You’ve Got This & Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

These are uncertain times. As New Hampshire begins coronavirus stay-at-home 2.0, many of us are feeling daunted by concerns about our health, safety and economic wellbeing. Uncertainty will do that. In spite of whatever questions and doubts, you’ve got this. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Whether the coronavirus is causing you huge problems and complications or is simply an annoying inconvenience, you can do it. You can get to the other side of this pandemic. After all, you’ve proven your moxie hundreds, maybe even thousands, of times. Need a few reminders of your strength and resilience; here goes …

The moms in the neighborhood weren’t sure you could get up and out in time to make it to kindergarten. You did. Moreover, you graduated not only from kindergarten but from every other course of study, internship or apprenticeship you set your mind to.

Remember that time when you went toe-to-toe with the class bully to defend your best friend. How old were you? Maybe ten? You may have been shaking in your sneakers but you stood up for your friend and yourself.

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Don’t forget the move you made to a new job in a new city. All by yourself, you didn’t know a soul but you did it. You found an apartment. You tackled your new responsibilities with aplomb. You roamed the town, exploring each and every neighborhood. Before long, you knew your favorite streets, parks and places to eat, shop and be entertained. You made friends; indeed, you made a life.

You didn’t only meet and survive a weekend with your future mother-in-law; you charmed her. Now, no one is sure who she loves best – you or your spouse? You won her over.

You try to forget it, but there was that time when you were laid off. We’ve all been laid off; or at least most of us have. Some of us have even been fired. You figured it out and went on to something better.

You have coped with the unmitigated fear of seeing a loved one fall ill. You have coped with the utter sadness of losing a loved one. Fear and loss have made you more human, a deeper, kinder person.

In classrooms, on playgrounds and at home, in workplaces, hospitals and maybe even a courtroom and/or police station, time and time again, you have stood your ground or lent a hand or made what many would consider a miracle happen.

You are stronger than you think. Take a deep breath and let it out. Try a few more, in and out. It’s okay to let your friends and family know what you’re feeling. It’s okay to voice your concerns out loud, to share your fears and anger. Chances are pretty good that the people who love you, will offer some sense of reassurance or share a different perspective. They’ll give you a hug or, maybe, a kick in the pants. And if they can’t be with you, well, they’ll give you a virtual hug or kick.

It may not always feel like it but you’ve got this. Don’t let anyone tell you different. After all, you’ve run marathons, climbed mountains and cooked dinner for one hundred. If not literally, then figuratively. In the words of Oscar Wilde, “Everything is going to be fine in the end. If it’s not fine it’s not the end.”

Be well, be safe and be kind. Bon appétit!

 Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

You’ve got this but when in doubt – have a cookie. If you can’t find them so be it but mini chocolate chips work best with this recipe. Enjoy!

Makes 48 cookies

  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 12 ounces mini semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips

Set the rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silicon mat or parchment paper.

Put the flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine.

With an electric mixer, beat the peanut butter, butter and sugar on medium-high speed until creamy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth.

Reduce the mixer speed to low, slowly add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Drop tablespoons of dough (a mini ice-cream scoop works great) about 1-inch apart onto the prepared baking sheet. Turning the baking sheet at the midpoint, bake the cookies at 350 degrees until golden, about 20 minutes.

Cool slightly and eat the first cookie while it is still warm.

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Different Boat & Baked Tortellini with Sausage, Eggplant, Spinach & Mushrooms

As the coronavirus rages across the country and around world, there’s a lot of talk of solidarity. You know the clichés – united we stand, we’re all in this together and we’re all in the same boat. These strong words help us feel better and less alone. But here’s the thing, we’re not all in the same boat. We’re not even in the same ocean. I’d venture to say we’re weathering different storms.

If you grew up in New England or have lived here a while, you know about hurricanes. They generally wreak havoc in the Caribbean and down along the southern Atlantic and the Gulf coasts. Every few years, a hurricane will wind its way up north. However, by the time they reach us, they are a different storm. More often than not, they bring a little wind and a fair amount of rain. We spend the day in our cozy houses playing Scrabble and feeling grumpy because it’s too wet to walk.

That said, there are exceptions. My dad has been known to reach into his bag of stories and reminisce about the 1938 hurricane. Irene and Sandy are more recent reminders that not all tropical storms blow themselves out before reaching the northeast. For now, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts are among those caught deep inside the covid hurricane. New Hampshire is on the fringe.

The coronavirus thrives in densely populated areas. The population in our little corner of rural New England is far from dense. Big cities and the suburbs that surround them have been thrashing about in open seas while we’ve been hunkered down in a quiet cove. Now is a very good time to live far from crowded subways and teaming streets. Next time I start to complain about the lack of public transportation or limited entertainment options, I hope I remember these days and stop grumbling.

Anyway, it’s a lovely thought, that we’re all in this together. However, whether you’re in the thick of the coronavirus storm or tucked in a safe harbor, the boats are different. The lucky ones are strapped into life jackets and safely ensconced in well-built, seaworthy vessels. Their pantries are stocked. Telecommuting may be inconvenient but their jobs are secure. Everyone who needs one has a laptop. They’ve been catching up on Netflix, putting jigsaw puzzles together and walking three miles a day. The family may be a little bored with each other’s company but cabin fever is rarely life threatening.

The less fortunate are crammed into leaky dinghies. These decrepit little boats are filled with people who live paycheck to paycheck. Except there is no paycheck because they’ve been laid off or furloughed. Now, they’re scrambling to get signed up for unemployment and figure out how to get and pay for health insurance. All the while, the kids are home and mom or dad or both are frantically trying to remember the definition of a parallelogram and how Pythagoras’ theorem works.

Another batch of dilapidated boats are filled with people with pre-existing conditions. Maybe they’re old or immune compromised, have a heart condition or asthma. Could be they are overweight or have diabetes. The coronavirus is a whole lot scarier if you’re in one of these boats. A strong, healthy young person with covid-19 might suffer the inconvenience of a cough and fever for a week or so. However, the virus can be deadly for anyone weakened by age or an underlying illness.

By the way, it’s also terrifying to have a family member or dear friend with a pre-existing condition. Here’s the reality that fills me with dread – if a loved one ends up in the hospital; they’ll be alone. Nurses, assistants, technicians and doctors will be with them but, as caring and wonderful as they are, they’re not family.

One last bit for locals – I was introduced to a new community organization last week. Kearsarge Neighborhood Partners (KNP) is dedicated to building a community of neighbors helping neighbors. If you need help or know someone who needs help – reach out. If you are looking for opportunities to volunteer – reach out.

That’s all for now. Be well, be safe and be kind. Bon appétit!

Baked Tortellini with Sausage, Eggplant, Spinach & Mushrooms

There must be a million different, delicious ways to prepare a wonderfully comforting pasta feast. I hope you enjoy this one!

Serves 4-6

  • Olive oil
  • 1 small-medium eggplant, sliced about 1/2-inch thick
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, trimmed and sliced or chopped
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 8-12 ounces your favorite precooked chicken sausage, cut in 1/2-inch rounds
  • 1 pound fresh or frozen tortellini
  • About 6 ounces baby spinach
  • 2 cups marinara sauce
  • 1/2 cup half & half
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • About 6 ounces (1 1/2 cups) shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil or butter a large baking dish.

Lightly brush the eggplant slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and, turning once, bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes or until tender. Cut into bite-sized pieces and reserve.

Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Heat a little olive oil in a skillet over medium high, add the mushrooms and onion, sprinkle with the herbs and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and sauté 2-3 minutes more. Remove from the pan and reserve.

Add the sausage to the skillet with a little more olive oil if necessary. Sauté until lightly browned. Reserve.

Cook the tortellini according to package directions.

Drain the tortellini and return it to the pot. Add the sausage and vegetables, including the spinach, toss to combine and transfer to the prepared dish.

Combine the marinara sauce, half & half and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Pour the sauce over the pasta. Sprinkle with mozzarella and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minute or until bubbling and nicely browned.

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Everyone Is Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day & Potato Soup with Ale, Smoked Sausage & Greens

A lot has changed since the great Irish migration in the mid-1800s. Today, we all love the Irish, their melodic accent and gift for storytelling. Throughout the country and regardless of heritage, one and all will raise their glasses and sing the praises of the Emerald Isle on Saint Paddy’s Day.

In 1845, the Potato Blight launched a huge wave of Irish immigration to America. Potato crops were decimated and a devastating famine hit Ireland. Within five years, a million Irish were dead and boatloads had fled to America. As proud as many of us are of our melting pot heritage, near and past history shows that too many immigrants, including the Irish, received a far from warm welcome.

The plight of the Irish sticks out for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, there were a lot of them. In the 1840s, about fifty percent of all immigrants to the United States were Irish. And, of course, like all of us, they had accents … but theirs were different. Plus, they were farmers without a farm. Whole families arrived with little more than what they had on their backs. Once landed, they didn’t have the resources to move to the countryside and buy a homestead to farm. Instead, port cities like New York and Boston were suddenly teaming with countryfolk.

And then, let’s not forget, most of these new Irish immigrants were Catholic. Even though the United States was founded by people escaping religious prosecution, the well-established protestants did not see that as a reason to tolerate, let alone embrace, people of other faiths.

Finally, the Irish were destitute or close to it; otherwise, they’d have stayed home. Desperate to find housing and jobs, they did what they could to survive. They took any job available and accepted any roof to live under, leaky or not. Although generally forced to take the most menial work, they were accused of stealing jobs and driving down wages. Poverty forced them into unsanitary tenements and they were then ridiculed for poor hygiene.

Anti-Irish and anti-Catholic feelings ran high. In newspapers and shop windows, help wanted advertisements boldly told these new immigrants that “No Irish Need Apply” or specified only Protestants would be considered. This sentiment peaked in the 1850s and ever-so-slowly dissipated over several decades.

From Mother Jones to John Sweeney, Irish and Irish-Americans played a key role in the development of labor unions. Organized labor gave many working men and women the opportunity to earn a living wage with reasonable hours. The movement also brought safer conditions to workplaces and protected children from exploitation. In other words, Irish immigrants and their descendants played a key role in building a strong middle class in the United States.

Today there are laws in place that prohibit an employer or landlord from warning that the Irish or any other nationality need not apply. Unfortunately, these laws are not always foolproof. Too many immigrants continue to receive a less than warm welcome to melting pot America.

On Saint Patrick’s Day, we honor Irish contributions to our country and the world. We celebrate James Hoban – the designer of the White House and John F. Kennedy who served in it, actress Saoirse Ronan, writers Samuel Beckett and James Joyce, brewer Arthur Guinness, mathematician George Boole and many, many others. Perhaps it’s a good day to honor all immigrants.

Let’s lift our glasses together and embrace our melting pot nation. Bon appétit!

Potato Soup with Ale, Smoked Sausage & Greens
The potato famine drove the Irish out of Ireland. I’m not a corned beef fan so potato soup sounds like a deliciously hearty way to celebrate the Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day. Enjoy!
Makes 4-5 quarts

  • Olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 leek, white and light green parts only, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon (or to taste) cayenne pepper
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 12 ounces ale or beer
  • 2 pounds red skinned potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 8-10 cups chicken stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 pound your favorite smoked sausage, cut in quarters lengthwise and 1/2-inch thick
  • 12-16 ounces greens – Swiss chard, baby kale, spinach or escarole

Lightly coat a stockpot with olive oil and heat on medium. Add the onion, carrots, celery and leek, sprinkle with rosemary, thyme, paprika and cayenne, season with salt and pepper and cook for about 10 minutes or until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the ale and simmer until reduced by half.

Add the potatoes, 8 cups chicken stock and the bay leaf, raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.

For a thicker soup, remove the pot from the heat and gently crush some or all of the potatoes to with a masher. Don’t overdo it; you don’t want mashed potatoes.

Add the sausage to the pot and simmer until heated through, 5-10 minutes. If the soup is too thick for your liking, add more chicken stock.

If you have the time, remove from the heat, cool to room temperature and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Bring the soup to a boil, add the greens and stir to combine. Reduce the heat and simmer until the greens are wilted and tender.

Remove the bay leaf and serve hot in soup bowls or mugs.

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February Vacation & Baked Mac & Cheese with Spinach & Bacon

Now it’s New Hampshire’s turn. Last week, the ski slopes were filled with families from Massachusetts and further south. Finally, local kids and teachers are having a break from the daily grind. However, February vacation can present a bit of conundrum for parents. Do you take the week off and play in the snow … or wait and take the family south in April?

The Nye family always chose the ski slopes. I have, still to this day, never been to Disney World and it doesn’t bother me one little bit. Minutes after the school bell rang on Friday afternoon, we piled into the family station wagon and headed north. Mom spent the week with us in the little red house in the woods and Dad took a long weekend at either end. Mom-time was always a bit more relaxed than when Dad was around. He had this thing about maximizing our season passes. We had to be on the slopes at nine and stay out, no matter how cold it was, until the lift closed at four. Okay, we were allowed a short lunch break at noon.

Life with Mom was more fluid. After all, it was vacation. A ten o’clock start was fine. Make that ten-thirty if it was particularly cold. If it was snowing so hard you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face, Mom was happy to head home at lunchtime. If one of us wanted to stay, that was fine too as long as we could find a ride home.

Yes, my mother would leave one or all of her kids at King Ridge for hours at a time. In case you’ve forgotten, our upbringing was based on what we now fondly refer to as The Joe and Libby Nye School of Negligent Parenting. Love meant giving you space to grow, make mistakes and make amends. That said, it was a small mountain and there were lots of friends and neighbors around. The parents in my neighborhood stuck together. They didn’t mind telling any one of us to knock it off if we were skiing out of control or cutting in the lift line.

Back at the little red house in the woods, there was always something to do. If we hadn’t had enough of the ice and snow, there was a suicidal sledding hill across the road and a skating pond about a half mile away. If one or the other of us made the mistake of complaining about boredom, the culprit was handed a shovel and told to clear the deck. It wasn’t all that bad a chore. The distance from the deck to the ground was about eight feet, maybe ten. Jumping and somersaults off the deck was a favorite pastime once a nice pile of snow provided a soft landing.

When we had enough of the cold, there was a fire in the fireplace and as many books as we’d bothered to haul up from the suburbs. I always assumed it would be a two or three book week. The television was only good for one station and, except to check the weather forecast, was rarely on. A jigsaw puzzle was always in progress on an old card table. Mom and I were the puzzle fanatics and assembled at least a couple during February break. In addition, we might offer to bake something. There was usually a brownie mix in the cupboard and, as long as we promised to cleanup, Mom could be persuaded to pick up a bag of chocolate chips for cookies.

All in all, those vacations were just what we needed.

Here’s wishing one and all a wonderful winter break and bon appétit!

Baked Mac & Cheese with Spinach & Bacon

Who doesn’t likes Mac & Cheese, especially after a day outside in the cold? If your kids are of the age and inclination, maybe they’ll make dinner for you. Enjoy!

Serves 8

  • 5-6 tablespoons butter or a mix of olive oil and butter, divided
  • 8 ounces thick cut bacon, chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound frozen spinach, thawed and well drained
  • 4 1/2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3 cups whole milk or half and half
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 8 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
  • 1 pound your favorite short pasta – cavatappi, penne, macaroni …
  • 3/4 cup Panko bread crumbs

Lightly butter or oil a large casserole dish.

Heat a skillet over medium, add the bacon and cook, stirring frequently until lightly browned. Remove the bacon from the pan, drain and reserve.

Add the onion to the skillet, season with salt and pepper and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and cook 2 minutes more. Remove from the heat, add back the bacon and stir in the spinach.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a heavy saucepan over medium. Add the flour, season with paprika, nutmeg, salt and pepper and cook, whisking, for 1-2 minutes. Whisking constantly, gradually add the milk and heat to steaming. Reduce the heat to low and cook, whisking, until the sauce thickens.

Put the sour cream and mustard in a bowl and whisk to combine. Gradually whisk in the warm sauce. Add the cheddar and half of the Parmigiano-Reggiano and stir to combine.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions, less 1 minute. Drain the pasta, saving a little of the pasta water. Return the pasta to the pot, add the bacon mixture and toss to combine. Add the sauce and toss again. If the pasta seems dry, add a little pasta water. Transfer the pasta to the prepared baking dish.

Put the breadcrumbs in a bowl, season with salt and pepper, add 1-2 tablespoons melted butter or olive oil and toss to combine. Add the remaining the Parmigiano-Reggiano and toss again. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top of the mac & cheese.

You can make ahead to this point, cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before baking.

Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until piping hot and golden.

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Scruffy Entertaining & Braised Lamb with Mushrooms & Pearl Onions

So, I hear that there is a new trend in entertaining. It’s called scruffy hospitality. It seems that it is becoming quite popular with families with young children. Here’s how it works. You come home from work or skiing or skating or with your freshly cut tree ready to decorate. You know that the stew or chili you’ve already made for dinner is big enough for an army. But (there’s always a but) the house is not spotless and you’re not having the best of hair days.

So, what do you do? Why, in a scruffy, no judgement world, you invite your nearest and dearest or soon-to-be nearest and dearest to join you. Okay, you might throw a few wayward shoes into the bucket by the back door but you don’t run around the house with the vacuum cleaner and dust cloth. You don’t spend an hour fussing with your hair and finding the perfect outfit. You call your guests, throw dinner in the oven, set the table and light the fire. If it’s tree night, you get out the decorations.

And guess what? Everyone is happy. I never met anyone who didn’t love a last-minute invitation. Even if they can’t come, people love it that you thought of them and wanted to spend time with them. If you’re a decent cook, they are even happier. Whether it’s Meme and Gramps, the cousins, your oldest friends or your newest neighbors, they will be delighted to join you.

Now, scruffy entertaining is nothing new. Years ago, an old boyfriend told me about a party he and his roommates threw. Just out of college, their party was beyond scruffy. Perhaps you remember the early days of supermarket brands. Instead of fancy names like Natures Promise, Wellesley Farms or Great Value, store brands version 1.0 were called generics. They came in simple black and white packaging. Anyway, the boyfriend and his roomies threw a generics party. They bought a boatload of generic beer and chips and invited all their friends. They even bought white T-shirts and had HOST in black letters printed on the front. It was nothing fancy and everyone had a wonderful time.

Now, I not suggesting that you entertain like a bunch of recent college grads. However, you can turn down the stress level with a more casual approach. Scruffy hospitality is about connecting around the table. It is about friendship and love. It recognizes that time spent together is more important than a spotlessly clean, picture perfect home. Besides, even with a few pine needles scattered about, your home’s imperfections are what make it perfect.

If you’ve been planning to freeze half of tonight’s dinner, why not invite friends to share it instead? They can help you decorate the tree. Or invite family and share old holiday memories. Next time spaghetti is on the menu, pull an extra quart of sauce from the freezer and turn dinner into a small party. Feel free to ask your guests if they have any salad in the refrigerator or a few extra Christmas cookies that they can bring along.

Opening your home and sharing a meal is a joyful expression love and kindness. Hosts and guests, old and young, everyone benefits. By embracing a bit more scruffy attitude, you might just entertain more, share the love more and stress a whole lot less.

Wishing you a holiday season filled with love and joy. Bon appétit!

Braised Lamb with Mushrooms & Pearl Onions

Here is a not-too-scruffy dish to serve over the holidays or anytime this winter. The lamb can bubble in the oven while you relax and catch up with family and friends. Enjoy!

Serves 8

  • About 4 pounds boneless leg or shoulder of lamb, trimmed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 2 large carrots, finely chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
  • 2 teaspoons chopped, fresh rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 1/2-2 pounds mushrooms, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 pound fresh or frozen pearl onions, peeled and trimmed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Season the lamb with salt and pepper. Heat a little olive oil in a large casserole over medium-high heat. Brown the lamb on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Remove and reserve.

Add a little more olive oil to the pot if necessary; add the carrots, celery and onion and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and sauté 2 minutes more. Add the red wine, tomatoes, chicken stock and herbs and bring to a simmer.

Return the lamb to the pot, bring to a simmer, cover and transfer to the oven. Cook, turning the lamb 2 or 3 times, for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, sauté the mushrooms in a little olive oil over medium-high heat until lightly browned. Add the mushrooms and pearl onions to the lamb. Add more chicken stock or wine if necessary. Continue cooking, uncovered, until the lamb is very tender; an additional 30-45 minutes.

Remove the lamb from the casserole and cut across the grain in thick slices. Serve the lamb with a generous spoonful or two or three of sauce and vegetables.

The lamb can be made a few days ahead. Cook for 1 hour, add the mushrooms and onions and cook for 10 minutes more. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate. To reheat, bring to a simmer on top of the stove. Transfer to a 350-degree oven and cook for about 30 minutes or until bubbling and piping hot.

Quick tip: use your food processor to finely chop carrots, celery and onions. Cut the veggies into large chunks and, a handful at a time, pulse until finely chopped. Don’t overdo it or overload the processor; you’ll end up with purée instead of finely chopped.

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A Different Kind of Advent Calendar &A Hint of Asia Cocktail Meatballs

An advent calendar was not an annual thing for the Nye kids. I think my dad’s cousin Ginny sent us one a couple of times but not with any regularity. Since a daily battle erupted over who could open the little doors, I’m guessing Mom didn’t encourage her with effusive thanks. Again, without any regularity and generally a week or two into December, I might have sent a calendar or two to my nieces and nephews when they were little.

From time to time, I bump into a magnificent, handmade advent calendar. That’s figurative bumping rather than literal. Otherwise, I’d have a closet full of broken advent calendars. They are all quite clever, fun and doable. By the time I see them it’s mid-December, so, I put it on the to-do list for next year. And promptly forget about it. Meanwhile, the youngest of the nieces and nephews are in their twenties.

I recently came across a different kind of advent calendar. One that doesn’t require any special paper or quarter-inch finished plywood. You can keep the glue in the junk drawer and the paints and brushes in the craft cupboard. It’s a simple list of nice things to do during the advent season. Instead of a tiny chocolate or peppermint, each square suggests a little act of kindness to offer to family, to friends and, yes, to strangers. In this much too busy season, it even includes acts of self-kindness.

Wishing you a holiday season filled with kindness and bon appétit!

A Hint of Asia Cocktail Meatballs

You can’t get more retro than meatballs for a holiday cocktail party. A little spicy and a little sweet, I promise you’ll like these way-better than the old school version with grape jelly. Enjoy!

Makes about 4 dozen meatballs

  • A Hint of Asia Sauce (recipe follows.)
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped or grated
  • 1 small carrot, finely chopped or grated
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 pounds ground turkey or chicken or pork
  • 1 cup water chestnuts, finely chopped
  • 1 cup instant oatmeal
  • Flour, for dusting

Make the Hint of Asia Sauce.

While the sauce simmers, heat a little oil in a skillet over medium high, add the onion and carrot, season with salt and pepper and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté about 3 minutes more. Cool to room temperature.

Put the eggs and vinegar in a bowl and whisk combine. Add the sour cream and whisk again.

Put the vegetables, turkey, water chestnuts and oatmeal in a large bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the turkey. Gently toss and mix to combine. You can use a couple of large spoons but impeccably clean hands work best. Roll the mixture into little bite-sized meatballs.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Dust the meatballs with flour. Lightly coat a large skillet with olive oil and heat over medium-high. Working in batches if necessary, brown the meatballs on all sides. Transfer the meatballs to a baking dish and add enough sauce to generously coat – if necessary, add a little more chicken stock.

Can be made ahead to this point, covered and refrigerated.

Transfer the meatballs to the oven. Bake uncovered until piping hot, about 15 minutes or longer if they are straight from the refrigerator. Transfer to a platter and serve.

A Hint of Asia Sauce

Makes about 3 cups sauce

  • 1/2 onion, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon or to taste sriracha
  • 1/2 cup hoisin sauce
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1 cup or more chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil

Lightly coat a saucepan with olive oil and heat over medium. Add the onion and thyme and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté 3 minutes more.

Stir in the soy sauce, vinegar, fish sauce, honey, sriracha, hoisin, ketchup and chicken stock bring to a simmer and, stirring a few times, continue simmering on very low for about 15 minutes. Cool to room temperature, add the sesame oil and process in the blender until smooth.

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What kind deeds are on your advent calendar? Feel free to share your favorite tips!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2019

Selective Memory & Alpine Mac & Cheese

The local schools are closed for winter break. It’s time to ski! When it comes to family ski vacations, I admit it – I have selective memory. The snow was always perfect. In fact, it snowed every night. Come morning, the sun always shone and the slopes were perfectly groomed. The dog, who loved to roll in the snow, had a brilliant shiny coat. At the end of a long ski day, we were too tired to squabble and the house was a model of peace and harmony.

Except for the part about the dog, none of the above is actually true. Or at least, they are only partially true. While February is a very good month for all those S-sports – skiing, sledding, skating and snowshoeing – I’m sure we had a few rocky vacations. And by rocky, I mean it literally – as in not enough snow to cover the rocks on the ski hill. I’m just as certain that my sister and I never went a full week without a spat; particularly when we were teenagers. (Of course, it was never my fault.)

The truth of the matter, hard as I try, I can’t remember a single February vacation without snow. Instead I remember happy days clambering around on skis. The late afternoons and evenings were just as happy. These hours were spent twirling on skates, jumping off the deck and flying down the hill across the road on our sleds.

Speaking of skates, there was that one time when my brother fell through the ice on the frog pond. He was maybe six. It was probably during February vacation. Although scary, it’s not a terribly traumatic story. As far as I know, John hasn’t suffered any lasting physical or psychic damage. Even for a little boy, the pond is probably only about chest deep. No, the story made a lasting impression because it was so well told.

A neighbor passed by at just the right moment and threw John in the back of her station wagon and hurried him home. With wide eyes and more than an ounce of gratitude, John shared the tale of his rescue. One of the neighborhood teenagers had raced across the little pond with his hockey stick and pulled him out of the icy water. From the telling, you’d have guessed that the skater was about to join the Boston Bruins or the Olympic speed skating team.

A few years later, that same brother (I have only one) broke his leg during winter vacation. It was in Colorado – our first family trip outside of the northeast. The snow really was magnificent and it really did snow every night. Thank goodness John waited until the very end of the week.

On the last run of a wonderful day on the slopes, John caught an edge and took a tumble. He was carted down the mountain on a sled and the rest of the family followed. At the bottom, Mom and Dad hopped into the ambulance with him … leaving me with four pairs of skis to lug back to the condo. If it wasn’t for lugging, I suppose I might have forgotten the whole thing.

So yes, when it comes to family ski vacations, I have selective memory. The snow was always perfect. Any injuries were minor. The one or two that required hospitalization left no scar. Instead, they added another interesting chapter to family lore.

Local kids are off from school this week. Have a blast and bon appétit!

Alpine Mac & Cheese
This recipe shows you what happens when America’s favorite comfort food spends winter break in the Swiss Alps. Enjoy!
Serves 8-12

Butter for the pan
8 ounces thick cut bacon, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
1-2 tablespoons kirsch* (optional)
4 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk or half and half
1 pound your favorite short pasta – penne, rigatoni, bowties …
8 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded
8 ounces Emmental cheese, shredded
2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon herbs de Provence
1 tablespoon melted butter or olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a large casserole.

Heat a skillet over medium, add the bacon and cook, stirring frequently until lightly browned. Remove the bacon from the pan, drain and reserve.

Drain the excess fat from the pan, add the onion, sprinkle with thyme, paprika and nutmeg, season with salt and pepper and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the wine and simmer until almost dry. Remove from the heat and stir in the kirsch.

Put the cream cheese in a large bowl, add the sour cream and mustard and stir or beat with an electric mixer until smooth.

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour, season with salt and pepper and cook, whisking, for 1-2 minutes. Whisking constantly, add the milk and heat to steaming over medium. Reduce the heat to low and cook, whisking, until the sauce thickens. A little at a time, stir the warm sauce into the cream cheese mixture. Add the bacon and onion and stir to combine.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions, less 1 minute. Drain the pasta, saving a little of the pasta water.

Combine the pasta and sauce and toss to combine. If the pasta seems dry, add a little pasta water. Sprinkle the pasta with the Gruyere, Emmental and half of the Parmigiano-Reggiano and toss again. Transfer the pasta to the prepared baking dish.

Put the breadcrumbs and herbs in a bowl, add the melted butter and toss to combine. Add the remaining the Parmigiano-Reggiano and toss again. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top of the mac & cheese.

You can make ahead to this point, cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate. Remove the dish from the refrigerator about 1 hour before baking.

Bake the mac & cheese at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until piping hot and golden.

* About Kirsch – A spirit made from cherries, traditional cheese fondue recipes add a shot of kirsch just before serving.

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One Year Ago – Fettucine with Mushrooms & Kale
Two Years Ago – Spaghetti with Cauliflower & Olives
Three Years Ago – Flourless Chocolate Cake
Four Years Ago – Lemon Roasted Chicken Thighs
Five Years Ago – Panna Cotta with Strawberries
Six Years Ago – Decadent Mac & Cheese
Seven Years Ago – Seared Scallops with Roasted Pepper Sauce
Eight Years Ago – Creole Shrimp & Cheesy Grits
Nine Years Ago – White Bean Dip
Ten Years Ago – Warm Chocolate Pudding

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

What are your favorite winter vacation memories? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2019