Monday Morning QB

Well, the Superbowl of Meals, aka Thanksgiving, is over and the pressing questions have been answered.

Was the turkey moist? Was the stuffing delectable? Did the pies dazzle and delight?

Yes, yes and yes on my part. Although getting a hot meal out on plates for 14 people isn’t an easy task, so as people sat down, grace was said, in rounds. Two of the couples at our meal had to go to another Thanksgiving dinner, at other houses.

When Zeke and I were first married, we did the two Thanksgiving meal marathon. The problem is you’re eating the same exact meal- turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and pies- twice. The only variety is the question of the green side- green beans, brussel sprouts or (God forbid) salad. Salad is never a good idea at Thanksgiving as there are too many other yummy things to eat. At any rate, after that first back-to-back day of duplicate meals, I put the kabosh on two Thanksgiving meals in one day.

Zeke’s Dad used to serve champagne and heavy hors d’Oeuvres at Thanksgiving. I’m against heavy appetizers, since there’s so much food awaiting. My Mom always had a vegetable plate for Thanksgiving, with those black olives out of the can that taste like band-aids, so I asked her to bring that and her famous Deviled Eggs, which got wiped out. The pies were Pumpkin and Pecan and my sister Elise baked a Yellow Cake with chocolate frosting for my birthday.

I got my Empower Farms delivery last week. Normally I would be delighted to get a basket of unusual vegetable goodies, but on the week of Thanksgiving? It’s like those cooking shows where they throw you a curve ball at the last minute and you have to incorporate it into your game plan.

I got starfruit (which I don’t need because I have an overloaded tree), zucchini, plantains, papaya, yuca, okra and a small pumpkin. The pumpkin looked as if it needed to be used, so I took off the top, took out the seeds and sliced it into rings for later use. I don’t like papayas, so gave them away. Yuca and plantains scream Cuban Food, so Zeke picked up bone-in Pork Chops to go with my Cuban meal on Monday.

I’ve never cooked yuca before. I peeled it, chopped it, boiled it and served it with an olive oil, garlic and lemon dressing. I sauteed the plantains in oil and made black beans and rice as another side. Zeke seasoned the Pork Chops with a spicy Coffee Ancho Chile rub and grilled them. They were delicious!

It’s a pretty good Cuban meal for two gringos.

he said.

And it was, but I needed to start cooking and prepping for Turkey Day, so my next two meals may go down as the worst in my personal history. Tuesday I ate Fried Okra and Cinnamon Ice Cream for dinner. The only way I know how to make okra is by frying it and I’d made the cinnamon ice cream to go with the pies for Thanksgiving. The ice cream, from The Perfect Scoop, is made by steeping broken cinnamon sticks in the cream mixture; it was creamy, spicy and delicious.

I may have topped that meal with my meal the next night, which was Lays Potato Chips with French Onion Dip at Riviera for dinner and some pre-Thanksgiving Stuffing for dessert.

After Thanksgiving, I wanted to breathe a huge sigh of relief, but there was no time as I had to head down to the Keys with Wyatt to visit the Turtle Hospital on my birthday. After a meal of Turkey Sandwiches on Hawaiian Rolls (yum!) we headed to Marathon. The Turtle Hospital tour was very informative and we learned the many ways sea turtles can get injured out in the water. We also got to see some turtles in tanks and feed them.

After our tour, was a quick drink at the chickee hut for sunset and on to Di Giorgio‘s Cafe, an Italian restaurant in Key Largo, where I got a free Birthday Meal. Wyatt loved his Shirley Temple with extra cherries and his Spaghetti with Meatballs. The next day I was to meet A.J. at her new place of employ- Patch of Heaven Sanctuary– for lunch and a tour.

Wyatt and I crammed a day of activities into a half a day on Saturday. First, breakfast at Waffle House (Wyatt’s suggestion), a little tennis, some paddle boarding and then swimming in the pool. And then, off to Homestead to meet A.J. and Phoenix. We had lunch and a tour of Patch of Heaven, which is a lush, zen, tropical oasis. It was a lovely day. I kissed them goodbye and then drove back to the Keys, exhausted.

Sunday, Zeke and I took the boat out for a spin. We were trying to find Ocean Reef, where we got married. We didn’t find it, but did almost run aground. We ended up at Alabama Jacks for lunch. The food was good (Lima Bean Soup and Shrimp Egg Rolls) but our server had a major attitude. Good service can make mediocre food tolerable and make good food leave a bad taste in your mouth.

So, the last piece of pecan pie has been eaten, the last bit of stuffing put into my Turkey Soup. Thanksgiving is over, December is upon us and that mad dash to the finish line of the Holidays and a New Year.

This year I hope to remember to do things that keep me sane; things I often get too busy to do during the Holidays. These are activities Steven Covey labeled: “Important but not Urgent” in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. These things don’t necessarily keep your little world spinning, but if you don’t do them, you might stop spinning yourself.

For me these are: getting a good night’s sleep, exercising, meditating, eating healthy foods and journaling. I’m sure you have your own list. You do you and whatever keeps you sane this Holiday Season. Ho ho ho!

Up Next: My Mom’s Famous Deviled Eggs

Aunt Josie’s Ricotta Gnocchi

This is a very easy recipe from my Aunt Josie, that uses ricotta cheese instead of potatoes. This makes the gnocchi lighter than the traditional, so the pasta feels almost like little clouds under your floured fingers, as you roll it out.

I taught Anne and Denise (nee Joffre) how to make this recently at a Cooking Class at my house. Their mother Eleanor and my grandmother Julia were good friends and Denise was in regular touch with my Great Aunt Josie.

The recipe is easy to remember, with the proportions being 1/1/1. One egg, one cup of flour and 1 cup of ricotta. A recipe I read online said to drain the ricotta in a sieve for half an hour before using, but I’m pretty sure my Aunt Josie didn’t do that. It also said to use 00 flour, but I just used All-Purpose.

You want the dough to be a little wet and sticky, but able to form it into a ball and roll it with a floured rolling pin. If it’s too wet, add a little more flour. To freeze these gnocchi, place on a floured cookie sheet and put in the freezer for an hour or two. Remove and place in a plastic freezer bag. When you’re ready to use the gnocchi, just drop frozen gnocchi into boiling water. Easy peasy!

Ricotta Gnocchi

Recipe by Josie SmithCourse: EntreeCuisine: ItalianDifficulty: Medium
Servings

4

servings
Prep time

10

minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta, drained

  • 1 large egg, room temp

  • 1 cup all purpose flour

  • 3/4 tsp salt

  • 1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper

  • a generous grating of fresh nutmeg (optional)

Directions

  • Drain ricotta, if desired. Put in a bowl and mix in the egg. Add the flour, salt and pepper and nutmeg. Stir until the dough comes together. If it’s too sticky, add more flour.
  • Form dough into a ball and put on a lightly floured surface. Cut into 8 pie-shaped wedges.
  • With a floured rolling pin (or your hands) roll each ball into a 3/4 ” snake-like shaped.
  • With a butter knife, cut into bite-sized pieces. Gnocchi will expand as it cooks. If you desire, roll a fork over the top to make ridges (all the better to trap the sauce!). Coat the gnocchi in flour.
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil on medium-high heat. Drop gnocchi into water. When they float, remove with a slotted spoon and serve immediately with your favorite sauce and a grating of Parmesan cheese.

Recipe Video

Notes

  • If you want to freeze gnocchi, coat in flour, put on a cookie sheet and freeze 1-2 hours. Remove from cookie sheet and put in a storage container. When ready to use, simply drop frozen gnocchi into boiling water.

With this easy recipe for gnocchi, you can have homemade pasta on the table in less than 15 minutes!

Up Next: Monday Morning Quarterback

Turkey Time!

Thanksgiving Dinner isn’t a time to try out new recipes. People want the old standards, so no Thai Turkey, Vegan Stuffing, Chipotle Potatoes, Weird Sides or Funky Pies. No, no, no! Despite Chefs, Magazines and Food Networks trying to offer new twists on old favorites every year around this time, we all just want the old favorites on Thanksgiving.

Having said that, each family has their own old favorites. Elise’s Mother-in-Law Althea always made Pureed Parsnips each year for Thanksgiving, which she insisted was an acquired taste. I don’t think many in the family acquired it, because the tradition seems to have died with her passing. My Dad like the Jellied Cranberry Sauce out of the can, but I don’t, so that tradition is not appearing at this Thanksgiving.

I played tennis with two ladies this week, neither whom was hosting Thanksgiving, but each bringing dishes to their in-laws and other family members. One was bringing a sweet cabbage dish, that was a family favorite for the holiday, and gravy, because the family she was visiting “doesn’t make gravy”. Who doesn’t make gravy on Thanksgiving? She was making the gravy ahead and would add in the drippings after the turkey is roasted.

The other lady I played with (who shall remain nameless) said she had to go to an in-laws house with a bunch of cousins and kids running around.

And Thanksgiving used to be my holiday.

she said.

Clearly, not happy about it.

But children get married, have significant others, have children themselves and us Moms, have to roll with the punches. She decided the other day, since she wasn’t hosting Thanksgiving, to take down her Thanksgiving decor and put up Christmas decorations. Christmas seems to be coming early this year and many houses in my neighborhood already have their lights up. Merry, merry! I love it.

I also used to love Thanksgiving, since it’s a holiday based on food and gratitude, two things I can get behind, until one Thanksgiving a couple of years ago that lives on in infamy. I knocked myself out for days decorating, preparing and cooking and then, after an awkward dinner that didn’t last long, I was left with a kitchen full of dishes and a big mess. No one helped cook or clean, except Zeke. As I recall, no one even said “Thank you”, the very emotion on which Thanksgiving is based.

After that, I went on strike, proclaiming I would never host Thanksgiving again. That didn’t last long, but I did insist everyone (we’re talking grown humans here) bring a dish to Thanksgiving, so all the burden wasn’t on me. Even that small request got push-back, with some claiming they “couldn’t cook” and another just totally ignoring the request. Ugh!

Fast forward to this year and I’m actually looking forward to Thanksgiving; everyone that’s coming is bringing a dish. I’m having my Mom and her boyfriend Bob, A.J. and her family, Emma and Gui, my sister Elise and her sons Michael and James. There will be 13 of us in total, most likely including two dogs (Lucy and Cosmo) and a terrified calico cat named Eloise.

The menu is: Roast Turkey with my grandmother’s Sausage Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce, Mashed Potatoes with Ina’s Make Ahead Gravy (both giblet & non-giblet), Grandview Sweet Potatoes, Green Beans, Rolls, Pumpkin Pie and Pecan Pie with Whipped Cream. I may also make Pumpkin Ice Cream, depending on how much energy I have left. My Mom’s bringing a Vegetable Platter and Deviled Eggs for appetizers and I’m going to try and cook as much ahead as possible.

Taking a hint from my tennis friend, I’ll make the gravy ahead and add the drippings and giblets that day. There’s so much cooking going on Thanksgiving Day, making the gravy at the last minute only adds to the stress. I’ll make the cranberry sauce ahead, since it keeps for weeks, and unwrap and dry brine the turkey the day before. I’ll also make the stuffing the day before, but will wait until Thanksgiving to stuff it in the turkey. I’m doubling the stuffing, since it seems to be many people’s favorite, including mine.

I’m taking a page out of Ina Garten’s playbook and using (God forbid) store-bought Mashed Potatoes (Bob Evans), but jazzed up with Parmesan, sour cream and butter. Making mashed potatoes from scratch is a major endeavor with peeling, boiling, mashing and the starchy mess that’s leftover to clean. Ina found that using store bought potatoes tasted just as good as homemade and was actually cheaper to make, so for me it’s a win-win.

I feel like I need another vegetable side, so will do what my tennis friend suggested and put some root vegetables- carrots, parsnips and onions- under the turkey, as it roasts. This way it soaks up all the yummy drippings and seems like a pretty low-stress way to make a side dish.

The table will be set early, so that’s out of the way. And, everyone knows the best part of Thanksgiving is the leftovers, which is why hosting is almost worth it, just for that fact. My birthday is the next day, which I will spend in the Keys, eating Turkey Sandwiches, visiting the Sea Turtle hospital with Wyatt and recuperating.

Up Next: Easy Ricotta Gnocchi

Ready for Green Lights!

Last week was kind of a s**t show for me, full of missed communications and technical difficulties and it wasn’t even Mercury Retrograde!

Monday I waited around for ADT ALL DAY. They were supposed to come between 1 and 5 and, at 6 p.m., I called ADT to cancel. I told them the technician had never showed up and didn’t even call or text to say he’d be late. Right then, of course, ADT pulled up into the driveway. He did the needed repairs and it was free, since I had to wait so long.

Wednesday we went to the Keys to measure our washer/dryer and order a new one. It’s 30 years old, but of course Zeke wanted to see if we could fix it, but I was getting nervous since we have renters coming in January and with the supply chain, yada, yada, yada & appliances on backorder, I thought sooner was better than later.

It was a nice break to our “little slice of Paradise.” We had dinner at Sharkeys, which was more enjoyable on a weeknight, when it was quiet. We watched the CMA’s, spent the night and headed out the next morning, since we both had meetings.

Halfway down to Miami, I realized I’d left my cell phone in the Keys. When I got home, I checked my e-mail for the address of a house I was supposed to be at by 11:30. The time had gotten changed to 11 and I’d been texted, but- no phone. It was already 10:36, so I dressed like a mad woman and headed over.

I couldn’t use my GPS to find the address, because- no phone, so instead relied on my innate navigational skills, which are awful. Luckily, it was an easy address and I pulled in at the same time as the other Villagers. We were visiting a house that will be on the Home Tour in December and I was invited because I’m helping to write the brochure.

Normally, I would have taken LOTS of photos, but I didn’t have my camera, (aka phone) so I furiously wrote notes as we toured the wonderful home on North Greenway. My notes looked like chicken scratch and then I ran home, ate lunch and headed to my Improv Class at U.M., through OLLI.

You have to pay to park there and of course, it’s through an app on your phone. I parked against the back wall and prayed I wouldn’t get a ticket. Luckily, I didn’t, but, by this time I realized there was no way I could go another day without my cell phone.

Back in the day, I’d initially been reluctant to purchase a cell phone (more like a brick) and took even longer to come around to texting. How things have changed! Now, obviously, I couldn’t live without my phone. I drove to the Keys, relieved to find I’d left my phone in the kitchen. Unfortunately, my Kendall tenant had sent me many messages about a leak in his apartment, regarding mold and imminent disaster. There are some advantages to being off the grid!

And my potential renters for the Keys were threatening to back out because The Sanctuary requires so much paperwork for renters. I wanted to say: “Don’t kill the messenger”, but we should’ve known we were in trouble when they required our dog’s DNA to reside there.

You know when you have days/weeks where everything goes perfectly and all is right with the world? My week- last week- was the opposite of that. It was also crazy busy. But, by the age of 62, I know, that’s just life- with the ebbs and flows it contains and eventually it will go the other way.

I got to watch Wyatt and Phoenix Friday, since it was Veteran’s Day and there was no school. Phoenix, now one and a half, is a one-man wrecking ball! And poor Wyatt, used to being the center of attention, felt neglected. He wanted to: play Clue, make cookies and go swimming, all activities I had to shoot down, because Phoenix requires my undivided attention.

Phoenix is into cars these days- anything with wheels fascinates him.

He’s at a really cute age right now.

said A..J.

I had to laugh, because she’s said that many times, at many stages, about Phoenix and she said the same thing about Wyatt. And he is at a cute stage, but I love that fact that I can actually have conversations with Wyatt. And we’ve started reading Charlotte’s Web, one of my favorite books, taking turns reading it. A.J. and I had read it together when she was little and it’s nice to carry on the tradition & Wyatt’s reading is really coming along.

I held a Cooking Class for two friends- Anne and Denise- on Sunday afternoon. We were together Friday night, talking about my Aunt Josie and her gnocchi recipe and Denise suggested I do a cooking class. I made a trip to my favorite grocery store- Trader Joe’s– and got everything ready for their arrival at 1.

While Denise had learned how to make my Aunt Josie’s Eggplant Parmesan from the Master (aka Josie), she’d never made Pickled Eggplant, so we made that first. We then whipped up a quick Pesto recipe (James Beard) and then made the Gnocchi. Kelley and I couldn’t find the recipe, but we did remember it was 1/1/1. One cup of four, one cup of ricotta and 1 egg, with a pinch of salt and pepper and a dash of nutmeg.

It all turned out great and I made little samples of the food we made for them to take home. Anne didn’t want me to take a photo of her because she doesn’t like photos and –

Then you’re going to put it on your blog.

said Anne.

Yes, Anne, I am. That is the price you pay for a cooking class with Foodie in Miami! LOL.

Last week was a disaster, but I’m waiting for this week to be all green lights! A medium I visited in Cassadega (psychic city in Florida) last year told me that when I turn 64, everything I wanted was going to come my way. Only a year to go!

Up Next: Aunt Josie’s Gnocchi Recipe

Apple Pecan Cake

I first made this cake for my son Christopher on his second birthday and, I must say, it’s a keeper. It’s from The New York Times Magazine, October 8th, 1989 and is redolent of the flavors and tastes of Fall.

It really isn’t a very hard recipe (as my sister Kelley notes: “So says Foodie in Miami”), but it’s true! The hardest part is peeling the apples and making sure the pecans don’t burn when you toast them. The measurements are all pretty standard as well- 1 cup sugar, 1 egg, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 cup flour- and the cake only takes 30 minutes to bake.

You can make this cake as easy or complicated as you wish.

It’s suggested to be served with Hot Caramel Sauce and Whipped Cream, but I sent it to my son in Tallahassee as-is and he thought it was the perfect amount of sweetness. It’s also a cake that ships well and stays moist (due to the apples) in the fridge for quite a while. I hope you like it as much as I do.

Sorry for the lack of photos. I was so focused on making the cake quickly, I neglected to take Step-by-Step pictures! And the first cake I made fell apart (due to leaving an egg out), so I’m showing both versions. It’s recommended to bake it in a 9-inch cake pan, but I used to make it in my trusty old Bundt pan for a prettier presentation.

Apple Pecan Cake

Recipe by The New York Time MagazineCourse: DessertCuisine: American
Servings

8

servings
Prep time

20

minutes
Cooking time

29

minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup pecans, toasted

  • 5 medium apples, like Granny Smith or Fuji, to yeild 2 1/2 cups

  • 1/2 cup butter at room temp

  • 1 cup granulated sugar

  • 1 egg

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • 1 cup flour

  • The hot caramel sauce:
  • 1/2 cup butter

  • 1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk

  • The garnish:
  • Sweetened whipped cream and fresh unpeeled apples

Directions

  • To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the pecans in the workbowl of the food precessor and process until fine. Set aside. Peel, core and quarter the apples and place them in the workbowl of the processor and precess until they are in medium-coarse shards, about the size of almonds. Set aside.
  • Place the butter in a large mixer bowl, add the sugar and beat until blended. Add the soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and mix quickly. Add the flour and just blend, then the apples and nuts.
  • Pour the mixture into a greased 9-inch round cake pan and bake for 30 minutes or until the top springs back when touched with a finger. Cool slightly. Center may sink somewhat.
  • For the caramel sauce, melt the butter, brown sugar and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring with a whisk. Remove from heat and add the vanilla and milk. Stir again with the whisk.
  • To serve the sauce with the apple cake, cut the cake into eight wedges. Ladle a large spoonful of the hot sauce onto each of eight dessert plates. Place a wedge of cake on top of the sauce. Garnish with a dollop of whipped cream and two apple slices.

Notes

  • The sauce can be made ahead and reheated in the microwave.
  • A refrigerated cake will keep for a week.
  • If you wish to cut some of the butter, substitute 1/4 cup of butter for applesauce.

Up Next: Technical Difficulties

A Week of Triumph and Failure

So I’ve “fallen back” in time, which I (and I believe the rest of the world) hate with a passion. It gets dark so early! Real Simple advises some practical home maintenance advise to complete on this day. I did a couple of the suggested items- changing a/c filters and cleaning my coffee maker. By the way, I love Tom Samet on Instagram. Check him out.

I’ve packed up the Halloween stuff and am preparing for Thanksgiving at my house. The rest of the country, apparently, hasn’t gotten the message that the Holiday season starts AFTER Thanksgiving. I’m totally fine with getting a Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving, but Christmas music before Halloween? Sacrilegious!

On my way back from Tallahassee, many stations (like 12) were already playing Christmas music and when I went to Home Depot for herbs and flowers for my garden Sunday, they had poinsettias on sale for $1.98 (normally $4.98). It was a really good deal, but I just couldn’t do it!

I refuse to buy a poinsettia before Thanksgiving. It’s just not right.

Me, to apparently no one listening in Home Depot.

I was in a rush to get home from Tallahassee last week, so just ate at the Turnpike Station on the way home, instead of my normal Cracker Barrel. I had THE BEST Wendy’s Single hamburger of my life! It came with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, mustard and was jam-packed with extra pickles. That night, I was tired, so Zeke and I just ate Trader Joe’s Mac ‘N Cheese Bites ($3.99) for dinner.

I served them with three sauces- B-B-Q, Ranch and a Spicy Green Sauce. They took 20 minutes in the air fryer and were pretty good, but you need to let them cool a minute before eating, otherwise they fall apart. Number two, I wouldn’t exactly call them dinner, more of an appetizer, but with a glass of wine and Jeopardy, it was fine for a Tuesday night.

I love Jeopardy and have for many years. I always try respond to the answers (in the form of a question) and enjoy competing along with the contestants, from the comfort of my couch. But lately, I’ve been doing awful. I don’t know if the questions are getting harder or I’m getting stupider, but I’m finding it extremely difficult to answer many questions correctly. I believe my peak Jeopardy smartness has passed me by.

A Really Big deal!

I finally got to pick up Phoenix from school and he rode in my Mini Cooper for the first time! I bought the car specifically so I could fit all three grandsons in it, but I’ve never had more than one (and it’s always been Wyatt), so I was thrilled to pick him up at his cute day care in the Gables and drive him home. I went to his class and when he saw me he said “Gigi”; my heart melted. He came with me happily. I think I had street cred because Wyatt was with me and we listened to Kidz Bop on the radio and bopped all the way home.

As I unpacked groceries, Phoenix was playing with his basket of toys. Or so I thought. I looked over and he had something in his mouth. Upon further inspection, I realized it was pebbles from my terrarium! I screamed, fished the rocks out and fed him yogurt. I thought he was out of the “eating inedible objects” stage, but apparently not. It was kind of ironic when I later gave him a bite of apple cake and he spit out a toasted nut he disliked. I’m thinking “You eat rocks, but spit out nuts?” Typical toddler- totally unpredictable.

Exhausted after the kids left, Zeke made a Hello Fresh meal Emma had given us. It was Pork Chops with Brussel Sprouts and Mashed Potatoes and it was really good (although the brussels were overcooked). They had a good idea with the mashed potatoes, which is to add a little of the water the potato cooked in, back into the potatoes (kind of like how you do with pasta water). They came out great and it was the perfect amount of food.

Two Cakes and a Football Game

I had a couple baking failures this week.

I attempted to make an Apple Cake for my son Christopher’s birthday. It was a cake I used to make for him when he was little, but hadn’t made it in a while. I was pretty proud of myself for making the cake so quickly and was about to scrape the batter into my ancient Bundt pan, when I spied one lone egg on the counter. I’d forgotten to mix it in! I tried mixing it in after the fact, but it was a fail. The cake fell apart. It still tasted good, so I cut it up and put it into cupcake liners to serve at a meeting the next day. I made Christopher another cake, this time with the egg beaten in at the right time, and it turned out fine.

I found out I had to bring a cake to a meeting that same day at the last minute, so I made a Pumpkin Ring Cake. It’s an easy recipe made with Bisquick, eggs, butter, canned pumpkin puree and spices. It all went well (although the butter wasn’t quite room temp), until I glazed it. The glaze was too thin and the powdered sugar hadn’t quite dissolved, leaving little white specks of sugar in the glaze. It still tasted good. Oh well!

Football Games are not a Date Night!

When I first started dating Zeke, I told him I needed a date night each week. With three little girls and no time to ourselves, this was non-negotiable. All went fine that first year, until the Fall rolled around and UM Football Season started. Zeke and his Dad had Season tickets and our “date nights” usually consisted of going to UM Football Games.

I told him I didn’t consider that a proper “date night” and I feel that’s even more true now, since we Tailgate most games. This consists of me Cooking, Packing, driving to Hard Rock while being forced to listen to Sports Radio, Unpacking, setting up the tent, table, chairs, and then breaking it all down to go to the football game. By this time, I’m typically semi-exhausted. A cocktail or two helps relieve the pain, but not quite entirely.

Now, if you go to a movie, you know what kind of show you’re going to see- a Comedy, Drama or Horror Flick, but with U.M. (especially this year) you never know what kind of entertainment (or torture) is in store. Come to think of it, U.M. games have often been comic, tragic and horrifying, all at the same time lately. We’ve been leaving at halftime and then there’s the long, sad trip home, again listening to Sports Radio. Again, not my idea of a date night.

This week was Homecoming and the big rivalry game against F.S.U. Emma got dibs on these coveted ticket at the beginning of the season, arguing that she’s the only child who’s attended both F.S.U. AND U.M. (except for Lauren, who is out of town).

We decided on a Middle Eastern Theme for our Tailgate, so I made Baba Ghahoush with pita chips and veggies and my Aunt Emma’s Persian Chicken Kabobs with bell peppers and onions on skewers. Zeke made Kofta, which is ground beef and lamb with spices, wrapped around a skewer and grilled. He served it with Tzatziki sauce and I made an Orzo Salad with sun dried tomatoes and Kalamata olives as a side.

It was all good, much better than the game, in fact, which was quite awful. U.M. lost 3 to 45! I guess football’s like baking cakes- you can’t win ’em all. I listened to a Podcast this week I liked called Sporkful, about cooking. This one was with Domestic Goddess and British cook Nigella Lawson. Speaking of domestic goddesses, Ina Garten’s new Cookbook- Go-To Dinners– is out, her 13th. My friend Martha always gives me her cookbook for my birthday and I’m looking forward to this latest. Her recipes are reliable, delicious and not too complicated.

Julie Powell, the food writer who blogged about trying Julia Child’s recipes from The Art of French Cooking which led to the Julie & Julia movie, recently passed away of a heart attack at the young age of 49. I really enjoyed that movie, especially the parts about Julia Child. I started watching From Scratch, a Netflix movie a friend recommended about a student in Florence who falls for a chef. Zeke wasn’t into it, saying it was like “Emily in Paris”, only in Italy. I guess I’ll finish it on my own!

You’ve gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away and know when to run. You never count your money while you’re sittin’ at the table, there’ll be time enough for counting, when the dealings done.

Kenny Rodgers, The Gambler

Up Next: Apple Cake with Hot Caramel Sauce

3 Steps to make Berries Last Longer

Berries are one of the healthiest foods we can add to our diet. Full of antioxidants, nutrients and fiber, they fill our plate with the rainbow of colors nutritionists advise us to aim for.

Berries are also very expensive, so it’s discouraging to spend a small fortune in the produce aisle, only to discover they’ve gone bad the next day. This seems especially true for delicate and delicious raspberries.

Here are some suggestions for making those precious berries last longer.

  1. Look carefully at the berries you’re buying in the grocery store. Open them up and inspect, ensuring there are no moldy ones in the bunch.

2. Once you get home, dump the berries out on a clean paper towel and inspect carefully. Sometimes moldy berries are lurking at the bottom of the bunch. Throw any moldy berries out and replace the pad on the bottom of the berry box with a clean paper towel. Refill the berries into the container it came in, making sure it is free of mold. Don’t wash the berries.

3. You shouldn’t wash your berries until you’re ready to eat them, because this will make them go bad more quickly. If you haven’t eaten extremely perishable berries (like raspberries) in a couple days, consider freezing them. Rinse with water, dry and place in a freezer container for future use. They won’t have the same consistency as fresh berries, but at least your hard-earned money won’t go into the garbage. These berries are perfect in smoothies, on cereal and granola or, over ice cream or yogurt. Another idea is to freeze raspberries into ice cubes with cranberry juice, to put in white wine or Prosecco.

I hope this has given you some ideas on how to keep your berries fresh.

Up Next: A Football Game is Not a Date Night!

The Halloweeniests of Halloweens

This year, 2022, has been the Halloweeniests of Halloweens for me.

It started off with buying candy corn in September. Buying Halloween Candy early never ends well for me, but I’m not particularly enthralled with candy corn, so it’s not much of a temptation. Now, peanut M & M’s or Milk Duds, and I’d be in trouble. I decorated the house creepily, mostly for Wyatt, since my only other visitors were Amazon Delivery and Political Flyer people. Wyatt and I made Halloween-themed cupcakes, decorated like Jack-O-Lanterns with candy corn.

Honey, They’ve Shrunk The Candy!

Speaking of Halloween candy, did you hear that manufacturers have shrunk the portion sizes? In an effort to keep candy below a certain calorie count and not raise prices, your favorite candies have shrunk. And some, like beloved Reese’s Cups, have added thin versions of the originals. I think I might actually like this idea! The flavor I love, without all the calories I don’t.

On Monday, I ran out of laundry detergent. Not much of a news flash, I know, but this time I decided to try Verde, a store in South Miami, to refill my laundry detergent. You bring in an empty container and they refill it for you, charging you by the ounce. I hate the idea of all the plastic used in laundry detergent containers! Most of the liquid inside the jugs is water and most of the plastic we attempt to recycle (like 90%) doesn’t actually get recycled. Their detergent is super concentrated, so only 1 ounce is needed per load. I will report back when I see how well the detergent works.

Tuesday, I made a very Fallish dinner of Spicy Pumpkin Soup. I have a favorite Pumpkin Soup recipe, but couldn’t find it, so found a similar sounding one on the internet. Of course, I found the recipe I love after I’d already made the other one. I served it with Trader Joe’s Arugula and Prosciutto Flatbread. I supplemented the flatbread by tossing a cherry tomato, basil and balsamic vinegar salad on top, after it had finished cooking. Delicious and easy!

On Wednesday, Zeke and I hosted A.J. and her family to Burgers and Beer at Riviera, which had a Halloween theme. Since I knew I wouldn’t be able to see them on Halloween, we invited them to come in their costumes, to eat and celebrate. Phoenix was Bam Bam, in an adorable costume Kelley made and Wyatt was Spiderman. They played games, had a costume contest and a dance party.

Mystery Sushi

When we returned home, there was a plastic bag on our bench by the front door filled with the most delicious looking sushi in a plastic container. There was no note, no receipt, so I don’t know who it was supposed to go to, or where it came from. I stuck it in the refrigerator on the off chance someone came by to claim it, but it didn’t happen.

Egg Nog Season Starts Early this year!

There was a container of Egg Nog in the refrigerator as well, but that was no mystery. Zeke usually picks up a container around Thanksgiving and has a glass every night, so Egg Nog Season at our house normally lasts about a month. I told him it was very dangerous to start on the Egg Nog before Halloween!

Thursday, I tried a new technique for carving a pumpkin. Have you heard about it? Jennifer Garner posted it on Instagram. You carve the bottom of the pumpkin and leave the stem intact, which is supposed to make the pumpkin last longer, once carved. She then took a hand blender to remove the seeds, but I just scooped them out with a spoon. I rinsed the seeds, dried them and roasted them (250 for 1 hour) with olive oil, salt and cumin, for a delicious snack.

I had fruit leftover (cantaloupe and mango) from our tailgate, which I turned into a sorbet. It’s a great way to use up fruit, if you have an ice cream maker and the sorbet was delicious. I picked Wyatt up from school and we carved the pumpkin (Mr. Death), made Witch’s Hat Cookies from Oreos and Hershey’s Kisses. On Wyatt’s recommendation, we watched The Nightmare Before Christmas. It was a beautiful and creepy stop-action film. At least it had a happy ending.