What Now? What Next? & Strawberry Tort

It will be all pomp and circumstance at the local high school on Saturday. Bright-eyed teenagers will collect their sheepskins in front of beaming parents and grandparents. Many will continue their education in the fall; others will head straight to work. There will be plenty of sage words and glib platitudes but here are a few more…

Dreams are like an early morning mist. They float and surround you but there is little to grab and hold. Work is real and makes dreams come true. No one said it would always be easy; make a plan and persevere.

Don’t settle. Life is too short, too tough and too much fun to settle for dull and boring. It is much too short for cruel and meaningless.

Don’t wait for stuff to happen to you. Create your own next best thing. Achieve something; learn a new skill or take an old one to new heights. Perhaps you will write a sonnet, unscramble a piece of jumbled code or build a birdhouse. Go ahead – take a step, then another and make life happen.

Of course, accidents happen and luck can be hit or miss but the future is by far and away a product of the choices you make. Good, bad or indifferent, own your choices and move on to the next.

Don’t just pick your battles; pick the outcome. If you find yourself in the middle of an angry feud, you can choose to fume, forgive or forget. More often than not, being at peace is better than righteous indignation.

Life is better when you are happy. Happiness is not a deep secret or a profound mystery. You can find happiness by smiling more, laughing more and singing more. And don’t forget to dance.

Given a choice between an adventure and the same old-same old, choose adventure. No matter what happens, you will learn a whole lot along the way.

Don’t be an idiot. Open your mind to new people, possibilities and ideas.

Change is constant and all around us. If it wasn’t, you’d still be using a rotary phone. Heck, you’d know what a rotary phone was. Technology, fashion and opportunities change but love for family, for friends and a favorite place is constant. So embrace the latest smart phone but use it to call your grandmother on Sunday morning.

Keep kindness as a core value. Throughout your life, you will experiment and explore. You may investigate different beliefs or try new approaches to life. Through all those changes and evolutions, practice simple acts of kindness to connect to the people around you.

Hug your parents. Hug your grandparents. They won’t be here forever so appreciate them while you can.

Enjoy the ride and bon appétit!

Strawberry Tort
June is the month for graduations, weddings and strawberries. No, this tort can’t replace a five-tier wedding cake but celebrants will welcome it at almost any other festive feast. Enjoy!
Serves 8

1/2 cup butter, plus more for the pan, at room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
About 1 pound strawberries, hulled and cut in half

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter and flour a deep dish pie plate.

Put the flour, baking powder and spices in a bowl and whisk to combine.

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until well combined.

Add the dry ingredients and beat on low until just combined. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.

Arrange the strawberries cut side down on top of the batter. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool for at least 20 minutes, the tort can be served warm or at room temperature. Cut into wedges and serve plain or with a dollop of whipped cream or scoop of ice cream.

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One Year Ago – Grilled Potato Salad
Two Years Ago – Grilled Salmon with Lemon-Herb Quinoa Salad
Three Years Ago – Chocolate-Peanut Butter Tart
Four Years Ago – Salsa Verde
Five Years Ago – Blueberry Crumb Cake
Six Years Ago – Peanut-Sesame Dipping Sauce
SevenYears Ago – Strawberry Gelato
Eight Years Ago – Asparagus Soup

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

What about you? Do you have a favorite piece of advice for graduates? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017

April Staycation & I Love Lime Pie

I love New Hampshire; I truly do. I love the snow in the winter and the red leaves in the fall. I love the summer and long, lazy evenings at the beach. But nothing is perfect, not even my love affair with New Hampshire. The blemish on the State’s almost flawless granite facade is spring. Or, to be more precise – the lack thereof.

While warmer climes are enjoying cherry blossoms, daffodils and tulips, we are enjoying sand, mud and potholes. Okay, I admit it; a few brave crocuses have popped their little heads up through the sand in my front garden. As for the buds on the trees, they are closed up tight. Most days, New Hampshire is shrouded in gray; gray skies, gray trees, gray sand.

It’s clear; it’s time for a vacation. The school district agrees. April vacation is this very week. All the lucky kids are in Florida or the Bahamas, Washington DC or maybe New York City. The rest of us are stuck here, surrounded by gray. (Okay, I confess. I already had my ten days in Florida at the beginning of the month. It was warm, sunny and green.)

For everyone stuck here, here are a few suggestions for an April stay-cation:

Dress like you are in sunny Florida or balmy Bermuda. It may be too chilly for shorts but you can dig into the closet for those fabulous pink sneakers or mellow yellow jeans.

Go for a swim. Think warm and sunny thoughts as you swim laps up and down the pool at Hogan. If you want to get in shape for swimsuit season, now is as good a time as any to start.

Have a spa day. Do-it-yourself or let the professionals pamper you. Massage, facial, manicure, pedicure, a day of luxury will help you forget the six-inch layer of sand in your front yard.

Get going on your garden. Start seedlings, clean out your beds and check your planters. If you have pots filled with herbs and other plants in the garage, move them outside. Just be prepared to move them back again. Temperatures could still plummet for a night or two.

Build a birdhouse. Welcome your feathered friends back with a cheery, new abode. Now, to paint or not to paint, that is the question. If you decorate your little house, be sure to stay away from toxic paints. In addition, the color scheme should blend with its surroundings. Otherwise, it could attract predators. Bright pink is fine in a colorful flower garden but not so great in a muted shade garden.

Cook as if the sun were shining. Roll out the grill, stock up on limes and have a party. Make it as plain or fancy as you like. You can keep it simple with burgers or throw a few shrimp on the barbie. Unless of course, you’d rather go nuts. Whip up a batch of amazing barbeque sauce for chicken or a fabulous salsa for beef or pork. As for limes, they’re good for everything from cocktails to a marinade or salsa and, of course, dessert!

Or forget the sunny south and spend a day in Paris. Sleep in, drink strong coffee and nibble a croissant. Go shopping, buy something fabulous and then enjoy a chatty (never gossipy) lunch with a friend. Take a stroll and imagine chestnuts in blossom. End the day with a long and lazy dinner with wonderful food, great wine and fascinating conversation.

Happy spring and bon appétit!

I Love Lime Pie
If you would like to use Key limes and can find them, go for it. If not, supermarket limes will work just fine! Enjoy!
Serves 8-12

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, melted
4 large egg yolks
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
Grated zest of 2 limes
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/2-3/4 cup very cold heavy cream
Fresh berries

Set a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Put the graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a 9-inch glass pie plate and whisk with a fork to combine. Add the melted butter, mix until well combined and firmly press the crumbs into the pan. Bake the crust at 350 degrees for 7 minutes and cool on a rack.

While the crust bakes and cools, put the yolks in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until pale yellow and thick. Add the condensed milk and lime zest and beat again until well-combined. With the mixer on low, slowly add the lime and orange juices, increase the speed and continue beating until smooth.

Pour the filling into the crust and bake in middle of oven for 15 minutes. Cool the pie on a rack to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

To serve: whip the cream with an electric mixer until it forms soft peaks. Cut the pie into wedges, garnish with fresh berries and a dollop of whipped cream.

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One Year Ago – Quinoa Salad
Two Years Ago – Latkes
Three Years Ago – Cheddar-Sage Biscuits
Four Years Ago – Peanut-y Chocolate Chip Cookies
Five Years Ago – Espresso Brownies
Six Years Ago – Lemon Scones
Seven Years Ago – Shrimp with Jicama Slaw
Eight Years Ago – Pork Mole

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

What about you? Is a spring vacation in your plans this year? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017

Easter at Nana’s & Lemon Pound Cake

My grandmother was happy for any excuse to see her family. Thanksgiving, Independence Day, you name it. At her house or ours, in the dining room or backyard, she loved seeing her clan all together. So, after Mom and Dad built the little brown house in the New Hampshire woods, an early Easter became the bane of Nana’s existence. A March Easter increased the likelihood that we would be skiing instead of headed to Nana’s for baked ham, scalloped potatoes and green beans.

As much as we loved her and we truly did, Nana and her Easter ham could not entice us off the slopes. We’d be more than delighted to indulge in her scalloped potatoes and green beans once the snow was gone. For her part, although she liked to have her family around her table, Nana wasn’t fussy. She’d have come up to our house in the suburbs without hesitation. Why, she would have been more than pleased to bring the scalloped potatoes or a lemon cake or both. (New Hampshire was another matter. She preferred to visit the little house in the woods during the summer.)

When it came to cooking, Nana was old school and a true New Englander. She baked at least once a week or at least she did when her grandchildren were around. I can’t remember ever being at her house when there were not homemade cookies in the jar. My grandfather’s favorites were Hermit Bars and Molasses Cookies. She baked lots of pies, especially blueberry, as well as the occasional cake and pan of brownies.

Her kitchen was tiny, just large enough to hold the stove, refrigerator and the sink with flanking counters. Cheery, calico curtains hid the treasures inside the lower cabinets. The uppers were open and held mysteries not found in my mother’s kitchen. No, these shelves were not filled with exotic spices. After all, Nana was a classic New England cook. However, she had a glass jar of cream of tartar. It was not creamy and was nothing like the tartar sauce that came with our fried clams at the local fish shack. There was also a canister of cornmeal and jars of nuts and raisins, ground ginger, baking powder and a bottle of molasses. Not a single one of these obscurities could be found in my mother’s kitchen.

Apart from the countertops on either side of the sink, her only work space was a small table. My sister Brenda and I would sit at that table and ask her countless questions while she bustled about. My grandmother was a bustle-er. We were more than curious as to why she didn’t bake her cakes from a mix or buy her cookies ready-to-eat and lined up in a plastic tray. After all, that’s what our mother did.

Now, this was not the kitchen my dad grew up with, that one might have been larger but maybe not. The kitchen I connect with my grandmother was in their cozy retirement house on Buzzards Bay. Infrequent or not, it continues to amaze me that Nana prepared family dinners for eight, twelve or more in that tiny kitchen.

Although it might have happened at least once, maybe twice, I never saw even a hint of chaos when Nana cooked. When we arrived for dinner, Easter or otherwise, everything was under control and close to ready. The ham was roasting and the potatoes were bubbling in the oven. The beans were trimmed, snapped and ready for steaming. A lemony cake was sitting on the kitchen table and strawberries were ready in the refrigerator.

… and if Easter was early, well, there was always Mother’s Day. Bon appétit!

Lemon Pound Cake
Lemony cake with fresh berries is a bright and sunny dessert for Easter or any spring feast. Enjoy!
Serves 12

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pans
3 cups all-purpose flour plus more for the pans
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Grated zest of 2 lemons
2 1/4 cups sugar
Juice of 3 lemons
6 large eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Strawberries, hulled and halved or quartered
Whipped Mascarpone & Cream (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 8×4 1/2-inch (6-cup) loaf pans.

Put the dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the lemon zest and whisk again.

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer on high until fluffy. With the mixer running on medium-low, add the eggs one at a time and beat until combined. Add the lemon juice and beat until smooth. Add the sour cream and vanilla and beat again.

With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Increase the mixer speed and beat until just smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans, smooth the top and bake for 45-60 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean or with just a few crumbs attached. Cool to room temperature and serve with a spoonful of fresh strawberries and a dollop of Whipped Mascarpone & Cream

Whipped Mascarpone & Cream
4 ounces mascarpone cheese
Grated zest of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream

Put the mascarpone, zest, sugar and vanilla in a bowl and beat until fluffy. With the mixer running, slowly add the cream and beat until well combined. Increase the mixer speed and continue beating until soft peaks form.

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One Year Ago – Lavender Scones
Two Years Ago – Calzones with Marinara Sauce
Three Years Ago – Chocolate-Espresso Cheesecake
Four Years Ago – Runners’ Chicken with Pasta
Five Years Ago – Steamed Artichokes with Bagna Cauda or Warm Lemon-Garlic Sauce
Six Years Ago – Death by Chocolate Cake
Seven Years Ago – Filet de Perche Meunière
Eight Years Ago – Chicken Provençal

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

What about you? How will you celebrate Easter this year? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017

April Foolish & Maple Crème Brûlée

Sandwiched between Saint Patrick’s Day on one side and Tax Day on the other, April Fools’ Day doesn’t come off too badly. On the one hand, you won’t find any green beer. On the other, there are no confusing forms to fill out. That said, I doubt that April Fools’ Day has the draw of Halloween or even Cinco de Mayo.

Unlike Halloween, April first is celebrated throughout most of the western world. Some historians speculate that it started back to 1582. That is when France switched calendars and moved the new year from the first of April to the first of January. I tend to think that January is a pretty foolish time to start anything, let alone a new year. Without the internet, it took a while for everyone to get the news. Celebrants of the passé new year became the butt of jokes and pranks.

With all its silliness, it is a fun day for kids. I will always think of April Fools’ as the day my sister woke up early to switch the salt and sugar. We would then laugh uproariously when Dad deftly sprinkled a teaspoon of salt on his cereal. Consider yourself warned if there are kids or grandkids in your kitchen on Saturday morning.

Now, not everyone has an eight year old in the house. Please, don’t let that stop you! You can still find ways to celebrate.

For bordering-on-evil mischief, you could perpetrate a Berners Street hoax. Back in 1810, a rakish Londoner created havoc by sending hundreds of tradespeople and even a dignitary or two to the home of a Mrs. Tottenham at 54 Berners Street. However, beware! In an age when credit cards and prepayment rule, you will need to drop a pretty penny to deliver a mountainous pile of packaged pandemonium.

For those that aren’t afraid of a little jail time, you could write the autobiography of an infamous recluse. That’s what Clifford Irving did back in the 1970’s. He wrongly assumed that Howard Hughes would maintain his low profile when the fraudulent autobiography hit the shelves. HH didn’t and Irving went to jail. Irving then wrote a book about the caper, aptly named The Hoax.

With all the snow on the ground, it is too early for crop circles but you can keep this idea in mind if you’d like to pull a mid-summer prank. These fantastic designs of flattened wheat and barley have popped up in the US and Europe. While some point to aliens and legend gives credit to fairies, the actual perpetrators are mere mortals, artistic and with a sense of humor, but definitely mortal.

If it weren’t for the pesky ice and snow, you might be able to pull off a Loch Ness Monster-type ruse. I know Lake Champlain claims to have a monster. The locals call it Champ or Champy. He, or maybe she, is a bit of a tourist draw. I think it will be at least a couple of weeks before a monster can break through the ice on Pleasant Lake. Anyway, keep that thought. It could make for a little intrigue at ice out.

However, neither ice nor snow will get in the way of pulling off a Big Foot stunt. Find your tallest friend, throw him into a hairy suit and let him wander around in the woods. A few grunts will add a nice touch. Make sure he stays off the path. Close up, that costume you find online isn’t going to fool anyone. And by the way, be careful – the bears will be waking soon and they’ll be hungry!

Wishing you a mischievous April Fools’ and bon appétit!

Maple Crème Brûlée
It’s sugaring season and there is nothing foolish about this creamy and delicious dessert. Enjoy!
Serves 6-8

3 cups heavy cream
1 large egg
5 large egg yolks
3/4 cup maple syrup (grade B if you can find it)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon dark rum
1-2 teaspoons sugar for each serving

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Stirring occasionally, bring the cream to steaming in a heavy saucepan over low heat.

While the cream heats, combine the egg, egg yolks, maple syrup, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg with an electric mixer on medium speed.

Tin buckets collect sap for maple syrup – Main Street, New London, New Hampshire

With the mixer on low, very slowly add the warm cream to the eggs. (If you add it too quickly or in one go, the warm cream could scramble the eggs.) Stir in the vanilla and rum. Strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a large measuring cup. Pour the custard into 4- or 6-ounce ramekins until almost full.

Arrange the ramekins in a baking or roasting pan. Carefully pour boiling water into the pan until it comes about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for about 40 minutes or until the custards are set. Add more water to the pan if needed.

Carefully remove the ramekins from the water bath, cool to room temperature and refrigerate for at least two hours.

To serve, sprinkle 1-2 teaspoons sugar evenly over the top of each custard and heat with a kitchen blowtorch until the sugar caramelizes. Let the crème brûlées sit for a minute or two until the caramelized sugar hardens and serve.

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One Year Ago – Mini Chocolate-Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies
Two Years Ago – Tiramisu
Three Years Ago – Grilled Lamb Chops with Lemon-Mint Yogurt Sauce
Four Years Ago – Confetti Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette
Five Years Ago – Magret de Canard Provencal
Six Years Ago – Strawberry & White Chocolate Fool Parfaits
Seven Years Ago – Grilled Lamb & Lemon Roasted Potatoes
Eight Years Ago – Spicy Olives
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What about you? What is your favorite hoax, prank or April’s Day? Feel free to share!

Image: The Berners Street Hoax. Lithography by Alfred Concanen (1883). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017

What’s your Brand? & Chocolate-Hazelnut Bars

fabAlmost fifty years ago, Joe McGinnis wrote a book on the marketing and selling of Richard Nixon. At the time, the whole idea of branding a politician like a tube of toothpaste or a fast-food burger was revolutionary. It seemed more than a little strange. After all, we went to the polls to elect a president, not buy a can of soup.

For better or worse, we’ve come a long way. Throughout 2016, the pundits and newscasters talked a lot about the candidates’ brands. It didn’t shock or even surprise us. In fact, these branding discussions made sense. While a politician’s brand may be a simplistic measure, it gave us instant insight into his or her stance on a number of issues. Love him or hate him or something in between, our new president presented a brand that combined business success with brash, tell-it-like-it-is populism. Not everyone believed him but about sixty-three million voters bought into his brand.

But enough about politics; what about you? What’s your brand? And if you don’t know, how do you figure it out. (And, if you don’t like what you got; can you change it?)

Your personal brand combines what you do with how you do it. You’re not just a grandmother (among other things); you’re a fun loving and kind Nanna. You’re not just a plumber; you’re a trusted advisor when it comes to my pipes. Plus, you’re wicked cool and play a mean bass.

So, the first part is probably pretty easy. You know if you are a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker. You’re probably a bunch of other things as well, Mom or Dad, golfer, gourmet cook, poet, painter or volunteer. Next, and more difficult, is to figure out the how. Are you thoroughly dependable, happy-go-lucky, creative or analytical?

This last part, the dependable or creative part; it stays with you at work and play. It doesn’t matter if you are working with colleagues and customers or hanging out with friends and family, your brand will shine through. Of course, you will tone it down or amp it up based on the circumstances but you is what you is. If you’re a nasty son-of-a-gun at the office, you’re probably just as nasty on the golf course.

So now you may be wondering, “Is this brand thing set in stone?” Is it possible that you could be stuck – forever – playing the nasty son-of-a-gun, class clown or prim miss. I’m optimistic. I think anyone can change. Just so long as you realize, when it comes to your personal brand, you have to change from the inside out. If you want to become a tough guy; you have to earn it. As I understand it, the tough guy brand requires, among other things, wearing shorts in the middle of winter, never being wrong and lifting weights.

A few weeks ago, I suggested kindness might be a good 2017 resolution. Maybe you’re willing to go so far as to adopt a new kinder brand. You need to beware, the kindness brand requires more than a few nice words. You actually have to become a nice person. Otherwise, people will see right through you. But don’t worry it’s not that difficult. After all, you don’t need to wear shorts in a blizzard or spend hours at the gym. Be positive, smile and, when in doubt, assume the best about people.

That should get you started. Bon appétit!

Chocolate-Hazelnut Bars
Every baker needs a few brownies and bars. Perhaps you’ll add this one to your repertoire. Enjoy!
Makes 24 bars

Shortbread Base
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) butter, cut in small pieces

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9×13 inch baking pan.

Put the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and process until small lumps form. Transfer the dough to the prepared pan and firmly press into the bottom of the pan.

Bake the shortbread in the middle of the oven until golden, 15-20 minutes.

While shortbread is baking, prepare the topping.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Topping
1 egg
2 tablespoons bourbon
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
About 1 cup (6 ounces) roughly chopped hazelnuts
12 ounces dark chocolate, chopped

Put the egg, bourbon, vanilla and cream in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Add the brown sugar, honey and salt and whisk again until smooth. Stir in the hazelnuts.

Pour the nut mixture over the hot shortbread. Return the pan to the oven and bake until set, 15-20 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle chopped chocolate evenly over the top. Return the pan to the oven for 1 minute. Spread the melted chocolate over the top. Cool in the pan and cut into bars.

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One Year Ago – Whole Grain Pilaf
Two Years Ago – Tartelettes au Fromage avec Saucisse et Poireaux (Cheese Tartlets with Sausage & Leeks)
Three Years Ago – Chicken, Sausage & Bean Ragù
Four Years Ago – Spicy Tequila Chicken Wings
Five Years Ago – Caribbean Black Beans
Six Years Ago – Fettuccine with Escarole, Radicchio & Mushrooms
Seven Years Ago – Cassoulet
Eight Years Ago – Caribbean Fish Stew

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

What about you? What’s your brand? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017

Merry Christmas Mom & Bûche de Noël

mom_xmas_11My mother loved Christmas. As far as I can figure, she loved everything about it. She loved decorating the house, shopping for her family and gathering that family around her. Not too long ago, Mom lost her long fight with Alzheimer’s disease. Her battle gear was her beautiful smile, her infectious laugh and, most important, her kind heart.

I will keep my mother in my heart at Christmas and throughout the year with memories and stories. Here are some of my favorite images of Mom at Christmas:

Baking cookies. I’m sure that other mothers on Jackson Road baked dozens and dozens of cookies in a multitude of varieties. At our house, Mom, my sister Brenda and I rolled out and baked a batch of sugar cookies. If one existed at the time, we probably made them from a mix. We did not turn out a cornucopia of magnificent cookies but the afternoon was filled with laughter and singing. What Mom lacked in enthusiasm for baking, she made up in her enthusiasm for life.

Tree shopping. Mom was quite particular about our Christmas tree. Most years we went tree shopping as a family. The year my brother John was born, she decided to stay home with the baby. She entrusted this critical task to her husband and two little girls. The three of us bought and returned not one tree but two before she gave up. She bundled Johnny into his snowsuit and back we went to the garden shop. She perused, she studied, rejected and perused some more, until, she did indeed find the perfect tree.

The annual lights tour. Dad strung lights in and around the rhododendrons and Mom hung a wreath with a big red bow on the front door. As displays go it was pretty simple; no sleighs on the roof or flashing lights. For that, the Nye family jumped in the car for a rambling tour of the neighborhood. A week or two before Christmas, usually on a Sunday evening, we would twist and turn down one street and then another in search of spectacular lights. Without a doubt, Mom was the world’s best audience. I can still hear her enthusiastic oohs and aahs.

Santa_bookChristmas story time. In early December, Mom pulled out The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus to read to Brenda and me. Worn from countless readings, my mother was a tiny girl when Santa left the book under her tree. Its sixteen wonderful chapters chronicle the life of Nicholas the Woodcarver. The story is filled with love, kindness 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.

Lipstick and coffee. We were that family. On Christmas morning, our lights were on before the sun began to think about rising. In spite of or maybe because of our predawn start, Mom insisted on two things – lipstick and coffee. Hopping from one foot to the next, we impatiently waited for Dad to make the coffee and Mom to put on her bright red lipstick. It seemed like forever but, finally, we could pile down the stairs.

Dancing with delight. Bows flew, paper ripped and tags were lost. Finally, it was Mom’s turn and Dad handed her an enormous box. She tore in (we were not a save-the-paper family) and let out shriek. Inside, swathed in a thick layer of tissue was a mink stole from Alfred M. Alexander Furs of Boston. It was another time, before it was politically incorrect to wear fur. Mom immediately pulled it from the box, threw it over her shoulders and danced around the living room – red lipstick, bathrobe, slippers, mink stole and all.

I wish you a holiday season filled with peace and wonderful memories. Bon appétit!

Bûche de Noël
I baked my first Bûche de Noël in high school. With little interest in baking, Mom limited her participation to wholehearted encouragement and enthusiastic appreciation. Enjoy!
Serves 12buche_de_noel_06

Parchment paper, butter and flour for the pan
2-3 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup cocoa powder
4 eggs, separated
1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon espresso or instant coffee powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
White Chocolate Cream Frosting (recipe follows)
Chocolate Cream Frosting (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a 15-1/2×10-1/2×1-inch jelly-roll pan with parchment paper and butter and flour the paper. Sprinkle a clean dishtowel with 2-3 tablespoons cocoa powder.

Beat the egg whites in large bowl until soft peaks form, gradually add 1/2 cup sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form.

Beat the egg yolks and vanilla in bowl on medium speed for 3 minutes. Gradually add the remaining sugar and beat for 2 minutes more.

Put the remaining cocoa into a bowl, add the flour, espresso powder, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, and baking soda and whisk to combine.

Add half the dry ingredients to the egg yolk mixture and beat on low speed to combine. Add the orange juice and beat until smooth. Add the remaining dry ingredients and beat until smooth.

Add 1/4 of the egg whites to the batter and stir to combine. Gently fold the remaining egg whites into the bather. Evenly spread the batter in the prepared pan.

Bake the cake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes or until the top springs back when lightly touched in the center. Carefully invert the cake onto the prepared towel and peel off the parchment paper. Immediately roll the warm cake and towel from the narrow end and cool completely on a wire rack.

While the cake cools, make the White Chocolate Frosting.

Carefully unroll the cooled cake and remove the towel. Spread White Chocolate Cream Frosting on the cake, leaving a 1-inch border on all edges. Reroll the cake, cover and refrigerate for about an hour.

While the cake sets, make the Chocolate Cream Frosting.

Use a serrated knife to cut a 1-2 inch slice of cake from one end. Arrange the cake, seam side down, on a platter. Spread Chocolate Cream Frosting on the cut side of the slice and place it frosting side down on the log. Cover the cake with frosting. Smooth the frosting on the ends and then use a fork to draw concentric circles. Use a spatula or fork to create a bark-like texture on the rest of the cake.

The cake can be made 1 day ahead, covered and refrigerated. Remove from the refrigerator about 1 hour before serving.

White Chocolate Cream Frosting
1/2 cup heavy cream
Grated zest of 1 orange
Pinch salt
6 ounces white chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon Grand Marnier
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Heat the cream, orange zest and salt in a heavy saucepan over low heat until it is almost a simmer. Remove from the heat and immediately add the chocolate to the warm cream to and let it stand for a few minutes. Whisk until smooth, add the Grand Marnier and vanilla and whisk again to combine.

Transfer the chocolate to a bowl, cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate until cold.

With an electric mixer, beat the chocolate cream until thick and fluffy.

Chocolate Cream Frosting
2-3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon espresso or instant coffee powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch salt
1 cup heavy cream
6 ounces dark chocolate (or a 50/50 mix of dark and milk) chopped
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Put the sugar, espresso powder, cinnamon and salt in a heavy saucepan and whisk to combine. Slowly whisk in the cream. Whisking frequently, heat the cream over low heat until it is almost a simmer and the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and immediately add the chocolate to the warm cream to and let it stand for a few minutes. Whisk until smooth, add the vanilla and whisk again to combine.

Transfer the chocolate to a bowl, cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate for about 1 hour.

With an electric mixer, beat the chocolate cream until thick and fluffy.

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

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

What about you? What are your favorite family traditions? Feel free to share!

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

Getting in the Spirit & Chocolate Walnut Tart

Christmas_StockingHopefully, you’re feeling all warm and cozy after Thanksgiving. There were probably a few not too subtle and not too quiet words spoken at some point between the shrimp cocktail and pumpkin pie. It would not be Thanksgiving if there were not at least one blowup. I’m sure all is forgiven or at least forgotten by now. Anyway, let’s turn that Thanksgiving afterglow into some big old, no strings, no limits holiday spirit. I’m sure you have a few ideas but these will help you get started:

First and foremost, take down any political signs that are still in your yard. Replace them with sparkling lights and a snowman or two. Hang a wreath on the door and fill an old planter with evergreens, holly and more lights.

Drive around town and look at other people’s Christmas lights. Revive an old tradition of a special dinner out after the Christmas lights tour. If your family has never celebrated the lights tour tradition, start it. You deserve a night out.

Dig through all your old boxes of decorations and ornaments. Don’t stop there; look through your mom’s old boxes too. These treasures will bring back special memories. Embrace and revel in the nostalgia of Christmas.

Get a tree and fill it with lights, baubles and bows. If it seems like too much trouble … get one anyway. If it really, really, really seems like too much trouble, cover the mantle with greens and decorate them with lights, baubles and bows. It will get you in the spirit and send you over to the farm for a tree.

Whether you favor Bing or Bruce, crank up some holiday tunes. It’s a wonderful time of year and music is a big part of it. Find one of those all Christmas stations on the radio and let it play throughout the day. Music will lift your spirits on a dark and cloudy afternoon and make any task easier. In the coming weeks, make it a point to attend a community concert, go caroling and hum your way through the supermarket.

Bake something. Anything; it doesn’t matter whether you bake dozens of cookies, a tart or a pan of brownies. By all means, get the children or grandkids involved. They can help you measure and mix and keep you company. If you don’t have any kids available, borrow one or two from a neighbor. I’m sure their parents will be delighted to have some free time to wrap gifts, do some shopping or just sit quietly for a minute.

Baking done; now, it’s time to make something. Craft a tree ornament, knit a scarf or decorate a wreath; the list is endless. ‘Tis the season to take a workshop at the library or community center, search the internet for clever projects or ask your creative friends for help. Remember, when in doubt – a can of gold spray paint can turn almost anything into something magical.

Do you have a favorite book that your parents read you every year at Christmas? Even if it’s been years, hunt it down, cuddle up on the couch and read it again. From the transformations of Ebenezer and Grinch to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, these stories share themes of love and kindness.

Happy holidays and bon appétit!

Chocolate Walnut Tart
A delicious change from the traditional Pecan Pie, this tart is perfect for chocoholics. Enjoy!baking_01
Makes one tart

Flaky Pastry (recipe follows)
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon dark rum
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 cups (about 8 ounces) coarsely chopped walnuts
1/2 teaspoon allspice
Chocolate Glaze (recipe follows)
Garnish: unsweetened whipped cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough and fit it into a 9- or 10-inch glass or ceramic tart pan. Trim and crimp the edge. Cover and freeze until firm, about 30 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, butter and rum. Whisk in the sugar and maple syrup. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the walnuts and allspice.

Pour the filling into the tart shell and bake until set, 50 to 55 minutes. Cool on a rack for at least 2 hours. Pour the glaze over the tart and spread evenly to cover the top. Cool completely and serve garnished with a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream.

Chocolate Glaze
8 ounces dark chocolate
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons heavy cream

Put the chocolate, butter and cream in a heavy saucepan and, stirring frequently, heat on very low until about 2/3 melted. Remove the pan from the heat, let sit for 5-10 minutes and stir until smooth.

Flaky Pastry
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons cold solid vegetable shortening, cut into small pieces
2-4 tablespoons ice water

Put the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and shortening and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

Sprinkle with ice water, 1-2 tablespoons at a time, and process until the dough comes together in a ball. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap the dough in plastic and chill for at least 1 hour.

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One Year Ago – Citrus & Spice Sugar Cookies
Two Years Ago – Peppermint Bark Cookies
Three Years Ago – Mixed Reds & Greens Holiday Salad
Four Years Ago – Snowy Pecan Balls
Five Years Ago – Chocolate Truffles
Six Years Ago – Smoked Salmon Mousse
Seven Years Ago – Roasted Beans
Eight Years Ago – Winter Soup with Pasta, Beans & Greens

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, 2016