Thursday, December 28, 2017

Christmas PS

I'm feeling much better; the antibiotics are definitely helping. As is staying inside away from the 10F-degree high today.  It's a bitterly cold week here in CT.

I forgot to mention some of the highlights in my round-up from yesterday.  First, we made an incredible homemade Irish Cream, which I got from Smitten Kitchen, one of my favorite foodies.  Oh, that Irish Cream was good.  And easy.

Secondly, my collard greens were really good.  I've been working on perfecting the recipe, which I took from a chef's slow cooker book.  The vinegar called for was too much the first time so I cut it in half, which was much better.  Now I just need to up the salt since I don't use fat back.

Did I mention the sweet gift Bud gave me?  He had wrapped several small packages for me filled with frames and hangars for my Zentangle tiles.  "I want to see your art," he said.  Awwwww!

Slow Cooker Collard Greens

2 lbs fresh collards
3 oz fatback or bacon (or ham bouillon)
1 medium sweet onion, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ cup cider vinegar (or less)
1/3 cup sorghum molasses
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon salt (original is 1 teaspoon, but not enough)

You can sauté onion in bacon at first.  Or just put it all in the slow cooker and cook til  soft (I do it overnight.)

Hugh Acheson, The Chef and the Slow Cooker

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Christmas Round Up

Happy Solstice! Merry Christmas!  Almost happy new year!

It's been really quiet over here, except for the sound of my coughing.  Yep, my cold progressed into a sinus infection; I got antibiotics today and am hoping to feel better soon.

I didn't let it completely hamper our celebrations, but it was low key here.  Our big plan to go to Old Sturbridge Village for their candlelight event was iced out--they called us as we headed their way.  Though we had hotel reservations to spend the night and a lovely brunch planned at an inn the next day, we turned around (and got our money back for everything, amazingly!) It's just not worth driving in ice, though it was just rain so far here, especially with the main event canceled.

But that meant I had Ma, Gong, and Goo, no food to feed them, nowhere to sleep everyone, and nothing to do.  We made do by moving Christmas up from Christmas Eve to Christmas Eve Eve.  We opened the presents at night, just like Mama and Goo had done as children.  This gave us something to do. We found a hotel room for Ma and Gong overnight and then the next morning, Sunday, everyone came here for stockings--I needed to open something in the morning!--and brunch.  Thankfully, the turducken Mama ordered was defrosted enough to cook.  And I had collard greens for the crock pot and lots of mixed nuts and crackers with dips and cheese for nibbles.  By noon-ish, my in-laws left and Goo stayed a bit longer to play with the kids.

I napped, totally swamped by my stuffy nose.  So, by the real Christmas Eve, the house was emptied of guests and the partying was over.  I admit to feeling a bit let down, compounded by the cold.  It was all just . . . sedate? anti-climatic?  The kids had fun and liked their presents, but there was none of that raw childhood excitement, none of the giggly anticipation.  Is this what it's like when they're older?  I didn't like it one bit.  We slept in Christmas day--a first--and opened presents from my side of the family.  Then we had Chinese take out and watched Fantastic Beasts.  I took another nap.

It was comfortable, quiet, low-key, sedate, nothing like we've done before, quite, and a bit disappointing with OSV and my cold.  And of all the years that it would snow on 12/25, and we weren't even really celebrating that day!

So call it the Christmas blues or what not.  Mama had Tuesday off too and we just hung around.  She's back at work today.  Sis is at horses.  I'm home with Bud, having gone to the doctor this morning.  As I said on FB, a frappuccino and antibiotics almost make it better.  I had to cancel our two social outings tonight, the last vestiges of Christmas celebration on our calendar.

Oh, well.  It's a new year in a few days.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Advent Activities Continue

Making pretty good progress this year.

  1. Make wreath with boxwood branches--nope, bought one for a good cause.
  2. Put up Christmas tree--Done.  And it looks lovely.
  3. Church cookie cafe--Done.  Our favorites are hazelnut shortbread, cherry cookies, jam thumbprints.
  4. Put up lawn decorations--Done.  There is a new Snowy Owl figure for this year.  And they look great in the snow.
  5. Send Christmas cards--Done.  Today.  And since I've only gotten a few, I know I'm not the only one talking my time.
  6. Holiday horse picture photo shoot for Sis--Done.  Oh, how cute the pictures are!
  7. See new Star Wars--yes.  I'll comment later.
  8. Attend holiday strings concert at school--Done.  Saw the first concert at the other school on Thursday (they needed extra cello and violin players); will see the concert at their school tonight.
  9. Participate in Girl Scout holiday service field trip--Yep, made cards with and sang to the seniors.
  10. Go to office holiday party--Done.  The food, oh, the food.  
  11. Celebrate my birthday--yes. With pizza, Tex-Mex chocolate cake, and HP1.
  12. Read A Christmas Carol--we'll be listening to the audiobook on our drive to MA.
  13. Watch Little Women.
  14. Attend Bud's Piano recital--Done.  He played "Midwinter Memories," very nice.
  15. OSV Candlelight tour--soon.
  16. Deliver gifts to vet, etc.--have it ready, haven't delivered yet.
  17. Keep looking for Snowy Owls--DONE!  We've seen two.  Best. Year. Ever.
  18. Go to church vespers service.
  19. Have holiday game night--we opened a present early, Mysterium, a cross between Clue and Dixit.
  20. Celebrate Solstice
  21. Put up Christmas Lego Village on table--Done.  There are a lot of horses and penguins in it this year.
  22. Make gingerbread houses--this might be after Christmas.  I really want to try it.
  23. Bake Christmas cookies--yes, I made chocolate-chip snowballs and almond fantasy bars; Sis made chocolate crinkles, chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal lace, and saltine toffee.
  24. Choose a family charity for Advent of Gratitude--local food bank.

Hospice Happenings

A bit of a challenging day today at hospice because I got caught up between two sisters warring over their mom's faith (all were Christians; this was Protestant vs. Catholic.) I had tried a more inclusive prayer about light in darkness bringing comfort, but one sister wanted me to pray aloud at the bedside in support of her specific beliefs to let her sister know she was wrong and because she didn't believe her mom had truly converted. Whew. Don't ask me how I addressed it; it was messy and I have much to learn. I did manage to diffuse the situation by asking the passing guitarist to play some spiritual songs. They might not see eye-to-eye on theology, but they took refuge in the same songs. Still, I felt dissatisfied--just ugly in-fighting at the bedside all wrapped up in religion. I think if the one sister wasn't so afraid she wouldn't need to cling so hard to being right. And of course, I'm one of the last chaplaincy volunteers there who would be interested in which one was right.

I was pleased to see, in the midst of all the conflict, a crocheted blanket I had just donated on the patient's bed opposite us. Just a little subtle encouragement.

Some days are down, some are up. I'd had a really positive interaction on Monday, when I entered a patient's and met a visiting family member who was Deaf. We had a nice little chat in ASL about how they were celebrating the holidays with the patient and how I learned sign language. I was proud of myself because I sometimes have difficulties following long sentences but could understand everything he said. Yay!

And I received another compliment on my piano playing, this time from one of the music therapists. It certainly encourages me to practice more.

I have a two-week break because of the holidays, which will be great R&R. Then I'll be gearing up for my CPE which starts at the end of January.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Cycles and Circles

Life and death.  Birthdays and funerals.  The rain and overcast skies added to my reflective mood this week, especially yesterday.  As a pagan friend told me, "cycles and circles."  I've always emphasized the pagan interest in natural cycles, the circle of life, and death and birth again.  Yeah.  It's been a lot recently.  My uncle.  My local friend.  My hospice patient.  The first anniversaries of my uncle's and cousin's deaths.  Not to mention starving polar bears, the poverty in Haiti (see the article in the NYTimes), Roy Moore (even if he didn't get elected), #45, the tax bill, the bombing in Times Square, the fifth-anniversary of Newtown.  I'm reflective, low-key, and, yeah, somewhat down; it's not terrible or paralyzing or clinical, only blue.

Except at the same time, with the lows, I'm having some great highs:  lovely birthday lunch at Bloodroot with my favorite grilled cheese, tofu and cabbage salad, and yummy brandied fruit with ice cream (with lots of pineapple pieces and orange peel); kindness from my hospice patients' family at the funeral; an owl made by Sis, a great tangled dragon made by Bud, a book on historic costumes from Mama, a book on a cat who does hospice rounds from Gommie; pizza for dinner followed by chocolate cake made by Sis; lots of texts and posts from friends and family; great photos of Sis with "her" pony, Bud at kung fu, and the Snowy Owl; finishing another crocheted blanket.  And then today, at hospice, I was playing "Greensleeves" on the piano and a woman came in. She said that was her favorite song--and her mom's favorite song--and her mom had just died.  She couldn't believe she heard the song playing, like a miracle or a blessing sent by her mom, she said.  It was so touching and uplifting.

It's all about the light in the darkness, as we approach the longest night of the year.  No wonder Jews are celebrating Hannukkah now--the miracle of the light--and pagans will observe Solstice; even Jesus is the proverbial light in the darkness.  (Though, I am well aware of the problem of equating darkness with "bad" especially with the resurgence of so much public racism.)

Circle and cycles.

Cookie Craze

I'm craving cookies, particularly snowball cookies.  But not the usual pecan-and-powdered sugar variety--peanut butter, almond, lemon, maple, cherry, chocolate-chocolate!  Mmmm, a veritable blizzard of cookies.  I'm also having an almond thing and searched my Pinterest board for almond cookies; so many to choose, but I was taken with a few especially.  I doubt I'll make most of them, or even any, depending on the craziness of the next ten days.  But as I've said before, I like reading recipes as much as making or even eating them sometimes.

Peanut Butter Snowballs from Southern Living

1 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup chunky peanut butter (wonder if you could sub Nutella?)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted

Beat softened butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add granulated sugar, beating well. Stir in chunky peanut butter until blended.

Combine flour and salt; gradually add to peanut butter mixture, beating until well blended.

Roll dough into 60 (1-inch) balls; place 1 inch apart on parchment paper-lined baking sheets.

Bake at 350° for 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on baking sheets on wire racks 5 minutes. Roll warm cookies in powdered sugar. Dust with white edible glitter, if desired.

Chicago Magazine's Maple Pecan Snowballs

2 sticks (232 grams) good quality butter, unsalted (I used lightly salted), room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar, plus more as needed for rolling
Zest of half an orange (I used 2 teaspoons and would not use more)
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour (I used 250 grams)
1 1/2 cups ground pecans, toast before grinding (140 grams)

With a hand-held mixer, beat the butter and powdered sugar until creamy. Beat in the orange zest, maple syrup, vanilla and salt.
By hand, stir in the flour until fully blended, then stir in the pecans.
Cover bowl and chill dough for about 30 minutes.
Using a rounded tablespoon OR a medium size cookie scoop, scoop out 24 rounds.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and bake cookies for 20 minutes or until they are golden.
I baked the cookies in a convection toaster oven and they were done in 18 minutes.
Remove cookies from the tray and let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Roll cookies in reserved powdered sugar.

No-Bake Chocolate-Kahlua Snowballs

1/3 cup Kahlua coffee liqueur
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
One 9-ounce package chocolate wafer cookies, finely crushed
1/4 cup sifted powdered sugar
3/4 cup almonds, toasted and chopped
Additional powdered sugar

In medium bowl, mix Kahlua, corn syrup and instant coffee granules until well blended.
In medium bowl, combine cookie crumbs, powdered sugar and almonds. Mix well.
Pour coffee mixture over crumb mixture, blending well.
Shape dough into 1-inch balls.
Roll each ball in powdered sugar two times, making certain to coat each cookie well.
Cookies can be stored in an airtight covered container for up to 1 week.

Almond Snowballs from Food Network

3/4 cup sliced almonds
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, sliced and softened (1 1/2 sticks)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup confectioners' sugar

Pulse the almonds and sugar in a food processor until very finely ground. Add the butter and process until smooth, about 1 minute. Scrape the dough off the inside of the bowl, if needed. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and pulse to combine. Add the flour and salt and pulse to make a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a large piece of waxed paper and roll into a log about 15 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Cut the chilled dough into 1/2-inch pieces and roll by hand into balls. Space the cookies evenly on the prepared baking sheets and bake until slightly golden, rotating the sheets once, 15 to 20 minutes. Put the confectioners' sugar in a pie plate. Briefly cool the cookies on a rack, then gently toss in the confectioners' sugar until evenly coated. Return to rack, cool to room temperature, and then toss again in the confectioners' sugar.

Taste of Home's Cherry Snowball Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 jar (6 ounces) maraschino cherries without stems, drained and halved
Additional confectioners' sugar
In a mixing bowl, cream butter and confectioners' sugar; gradually add flour. Shape a tablespoonful of dough around each cherry, forming a ball. Place 1 in. apart on ungreased baking sheets.Bake at 325° for 18-20 minutes or until the bottoms are browned. Roll warm cookies in confectioners' sugar. Cool on wire racks. Yield: about 2-1/2 dozen.

Double-Chocolate Snowballs from Crazy for Crust

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Special Dark, use your favorite)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips
Additional powdered sugar, for rolling (about 1 – 1 1/2 cups)

Preaheat oven to 375°. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Mix butter, 1/2 cup powdered sugar, cocoa, and vanilla with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add flour and salt and mix until the dough comes together. Stir in the chocolate chips. If dough is too soft, chill it until you can work it easily with your hands.
Scoop 1 tablespoon balls of dough and place on prepared cookie sheet.
Bake cookies for 7-10 minutes until bottoms are just slightly brown and the tops are no longer glossy. Remove from oven and cool for 5-10 minutes, until you can handle them. Fill a small bowl with 1 cup powdered sugar and roll each cookie in the sugar until coated. Place on a rack to cool. (Once cookies are cooled, you may want to re-roll them in more powdered sugar.)

Lemon Snowballs from Cooking Classy

2 cups (282g) all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp (24g) cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup (8 oz) butter, softened
2/3 cup (84g) powdered sugar
Zest of 2 lemons (about 4 tsp)
2 tsp lemon extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup (68g) finely chopped almonds
1 1/2 cups (180g) powdered sugar, for coating

In a mixing bowl whisk together flour, cornstarch and salt, set aside.
In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix butter on medium speed until creamy, about 20 seconds. Blend in 2/3 cup powdered sugar. Mix in lemon zest, lemon extract and vanilla extract. With mixer set on low speed slowly add in flour mixture and mix just until combine. Stir in almonds. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill 30 minutes, preheat oven to 350 degrees halfway through chilling.
Scoop dough out 1 Tbsp at a time and roll into a ball, then place balls on Silpat or parchment paper lined baking sheets, spacing cookies about 2-inches apart and bake in preheated oven for 14 - 16 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool several minutes then while cookies are still warm, pour 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar into a bowl and roll cookies in powdered sugar. Transfer to a wire rack to cool then once cookies are cool, roll in powdered sugar once more, this time to generously coat (I pressed it into the powdered sugar to give it a thick coating). Store cookies in an airtight container.

Chocolate Espresso Snowballs from Delish

2 stick softened unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
½ c. sugar
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1¾ c. all-purpose flour
¼ c. Unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp. instant espresso powder
½ tsp. salt
2 c. finely chopped pecans
Confectioners' sugar, for coating
In a large bowl, mix the butter, sugar, and vanilla until smooth. Stir in the flour, cocoa, espresso powder, and salt until thoroughly blended. Stir in the pecans. Cover the dough and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly butter 2 cookie sheets. Working in batches, roll the dough into tablespoon-size balls, and place about 2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheets. Bake in the upper and lower thirds of the oven for 15 minutes, until the tops are dry and the cookies are slightly firm to the touch. Let the cookies cool on the sheets for 10 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely; roll in confectioners' sugar to coat.

Nutella Snowballs from Life Made Sweeter

1/2 cup Nutella, frozen into 1/2 teaspoon portions
1 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (measured correctly - spoon & level method)
1 cup finely chopped pecans (or nuts of your choice)
More powdered sugar for rolling cookies - about 1/3 - 1/2 cup

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Scoop sixteen 1/3 - 1/2 teaspoon sized balls of Nutella and place them on the baking sheet. Place baking sheet in freezer for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, line another large (or two medium) baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Set aside.
In a stand mixer or using your hand mixer, cream butter and sugar together, until light and fluffy - about 3-4 minutes. Add vanilla and slowly add flour and mix until just combined. Fold in chopped pecans. beating at low speed, scraping bowl as necessary, until well mixed.
Scoop out ONE tablespoon sized dough balls and flatten in your palm. Place ONE frozen Nutella ball and place into the middle of each dough ball. (Work with one frozen Nutella ball at a time and keep the rest in the freezer so they stay frozen)
Add another ONE tablespoon of cookie dough on top and press the sides together and wrap dough around and roll into balls.
Place on prepared cookie sheet. Repeat until all the dough is used up. Chill entire baking sheet in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Bake cookies for 14-15 minutes until bottoms are just slightly brown - rotating pans halfway through. Be careful not to over-bake.
Remove from oven and cool on baking pan for about 2 minutes until you can handle them comfortably with your hands.
Meanwhile, sift 1/3 cup icing sugar into a medium bowl. While cookies are still warm, roll them in icing sugar. Place cookies on cooling rack, once they have cooled completely, roll them in icing sugar again.
Store cookies in an airtight container for up to 3 days or freeze for up to one month.

Classic Scottish Shortbread from King Arthur Flour

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
generous 1/2 teaspoon salt*
1 cup oats, traditional or quick
1 1/2 cups flour
*If you use salted butter, reduce the salt to 1/4 teaspoon

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease an 8" round cake pan.
The easiest way to make the dough is in a food processor. Place all of the ingredients into the work bowl, and process to make a smooth, sticky dough.
If you don't have a food processor, grind the oats in a blender before using. If you don't have a blender or food processor, use quick oats, rather than traditional. Combine the oats with the remaining ingredients, and mix until smooth.
Press the dough into the prepared pan, and score it into 16 wedges. A knife or baker's bench knife, dipped in water between cuts, is the tool to use here.
Bake the shortbread for 35 to 40 minutes, until it's firm and golden brown. Remove it from the oven, and after 5 minutes turn it out of the pan onto a piece of parchment, or a clean work surface. Cut all the way through the score marks to make wedges. Place them on a rack to cool completely.
Yield: 16 shortbread wedges.

Almond Fantasy Bars

Makes about 3 dozen

½ cup packed almond paste (about 5 oz; not marzipan), coarsely crumbled
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 sticks (1 cup) salted butter, room temperature
1 egg yolk, white reserved
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
Reserved egg white, lightly beaten
½ cup sliced almonds (about 1 ½ ounces)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan, then line with foil, leaving a 2 inch overhang on 2 opposite sides, and butter foil.

2. Pulse almond paste in food processor until broken up into small bits. Add salt and ¼ cup sugar and continue to pulse until finely ground, about 1 minute.

3. In an electric stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat together butter and remaining ½ cup sugar at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

4. Add almond mixture, egg yolk, and almond extract. Beat until well combined, about 2 minutes.

5. Reduce speed to low, add flour and mix until combined.

6. Spread batter evenly in pan with offset spatula. Brush some of lightly beaten egg white over batter and sprinkle with sliced almonds. Press lightly to adhere.

7. Bake until top is golden, 40-45 minutes. Cool completely in pan on rack, about 1 hour. Transfer with foil to cutting board, discard foil. Cut into bars.

Note: Cookies keep, layered between parchment, in airtight container at room temperature 4 days. Freeze for 2 months wrapped in foil in plastic ziptop bag.

Almond and Rose Petal Squares
1 1/4 cups icing sugar
3 egg whites
1 1/4 cups ground almonds
2 tbsp. rose petal jam (or your favorite jam or preserve)
3/4 cup shortcrust/pie pastry or try puff pastry in a pinch.
3/4 cup slivered almonds

Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface, pat into 8″ or 9″ square pan.
Prick the pastry with a fork and spread jam evenly over top.
Sift the icing sugar and mix in the ground almonds in a small bowl.
In a grease-free metal bowl whisk the eggs whites until stiff, then fold in the almond and icing sugar mixture.
Spread over the prepared pastry and sprinkle the slivered almonds.
Bake for an hour until golden brown and firm to the touch. Cool in the tin, then cut into squares.

Cardamom and Rose Tea Cookies by Meredith Steele
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups walnuts, finely chopped (the smaller the better)
3 Tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or paste
2 1/2 teaspoons rose water
1/4 (1 stick) pound butter, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 300°F. In a large bowl, combine flour, walnuts, sugar, and cardamom. Add the vanilla extract, rose water, and butter in small pieces. With your hands, combine everything together until it resembles a coarse meal.
Form the dough into 1 inch balls by gently squeezing the dough together and rolling it between your hands. Place the dough balls on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Next, place the cookie sheet in the oven and bake for 35 minutes. Once the cookies are finished baking, carefully transfer to a cooling rack to cool slightly.
Place the powdered sugar on a plate for rolling. Once the cookies have cooled but are still warm to the touch, roll the cookies in the sugar until evenly coated. Return the cookies to the cooling rack and allow to cool completely. Once the cookies have cooled completely, roll them once again in the powdered sugar for a second coat. Serve

Brownie Roll-Out Cookies*
Recipe from Deb’s mom, Smitten Kitchen
3 cups (375 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (225 grams) lightly salted butter, softened (Deb note: I don’t really see “lightly salted” much these days, so I used one stick salted, one stick unsalted)
1 1/2 (300 grams) cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa (approximately 60 grams — weights can vary a bit depending on brand. I use the “good” stuff–Droste, Galler or Valrhona –but I can assure you that my mother only used Hershey’s growing up, so your choice)
Preheat oven at 350 degrees. Whisk dry flour, salt and baking powder in bowl and set aside. Mix butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and cocoa in mixer. Gradually add flour mixture, and mix until smooth. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least one hour.
Roll out cookie dough on floured counter. Cut into desired shapes, brushing extra deposits of flour off the top. (It does disappear once baked, though, so don’t overly fret if they go into the oven looking white.) Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 8 to 11 minutes (the former for 1/8-inch thick cookies, the latter for 1/4-inch cookies) until the edges are firm and the centers are slightly soft and puffed.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
* According to my mother’s recipe, they’re called chocolate sugar cookies but I do not feel that it does them justice.

Salted Peanut Butter Cookies from Smitten Kitchen
Barely adapted, just a bunch of extra notes, from the Ovenly cookbook
Yield 26 to 28 cookies with a 1 2/3 tablespoon or #40 scoop. (I halved the recipe and regret it so much.)
1 3/4 cups (335 grams) packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups (450 grams) smooth peanut butter (see note at end)
Coarse-grained sea salt, to finish
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the light brown sugar and eggs until smooth. Whisk in the vanilla extract, then the peanut butter until smooth and completely incorporated; you shouldn’t be able to see any ribbons of peanut butter. Ovenly says you know the dough is ready when it has the consistency of Play-Doh, but I can tell you as the mom of a Play-Doh fanatic that mine was thinner, softer.
If you’d like to get those pretty striations across the top of the cookies, chill the dough by freezing it in its bowl for 15 minutes, stirring it once (so the edges don’t freeze first), before scooping it. If you’re not obsessed with these markings, you can scoop it right away. Scoop or spoon the dough into balls — Ovenly uses about a 1/4-cup scoop (probably #16); I use a 1 2/3 tablespoons or #40 scoop. Place on prepared pan. For the tallest final shape, place the tray in the freezer for 15 minutes before baking.
Sprinkle the dough balls lightly with coarse-grained sea salt just before baking. Bake smaller cookies for 14 to 15 minutes and larger for 18 to 20. When finished, cookies should be golden at edges. They’ll need to set on the sheet for a minute or two before they can be lifted intact to a cooling sheet. Trust me, you should let these cool completely before eating so the different textures (crisp outside, soft inside) can set up.
Do ahead: You can definitely make the dough in advance and either refrigerate it for a couple days or freeze it longer. However, if I were going to freeze it, I’d probably go ahead and scoop it first. You can bake them right from the freezer.
About chilling the dough: The Ovenly recipe says you can scoop and bake the cookies right away, but they keep their shape better if you chill them in the freezer for 15 minutes first. I tried it with and without and did find a better dome and final shape with the 15 minutes after. However, I was incredibly charmed by the striated marks from the cookie scoop on top of the cookie I bought last weekend, as well as in the photo in their book, and I realized that I couldn’t get it at home with just-mixed dough; you’ll get more of a blob shape from your scoop. So, I also chilled the dough for 15 minutes before scooping it and was then satisfied with the shape. It’s not necessary unless you’re as taken with top pattern as I am.
Two questions I suspect someone will ask very soon: Can you make this with all-natural peanut butter and can you make this with almond or a nut butter? The answer to both is yes, however, the authors themselves warn that you’ll get the best final shape and texture from a smooth, thick processed peanut butter like Skippy (their recommendation; updated to note, thanks to a commenter suggestion, that the 16.3-ounce jar of Skippy is estimated to contain 1 3/4 cups, saving you some measuring). I suspect an almond or cashew butter will have a similar effect as natural peanut butter. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Other Owl

Here is the second owl I've seen this season, this one spotted on a lamp post as I searched with my friend Mommy Goose.  Beautiful, even on an overcast day.

Holiday Party

It's always a great night.  This year, the food was even better.

Vegetarian meatball with polenta and pesto
Meatball with marinara had noodles and zucchini noodles
Hanger steak on stick
Fried Mac on stick with cheese sauce
Chicken taco with queso fresco
Shrimp taco
Spam fried rice
Poke bowl
Bacon bao
Cincinnati hot dog
Banh mi hot dog
Tijuana hot dog
Ham and grilled cheese with aioli
Grilled cheese with guac
Chicken parmesan ball
Cheeseburger ball
Chicken nuggets
Kettle chips
Ranch popcorn
Cheddar popcorn
Apple crisp popcorn
Sweet butter popcorn
Glitter doughnuts
Chocolate unicorn pudding
White chocolate unicorn pudding
Cake pop
Cookie pop
Eclair with candy strip
Caramel eclair with popcorn
Unicorn toast (like glitter frosting on toast)
Jungle juice

Advent Update

We're definitely making headway.
  1. Make wreath with boxwood branches.
  2. Put up Christmas tree--Done.  And it looks lovely.
  3. Church cookie cafe--Done.  Our favorites are hazelnut shortbread, cherry cookies, jam thumbprints.
  4. Put up lawn decorations--Done.  There is a new Snowy Owl figure for this year.  And they look great in the snow.
  5. Send Christmas cards.
  6. Holiday horse picture photo shoot for Sis--Done.  Oh, how cute the pictures are!
  7. See new Star Wars.
  8. Attend holiday strings concert at school--Done.  Saw the first concert at the other school on Thursday (they needed extra cello and violin players); will see the concert at their school tonight.
  9. Participate in Girl Scout holiday service field trip--Yep, made cards with and sang to the seniors.
  10. Go to office holiday party--Done.  The food, oh, the food.  
  11. Celebrate my birthday.
  12. Read A Christmas Carol.
  13. Watch Little Women.
  14. Attend Bud's Piano recital--Done.  He played "Midwinter Memories," very nice.
  15. OSV Candlelight tour.
  16. Deliver gifts to vet, etc.
  17. Keep looking for Snowy Owls--DONE!  We've seen two.  Best. Year. Ever.
  18. Go to church vespers service.
  19. Have holiday game night.
  20. Celebrate Solstice
  21. Put up Christmas Lego Village on table--Done.  There are a lot of horses and penguins in it this year.
  22. Make gingerbread houses
  23. Bake Christmas cookies
  24. Choose a family charity for Advent of Gratitude

Saturday, December 9, 2017


My hospice patient died this morning, after several weeks of decline.  I'd been visiting her once a week for about 20 months, talking about her family, her career, her travels.  She loved to eat and I was usually there for lunch; lobster, black olives, pistachio ice cream were her favorites.  And we listened to Harry Belafonte songs every time, singing and swaying along.  I will always remember her when I hear his music, which I'm listening to now in memoriam.  I will miss her, but I am glad she is free from suffering.  My thoughts and prayers are with her wonderful family.

Monday, December 4, 2017


Leaving church yesterday, I asked Sis to check my email to see if there were any updates from my bird listserv.  "There are owls at the beach," she said.

"Owls plural?" I asked incredulously.

Yes.  Two owls.

We were 30 minutes away from the beach and I worried we wouldn't get there in time.

But we did.  Oh, yes, we did.

Well, one of the owls had already departed, but the other was comfortable on a jetty, ignoring the pack of photographers about 30 yards away.

Most of the photos here were taken with a zoom; the first photo is with my cell phone and gives a better indication of how far away we actually were.  It is very important not to get too close to a Snowy--do not try to flush the bird for a flight shot or take a close-up without a zoom lens.  This can stress the bird--which is indicated by the owl staring at you, moving its feet, standing up--and lead to the owl's death.  We've already lost a few owls here in CT, perhaps in part due to human stressors.  It's best to stay a few dozen yards (20-30 yards) at least.  If you see an owl thin or in distress, contact one of these organizations.

But seeing these birds in person is truly magical.  The real Hedwig!  They are not nocturnal so you can go owling during the day.  They like to be near water and marshland, where the voles, mice, etc. that they eat are.  So look around rocks or logs near beaches or tidal areas.  Better yet, look for a clump of photographers!  It's best to have some binoculars and you'll need a zoom lens, if a great photo is your goal.  I just like to see them; the photos below were by Mama and Bud, who both liked trying to capture the experience with a good camera.  

You should have plenty of chances this year to see a Snowy.  Audubon indicates it's an irruption year, which means more owls than usual will make their way down from the Arctic in search of food.  Many of them will be juveniles making the trip for the first time and inexperienced with humans, hence the high mortality rate.   Here in Connecticut, we'll probably be seeing them through March or so, depending on the weather.  

Last note:  black flecks indicate a juvenile or female; the all-white owls are usually adult males.

Happy owling!  This is just the beginning.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The New Advent Activities

With twin tweens in the house, I have a feeling our Advent Activities will be a little different this year.  Already, Sis has said she doesn't want to host the cookie-decorating party that we've had for years.  It was always a chaotic, messy, fun evening.  Bittersweet to say goodbye to it.  And I imagine that's the way some of our activities will go.  In fact, this is more "my" list than "ours" now.

There is one thing I want to try as a family--an Advent of Gratitude exercise that I saw on FB.  I think it's a thought-provoking activity in this time of abundance.  When we're done, we'll have to think of a charity to which to donate it.

Our New Advent Activities List
  1. Make wreath with boxwood branches.
  2. Put up Christmas tree.
  3. Church cookie cafe.
  4. Put up lawn decorations.
  5. Send Christmas cards.
  6. Holiday horse picture photo shoot for Sis.
  7. See new Star Wars.
  8. Attend holiday strings concert at school.
  9. Participate in Girl Scout holiday service field trip.
  10. Go to office holiday party.
  11. Celebrate my birthday.
  12. Read A Christmas Carol.
  13. Watch Little Women.
  14. Attend Bud's Pianp recital.
  15. OSV Candlelight tour.
  16. Deliver gifts to vet, etc.
  17. Keep looking for Snowy Owls.
  18. Go to church vespers service.
  19. Have holiday game night.
  20. Celebrate Solstice
  21. Put up Christmas Lego Village on table.
  22. Make gingerbread houses
  23. Bake Christmas cookies
  24. Choose a family charity for Advent of Gratitude

(For comparison:  20092010201120122013, 2014, 2015, 2016.) 

Thursday, November 30, 2017


I've been accepted to the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program for the spring!!!!  Yay!  I'm very excited, though I'm also a bit apprehensive about juggling 400 hours in five months, plus parenting.  But the kids are older and I have their support and Mama's.  I really can't wait.  I've even started my "things to do before CPE" list.  Yay!!!

Belated Thanksgiving

What a wonderfully odd Thanksgiving we had!  I didn't cook the meal, for the first time in something like 20 years.  My BIL Goo cooked.  On Saturday.

And it was marvelous.

He mainly cooked my recipes, but he did a few of his owns.  Lots of appetizers, most of them cheese.  He had a cheese platter, a bake brie, a traditional caprese platter, crackers with salmon and cheese and dill, dates stuffed with goat cheese and pecans.  Plus the Chex Mix I brought.  It's a good thing the turkey took extra long so that we could eat a lot of them all!

For the main dinner, we had turkey, dressing, green bean casserole, yams, and cranberry sauce, plus roasted beets with goat cheese and also this amazing roasted squash and kale salad with spiced nuts, cranberries, and maple viniagrette.  I loved the spiced nuts all on their own, but they were especially good on the salad.  Sis ate the squash all alone.  The green bean casserole was made with French cut beans, which cooked more easily.  

And it really was delightful not to cook, not to host.  I helped, of course, as did we all.  Sis really enjoyed being in the kitchen with Goo.  She made the gravy all by herself and helped with the yams and pumpkin pasties.  Bud helped with the beets.  Goo is really good about teaching and guiding the kids, and worked with them on knife skills ("open stance," how to hold the knife, proper ettiquette.)  And we all chatted all the while.  Goo's kitchen is open to the living room, so that he wasn't cut off from the socializing like we can be at my house.  And, unlike when I cook, he didn't quite clean as he went!  But then he is a bachelor.  And an amazing cook.

I wish it wasn't quite so late when we were done--it was after 9 pm when we finished eating dinner--so that we skipped dessert together and didn't have much time to chat together.  I think we were all tired.  But I'd do it again in a heartbeat.  Maybe he can do Thanksgiving and I can do Christmas.  It would be nice to share.  As Sis noted, I wasn't as grumpy or stressful about cooking.  And that makes the holiday better for all of us.

(Except maybe Goo, who more than once acknowledged that it was a lot of work and he didn't know how I'd done it all those years.  With a lot of help, I'd say, and not as much good grace.)

Roasted Squash and Kale Salad with Spiced Nuts, Cranberries, and Maple Viniagrette from Serious Eats

  • 2 1/2 pounds (1 kilogram, about 1 large or 2 medium) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, quartered, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large bunch (about 8 ounces; 250 grams) lacinato or curly kale
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Pinch ground cloves
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups (about 8 ounces; 250 grams) pecans
  • 1 small shallot, finely minced (about 2 tablespoons; 20 grams)
  • 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon (10 grams) whole grain mustard
  • 1 tablespoon (15 milliliters) sherry vinegar
  • 1 cup (about 6 ounces; 200 grams) dried cranberries or cherries

  1. 1.
    Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 400°F. Toss squash pieces with 2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange in a single layer on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake until squash is tender throughout and well browned around the edges, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before attempting to remove from foil. Carefully remove squash from foil using a thin metal spatula and transfer to a large bowl. Set aside.
  2. 2.
    Meanwhile, pick leaves off of kale stems into a large bowl and roughly tear with hands; discard stems. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon (15 ml) olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and massage until well-coated in oil. Transfer to a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and bake until wilted and crisp in some spots, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer to bowl with squash.
  3. 3.
    Combine cinnamon, paprika, nutmeg, cloves, cayenne pepper, and brown sugar in a large bowl. Add nuts and 1 tablespoon olive oil (15 ml), season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and bake until toasted, about 5 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool slightly, then add to bowl with squash and kale.
  4. 4.
    In a medium bowl, whisk together shallot, maple syrup, mustard, and vinegar. Whisking constantly, drizzle in remaining 1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. 5.
    Add cranberries to bowl with squash, kale, and nuts. Toss with half of dressing, taste, and add more dressing as desired. The dressed salad can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Let it come to room temperature or briefly microwave until warm before serving.