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Better ingredients, better technique, better results.


The Honeymooners and Hazelnut Biscotti


There are certain projects I have learned not to tackle.   I used to, but now I just want to throw some money at it and have someone else do it.  Take for example,  deck painting.  My painter had given me a quote to paint the deck in the Branford house.  Decided that was just throwing money away.

Chris and I had just started dating and he offered to help me paint it myself. 

WOW, I was impressed.  

The back yard had quite a slope to it, so much of the railing required getting on a ladder to reach it.  I spent the entire day holding Chris by his legs onto that ladder, while he held the power sprayer. 

I thought:  “He sure has great legs.” 

My sister had come over to help. 

Me (whispering):  “Is he cute or what?” 

Her:  “He’s freaking adorable!” 

At the end of the afternoon, Chris and I sat outside on lawn chairs, dirty, covered with paint, and had happy hour.  It was very romantic.

Last week he asked if I would help him clean out the gutters.  This entailed husband on aforementioned ladder,  and me holding on to aforementioned husband’s great legs while he used the leaf blower to clean out said gutters.  I also had to hold  the leaf blower on the top step of the ladder because he had attached a hose contraption with duck tape to the leaf blower so he could reach the higher roofline.  (And he calls me MacGyver.)

You know that black muck leaves turn into while they sit all season in your gutters?  As I gazed up at my husband, it fell on our heads,  in our faces, all over our clothes.  Disgusting. 

You know the honeymoon is over when things you do together that were once romantic are now chores.   Except for the happy hour, for which I had made a special treat.  Hazelnut Biscotti. (Yeah, I know, but mine are really good with a glass of wine.)  

I promised myself all of my posts on this site were going to be beautiful, funny, or both.  So here's a glamour shot of said husband.  He cleans up real nice, and he looks great holding a Champagne Flute


After School Snack: Italian Meatballs

At the beginning of our weekly team conference call, my boss starts talking about a dream dinner he had with a client.

Phil:  It was the best tomato sauce I've ever had. 

Me:  That's because you've never tasted my sauce.

Phil:  I'm always in search of a good sauce.  A good sauce, a veal meatball, and a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino.

He didn't specify the year, but you get the drift.

While we were finishing up the call, I sent him the link to my Grandmother's Sunday Sauce.

Then I got inspired, and actually wrote down the my recipe for Italian Meatballs.  

I originally learned to make meatballs the way every Italian girl learns.  My Aunt Helen would make her meatballs early in the day, and when they were cooked, she would leave them in a bowl next to the pot of Sunday Sauce that was simmering.

Right next to the back hallway where everyone came into the house.  

By the time it was dinner, she was lucky to have half of them left.  She never learned.

I watch a lot of cooking on TV.  And I can say that I have yet to see a good recipe for Italian Meatballs.  Mostly its the technique, but when you only have a few ingredients in your recipe, they had better be good.  Using "seasoned" bread crumbs out of can will never get you a good Italian Meatball.


Pre-Thanksgiving Brunch: Shaved Brussel Sprouts & Polenta Cake

Well, ok, I'm not really having brunch.  I'm practicing some new recipes to serve on Thanksgiving.  We typically visit our friends in Wilmington on Thanksgiving and time our drive to beat traffic, which means its up at O Dark 30 to get over the river and through the woods before anyone else starts heading to Grandma's house.  We get there, we're hungry, but don't want to spoil our appetite either.

I've had this dish at a local restaurant and it's one of my favorites, but Chris isn't crazy about the venue, so I don't get this very often.  We love the food, but the venue is just not . . . well, its just not.  

This year they are driving to us, so I thought I would just serve our appetizers when they arrive as a light brunch.  I tried my hand at a version of this dish and called it a success: (click to go to recipe)  Shaved Brussel Sprouts & Polenta Cake.  A little champagne, a little fire, and a little nap while the Turkey roasts.



Thanksgiving Decontructed Again

I've really learned to stick with my Thanksgiving plan from 2 years ago, and this year, I did a trial run on one further deconstruction technique:  Turkey in parts.

Every cooking magazine out there has some version of how to roast your turkey so the breast doesn't dry out before the legs and thighs are done.  You can find turkey in parts in many grocery stores this time of year, and for my trial runs, that's what I bought.  But for the actual meal, I bought a heritage bird and had my butcher cut up the turkey for me.  For a 20-22 lbs stuffed bird, normal cooking time would be nearly 7 hours.  For a cut-up bird, depending on arrangement of the parts, between 2 and 3 hours, depending on your oven tempurature.  I like mine to cook at 325 for a bit longer, which might push your cooking time to 3 hours, but if you need to shorten the time further, cook at 350, and brine your bird.

Brining not only makes your meat more juicy and tender, it also reduces the cooking time.  For best results, use a meat probe that sits outside the oven (See Thanksgiving Decontructed).  I've done a wet brine turkey before, and accidently let the bird brine too long (24 hours)  the result was more like ham and very salty. Wet brines should only be done for about 18 hours, vs 24 hours.  So you have to be very specific about when you start your brine.  I prefer a dry brine method, because it allows you a little more flexibility.  You can go the full 24 hours without a salty result, and frankly its easier to calculate your brining time.  

I like sage with turkey, so I keep my brine very simple.  Sage, butter, salt & pepper.  And that brine also makes a very simple, but deeply flavored gravy, especially if you use your own home-made stock.  So, Dry-Brined Sage Roasted Turkey in Parts.  Pictures will be coming soon!


In Memorium

Ed's Big Orange Monster

It lay inert upon the ground
Its head sunk in the mud
The earth was shattered from the sound
Puff, puff, puff, puff, then thud
I’ll kill that goddamn block of wood
With this ton of tempered steel
I’ll lift it once more if I could
And attack with such great zeal
With gut born groans, and bulging eyes
From his pants there came a great wind
That orange hulk raised to the sky
With a whoosh he missed again
His anger raised, his face beet red
Like a bull he pawed the ground
Once more arose that vicious wedge
Once more that missing sound
“Splits all” is what the pamphlet claims
Be it wood of any kind
Use a bomb sight for a better aim
But he’s pooped, he swung three times
Forty years has passed away so neat
In that time Ed sold his maul
As an anchor for the seventh fleet
For it touched wood not at all

 Happy Birthday Dad
We miss you


The Cousins Grim: Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ganache Frosting


Let me start at the beginning.  My father loves my Chocolate Cake, and I traditionally bake him one on his birthday.  Last year, I made a 10 inch, two layer cake, and there wasn’t a crumb left. 

This year, I made it again, and had some left over, so I made a few cupcakes and had them in the freezer. 

Remember that old game Telephone you played as a kid?  Everyone sat in a circle and one person whispered something to the next person, and then that person whispered that same something to the next person, until the circle was complete. The last person then had to say out loud what the something was and the first person then had to say out loud what the something was.  

The two somethings were rarely even in the same genre, but everyone got a really good laugh out of it.

I recently gave a friend, Patty, a piece of the cake.  She loved it so much, she asked for the recipe, and I printed it off for her.  

She happened to relay to my cousin Leslie (a really good baker and chocolate lover) how good it was. Leslie wanted the recipe, so Patty read off the ingredients and the instructions to her so she could make it.

At least she thought she did.

Patty: Leslie's cake didn't come out.

Me: Why not, what happened?

Patty: I don't know, she just said it didn't come out.

Me: Did she make substitutions?  Did you have all of the instructions?

Patty: I don't know, but she said she took the cake, and the frosting to her mother's and told her to try to do something with it.

Couple of days later, I'm going to see Leslie, and I brought her a couple of the cupcakes made out of the leftovers that I had frozen.

Me: I brought you something.

Leslie: What is it?

Me: Chocolate Cake

Leslie: Give it to me!

Silence.  Then the moaning started.  

It didn't stop until the cake had been inhaled and she had frosting all over her face.  (She looks good in brown.)

Me: Patty said your cake didn't come out.  What happened?

Leslie: Well, actually, what happened was I left my oven on pre-heat and then forgot about it.  About 20 minutes later, when I checked, the cake was done.

Me: What about the frosting?

Leslie: It was grainy.  What it supposed to be confectioners sugar?  Are you supposed to melt the chocolate?

Me: Nope.  Regular old.  You put the cream and the sugar in a pan, and bring it to a boil, then pour it over the butter and the chocolate, and when it's melted you beat it over a bowl of ice.


Me: Why not?

Leslie: I was in a hurry and when Patty said the frosting was a ganache, I told her I've made a ganache before, I'll figure it out.

Me: Did you taste it?

Leslie: Well, I brought it to my mother's, and my sister Carol tasted it.  (My cousin Carol is known as a very eloquent person.  She always has the exact right words for any occasion.)

Carol pronounced it "VERY GRIM"

Leslie: We thought we might break it into pieces and layer it with chocolate pudding and whipped cream and make a trifle out of it.

Carol: It will be a very grim trifle. 


Enchantment: South Florida Fish Stew

Last weekend we visited Strawberry Hollow in Guilford.  It’s one of those little shops that opens during the Fall to Christmas Season here on The Shoreline. You will know you have found it when you see a policeman directing traffic around the parking area on the weekends.

Its one of my first go-to places during the fall since I returned to Connecticut.  This is not one of those cutsy, country, chotchke motif type of places.   This is serious decorating, and it is something other, something else.   Primitive.  Elegant.  (Expensive).  

This is the shop where I source the potpourri for the Inside Mason Jars for both Fall and Christmas.  All natural ingredients, naturally scented.  Hence the price.

I have visited this shop in many years past, but never ventured beyond the storefront.   For the first time, however, I walked down into the farm you can see from Route 1. 



Farming is very hard work.  Making farming look this beautiful, that’s another thing entirely.   As we took the path down into the fields, this feeling overwhelmed me.  

Magic.  Enchantment.

We were out all day, and when we got home, it felt like a soup day.  I made South Florida Fish Stew.


The Happy Dance: Blondies and Brownies


Grace and Chris did “the happy dance” last night. 

The first time I saw Grace do this was on my deck in Branford.  Chris and I had been spending most weekends together, usually with one full day traipsing over the Connecticut River to Graceland to spend time with her.  It was 45 miles out, and 45 miles back, so we would try to find things to do out on the other side of the River.  (It was still a bit awkward to ask her mother to come to my house for one of those trips.)

He was used to spending days in the car with her, as that was what they did as she went from infant to toddler to little girl.  

I decided we needed to break that pattern and spend a day in my neck of the woods.  We went to Bishop’s Orchard to play in the hay maze and pick out pumpkins, then to my house to carve them. 

I hate carving pumpkins so I was happy to hand this duty over to Chris while I made an early season Turkey Dinner.  I watched out the kitchen window, as Grace, who had never carved pumpkins before, stood on the deck, wingspan half stretched, and flapped her hands.  (I knew I was in trouble.)

Fast forward to our first fall weekend of the season with her.  That means fire in the fireplace, her favorite soup, Hocus Pocus and baking. 

I was upstairs when Chris walked in the door from work.  What did I get?

No kiss.  No hug.

Just,  “There’s talk of cookies?”

“Yes, Blondies and Brownies”

Hence the dancing.


Thanksgiving Deconstructed

There isn't a culinary magazine on the stands that isn't filled with sure fire recipes to take your Thanksgiving meal back to basics, up a notch, classic with a twist, or onto the list of good things.  Many of us actually dread cooking Thanksgiving.  Let's face it, it's one of the hardest, most expensive, time-consuming, and oven consuming meals out there.


Because everyone has their version of, "It's not Thanksgiving unless we have (insert from the list below)."

Gravy with giblets
Turkey Stuffing
Mashed Potatoes
Sweet Potato Casserole
Broccoli Au Gratin
Garlic Green Beans
Braised Brussel Sprouts
Creamed Onions
Cranberry Compote
Pear Chutney
Apple Pie
Pumpkin Pie
Pecan Pie

By the time you are done with the list of must haves, you are now cooking ten different dishes, juggling timing and oven space, and lists of ingredients a mile long.  You spend a fortune, a full week cooking, and in fifteen minutes everyone is finished eating.  There were so many choices your guests put one tablespoon of every dish on their plates and you have food enough left over to feed an army.

At least that was what happened the first time I cooked a Thanksgiving Dinner.

These days, I have a different approach, and I thought I would try to launch my How To Journal with some of my methods and short-cuts for Thanksgiving:

  1. Pick five dishes from your list and don't budge from that list.  If anyone of your guests insists on a dish, let them bring their own.  Yours will never match anyway.  So, something like Turkey, Turkey Gravy, Turkey Dressing, Potato, and Vegetable isn't so daunting.   If any of your guests offer to bring something, let them bring an appetizer, dessert or a garnish.  Tell them to bring the dish already cooked, in the dish they are going to serve it in, with serving utensils.  (I've gone so far as to tell them to bring their dish home dirty, to cut down on clean-up.)  If they want oven or cook top time, they are just going to get in your way.  And if you have guests that are chronically late, have them bring dessert, not appetizer.
  2. Don't stuff the turkey.  Make Turkey Dressing, cook it in a casserole dish.  Remember our mothers getting up at 4am to get the stuffing made, let it cool, get it into the bird, and get the bird in the oven for nearly six hours, and then race to get the stuffing out of the bird before the USDA police caught them?  Waste of time if you know one secret.  (Ok, maybe two).  Keep reading.
  3. Make Your Own Turkey Stock.  What comes out of can or a box, tastes like the can or the box.  I usually roast a turkey breast sometime in the fall, and save the carcass, but if not, buy a turkey breast in the deli/rotisserie section of the grocery store.  Enjoy the meat, and keep the bones.  Ask the butcher if he has any turkey wings or neck bones for sale, take them home and just roast them in the oven.  Then use any or all of this to make your stock.  Throw all the cooked bones into a stock pot, add a carrot, onion, stalk of celery, garlic clove, and bay leaf and boil it for about two hours.  Drain the solids out and discard them.  If you have made the turkey stock in advance, let it cool down, then skim the fat off the top. When you are ready to make your Turkey Dressing, using this stock for the liquid will make it taste like it came right out of the bird.  And use it for your turkey gravy as well.  It will taste like you took all day to make your gravy.
  4. Make your own bread stuffing.  What comes out of a box or a bag, tastes like the box or the bag.  I've made my own cornbread the week before, broke it up into chunks, and let it get stale on a jelly roll pan in the oven until I'm ready to use it.  Alternatively, buy a loaf of your favorite bread from the bakery and have them slice it.  When you get it home, you can cube it, or break it apart, let it get stale, and then throw it in the freezer until you are ready to use it.  Using your own bread stuffing will make all the difference in whatever recipe you use.  And if you butter the bottom of the dish you will get that nice crunch that comes from the outside crust of the stuffing that usually falls out of the bird.
  5. Roast your unstuffed turkey on a rack in a low sided roasting pan, in the oven at 325, use a meat thermometer that has a probe wired to a gauge outside of the oven, and don't open the oven until the turkey is done.  Don't baste it.  You don't need to.  Every time you open that oven, you lose at least 150 degrees, and now the oven has to get back up to temperature which only prolongs your cooking time.  Whatever recipe you are using will yield a tender, moist turkey with this method because it cooks more evenly, and in a shorter period of time than a traditionally stuffed turkey and basting.  I cook mine to 183 degrees.  I know that sounds like too much according to all of the gauges, but we like our turkey done.  I have never had a dry, tough, or worse, bloody turkey using this method.  As soon as your turkey is done, you can put the stuffing in the oven, and turn the oven up to about 375 for 45 minutes.  By the time you let your bird rest, make the gravy, and carve the bird, your dressing will be done.

Two Stupids on a Sunday: Braised Short Ribs

My mom and dad typically went out to dinner on Saturday nights, but Sunday was reserved for a family dinner.  How she got dinner on the table at 1pm, with four kids and church I don’t know.  These days, Chris and I look forward to a mid-to late afternoon meal, so we have time to get some things done around the house.

We thought we were quite clever by building a house we thought was going to be “maintenance free.”  By that, I mean the entire outside of the house, including the deck and porch is plastic.  We didn’t want a garden, we didn’t want flowering plants or trees because we didn’t want to have to mulch, prune, cut around or fertilize anything but a simple lawn.  Besides, we had enough beautiful trees surrounding our lot, lined with stone walls.

But we still have leaves.  Lots of them.  On the lawn, in the gutters.  Between getting the leaves out of the way, cutting the lawn, and doing what he calls “playing with firewood” Chris would be out there all day and that would drastically cut into our day of rest. 

Me:  Honey, how long before you think you will be done?

Chris:  You mean hurry up and relax?

In an effort to get him through his chores, clean up and get ready to watch Sunday sports, I usually make an attempt at helping him.  I say attempt because it seems I can do nothing very practical when it comes to helping him cut down trees, rake leaves or clean gutters.

Remember the Honeymooners from last fall?  Standing on ladders, holding legs, getting leaf mucked dumped on my head, while he cleaned out the gutters with his homemade gutter cleaner?  I found it in the garage yesterday. 

Bet he plans on using it soon.

And then there’s playing with firewood or as I like to call it, two stupids try to cut down a tree.  We nearly killed each other, and that was without the chain saw running.

So, when I offer to help, I usually have to have dinner already prepared.  By the time I’m done, I’m too dirty and too sore to get into that kitchen and make a mess.

And at this time of year, what better than something braised for hours, and all ready to heat up.  I made braised short ribs for Sunday, but next time, I’m going to skip the short ribs, and use a flat cut brisket instead (see Recipes).  Let work, less fat, no bones, same great taste, same great texture.



Virtual Decorating: Olio Aglio Pepperoncini

My dearest friend Barbara and I were at one time single-girl neighbors, living in California.  We would walk over to each other’s house for a glass of wine, and often end up talking about decorating, as she was usually in the midst of some decorating dilema.  Being the corporate “what’s wrong with right now?” girls, talking would end up as doing.  Hanging pictures, moving furniture, you name it, all under the influence.

Now, we are both married, living on opposite sides of the country, so our decorating has become more virtual, sans the vino.  We’ll spend time sharing our desktops, looking on-line for design solutions.  I think we actually remodeled her kitchen that way.  There was even talk of me being the project manager, cuz that’s what I do.


After I posted the Black Painted Cats, she got inspired, and wanted to do them for an upcoming Halloween Party.   I offered to send her samples of the materials from Michael’s so she would know what to purchase, and we even got on-line together to source the black spray paint Chris had used on those pumpkins (Kimball Midwest High Gloss Black #880-80, not available at most hardware stores).

Piece of Cake, right? 


You know you live in the boonies when the Yellow Pages lists the Brown store as the FedEX store, and they tells you the nearest FedEx Store is 20 miles away. 

Barbara (via mobile):  Well, just send the stuff with UPS and I’ll send you a check.  How much could it be? Twenty bucks?

Me (at the Brown Store): How much to ship this to zip code 90210?

Brown:  $67.89

See what Brown can do for you?

Off to our United States Postal Service. 

Me:  How much to ship this to zip code 90210?

USPS:  $37.95 for Guaranteed, and $31.89 if you don’t care when it gets there.  Oh, and fill out this form, and give me the name of your first born.

Yeah.  No.  (Your tax dollars and mine at work.)

Now I’m mad.  So I put my Project Manager hat on, and proceeded.  Back to my desk, to the FedEx Website to find the nearest drop box.  Better to trust them than Yellow, right?  Barbara emails me a FedEx shipping label from her on-line account, and I’m off again.

It would have been easier to mail myself to California to make them for her.  More expensive, but at least we could have made them over a bowl of Olio Aglio Pepperoncino and a glass of vino together.


It's getting very Halloweenneee!

Chris cringes when he hears me say this.  In all fairness, I only say it on October 1st, as that is the official start of the Halloween season around our house.  That means Halloween Movies, Halloween Projects, Halloween Costumes, Fall Recipes, Fall Foliage, and Fires.

I hate carving pumpkins.  I've tried every gadget there is, and there is simply no way around the mess and the fruitflies.  So this year we decided to paint pumpkins instead.  And not those goofy clown-looking things from the grocery store.


We wanted Glamour!  We wanted Elegant!  We wanted Easy!  We wanted Cheap! 

We got three out of four.  Cheap they were not, but the good news is that the expensive craft supplies from Michaels are reusable, so there is definately an ROI for next year.   (See Black Painted Cats below)

After that, we raided my closet for a glamorous witch costume for The Girl.  Not very difficult as most of the clothing in most women's closets is black anyway.  Just add hat, broomstick and stripped socks.

So easy I had time to do my decorating inside and make Coq Au Vin for our favorite guests, Tom and Beth.


Chocolate Ginger Spice Cookies: An All Day Pajama Party

The weekend of our Wedding Anniversary was our weekend to have The Girl.   We get her from school on Friday and her mom picks her up on Sunday morning to take her to Chinese Class (I know.  Most kids think they are smarter than you, Grace actually is).  But this Friday she had a class trip to Boston and Chris was to pick her up at the school when the bus got back at 6pm.  Right.  He didn't get her until 7:30pm and was 30 minutes from home. 

Needless to say, it was a very late evening.  Grace landed on the couch with dinner in bowl (Chicken and Polenta) and Hocus Pocus on.  The next day, she was still there.  We planned to go out to dinner that evening, but couldn't find a pajama friendly restaurant. 


It  is  shown here with simple roasted vegetables, rather than the polenta (I'd like to say because we slimmed it down, but the truth is we ate it all before I could get photos)

Between piano lessons, viola lessons, art lessons, chinese class, regular school and homework, by the time we get her, she is pooped and just wants to be a couch potato all weekend.

But I have a secret weapon:  baking.  So I got her off the couch with a promise of making one of her favorites:  Ginger Cookies.


Carrot Cake and Anniversaries

  As I kissed my husband, I commented that we had made it through the last two years without killing each other. 

“The night is young.” He said.

When we moved into our new house, neither one of us was working.  We sold both of our houses and scraped together every penny we had to build the one we are in.  When it was finished, there was no money left over for a wedding.  Chris was on this third, and even though I had never been married, I wasn’t one of those women who started dreaming of being a bride when she got to wear a white dress and a veil at her first communion.

My one wish though, was to have something in a home, and in the Fall.  Moving into a new house in late summer seemed like the perfect opportunity to have both.   It was also conveniently within our budget for a wedding venue ($0).  So we planned a very small ceremony and reception for early September, out on our wraparound porch overlooking the vineyard. 

I am very partial to dresses with an Asian flair and always wanted a cheongsom dress.  When I found a local shop that specialized in this style of custom-made clothing, it was a simple decision.  The end result was quite lovely, as you can see in the pictures.  

The interim result was nothing short of clown costumes.

I found the perfect ivory silk brocade for my dress, and Grace, Susan and myself fell in love with a gorgeous gold silk brocade with pink dragonflies woven into it.  Susan was to wear a short coat of the gold brocade over a pale pink silk sheath dress, and Grace was to wear an Ao Ba Ba, which is a traditional Vietnamese long silk shirt of the gold brocade,  over pale pink silk pants.  The gentlemen would wear pale pink silk ties, and the flowers would be white and pink.

Didn’t quite work out that way.  

I got a call from the dressmaker a couple of weeks later informing me that the gold brocade was no longer available for the season, but she had a suggestion.  Her people in Vietnam would obtain a gold silk brocade and have pink dragonflies embroidered on it.  She said she trusted her people in Vietnam to make the right choices.  I should have trusted my instincts, but she talked me into it.

When the dresses arrived I thought it was joke.  Mine was perfect.  But the clothing made for Susan and Grace was downright laughable.   Taffeta.  Yeah.  Taffeta, not brocade.  You know that puffy stiff fabric that nightmare bridesmaids dresses are made of?  And yellow, not gold.  The dress and pants were a lovely shade of bubble gum.

And then, there were the dragonflies.   Remember the movie “Mothra?”  You got it.  Big, bug-eyed monsters all over the yellow taffeta.  And stitched to enhance the natural poofyness of the fabric.  

I will say that the dressmaker was wonderful about accepting them back and getting new clothing made for us without charging us.  This time, black brocade for Susan over a black sheath, and the same ivory fabric as my dress for Grace, with black pants.  We did end up having to move the wedding date into October.  Which was fine with me, I had wanted October from the very beginning.  Columbus Day was my first choice.  We couldn’t get the JP, the Photographer, or Chris’s best man on any day that weekend.  We went with the following weekend. 

The weekend of the Double Nor’Easter. 


It was also a record low of 36 degrees that day, so we moved our ceremony to inside, in front of the fireplace.    Not so bad. 


 My Groom

My new daughter

At the very end of the day, the sky cleared up and we got a tiny peek at blue.  Just enough to get a shot or two outside.

I want to thank our JP (who claimed to be a part-time magician, that should have been my first clue) for showing up in his vintage Members Only jacket, and making all of my hard-earned fashion sense disappear.



Mini Pumpkins: A quick little trick


I remember clearly thinking when I saw this in one of Ms. Stewart's magazines, "This can't be! What if it's a cruel joke?  What if it's a cash bar?"

It only had two items on the shopping list.  It only had one tool.  It only took five minutes.  But it was.  And it is this simple.


Mini pumpkins
Tea Lite Candles


Sharp paring knife


  • With the paring knife, carve a hole into the top of the mini pumpkin roughly the size of the tea lite candle.
  • Remove the top by it's stem.
  • Push the tea lite candle into the top of the pumpkin.  No need to carve out the inside as it holds the tea lite candle in place should you carve the hole too big.
  • Light.  Sorry about the fruitflies.




The Acorn doesn't fall very far: Tomato Bisque

Chris is very organized and meticulous.  He will re-load the dishwasher after me.   Every sock is folded a exactly the same way.  His omelets look like props.  Me?  Remember the name of this site?   If you go into his bathroom, all of his sunscreens are lined up by SPF. 

He told me before I met Little Grace Pretty Face (LGPF) that when he took her to lunch one day and she held her hair back with one hand when she was eating her soup, he knew she was growing up.

The first time I cooked with LGPF, I let her measure out the dry ingredients for whatever we were making.  She’s very good at math and fractions.  Most of it ended up on the floor, but that didn’t bother me.  These days, she wants to get the spoon into the pot, which means she is standing by an open flame. 

She was helping me make her favorite soup, which is Tomato Bisque with chicken and rice (otherwise known as Grace's Favorite Soup), and I nearly had a heart attack when I realized she was inadvertently pushing the pan off the flame trying to hold hair back, and with the other was reaching with her sleeve over it to stir.

So when I was standing at the check-out aisle, I saw a display card full of little hair bands and scrunchies, in assorted colors and sizes.  Perfect. 

I just left the card on her bathroom counter.


Nichols and Stone Rockers



Being the Queen of Rocking has its issues.  It started when I was a toddler, and someone (I’m pretty sure it was Rene, my fairy godmother), bought me a rocking horse.  I rocked it so hard, I tipped it over backwards, and my mother and father had to buy me a new one. 

Three rocking horses later, they said, “No more!” 

That didn’t stop me.  In the back seat of the car (my father thought the car was stalling), neighbors’ children’s rocking horses, and then eventually rocking chairs.

My mother bought my father a Lazy Boy recliner rocker one year for Christmas.  While it was his chair, for the most part, I commandeered it when he wasn’t around.  I rocked.  I rocked so hard, I broke the springs.  Lazy Boy sent new ones.  I broke those.  For almost 10 years, I broke the springs, and Lazy Boy sent new ones.  I think they had set up a regular shipment by the time the chair itself was ready to be retired.

After that, I spent the next few years coveting those dark, heavy pine rocking chairs that all my friends got with their new, heavy, dark pine, cannonball bedroom sets.   I wanted one so bad, but they were very expensive.  In the 70’s, a wooden rocking chair for $900 was a luxury I could not afford.

While I was out Antiquing several years ago, I happened upon one of those chairs.  At $150 dollars and in perfect condition, I snapped it up and brought it to my parent’s house.  I had two Brumby Porch Rockers (otherwise known as Kennedy Rockers) I had purchased just as the factory was going out of business, and they had gone with me from DC to CA.  But now I had a rocking chair in Connecticut. 

When I bought the house in Branford, one of the first pieces of furniture to get moved was the Pine Rocker.  It went right in front of the fireplace, and it got used.  So much so, that I would get chair envy whenever one of my guests dared to sit in it.  There was only one solution:  I needed another one.

I was on the hunt.  I had researched the chair itself (I turned it over, looked on the bottom and then Googled what I found, very extensive), and discovered it was made by the oldest furniture company in the United States, Nichols and Stone, out of Gardner, MA.  In fact, they still make rocking chairs, but not my precious pine version from the 70’s.

One afternoon I get a call from Chris (still dating at this point).

Him: “I think Grace and I found a rocking chair for you”

Me: “How much?”

Him:  “$20.00”

It was a perfect match.

After that, I became the Rocking Chair Hunter.  Every one of my guests who sat in that chair wanted one, and since then I have found four more, so if you think you are now going to find one, think again.


Broken Promises and Pecan Sandies

When my niece Chelsea was a very little girl and I was visiting home in Connecticut, I felt this sharp pang when I had to get on a plane and go back to DC.  She was playing in the yard, pushing a toy baby carriage around, and I just didn’t think I could leave her.  So, I asked her to make me a promise that she wouldn’t grow up until I came back again. 

She said to me very matter of fact, “Ok.  If I turn five, I’ll pretend I’m four.” 

She didn’t keep her promise.

She's all grown up now, and recently married a handsome Army Ranger.  For her bridal shower, she asked me to help with the bridal favors, and chose these cookies, which are a browned butter toasted pecan shortbread.