixer.  My dad looked at us incredulously and said, “How the hell did you know what she meant?” I shrugged my shoulders and said, “I don’t know, I just knew.” My mother smiled knowing we had a baking shorthand that transcended the English language.

This year I’m trying to get it all done before I go back to Pennsylvania and I’m relying on  legs that are not quite as fresh as they were 50 years ago to get me through.

I love bringing cookies to work and to friends for the holidays.  Just being in my kitchen, baking in the evening when it’s dark outside reminds me of those childhood Decembers when condensed water in the corners of windows turned into tiny ice crystals. I’d stand at the big picture window  in the dining room, looking out on the frozen backyard and knew I was lucky to be warm and cozy, baking with my mom.

I miss her more this time of year than any other because she was like the spirit of Christmas present — large, laughing, joyful, always giving, and ready to sample every treat that came her way. Everyone, from neighbors, to friends, to the nuns at school, even the mailman, got a sample of Mama Tunno’s cookies.

Keeping that tradition alive makes me feel like our floured fingertips touch every December. And I swear, I am going to bake her banana cookies this year, and give you the recipe because they are awesome dipped in a hot cup of coffee. It’s a dough wrapped cookie filled with a mixture of chocolate, raisins, walnuts, nutmeg and cinnamon, that is awesome.

Each year I also swear I’ll expand my repertoire, then never do it.  (Apparently, I do a lot of swearing this time of year.) But, I actually did try two new cookie recipes this baking season. One was a success, the other was just meh. The success was a fantastic, sweet treat even your health conscious friends will love, called the Granola Cluster Cookie.  My daughter found it on the Bon Appetit website, which she and I both love. Their cooks  are really laid back and fun. You just want to hang out with them.

edited granola cluster.JPGThe Granola Cluster Cookie is made of pecans, almonds, pepitas, coconut and some oats, and it’s held together with egg whites beaten with sugar. I truly couldn’t stop eating them — they’re that good. And I just made another batch with hazelnuts instead of pepitas and they were even better!

But when they tell you to bake them on parchment, they aren’t kidding. They really stick to  the pan and removing them results in some broken cookies, so definitely use parchment, or wax paper in a pinch. And wait until they’re cooled to remove them or you’ll have cookie casualties.

The meh one was the Swig Sugar Cookie.  Apparently, they’re so good people stand in long lines for them in St. George Utah, but the recipe I found on a blog was not worth the effort. They were too sweet, without the balance of salt. I’d read that the sour cream in the icing made them different, but to me, it didn’t and I added a lot more sour cream to see if I could salvage it. I saw a different recipe,  on a Food blog called, The Recipe Critic, and it looked more promising with more salt and sour cream in it, but I have no more time or money to waste on recipes, so for now, I’m sticking with Gramma Ev’s Sugar Cookies as my undisputed favorite sugar cookie.

So, if you’re still looking for a great holiday cookie, I’m posting the recipe for the Bon Appetit Granola Cluster Cookies. This should satisfy your health conscious friends, who want a cookie they can eat with little to no guilt. And they’re really easy to make!

Russian Teacakes.JPGBut, what’s life without a decadent, sweet treat every now and then? So, I’m also posting one  of my, oldie but goodie, favorite Christmas cookie recipes — Russian Teacakes.

My mom called them Butterballs because they’re so buttery they just melt in your mouth.  She loved these cookies at first taste, but she didn’t have a recipe to replicate them, so she tried inventing a recipe. It didn’t work out well, and my brother Bernie, nicknamed mom’s attempt “Cannon Balls.”  Mom laughed it off, but gave up on improvisation.  Years later, my sister-in-law- Patty, gave me a great recipe she had in one of her Polish cookbooks, and I’ve been making them for years. I always lightly toast the pecans before I add them, they’re much better that way.

And, even though I’m usually worried about what I eat, at Christmas, I go with mom’s slogan, “Oh honey, you gatta try dis, ittsa so good!” You only get one life, enjoy it a little. We can all go back on the diet in January.

Granola Cluster Cookies

1 1/2 cups pecans

1 cup sliced almonds (I didn’t have any, so I chopped whole almonds)

1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

3/4 cup pumpkin seeds, (pepitas) or hazelnuts — they are awesome!

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats

1/2 tsp. Kosher salt

3 Tbsp. virgin coconut or extra virgin olive oil , melted (I used coconut)

2 large egg whites

2/3 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 325°. Toss pecans, almonds, coconut, pumpkin seeds, oats, salt, and oil on a rimmed baking sheet and bake, tossing once, until coconut is golden and mixture is fragrant, 10–12 minutes. Let it cool.

Whisk egg whites in a large bowl until foamy. Gradually add sugar, whisking until mixture is thick and opaque. Add nut mixture and fold to coat evenly.

Drop ¼-cupfuls of mixture onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing evenly. (This recipe made two batches for me — about 24 cookies). Bake cookies, rotating baking sheet halfway through, until edges are golden, 15–20 minutes. Wait until the cookies are cooled before trying to move them, they are fragile and will fall apart if they aren’t cool enough.

 

Russian Teacakes

1 cup soft butter

1/2 cup confectioners sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

2 1/4 cups flour

3/4 cup finely chopped nuts ( I use lightly toasted pecans, but walnuts work too)

Additional 2 cups confectioners sugar to roll cookies in.

Mix butter, powdered sugar and vanilla thoroughly. Blend flour, and salt and stir into mixture. Mix in nuts, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill. Heat oven to 400 degrees. (If I leave the dough in the refrigerator overnight, it gets really hard, so I zap it in the microwave for about 15 seconds, and it’s easier to work with.) Roll chilled dough into 1 inch balls, and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes and while warm, roll them in confectioners sugar. Let cookies cool and roll them in sugar again. Makes about 4 dozen.

 

Dante vs. Cream of Wheat

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Cream of Wheat with blueberries and candied pecans, drizzled with honey.

I try to be deep, honest I do. I do my best to read classics and ponder life because I aspire to write deep, philosophical blogs. In fact, I’m currently reading Dante’s Inferno — who knew hell could be so icky? But because of the ADHD I keep denying I have, my brain prefers to escape the circles of hell and fixate on something I enjoy more, like food. This week I’m enamored with Cream of Wheat. So,  it’s Philosophy – 0 Food – 1 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

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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.

Mi Dispiace, il Pranzo Era il Mio (I’m Sorry, The Lunch Was Mine)

I have been torturing myself with Duolingo lately.  It’s a website where you can learn another language. For the past 40 years I have been trying (clearly not hard) to learn Italian.

This week possession has been making me miserable because I can’t tell the difference between him and her.  I’m learning handy phrases like: “Il gatto beve il suo latte,”
which means the cat drinks his/or her milk. This is very confusing to the cat and me.  I am also learning things like, “Lo squalo mangia pesce,” which means the shark eats fish. These phrases will both come in handy when I cat sit for Italians or visit Sea World with my relatives.

Tonight I was learning, “Io mangio i tuoi panini,” which means, I eat your sandwiches. That got me thinking about sandwiches. Then I was talking to my brother, Bernie and we started reminiscing about the sandwiches my mom used to make for our school lunches. (No Tunnos can ever have a conversation without the subject turning to food – a scientific fact.) Continue reading

The Circle of Life — Already?

My daughter’s been away, housesitting for the past few weeks and I’m getting a taste of what it’s going to feel like in this very empty nest. It will finally be clean, and very quiet.

It really forces you to take a look at your life, think about what you’ve done, where you’re going and whether you want company for the rest of the ride.  It brought a few tears for me because for 25 years I was a mom first.  That was my most important job.  I always worked, but my kids came first. And it’s all changed lightning fast. Continue reading

Happy Birthday Aunt Blanche!

aunt-blanche

Aunt Blanche looking adorable.

My Aunt Blanche just turned 90. She’s outlived everyone in her immediate family, including her parents, which is amazing because she was the one with the most health problems. She is mostly blind, mostly deaf, suffers from asthma and sinus troubles, yet still motors on like the energizer bunny – some days. Some days are not so great.  But, from what I hear that’s what life can be like at 90.

Aunt Blanche gets a little tired now, but she never seemed to when I was young. My cousin and I would take turns staying overnight at each other’s houses and I always marveled at Aunt Blanche’s energy. She was always painting something around the house, or cleaning or cooking. She was a great cook, but didn’t seem to love cooking the way my mother did.

Sometimes I’d see her in the kitchen muttering to herself. She’d see me watching her and say, “Francy, You wanna see cooking with love?” Then she’d pick up the raw chicken she was dealing with and slam it down on the counter, slap it around a few times and look back at me. “Now that’s cooking with love,” she’d say with a smirk. Continue reading

Everyday Heroes Who Don’t Make the News

Bobby the birthday boy.JPG

Bob trying hard not to look like a pointy birthday hat kind of guy.

Last week my sister-in-law flew me back to Pennsylvania to celebrate my brother Bob’s birthday.  (I am lucky beyond belief to be part of this family.) I do have a photo of Bob in a pointy birthday hat, but I’m not posting it because I’m fairly certain he will hunt me down and kill me if I do. But, I’m keeping it in case blackmail is ever necessary.

 

I got in some great bonding time with family, including adorable great nephews and nieces I never get to see. And I ate too much — again.

The flights were mostly uneventful, although I did have the good fortune to sit beside a very entertaining guy, named Fred,  who sells nitrile gloves.  They’re like rubber gloves only better, especially if you’re allergic to latex. Fred said he would send me some gloves that would protect my fingers when I went blackberry picking and he actually did!  Now I have cool red gloves and can’t wait to head into the brambles.

My family was only a little concerned when I pulled one of Fred’s blue nitrile gloves out of my purse. If you’re a surgeon, a blackberry picker, into kink, or an axe murderer with a latex allergy, here’s a link to Fred’s site:  QRP Gloves and Fingercots.

On the way back, I was lucky enough to run into my brother Bernie and his wife Donna at the airport.  They bought me a glass of wine and a proscuitto sandwich at this cool little Italian store at the Pittsburgh airport. (God love them!) I never even knew the place existed, but Bernie’s internal GPS (Global Proscuitto Sensor)  can sniff out an Italian store no matter where on earth he is. It’s his sixth sense, which proves he is my mother’s son.

It was a good thing I had the wine because I needed it on the final leg of my flight from Las Vegas to Burbank. A ridiculously drunk young man  in front of me kept hitting on the girl beside me, who was dressed in a skimpy hot pink dress and heels. I leaned toward the girl and told her this was one of those times I was thankful I was too old to be noticed. The drunk guy was so drunk, he sloppily peered around the seat to see if I warranted any attention, then drunkenly turned away, disproving the theory that everyone is beautiful if you’re drunk enough.

Then we took off with a loud, visible, too close for comfort, thunderstorm in the distance. It felt like the plane was being batted around by a giant toddler who just wanted to have fun.  I kept seeing lightning flashes, and the pilot announced he was sorry, but the flight attendants would not be able to serve refreshments due to turbulence.

I kept repeating to myself,  “God, please don’t let us die…I have way too much left to do.”

After the first 20 minutes, the plane climbed above the clouds, the toddler stopped batting at our plane, the stars were dancing, the drunk fell asleep, and life felt possible again.

Southwest plane wide shot.JPG

Southwest Flight 2810 safely on the tarmac in Burbank.

When I got off the plane, I looked at it on the tarmac and thought, that could have ended really badly. Lightning could have struck and caused something to malfunction — although this story in the Washington Post says that improvements in plane construction mean that seldom, if ever, happens.

But it made me think about the pilots who do this work every day.  Taking off in ugly weather, because schedules are everything in air travel, must be scary as hell. When I think of all the flights I’ve been on where there was turbulence, or lightning, wind, snow, or ice on the wings that had to be removed, I realize how lucky I’ve been to have had such good pilots and how I take them for granted.

So, although (thank God) this was not a “Sully” Sullenberger moment, I’m dedicating this blog post to you two pilots of Southwest Flight 2810, departing Las Vegas Monday, August 22, at 8:05 p.m. and arriving in Burbank at 9:05 p.m. I just got a response from Southwest saying that Captain Lewin was responsible for our safe flight and landing. But I’m sure his co-pilot helped. (And just in case you ever happen to read this, Captain Lewin,  I really was OK with no beverages.)

Pilots

The pilots are behind those little windows somewhere.

I tried to get a shot of you from outside the plane, but I couldn’t get close enough. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to try to meet you and thank you in person for allowing me to continue to enjoy my family and live my life. I would have loved to post your photos and give you both a big hug.

You don’t get called a hero for doing your job well every day, but you are both heroes to me because your skill and a little bit of luck made that flight uneventful. They say any flight you walk away from is a great flight and I heartily agree. I applaud you and all pilots who do a fantastic job keeping us safe day after day.  Thank you so very much!

Big Ambitions…Painful Reality

My plan for this week was to write two fantastic blog posts to make up for the one I missed last week.   (I spent last weekend with my family, drinking too much wine and celebrating my brother Bob’s birthday instead of diligently writing.)  Thank you Patty (Bob’s wife) for planning the whole thing and getting me back there.

But nature said, “Nah, we want to throw you a curveball, how about a nice, painful toothache instead?” So, I’ve been sitting around whimpering like a puppy and taking far too many Advil for my own good for the past three days.  I’m embarrassed to say, I actually cried on my emergency phone message to my dentist.(This from a woman who got through childbirth twice without a peep.) My voice got all squeaky and I could barely get out my phone number it hurt so bad.   The only perk is the Tylenol with Codeine – it knocks me right out.

Today, I go to the Endodontist again, where I will be slowly tortured. They’ll place freezing cold sticks against my teeth to figure out exactly which tooth is bothering me.(Teeth are sneaky, they send the pain in a different direction, just to mess with you.) How will the Dr. know?  I will leap out of my chair and scream when the ice stick he’s holding touches the right tooth.   Continue reading

Happy Fourth of July!

Mom- Birthday Girl

The Birthday Girl

Today, my mother would have been 103. She’s been gone since 1992 and we still get “Mary” stories. Just today my sister forwarded me a note from our cousin’s daughter, Nannette.

The note said, “One of my favorite memories of your mom is when my mom took us to the old Beaver Falls movie theater to see, “Ammityville Horror,” and she busted out the rosary and started praying out loud , right there in her seat. At the time I wasn’t sure what to do, but now, just thinking about it makes me laugh.”

I love Nannette’s story because it corroborates my, “Raider’s of the Lost Ark,”story. My mom didn’t know how to be quiet in a movie theatre (or anywhere) and I remember shushing her — a lot, the day I took her to see, “Raiders.” Then, at the part where all hell breaks loose, the Nazi melts and the wind blows, my mother started crossing herself and yelling out loud, “Ooooh Jesus, Godda  forbid, Ooooohhhh Jesus Godda forbid!”

Mom-excited birthday girl.jpg

This is a woman who truly believes that whatever she wishes on that birthday candle is absolutely coming true! I loved that about her.

I’m with Nannette, just thinking about it makes me laugh too, which is what I love about all my memories of her.

However you choose to celebrate today, do it with gusto, like my mom. Leave people talking about you, or with their mouths hanging open, because, “Life is a daring adventure or nothing,”as Helen Keller wisely said.

Happy Birthday Mom and the USA!

P.S. If you have a funny Mary memory, please send it my way. I love hearing them!

 

 

 

I Could Use Your Help – Can You Nominate Me?

I never told you this in a blog post, but last year, I was lucky enough to be one of the Voices of the Year honorees for BlogHer15. It was a big honor for me and I’m hoping I’ll be nominated again this year, but I could use your help. Continue reading