You’ll Never Eat Lunch in this Town Again & Shrimp & Cucumber Bites

The school bell rang for the last time on Friday, not forever but for this school year. By now, many families have packed the car, locked the backdoor and headed off for a favorite place or parts unknown. The rest? Well, they realize they already live in a favorite place so they’re relaxing at the town beach or climbing Mount Kearsarge.

My mother was one of the car packers. With Independence Day approaching, she loaded up the trunk, tossed us in the back with the dog and headed to Cape Cod. Now mind you, as families go, we weren’t very good on long car trips. By long, I mean anything more than a half hour was a problem. When I was very little, our starting point was Connecticut and that trip took forever. I don’t know why. It’s not like we took side trips to see giant balls of twine or stopped for selfies with dinosaurs.

For some reason, my grandmother traveled with us. It’s not terribly clear why. We were in Connecticut and my grandparents lived just outside of Boston. As best I can figure, Grandpa drove Nana down, spent the weekend and then went back to work. Nana stayed and hung out with us. I’m sure she applauded my sister’s end of kindergarten extravaganza. She probably babysat while Mom ran last minute errands. However, I believe her key role was to provide moral support on the long drive to the Cape. I can’t be absolutely certain about that; I was only two or three years old at the time.

Finally, the car was packed and a few toys were tossed in the backseat. Everyone made one last trip to the bathroom and we were off. Without air conditioning, we tootled along with the windows open wide. A paper doll or stuffed animal frequently caught the breeze and took flight. Tears and wails ensued but there was no turning back. The Connecticut Turnpike was littered with the flotsam and jetsam of countless children.

Except when it rained, then the windows were rolled up to all but an inch or two. It was miserably muggy. Instead of bereft over a lost toy, we were hot and fussy in the steamy car. Of course, the dog would fart not once but a few times because that’s what dogs do. It was more than enough to make a little girl queasy.

That was just the beginning. It was before the age of enlightenment and Mom smoked cigarette after cigarette. I guess I can’t blame her. Rain was pelting, the dog was smelly and my sister and I were whiny. Nana was not all that good at the moral support thing. (Don’t get me wrong. I loved my grandmother dearly. However, she was not the first person you’d choose in an emergency. Nana was loving and lovely but … resourceful, well, not so much.) Anyway, the cigarettes only made matters worse, sending me into full-blown carsick mode.

Eventually, a combination of cranky kids and hunger compelled Mom to think about stopping for lunch. Ben and Mildred’s Chicken House, a beacon of cheer with greasy food and friendly waitresses was on the way. Alas, Mom could think about it but could not act. Ben and Mildred along with a dozen hot dog stands, burger joints and diners were looking for hungry travelers but not for us. Their culinary delights were all off limits to the Nyes. It seems that a small, curly-headed child had an uncanny habit of throwing up as soon as the family sat down.

Have a happy, healthy summer and bon appétit!

p.s. In case you are worried or wondering, while dogs still fart, Mom eventually quit smoking and, like most kids, the curly-headed child outgrew motion sickness.

Shrimp & Cucumber Bites
Just in time for summer, an easy but elegant hors d’oeuvre to pass at your next cookout. Enjoy!
Makes 40-50 bite sized hors d’oeuvres

Sun-dried Tomato Dip (recipe follows)
1 pound medium (40-50 pieces) shrimp
1-2 English cucumbers

Make the Sun-dried Tomato Dip.

Peel the cucumbers and cut them into about 1/4-inch thick rounds.

Dab a little Sun-dried Tomato Dip on each cucumber slice and top with a shrimp.

Arrange the Shrimp & Cucumber Bites on a platter and pass.

Sun-dried Tomato Dip
Makes about 1 cup

6-8 halves oil packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
2-3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon or basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Pinch cayenne pepper
About 1/3 cup mayonnaise
About 1/3 cup sour cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine the sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, vinegar, herbs and cayenne in a small food processor and process until the tomatoes and garlic are chopped fine and well combined.

Add the mayonnaise and sour cream and process until smooth. Let the dip sit for 30 minutes or more to combine the flavors.

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One Year Ago – Creamy Yogurt Tart with Fresh Strawberries
Two Years Ago – Berry Flag Cake
Three Years Ago – A Hint of Asia Barbecue Chicken or Pork
Four Years Ago – Potato Salad Niçoise
Five Years Ago – Grilled Scallop & Asparagus Salad
Six Years Ago – Watermelon & Feta Salad
Seven Years Ago – Grilled Salmon with Lemon-Basil Aioli
Eight Years Ago – Mediterranean Shrimp
Nine Years Ago – Grilled Hoisin Pork

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

What’s your summer travel story? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2018

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Choose Kindness & Grilled Moroccan Chicken with Chickpea Salsa

Sunday was Mother’s Day. I admit, I was a little glum on the run up to Sunday. It was the second Mother’s Day without my mom. However, thinking of Mom and all her gifts is a good way to get out of any funk. It’s also a great reminder to choose kindness. No matter what was going on, my mother always chose kindness.

What exactly does that mean – choose kindness? That’s simple. It’s smiling and holding the door for someone. It’s saying you’re sorry when you’ve done something wrong … and meaning it. It’s holding your tongue when you don’t have anything particularly nice to say. It’s telling someone why you think he’s awesome or she is amazing. It’s being generous with compliments and stingy with criticism. It’s a thousand little things that you can do to be kind to others.

Okay, but why bother? You may not realize it but kindness makes a difference. My mother loved children. If she found herself behind a young family in the supermarket line, she always took a minute to tell the children how smart or pretty or pretty terrific they were. A compliment will boost a child’s confidence and delight the parents. Same goes for a smile and friendly good morning to the clerk checking your groceries. It could help lift her out of a funk on a dreary day. Plus, it’s a twofer. Smiling will make you feel better too. Your smile could easily be your greatest gift to humanity.

A few years ago, I bumped into a friend in the supermarket. Yes, it happens often but this time was different. Like a lot of people from yoga class or friends of friends, we were friendly but not close. However, she was aware of the trials and chaos I had faced with the illnesses of both parents. Thankfully, my family had found its new normal. We had our ups and downs but were more or less chugging along.

On the other hand, her father had recently fallen ill. Her life was turned upside down. We talked for more than a half hour, right there in front the cold beer storage. More than her troubles, she shared what she had learned. This awful experience taught her to be less judgmental. She understood deeply why someone might look past her, scowl or, perhaps inadvertently, steal a parking spot.

Of course, some people are snobs; they look past most everyone. Others are cranky; they wear a scowl every day. Still others have that sense of entitlement; stealing parking spaces and cutting in line – it’s what they do. However, my friend learned firsthand what it meant to feel completely overwhelmed. She came to realize that a blank gaze or scowl might have nothing to do with snobbery, orneriness or entitlement. It could simply mean that that a person was deep in thought. She knew all too well that those thoughts could be overwhelming and frightening. When faced with the choice to ignore or judge the blank gazes and scowls, she chose to smile. She chose kindness.

I’m not sure that my mother chose kindness. I think she came naturally by it. Mom had the gift of assuming the best in everyone. Thanks to her, I’ve tried it. It works more often than not.

Leaving you with thoughts of kindness and bon appétit!

Grilled Moroccan Chicken with Chickpea Salsa
After a long winter, it’s time to get out the grill and try something new. Enjoy!
Serves 8

2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
3 cloves garlic, minced
About 2 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast

Put the spices in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the wine, lime juice, olive oil and garlic and whisk to combine. Add the chicken to the marinade and turn to coat. Turing the chicken at least once, marinade for 30 minutes at room temperature or longer in the refrigerator.

Preheat the grill to medium-high heat.

Arrange the chicken on the grill. Cook the chicken for 3-5 minutes per side or until it registers 165 degrees on an instant read thermometer.

Remove from the grill, let the chicken rest for 5-10 minutes. Slice the chicken and serve with spoonfuls of Chickpea Salsa.

Chickpea Salsa
Makes about 3 cups

3 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
1-2 tablespoons water
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon or to taste cayenne pepper
Sea salt to taste
1 1/2 cups (15 ounce can) cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 pound (about 1 pint) cherry tomatoes (a mix of colors is nice), finely chopped
1/3-1/2 European cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
3-4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Put the tahini in a bowl, add the olive oil and lime juice and whisk to combine. A tablespoon at a time, add the water and whisk until smooth. Add the garlic, cilantro, cumin, cayenne and salt and whisk and until well combined. Add the chickpeas and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes or longer in the refrigerator to combine the flavors.

Add the chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions and cilantro, toss to combine and serve.

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One Year Ago – Pissaladière
Two Years Ago – Tabbouleh
Three Years Ago – Mixed Greens with Grilled Asparagus, Cucumber & Avocado
Four Years Ago – Grilled Balsamic Vegetables
Five Years Ago – New Potato Salad Dijon
Six Years Ago – Israeli Couscous Salad with Grilled Vegetables
Seven Years Ago – Chocolate Chip Cupcakes
Eight Years Ago – Feta Walnut Spread
Nine Years Ago – Bruschetta with Grilled Vegetables & Gorgonzola
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

How do you choose kindness? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2018

Mother’s Day Weekend Special

Inviting my mother over for dinner was always joy. She had little – probably no – interest in cooking but she appreciated a good meal. Not just the food, she appreciated the company, the conversation, the laughter, the give, the take and all the frivolity.

Mom was an easy guest. If I cooked it; she liked it – or at least it seemed that way. That said, she did have some favorites. Here are a few ideas to share with your mom this Mother’s Day weekend.

Let’s start with a great appetizer. My parents visited me at least a handful of times when I lived in Switzerland. Mom loved it all – the scenery, the food and the adventures. She may or may not have tried Pissaladière. It will be a good start to your Mother’s Day dinner. Alternatively, you might like to go with a tasty dip. How about my Artichoke Pesto? I know Mom liked artichokes. Serve the pesto with a few raw veggies, your favorite crackers and a wedge of fabulous cheese.

Now, to the table and a lovely salad. You will love my Grilled Zucchini & Feta Salad with Lemony Vinaigrette.

For the main course, how about shrimp? It was one of Mom’s favorites. I’d consider Roasted Shrimp & Andouille Sausage – but it might be a little spicy for her … but maybe not. Serve the shrimp and andouille with rice or Sweet Potato Polenta. Another delicious possibility is Grilled Shrimp Tacos with Charred Corn, Tomatoes & Salsa Verde. You can rev up the heat in the salsa or tone it down. In case of clouds or rain, a cozy Lemon Pasta & Shrimp with Olives & Capers sounds good. Mom loved lemon and pasta.

Mom did have a sweet tooth. Her two favorite flavors were chocolate and, you guessed it, lemon. Here are a few possibilities … for chocolatey delicious try my Flourless Chocolate Cake or Chocolate Pana Cotta. Lemon lovers will love my Lemon Cheesecake or Lemon Tart.

This will be the second Mother’s Day without my mom. Like all mothers, she continues to keep an eye on me – last night in a dream. She was as beautiful and generous as always. My mother didn’t have a mean bone in her body. In spite of my sadness that she is gone and for all she suffered with Alzheimer’s disease, I will be happy to remember and celebrate her kindest this weekend.

In spirit or in person, have a lovely weekend with your mom and bon appétit!

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

What’s up with you this weekend? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? Click here for more seasonal menus! © Susan W. Nye, 2018

Brunch or Lunch? Mother’s Day Weekend Special

It’s going to be a rainy, make that very rainy, Mother’s Day in New England. Sounds like a good day to have a long and leisurely brunch or lunch. I’m getting together with my sister this weekend. We’ll share a few favorite dishes, special memories of Mom and maybe a tear or two.

Here are a few suggestions! Let them eat quiche! A Classic Quiche works for me but maybe you’d like some variation of a cheese and egg pie. You can cook up my Spinach Ricotta Pie, Tarte à l’Oignon (Onion Tart) or Asparagus & Goat Cheese Tart for a bit of a change.

Add a lovely salad. Something simple like a Romaine & Radicchio Caesar Salad or Lemony Kale & Radicchio Salad sounds good. Or something a little fancy like one of my favorite asparagus salads – Asparagus Salad with Reduced Balsamic Vinaigrette or Mixed Greens with Grilled Asparagus, Cucumber & Avocado.

Instead of the ever-so-traditional quiche and salad – how about a lovely soup and flatbread? For soup, I’d like to recommend Asparagus Soup (obviously I’m in an asparagus kind of mood) or Soupe de Poisson Provençal! Now you can invite everyone to make their own flatbread or pizzas or take control with my Savory Galette with Spinach, Mushrooms & Manchego.

Now then, time for something sweet? Fresh fruit with a creamy pud sounds pretty good. Try my Fresh Berries with Creamy Lime Custard or Fresh Strawberries with Lavender Infused White Chocolate Crème.

Stay dry and have a lovely weekend. Bon appétit!

How will you celebrate Mothers’ Day? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? Click here for more seasonal menus! For a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog Click Here!

© Susan W. Nye, 2017

Lies &Truths Mothers Tell & Crostini with Cucumber, Radish & Feta

All mothers lie. I’m not sure how it works but I’ve narrowed it down to two possibilities. My first theory is that an anti-truth drug is mixed into their prenatal vitamins. The second is that new mothers receive an injection of anti-truth serum just after the baby is born.

I’m leaning towards the second. Ingesting anti-truth stuff during pregnancy could mean that all kids would come out lying. We know that’s not true or at least it’s only partially true. Kids only lie about important things, like if they break something or eat all the cookies and then blame their little brothers.

In honor of Mother’s Day this coming Sunday, I’d like to dispel a few of the lies mothers tell and share one important truth.

There is no hotdog-bun conspiracy. The bakers and butchers did not get together in an effort to make you buy too many hotdogs or dash out at the last minute for more buns. Yes, it is an inexplicable fact that hotdogs come in packages of ten and buns are bundled eight to a bag. Rather than a conspiracy, it’s more likely the opposite. The butchers and bakers never bothered to get together and talk.

Mothers doesn’t have eyes in the back of their heads. At least my mother didn’t. We know because my brother looked for them when he was about four years. It just seems that way. Rather than a second pair of eyes, mothers use all their senses to observe and know their children. How else do they know that the backseat is not just quiet, it’s much too quiet?

Although she was probably tempted a few times, your mother never would have sold you to the ragman. This one was a pretty much an empty threat at my house. You could tell by Mom’s delivery. It usually came when I did something that was more funny than naughty. Mom would rock me in her arms, laugh and ask, “What am I going to do with you? I’ll have to give to the ragman.” She never did. As far as I can figure, all the ragmen have moved on to new employment so today’s children needn’t worry.

One real, honest to goodness lie all mothers tell is, “I’ll think about it.” It might be the only lie they tell. I’m sure you’ve figured it out by now but it’s an effective way to, at least temporarily, avoid conflict. As in, “Can we go for ice cream?” Of course the answer is no. It’s 5:30. Dinner is in an hour. However, “Get in the car and I’ll think about it,” moves the meltdown from the supermarket checkout line to the privacy of the family minivan or SUV.

By the time she pulls into the driveway, your tears have subsided, replaced by that awful cranky face. That’s when she tells you, “Stop scowling, your face will freeze that way.” The truth is, no matter how ornery you get and how much you show it, your face won’t freeze that way. In the meantime, that cranky face is pretty off-putting. You have a beautiful smile and the world would love to see it more often.

My mother lost her long fight with Alzheimer’s disease last December. She won’t be telling me any more lies. A few days before she died, she told me one important truth. As I sat next to her bed, she greeted me with her big, beautiful smile, looked me straight in the eye and said, “I love you.”

Happy Mothers’ Day and bon appétit!

Crostini with Cucumber, Radish & Feta
Although she didn’t really like to cook, my mother was a most appreciative recipe tester. Enjoy!
Serves 8

Grated zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 clove garlic, minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
8 (1/2-inch-thick) slices baguette or ciabatta bread
6 ounces feta, crumbled
1-2 handfuls arugula
4-5 radishes, thinly sliced
About 1/2 European cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely chopped

Prep the oil in advance: put the lemon zest and juice, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a pinch pepper in a jar or bowl. Shake or whisk to combine. Add the oil and thyme and shake or whisk again. Let the oil sit at room temperature for an hour or more.

Preheat the grill or a grill pan to medium high.

Lightly brush each side of the bread slices with the lemon-olive oil. Place the bread on the grill and, turning once, toast for 1-2 minutes.

To serve: top the still-warm toasts with the feta, radishes, cucumber and arugula. If you like, drizzle with a little lemon-olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

Store extra lemon-olive oil in the refrigerator.

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One Year Ago – Crostini with Fig, Stilton and Walnuts
Two Years Ago – Rhubarb Crumb Cake
Three Years Ago – A Duo of Aiolis
Four Years Ago – Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Mushrooms & Mustard Sauce
Five Years Ago – Crunch Salad with Apples & Grapes
Six Years Ago – Grilled Mustard Pork Chops
Seven Years Ago – Rhubarb Crisp
Eight Years Ago – Spicy Grilled Steak

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

What about you? What lies and truths did your mother tell you? What lies and truths do you tell your children? Feel free to share!

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

A Kinder New Year & Spicy Shrimp Chowder

New_Years_EveMost pundits agree that 2016 was not a great year. Some would go so far as to call it a horrible, no good, very bad year. Who can blame them? After all, it was the year when a national debate deteriorated into a discussion on the size of a candidate’s hands. It was the year a foreign power hacked the electoral process and the price of an Epipen increased by 500 percent. From terrorist attacks in Brussels, Orlando, Nice and Berlin to the civil war in Syria, the horrors seemed endless.

Now, many of those same pundits are forecasting continued calamity in 2017. Unfortunately, they could be right. Faced with certain ugliness, is there something, anything you or I can do?

I suppose we could all shrug, claim impotence in a harsh world and go about our business. Instead of sitting back, I’d like to take a page or two from my mother’s playbook. I’d like to resolve to make 2017 a kinder year and invite you to join me.

It’s possible that all mothers have super powers. I don’t know. I can only speak for mine and her super power was her kindness. Mom died in early December after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. I don’t know if I will succeed in emulating her kind spirit, but it seems fitting to try. Here’s how we can all help create a kinder 2017:

Choose optimism. My mother had a beautiful smile and she wore it often. It’s hard to feel angry or pessimistic when you’re smiling. Unless you are some kind of narcissist or psychopath, it’s even harder to be mean or selfish when you’re smiling.

Be thankful. In an age of unmitigated materialism, it is easy to fall prey to envy. It didn’t matter if her glass was half-empty or half-full; Mom didn’t compare her lot with anyone else’s. She embraced her life and enjoyed it to the fullest.

Connect with people. My mother was a wonderful audience. She listened and laughed with you, cried with you, applauded your victories and commiserated over any setback. Instead of telling you what to do, Mom helped you discover your next, best steps.

Avoid judgments. Mom was full of opinions but was rarely judgmental. When it came to the people she loved, her opinions were overwhelmingly positive. As for strangers, young or old, from near or far, she approached them with an open mind and a warm heart.

Be yourself. Never domineering or condescending, Mom exuded strength and confidence. She encouraged her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to be exactly who they were. She marveled and took pride in the fact that each of us was so different; each our own person. She gave each of us unconditional love and inspired us to be our own best self.

Maya Angelou could have been speaking about Mom when she said,

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Through her kindness, my mother made people feel wonderful. Family, friends and even perfect strangers, she listened to our stories and laughed at our jokes. She encouraged and praised. She filled us with optimism and made our lives better.

Here’s to a happy, healthy and kinder new year. Bon appétit!

Spicy Shrimp Chowder
Although Mom was an unenthusiastic cook, she loved a good meal and an evening around the table with family and friends. Enjoy!
Serves 6

Olive oil
About 8 ounces sweet potato, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1-2 carrots, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon (or to taste) chipotle chilies in adobo, mashed to a paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup dry sherry
5-6 cups broth – preferably a 50/50 mix of shrimp and vegetable or shrimp and chicken
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
About 1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and halved
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
Grate zest and juice of 1 lime
Garnish: fresh chopped cilantro or chives

Heat a little olive oil in a soup kettle over medium heat. Add the sweet potato, onion, celery and carrot and sauté until the onion starts to become translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and chipotle, season with cumin, salt and pepper and sauté for 2-3 minutes more.

Raise the heat to medium-high, stir in the sherry and cook, stirring frequently until the sherry has reduced by about two-thirds. Stir in the broth and coconut milk, add the herbs and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.

Remove the chowder from the heat and cool to room temperature. Being careful to avoid the bay leaf and thyme twigs, remove about 2 cups of vegetables with a little broth and puree in a blender or food processor. Stir the puree back into the chowder and refrigerate for several hours or overnight to mix and meld the flavors.

To serve: bring the chowder to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat, add the shrimp, corn and bell pepper and simmer for 2-3 minutes or until the shrimp are pink and cooked through. Stir in the lime zest and juice, ladle into bowls and garnish with chopped cilantro or chives.

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One Year Ago – Dhal (Lentils) with Roasted Cauliflower
Two Years Ago – Spiced Chai
Three Years Ago – Roasted Cauliflower, Radicchio & Arugula Salad
Four Years Ago – Old Fashioned Pot Roast
Five Years Ago – Pasta from the Pantry
Six Years Ago – Tartiflette – An Alpine Casserole with Cheese & Potatoes
Seven Years Ago – Four Cheese Lasagna Bolognese with Spinach
Eight Years Ago – Curried Chicken and Lentil Soup

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

What about you? What are your New Year’s resolutions? 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