Celebrating Special Days with Special Treats

Cake imageThe joyful birthday of our country on July fourth happens to be right next to and between my husband Stephen’ birthday on the third and our wedding anniversary on the fifth. Over the many years of our life together what a wonderful time we have had with our celebrations. In the past we would share what we used to call our three days of peace and love with friends. They would come from everywhere and stay for the three days, overflowing our large home and even camping in the back yard. The pool and the hot tub were frequently in use. They were joyous occasions.

Today we live more quietly, yet we still celebrate and have friends in to join us, though not so many or for so long. Special recipes are always fun to share for these occasions. One of Stephen’s favorites is a cake made with Almond paste or Marzipan. The main ingredient can be purchased at almost any market. This cake is not the kind to be frosted however you could also decorate it with fruit. In my case if I decide to make it this year I might spell out Happy Birthday Stephen with pieces of strawberry.

Marzipan Cake for Special Occasions

Preheat oven to 325

Grease and flour, or grease and line with parchment an 8″ round cake pan.

Ingredients:

7 or 8 oz almond paste or marzipan

¾ cups butter

2/3 cups sugar

3 large eggs, beaten

¼ teaspoon almond extract

¼ tsp baking powder

1/3 cup all purpose flour

Method: Crumble almond paste into bowl. Add butter. Beat well until blended. Gradually add sugar and beat well until mixture is light in color and texture. Add beaten eggs, continue beating for 3 minutes. Add flavoring. Sprinkle in baking powder by pinches. Fold in flower. Scrape batter into prepared baking pan. Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until firm and browned on top, and a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool 10 minutes on a rack. Slide a thin knife around and under the cake to detach from pan. Invert on rack then turn right side up and finish cooling. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired.

This cake is a wonderful treat, and can easily be made gluten free by using a flour mix from Bob’s Red Mill or another one you might like. It really helps to have a mixer, as it would be very labor intensive to mix it by hand, though it would also be excellent exercise. Whether I make this recipe or another I am fond of, I know I will enjoy celebrating these special days.

Thank you, Mom for Your Gifts

M

Mama Watering the Roses

My Late Mama Watering the Roses

This week I received a loving card in the mail from one of my three dear daughters. In it she expressed her thanks to me for what I had given her as well as for what I continue to give her. She lives at quite a distance from me so we do not see one another often. We do however do our best to keep in touch with mail and emails. It was a precious card and it was even more precious to read her acknowledgement of the little things I do for her as we continue to communicate and to share our lives together.

Although I cannot write her a letter or call her on the phone, I began thinking about what I might be grateful to my late mother for. There is a long list beginning with how she always insisted on my wearing a hat on the beach and cover up as well to protect my skin from the sun. Today, with the prevalence of skin cancer among my contemporaries and even those younger than I, I am especially grateful for her good advice. It is thought that the early exposure to excess sun is a precursor to skin cancer. She had a permanent tan on her back from her teenage years of sun exposure in Cuba where her German father was in the diplomatic service; later she had numerous bouts with skin cancer.

Though I haven’t thought much about this until recently, I realize that she was an immigrant, and what that meant especially in her early years in the country. Like many others who came here from elsewhere, she cherished her citizenship and was proud to be an American. She also contributed in many ways, from joining in the war effort as a civilian—I remember the brown uniform she wore for some kind of civilian women’s defense organization to the lovely art she created that graces the homes of many even today.

It was the outset of what became WWII that she married my father and came to this country from Germany. As a child I remember seeing a movie taken of part of their honeymoon showing Nazis marching. She had to endure suspicions and even dislike for her nationality, even from her in-laws. Fortunately she spoke perfect English and quickly became a citizen. She was herself very courageous, and she encouraged me to stand up for myself when I was picked on in school for not being athletic or slender. In addition she always supported me when I shared my grief at not being able to fit in.

She encouraged my creativity, keeping the little booklets I made for her even until I was much older and then giving them back to me. She applauded my early efforts to play the guitar and urged me to write my own songs. She pushed originality as a virtue, praising it above all in everything I did. I think of her often and wish her well as she makes her way through whatever is next for us all in the afterlife. I am sure her bright spirit is still learning and growing and perhaps she is in some way practicing the art she did so beautifully in this life to enhance the walls of the angels’ heavenly homes.

Thoughts from a Thrifty Cook

Tasha's Fridge 1My mother felt strongly that food was precious and not to be wasted. She had been a young child during World War I in Germany, and the experience of scarcity had shaped her attitude. To her way of thinking, all food was to be used up one way or another. Then came World War II and rationing. I too was very young, yet this also gave me lessons in thrifty use of food. Fortunately I have been able to put my early lessons to good use in learning how to create meals from whatever I have left over even if I hadn’t already planned ahead.

A chicken, for instance normally provides two people at least three meals: hot, cold, and soup. That’s easy, but what about the bits and pieces of vegetables, meat, fish, or even pasta that might otherwise molder in the back of the ‘fridge. Why not make a soup, or combine them in a quick stirfry? If your family is fussy about food you probably can’t do that, however a retired couple like us, or even a single person may find it fun to experiment. One warning: it is important for the leftovers from the originals to make good combinations. A curry and a chili won’t mix well.

To use up most leftover vegetables, sauté half an onion until soft and then tip in whatever you have. This freshens the taste and makes them seem like a different dish. Add half a box of chicken or beef broth and serve this as a soup with a salad for supper. Throw in a handful of uncooked pasta of your choice and simmer or add leftover rice for a heartier dish. Or combine the vegetables and the rice or cooked pasta, sprinkle on curry powder, voila, another meal. Cook any leftover hamburger or some other chopped up cooked meat and add to the simple stirfry for a more filling lunch or supper. You can also cover it with leftover mashed potato, pop into the oven and have a shepherd’s pie.

I often use some of that convenient boxed coconut milk to season my leftover vegetables. Or in the summer I may add some salad dressing and toss them with lettuce, chopped sweet onion, and whatever else you like for a cold meal. Adding some canned salmon or tuna makes a more filling meal. The coconut milk is also very tasty with leftover chicken stirfry or soup. Simply chop up what you have, add whatever vegetables you like and warm them all up together with either leftover or freshly cooked rice. For soup, add chicken broth.

Whenever I make rice I make enough so I have some left over. I like to use it to make what I call Pudding As Rice: Per person use ½ cup rice, 1 Tbs butter, 1 Tbs brown sugar, about a half cup or so mixed dried fruit of your choice—brown and white raisins, dried cranberries, cherries, dried pineapple, or whatever else you fancy. Mix and cook together over low heat 15 minutes or so, stirring occasionally until all is mingled into a tasty mix and serve with almond, coconut or dairy cream poured over it. Or instead, combine it with fresh or canned fruit. This simple dessert pleases almost everyone.

 

Where Does the Time Go

dali-clocks

Five minutes or more of waiting can seem to stretch forever, yet when I am engaged in something pleasurable, the moments vanish quickly into wherever time goes. When I look back over the years, they telescope, yet I remember three months in El Paso that while I was living through them, seemed like three years. It is quite beyond my comprehension, and perhaps that is appropriate because after all time is something human beings invented.

Did they do this because life as they were living it needed dividing up in order to be made orderly? Or was it because people needed to make appointments? Or even because there needed to be some sort of way to know the when of things? There are books that will tell you when calendars were invented, and who invented them, and others that detail the kind of clocks that first measured it. I haven’t read any that have told me why.

Sometimes to me time resembles a big clump of jelly like stuff. I try to hold onto it but instead it squeezes through my fingers and disappears. Finding time, using time, saving time…all these are illusions generated by my wanting to accomplish what I want to do when I want to do it. Perhaps I need to think of time differently. If I focused on what needs doing rather than trying to find the time to do it would I manage better?

To be sure, I keep lists of the tasks I hope to accomplish right now or in the near future: phone calls to be made, deadlines for submissions, household tasks to be done. Then there are other items on my lists that do not have a time consideration: letters to be written, information to be googled, piles to sort through. It is these that seem to revolve endlessly, making their way from list to list until I “find the time” to do them and finally cross them off.

Sometimes they fall off the list, never to be seen again. Because none of this type of task is actually necessary it seems more difficult to get done. It is also possible that they don’t matter, or else that I have given them more importance than they originally deserved. It isn’t always easy to know what is important and what is merely something it would be nice to do if there were time to do it. And there’s that word again: time.

Have you ever noticed that it can take the same amount of actual clock time to come home as it does to go somewhere, yet it seems to take much longer to go than it does to come home? This is just one more mystery I experience involving the passage of time. However, to be honest I usually find that I always have enough time when I focus on the doing part rather than the amount of time to do it. Perhaps that is because there really is no such thing as time at all.

Tasha Halpert

 

 

Muffins for Fall Munching

Down to her frillies 3

 

 

I once attended a weekend Renaissance Fair with some friends. Wearing a costume of a mobcap, a full skirt, blouse and a vest, with my similarly garbed friends I was having breakfast in the restaurant of the motel where we were staying. As I perused the buffet table a man came up to me. “There are no more muffins,” he said. I shook my head and assured him I wasn’t a waitress. “We need more muffins,” he said loudly. My similarity to the waitress’ colonial garb was too convincing. My friends were helpless with laughter. I giggled and joined them. To this day Stephen kids me about the incident.

While I like making muffins now, I didn’t learn to make them in my mother’s kitchen. She didn’t bake from scratch or even at all, and I was not encouraged to do so. Once married I tried to make them but my muffins were invariably heavy, flat and dense in texture. Though edible, they were not how I thought muffins ought to be. When I sought inspiration from more experienced cooks, I found out what I was doing wrong. Voila, my muffins rose nicely.

I discovered that muffins, unlike cakes, cookies and other baked goods did not need to be well beaten. Once I learned to fold the wet ingredients lightly into the dry ingredients my troubles were over. The source of my information was a column in the Boston Globe called the Confidential Chat. It ran several times weekly and was a wonderful source of recipes, advice and help as well as an opportunity to share for those of us who wished to do so. At the peak of my participation I wrote around fifteen or so letters a week, many of which were published, and in the process I learned to write succinctly.

Writers to the column used pen names, so publication was anonymous. However, letters answering you that were not published were forwarded bundled in an envelope you provided, and you could choose to answer any of them if you wished. In certain ways the Confidential Chat was part of the foundation for this column because it helped me learn to write precisely and convey information clearly. Long-winded or unclear letters simply were not published. Since I enjoyed seeing mine in the paper, I worked hard to write well. I also loved the recipes and shared many.

Here is a recipe I use a lot for Banana Chunk Muffins. You may substitute melted butter for the oil. If you do, be very sure to mix lightly. Ingredients: 2 eggs, 1/3 cup oil, ¾ cup any milk, 1 tsp vanilla, ½ cup sugar, 1½ cups flour, 1 tsp baking soda, ½ tsp salt, 1 tsp cinnamon, 2 or 3 bananas cut into ½ to 1 inch squares, ½ to 1 cup optional chopped walnuts, ½ to 1 cup optional chopped dates. Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees, Mix fruit, nuts with dry ingredients, beat wet ingredients together well and lightly mix into dry. Use liners or grease 1½ dozen muffin cups or 1 8″ square pan. Fill ¾ full and bake for 30 minutes for muffins, 35 to 40 for pan. Enjoy!

Tasha Halpert

Summer Through the Years

Diana's Pond ReflectionsAs a child I so looked forward to school vacation and the freedom it brought from discipline, homework and schedules. Whenever weather permitted, my time was spent out doors wandering around the rather large property where my parents and I lived. It belonged to my Great Aunt Alice, whose father had built the grand house she lived in now, as well as the cottage originally intended for the gardener. That was where I, and later on my brothers and sister lived. There was a broad, open field to roam in, trees to climb, and a small marsh bounded by a dyke that kept out most of the distant seawater.

Wildflowers grew in abundance, insects buzzed and birds called. There were trees to climb, and I also spent time high in their branches, reading. I called it my tree house and brought pillows to the platform I had wedged into my favorite tree, a big beech. Summer was a time to play. The property held plenty of room for my imagination to conjure up all kinds of adventures like the ones in the stories I read: Tarzan, Robert Louis Stevenson’s tales, and the legends of Greek heroes.

Time passed and I was a young mother. Summer meant days at a nearby beach watching my children play in the sand and splash in the waves. Fortunate to be able to stay home with my children, I hung the laundry in the sun, worked on my tan, and took the them to the local church fairs, the annual carnival, and whatever other amusement the season offered. We had picnics and explored the highways and byways of surrounding towns. Later there were softball and then baseball games they played in to attend. The work of motherhood became a kind of play in summer.

Fast-forward to a different kind of summer life, with a swimming pool to clean and care for and a large garden that took me almost as much time to look after as the children did. Still it was a delight to share the pool as well as the garden with visitors. I didn’t mind the weeding too much, or pruning the shrubs. It was an adventure to tackle the wild rose vine I planted for its delicious scent, without realizing the consequences of its rampant growth. I never knew how many would be sitting down to any meal, because people came and went as I practiced my hospitality. Summer held a different kind of play.

My summers have changed again. With age comes less tolerance for extreme conditions. My bones enjoy my home’s warmth in the cold but not its heat in the muggy weather. I appreciate air conditioning far more than I used to, and I spend much more time indoors than I did in the past. While the long summer hours of light are enjoyable, the effect of the heat on my mind is not. Labor Day signals summer’s closing. Once I welcomed its beginning with open arms, now each year I am more appreciative of summer’s end.

Birthdays are for Celebrating, by Tasha Halpert

Flag on Steps, Maine -15  As a child I didn’t like going to birthday parties. They often played a game called musical chairs. I hope no one plays this any more. For those who haven’t, 2 rows of chairs is lined up back to back. The children march around them to music. When it stops everyone grabs a chair and sits. Each time, one chair is removed and someone is “out.” The last person who grabs the last chair wins. I never won and I thought it was a mean game. I loved celebrating my own birthday at home.

On each birthday in the family my mother would put flowers around the breakfast setting of the birthday person. There would be presents, and special food for dinner. I didn’t have many friends so instead of a party I would be taken to the movies or out for some other special treat. I made my presents for my parents’ birthdays, usually little books or a home made puzzle.

July 4th, also called Independence Day, marks the birthday of the United States of America, the day the Declaration of Independence became official. It is celebrated with gatherings, fireworks, parades and other opportunities for fun. Some might say there is too much strife and dismay to be celebrating. Terrorist attacks, murderous rampages by vicious people who take out their rage out on innocent victims, and other dismaying occurrences sadden and frighten them. Yet this is no reason not to celebrate.

When I was growing up there was a polio scare every summer. we were frightened of the beach, or other places where there were crowds. When I was in the 6th grade one of my classmates caught it and lived out his life in an iron lung. There seems always to be something to fear. Plagues in Europe, epidemics in the US, and even savage attacks by hostile tribes. When in history has there not been a threat to survival?

Every birthday reached is to be celebrated. Within the past several years too many friends of ours have died, many much too young. One never knows when there will be no more birthdays. This is all the more reason to mark each and every one as a special occasion. Young children love their birthdays. The child in us, the part that never grows up enjoys every aspect of a birthday celebration no matter how many years we accumulate. There is much to rejoice over and be thankful for in every year of life. We do well to focus on this.

Stephen was born on the 3rd. of July, and we always gather with as many friends as can make it to mark this important day. This year on his special day he will celebrate 75 years of life. A mere hundred years ago this would have been considered an tremendous accomplishment. It is, yet nowadays with good habits and good care he can expect to celebrate many more birthdays. This year when he blows out the candles on his cake he will wish not only for himself but also for his country, a peaceful, prosperous new year of life. May it be so.