This morning I awoke to a snowy day. The fluffy flakes cascading down, just coating the tree branches and dusting the garden, the same way Confectioner's sugar dusts and coats something ordinary and makes it extraordinary...
I donned my boots and tiptoed my way to the morning newspaper as individual and unique pieces of frozen heaven clung to and then melted on my head and shoulders. A sense of peace and happiness seeped into my pores; melting away my winter blues. Thoughts of lovely pastries and tea parties filled my soul with nourishing joy. Next, I tromped into the backyard garden with my favorite shawl over my shoulders. Our oldest daughter, Alyssa, made it for me. (The shawl is black and white and stitched entirely with love and kindness.) The snow fell from above onto me in fluffy flakes and squeaked and crunched below me. As I type, the cuddly and protective shawl is still speckled with dampness from outside.
Have you ever just needed a bit of cheering up? Well, I have from time to time... Sometimes we don't even realize we are need of cheering up. Today, I thought I would offer some suggestions for cheering yourself up.
1. Make yourself something to drink in your best cup or glass. Then, eat something off your best dish, using your best utensil(s).
2. Take a moment and dust Confectioner's sugar over something, anything. (I am not judging.)
3. Offer a smile to a stranger.
There. Maybe you are not in need of cheering up but someone near you may be. Share a bit of yourself through your smile and you may just be the Confectioner's sugar dusting on someone's day.
Whew! Our family (and I hope yours too) made it through a lovely holiday; filled with memories and, according to our younger daughter, Mia, only one and one-half tantrums.
As is our tradition, our family goes about the table, taking turns, and states what each of us is grateful for this Christmas day. By the time we sat down to dinner, I had had two different Cosmopolitans and was halfway through a delicious Californa Old Vine Zinfandel from our favorite winery... I'm thinkin 'All is good. All is well. All is calm' I'm feeling pleasantly relaxed from a midday nap... My rib roast was a thing of beauty and I remembered to put ALL the food I had prepared on the table. THIS in and of itself is a big accomplishment! I came away from Christmas Dinner preparation with only one injury (I may have gotten my hand a bit caught in my mixer) but no, count them, NO cuts!
I begin the "gratefulness" rotation which begins after we say "Grace" and pop our Christmas crackers. I manage to hold the family off from the food when Mia whips out this zinger from nowhere! O. K. OK. OKAY! I may have had a bit of a breakdown somewhere between the Christmas Stollen and the cheese tray BUT, I was not prepared for Mia to have noticed much of what was going on in her surroundings. Like most teenagers, her head is buried deep, deep in her phone most of the time. She does not seem to be paying much attention to her surroundings. Well, dear readers, she is and she was! Kids forget that parents get tired and need to let off some steam now and again. Parents forget kids are paying attention. We grown ups sometimes forget the "count to three" or "count to forty-seven" if needed (and you're married to my husband) before we react. Why? Because we are this strange creature called a "human."
This year, the day after Christmas, Boxing Day, I prepared a brunch for a lovely family. I wanted to surprise them with fresh pastries and scones. I wanted them to experience Eggs Benedict and savor every mouthful of that elegant dish from the play of egg yolk and Hollandaise to the salty Canadian Bacon and crispy, buttered English Muffin. My husband, Russell, used his mad knife skills to create swirls of pineapple and to chunk the mango. Blueberries were washed. Champagne was poured and coffee brewed. I felt priviledged to share in this lovely family's tradition of Boxing Day Brunch.
Food can do that don't you think? Enhance most any tradition. The food could be something as elegant as a Champagne Brunch or as simple as freshly popped and buttered popcorn so long as the yummies are shared with those you love.
Every Christmas is the same for our family. We have assorted appetizers throughout the day and I make our classic dinner of a Standing Rib Roast, Green Bean Supreme (a savory, cheesy concoction), Strawberry Jello Salad, Roasted Potatoes and Cardamom Bread served with decoratively-shaped butter. For dessert, I always make my husband, Russell, homemade Fruit Mince Pie, his favorite. I also make something new for dessert every year. This year, I thought I would make Dorie Greenspan's Moka Dupont cake. It seems to be a French-style refrigerator cake of sorts. The cake will get assembled Christmas Eve night, so this year I am only baking the pie Christmas Day.
Christmas Day breakfast will consist of Stollen (I made in November) which involves a bit of hopeful breath-holding on my part. I also will be serving Eggs Benedict for dinner Christmas Eve. My husband Russell has been pouting about how long it has been since I made Eggs Benedict so in the spirit of Christmas and shutting him up, I will whip him up some Hollandaise Sauce. Russell will prepare the poached eggs and man the toaster and I will enlist one of our daughters to crisp the Canadian Bacon. Have you ever had Eggs Benedict? Well, if not, just know they should write songs or plays about it... A regally dressed actor would stand high above the audience and say something like, 'Eggs Benedict, Eggs Benedict. Where for art thou Eggs Benedict?' Then another regally dressed actor (in an apron) would appear and whisk eggs, butter and lemon together to woo his lady love. My family's love affair with this creamy, elegant dish goes back many years to when my mother-in-law gifted me with an American historical cookbook over 20 years ago. I, of course, tweaked that recipe to be my own, but there is something fun about making a challenging sauce that could curdle at any moment and then instead, creating a fluffy cloud of lemony goodness...
Maybe you will try making Eggs Benedict or Moka Dupont or a Fruit Mince Pie this year, something you have never made before. It spices up the holiday and adds a new element to your meal. Be adventurous in the kitchen and just have fun! Turn off the television. Get your family off the couch. Confiscate the phones. Get into your kitchen and make some memories that will last! Happy Holidays!
Our older daughter, Alyssa, made a cookbook for a birthday present! Given how busy she is at college (she is an engineering student) this was an even more thoughtful and touching gift. The cookbook Alyssa gave me is titled, "Mary Grube's Cookbook for the Fictional and Fastidious Feminist." Pretty slick title don't ya think? The back cover reads, "RECIPES FROM ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, FROM WORLDS BOTH UNDERGROUND AND UNMASKED. Meals for every occasion! From the secret world of Harry Potter to the everyday life of Stars Hollow, these recipes are sure to bring back fond memories of sleepy days spent binge-watching Netflix."
My sharing this gift with you dear Readers, accomplishes two important things:
1. You get a great gift idea.
2. You gain (unwanted) insight into my life...
Alyssa and I have already made two recipes from the book she gave me! I know what you're thinking. No! I did not follow the recipe but changed them completely. Of course! We had such fun! Yesterday, Alyssa and I made Cauldron Cakes from the Harry Potter section of the book. The recipe calls for a spiced, date filling and an almond filling that is enclosed in two pieces of pastry. Well, I made up my own for all three and instead of sandwiching together two rounds, I rolled out the tender dough and simply cut squares we folded into triangles and pressed closed with a fork. They are super delectable! I used a marzipan paste as a base for the almond and dates for the date filling, dah, and each filling got whirled about in the food processor. Alyssa and I worked as a team and baked off several dozen of each type. We even used some homemade plum jam in a few.
You could simplify your attempt at Cauldron Cakes by using (GASP) store bought pie dough, (DOUBLE GASP) a can of almond filling, (TRIPLE GASP) a jar of store bought jam and combining dates in the food processor along with your favorite "warm" spices like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom and coriander. Cut the rolled out dough into squares with a pizza cutter, as we did, and bake them until slightly golden, about 12-14 minutes at 350 degrees.
I was so touched by how much thought and love Alyssa poured into the lovely cookbook. That is really what cooking is about. Cooking is a way to bond with your kids, family and friends and a vehicle for sharing love.
I hope happy, happy times are ahead for you all!
The pressing of our Cauldron Cakes.
The Cauldron Cake yummies all baked and ready for enjoying!
This afternoon our family made a favorite treat, Crispy Rice Cereal Treats. We did not make just any old Crispy Rice Cereal Treats, we made "shaped" Crispy Rice Cereal Treats. Forming Crispy Rice Cereal Treats into shapes seems to be a popular thing to do right now, at least based on what I have been seeing on the internet.
I have been making angels, hearts and gingerbread-men-shaped Crispy Rice Treats since our girls were tiny. Who doesn't love to decorate wings and dress up an otherwise naked gingerbread dude and add dragees to create shiny, crunchy buttons. Don't you think it's funny how adding buttons to a gingerbread dude (or dudette) magically makes us consider them clothed?
Anyway, dig out our sprinkles, cookie cutters and your favorite Crispy Rice Cereal Treat recipe and collect up your family. These adorable, inexpensive little treats are gluten-free and nostalgic to boot! Mostly, the treats are just good old-fashioned fun! The only difficult part? NOT eating all of them yourself! I recommend making (at least) a double batch. Pack them up for your kid's friends or place them in cute, holiday goodie bags and attach them to the outside of presents. This little treat is guaranteed to elicit a smile, even from the Grinchiest Grinch or the Scroogiest Scrooge.
How do we make them?
We melt 1/2 Cup (1 stick) butter in a large pot over medium heat. When it's melted add 2 bags mini marshmallows and a pinch of salt. When the marshmallows are melted, turn off the heat and add 1 teaspoon of vanilla and enough crispy rice cereal to make the mass cohesive but not too dry, about 2/3 of a 12 ounce box. Pour the treat out onto a lined, greased baking sheet. Allow to cool 10 minutes before shaping with your buttered hands or by stuffing the mixture into greased cookie cutters. Decorate as desired. Allow to set completely before wrapping. Enjoy!
This weekend may bring some challenging weather. It is bitterly cold outside with the scary combination of icy winds and clear, crispness that usually means snow. When faced with the possibility of snow - just the possibility of snow mind you, something interesting happens; people kind of freak out! Milk disappears off shelves. Bread somehow seems like something a family cannot survive without and don't even get me started about eggs! As a Californian, unwise to the "snow mentality" of a native Easterner, we buy into the craziness. As an avid home cook, I thought it might be helpful to mention what "staples" versus "STAPLES" are to me. The items on the list below are things I truly believe no home kitchen should be without. Combined, the ingredients below can make just about anything.
I narrowed it down to 30 items but some fall into categories and encompass many items.
1. Flour (s) (at least 15-20 pounds)
2. Sugar(s) (minimum of the same amount and multiple types)
3. Eggs (2-3 dozen)
5. Half and half
6. Heavy Cream
7. Wine (dah)
8. Beer (double dah)
9. Spirits (triple dah)
11. Butter (probably should have listed this first)
12. Meat (poultry and beef)
14. Yeast (I buy in bulk)
15. Bread (low on the list because I can make my own, see number 1 and 14)
16. "Emergency" Food: pasta sauce, frozen ravioli, salsa, tortillas, broth/stock
17. Coffee (dear GOD this should be highter on the list)
23. Canned Goods: beans, tomatoes, jams, peanut butter
24. Dried Fruits
27. Maple Syrup (the real stuff)
28. Leavening agents
29. Flavorings: assorted herbs, spices and extracts
30. Salt (various types)
It's 3am and the whistling wind has woken me up, again... The branches outside my window scratch the screens and thrash the side of the house. Somewhere migrant birds, like Canadian Geese, fly high above. This morning's moon was spectacular! Did you see it? The moon was 2016's last supermoon. The beautiful orb seemed suspended against the purple-grey backdrop of the sky - too beautiful to be all by itself up there on such a chilly day. It seemed lonely... I too can become lonely on chilly days, especially now, about the holidays. Our family lives far from our relatives and we miss them...
One way to feel connected to my family is through baking. Being of Greek descent, Greek food, in general, is tantamount to holiday time. The yummy treats and savory main dishes I make, connect to my "Greekness" but also to my daughters, mother, grandmother, aunts and cousins. One of my favorite treats to bake at this time of year are Koulourakia. Each sweet snap of a Koulourakia (pronounced "Coo-la-L-eye-key-ya) takes me back to my grandma's house and the scene of family gatherings where each family brought Koulourakia and had a sort of friendly cookie competition. Each of us thought their version was the yummiest. Of course, my grandma's were THE BEST!
Koulourakia are typically served at Easter time. They are labor-intensive, butter-based, vanilla-scented, not too sweet and utterly addictive. You may have seen them at Greek Festivals in the town where you live. At festivals or most Greek households, (save for mine) Koulourakia are brushed with egg white or an egg wash and sprinkled with sesame seeds before baking (but our family thinks this wash and sprinkle of seeds taste yucky, so we ignore that step). In our home, we call Koulourakia, "Twisty Cookies," so-named for their traditional, twisty shape. I hope you research these delightful little bits and search about for a recipe to make your own. The cookies keep, airtight, for weeks but will not last that long. They make lovely gifts your recipient will no doubt appreciate. Try them for a cookie exchange.
Today, our college student, Alyssa, will make the long trek home from school. She will arrive weary, laundry-laden and hungry; exhausted and overwrought by exams and travelling. Like me, she is not a good passenger, even if she is driving. We love to travel, just not the "getting there" part of travel. I have been waiting to make Koulourakia until Alyssa arrives home. The experience of making Koulourakia is something important to share with our daughters. There is something gratifying about knowing the knowledge I share with our girls will be passed down to their children and their children, down the family line. We will share, not just the experience of creating food, but of creating memories. Food is such a part of memories and of celebrations. The celebration of Christmas is about the celebration of family and the love we have for one another. Our expression of that love through food is why cooking is an integral part of life.
Happy Christmas! Happy Holidays! Happy Happy! to one and ALL!
I got inspiration from a northern Switzerland chocolate confection called Basler Brunsli. Basler Brunsli are often described as Swiss brownies. Personally, I think this is a stretch. Brownies are bars, consisting primarily of an inordinate amount of chocolate and made rich with ridiculous amounts of butter and eggs. Basler Brunsli are gluten free, contain no added fat and only have egg whites. What does someone like me do after she has read about a new confection? Well, make something that has nothing to do with it of course! Wha did I make you maybe wondering? Biscotti! Wasn't the fact I made biscotti I forgone conclusion? I mean German confection to brownie to biscotti. Wasn't it obvious?
This time of year is freezing and cold in the East. I try to drum any excuse to turn on my oven. This time of year, all manner of flavor combinations dance around in my head too. "Warm," "holiday" flavor combinations, involving spices and chocolate. Some of those flavor combinations work beautifully together; for example, chocolate and coffee or chocolate and almonds and coffee and orange and cinnamon. Additionally, when I think of "the holidays," I think of Christmas cookies. I don't know why, but I always think of "crispy" cookies when I think of Christmas cookies. Thinking about Christmas cookies led me to think about biscotti. Thinking about biscotti, led me to start thinking about coffee...
Do You see where this is going? Good!
I believe biscotti should be full in flavor and crispy yet tender. Biscotti should hold up when dunked in espresso or Vin Santo (if you are into dunking your food that is - which I am not - YUCK), not fall apart into the espresso or wine when dunked. As with any cookie, texture is key.
As I've written before, writing a recipe is not easy. Writing a recipe requires discipline. Ask anyone that knows me, I do not excel at discipline... I find it rather confining... That said, I challenged myself to create an Almond-y, Mocha-y and Orange-Spice-y - flavored Biscotti that would be Holiday (or any day) worthy. I hope you add these little yummies to your cookie repertoire and pour yourself a cup of espresso, Vin Santo (or even a glass of orange liqueur) to dunk these in! Happy Holidays from Mary's Kitchen to yours. Visit my Recipes page for the recipe. Enjoy!
Why do we save stuff? Why do we have "good" clothes that are only suitable for going out and then we have "house" clothes we prefer noone, not even the dog, see us in? Why do we have "good" dishes and "everyday" dishes? Why do we not light candles but save them for special occasions like parites or anniversaries? Why do most of us (present company NOT included) only eat in our Dining Rooms rarely, if ever? I will tell you why...it's because we DO NOT, under ANY circumstance, want to muck up our "stuff!"
In the past, I have also fallen victim to this "saving stuff for special occasions" illness... Yes, it is an illness! In our home in Arizona, our oldest daughter, Alyssa, dubbed the Dining Room the "Anniversary Room" because that is how often we ate in there! Isn't that sad? Life is too dear to squander! Live generously people! Wear the clothes! Use the "good" stemware and for goodness sake, chip the plates! Bring your children and loved ones into the kitchen with you and cook! Spill flour! Spill milk! Eat in the Dining Room! Leave the crumbs on the counter and be part of the celebration of life!
I gave my mother permission to use the silver and heirloom china she has in her home. I asked her,
'Why do you never used that stuff?'
and she said, 'Because she wanted to pass it down to me in perfect condition.
I then asked her, 'Do you enjoy the dishes and silver?
She said 'No. I never use it.'
I said, "USE IT! PLEASE!"
She turned her big, brown eyes to me and exclaimed, 'YOU'RE RIGHT! WHAT AM I DOING?'
Isn't this the vicious circle most all of us are in right now? We have rooms we do not use. Furniture we do not sit on. Clothes we do not wear. Dishes we do not eat from and kitchens that go unused. Life is about moments. Food you make at home, with love, becomes part of those moments...
Go out and make some moments in the Dining Room, on your best china, while drinking from heirloom stemware, with candles glowing and music wafting in from the kitchen; which is in disarray.
Sunday morning my husband and I walked out of the 8:00 am church service and it occurred to me how trapped and unhappy the sun looked in the sky. I turned to Russell and said, "Somewhere in the sky the sun is screaming 'LET ME OUT!'" I think this is how most of us here in the East tend to feel on cloudy days, but not me! As a "born and raised" Northern Californian, cloud and fog and mist are my life's blood. They remind of me home and happy times spent wandering through San Francisco with my friends and family. I think San Francisco on a foggy, misty day is the MOST romantic place on earth! The way the fog lazily floats between buildings and dances along the ocean. How magical it is when the Golden Gate Bridge appears in full view for mere moments... (The rest of the time, only the tips are visible on a terrifically foggy day.)
When we lived in Arizona, it was only foggy one day in nine years! Our children were little and I woke them from their dreamy slumber, dressed them in jackets and frolicked with them in the mist through our rose garden. I snapped photo after photo as we laughed and tripped about the yard counting dew drops and playing fetch with the dog. Those photographs from that morning are still treasured momentos of that mother-daughter experience. In fact, we still reminisce about how special that morning was to the three of us.
Now that we live in the East and foggy, days occur year round; I can enjoy misty mornings more often. Sometimes, the mist appears like a blanket over a field. Sometimes, the mist is like a table on the water. Sometimes, the fog caps the hills... My breath always catches in my throat because mist and fog remind me of "Home" and "Home" reminds me of my mother, Ellen. My mother lives in Arizona and given her health and our busy schedules, we do not see each other often. How do we connect? Well, through food of course! My mother is the person I call to run menu concepts by and talk about recipes. I am the that person for her too. Isn't it wonderful what a great "connector" food can be? Food can bridge a gap of distance. Food can bring joy. Food can open converstations. Food can be the basis for new connections. Food is AWESOME!
So the next time you are home with your children who are on a Snow Day or a Snow Day delay, get into your kitchens and make some memories. Maybe that means pancakes. (Not just any old pancakes, but pancakes shaped like snowmen of course!) Maybe that means gingerbread people you and your children decorate in snow gear. Maybe that means something new altogether! A sort of "Snow Day Treat" you reserve just for special days when you get to steal some extra morning time moments with your children. In our house Snow Days means my special waffles, unless, just saying, Press Cookies were made the day before...
Avid home cook and passionate instructor