My feelings exactly.

My feelings exactly.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Love in a Shoebox

For a bunch of years, I had too much to post on this blog and too little time to do it. There were  recipes I'd tried out on my hungry family that I wanted to share. Hikes and adventures the boys, Paul and I had done together that I was itching to tell other parents about.

And then--in a blink--the boys grew up. Ben went off to college. Noah became busy with friends and high school. My glass cake dome, once perpetually filled with snickerdoodles, iced molasses cookies, bodacious pumpkin muffins and mangled remnants of birthday cake, sat empty more and more. And we did things as a family unit less and less. Not a bad thing, of course. The whole idea is for kids to cultivate their own lives and experiences. It just tugs at the heart every so often.

So it is that I found myself this past Labor Day weekend crying into a bowl of batter.

After what had seemed like the longest summer of farewells, my youngest son's departure for college was only a day away. The extra-long bedding, shower caddy, suitcases and razor blades had all been purchased on those summer days when I'd used shopping jaunts to big box stores as an excuse to steal a few extra hours with Noah.

We'd had our "final favorite" dinners with the grandmas, cousins, best friends, best friends' parents and god knows who else.

And Paul, Ben, Noah and I had--the day before--made a long overdue pilgrimage out to Stokes State Forest and Walpack Inn. The pre-dinner hike at Tilman's Ravine that once seemed so formidable for my short-legged little sons was now a mere stroll for them, as they traced the river's edge and recalled each spot where, as boys, they had caught frogs or dipped in the ice-cold water.

The "forever" wait for a table at the restaurant--during which we had long-ago pacified the guys with Shirley Temple's, coloring books, and various games--passed fast, as we all drank our beers and played speed Scrabble for old time's sake.

The famous Walpack Inn deer outside the dining room windows that once thrilled the boys didn't get as much as a glance this time. We tucked into our hokey salad bar and teriyaki steaks, ignored our phones and the animals, and unabashedly relished each other.

With nothing left to do, Noah all packed, the dishes for our last at-home dinner put away, and only hours more to go 'til departure,  I stood, marooned, in the middle of my kitchen on Labor Day Sunday.

There were the cookbooks I used to pore over, as I waited in dim light at the kitchen table for Ringo to come in from his middle-of-the-night walk. There was that funky old brass knob on the basement door that Noah forever battled to fix and ultimately triumphed over just this past year. There was the stack of frayed placements, reminding me how I'll use fewer and fewer of them as the years march on. (I am on-my-knees grateful that Ben, who graduated from college last May, is currently living at home while he commutes to the City for work.)

And there was that empty cake dome.

As if possessed, I frantically began hauling out my smudged old canisters of flour, sugar, brown sugar and confectioner's sugar, the baking powder and soda, the molasses and the vanilla and the cinnamon, cloves and ginger. I grabbed my baking sheets and my parchment paper. I got my trusty green KitchenAid in gear and flipped open my book of recipes to the cookie section. After all of these years and all those batches baked, I still don't know any of the measurements by heart!

Then I started baking.

Too quickly, I finished making Noah's favorite iced molasses cookies. So I moved on to snickerdoodles. They too were ready all-too-soon. I let the cookies cool and then carefully layered them between crisp sheets of parchment. I taped the box closed. I went to bed, the house perfumed in its comforting cloak of cinnamon and warmed butter.

Drop off went just fine the next day. Noah humored us. He let me make his bed with him. He asked Paul and Ben for advice on poster placement. We all strategized optimal clothing and toiletry placement. We snapped pix with his new roommate and his family.

And then. We left.

On the phone a few days later, I asked Noah if he remembered that I had left the box of cookies on top of his closet. "Of course Mom!" he laughed. "I've been eating them every night. Thanks for doing that. Love you."

Ah. The sweetness of it all.

Cozy, Chewy Iced Molasses Cookies 

(see my post from 11/11/15, Cozy Cookie for Cold Days)

Snickerdoodles (simplest, easiest way to anyone's heart)

2 ¼ cups all purpose-flour
2 tsps. Cream of tartar
1 teaspoon Baking soda
½ teaspoon Salt
12 Tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup vegetable shortening
1 ½ cups granulated sugar, plus 3 Tablespoon For rolling cookies
2 large eggs
1 Tablespoon Ground cinnamon for rolling cookies

1.     Adjust oven racks to upper and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment.
2.     Whisk flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt together in medium bowl; set aside.
3.     Either by hand or electric mixer, cream butter, shortening, and 1 ½ cups sugar until combined, 1 to 2 minutes with electric mixer set at medium speed. Scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula. Add eggs. Beat until combined, about 30 seconds.
4.     Add dry ingredients and beat at low speed until just combined, about 20 seconds.
5.     Mix remaining 3 Tablespoons Sugar with the cinnamon in shallow bowl. Working with scant 2 Tablespoons of dough each time, roll dough into 1 ½-inch balls. Roll balls in cinnamon sugar and place on cookie sheets, spacing them 2 to 2 ½ inches apart.
6.     Bake until edges of cookies are beginning to set and the centers are still soft and puffy, 9 to 11 minutes. Don’t overbake!!  They shouldn’t look “done” when you take them out. Let cookies cool on cookie sheet 2 to 3 minutes before transferring them to cooling rack with wide spatula. Makes about 30 cookies.

Monday, January 2, 2017

A New Year

January 1, 2017

Here I sit in bed, blowing my nose, coughing like I have consumption, and positively tapped out by a cold I’ve been in denial about for the past week.

I always seem to get sick after the mania of the holidays. Too much socializing, too little sleep, and all that kill-ya kind of food and booze you just know is bullying your body.

This year feels different, though. I think that I, and so many others, feel utterly worn down. Not by parties and reveling but by the angst, anger, fear, heartbreak, stress, anxiety, despair, and (fill in the blank with just about any other miserable emotion) that’s eaten up the oxygen during these past devastating months in our country and on our planet.

I can’t count the number of people who’ve told me they’ve stopped reading or watching the news for basic self-preservation. Everything—drowning refugee children, terrorized nightclubs, marooned polar bears, Trump’s parade of goonish appointees--is just too terrible and tragic. My older son—once a progressive idealist-- returned from a semester abroad declaring he no longer saw any point in advocating for the poor, the environment, better healthcare, immigrant rights or anything else since our country was hopeless. How many people have remarked to me that the end of 2016 couldn’t come fast enough except for the fact that 2017 was looking even scarier?

Paul and I trudged around like stunned zombies after the election, alternately weeping and berating everyone and everything (including us) who made the Trump disaster possible. One week later, though, we pulled ourselves together enough to join several hundred other miserable souls at a rally sponsored by Blue Wave New Jersey, a progressive advocacy group based in our town. I saw all those good people in that room. I listened to dogged and determined speakers urging us not to give up. I learned about how important it is to fight on a state level to preserve rights that our Federal government may soon imperil. And for perhaps the first time in my life, I felt insanely proud to be from, yes, New Jersey: Land of strip malls and Turnpikes. 

Since that November day, Paul and I have committed ourselves to action through Blue Wave. Long conversations into the night have still not swayed my disillusioned son. But I have faith he’ll come around, perhaps after he’s spent some time back at school. Do I know if our efforts will actually pay off? Of course not. But I know that action feels way better than despair. And that at the very least, we’ll go down fighting.

You know what else has helped during these tough times? Just like after 9/11, I’ve found safe harbor in my kitchen. Post-election especially, I threw myself into cooking and baking, losing myself amongst my cookbooks, mixing bowls, spice-crammed shelves, grain-chocked pantry and freshly stocked fridge. Once again, that beat up old room with the broken cabinets and well-worn floors allowed the world’s worries to slip away, if even for a short time.  And I could love and comfort my family through food when words were often too hard to find. 

I know this cookbook travels pretty friends, colleagues, acquaintances and total strangers. And as I write this I wonder if my strong views might rub some people the wrong way. If I’ve offended you, try to enjoy the recipes anyway.

On a more personal note, 2016 has brought good times and challenges for our family. Noah was busy with the optimistic task of applying to colleges this past Fall. The very idea of him flying away makes my heart ache with both pride and longing. Ben had the time of his life studying in Brussels first semester and will graduate from American in May. The grandmas have had their health challenges but are hanging in there and we see them often. Paul and I continue to plug away at work and are beginning to plot out “what’s next” once our nest is empty. A cabin in the Adirondacks? A condo in Montclair? Life in the revolutionary underground? Who knows! Whatever we do, I’ll find a way to cook up a storm.

Here’s to peace on earth. And snow for the polar bears.

Email me at and I'll send back your cookbook in a blink.



P.S. The additions to this year’s cookbook are:
Sorta Healthy Roasted Fennel and White Bean Dip
Lovely Little Celery Toasts
Go-to-Flow-Through Quinoa and Black Bean Salad
Crunchy Cauli Snowflakes
A Great Way to Make Broccoli Rabe
Marcella’s Essential Tomato Sauce
Summer Pasta with Zucchini, Fresh Ricotta and Basil
Cast-Iron Roast Chicken with Bread and Arugula Salad
Jeanie’s Chicken with Chick Peas and Chorizo
Kelley’s Turkey Cutlets with Cilantro-Almond Sauce
Sheet Pan Shrimp and Broccoli
Obama’s Short Ribs
Perfect Banana Bread
Yankee’s Pumpkin Whoopie Pies