Merry Christmas Vacation & Sticky Buns

King_RidgeHow could we have been so lucky? I don’t know how it happened (maybe it didn’t). When we were kids, we didn’t have to dream it, EVERY Christmas was white. By mid-December, the snow would start to fly. All rain and even the threat of a thaw were postponed until mid-to-late January.

Our winter wonderland made Santa’s job easy. From one year to the next, there was always some combination of Flexible Flyers, Flying Saucers, ice skates and skis under the tree. Oh and by the way, the Flying Saucers were not filled with little green men and did not whirl high overhead like a drone. They were aluminum disks that were perfect for flying down a hill at top speed. Flexible Flyers were made for hard packed, icy snow. Flying Saucers were made for the fluffy stuff.

Christmas vacations were filled with outdoor fun. There were plenty of little hills for sliding on Jackson Road. If we felt more ambitious, the country club was less than a mile away. Longfellow Pond was at the end of the street for skating.

Then, our already more than satisfactory Christmas vacations improved at least tenfold. Mom and Dad built a little brown house in the New Hampshire woods. After that, we spent all of our Christmas vacations whizzing up and down the slopes at King Ridge.

For the sake of our grandparents, we continued to celebrate Christmas Eve and Day in suburbia but we couldn’t get out of town fast enough. In the beginning, we headed north the day after Christmas. Then, we realized that most grandparents, including ours, don’t like to drive after dark. So, we’d have Christmas dinner at noon and they’d be out the door by two, maybe three o’clock. One year, I think they were barely out of the driveway before we were in our big blue station wagon and heading north.

King Ridge was a wonderful place for families. While it admittedly lacked vertical challenge, it made up for it with homey charm. Parents liked it because it was almost impossible to lose your kids. I’m sure a few kids managed to slip away for an hour or two but it took some doing. You couldn’t turn around without bumping into your mom or dad or one of your friends’ parents.

Kids liked King Ridge in spite of the ever-present village of adults. Ever-present, ever-vigilant and ever-ready to keep us from doing anything fun or stupid. Whether our actions were fun or stupid depended entirely on your perspective. If Mom and Dad were within eyeshot, we diplomatically agreed that jump was dangerous and bushwhacking through the woods was a bad idea. But as soon as they turned their backs, well, let’s just say that a kid’s gotta do what a kid’s gotta do.

Besides, you didn’t have to be a kid to do something silly. Take, just for-instance, the time our friends the McCauleys came up from Connecticut. Skip was a teenager and was delighted to have a few ski lessons. Dad was just as delighted to teach him. An athletic kid, Skip made amazing progress, deftly getting from top to bottom in one piece. As for Dad, he was not so deft.

Sometime, around mid-morning on the second or maybe third day of the McCauley’s visit, Skip passed Dad and joined us about three-quarters of the way down the hill. Showing off, Dad swooped down with plans for a dramatic stop and a magnificent rooster tail of light fluffy snow. Rather than dowse his friends and family, he pitched over … and broke his leg.

It looks like we’ll have a beautiful white Christmas this year. Have a safe holiday and bon appétit!

Sticky Buns
A special, old-fashioned treat for Christmas breakfast or any morning during the holiday week. Bakers will want to use their favorite white bread dough. If you’re not a baker, feel free to cheat with frozen dough. Either way, enjoy!
Makes 12-16 bunssticky_buns_02

3-5 tablespoons butter at room temperature
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup pecans or walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup currants
About 1 pound of your favorite homemade white bread dough or frozen, store-bought dough, thawed
Creamy Icing (recipe follows)

Generously butter the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch or 8×10-inch baking dish.

Put the brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in a bowl and stir to combine. Add the nuts and currants and toss to combine.

If using homemade bread dough, follow your recipe through the first rise.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 16×6-inch rectangle. Leaving a 1/2-inch border along one long side, generously butter the dough. Evenly sprinkle the sugar mixture over the dough.

Roll up the dough, jelly-roll style, forming a 16-inch long log and pinch the seam to seal. Cut the log into 12 or 16 equal pieces. Spacing them evenly, arrange the buns, cut side down, in the baking dish.

Cover the dish with plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator for a slow rise, 8-12 hours or overnight. (If you’re in a hurry, let the buns rise in a warm area until puffed, about 45 minutes.)

Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

Bake uncovered until the tops are golden, about 20 minutes. Cool for 5-10 minutes and drizzle with Creamy Icing. Serve warm.

Creamy Icing
2 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
About 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
2 or more tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until fluffy; slowly add the powdered sugar and continue beating until well combined. Add the sour cream, maple syrup and vanilla and beat until smooth and creamy. If necessary, add more sour cream until the icing is perfect for a nice, thick drizzle.

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One Year Ago – Cranberry Coffee Cake
Two Years Ago – Fish Stew Provençal
Three Years Ago – Twice-Baked Potatoes
Four Years Ago – Baked French ToastFive Years Ago – Braised Lamb with Artichokes and Mushrooms and Creamy Polenta
Six Years Ago – Beef Tenderloin with Red Wine Mushroom Sauce
Seven Years Ago – Potato, Leek & Kale Soup
Eight Years Ago – Salmon & Lentils

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What about you? How will you spend the week between Christmas and New Year? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2016

‘Tis the Season for Taxes & Lavender Scones

taxes_04What can I say? The sky is the color of dirty snow. One last pile of dirty snow still clings to the edge of the driveway. Rain is not just in the forecast; it is imminent. Step outside and it feels like your thermometer is off by at least five degrees. Could it get any worse? Yes, of course, our taxes are due next Monday. (No, that’s not a typo. April 15th is a holiday in Washington so the deadline has been pushed back.)

While paying taxes is no picnic, filing is even worse. I assume that there are people who embrace the process as a fascinating puzzle or mystery to unravel. Not I. Running through all those numbers is pure drudge. I suppose that if I was a clever accountant, I would appreciate the finesse and creativity it takes to master the tax code. But I’m not. I’m just an ordinary person with a mountain of forms and receipts and a not-quite-as-easy-as-advertised software package to navigate. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not complaining about the software. For years I did my taxes with a calculator and pencil, this way is much, much better.

I’m not alone. None other than Albert Einstein said, “The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.” If the dreaded tax season has you down, here are a few quotes to perk you up. If you like, you can use them to make refrigerator magnets. (You can sell the magnets to help pay your tax bill. Don’t forget to include your sales as miscellaneous income next year.)

Perhaps these lines will cheer you up, perhaps not. Anyway, here goes:

“No taxation without representation” was a popular slogan during the mid-1700s. The quote summarized the American colonists’ primary grievance against Mad King George. The notion of taxes without a voice in government led to the American Revolution. We have since learned that taxation with representation isn’t all that much fun either.

Benjamin Franklin shared the rather distressing truth that, “nothing is certain except death and taxes.” However, he failed to add that if you are hard pressed for time, the IRS will give you an extension. You just need to ask.

Too bad Richard Nixon didn’t heed his own words, “Make sure you pay your taxes; otherwise you can get in a lot of trouble.” The Watergate scandal, political corruption, dirty tricks and, yes, tax evasion landed Nixon in a whole heap of trouble and forced him to resign. Charges were not restricted to the president. Pleading no contest to tax evasion, Veep Spiro Agnew left office in disgrace ten months before Nixon stepped down.

Nixon and Agnew are not alone. Perhaps Leona Helmsley summed it up best, “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.” That was before the Queen of Mean was sentenced to four years in prison and fined $7 million for tax fraud. Al Capone must have been similarly deluded when he said, “They can’t collect legal taxes from illegal money.”

I guess Barry Goldwater knew what he was talking about when he said, “The income tax created more criminals than any other single act of government.” Will Rogers didn’t go quite so far. His take on our annual calculations and filing was, “The income tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf has.”

If your W-2 and myriad of other forms are signed and sent, well, good for you. If you are still busy calculating; my sympathies and best wishes.

Either way, with any luck, you’re due a refund. Bon appétit!

Lavender Scones
After your taxes are filed, clear your head of convoluted instructions and calculations with a leisurely cup of tea and a scone. Enjoy!
Makes 16 scones

3 cups all-purpose flour plus more for your work surface
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon dried lavender buds
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Lavender Honey Butter, recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with non-stick silicon mats or parchment paper.

Put the flour, sugar, lavender, lemon zest, baking powder, salt and baking soda in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer the buttery flour mixture to a bowl.

Stir the vanilla into the sour cream and then add the wet ingredients to the buttery flour mixture. Stir to combine.

tea_scones_04Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface, pat together and knead for 10 or 12 turns. Pat the dough into a 10×5-inch rectangle. Cut the dough in half lengthwise and then cut each half into 4 squares. Cut each square diagonally into 2 triangles.

Arrange the scones on the baking sheets and brush the tops with cream. Bake the scones at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until golden. A tester inserted into the center of one of the scones should come out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for a few minutes. Serve warm with honey butter.

Can be made ahead and reheated in a 350 degree oven for 5 minutes.

Lavender Honey Butter
2 tablespoons lavender* honey
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
8 ounces (2 sticks) butter, softened and cut in 1-inch pieces

Put the honey, lemon zest and juice in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed to combine. Add the butter and beat on low speed to break up the butter and begin mixing. Gradually increase the speed to medium-high and beat until well combined, about 5 minutes.

Spoon the butter onto parchment paper or plastic wrap, roll into a log and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

* Don’t worry if you can’t find lavender honey. Your favorite honey should work almost as well.

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One Year Ago – Calzones with Marinara Sauce
Two Years Ago – Chocolate-Espresso Cheesecake
Three Years Ago – Runners’ Chicken with Pasta
Four Years Ago – Steamed Artichokes with Bagna Cauda or Warm Lemon-Garlic Sauce
Five Years Ago – Death by Chocolate Cake
Six Years Ago – Filet de Perche Meunière
Seven Years Ago – Chicken Provençal
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

Yippee! I finished my taxes yesterday afternoon. How are doing with your calculations? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2016

Countdown to Christmas & Cranberry Coffee Cake

evergreen_basketThree days! Yes, there are only three days until Christmas. I don’t know about you but it has sort of caught me unawares. Yes, I’ve seen all the signs. The Christmas lights twinkle on Main Street. There are rows of evergreens at the farm stand. The barrage of holiday ads is relentless. The only thing missing is the cold and fluffy white stuff.

Who dreams of a green Christmas? Not me. At least for this New England girl, it’s hard to get in the spirit when it feels more like April than December. One excuse is as lame as another so I blame this year’s somewhat tenuous grasp of the holiday spirit on El Niño. I guess it is only fitting that this meteorological phenomenon arrives in the weeks leading up to Christmas. El Niño means the boy in Spanish and refers to the birth of Christ.

But what the heck; we’ve had green Christmases in the past and we’ll have them again in the future. It’s time to pull myself together. Anyway, the last few days before Christmas are really the best! With no time to spare, I’m making my final lists and checking them twice.

One last decoration? Looking around the house, there might be a few spots still shouting for attention. Nothing over the top mind you, just an additional bowl (or three) filled with greens or shiny ornaments. Do I need another wreath? (If you have to ask, the answer is probably yes.) The stockings are somewhere but where. And, didn’t I already get mistletoe?

Last minute shopping. Whether it’s special ingredients for the holiday feast, stocking stuffers or that impossible-to-buy-for rellie, there is always at least one last mad dash around town. I don’t mind; it only adds to the excitement. The shops bustle with activity and everyone smiles.

Wrapping. I rarely, maybe never, wrap as I buy. A day, maybe two, before Santa climbs down the chimney, I get into gear. First, I crank up the Christmas music or tune into It’s a Wonderful Life. Then, I take an assortment of fancy paper, bags and bows and turn plain packages into presents. I confess to using gift bags whenever possible but there are always a few present that require scissors, tape and wrapping paper.

Cooking with the girlies. The twirling girlies are not so little anymore. All three are taller than their auntie. Two are away from home and living on their own. Lucky for me, they have discovered that they like to cook. Emily played sous to my chef at Thanksgiving. Kaela has signed on to help with Christmas Eve dinner. I suspect Emily will join us. A good thing, since I may want to add a coffee cake for Christmas morning to my to-do list.

Rein it in. I’ve been known to go a bit nuts in the last day or two before Christmas. One year it was pinecone wreaths and mini-trees. Another time it was scarves. (I was still knitting at midnight on Christmas Eve.) Who knows what holiday treat will try to tempt me this year. It might be difficult but, with only three days to go, I’ll do my best to resist the urge to make dozens of lavender sachets, turn tiles into coasters or bake a gingerbread village.

Have a wonderful holiday! Bon appétit!

Cranberry Coffee Cake
What could be better on Christmas morning that a sweet and tangy coffee cake? Enjoy!
Serves 8

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
2/3 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup fresh or frozen (do not defrost) cranberries
Crumbly Nut Topping (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan, line the pan with parchment paper, butter the paper, dust with flour and tap out any excess.

Put the flour, baking powder and spices in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the orange zest and whisk again. Set aside.

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg, sour cream and vanilla and beat until smooth. With the mixer on low, gradually add the dry ingredients. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until just smooth. Do not overbeat.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle first with the cranberries and then with the Crumbly Topping.

Bake the cake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake until the cake is golden and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 10-15 minutes. Remove the springform collar and continue to cool. The coffee cake can be baked ahead and stored, loosely covered, at room temperature overnight.

Crumbly Nut Topping
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch allspice
3 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut in pieces
1/2 cup roughly chopped pecans or walnuts

Put the flour, sugar and spices in a small food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the topping comes together in lumps. Add the pecans and pulse once or twice to distribute the nuts evenly in the topping.

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One Year Ago – Fish Stew Provençal
Two Years Ago – Twice-Baked Potatoes
Three Years Ago – Baked French Toast
Four Years Ago – Braised Lamb with Artichokes and Mushrooms and Creamy Polenta
Five Years Ago – Beef Tenderloin with Red Wine Mushroom Sauce
Six Years Ago – Potato, Leek & Kale Soup
Seven Years Ago – Salmon & Lentils

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What about you? How do you get in the holiday spirit? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2015

Slipping into Fall & Applesauce Scones

I lived in northern California for a short time and complained bitterly about the lack of seasons. My dear friend Julie, a native of the area, suggested patience. She assured me that before too long I would come to appreciate the subtle changes in the California calendar. I didn’t wait. Instead, I returned to my New England roots.

Ah, New England where winter is gorgeous but beyond cold. Spring is muddy and slow in coming. Summer is wonderful but short. And then there is fall! New Hampshire comes into its own in the fall. There are those delightful weeks of Indian Summer in September when the leaves are still green. Next, come the bold and brilliant days of October. In spite of a chilly start and end, the days are warm and filled with golden sunshine. Even the austere and dark days of November, have a certain elegance. If you are not into austerity and elegance, well, there’s always Thanksgiving weekend with lots of family, friends, food, football and, of course, shopping.

The autumnal equinox on Wednesday signals the official start to fall. If you’re feeling gloomy about the change in seasons, cheer up. As far as I’m concerned, autumn has a lot going for it. What you ask? Well, how about:

Layers, layers and more layers. My fashionista friends tell me that layers are back in style. No matter what the trend, I’m a layer-er. Scarves, turtlenecks, that old flannel shirt and a pile of wooly sweaters! It’s almost time to pull them from storage. It’s nice to know that, at least for a season, I’ll have a passing chance at something akin to stylish. Then again, my scarves will be too long or too short and the turtlenecks and sweaters the wrong shade of gray or beige. I think it’s been decades since flannel became passé for anyone other than lumberjacks. Like I said, a passing chance.

Snuggling up by the fire. Whether it’s a rainy Sunday or a crisp evening, I love a fire in the fireplace. Sure, they sing about the lazy days of summer. However, an afternoon on the sofa, in front of the fire, with a cup of tea and a good book; you can’t beat it … especially when you add a little snooze in the middle.

Pumpkins, squash and apples. It’s time to stock up on my favorite fall fruits and vegetables. How about a road trip to an orchard? Are you in? We’ll pick apples and buy a jug of cider. If you’ve never tried it, I recommend you add a bottle or two of hard cider to your basket.

Why not make a day of it? We’ll bring a picnic and take a nice, long walk through the orchard or surrounding countryside. Before heading home, we’ll need to make one final stop at the farm stand. I need a big, fat pumpkin for the doorstep and a butternut squash for dinner.

Cozy cooking. All that exercise and the crisp evening air will work up an appetite for the kind of cooking New Englanders love. I need to dust off my soup kettle, stew pot and roasting pan. I’ll fill the house with the wonderful aromas of bubbling apples, roasting squash and much, much more. You can’t beat the first tastes of the autumn kitchen.

Here’s to getting out, staying in and enjoying all that fall has to offer. Bon appétit!

Applesauce Scones
These scones are perfect for an autumn breakfast, teatime or anytime you want to settle back and relax with a good book or a good chat. Enjoy!
Makes 12-24 scones

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch cloves
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries
1 cup homemade applesauce
1/4 cup maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silicon mat or parchment paper.

Put the flour, baking powder, salt and spices in the food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the walnuts and raisins and pulse to combine.

Whisk the maple syrup into the applesauce, add it to the dry ingredients and pulse until the dough comes together in a ball. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface, pat into a ball and gently knead until smooth, 8-12 turns.

Pat the dough into a 3/4-inch thick round or divide in half and pat into two rounds for mini scones. Cut into wedges and place them about 1-inch apart on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake the scones until light brown, 15-20 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature.

Old Fashioned Applesauce
Makes about 3 quarts

8 pounds McIntosh or a mix of your favorite apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1 cup apple cider or juice or water
1/4 cup or to taste maple syrup or brown sugar (optional)
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Put the apples, cider, maple syrup and cinnamon in a large pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and, stirring occasionally, simmer for 30 minutes or until the apples are very soft and falling apart.

Let the applesauce cool for 10-15 minutes. For chunky sauce, give the apples a rough mash with a potato masher. For smooth sauce, run the apples through a food mill or whirl in the food processor.
Serve warm, cold or use the applesauce in scones and other recipes.

Cover and store extra applesauce in the refrigerator or freezer.

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One Year Ago – Roasted Beet Tatin with Goat Cheese & Walnuts
Two Years Ago – Fettuccine with Fresh Corn & Tomatoes
Three Years Ago – Chicken Parmagiana with Spaghetti Marinara
Four Years Ago – Lemon Roasted Salmon with Beurre Blanc
Five Years Ago – Wild Mushroom Soup
Six Years Ago – Rustic Apple Tart
Seven Years Ago – Oktoberfest Sausages & Sauerkraut

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What do you love about the fall? Feel free to share. Let’s start a conversation.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2015

Bedtime Story & Very Ginger Gingerbread Muffins

Santa_Mom_04My mother has always been in her element during the Christmas season. No matter how busy, she’s never mumbled or grumbled about Christmas. Bah Humbug has never passed her lips. As far as I can figure, she likes everything about the holiday. If it’s possible, I think she might like Christmas even more than her birthday. And she really loves her birthday.

One of the truly special things she gave us at Christmas was the annual reading of The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus . A bit worn from countless readings, my mother was a tiny girl when Santa left the book under her tree.

Santa_bookIf you’d like to track it down, be careful, there are two books of the same name. The one you want was written by Amelia C. Houghton under the pseudonym Julie Lane and illustrated by her husband Casco Charles Houghton. While Casco is in itself a pretty interesting name, his pseudonym was even better – Hokie. As a child, I always imagined that Hokie was somehow or other a spare reindeer that Santa kept around for good measure. After all, we have spare tires in our trunks; it makes sense that Santa would have a spare reindeer. Part-time flyer, part-time illustrator, I have no idea how he held his pencil.

Not just a dozen pages with few words and many pictures, it is a great big book with sixteen wonderful chapters chronicling the kind and generous life of Nicholas the Woodcarver. Although there are reindeer and a sleigh, there are no elves. It’s not set at the North Pole but Christmas stockings, Santa’s red suit and his trip down the chimney are all explained. A lovely book filled with love and generosity, it will make you cry, make you smile and fill you with goodwill. At five, I was convinced that it was all true. I still am.

At bedtime, we’d cuddle up on the couch with Mom and she’d read a chapter. She planned it perfectly to finish by the 23rd so not to interfere with Dad’s reading of Mr. Moore’s poem on Christmas Eve.

Even when I was too old for bedtime stories, I couldn’t give it up. A day or two before Christmas, I’d hole up in my room and read it cover to cover. At least I did until my sister Brenda absconded with this holiday treasure.

It was soon after her daughter was born. While I couldn’t blame her for wanting to share Santa’s story with her little girl, the theft left a hole in the run up to Christmas. I’d see it, high on a shelf in her living room every time I’d visit. On more than one occasion, I threatened to whisk the book back to Mom’s house (where I could easily borrow it.)

Before my larcenous thoughts could turn to action and create a family riff, Brenda discovered that our favorite book was back in print. She bought copies for her now grown daughter and grandchildren, my brother’s family and me.

So finally, that little hole in the run up to Christmas has been filled. This year, instead of hiding in my room or curling up on the couch for a marathon read, I’ve been sharing a chapter a day with Mom. Although, she is now in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease, she still loves Christmas. Thank goodness, some things never change.

Enjoy the holidays and bon appétit!

Very Ginger Gingerbread Muffins
gingerbread_muffins_01A tasty treat for the holiday season – perfect with a cup of tea on a chilly afternoon or Christmas morning. Enjoy!
Makes about 20 muffins

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1 1/2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
Grated zest of 1 orange
About 3/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup unsulphured molasses
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
Homemade or store bought orange or lemon curd

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners and set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and powder, spices and salt. Add the grated orange zest and crystallized ginger, whisk to combine and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter until light. Add the brown sugar and molasses and beat for 2 minutes, until well combined. Beat in the eggs and sour cream. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients and beat until just combined.

Fill the paper liners about two-thirds full with batter. Bake the cupcakes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Let the cupcakes cool a few minutes before removing from the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature with a dollop of orange or lemon curd.

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One Year Ago – Ginger Shortbread
Two Years Ago – Baked French Toast
Three Years Ago – Braised Lamb with Artichokes and Mushrooms and Creamy Polenta
Four Years Ago – Mixed Greens with Roasted Grapes
Five Years Ago – Savory Bread Pudding
Six Years Ago – Triple Chocolate Parfait

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

Do you have a favorite holiday memory? Feel free to share – let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2014

August Swim & Double Corn & Cheddar Muffins

Dad-Mom-Susie-BrendaWhen I was little, August was vacation time. According to my parents, it was the best, they might have said the only, time for a Cape Cod vacation. According to Mom and Dad, everyone went to the Cape in August. At four or five, I assumed they knew what they were talking about and didn’t ask too many questions.

Years later, I learned that our escape to the seaside was very French or, if you prefer, very Italian. Both countries are famous for closing up shop and heading to the country or seaside every August. If it weren’t for the North American tourists, Paris and Rome would be ghost towns.

I grew up in suburbia, about twenty miles west of Boston. We spent most of July at the town beach. We learned to swim, picked up an earache or two and more than a few sunburns. When not at the beach, we rode bikes, pouted in the backyard and listened for the Popsicle man. It wasn’t too bad. In addition to the town beach, we spent a lot of weekends at my grandparent’s house on the Cape.

My mother’s parents owned a little cottage within walking distance of the ocean. They were there most weekends in July plus the entire month of August. Our little family was Nana and Grandpa’s favorite houseguests. When an unbearable heat wave hit, Mom and Nana didn’t wait for the weekend. They packed up the car with little girls, dogs and bathing suits and headed to the shore.

The back and forth ended on August 1st. If nothing else, our timing was close to perfect. More often than not, the town beach started to get, well, just a wee bit nasty by the end of July. Off we went to the Cape. It was the best of all worlds. My sister and I were spoiled rotten by two sets of grandparents and we could swim in the ocean every day.

Parisians and Romans leave their cities to escape the dog days of August. Since New England days start to get shorter and temperatures cooler in August, our exodus didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Just because I took my parents decrees as absolute at four or five doesn’t mean I can’t question their logic today. I do. All the time. And have for years!

It took a while but I finally figured out why generation after generation of my family waited until August to enjoy their hard-earned vacation days. It wasn’t the heat. Or the humidity. If that were the case, we would have spent July on the seaside. Plain and simple, it’s all about the water.

My parents and grandparents were among the legions of New Englanders who deemed the Atlantic too cold for swimming in June and July. In addition, by midsummer, our local suburban swimming hole was more petri dish than cool oasis. Not that little kids notice these sorts of issues. Memorial Day, Independence or Labor Day, if it was hot or not, murky pond or briny sea, I’d plunge right in.

Was I fearless? Foolish might be a better word for it. I like to think I was footloose and fancy free. I’ll let you make the call. One thing’s for certain, my lips were always blue and my teeth chattering when I finally climbed out of the water.

True to his New England roots, last week my father announced it was almost time for his first swim of the season.

Enjoy the water and bon appétit

Susan Nye writes, cooks and lives in New London. Visit her website at to learn about her Eat Well – Do Good project. For cooking tips and more, you can check Susan out on Facebook at or watch her cook at © Susan W. Nye, 2014

corn_muffins_01Double Corn & Cheddar Muffins
Delicious year round, these muffins will be a great addition to your next cookout or lobster or crab fest. Enjoy!
Makes about 2 dozen muffins

1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2-4 tablespoons (to taste) brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
About 4 ounces (1 1/2 cups grated) extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
3 ears (about 1 1/2 cups kernels) fresh* corn, shucked and kernels removed
1 scallion, white and green parts, finely chopped
3 tablespoons seeded and minced jalapeno pepper
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups sour cream
3/4 cup (1 1/2 stick) butter, melted and cooled

Put the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Add the cheddar, corn, scallion and jalapeno and toss to combine.

Put the sour cream in a bowl, whisk in the eggs one at a time until well combined. Slowly add the butter and continue whisking until combined.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until the batter is more or less lump-free. Don’t over-mix! Let the batter sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners.

Give the batter a quick stir. Filling each muffin cup about 3/4 full, spoon the batter into the prepared tin. (A 2-ounce ice cream works beautifully.) Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into one of the muffins comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool for later or a basket to serve warm.

* Out of season, it’s okay to use frozen corn.

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One Year Ago – Blueberry Clafouti
Two Years Ago – Blackberry Chocolate Chip Frozen Yogurt
Three Years Ago – Brown Sugar Yogurt Gelato
Four Years Ago – Red Pepper Dip
Five Years Ago – Grilled Chicken, Shallots & New Potatoes
Six Years Ago – Barbecue Chicken

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

Do you have a favorite beach or swimming hole? Feel free to share – let’s get a conversation going. Click here to leave a comment.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2014

Two Minutes & Cheddar-Sage Biscuits

Any party that requires a spectacular hat, well, that’s a party I want in on.


No, another royal wedding is not on the calendar. At least, there isn’t one on my calendar. However, The Kentucky Derby, The Run for the Roses, is this weekend. Admittedly, the Kentucky Derby is about many things, most notably horses and bourbon but it is also hats.

At least in the United States, it’s been a while since we all wore hats. President Kennedy is generally credited with the demise of the men’s hat industry but Jackie did great things for the pillbox. In any case, it was a losing battle. No matter how jaunty the First Lady looked in them, hats joined the hoop skirt and shoulder pads on that long list of obsolete fashion statements. Besides, a pillbox is not nearly spectacular enough for the Kentucky Derby.

Hats and all, a Derby Party is a fabulous excuse for a get-together. And thank goodness, we could use a break about now. Even when the sun is shining, New Hampshire is not at its best during Mud Season. The garden is a muddy mess, there is sand everywhere and it’s still too cold for shorts, let alone flip-flops. Mint Juleps, pretty hats and a few friendly wagers are bound to cheer us up.

There’s no need to head down to Louisville. Leave Churchill Downs to the rich and famous-for-being-famous. Instead, create your own special combination of red carpet glam and southern charm.

Here are a few ideas for a fabulous Derby Party:

First and foremost, forget optional, hats are de rigueur. Whether you sport a wide brim or a fascinator, the more elaborate the better. Feel free to offer a prize for the Best Hat as well as a few more for Best Channeling of Carmen Miranda, Best Elucidation of an Aviary and, of course, Best Interpretation of a Southern Belle.

Next, the Kentucky Derby is not a day to invent a new martini. Don’t get clever and whip up a special Mint-Tini or invent a Kentucky Daiquiri. Only a traditional Mint Julep will do. In a silver cup if you can find one. That said, many old school Kentuckians recommend that you to leave the mint, sugar and ice out.

It is a horserace so a friendly wager or two would not be amiss. Two dollars is the minimum for most racetracks but I leave it to you decide the stakes. It’s a win-win if you let the horses race for charity. Instead of paying off the winners, donate the kitty to a favorite cause. Winners get bragging rights for their astute choices and the satisfaction of helping others.

valentine_roses_03Don’t forget the roses. Traditionally, the first over the finish line is greeted with a blanket and bouquet of beautiful red roses. You can get into the spirit by decorating your table and bar with vases of long-stemmed beauties. For a truly lovely end to a wonderful evening, hand a rose to each of your guests as they say good bye.

With post time at 6:24, give everyone plenty of time to arrive, chat a bit, sip a mint julep and place all bets before the announcer shouts: AND THEY’RE OFFFFF. But don’t blink, there’s a reason the Derby is called the Fastest Two Minutes of Sports.

Have great party and bon appétit.

Cheddar-Sage Biscuits
A southern tradition, biscuits will make a great addition to your Derby Party. Enjoy!
Makes about 2 dozen biscuits

cheddar-sage_biscuits_063 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 cup cold butter, cut in small pieces
About 12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage leaves
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup whole milk or half & half

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon mat.

Put the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and paprika in the bowl of a food processor and process until well combined. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the cheese and sage and pulse a few times to combine.

Transfer the mixture a large bowl, add the sour cream and milk and stir to combine. The dough will be lumpy and sticky. Gather the dough in a ball, transfer to a flour-dusted workspace and need 6-8 times. Pat the dough into 2 rectangles about 2-inches thick. Cut the dough 24 biscuits* and transfer to the prepared baking sheet.

Bake the biscuits until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean and the tops are golden, about 8 minutes. Serve warm.

Can be made in advance. To reheat: cover and bake for about 10 minutes in a 300 degree oven.

* If you are making the biscuits to serve as 1-2 bite hors d’oeuvres for cocktail time, roll the dough out about 1-inch thick and cut 48 biscuits.

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One Year Ago – Peanut-y Chocolate Chip Cookies
Two Years Ago – Espresso Brownies
Three Years Ago – Lemon Scones
Four Years Ago – Shrimp with Jicama Slaw
Five Years Ago – Pork Mole
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

How’s your hat coming? Feel free to share – let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good.

© Susan W. Nye, 2014