Sunday, December 23, 2012

One Word and Soup For One

Someone asked me recently if I could describe myself in one word.

One word.

What would you say? What would be the one word that would totally encapsulate your essence? Could you do it? Can you imagine it? Would you have the courage to share it? Could you own it?

I had to think very hard about my one word. It took me a long time and I could not for the life of me come up with one word. I came up with three words that fit my life right now. These three simple words took me by surprise.


Are you, my long time readers, as surprised as me at the words I chose?

Trying to get to the word that best describes you or your life right at this moment is a good exercise. It makes you think. Hard. It made me concentrate on what I am feeling at this very point in time. Not yesterday, not tomorrow, but right now. Today. Re-evaluating my feelings shook me up a bit. I was so sad for so long it was hard to think about not being sad.

I realized that I AM joyful. I laugh, everyday. I sing along to the radio. Sometimes I dance along - in the kitchen. By myself.

I am finding happiness. I am happy. Are joyful and happy the same thing? I think joyful is the celebration part of happy. I am meeting new people, doing new things. I'm reaching out of my comfort zone and exploring this new phase of my life. Is it perfect? Nothing ever is but I'm finding happiness in discovering me. This new version of me. A bit older, a bit wiser (I hope) a bit more compassionate. A slightly newer version of me. It makes me feel brave this happiness thing.

Centered. Now there's a word! What does that mean? For me it is finding the balance between what was, what will never be and what is possible now. I have begun the work of tucking the past away in a safe, secure place in my heart and learning to cherish it while honoring the gift of my life. All of the parts - the old, the new and the maybe.

Now tell me, what is your one word for you?

Soup For One: Cauliflower Broccoli Cheese Soup

1 teaspoon canola oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 pound broccoli (about 2 cups) - chopped
1/2 pound cauliflower (about 2 cups) - chopped
1/2 cup milk (feel free to use fat free, 1% or other)
2 ounces cheddar cheese (about 1/2 cup) shredded
salt and pepper to taste
a few grinds of nutmeg

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat, add onion and cook until translucent and soft. Add garlic and stir until fragrant (about a minute). Add broth, broccoli and cauliflower and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook for 10 to 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Be careful with this next part. Transfer soup to a blender. Place a kitchen towel over the lid and puree until smooth. Return the soup to the saucepan, add milk, check seasonings. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese. Ladle into soup bowl and grate some fresh nutmeg over. Sprinkle with croutons if desired.

This recipe makes about 4 cups of soup and freezes beautifully.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Snowvember and Chicken Bites with Balsamic Dipping Sauce

Here in the Northeast we are having our first "snow" event of the season and as luck would have it, it is coming on the heels of a major hurricane. My thoughts and prayers go out to those still suffering from the effects of Sandy.
Mother Nature - knock it off.

These bites are packed full of flavor and would be perfect for a snowy afternoon or a football watching day.

Chicken Bites with Balsamic Dipping Sauce: (yield 36)

olive oil
2 pounds ground lean chicken
1/2 of a large sweet onion (such as vidalia)
salt and pepper
4 sheets puff pastry
16 ounces goat cheese
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 eight ounce packages frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry (optional)
1 egg, beaten (set aside)

Balsamic Dipping Sauce:

2 cups brown sugar
3 tablespoons corn starch
2/3 cups balsamic vinegar
2 cups chicken broth
2 cloves garlic, minced


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Defrost the puff pastry for approximately 40 minutes on the kitchen counter or overnight in the refrigerator.
Combine the ground chicken, sweet onion, drained spinach (optional) and salt and pepper. Shape into 36 small balls (about the size of small golf balls) and brown in olive oil. No need to cook through as we are going to bake them in a bit. Remove from pan and set aside.

Combine the goat cheese with the basil, thyme and garlic. Set aside.

Unroll the puff pastry on a lightly floured board and cut each rectangle into 9 squares.
Place a tablespoon of the herbed goat cheese in the middle of each square and top with a chicken meatball. Wrap up the puff pastry around the meatball by pulling up each "triangle" end up and over the meatball. Place seam side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush each bite with the beaten egg (this will give the puffs a nice shiny, golden color)

Bake the chicken bites for 20 to 25 minutes until puffed and golden brown.

While the bites are baking, make the sauce.

Directions for sauce:

Whisk the brown sugar and cornstarch in a medium large pan. Add the chicken broth and balsamic vinegar and whisk. Add the minced garlic. Cook over medium high heat until boiling, stirring occasionally. The sauce will bubble and thicken. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve the warm bites with the warm sauce for dipping. If you want to make this a dinner instead of an appetizer add a light salad with warm vinaigrette dressing.

Stay warm, stay safe Northeast it can't be long till spring.

This recipe (including the sauce) can easily be halved. The sauce and the meatballs can easily be made in advance. Cover and refrigerate the meatballs. Warm the sauce before serving.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy and French Onion Soup (my way)

To all my friends up and down the East Coast:
Be Safe
Be Smart
Be Hopeful

I lightened up the classic French Onion Soup traditionally made with beef broth and came up with this lighter, vegetarian version. Enjoy on a rainy, windy, cold day.

For your comparison (and in case you really, really love the traditional recipe, I have included both versions.

As always, Bon Appetite!

French Onion Soup Two Ways

Soupe A L’Oignon by Julia Child

1 ½ pounds yellow onion (about 5 cups) thinly sliced
3 Tb Butter
1 Tb Oil
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp sugar (helps to brown the onions)
3 Tb flour
2 quarts boiling brown stock
½ cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
3 Tb cognac or brandy
Rounds of hard-toasted French bread (recipe follows)
1 to 2 cups grated Swiss or Parmesan cheese

Cook the onions slowly with the butter and oil in a covered soup pan for 15 minutes. Uncover and sprinkle with salt and sugar. Continue to cook over medium heat until the onions have turned an even, deep golden brown (about 30 to 40 minutes)
Sprinkle in the flour and stir for 3 minutes.
Off heat, blend in the boiling liquid. Add the wine, and season to taste. Simmer partially covered for 30 minutes to blend flavors.
Just before serving stir in the cognac or brandy. Pour into individual soup bowls or mugs, top with round of bread and cheese. Run under the broiler to melt and lightly brown cheese.

Onion Soup with Onions Three Ways: (my way)

1 large sweet onion (such as Vidalia) sliced thin
1 ½ pounds yellow onions, sliced thin
3 Tb Butter (divided)
1 Tb Oil (divided)
1/2 tsp sugar, divided (helps to brown the onions)
2 Tb flour
2 quarts boiling vegetable stock
½ cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
1 cup shredded gruyere cheese
1 cup mozzarella cheese
Combine the cheeses and set aside.
Rounds of French bread

Slice the vidalia onion and set aside.
Slice the yellow onions and brown 1/2 the yellow onions in 1 1/2 tablespoons butter and 1/2 tablespoon oil following the instructions for Julia Child’s recipe.
In a separate saucepan sauté the rest of the yellow onions until soft and translucent.
Bring the vegetable stock to a high simmer and add the raw Vidalia onions. Maintain a high simmer. Add the sautéed yellow onions and continue to simmer.
Add the flour to the browned onions and cook and stir for 3 minutes. Add the browned onions to the vegetable stock. Add the wine and check seasoning. Continue to simmer (partially covered) for about 30 minutes to meld the flavors.
Ladle into individual mugs or bowls. Top with a round of bread, top with cheese mixture. Run under the broiler until cheese and hot, melted and lightly browned.

Croutes – (hard toasted French bread)
12 to 16 slices of French bread cut into ¾ to 1 inch slices
Olive oil
1 clove of garlic, sliced in half
Bake the rounds of bread in a 325 oven for 15 minutes. Lightly brush both sides of rounds with olive oil. Bake another 15 minutes or until rounds are light golden and dry. Rub the toasted rounds with the raw garlic cloves.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Where do you put your heart?

Where do you put your heart when your son, your bouncing baby boy, is put  in danger's way?
Where do you put your heart when your child will be changed forever?
Where do you put your heart when you cannot protect your child anymore?

Do you steal it away?
Do you deny your heart's existence?
Do you pray?
What if you prayed and your prayers were not answered?

My heart is tender. My heart is raw. My heart still reels from the loss of a lifetime.

And now my country asks me to trust. To give. My son. He will be changed. He does not understand this as he is only 18 years young. He will see things. He will experience things we civilians can only imagine. There are three options to his life as I see them:
1. He will be wounded.
2. He will be killed (God forbid)
3. He will be changed forever.

Where do I put my heart? Where do I put my faith? Where do I put my pain? Where do I put my fear?

Right now I put all of this emotion deep inside of me. I share it with no one; least of all him. The few, the proud.

If you have a moment... a minute to spare.. would you do me a favor? I know that's a lot to ask of readers' on the internet. But could you offer up a prayer to your higher power? A prayer to keep this young Marine safe, sane, happy, and return him to this mom.

Thank you.

No recipes for food. Only a recipe (and a wish) for peace.

Zach with his brother Jacob

ps. he is on leave until Oct 1. I am cooking all of his favorite foods.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My Bouncing Baby Boy

No words.

My God Bless Us and Keep him safe as he begins his Marine Corp Career. Thank you all for your prayers, your blessings, your good wishes..

Yet another road for me to travel.

With his brother - Navy Chief.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

S'more Cups - because life should be sweet

You don't need a campfire to make these S'mores (sorry Girl Scouts everywhere)

S'more Cups (makes 24)

10 ½ whole graham crackers, finely crushed (or use 1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs)
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
9 tablespoons butter
4 bars milk chocolate candy , divided (I used Hershey bars)
12 marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Finely crush graham crackers. Combine graham cracker crumbs, powdered sugar and butter in a small bowl and mix well.

Place 1 tablespoon of crumb mixture in each cup of a mini muffin pan. Press crumbs to form shallow cups. Bake 4-5 minutes or until edges are bubbling. Meanwhile, break two of the candy bars into rectangles. Remove pan from oven and place one rectangle into each cup.

Cut marshmallows in half crosswise using shears dipped in cold water. Place one marshmallow half, cut side down, into each cup. Return to oven for 2 minutes or until marshmallows are slightly softened. Remove pans from oven to cooling rack; cool in pans for 15 minutes. Carefully remove cups from pan.

Cool Completely.

Break remaining candy bars and place in small microwavable bowl. Microwave on high 1 to 1 ½ minutes stirring every 20 seconds. Dip the top of each marshmallow cup in melted chocolate. Turn top side up and let stand 40 to 60 minutes until set.

Makes 24 cups. 100 calories each with 6 grams of fat.

Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Freezing is not recommended. 

For a richer taste substitute dark chocolate. If you like peanut butter add a scant 1/2 teaspoon and decrease chocolate to a half of a rectangle. 

Experiment with abandon because, yes... Life should have some sweetness to it.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Letting Go.

I have spent the last two years of my life letting go.

I let go of my old life.
I let go of many possessions as I downsized into a smaller version of what was.
I let my son graduate from high school and leave for the Marine Corps.
I let go of all of TBHITW's clothes, tools, and "things".
I let go of the business that he worked so hard to build.

I let go of all these things with my palms facing upward. My hands steadily releasing all that was.

Some days I let go in a great torrent of things. I let go in a big flow, like a river, hopes and dreams and imagined futures. I let go of secret smiles, of shared moments, of stolen glances that wives and husbands have shared for eternity. I let the Friday night ritual of date night go. I let shared laughter and the things only couples share go. Other days I let go in small agonizing droplets.
Things leaked out in tiny, painful baby steps. But still, I let go.

The only thing I haven't let go of is Grief. Grief is such a strange creature. As much as the heart and mind and soul want it to end Grief has a way of comforting you. You can wrap Grief around you like a security blanket or a shroud. You can hide behind its monstrous face. You can wallow in it and accept it and make up all kinds of excuses for it. You can act any way you want because you are grieving.

You can cry in public and stay in bed all day if that's what you feel like. Grief can become a friend. Not a good friend, but a friend all the same. At least you recognize its face like an old friend.

I am approaching the two year mark of carrying around this Grief and I think it is time to let it go. It is the last thing I carry from my old life and it is becoming heavy. Very heavy.

Letting go of Grief is not forgetting the reason for its existence. No, I will never forget the love and joy that existed before Grief came into my home and became my companion. I am simply saying that you (Grief) have to go now. I have to find and embrace the new joys of a new life.

Yes Grief, you have to go now. I know you will visit me periodically for the rest of my life and that's fine. But you are not allowed to live with me anymore; you are not allowed to be my constant companion.  I know that a new version of Grief will come and stay for awhile in the future. My parents are aging and in time I know Grief will once again visit. But for now, Grief has to go.

I am letting go. It's time to turn my palms downward, into the grasping position. I need to grasp the new. I need to grasp the possibilities of new found wonders, a new life, a fresh beginning.

So I am choosing to let go.

Grief and life are much like crossing monkey bars. To get to the other side at some point you just have to let go.

On, On.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Welcome To Pennsylvania


On June 25th, as planned, my youngest kidadult left for Parris Island, South Carolina to begin life as a Marine Recruit.

On June 26th, as planned, the moving company came and packed up all my belongings.

On June 27th, as planned, the moving van came, loaded everything up and drove off with all my belongings.

I stood for the last time on my front porch and watched the van drive away.  It would take the truck two hours to get to my new home. I was to meet them there.

I took one last look around; one last walk through the house. I heard and felt the laughter, the joy, the tears and the years of our life all around me as I walked from room to room. I touched the walls and the counters one last time. I walked through my carefully tended gardens, I smelled the newly bloomed gladiolas and dahlias and gathered a last bouquet of daisies. When I was finished inhaling all the memories that a house can hold I got in my car and pulled out of the driveway for the last time.

Two blocks later I had to pull over to the curb because I could not see through my tears. But I did not look back. I dried my eyes and began my new journey. By the time I saw the "Welcome To Pennsylvania" sign at the last toll booth in New Jersey I knew I had made the right decision. A new home, a new start. A new life. As planned. By me.

It's been almost four weeks now since I have been here. I love my new condo. It is bright with natural light, it is open and new and I have made it my space. I have an incredible view of the mountains that surround the valley and can watch the sunrise from a small balcony off the kitchen; which I do often, cup of coffee in hand.

I am cooking again. I am moving forward on my own two feet. I am breathing and living and doing and being. I am me. Newly minted, freshly made. I am close to my family. I have met all my neighbors.  I have a brand new bike that I ride with abandon.

I remind myself everyday,

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go...” ― Dr. SeussOh, the Places You'll Go!

On, On. 

More new recipes soon. I promise.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Change and JOY

There is a lot of change going on in my life right now.

I am trying (struggling?) to accept all that IS. The house is sold. My youngest not so "little" (okay.. he is now a kidadult, okay.. truth be told - he is a man) is graduating from high school and just five short days after that is leaving to become a US MARINE.


okay, double HMPF.

He has wanted to be a Marine since he was 5 years old. I have tried to talk him out of it for the last 13 years. Not because I don't respect, admire and honor the US Marine Corp. and all the young men and women who serve, but because he is my little. No matter how many muscles he has. No matter how many miles he can run, no matter how fast he is or how brave he is. He is my little boy. The little red headed boy that begged me to read that book "just one more time.

The little copper headed boy with the mischevious grin who could melt my heart with a smile, a word, a hug... and he now wants to become what??? A MARINE???

On Saturday he participated in a statewide "POOLEE" event (that's what they call recruits - poolees).. and was awarded this:

who is this child?
He is warrior, he is survivor, he is my son. His dad died. He survived. He MADE himself. A Warrior. He made his mother (that would be me)  PROUD.
I fell in love with you the day the doctor told me I was pregnant.
I am honored to call you son.

On. On. My son. On, On. It is what we know. It is how we live and love and honor life. On, On. I love you and hope that you can be as proud of me as I am of you.

On, On. It is what we do.

- Mom.
AKA: The Good Cook

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Once Upon A Time

My beautiful and loving brother in law and his wife sent me this picture along with a darling hand made bird house for my new home. New life, new beginnings, old memories.

The picture, along with the bird house, was accompanied by a loving note - about life, about moving forward, about the past and about the future.

The entire package brought tears running down my cheeks ... not a hard thing to do these days... but most of all it brought the glorious comfort of the memory of love. I don't recall or was conscience of this picture being taken. Mark (TBHITW's brother was behind us... ) and unknown to us.. was snapping away with his camera....

On, On.

I give you a simple walk of a couple in love, in Central Park in NY, in the fall -not so very long ago.

I remember TBHITW. I remember.

Recipes Soon.


Saturday, March 31, 2012

SOLD in 17 Days


My house (my home) is sold. After 17 days on the market.

People say "congratulations".  "How exciting." "Oh my gosh, in this market?". "You must be thrilled!".

I smile. I nod. I say "thank you". I cry late at night.

I walk through the rooms and halls and remember. Or try to remember. The kidadults are upset. This is their childhood home. This is our past. Our history. Their height markers are still on the doorjambs of their bedroom closet doors. How tall they have become. How small they once were.

How alone a new house will be. No nicks, no height markers. No memories. Everything will be in place. No dirty little hand prints. No damp towels on the floor. No laundry piled up in corners. All the things that drove me crazy...

So. The house (my home) is sold.

The hundreds of daffodils and tulips that bloom today in my gardens, that took years to plant and propagate, will bloom next year for a new family.

The fish in the pond will rely on someone else to feed them.

The grass will grow. Mowed by a new gardener.


On, On.

My house (my home ) is sold. My only wish for the new owners is that they find at least half of the happiness and love I had here. That will be enough.

On, On.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Home For Sale

The sign says "House For Sale".

But I know the sign is a lie. I know the truth. It should read "Home For Sale".

It has been 19 months since The Best Husband In The World left this world for another. I wonder at the  time. Where has it gone? Yesterday he was here....

I have put our home up for sale.

A home that saw much laughter and much love. And some squabbles along the way. And some tears. And some heartache. All the things that make a house a home. All the things that make a gaggle of people a family.

So the sign says "House For Sale".

My kidadults are well on their way now. No longer littles or middles, they are forging ahead into adulthood. They are making their way into this great thing we call life. They are falling in love, graduating from college (and high school - my youngest little)... they are creating their own lives.

That leaves me.

Just me.

And I have to grow, just like them. I have to move on. I have to accept the change. The biggest change of my life. Not one that I anticipated and not one that I asked for. But the only thing that is constant is change.. right?

This old house is too big for just me. Some days I feel I am walking through the gossamer curtain of ghosts. Some days it is too much. Some days I want to stay and embrace the ghosts and never leave. But it's too easy to draw the curtains and shut out the sunlight.

A very wise person in my grief group said, "You want to honor your loved one. They are gone, they lost their life and you’re upset about it, which means life must be precious. You shouldn’t waste life. By dwelling only on the loss you are wasting the very thing they lost and that does no honor to them. Honor them by reveling in what they ought to have had. If life is indeed precious then use it well. That would truly honor them."

I pondered that for some time until I understood its truth and wisdom. So - I have put our home up for sale. I don't know where I am going - I just know that I can't walk through halls of ghost. Ghosts of laughter, ghosts of memories.. things that were and things that could have been. 

TBHITW would have said "On, On".  I have to honor that. I have to find a new life. A life that holds precious what was, while finding a precious what will be. 

I am finding solace in cooking right now. My hands feel good kneading bread, my pots and pans are simmering on a burner and I remember meals cooked, meals shared, recipes created and recipes best forgotten. I love my kitchen and am spending every last minute I can in it before I give it over to someone else. Someone new. Someone who will create their very own memories and scents and tastes. 

So - my home is for sale. I only pray that the next family who occupies these walls finds all the happiness in them that we did. 

On, On.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

feliz cumpleaños (Happy Birthday)

Tonight I had the great pleasure of being invited to one of my very dearest friends son's 21st. birthday dinner.

Myrna and her family have held me close these last 17 months. They have adopted me. Loved me. Held me. And included me in everything from backyard BBQ's to Christmas celebrations (feliz navidad), christenings, informal get-togethers.. you name it. This beautiful family has wrapped their arms and hearts around me, loved me, cried with me, laughed with me and lived with me.

Tonight they asked me to join them in celebrating Richie's (Ricardo) 21st birthday. The only requisite is that I had to speak Spanish. Myrna and her husband are from El Salvador. Let me tell you what I have learned from my beautiful El Salvadorian friend:

Family is everything.
If I love you, you are my family.
Cry (if you feel like it)
Mi Casa es su Casa.
Come here. I will hug you.
Come here. I will feed you.
Come here. I will love  you.
Eat some more.

I cry so much that I sometimes forget that so many people love me. That so many people hold me in their hearts. That so many people cheer me on. Tonight I remember and thank all of you in the blog world and all of you in my everyday world for all the love and support and encouragement you have given me since my very first "broken" post. I love you. I honor you. I will never forget what you have given me. Love, Peace, Places that I remember....

In my life Jim (TBHITW) .. I loved you more.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

New Year Resolutions and Mango Coconut Cod

I've never been one to make new year resolutions. I like to think that through the year I adapt, change and grow as needed. (I like to kid myself like that)

But this year I have made a few promises to myself. I'll just mention one here. In 2012 I want to live a healthier, happier life. I think the two go hand in hand. By healthier I mean I want to find a way out of sadness and into happiness. I'm not sure exactly how to do this but I do know that happy is better than sad and sad is not healthy. I found this quote (on where else, the internet) and I have taped it to my bathroom mirror so that I can read it everyday:

“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.” -C.S. Lewis

This year I am going to try to let go of the sadness and embrace the wonderful, happy memories of the past and the promise of the future. 

How about you? Any New Year's Resolutions?

I was in the mood yesterday to create something. Something healthy. Something delicious. My local fish monger had some beautiful looking cod on display yesterday. He told me it just came in so I had him wrap up a half pound.

I stopped by my local supermarket on the way home to pick up some staples and noticed some perfectly ripe mangoes in the produce aisle. In the cart they went. 

Sometimes the universe supplies us with just what we need to create something wonderful... fresh cod, ripe mangoes. This is what I came up with.

Pan Seared Mango-Coconut Cod (serves 2)

1/2 pound fresh cod fillet
1 ripe mango, peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon grated sweetened coconut
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Wash and pat dry the cod. Remove any small bones using a needle nose plier (yes, I keep a clean needle nose plier in my kitchen drawer just for this purpose, deboning fish)

Sprinkle cod with salt and pepper.

Melt butter with oil in a large oven proof skillet.

When butter is melted and sizzling hot add a few slices of the mango and gently saute. Add the cod pieces top side down. Saute on medium high for 2 to 3 minutes or until the fish is halfway cooked. 

Flip the fish and spoon the softened mango over the top. Sprinkle with one tablespoon coconut and place in the oven to finish cooking (about 5 minutes).

I served the cod with steamed carrots glazed with honey, the rest of the fresh mango slices and tri-colored couscous. All of which made me very happy.

Mangoes are ripe when they yield to gentle pressure. Store them on your counter or windowsill, not the fridge.

Aren't mangoes beautiful? 
Pan searing the cod with the mango slices. The mangoes will soften and make their own sauce.
Finishing the cod in the oven will ensure a moist, perfectly cooked fish. 
The mango and coconut would also taste great on chicken or shrimp.

Bon Appetite and Happy New Year everyone
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