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Christmas Morning: Gramma Daly's Crumb Cake

I grew up in the middle of my Grandfather's farm.  He granted the lots to his three children to build houses on. Ours in the middle, my father's brother and his family on one side, and my father's sister and her family on the other.  It was known as "the hill" and there were 10 kids growing up so it was our own little neighborhood.

We had horses and a horse-drawn sleigh, a skating pond, a sledding trail, a swimming pool, a swamp, a brook, climbing trees, a sandpile, a tire swing, and a Christmas Tree Farm.  My parents couldn't understand why I wanted to go away to summer camp.

On Christmas, my brother would get up at all hours of the night, sneak into the living room, and peak at all of his presents before anyone else got up.  Then he could finally get to sleep.  The rest of us kids would get up at dawn because we were so excited to see what Santa brought we couldn't sleep either. My parents (who were up till late getting out the presents) would be the last ones awake, and we weren't allowed to open family gifts until they were up.

Christmas morning meant three breakfasts after we finished opening our family presents.  Once those were opened, it was time to begin the trek between houses to see what the other kids got for Christmas.  My Aunt Gen would make my Gramma Daly's Crumb Cake for breakfast.  Then we would make the trek past our house over to my Aunt Lorraine's house for homemade egg nog and cold lobster salad sandwiches.  As I got a bit older, the egg nog got spiced with rum. 

After that, it would be back home to get ready for Christmas Dinner, usually at one of my aunts on my mother's side of the family.  We would walk into the house with it smelling like Christmas Eve dinner all over again because by now my brother was up again and heating up leftover baked stuffed shrimp for breakfast.

That was three, right?


Its Birthday Time for the Girl: Christmas Shortbreads

Yeah, time to get out the decorations and the bakeware.  I don't have my kitchen slave with me this year, she is spending a year abroad in Switzerland, so I am sending over a tin of cookies for Christmas and her birthday, along with a few other surprises.  She loves decorating cookies and trimming the tree, but I have to do it all myself this year.

We all miss you, Gracie Girl!   Have a wonderful birthday and enjoy these Christmas Shortbreads!



Grace's Favorite: Chocolate Sparkle Cookies


OMG, she's 14!  The Girl, that is.  My sister walked in at Christmas, and proceeded to blame me for letting her grow up.  Who is she kidding, she did the same thing with her daughter (Broken Promises and Pecan Sandies). 

Back to Grace.  She's still my Kitchen Slave, but now she's wearing my shoes.

And sleeping late on Saturday's like a typical teenager.

She promised she was going to help me make Chocolate Sparkle Cookies for Christmas and for her birthday.  By the time she got out of bed, I had already blanched and skinned the almonds for these cookies.  Which left her with the easy part. 

I got her back, though.  She was still in time to make the 160 Walnut Shortbread Christmas Cookies that are part of the family ritual. 

And also part of my gift giving ritual when I lived out West.  I ran with a rather well-heeled crowd and they were very difficult to buy gifts for.  I eventually ended up baking these and about six other varieties of cookies as gifts.  Couldn't get them at Nordstrom, that's for sure.  My dear friend Barbara and I exchanged gifts this season:  she got these, and I got a box of See's Victoria Toffee.


Lasagna Bolagnase: The Way to a Man's Heart

My grandmother, Caroline Martone, who was born in Italy in 1892, made this version of Bolognase Sauce, eminating from the city of Bologna in the Emilia Romagna Region.  Every family in Emilia Romagna has a Ragu recipe, and her family was no different.  Now, our family heritage holds that Caroline wooed Vincent Euzzine with this recipe, using the tried and true method of getting to a man’s heart.

Caroline and Vincent immigrated to America in 1918, and settled in Connecticut, to join other members of the Martone family in Branford.  Caroline died in 1938, and Vincent died in 1940, leaving six daughters, the oldest 20, and my mother Nancy, the youngest, just 8 years old. 


All six daughters were wonderful cooks, and a few of their mother’s recipes survived, and were passed along.  My mother fell in love with a handsome Irish hunk, Edward, and used this Ragu recipe to snare him.  When I showed an interest in cooking at an early age, she taught me to make this sauce.  It’s nothing like the canned versions of tomato sauce made popular in the 1950’s and 60’s.  In fact, it has very little tomato in it, which makes it stand apart from the normal, Southern Italian fare popularized in the Northeast.  


So, when a certain gentleman came into my life with all the right stuff, I made up my mind to use my family’s love potion to seal the deal.  The first time I made it for him, I thought he was going to cry.  The second time, he showed a particular interest in learning the ingredients.  The third time, which I thought was going to be the charm, he showed up early enough to “help” the cook.  He painstakingly wrote down every ingredient as I added it, and watched the sauce cook slowly to perfection.  Again, tears when the meal was served.  I eagerly awaited his proposal during dessert.  

I never saw him after that night.  I thought he wanted me, but he just wanted this recipe.  So, here it is  Paparadella or Lasagna Bolognasse.  Take your time with it, buy the best ingredients you can find, and be very, very careful who you serve it to.


Right Coast Newport and Thanksgiving Leftovers

When I lived in Newport  (the one on the Left Coast), one of the local magazines coined the phrase “Affluenza” which meant visibly (though perhaps not actually) wealthy.  Mercedes and BMW’s aplenty.  Bling everywhere. 

McMansions.  This is actually the neighborhood that become The OC, under construction.

The women wore “short, black and tight.” Surgically enhanced everything.  The men were wealthy.  Or at least highly leveraged.  Shortly thereafter came the rise of “The OC” and “Real Housewives of Orange County” both filmed in my neck of the woods.

That’s nothing compared to Newport, Rhode Island.

What does this have to do with Christmas (you ask?)

We visited the Newport Mansions this past weekend.  In December, three of the largest are open and decorated for Christmas. 

I thought The Hearst Castle was grand, but it’s dwarfed by The Breakers, Cornelius Vanderbilt’s weekend cottage. 

Measuring a mere 135,000 square feet, with 70 rooms, it sits on the Cliff Walk, and dares you to compare it to anything but Buckingham Palace.  We also visited The Elms, a cottage built by the coal magnate, Edward Berwind, who supplied the fuel for Vanderbilt’s steamships, then his railroads, Carnegie’s steel mills, and Rockefeller’s oil refineries. 

Cozy arrangement, no?

Not to be outdone by anyone in Paris, Cornelius’s daughter Alva Vanderbilt, built The Marble House.   Modeled after The Petit Trianon, the smaller of King Louis XV’s palace at Versaille, Alva stole architecture (and sometimes other things like mantels and ceilings) from anything French.

Mrs. Vanderbilt:  “If it’s good enough for King Louis, it’s good enough for us.”

Her husband:  “Whatever, dear.”

Well, she did wear the pants in the family, being an heiress and all.

The dining room chairs were made of bronze and covered in gold, to match King Louis' chairs made of silver.  They weighed in at 75 pounds for the guests, and 125 pounds for the armchairs.  A servant behind each chair was required to help each guest pull up a chair to the table.

The estimates of what it would take to build The Breakers today, at $22 Million, seems way off base.  I’d say more like $100 Million.   Not including the furniture and the drapes.

From my perspective, once you have seen one coffered ceiling stolen from a palace in France, you’ve seen them all.  I was more fascinated by the kitchens and butler’s pantries.

But it was not the buildings that most impressed me.  Yes, clearly these were built to portray immense wealth and power.  And they do.  But it was the men who built them that fascinated me.

The Men Who Built America is a very recent documentary from The History Channel. (See the Link at the bottom of the side panel on the Fun Stuff page.)  We happened to catch it while channel surfing over the Thanksgiving Weekend, and we were hooked.

I don‘t remember learning much about these men in school.  It seems history went from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War, to the Mexican American War, to the World Wars.  Yeah, we discussed the Industrial Revolution, but that was a cast of thousands.

Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Rockefeller, JP Morgan and Ford.  Those names are familiar to all of us.  But did we really understand what they did, and how these five changed the face of America?

Did you know they all knew each other?  Did you know they competed, coerced, spied on, blackmailed, attempted murder and partnered with each other? 

They defied the US Government.  They bought the US Government.  They bought themselves a President.  (Sound familiar?)

By today’s standards, Carnegie and Rockefeller had a combined net worth of more than 3 Trillion dollars.  Today, they would blow past Bill Gates and Rupurt Murdoch as if those two were standing still.

Four episodes, 90 minutes each, covering Vanderbilt’s rise just after the Civil War, through Henry Ford’s defiance of the Automotive industry to produce a car that even the workers making the car could afford.  If you have a chance to see it on the History Channel, don’t miss it.  I just purchased the DVD collection from their web site.   A steal at $29.95 with a 25% coupon.

Perfect to settle in front of a fire with a bowl of Turkey Paprikash Soup, and Cranberry Chutney, my take on Thanksgiving Leftovers. 


Real Men Make Quiche

No one makes better Quiche than my husband.  Faster maybe,  but not better.  Being the methodical fella he is, it takes him a good four hours to make his famous Quiche recipe. 

While working at a Long Island grocery store as a kid, he learned how to make Quiche in the deli department, and has not deviated from it for thirty (Happy Birthday, dear) years.

The crusts must be purchased from the freezer department.  They must be Oronoc Orchards. 

The cheese must be the exact ratio of Swiss, to Jarlsburg to Lorraine.   We have since found that there is no longer any Lorraine cheese to be found anywhere.  There seems there is a story going around that the factory burned down, but I found no hits to prove that to be true.  I did find several other hits where queries about the disappearance of Lorraine cheese were met with the same mysterious story from the trusty folks behind the deli counter.   I even found a hit that claims it is illegal to lie down and fall asleep in a cheese factory.

Emily (Latella):  “Nevermind.”

The cheese must be grated by hand, using a box grater.  The cheeses must be mixed by hand.  The eggs are whisked two at a time, no matter how many Quiches are being made. 

The heavy cream must be individually measured by the cupful for each pie, and poured into the two wisked eggs.  And then the mixture is seasoned with salt and white pepper, before being poured into each pie shell.

Then, and only then, is the ham or spinach added to the top of the pile.  By the time he’s finished, the pie shells are full to the brim, carefully moved to the middle rack of the oven, and baked. 

For nearly 90 minutes.

I learned how to make Quiche from the Joy of Cooking, and we nearly got divorced when I tried to get him to alter his process.  Not his recipe, mind you, just his process.   


I had convinced him to let me play soux chef.   Made all of the pie crusts myself.  I’ll never offer to do that again.  Two, maybe.  Six?  Fogettaboutit!

Six pounds of cheese to grate, you say?  That’s what a Food Processor is for.  Ok,  good idea.

Mix all of the cream and the eggs together and then measure them out?   I could see him drawing up the papers in his head.

Scald the eggs and cream together to cut down on the baking time?  You would have thought I had suggested he divulge his Recipe for Quiche Lorraine.  (Luckily, he doesn't get to edit this blog.)

But no matter what we serve at our Christmas Day Brunch, this dish always gets rave reviews.   Chris would make it more often, but it would be unfair to all of the other quiches.


Next Time make it Bracciole

When I pictured having a husband in my life, one of the first chores I thought of having help with was a Christmas Tree. 



My father got the tree for my mother, put it in the stand, and brought it in the house.  From there, it was her deal.  Why shouldn’t I have expected anything different?

From my earliest trees, it was always an event.  I’ve always been a big fan of “choose and cut” trees, having grown up on a tree farm.  Depending on where I was living at the time, it was as much as an hour to find a place where trees actually grew.  I would make a day of it.  I’d have a meal all prepared, have my ornaments out and at the ready, and not a drop of anything to drink until the lights were on the tree.

Someone once showed me how to wrap the lights around each branch, and from that point on, it became one of the biggest chores of the season.  Since I was single, it was me getting the tree, getting it home, getting it in the stand, getting it in the house, and getting the lights on it.

Not without incident.

Take the year I decided to have the tree delivered to my house.   I thought I would finally have some help, and for a mere $25 fee, actually have a man bring the tree in the house. Didn’t quite work out that way. 

I was in Newport Beach at the time, and there were Christmas Trees available on every corner.  I thought it would be easy to get my tree delivered on the spot.  When I went to the tree place, they were not able to deliver until the following week.  And I’d already planned my Saturday event around having the tree that evening, and decorating with a date.  A date that stood me up, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I later found out the reason he stood me up was because of his wife.  But that’s another story.

It took the tree guy nearly 45 minutes to tie the tree to the top of my car.   He could have driven it to my house and been back in that time, and gotten paid for his efforts, but no.

As I’m driving up the hill towards home, I happen to look in my rear view mirror, and what do my wondering eyes behold but a tree rolling down the hill.  Odd.  Where did that come from? 

Oh.  Right.  It was my tree.

I pulled over to the side of the road, got out of the car, looked at the tree laying on the shoulder, and did what any normal woman would do in that situation. 

I cried.

Miraculously, a truck pulled over almost immediately.  A nice young man got out, and after introductions and a couple of attempts at putting the tree in the car, he said,

“Where do you live?”

I pointed to my condo complex, because it was within sight.  He threw the tree in the back of the truck, and said, “I’ll just follow you, it’s easier.”

Smart guy.

When we got to my place, and he put the tree in the bucket of water I had ready, he said to me,

“Next time, ma’m, maybe you should have your husband help you.”

Right.  Next time.

Then there was the year I decided to use up all of that cathedral ceiling space with a 9 foot tree.  I went to the local tree place, and picked out a beauty.  I even had my gardener -- (OK, I know that sounds ridiculous, but when your yard is all of 100 square feet, it doesn’t make sense to invest in yard equipment, it’s actually cheaper to just have someone else do it) -- scheduled to help me with my tree.

The difference between an 8 ½ foot tree and a 9 foot tree is more than just the six inches in height I discovered.  The trunk of the tree was also about six inches bigger around, and there was no getting that thing into my tree stand.  Nor any of my neighbors tree stands.  After several attempts to trim the trunk with his chain saw, my gardener even threw in the towel.

Back to the tree place to purchase an extra large stand, one with three legs more than four feet in length to support a tree as big as I had purchased.  As I’m paying for the stand, the tree guy says to me,

“You know you have to drill a hole into the trunk to get it onto the spike in this tree stand, right?”


“Do you have a drill that big?”

How big?  As big as my forearm it turns out.


Out of the goodness of his heart (not to mention the $125 I shelled out for this tree), he loaned my gardener his drill.  Back again to my house, where Frank (that’s was my gardener’s name), proceeded to drill into this poor tree, and then it takes both of us to get the tree into the house and then back to the tree place to return the drill.

By this time, it’s nearly 6pm, and I have to string 1200 lights on this monster.  It took me nearly four hours. 

Did I test the lights before hand?

No I did not.

I’ll remember to do that.

Next time.

Good thing dinner was ready. 

This year, Braciole, made the day before.




The House Tour

The house on Beechwood Road was one of my very favorite houses.  Great bones, as they say.  So I was excited to put it on the Lights of Branford Holiday House Tour in 2007, to benefit the Blackstone Memorial Library.  This is the Entryway as you walk into the front door.  Looking through into the Family Room, past the staircase.   

 Please enter . . .

Woodsy Santa and Little Deer to greet you.  The Little Deer were from Target, the woodsy Santa was my mother's, and the Cat Bench was on loan (at the time), from Chris.

Don't hesitate to have a treat.  Coming into the Family Room.

The Family Room, with the World's Greatest Fireplace.  No kidding.  Behind the tree is an opening known as a Wood Butler.  It has a door out the back and you load your firewood into the house from that door which opens into the garage.  I kept my wood rack underneath the door, never had to go outside to get more firewood.  It as nice and dry and I didn't have to drag it all over the house.  Never saw that anywhere else ever again.

I now think of this as the Tree of Grace, since it was my first tree after meeting her.  Most of these tree decorations came from the Pink Sleigh, and the sign behind the tree was on loan from Country Home in North Branford. 

You exit the Family Room from the other side, walking directly into the kitchen.


Didn't forget the kitchen.  It's where most people end up.  We sat in the rockers, enjoyed some champagne and greeted our guests with chocolates.


These Three Wise Men were my gift to my mother from Lake Arrowhead, CA.  They seemed appropriately muted and wintery for the kitchen.

The view out the kitchen window.  The hand-made porcelin Angel was a gift from my cousin.

 Enjoy a chocolate as you make your way through the kitchen.

With no doors on the cabinets, everything had to look just right.  Cup hooks made the perfect hangers for Santa's closet.  I got these little coats and pants at Target.  From the kitchen, you walk to the right into the Dining Room.

Santa's Buffet, with decorations from The Pink Sleigh, Dazzle in Newport Beach, CA, and an antique candy dish that belonged to my Aunt Alice.

The Dining Room set for the Wall Family.  Black Winter dishes from Crate & Barrel, Towll flatware and Mikasa Jamestown Gold stemware were gifts from my mother.  My Aunt Alice's Crimson King glassware and a bowl full of Roses finish the setting.  Napkins are folded with Green Velvet Ribbon.  As you exit the Dining Room to the right, you are back into the Entryway, and enter the Living Room, otherwise known as the Martini Room, which is separated with French Doors.

The Martini Room, with the second fireplace (the third was in the Master Bedroom). white chaise sofas. white penguins, and pearl pillows from Country Home, white sheepskin rug from The Village Shop in PA (you can find them online), mirrored cabinets, pearl tree and venetian mirror from The Bombay Store.  Remember them?  They were the first casualty of this recession.

Susan and I pearlized the ceiling, crown molding and the mantel with Modern Masters paints.  You could only paint in one direction so every brush stroke and every roller pass was only one way.

You can see the ceiling reflected in the top frame of the mirrors.  Those are my mothers angles on the mantel.

My sister made the miniature boxwood Christmas Trees every year for her Church and I bought two of them.


The Tour concludes back into the Entryway from the Martini Room.  The feather wreaths were also from The Bombay Store.


Go Flock Yourself



What was I thinking?  Volunteering to put my house on the Holiday House Tour?  I’d been on the tour the previous year, and other than getting to see other people’s houses, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the level of decorating I saw.   Most of them looked like skimpy department store decorating.

I thought to myself, “I can do better.”

Did I say that out loud?  Evidently I did and to the right people, because the next year, there was my address on the program.   The result was nothing short of spectacular.  The process, on the other hand, was exhausting. 

If you are going to put yourself and your house on display for Christmas, and you are doing this as a benefit for a worthy cause, and people are paying money to see your house, they should get their money’s worth.  I hope they did, because it cost me more than $2,000 to make my house look like it did, and that was for materials only.  The labor was free (meaning me and Susan).

I had five rooms on the first level that were decorated (so was the powder room , but somehow that didn’t make it into the photo shoot).  Three trees, all live.  With more than 1,000 lights on each tree, all wound by me.  Each room had a different color theme.  Each room had garlands (made by me) over the cornice boxes.  Each room had a vignette display of flowers, candy, candles and beverage glasses which matched the decorations in the room.  I don't miss much.

The Family Room was relatively easy, since it was the room I typically decorated.  Ditto the Dining Room, as I already had most of these decorations.  The Martini Room was the most fun.  I had my mother’s tree in there as the decorations were all silver, white, crystal and green, like the tree.  The Martini Room itself was decorated in all white, glass, silver and black.  The only color in the room was on the walls.   It was awesome.

It took me nearly three weeks to get the decorations made and put up.  I started the day after Thanksgiving to get ready for the December 9th tour.  When I finished, there was something missing.  Then I realized I needed to set the stage for guests coming into the in the Entry Way, just as spectacularly as when they finished the tour in the Martini Room. 

I needed a theme.  Winter wonderland.  All Natural.  Like a wintery storm came through and left its crystals everywhere.   I needed another tree.  I needed more decorations.  And I needed snow.   In the house. 

Out in CA, where they are so environmentally conscientious (except for their enormous SUV’s), it is shocking, but you can get a live tree with flocking on it.

What’s flocking, you ask?  Fake snow.  Actually I found out what it really is.  It’s the fibers that make up the fabric we call chenille, sprayed onto something when they are wet.  They stick, and then they dry out, and you have something that looks like it has just snowed. 

In theory.

I should have just bought a fake tree, already lit and pre-flocked.  But I’m a purist, and I wanted a live tree, and I thought you could just go down to the corner tree farm and get one flocked.  Just like when I lived in CA. 

Turns out, the EPA has more or less outlawed that practice because people throw their live trees into the environment in responsible fashion, except now there are all of those chemicals stuck to it.  Not good for mother nature.

“If I can’t find a reindeer, I’ll make one instead.” thought The Grinch.

The kit showed up a few days later with thorough explanations for attaching this thingy to your garden hose, then attaching this other thingy to the bag of fibers, pointing it at the tree, and turning the water on.   The garden hose should have been my first clue.  (I thought I was just going to get something in a spray can.)

As the sun was going down, Chris pulls up to the top of the driveway, and sees me standing outside in the dark, spraying this poor tree.  He said he thought he was in the last scene in the movie "Scarface."

All I did was water the tree.  The thingy wouldn’t work, the fibers went everywhere but on the tree, and the entire kit was a complete waste of money. 

But I wasn't going to give up.

I had purchased some white glitter and a can of spray glue, and had used it on many of the decorations.  Something you want to do outside, or in your garage I might add, and not anywhere near anything you care about. 

In fact, my sister made the bird’s nests out of raffia and some Jordan Almonds, and we glittered those and stuck them on the tree.  We did the same for a bag of pine cones.  It was quite lovely.   But I didn’t think to do that to the tree until it was too late.  It was already in the entryway, and it already had decorations on it. 

  What to do, what to do?

My friend Susan is my Go To Girl.  Anytime I need advise in the way of artistic, creative, problem solving, I ask her. 

In fact, she and I together painted both the Dining Room and the Martini (nee Living) Room walls, ceiling and moldings with pearlized paint.  There was analyptic wallpaper on the ceilings that made them look like they were the old fashioned tin ceilings.  They had been painted with copper paint when I bought the house.  While they were lovely, the ceilings just crashed down on you and we decided they needed to be lightened up.    We did the ceiling, the mantel and crown molding in pearlized white.  We did the walls in the Dining Room a pearlized pink.  We called it Tin Pearls and Satin Ribbons.  If you look closely in the mirror in the Martini Room, you can see the ceiling reflected in the frame.  I hope the new owners didn’t paint over it.

But I digress.

Susan asked, “Is there anything I can help you with?” 

(You would think she would have learned her lesson by now.)

So branch by branch, she dipped into a puddle of craft clue and then into a pile of white glitter.   Branch, by branch, by branch.  It took her all afternoon, but at least she can say she got flocked.

I sent her home with a tin of these cookies my family called Nut Gems (See Recipes).