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Nana’s Blog

25 Sep

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I feel like when there’s been a long hiatus of blog posts I have to provide some sort of explanation.  Not that I have millions of followers that are emailing me asking for reasons (although I would love that!), but as my conviction of a writer I feel I have to answer the questions “why?” and “how?”.

I teach my students those exact things – the why and the how and the importance behind the explanation.  It shows understanding.  It shows thoughtfulness.  It shows caring.

So, to be perfectly candid, and now that we’ve entered a new season, I’ll share what happened over my summer.  I simply needed a break.  Not really from writing (because writing really is incredibly therapeutic), but really just from everything.

For years, teaching in Florida had been less than ideal, and after a much needed switch to a better school in a safer area, I ended the last school year coming off of a 2-year span of extreme stress (and a classroom/portable that I’m convinced was infested – at least – with mold).  I simply didn’t realize how much of a toll it had taken on my body and spirit.  Starting in January, a nice white light of professional freedom slowly started to soften those wounds, and by June, I needed to just sit and recoup.

Also, Rob deployed again, which is always stressful in its own right.

Sig needed surgery, and then had a horrible reaction to it.  I don’t have kids, but this little pup is the closest thing to it, and watching him convulsing in pain and not being able to help him was beyond heartbreaking.

And, my Nana died.

It wasn’t unexpected; in fact, it was very expected and I think myself and many family members felt a bit of peace knowing she was in a better place.

I was lucky, I got to say goodbye to her.  Unlike the suddenness of my grandfather’s passing, Nana and I got to spend some quiet moments together only weeks before she passed.  Many of us were honored with those moments of just sitting with her.  Quietly, comfortably.  I held her soft, boney, freshly manicured hand and she held my calloused, rough cooker/teacher hand.  Mind you, this was after many finicky moments of trying to figure out why her oxygen lines weren’t staying in her nose – I had been stepping on them.  Luckily she found as much humor in that as I did embarrassment.

She asked me what would happen next, and I chickened out and gave a blanket answer of “You’ll be ok, Nana,” instead of telling her the best was yet to come.  We said goodbye, knowing it was truly a goodbye, and Nana passed an hour after her 89th birthday ended.  In true fashion, Nana stuck around for one last party.

My mom and I missed the last teacher workday of the school year and my dad drove us up the endlessly long I-95 corridor, Georgia-induced flat tires and all.  Word to the wise: if you are going to get stranded in Nowheresville, Georgia, don’t do it on a Sunday morning when that Southern Bible Belt charm doesn’t kick in until after the 11am Baptist Eucharist (and then there’s Potluck at Noon.  Oh, and I could go on to describe how weeks later Rob and I got stranded in BumbleYouKnowWhat, SC whose Eucharist doesn’t ever seem to kick in as we were told we would’ve received car help if we were “locals.”  Southern hospitality???).

However – enter silver lining – the Georgia delay inevitably helped us, as the George Washington Bridge had a beautiful midnight view of New York City, without the usual vehicle gridlock.

We spent the first week of summer vacation doing what happens at funerals: crying, laughing, reminiscing, crying, eating, drinking, staying up too late, and then falling into deep, deep sleep.  It’s always so wonderful spending time with family we don’t get to see every day, even despite the circumstances.  Nana had an open casket, and looked lovely wearing the same dress she wore to my wedding, the sparkly mint green one my mom helped her pick out.  We talked to her, about her, and collectively prayed the Hail Mary, Glory Be, and Our Father.

My mom was so strong.  She’s the middle child, the only girl, and Nana was proud of her.  Still is.

My uncle, who is also my Godfather, is the baby of the family and jokes flew about little Tommy being a “publican” (someone relinquished to the doldrums of public school as opposed to the standard Long Island private institutions).  Followed by stories around vats of Hellman’s mayo he could have invested in to build himself his own fortune.  Poor Uncle Tom!

In a whirlwind of time and bags and boxes and dust and beautiful weather, my mom, dad, Uncle Tom, Uncle Bob and I cleaned out Nana’s house.  It was sad, funny, silly, tiring for sure, and we got it done.   But what we really did during that time was keep the Long Island delis in business.

My dad always got a ham and cheese, simple and easy.  My mom, her brothers and I always got the rare roast beef and swiss with extra mayo, expect for that one time Uncle Tom got liverwurst with extra mustard.  All were always on a Kaiser roll, and always with a pickle on the side.  Mom introduced Uncle Tom to putting pickles ON the sandwich, a new revelation of a pickle-mayo condiment combo that rocked his world.  We tried maco salad, potato salad, and coleslaw from each deli because, after all, each place makes them differently.  Personally, I think the Million Dollar Deli’s maco salad is the best, but Uncle Tom would disagree.  He likes the maco from Setauket.

Nana would have loved the fact that her countertops turned the color of deli parchment, and the smell of beef and pickle brine scented the air.  And it’s clear from our toppings and accompaniments that our family loves mayo.

It’s serious, people.  Like, use-a-spoon-to-slather-it-on-a-ripe-tomato-end-of-story serious.

In fact, at a celebration of Nana’s life, my Aunt Regina’s mom recalled how at her bridal shower my Nana brought a huuuuuuge tub of Hellman’s Mayo (despite the standard Waterford crystal and linens being gifted).  Handing it over, Nana simply informed Aunt Regina, “My son loves mayo.  You’ll need this.”

So much so, that my mom says when Uncle Tom dies, she is going to put all those little squeezy packets of mayo in his casket (with a pair of small scissors because those things are hard as hell to open).

We are a mayonnaise-loving family.

There’s mayo, and then there’s mayo.  Sorry Midwesterners, despite my love for the Green Bay Packers, I’d have to vehemently pass on the Miracle Whip.  That stuff isn’t a miracle at all.  Also, living in the South has made me drop a “y’all” or two, but I will never, EVER succumb to the Duke’s Mayo world.  It’s simply not the best.

Hellman’s is (that’s why west of the Rockies it’s called “Best Foods”).

So to keep true to a classic that my whole family loves – and of which Nana would greatly approve – here’s an oldie and a goodie for you.  The Classic Deviled Egg Salad.

Only 5 ingredients, this stuff is perfection in mayo simplicity.  And maybe, if I put it on the internet, one of those delis will start selling it and give me the royalties – eh?  One can dream.

This recipe is perfect for a cookout, picnic, easy lunch, or an easy go-to breakfast.  As a family classic, I debated whether or not to reveal it, but being so easy and tasty, it would be silly not to.  Plus, Nana would have wanted me to.

So here it is:

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Classic Deviled Egg Salad
(serves as many as you are willing to make)

  • Hard boiled eggs *Everyone has a trick or tip for “perfect” hard boiled eggs. Mine simply is to start with any number of eggs in cold water.  Bring the pot to a boil.  Boil for 5 minutes.  Turn off stove.  Let sit in hot water until water has become manageable to the touch.  Submerge eggs into ice water. 
  • Hellman’s Mayonnaise
  • Celery
  • Fresh dill (adding the dill is my adaptation to the family fave, not everyone is on board)
  • Spicy paprika
  • s&p (yes, this technically makes it 7 ingredients, but s&p has to be a gimme because even the corner store next to the gas station has s&p to put on their sandwiches, so y’all must have it, too.)

This Deviled Egg salad can be made in small batches or in large.  Here’s the ratio:

2 eggs:1 tsp mayo:2 stems celery:¼ tsp fresh dill, paprika and s&p to taste. 

After slicing the celery and mincing the dill, put everything into a mixing bowl.  Like my Nana, and my mom after her, I follow suit by mashing the eggs and mixing everything together with a fork.

Spoon on top of some whole grain toast, or mix with some greens, or eat just as is. 

Enjoy!

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Now THIS is a Pie

9 Jul

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It could be a club, or organization, of sorts. The I-hate-it-when-I-make-HUGE-mistakes-at-something-I’m-good-at club. Can anyone else join? Or at least stick their head in to see what all the fuss is about?

With humbled conviction, I can say there are four things in life that I’m really good at: cooking, teaching, writing, and yoga. I guess we could bump it up to five things if eating is an area in which to excel. Or maybe even six if driving too fast is considered, but for arguments sake, let’s keep it at four. So when I completely, utterly, remarkably destroyed a pie on the 4th of July, I went down the list of excuses.

“I’m not a baker.”
“This was just plain silly to try.”
“It probably wasn’t going to be good anyway.”

North Florida backwoods fireworks boomed with each doleful attempt at an excuse. Then, right as Rob came over to give me a supportive hug, inevitable frustration took over.

“What the hell! What the hell was I thinking?!” I hissed at him (because he was near).

Rob’s arms quickly – and understandably – released as mine over-exaggeratedly flew around, and my mom graciously admitted that she wasn’t that hungry anyway, and my dad echoed the sentiment. Our progressive summer holiday dinner, where our house was the dessert stop, literally stopped.

Sigh.

This has happened before. Where I mess something up in the kitchen, and have to swallow verbal shrapnel for fear others in the vicinity will call the nutty-farm to pick me up over a failed pork roast. Or from-scratch citrus butter. Or seared scallops. Or fig pizza. But the best thing about these mess ups, is that I get to try again having always learned something.

That did sound a little afterschool special-ish; however, it’s true. With the scallops, for instance, don’t put a hard-plastic handled pan on a grill. It may just break completely off sending scallops flying all over the porch (sorry, Mom). And with the citrus butter, adding too much citrus breaks the clotted cream. Add a bit of salt and sugar instead. With the figs, well, just don’t add them to a pizza, and never ever yell into the oven at a pork roast because it won’t cook fast enough. Lesson learned: the pork will ignore you, and you’ll look like a raging moron.

Well, this latest mistake was a dessert mistake. I’m not particularly a sweet-toothed person, most of which I attribute to the fact that my mom couldn’t let go of the chimichangas while pregnant with me. Though in the summertime, I love, love, love Smores. So what better perfect summertime pie than a Smores Pie?

I planned the layers of the pie perfectly: graham cracker crust, then milk chocolate custard (in true Smores Hershey style), melted marshmallow, and then a meringue topping torched to resemble the most perfect, campfire-toasted mallow. Here was the problem: the custard needed to be baked at a certain temperature (preferably in a water bath), and the meringue needed to be baked at a different certain temperature to ensure the egg whites get fully cooked, yet still set to a fluffy, airy, topping. Here’s what went wrong: I double baked the custard in order to cook the meringue, which completely separated both the melted marshmallow and the custard, resulting in a soupy, gloppy, broken, slimy, inedible mess. Really. Not edible. Not exaggerating.

After the flailing arms breakdown, the 4th of July came and went, and the 5th of July was upon us with friends coming for dinner and to watch the Women’s World Cup Championship. So rather than wallow in kitchen disaster pity (like I am honestly still doing with the pork roast – seriously folks, it hasn’t been attempted since), I decided to try the pie again.

The deep breaths in the kitchen were audible. I reviewed: graham crust? Fine. Custard? Creamy and light. Melted mallows? Genius. Problem: Bleeping meringue. Solution: make a thick whipped topping instead. To get the toasted campfire flavor, cook the graham crust just a bit longer locking in some carbon flavor. Result? Pie perfection.

Our guests loved the pie, Rob loved the pie, I loved the pie – it was smores-y, creamy, dreamy, and everything summertime sweets should taste like. But, mostly I loved it because I had tried again and succeeded after an epic, epic fail.

Lesson learned: try again. It should be a kitchen motto, really. Even with food that turns out fantastic. Try again. It will be great again, or maybe even better! So with that, I’m sending summertime love and a sweet, sweet, do-over Smores Pie!

Enjoy!

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Smores Pie

  • 6 full Hersheys milk chocolate bars, chopped
  • ½ bag large marshmallows
  • 2 full sleeves honey graham crackers
  • 6 tbsp + 2 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
  • 3 egg yolks
  • ½ tsp good quality sea salt (such as Maldon)
  • ¼ tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 c + ½ c heavy whipping cream, divided
  • 1 tbsp confectioners sugar
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract, divided

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Using a food processor, crush up the graham crackers with 6 tbsp of butter, and ¼ tsp of Kosher salt. When finely ground, pour the grahams into a pie dish, reserving ¼ c of the grahams for topping at the end. Using hands or the bottom of a measuring cup, firmly press the grahams evenly across the pie pan, and up the sides. Bake for 7-10 minutes.

To make the chocolate custard, pour the chocolate into the top of a double boiler (or use a glass dish over a pot of boiling water. NOTE: do not let the water touch the bowl, or it will burn and separate the chocolate). Heat up the ½ c of heavy cream for 30 seconds in a microwave, or over the stove. Pour the heavy cream over the chocolate and stir.

While the chocolate is starting to warm, using a hand mixer, beat 3 egg yolks with 1 tbsp of sugar and 1 tsp of vanilla extract. Vigorously beat the egg yolks until they are fluffy, pale yellow, and form a smooth falling ribbon when falling off the beaters.

Once the chocolate has started to melt, mix it together quickly until smooth. Remove the top bowl from the heat, and place on the counter.

At this point, the eggs need to be tempered (if you immediately add room temperature eggs to the hot melted chocolate, you will curdle the eggs – yuck). While vigorously whisking the eggs with one hand, use the other hand to slowly ladle a stream of the melted chocolate into the eggs. Do this with 2-3 spoonfuls, or until the bowl with eggs feels warm (and may steam). Then, while continuing to whisk the chocolate, pour the egg mixture back into the bowl of melted chocolate, and completely combine. At this point, add the sea salt and the cayenne pepper to the chocolate, and mix thoroughly (it may sound strange, but the salt and hot pepper add a dimension to milk chocolate that is lacking on its own – it makes the flavor more rounded, while keeping the integrity of the milk chocolate smores taste). Pour the custard into the pie pan and place the pie pan on a sheet tray. Place the tray in the oven, and carefully pour the hot water left over from the double-boiler, onto the sheet tray making sure no water gets into the pie (this is called a bain marie and the hot water steams to help cook the custard evenly). Bake the custard for 35-40 minutes, until firm, yet still a little jiggly in the middle.

After the custard has baked, remove it from the bain marie and let it cool to room temperature.

Once cooled, start to make the gooey marshmallow layer by putting the marshmallows in a microwaveable bowl with the 2 remaining tbsp of butter. Heat the marshmallows in the microwave for about 20 seconds, or until the marshmallows just start to expand. Quickly remove the bowl from the microwave and stir the mixture until the butter and melted marshmallows combine to make one mixture. While still warm and pourable, evenly pour the marshmallows over the custard.

Put in the fridge to set for anywhere from 1 hour to overnight.

Just before serving, whip the 2 c of heavy whipping cream using a hand, or stand mixer. When just starting to get bubbly, add the vanilla extract and the confectioners sugar. Whip the cream until stiff peaks form.

Dollop the whipped cream on top of the pie, making a fluffy design, and sprinkle the remaining graham cracker crumbs on top.

Enjoy!

Mr. Rogers’ Tweets

6 Feb

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It’s no question that Mr. Fred Rogers was an icon for children.  For that matter, he was probably an icon for many adults, too.  And it’s a strange wonder to think about what Mr. Rogers would post if he were a part of today’s technology addicted world.  Would Mr. Rogers “like” things?  Would he “retweet?”  What would be Mr. Roger’s answer to cyber bullying?  If only we could ask him.

Despite the fact that I used to do web design for a Fortune 500 company (this was many moons ago, folks; we’re talking Front Page fun), I am what many would call, “Old School” when it comes to modern day technology.  Facebook was purposefully not on my radar.  Twitter, Instagram?  Hardly!  Once, I had a Bluetooth.  That lasted about 5 ½ days.  My husband, on the other hand, is very technologically sound and has been able to hook up our HDish-something television to Netflicks, and connect Pandora through our internal and external house speakers, all through his phone.  It’s a quiet house when he deploys, for sure.

When I was little, my mom would let me watch certain shows on TV, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood being one of them.  She recalls how I would giggle and shy-up when Mr. Rogers asked, “Would you like to be my neighbor?” like he was talking to only me through that electronic box.  I was infatuated with the guy; his quiet nature, slow talking cadence, and always-caring demeanor naturally drew me in, as it still does today.  Now, after teaching for 10 years, and seeing such a drastic change – not only in education, but generally in kids these days – there’s a need for Mr. Rogers and his wisdom.

Last Friday, it was rainy, cold, and all around dreary.  The kids were, what teachers would say, “Done.”  Being one that does not normally turn on the tube in class, I surprised my students with a streaming episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.  With just the first few jingly notes of his intro, the kids were hooked.  When he asked, “Will you be my neighbor?” Almost every student in the class responded in a quiet, genuine, “Yes.”  When he slowly yet deliberately asked, “Are you growing up?” Again the class, mesmerized, responded.  Just like when I was young, my 5-year old students thought Mr. Rogers was talking to them personally.

To top the cake, at the end of the program, one little girl breathed a huge sigh, and telling no one in particular commented, “Wow.  He is such a helpful guy.”

Yes, he is.

So that got me wondering.  Stepping out of the wonderfully simple, old, syndicated television world into a comparatively loud and crazy one, what would Mr. Rogers do with today’s technology?  What would Mr. Rogers tweet?  Which of his Instagram pictures would get “likes?” How many Facebook “friends” would he have?  I know I would certainly “follow” Mr. Rogers, but would he “follow” me?

This is all too much!  But, for better or worse, it’s a reality that won’t go away.  So rather than fight it, I am slowly deciding to join the social media world with a Mr. Rogers-esque viewpoint:

Share with care, like what’s nice, and always tweet upbeat. 

With that being said (and with its arguably too-long prologue), here’s the point: A friend asked me to publicize my public domains and hashtags, so here they are:

  • Pinterest: 42 Potatoes Entertains @42potatoestable
  • Twitter: 42potatoes @TweetsTheTable
  • Instagram: @42potatoesblog
  • Popular Hashtags: #eatgoodfood, #yum, #vegetarian, #healthyfood, #eatingacrossAmerica #42potatoes

On these sites, you’ll find all cheerful, cheeky, fun, inspiring (if you like to cook), *mostly* healthy pictures, recipes, and personal anecdotes of, and related to, food.  Please visit, please comment, and I hope you, as always, enjoy.

Not knowing if Mr. Rogers cooked, or enjoyed cooking, or dabbled in any culinary arts, I’m sure he would have appreciated any valiant, positive effort.  So here’s my latest, just in time for Valentine’s Day:

Chocolate Strawberry Muffins!  These were a hit at our latest work potluck.  They are super simple (and quick) to make, have all the comfort of a muffin, and the indulgence of a chocolate dipped strawberry.  Disclaimer: Strawberries are currently in season here in Florida (weird, I know), so I completely understand that this recipe would be better suited for May-July in most parts of the U.S.  But, hey – something to look forward to!

For the dry ingredients, whisk 1¾ c all purpose flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp baking soda, ¼ tsp cinnamon, and ¼ salt until combined.  For the wet ingredients, cream 6 tbsp room temp butter with ¾ c brown sugar, and then add 1 room temp egg and 1 tsp vanilla extract.  Also add 1 pint of hulled strawberries that have been smushed, smashed, crushed, and almost liquefied – but not liquified – by a fork.  When mixed, add the dry ingredients to the wet in 3 batches.  Fold in ½ c mini bittersweet chocolate chips until combined.  Then scoop into a cupcake-lined muffin tin. Sprinkle the tops with raw sugar and a tiny pinch of sea salt.  Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes until browned and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

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These muffins are what baking is all about– simple, sweet, comforting, and hitting that special place that brings about a smile.  Kind of like what Mr. Rogers does.  In fact, if Mr. Rogers was still around, maybe just maybe, this would be his tweet: Chocolate Strawberry Muffins: enjoy and bring to a neighbor! #yum #BeNice #SnappyToday

Enjoy!

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