Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch

While Google News feeds Bill news stories about the economy or the international trade market, Google News feeds me stories about Keith Urban, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge or breaking news about Dunkin’ Donuts dropping “donuts” from their name. The last one really shook me up. I can handle the news about Princess Charlotte’s misbehavior at royal functions, but no “donuts” in Dunkin’ Donuts? When did donuts become the red-headed stepchild?

All that aside, it was via a Google news feed that I came across an article which provided the quintessential dessert from each state in the Union. I quickly perused the article, noticing that the iconic dessert for Arizona is sopaipillas, which surprised me since I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a sopaipilla in Arizona. Colorado’s, by the way, was Palisade peach pie. Maybe. Lord knows I’ve baked enough of those. And we should thank our lucky stars that it isn’t marijuana brownies.

As I was looking at each state, I noticed that the dessert for Indiana was something called Hoosier Pie. I knew what Hoosier Pie was because Bill’s mom used to make it for her family, and I had the recipe. She didn’t call it Hoosier Pie, despite the fact that she was born and lived in Hobert, Indiana, until adulthood, at which time (following a year or so at Purdue University) she moved to Chicago, where she spent the remainder of her life.

Instead, on the hand-written recipe card, she titled it My Mother’s Cream Pie. I mentioned it one time to Bill as I came across it in my messy pile of recipe cards. He immediately (and happily) said, “Sugar pie!”

This particular pie apparently has a number of names, and Sugar Pie is one of them. It’s also referred to as Hoosier Pie, Sugar Cream Pie, Finger Pie, and Quebec Sugar Cream Pie. While the names are different, the recipe is always basically the same: a cup of sugar, a tablespoon or so of flour and a cup of heavy whipping cream. Mix, put it into an unbaked pastry shell, and bake until it’s bubbling like a pecan pie.

Yesterday afternoon, I decided to make Wilma’s Mother’s Cream Pie. Except I changed it up. Now, I will tell you that my brother Dave has strict guidelines about changing a family recipe. For example, if I’m making Mom’s chili and I decide to add cumin to the soup (something Mom’s chili never contained), he maintains that I can no longer refer to it as Mom’s chili.

So I made certain to explain to Bill that while I was making Sugar Pie, I was going to use brown sugar instead of the white sugar called for in Wilma’s Mother’s Cream Pie recipe. Bill allowed as that was fine, not being as strict as my brother.

By the way, the reason it is sometimes referred to as Finger Pie is because traditionally, the Hoosier bakers would line the pie pan with the pastry, and then put in a cup of sugar and a little bit of flour, and mix it with their fingers. They would then add the cream, and oh-so-carefully mix that together with their fingers so as to not add any air to the whipping cream and to prevent damaging the pie crust.

In a million years, I couldn’t envision my always-proper mother-in-law mixing pie ingredients with her fingers. I did, however. And I used brown sugar, because that’s what sounded good……

As I served up the pie, I asked Bill if his mother served it with whipped cream. This man who at this stage in his life would prefer living on sweets instead of bothering with meat and (God forbid) vegetables, looked at me like I was crazy and said, “No to whipped cream. Isn’t it made from sugar and cream?”

Well, yes it is. But given Bill’s family of origin’s penchant for sweets, it wouldn’t have shocked me.

Here is Wilma’s original recipe. Mine was identical except I used brown sugar, and used my fingers to mix the ingredients while in the pie shell….

Wilma’s Mother’s Cream Pie

1 c. sugar
4 T. flour
1 c. cream
1 T. butter

Mix sugar and flour together; stir in cream. Pour into unbaked pie shell and dot with butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes until you can insert a knife and it comes out clean.

Baking Angels

My dad was a professional baker, as was his dad before him. My brother baked with Dad from the time he was old enough to hold a rolling pin in his chubby little toddler hands. He has worked in the baking industry his entire life, and still does. My sister Jen says she can’t bake a lick, though I’m not entirely sure that is true. My sister Bec is the one in our family who we count on when we want baked items at our family gatherings. Bundt cakes and brownies are her specialties. Ask Bill, who enjoys the fruits of her labors.

As for me, I absolutely LOVE to bake. However, for the most part, I stink at it. There you have it. My name’s Kris, and I’m a Horrible-Baker-Who-Should-Be-Better-Because-My-Dad-Owned-A-Bakery. Maybe there’s a support group.

So, now that I’ve given you background, let me tell you a story.

The other day I got a hankering for biscotti. You know, those hard cookies that you dunk in coffee or tea, or if you’re in Italy, maybe Vino Santo after a wonderful dinner al fresco. My favorite biscotti recipe comes from Giada di Laurentis, but they contain pistachios (yum) and dried cherries or cranberries. Though I shouldn’t eat the dried fruit, I could possibly let that slide; however, the pistachios are a firm no-go on my low fiber diet, no matter how delicious they are.

So I got the notion to bake chocolate biscotti. I knew Bill would be happy, and I was confident I could find a recipe for chocolate biscotti without nuts. And so I did, Double Chocolate Biscotti from Once Upon a Chef blog.

Biscotti are not terribly hard to make. The trick is that you mix the dough, form it into a log, and bake it for a half hour or so. You then remove the baked dough from the oven and slice them into the familiar biscotti shape. Then, bake them again for 10 minutes or so, until they sort of dry out and become hard.

The reason I’m a sort of hit-or-miss baker is because I’m sloppy and apparently quite forgetful. I’ve always been sloppy; I grow more and more forgetful as I grow older.

So, using my beloved Kitchen Aid mixer, I mixed the ingredients, all of which, surprisingly, were in my pantry. I took the sticky dough and formed it into two carefully shaped logs. I was about to put them in the preheated oven when the guardian angel in charge of food preparation landed on my shoulder and said, “You forgot to put in the chocolate chips, Stupid.” Who knew angels used such hurtful language?

So here was my conundrum. The logs were beautiful, glistening with chocolaty goodness. As I saw it, these were my two choices: 1) Dismantle the logs and put the dough back in the Kitchen Aid mixer, add the chocolate chips, and re-form into new logs; or 2) Change the name from Double Chocolate Biscotti to simply Chocolate Biscotti and don’t do a damn thing…..

As you will see from the photo, I chose the former solution. I just could picture Bill’s face when he bit into a soft chocolate chip in his cookie. These are doubly chocolaty delicious, he was bound to say…..

Double Chocolate Biscotti

1-3/4 c. plus 2 T flour, measured carefully
¼ c. plus 2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
1 t. baking soda
¾ t. salt
1 stick butter, at room temperature
¾ c. plus 2 T granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 t. vanilla
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each egg and scraping bowl with a spatula. Add the vanilla. Then add the dry ingredients and chocolate chips and mix on low speed until just combined.

Dust a work surface with flour. Scrape the sticky dough out onto the work surface and dust the top of the dough to make it workable. Shape the dough into a ball and cut in half. Form each half into a log, and place on the parchment-lined cookie sheet. Shape into longer logs about ¾ in. high and 2 in. wide. Allow enough space for the logs to spread a bit while they bake.

Bake for about 35 minutes, until firm to the touch. Let the biscotti logs cool on the pan for about 5 minutes. Carefully remove logs onto a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, slice the logs on the diagonal into ¾ in. slices. Don’t worry if they crumble a bit.  Put the cookies back onto the cookie sheet on their sides (cut sides down), and place back in the oven for 10 minutes to dry and harden. Cool on the pan for a few minutes; then transfer to a cooling rack until completely cool.

Little House on the Prairie

I’m an early riser. It’s unheard of for me to sleep until 7; it’s not uncommon for me to get up around 5:30. However, yesterday morning, I awoke bright and early at 4:45, and talked myself into staying in bed until 5, when I finally heard the birds awakening.

I posted my blog and then went downstairs to fix coffee and open the windows to let in the cool morning air. I was settling down for my first cup of coffee when I suddenly had a hankering for a crumb-topped muffin. I started trying to figure out where I could buy one, and then reminded myself that I have all of the necessary ingredients to make them myself.

Which is what I proceeded to do. I preheated the oven to the necessary temperature, and was just putting the crumbly topping onto my muffins when suddenly there was a click and the sound of electronic equipment sighing, and the house went dark and silent.

The electricity had gone off.

Since Bill has been doing demolition and rebuilding in the family room, it certainly wasn’t out of the realm of possibilities that he might have done something that resulted in our house losing electricity. But since he was upstairs (I had just heard the sound of him walking around and getting ready to come downstairs) I gave him a pass, figuring that the entire neighborhood was probably without power.

Thankfully, it was almost 6 by this time, and the rooms were sufficiently light, if really, really quiet.  Nevertheless, I suddenly felt like Ma Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie. Except I wasn’t worried about angry Indians or rabid wolves attacking me.

I called my next-door neighbor to confirm that it was the entire neighborhood that was part of the powerless prairie. Doesn’t it just feel weird, she asked me. And it did. She had called the power company and was told that the power would be back on by 9:30 at the latest.

The first thing I did upon hanging up was to save the coffee by putting it in a thermos pot. (That’s kind of Little House on the Prairie-ish, don’t you think?) But if you have coffee, you can handle almost everything. This theory was born out when I heard a knock on my door a bit later and our neighbor from across the street had awakened to no electricity. And I don’t even have a cup of coffee, she whined. Our coffee was gone by that time, so I commiserated and she returned to her powerless house empty-handed.

You don’t really understand just how much we rely upon electricity. Bill was forced to read the junk notices we had put into our recycling bin the night before for entertainment since he reads all his news from the internet on his iPad. I kept promising things I couldn’t actually produce. How about a piece of toast with peanut butter, I asked. Except then I realized my toaster won’t work. Maybe I could drive over and get some bagels for breakfast, I said. Except then I remembered that our garage door is electric.

Actually, Bill was able to release some sort of lever or other and get our garage door to open manually, which was good because he had someplace he had to be at 8 o’clock. Pa Ingalls would have just taken the donkey cart. Even though I had no place to go, it made me feel better. At least I could go get some toilet paper if necessary. One always feels the need to buy toilet paper in an emergency. That’s why it’s the first thing to go when blizzard-shopping.

The electricity finally popped back on around 9:15. The first thing I did was to preheat my oven once again and bake some crumb muffins. They were even better for having to wait. And I again appreciated my 21st century conveniences.

Crumb Cake Muffins

1-1/2 c. flour
½ c. brown sugar
2 t. baking powder
1 t. cinnamon
¼ t. salt
¾ c. milk
1/3 c. canola oil
2 eggs

Crumb Topping
1/3 c. granulated sugar
1 t. cinnamon
¼ t. salt
½ c. butter, melted
1-1/2 c. flour

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with liners, or spray with cooking spray.

Make crumb topping: Combine sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Slowly pour in melted butter and mix. Add flour and stir until moist. Spread on plate or parchment paper to dry.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. In another large bowl or measuring cup, mix milk, canola oil, and egg. Pour wet mixture over dry ingredients and stir until moist.

Fill muffin tins and top with crumb topping. Bake for 15 – 17 minutes, or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.

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.


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….



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….


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

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

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

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

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…..


Cheese Danishadapted from Ina Garten and Food Network

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

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.





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

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

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

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

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


leona brownie empty plate


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