Burnt Sugar and Volleyball

When I was in middle school and high school, I was a tremendous athlete. I was the captain of our volleyball team. I was the starting pitcher for the girls’ softball team. I still hold the Nebraska girls’ record for pole vaulting.

I’m lying.

I didn’t play a single sport. Not a one. It wasn’t entirely my fault. At my high school in the 60s and 70s, there were no athletic options for girls. None. Zero. Zip. There are now, but in those days, if you weren’t a cheerleader, you got no school-sponsored exercise beyond gym class. And then most of the exercise in gym class came from attempting to outrun the gym teacher so that you didn’t have to take a shower which would require taking off your clothes in front of others.

In my case, it didn’t make a lick of difference because I likely wouldn’t have played any sports even if I’d had the option. I’m just not very athletic. Though my siblings and I all love many sports, and eagerly watched our kids and now watch our grandkids in all sorts of athletic activities, it’s safe to say that Mom and Dad weren’t troubled by too many letters of intent to any colleges for any of us.

Late last week, Addie texted me and asked if she could come over and do a test run on making crème brulee, something she wants to serve at her upcoming dinner party. Yes, you are recalling right. Addie is 13. But she has a yearly dinner party for which she prepares all of her food.

Anyway, I agreed to help her with the crème brulee test run on Saturday.

addie-putting-up-netAnd then she texted me a bit later and asked if it would be okay to set up the volleyball net in our back yard and invite two or three of her girlfriends over to play volleyball, as volleyball tryouts are being held Tuesday and Thursday.

Yep, I assured her. That would be just fine. And then, of course, Bill got to work making our backyard look like an Olympic volleyball court. He mowed an area the appropriate size. He laid down a rope to indicate boundaries. He trimmed the nearby tree. I was waiting for the truck to pull up and dump a load of sand. I love my husband.

Just before the girls were scheduled to arrive, I left for a quick trip to the grocery store. When I returned, my vision of some girls tossing a volleyball around and giggling was put to rest. Addie had set up a full-out volleyball clinic, including a coach. Now, to be fair, the coach is the mother of one of the girls, but she had played volleyball in school, and was very good and very knowledgeable. It was serious business, my friends. If those girls don’t make the team, it will be through no fault of either Addie, Bill, or me.

volleyball-clinic-2

Back to my area of expertise, which is certainly not volleyball. Crème Brulee.

Addie and I spent the morning making the crème brulee. And they turned out perfectly….

creme-brulee-2

 

Once the girls took a break from volleyball, they came inside and took a turn at using my rarely-used kitchen propane torch and burning the sugar on their individual desserts….

torching-creme-brulee

I will leave you with the recipe for crème brulee, but not the recipe for successful volleyball skills. You’ll have to ask Addie.

Crème Brulee
Makes six servings

Ingredients
1 qt. heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 c. white sugar, divided
6 egg yolks
Hot water

Process
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Place the cream, vanilla bean and its pulp into a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring it to a boil, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Once it reaches temperature, remove it immediately from the heat. Cover and let it sit 15 min. to cool. Remove the vanilla bean.

In a medium bowl, whisk together ½ c. sugar and the egg yolks until the mixture just starts to lighten in color. Then add the cream A LITTLE AT A TIME, stirring continually. If you add the hot mixture too quickly, the egg mixture will scramble. Once combined, pour the custard into 6 (7-8 oz.) ramekins. Place the ramekins onto a large sheet pan or roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake just until the custard is set but still shaky in the center, about 40-45 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the pan and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 3 days.

When ready to serve, remove the ramekins from the refrigerator and allow 30 minutes to come to room temperature. Using the remaining sugar, spread evenly over the custard. Then, using a kitchen torch, melt the sugar and form a crispy crust.

Allow to rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Nana’s Notes: I assure you, the crème brulee did not rest 5 minutes before the girls dug in. From the sounds of delight, they must have been good.

This post linked to the GRAND Social

Frozen Fruit

pmqgdreaz56msss6buvuThe first thing I want to say is I think that the entire world misspells the word sherbet. I pronounce it sher-bert. Always have. Always will. So that’s how it should be spelled. But it isn’t.

It’s kind of like the town in Nebraska – not far from where I grew up – called Norfolk. Now, if you are from Norfolk, VA, you pronounce it Nu-fuuk. Or something like that. But if you live in central or eastern Nebraska, you pronounce it Nor-fork, despite the fact that there is only one “R” in the word. Nebraskans, however, aren’t just being contrary. The name of the town originated from the fact that it is near the north fork of the Elkhorn River, but it became misspelled somewhere along the way.

I don’t know if something similar happened to sherbet, or if perhaps I’m the only one in the world who pronounces it sher-bert. But the bottom line is, it doesn’t really matter. Because no matter how it’s spelled or pronounced, I was bound and determined to make lime sherbet with Kaiya and Mylee yesterday.

I am a big fan of sherbet. Orange sherbet is my favorite, and if you really want to send me over the moon, give me a dreamsicle. When my father and mother owned the bakery in Columbus, they had an ice cream freezer from which they offered sweet treats. Ice cream bars, fudgesicles, ice cream sandwiches, ice cream drumsticks. I loved being able to enjoy an ice cream treat after school or on a Saturday afternoon. And my choice? Almost every time? Dreamsicles. Well, to be honest, they were really orange push-ups. There was orange sherbet on the top and creamy vanilla ice cream on the bottom. Heaven on a stick.

kaiya lime sherbet

I think that Kaiya looks like Princess Kate in her Fascinator.

During the summer, our neighborhood Good Times offers a frozen custard flavor of the month, and on several occasions, that flavor has been dreamsicle. I would be embarrassed to tell you how often I will drive through and sneak a cup of dreamsicle frozen custard. Bill, I’m going to run up to church to light a candle for world peace, I will say, and head over to Good Times. The orange stain above my top lip when I get home gives me away every time.

Instead of orange, however, Kaiya and I made lime sherbet. Mylee was too busy playing with Play Doh. Through the process of finding a recipe, I learned that the difference between ice cream and sherbet is that sherbet uses half and half or milk as opposed to heavy cream. Oh, and fruit of course.

I dug out my ice cream maker for the first time this year. We mixed together the four ingredients and set the ice cream maker in motion.

freezing lime sherbet

Thirty minutes later, we had ourselves some lime sherbet.

lime sherbet

Lime Sherbet, recipe courtesy Amy Johnson from She Wears Many Hats

Ingredients
2 t. lime zest (from about 2 limes)
½ c. lime juice (2-3 limes)
2 c. half and half
½ c. sugar

Process
Zest and juice the limes. Combine zest and juice with the half and half and the sugar. Pour it all into an ice cream maker and freeze according to ice cream maker directions. When frozen thick, serve right away or transfer to a plastic container and place in freezer until ready to serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Nana’s Notes: To be honest, next time I make it, I will add more sugar. It is very tart, which grown-ups are supposed to like. I, however, like my sherbet to be sweet. I like most everything to be sweet. Also, the recipe doesn’t call for any food coloring. But Kaiya was very sad that the sherbet was so, well, not green. So we did add a few drops of green food coloring. Please don’t call the Pure Food Police.

Saturday Smile: Got It?

Cheese Danish as Mylee envisions it.

Cheese Danish as Mylee envisions it.

You might remember that a few weeks ago, Mylee was Student of the Week, an honor which eventually goes to each kindergarten child throughout the year. It is basically a Show-and-Tell on steroids. While in the spotlight, she was asked by her teacher what she wanted to be when she grew up. Much to my (and I think her parents’) surprise, she said she wanted to be a chef. Well, then.

The other day I was driving her home from school. It was just Mylee, as Kaiya had her first-ever Brownie meeting. As we drove home, I mentioned to her that I had taken Cole to get a cheese Danish roll at Starbucks, and that he ate it just as she did — cheese filling first.

“Of course, Nana,” she responded. “That’s because it’s the best part.” (Duh! she’s thinking.)

I went on to tell her that I thought I might try and see if I could make cheese Danish myself.

Without a second thought, Mylee said to me, “Here’s what you do, Nana. You take a slice of bread. You cut off the crusts and make it square. You put cream cheese in the middle of the bread and you bake it. Got it?”

I swear she said, “Got it?” I nodded, because she’s the boss. I was pretty sure my recipe would be a bit different than that. And, in fact, it was…..

danish

Cheese Danishadapted from Ina Garten and Food Network

Ingredients
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
2 extra-large egg yolks, at room temperature
2 tablespoons ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
2 sheets (1 box) frozen puff pastry, defrosted
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

Process
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Place the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and cream them together on low speed until smooth. With the mixer still on low, add the egg yolks, ricotta, vanilla, salt, and lemon zest and mix until just combined. Don’t whip!

Unfold 1 sheet of puff pastry onto a lightly floured board and roll it slightly with a floured rolling pin until it’s a 10 by 10-inch square. Cut the sheet into quarters with a sharp knife. Place a heaping tablespoon of cheese filling into the middle of each of the 4 squares. Brush the border of each pastry with egg wash and fold 2 opposite corners to the center, brushing and overlapping the corners of each pastry so they firmly stick together. Brush the top of the pastries with egg wash. Place the pastries on the prepared sheet pan. Repeat with the second sheet of puff pastry and refrigerate the filled Danish for 15 minutes.

Bake the pastries for about 20 minutes, rotating the pan once during baking, until puffed and brown. Serve warm. Makes 8 Danish rolls.

Nana’s Notes: DO NOT USE WHITE BREAD FOR YOUR DANISH ROLL DESPITE WHAT MYLEE SAYS! Got it? I cut the recipe in half and made only four Danish rolls. 

My Way or the Highway

I’m going to hear a collective gasp from many of my readers – not the least of which will come from both of my sisters – but I don’t particularly buy into the notion that birth order largely affects one’s personality.

I’m sure birth order – like many things – impacts the way one sees life. However, I think that there are so many variables involved that you just can’t say unequivocally that he or she is that way because of placement within the family. For one thing, any time I read anything about birth order, it talks about first-born, middle child, and youngest. That implies all families consist of three children. So since I am the second of four, I guess that makes me a middle child, and so is my younger sister. And yet I assure you that she and I are not alike in very many ways. Mom always did like her best.

In my family, my brother is the youngest. Supposedly that makes him a free spirit, a risk taker, and charming. Now once everyone who knows my brother stops laughing at the notion of Dave being a free spirit, stop to think that he is the only boy in what was a traditional family. So, despite being the youngest, he had a lot of responsibilities that his sisters didn’t have, particularly when it came to helping Dad in the bakery. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure Mom made his bed every day (and if not, I will soon hear about it from him).

Having said all of the above (implying that I, too, am an amateur psychologist), I will tell you that where the birth order supporters get it right is when it comes to the first-born. Nearly every first-born that I know has many of the same characteristics – they religiously follow rules; they are born leaders; they feel responsible for, well, everything in the world; and they see things as black or white, right or wrong, real or imagined. I love first-borns and am delighted to let them take over my world.

Joseph first day school 2015Because I have three sets of grandkids, I obviously have three grandkids who are first-borns. I am not able to observe Joseph on a day-to-day basis, but when I’m around him I can easily see that he has a strong sense of the way things are supposed to go. When they don’t, he feels responsible. (His younger brother Micah agrees – Joseph is responsible!) He is a sensitive kid, often bearing the woes of the world on his shoulders (when he isn’t sharing his sweet grin).

If you look up first-born in the dictionary, you will see Addie’s picture. She is addie first day of school 2015 (2)responsible for everyone and everything. She is self-confident, ambitious, and successful. She knows what is right, and tries to make sure everyone toes the line. In fact, sometimes when she is visiting with her siblings and her brother is not behaving as she would like, she will begin disciplinary procedures. I gently remind her, “Addie, I’ve got this.” She looks at me as though she is thinking, “Well, you may think you’ve got this, but you don’t got this very well!

Kaiya is a bit of a different story. She is actually not a first-born, having a brother who is 14 years older. Still, she has a lot of the characteristics of a first born since she for all intents and purposes plays that role in the family. Kaiya notices everything, and has a strong sense of the way things are supposed to be. She is the one who notices if I’ve changed something in the house. She doesn’t Kaiya first day of school 2015 (2)hesitate to let me know that I really should have left well enough alone.

I recently got a new cookie jar. I bought it primarily for the color, which goes well with my new kitchen colors. Etched on the cookie jar are the words Fresh Homemade Cookies. For the most part, the cookie jar contains Oreos, because that is the cookie of choice for ALL of my grandchildren as well as their grandfather. But ever since I bought that cookie jar, Kaiya has told me I shouldn’t have the Oreos in that cookie jar because they aren’t homemade. “Nana, you need to make some homemade cookies to put in that cookie jar,” she recently instructed me.

WRONG!

WRONG!

RIGHT!

RIGHT!

Well, birth order or not, I did as she instructed and made some homemade peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. That should keep all the first-borns in my life at bay for a bit.

homemade cookies closeupPeanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies, adapted from korenainthekitchen.com

Ingredients
2-1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking soda
½ t. salt
¾ c. butter, room temperature
¾ c. granulated sugar
¾ c. packed brown sugar
¾ c. peanut butter
1 egg
1 t. vanilla extract
2 c. chocolate chips

Process
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar. Mix in peanut butter, egg, and vanilla until combined and creamy. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture, and mix until the dough comes together. Add chocolate chips and mix until combined.

Drop by rounded tablespoons or form into 1-inch balls onto a greased baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches between each cookie. Press each cookie with the back of a fork to give it the classic peanut butter cookie look.

Bake for 11-12 minutes, or until the edges are just beginning to turn brown. Cool on the pan for a couple of minutes before placing them on a rack to cool.

How Does Food Network Say to Do It?

imgresI have watched Food Network almost from the very beginning (which Wikipedia tells me was 1993). I watched Tyler Florence when he was on a program called How to Boil Water. He was something like 15 years old. I still prepare a chicken enchilada recipe I learned from him on the show.

I watched Emeril Lagasse entertain crowds via his over-the-top personality and garlic-laden cooking. I don’t believe I have ever cooked a single one of his recipes as they are way too complicated. Still, he was a founding food star on Food Network and fun to watch.

I watched the early Bobby Flay programs back when he had only married and divorced a couple of women and Giada De Laurentiis wasn’t even a gleam in his eye. I don’t believe I have ever even looked at one of his recipes because frankly, he annoys me and always has. How could he cheat on his beautiful and talented wife Stephanie March? You know how friends choose who they are going to stick with following a divorce? I choose Stephanie! I loved her on Law and Order. Still, I watched his shows. How could I not? They were ubiquitous.

I was a fan of Paula Deen up until, during, and after her remarks about her use of the “N” word. Her honesty was refreshing and it isn’t like she didn’t learn from her mistakes. But man-oh-man did she need a better PR strategy. As for her recipes, yes indeed I have used many. I make her cinnamon ice cream very often. It’s my go-to recipe for ice cream. If I make vanilla ice cream, I simply leave out the cinnamon and add vanilla. Boom.

You can still find reruns of Alton Brown’s Good Eats on the Cooking Channel – Food Network’s annoying little brother. Good Eats used to be on at 10 o’clock at night Monday through Friday. While it’s unimaginable to me now to think about not being in bed reading by 9:30, I recall watching the show as I waited up for Court to get home from wherever he wasn’t supposed to be. Alton Brown is seriously funny and his show was irresistible. Nevertheless, I found he made things so difficult. I remember that in his show about baking cakes, he advised that the cakemaker should weigh the two cake pans to ensure you are putting exactly the same amount in each. My apologies to all of you first-borns who actually do this, but – SERIOUSLY?

At first I took everything the chefs and cooks said as religion. For example, they said (and continue to say) you simply can’t be a good cook without a gas stove. For many years I lamented the fact that I cooked on an electric glasstop stove. A couple of years ago it hit me that, despite my use of an electric stove, I was a perfectly fine cook as was my mother, who mostly cooked on an electric stove, though I have a distant memory of a gas stove and her having to use a match to light it. It is this memory, in fact, that prevents me from reconfiguring my kitchen to allow cooking with gas, as I am terrified of blowing myself up. That, and I don’t have $30,000 for a kitchen remodel.

My favorite chef, as well as my favorite cooking show of course is Lidia Bastianich. She is not on Food Network, but instead appears on PBS. Next to my mother, Lidia is the person from whom I have learned the most about cooking. I own all of her cookbooks, and all are well-worn. I find I talk to myself while cooking as though I am talking with Lidia. I have had the good luck to eat at one of her restaurants on several occasions  — Becco in NYC. Each time I have fervently wished that she would appear out of the kitchen so that I could run up to her, throw my arms around her, and thank her for teaching me to cook.

I am pleased to tell you she never did.

I will also tell you that many of my grandkids also watch Food Network. The other night I watched Cake Wars with the McLains (aka, The Cousins) at their bequest, and Kaiya and Mylee often watch Chopped with their Dad. It brings tears to my eyes.

While I now take what the chefs tell me with a grain of salt (remembering, for example, that I am not rich enough to own a house in the Hamptons, nor do I have a sous chef to prepare my ingredients), I have learned a lot from watching the chefs on Food Network.

Next week I will tell you what I’ve learned.

And for kicks……

Homemade Cinnamon Ice Cream, Adapted from Paula Deen and Food Network
Yield: 2-3 quarts

Ingredients
2 c. half-and-half
2 cinnamon sticks
½ pint heavy whipping cream
14-oz can sweetened condensed milk, chilled
1 qt. whole milk

Process
In a saucepan, combine half-and-half and cinnamon sticks. Cook for 20 minutes over low heat (do not boil) Remove cinnamon sticks and chill milk for 4 hours.

With an electric mixer, beat whipping cream on high speed until soft peaks form. Add the chilled sweetened condensed milk and continue to beat until stiff peaks form.

Add chilled half-and-half. Pour mixture into the canister of ice cream freezer. Freeze according to the ice cream maker manufacturer’s directions. Place ice cream in another container and freeze for several hours.

Working Girls Reprise….

I’ve mentioned before that my mother was the youngest of 13 children. Out of all of those kids, none remains. Earlier this past week, my Aunt Leona, the wife of my mother’s brother Elmer, passed away. She was 96 years old. She was a faithful wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and a working woman when women simply didn’t work outside the home. She was also a serious home cook. My mom always said she learned many of her cooking skills from Leona. While I know Leona is now with God, as well as back with her husband of 60 years, my Uncle Elmer, we will miss her. Her passing is the end of my mother’s family of brothers, sisters, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law. It’s sad to see that generation coming to an end.

In tribute, I am reprinting a blog that I ran a year or so ago about my Aunt Leona….

Working Girls (Originally published October 14, 2014)

kak-leona-kris-bec-john-marylou1As I have looked into my family history, I have realized that I come from really good stock on both sides of my family. Hard working, self-sufficient, honest, kind, straight-forward, and funny as can be. There has always been a lot of laughing in my family. Still is.

And a lot of cooking.

I’ve mentioned that in my mother’s recipe box, there are recipes in her handwriting, but many recipes in other’s handwriting. Many of those recipes are from my Aunt Leona, now in her early 90s. She was, perhaps, the best cook in the entire Micek family, but don’t tell anyone else I said that. Leona was married to my mom’s brother Elmer.

I was going to talk a bit about her in my post today, and so I asked her daughter – my cousin – to fill me in a bit on her life. What she wrote was so interesting and full of love that I’m going to publish it almost verbatim. I changed or added a few things to make it clearer. Thanks Kak!

My mother taught for six years after graduating from high school in rural schools in Greeley County, Nebraska.   In high school, she took “normal training” which was teacher prep. She then took a test from the county superintendent and was in the education business.  Mom taught until she married Dad.  

When Dad was in basic training in Arkansas, she worked at McCrory’s, a dime store, and at a printing place.  She went back to teaching at St. Bonaventure Elementary in Columbus, Nebraska, when my younger brother Tom was in third grade.  She taught for 24 more years at St. Bon’s, in Duncan District 82, and in Columbus Public Schools.  My mother got her degree the hard way, a little at a time in summer sessions and night classes at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Midland College in Fremont, Nebraska. 

My mother cooked from the time she was in high school.  My Grandma McGuire made great bread and noodles, but she was a slow moving woman and my mother was the oldest of seven kids.  When Dad went overseas, Mom moved in to Gramps Micek’s house and did most of the cooking there as Grandma Micek  was sick and then died.

 When we moved to our own house in Columbus, Mom cooked two meals a day EVERY day, and sometimes three.  When she went to summer school, she would leave food for me to heat for Dad at lunch.  We never went out to dinner as a family.  She and Dad went out a couple of times a year.  She also cooked for the band after dance jobs because cafes weren’t  open at one or two in the morning. 

Now that she lives in assisted living, the thing she misses is cooking for herself!

 Basically my mother raised us as Dad was mostly working at his day job and playing with his and Uncle Bob’s bands at night.  Sometimes with the band, Tom and I went along and Mom sold tickets and we sat with her.

The only disagreement I remember them having was when Dad let Tom go on the road playing dances with his rock band at age 16.  Mom thought he was too young to be driving other kids at night alone.  She was right, but Dad won.

My mother was pretty much a “working woman” before the time when that’s what women did. None of my friends’ mothers worked.  But she never missed an event!  Bless her heart!     

Dad Mom Leona Elmer

L-R, Dad, Leona, Mom, and Elmer, circa 1985.

My cousin tells such a beautiful story about her mother. I’m not sure our children can understand how unusual it was for a mother to be working outside the home in those days.

My mom also was a working mom since she and Dad had the bakery and she was always there to help out. If things had been different and if Dad had worked in a traditional job, I wonder if Mom would have been content to stay at home. She was certainly the only woman in our neighborhood with a job.

As for Leona, Mom always said she was an outstanding teacher, and I have no doubt this is true. When my brother was in 4th grade, he had Leona as a teacher. I recently asked him what kind of a teacher she was. He said, “She was very serious. And I got no special treatment because I was her Godson.” On a side note, he recalls that he wasn’t always an angel, and wonders if she didn’t know or if she just let it slide. I know the answer to that question. You didn’t pull the wool over Leona’s eyes. She knew and let it slide. So he did get special treatment because he was her Godson!

As for me, I still make her refrigerator dill pickles. They are delicious. Her brownies are amazing, and the recipe follows. I will tell you this much, when my chocoholic husband took the first bite, I saw the look in his eyes and asked him if he wanted to be alone with the brownies for a bit. Heavenly…..

Leona brownie

Before

leona brownie empty plate

After

Leona’s Brownies

Cream 1 cup sugar with 1 stick of butter
Add 4 eggs, one at a time, beating well after each

To the mix, add

1 16-oz. can Hersheys chocolate syrup
1 c. plus 1 T flour
1/2 t. salt
1 c.  chopped nuts (optional)

Mix well.

Bake 30-32 minutes at 350 in a greased 9 x 12 pan

Frosting:  Boil together, stirring constantly:

3/4 c. sugar
3 T. milk
3 T. butter

Remove from heat and add 1/2 c. chocolate chips. Stir until melted and pour over warm brownies.

Nana’s Notes: I was unable to find any cans of Hershey’s chocolate syrup. When did they stop making them? Life will never be the same. What I could find, however, is Hershey’s chocolate syrup in a plastic bottle near the ice cream aisle. I think it’s probably the same. They claim it is 24 oz., but I measured out two cups. The brownies are unbelievably moist. A funny side note is that Leona got this recipe from her friend and school secretary. Kak said another friend of hers whose mother taught in the Nebraska school system has the same brownie recipe. It must be the official Nebraska School System Brownie!

 

The Best Part of Waking Up

2015-02-18 18.36.59I am almost always up before my husband. Frankly, I am up before most species of birds. I am, and always have been, an early riser. If I sleep past 6:15, someone should put a mirror under my nose.

By the way, being an early riser doesn’t mean I wake up whistling. Far from it. Bill, who nearly always sleeps longer than I, wakes up annoyingly jolly. He bounces out of bed and immediately begins talking and/or asking me questions.

How’d you sleep? What’s your blog about this morning? What are your plans for the day?

Fine. Read it for yourself. I’m retired so I have no plans. Please stop being so cheerful.

Because of this difference in our morning personalities, I love my little bit of quiet time in the morning before he gets up. My routine is always the same. (Now that’s redundant!) I turn on my computer, I walk around and open the blinds to let in morning light or at least watch the sun come up. I make the coffee. While it brews, I post my blog.

By time I’m finished posting my blog, the coffee is ready. I pour a cup, and put the rest in a thermos pot that I have heated up with hot water. Then I sit down with my book and take that first sip.

There is nothing better than that first sip of hot coffee in the morning. Nothing. Better. Period. Not the second cup. Not even the second sip. That first sip of coffee, so hot it can burn your tongue if you’re not careful, is divine.

If you looked up coffee connoisseur in the dictionary and then checked for its antonym, you would see my picture. I am simply not a coffee snob.

A few years ago when I started reading food magazines and watching Food Network, I began to focus on what needed to happen so that my coffee was extraordinary. Freshly roasted whole beans that you grind every morning. The beans must come from certain parts of the world. The water had to be a certain temperature when it brewed. The coffee had to be poured at a certain temperature. It had to have a chocolate taste followed by tobacco and saddle leather flavors at the back of your tongue.

One day it occurred to me that I was just as happy with a cup of coffee from Circle K as I was from beans grown by a lonely farmer at the foot of Mount Kenya.

Yes friends. I have no coffee palate.

By the way, right now both of my sisters are absolutely cringing and checking our family tree to make sure I am actually from the same bloodline. On the other hand, my brother is thinking, yeah, I’ll meet you at Circle K for a cup of joe. My sisters really are coffee connoisseurs. Unlike us, they don’t have holes in their stomachs from cup after cup of crappy coffee.

But even I draw a line.

A while ago, I decided that I was going to try to make homemade tortillas.  I read that you could use a big coffee can to flatten your tortillas.

So off I went to Walmart to find coffee in a big can. To my surprise, coffee is no longer sold in metal cans. They all come in bags or in plastic containers.

After looking and looking, I finally found one lone brand of coffee in a big 3-lb. can. Three pounds of coffee for something like $5.75. At that price, it must really be swill, I thought to myself. Still, I needed that can.

About that time, a woman somewhere around my age reached for that same coffee. “It’s my husband and my favorite,” she told me. “It isn’t too strong and we like the flavor.”

So I bought the coffee.

The next day I brewed up a pot of the coffee. I sat down with my cup and took that much-anticipated first sip.

It was, to put it bluntly, undrinkable. Simply awful. I did the unheard of thing and poured an entire pot of coffee down the drain and, what’s more, poured the remaining unused coffee grounds into the garbage can.

Even I have standards.

banana breadSince we’re talking about coffee, let me share with you my mother’s recipe for banana bread. It is simple and delicious with a hot cup of coffee. When I made it recently, we put the much-talked-about icing on the cake by smearing it with peanut butter frosting and squeezing chocolate sauce over. Delicious.

For what it’s worth, I never use nuts. Also, it never seems to take an hour to bake, so begin looking at it around 45 minutes.

Nanas Banana Bread