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As we perused the vast holdings of my laptop computer, Ezra pointed to a word on the bookmark bar.

“Yia Yia, what’s that?”.

“What, honey?”.

“That. It says strawberry. What is it?” 

Forgetting what it was that I had bookmarked, I clicked onto that coveted word, strawberry, which propelled this adorable bundle of energy into a froth of strawberry anticipation. As he filled to the brim of excitement, I found myself humming.

Let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields …

The bookmark was for a recipe for Strawberry Coffee Cake Muffins; something I hoped to make for Ez when he came to visit. We looked at the recipe (well, I looked at the recipe, Ezra looked at the pictures of the muffin) and I mentally checked off what ingredients I had on hand. Soon enough, we wandered away from the computer and on to other things, the muffins forgotten – or so I thought.

The next morning, Ezra came searching for me to see if I was awake. Finding me with my eyes open and sitting upon my cozy chair, he fastened his baby blues on my face and proclaimed “let’s make strawberry muffins!“. He had me twisted around his fingers and he knew it!

Unlike the Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake bake-a-thon of the previous day, this time I didn’t have the ingredients, but, I did have a box of Jiffy Corn Muffin mix. Jiffy mixes are always easy-peasy and good in a strawberry pinch. While I cracked the eggs, measured the milk, cut up a few strawberries and turned on the oven, Ezra put paper liners in the muffin tins. As I put the mixture into the cups, he and Papa made a crumb topping and then very nicely topped the muffins with it.

These two are the best of buddies – and a great help in the kitchen! Ezra tried to be patient as the muffins baked, checking the oven window to see how they were doing. Before long, the buzzer rang and the muffins were set on a rack to cool.

It is hard work watching strawberry muffins cool.

Finally, the muffins cooled enough to eat. They were still warm enough for the strawberries to tease taste buds and seem akin to strawberry jam. My pint-sized muffin man could finally eat his strawberry muffin.

Do you know the muffin man?
The muffin man, the muffin man.
Do you know the muffin man
He visits Yia Yia’s Lane?

PS – Ezra asked me for the recipe.

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 I’d ‘ve baked a cake,

baked a cake,

baked a cake.


If I knew you were comin’ I’d ‘ve baked a cake.

How-ja do, How-ja do, How-ja do

Our Up North family came down for a visit last week, which meant this most excellent “cook fantastic” wanted to bake, bake, bake! Bake, we did, every day they were here, however, one of the days found us snowbound and Yia Yia did not have any box mixes in the pantry.

I always have a few boxes of cake mix on hand for quick use just in case company comes. Not a box to be found, I remembered the chocolate mayonnaise cake that I made last year for the Elmhurst Garden Club’s celebration of the 1930’s – AND I had all the ingredients on hand. Out they came, along with cake pans, waxed paper, and a little white lie.

Kezzie’s birthday is much later this month. She was thinking out loud about it through much of our visit in that inquiring way youngsters have as their birthdays approach.

Hmmmm . . .

I decided that we would make this cake, only I told her it was to bring to a gathering at a friend’s house on Friday. We could make it early since Kezzie was such a good helper. I froze the layers, then took them out on Wednesday to frost. Kezzie was eager and more than willing to not only make the cake, but, to make the frosting as well. Hershey’s cocoa and butter and vanilla and milk and WOW! Lots of licking ensued once the cake was properly dressed.

Kezzie pondered, rightfully, that the cake needed a bit of pizzaz. I had a few Fannie May mints left over from Valentine’s Day, so, out they came and round the cake they merrily marched. The cake was on a cake stand (so I could easily transport it to my “friend’s” house) and there it sat, all afternoon, under a glass dome, waiting.

That evening the entire clan was over for our hearty corned beef and cabbage dinner; a St. Patrick’s Day tradition here on the Cutoff, along with the first of the Irish Soda bread (which Kezzie also helped make). Since all were gathering, we decided on an early St. Paddy’s Day celebration.  Amid the end-of-meal talking, laughing, resting from a big meal, I slipped away from the table. I put some candles on the cake while the Antler Man set out plates and made a pot of coffee.

On cue, Tom turned out the lights and in came the cake to a very surprised young lady, who, we all declared, had to bake her own birthday cake!

Do you have a favorite cake to bake?

Words to the song by songwriters Al Hoffman, Albert J Trace, and Bob Merrill

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Two loaves of Irish Soda Bread are baking in the oven emanating a buttery temptation as the scent of baking bread rises on this rather gloomy St. Patrick’s Day. These two loaves will follow me out the door and down the roads I often traverse. When I return home, two more will go into the oven; one for my tall, Irish lad and the other for a neighbor.

We had a traditional Irish dinner of corned beef and cabbage the other night when our Up North family was in and our hereabouts daughter and son-in-law could join us. Tonight – ah, tonight, I will make corned beef hash from the tasty leftovers.

I will be back writing soon, but, until then . . .

“May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night and a smooth road all the way to your door.”
Irish Blessing

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. . . and other sweet treasures.

I couldn’t find the recipe. It wasn’t in my recipe files, nor was it in a small notebook with Hollie Hobbie on the cover, a gift from a student a long time ago. Inside it are old, faded favorites with tell-tale splatters.

No luck!

The recipe for Fruit Pizza was given to me by my friend, Linda, who first brought this delectable delight to my family many moons ago. Jennifer liked it so much that I asked for the recipe. Maybe it was in the Field School Cookbook. Linda’s children attended the same elementary school as Jennifer and Katy, so I thought it might be in there.

No luck!

I love these recipe books that come from PTA’s, women’s auxiliaries, civic organizations, etc. I call them church lady cookbooks, and I keep them, even if there is only one recipe in them that I use. These are the best of recipe books, for no woman puts in her worst recipe, does she (or he)?

At any rate, I could not find the recipe for Fruit Pizza, even in the school cookbook, but, I did come upon my friend Donna’s recipe for Lemon Sherbet! Donna served us this refreshing and sweet delight as desert for our book group’s annual Christmas Book Discussion in early December.  The tartly sweet frozen sherbet, along with a tray of Christmas cookies, was a perfect complement to her dinner. Then and there, I decided to make sherbet for our Christmas Eve dinner. This young lass helped me. The Lemon Sherbet accompanied not only our Christmas Eve deserts, but, our Christmas Day festivities as well.

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Ezra and Kezzie (and Papa) also frosted Ethel Cookies, an old family favorite. Our kitchen became a confectionary lab for young hands as we slid on a floor covered with powdered sugar and sprinkles.

Both children awakened before their Mommy and Daddy on Christmas morning. Kezzie was eager to make Pinch Cake, a Christmas morning tradition ever since our own daughters were young.

pinch-cake

teakezzie

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Unable to find the recipe for Fruit Pizza, it occurred to me that it was one of our Jennifer’s favorite treats and that I must might have put it in a cookbook I made her – and I had! She brought it over on Christmas. We made it later in the week to bring to Aunty Jenny’s.

It is always a joy for me to bake with our grandchildren. It is rewarding as well; not only for our taste buds, but, the for the ritual of baking for them, showing them how we prepare the food we eat, and, of course, eating the things we make.

The first step in making fruit pizza is to make the cookie crust. It is basically a sugar cookie base patted and rolled onto a pizza pan and baked.

Kezzie was quite the young expert at rolling out the dough and patting it in the pan.

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When the cookie dough was done, we let it cool while we made a cream cheese frosting.

Then, like any good pizza, it needed toppings. Kiwi, strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries were carefully placed around the pizza, with both children topping if off. Ezra LOVES fruit. It seemed the perfect kitchen activity for him (and it was).

Round and round the pizza they went with circles of fruit marching along in a palatable parade that made for a perfect desert at Aunty Jenny’s and Uncle Jason’s Gnocchi Night!

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Do you have a church lady cookbook (or more)? How about a fun fruit desert? Are you doing anything to bring in the New Year, and, lest I forget, Happy New Year to all!

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rootstotheearth_final-275x363Wendell Berry’s words have shown up on several of my favorite blogs recently, and I have, on loan from our Katy, his novel, “Jayber Crow”. It is one of several books that I am currently halfway through.

Does this ever happen to you; this juggling act of two or more books at one time, born out of an insatiable appetite for the written word?

There I was, at the Indian Prairie Library, looking for “One Souffle at a Time” by Anne Willan, when this Wendell Berry gem, “Roots to the Earth”, appeared in the new books section. I was drawn first to Wesley Bates’ woodcarving on the cover, then pleased to see more wood engravings accompany several of Berry’s poems and a short story, The Branch Way of Doing.

From Wendell Berry’s poem, The Current – ‘

Having once put his hand into the ground,

seeding there what he hopes will outlast him,

a man has made a marriage with his place,

and if he leaves it his flesh will ache to go back.

“Roots to the Earth” is such a lovely book. While it has the outward look and feel of a children’s book, it is a really a more mature book and an homage to the earth and soil.

I read “Roots to the Earth” this afternoon, in the company of a few tasty gingerbread men and a steamy cup of coffee.

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Attendees to the Naperville Garden Club’s annual Christmas house walk, tea, and market, A Cup of Cheer, receive a cup and saucer to take home. Each year, for over 50 years, the cups and saucers have a new design. I think this year’s are particularly beautiful.
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Turkey Lurkey is roasting, ever-so-slowly, tantalizing aromas wafting through the rooms of this old homestead. Bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes all wait in refrigerated abeyance to be warmed when Mr. Lurkey comes out of the oven and rests after the long hours of roasting. Cranberry relish has been mellowing for several days. The plastic wrap looks to have been rearranged. Antler Man thinks he can fool me and that I won’t notice he’s been sneaking tastes. I’m onto him, though, especially now that I have ditched the walking boot and can maneuver around with more speed. Vegetables, fruit and cheese will whet our appetites before the meal, once family arrives and we gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing, chat, catch up on news, and enjoy the company of two young lads who are growing up fast, two of our grand-nephews.

Thanksgiving.

It is my favorite of holidays. The menu is pretty well set, with regional, cultural and ethnic and other additions. It is a uniquely American holiday, and one I think we need more than anything this year.

I think I’ve touched upon Thanksgiving often in all the years I’ve written, here on the Cutoff. I’ve shared memories of the cranberry relish that graces our table each Thanksgiving. It is a common recipe, but, it came to me from a dear woman, Mary, who sadly passed on a few years ago. I’ve written about family gatherings, my Greek grandmother’s chestnut and meat stuffing, and of the memorable car ride in which a frozen twenty pound turkey hurled toward me at 35 miles per hour and my split second interception at a local turkey bowl.

Thanksgiving.

It remains a favorite holiday of mine, even as I remain mindful of those who are hungry, cold, without hope, and those who are grieving,  lonely, disenfranchised, ill, far away from home . . .  I think of them and I pray for them, and for you on this Thanksgiving Day.

The buzzer went off. It is time to baste Turkey Lurkey, put the finishing touches on the table, and check for platters and serving pieces.

For those of you celebrating Thanksgiving today, I wish you a happy one. For all of you, please accept my gratitude for your friendship, good and kind words, and visiting me here on the Cutoff.

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img_1410-version-2We trudged upstream against a tide of chattering youngsters who were carrying treats and projects in their hands, rushing toward their parents with a mild and sunny Sunday afternoon awaiting them. Jennifer and I were headed in the opposite direction, indoors, to partake in a local endeavor to raise funds to fight hunger.

We purchased our meal tickets inside Congregation Etz Chaim in Lombard and entered a room filled with welcoming warmth and graciousness. Volunteers generously ladled hearty soup into disposable bowls, inviting us to take some bread and directing us to where we could help ourselves to drinks. We balanced our food – along with our chosen ceramic bowls – as we searched for empty seats, taking in the tantalizing aroma of hot soup amid the din of conversation.

My soup choice, minestrone, was flavorful and filling. Jennifer and I chatted, as mothers and daughters do, and we shared casual conversations with good folks around us who were participating in this worthy fundraiser whose mission is to fight hunger in Du Page County.

The ceramic bowls were hand crafted by local artisans and children of the temple. I believe they were made at Congregation Etz Chaim then taken to be fired in a kiln elsewhere. Every bowl was unique and personal to the craftsperson who made it. I imagined experienced potters and young students trying their hand at pottery for the first time. Our ticket purchase allowed each of us to select a bowl from a colorfully unique array of choices.

The green bowl was my choice. Actually, I think I was the bowl’s choice. It seemed to call to me to pick it up, run my hand along the rim, and take it as my own. I know I will cherish it and that it will remain a tactile, visual, useful reminder that there are those among us who suffer with hunger – and those among us who strive to eradicate it. It will remind me of the blessings that are the hearts that conceived this fundraiser, of the hands that prepared the meal, of the hosts and hostesses who welcomed diners to Congregation Etz Chaim and of the supporting local organizations that have a hand in shepherding this project. It will also be a reminder of my own blessings and of the urgent need to feed all God’s children.

The Garry Gardner Memorial Bowls for Hunger Project is an “Empty Bowls Project”. The “Empty Bowls Project” is an international grassroots effort to raise both money and awareness in the fight to end hunger. The mission is to create positive and lasting change through the arts, education, and projects that build. community. *

*From Congregation Etz Chaim’s website which can be found here.

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