Comfort Cooking for a Pandemic Winter: Part One — Drinks/Appetizers/Dips

Favorite recipes curated by me!

Since the COVID pandemic started, I’ve found myself hankering for recipes I used to make that have fallen by the wayside. Locating these favorites took effort, and I decided to put them into a collection where they would be readily available. In doing so, I was spurred on by the idea of sharing not only my favorites, but other recipes that have been given to me through the years by people I loved. 

This became “Comfort Cooking,” which I share with you in the hope that you might find a new (or old) recipe that will add joy — or at least some deliciousness — to this challenging time. I plan to email this collection to my friends and family as a holiday gift and decided to also share it as a series here.

Eventually things will get better. 



P.S. Although I did re-read these recipes, I did not go back and double-check against the originals. If in doubt about ingredients or instructions, feel free to email me and I’ll check.


  • Amaretto Clone/Doris Taylor’s Brandy/Irish Cream/Kahlua Clone 
  • Black Bean and Corn Salsa
  • Chile Bean Dip 
  • Cucumber Piquant
  • Daryle’s Cheese Ball
  • Dill Dip
  • Orange Julius Clone
  • Spinach Dip
  • Whiskey Slushes

Amaretto Clone
6 Cups sugar
4 cups water 
1/2 gal vodka
1 fifth apricot brandy
3 oz almond extract
Bring sugar and water to boil and boil for one minute. Add remaining ingredients. Cool and bottle.

Doris Taylor’s Brandy
1 lb fruit
1 lb sugar
1 fifth vodka
Use a wide mouth jar. Place fruit in jar. Sprinkle sugar over fruit. Dribble vodka over mixture. Cover and let stand three months. DO NOT STIR OR SHAKE!

Kahlua Clone
4 cups sugar
2 cups water
6 tsp freeze-dried coffee
1/2 vanilla bean
1 qt cheap vodka
Heat sugar, coffee, vanilla bean and water until sugar is dissolved. Mix in vodka. Store in the dark for two weeks. (Keep bean in.) Makes 1/2 gallon.

Irish Cream
1 can Eagle Brand milk (sweetened condensed)
2 cups whiskey
2 cups heavy cream or half and half
1 tsp. instant coffee
2 oz Kahlua
Mix ingredients and refrigerate. 
Note on recipe: “Phyllis doubles this.”These drink recipes came from Phyllis Memmer, my mother’s long-time (over fifty years) friend and friend of our family. So many things to do with vodka!

Black Bean and Corn Salsa
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
6 tbsp fresh lime juice (I use bottled because I never have limes.)
6 tbsp vegetable oil (I use olive.)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley (You can use a mix of the two and can also use dried. Fresh is better.)
1/4 cup minced red onion
1/4 cup minced green onion (I frequently don’t have green or even red onion and end up using 1/2 cup of whatever kind I have.)
1-1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 chopped tomatoes
Mix beans and corn. Whisk lime juice and oil. Pour over vegetables and add remaining ingredients. Mix, season with salt and pepper, chill, and serve with tortilla chips.My friend Cathy’s recipe, this also appeared in “Cook’s Choice” fundraiser cookbook Darling Daughter and I created to raise funds for her People to People trip.

Chile Bean Dip
2 cans chile bean soup (specifies Campbell’s Chunky or Manhandlers, which tells you how old the recipe is — just buy what sounds close)
4-8 oz taco sauce (to taste)
1 lg onion, chopped
1/2 of a 6-1/2 oz can of chopped black olives
2 cups shredded cheddar
Layer in shallow dish: soup, onion, olives, sauce, then cheese. Bake until cheese melts and is bubbly. Serve immediately with corn chips or tortilla chips. 
From my mom, Helen Byrd Deuring

Cucumber Piquant
In a pint jar with lid: 2 tbsp sugar, dash pepper, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp celery seed, 2 tbsp parsley, 1/4 cup thin sliced onions
Mix, then add:
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 1 tbsp lemon juice
Shake well, then add:
Thin sliced cucumbers, if tender, don’t peel. Place in refrigerator for several hours, turn and shake. There will be plenty of liquid.
From Aunt Eleanor Elsen — This was one of the recipe cards given to me at my bridal shower. Aunt Eleanor and her husband owned and ran Elsen’s Restaurant in Akron for many years.

Daryle’s Cheese Ball 
2 – 8 oz. packages of cream cheese
3 tbsp. finely chopped onion*
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 container of dried parsley (10 oz) or can use fresh
Leave cream cheese to soften a little before you mix it. I put the cream and cheddar cheeses in a large bowl with the onions, then use a butter knife to mix it. When all mixed, form a ball, put on a plate and sprinkle with parsley flakes enough to cover the ball. It takes about 1/2 the container of parsley. Place parsley-covered ball in ziplock and refrigerate overnight. Serve with sturdy crackers. 
*One copy of the recipe says 1/2 cup onion.
Daryle says: “I don’t usually measure the onions. I cut up a small one, so it may be a little more or less. This is a favorite holiday recipe.”

Dill Dip
2/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup mayo
1 tsp seasoned salt
1 tbsp dill weed
1 tbsp onion flakes
1 tbsp parsley
Mix all ingredients. Chill for several hours. Serve with raw veg (celery, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli).Another recipe card from my shower, this one from my cousin Karen.

Orange Julius Clone
1 – 6 oz can frozen OJ
1 cup water
1 cup milk
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
7-8 ice cubes
5-6 shots vodka (again with the vodka, though here it’s optional)
Combine in blender and blend for 30 seconds. If you use regular OJ, use 1-3/4 cup and omit the water.
This one came from the kitchen of Vivian, a family friend who went to our church.  It’s meant to be similar to a drink served at a chain called Orange Julius. 

Spinach Dip
1 – 10 oz. package chopped frozen spinach
1 cup mayo
1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup minced green onion
1 tbsp dry dill weed
1/2 tsp salt
1 round loaf of pumpernickel bread.
Thaw spinach and press out all water. Chop fine in blender or food processor. Stir remaining ingredients and spinach together. Chill several hours. Hollow out bread. Serve dip inside surrounded by bread pieces for dipping. 
From Mom — This remains a popular party dip. And for a change from vodka-based drinks, when life gives you lemons, make …

Whiskey Slushes
1 – 12 oz. can frozen lemonade
1 – 12 oz. can frozen OJ
6 tea bags – 2 cups H2O
1-1/2 – 2 cups whiskey
2 cups sugar
6 cans H2O
Freeze. Pour 7Up over. 
I think I must have had one (or three) of these before I copied my college roommate Beth’s recipe because the directions are vague, as is the memory of drinking them. Of course, it was about forty years ago.   

The Scrappy Type

I’m not very good at handicrafts. And I have the test scores to prove it. (I also have photos, shared below. I have no pride.)

You see, when I was fourteen, we took an aptitude test at school. This test rated a person’s aptitude for a variety of work-related abilities and assigned a score from 1-10 for each.

I recently stumbled across my results. Readers, I scored under five on motor coordination, manual dexterity, and a measly 2 on finger dexterity.

So, I have an excuse.

However, my grandmother was very good at crochet, and she taught my mother who taught me.

Because of them, I can manage basic patterns and might even be able to do more complex work if I wanted to concentrate.

But that’s not why I crochet.

I crochet while The Engineer and I watch movies. It helps me relax.

Complicated patterns would defeat the purpose and almost certainly involve a lot of swearing.

Instead I use two basic patterns — a giant granny square and one where you do a single crochet in the back loop of the previous rows stitches. Or a double crochet. Or a half double. (I can do these stitches as long as no one asks me which stitch it is I’m doing. For that I need a book.)

No bad language. Very relaxing.

In this bumbling manner I’ve managed to make more afghans than we could ever possibly need, one for practically every member of my family and many of my friends, and have long since moved on to making them for people I don’t know.

First, they went to our library’s Warm Up America program. Then, I donated to our local hospice. When it closed, the afghans piled up in the spare room until I found a fabric store accepting such donations.

However, I recently had a brain wave and thought to check with my mom’s long-term care facility to see if they had residents who might like such donations.

They were thrilled! I was thrilled because there were six on one of our living room chairs.

These afghans are scrappy because they’re made primarily from thrift store yarn. I’m not rich, after all.

Thrift store yarn is usually single skeins of single colors and ends of skeins left over from someone else’s project.

Yarn from my most recent score at the thrift shop — a huge tub of beautiful color!

As a result, my afghans are a bit like the crazy quilts of our ancestors made from old dresses, flour sacks, and any bits of fabric they had saved.

This appeals to me because I love randomly mixing colors and textures, though I must admit some turn out better than others.

They’re all cheap and cheerful, as the Brits would say, which is great because I like cheap, and I like cheerful.

There have been a misshappen few I kept, unwilling to foist them on others (though they are lovely and soft).

See below for illustration of just how far off course I have wandered.

To make it even more obvious.

Generally, however, they turn out well. This is my latest endeavor, and another I’m not quite sure about. That rust colored yarn … hmm.

Too bad I didn’t take photos of the ones I just donated. They were more — how do I put this? — normal in their color combinations. Still, that rust-colored yarn is very soft, and I hope it will feel comforting to whoever ends up with the afghan.

Recently, I found a pattern for these super-simple crochet stars. They’ve become a small addiction because I can whip one up in about fifteen minutes. At least, I can now I’ve reviewed how to do a double and treble stitch.

I’ve made quite a pile and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. I’m going to give them to everyone! On packages, on cards, to co-workers, strung for the tree and/or our mantle.

The best part is I’m using up all sorts of little scraps (more scrappiness!) of yarn that I didn’t even remember I had.

My third scrappy project is using some of our beeswax (mostly from cappings cut off during the extracting process) to make candles. So far, I’ve made just the one. I wanted to see how it worked out.

Beeswax smells so good when it’s burning.

In summary, I guess you could say I may not be handy, but I’m definitely the scrappy type!

Wasting Away

Warning: This one is slightly political.

This morning I saw a gathering of crows by the side of the highway.

What drew my eyes to the birds is the fact that they were pecking at a bag of trash some motorist had helpfully tossed out the window. The bag was plastic, so the crows were almost certainly injesting plastic microparticles.

A group of crows really is called a “murder,” ironic considering that’s what we, not them, are doing to our world.

Photo by Ellie Burgin on

I’ve been thinking about this type of thing more than usual because I’ve been reading David Attenborough’s new book, A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and A Vision for the Future.

In some ways, it’s an easy read. His writing is succinct and clear. It’s the message that’s hard to take, though it’s certainly not news.

Our way of life, with all its careless wastefulness, is destroying our world.

The generations who came before us had ignorance as an excuse. They were simply trying to make their hard lives a little easier.

We have no such excuses. We know what we are doing, and if anything, our lives are a little too easy, a fact readily discernible simply by looking at the waistlines of most people who live in first-world countries.

So, what do we do about it?

The so-called leader of our country has walked back many of the regulations meant to protect our world and done so with the full support of many U.S. citizens.

And it’s become common to throw out items simply because we fancy something new.

That’s needlessly wasteful.

An example: When we lived in the city, on the nights before trash pick-up, we’d ride bikes around the neighborhood to garbage pick.

Yes, I know it sounds tacky. But you wouldn’t believe what people set out on their tree lawns. Full-sized Little Tikes kitchens and slides, bicycles, chairs, and hundreds of other still-useful objects.

Darling Daughter learned to ride on a bike picked off a tree lawn.

It was brand-new. No, really, it was. Someone had mis-threaded one of the pedals, and instead of fixing it or taking it to a bike shop, they put it out on the lawn.

She rode that bike until it was too small for her. I can’t remember what we did with it then, but it certainly didn’t go on the lawn. It was either donated or given to another kid.

Most of the things people toss are plastic, which I find especially heinous because plastic never goes away.

It’s in our oceans, killing birds and animals.

It’s in our landfills. I’ve read that most of the plastic ever produced still exists, and the fact is only 8% of it is recycled.

And it’s in our bodies. No one yet knows how it affects us, though I’m hazarding a guess it can’t do anything good.

I find myself thinking of the lyrics to Jackson Browne’s “If I Could Be Anywhere.”

Searching for the future among the things we’re throwing away
Swimming through the ocean of junk we produce every day
You have to admit it’s clever
Maybe the pinnacle of human endeavor
When things are made to throw away but never made to disappear

The way we eat and travel affects the earth too, filling our world with carbon and methane, contributing to global warming.

According to NBC News, about 1/4 of climate change is caused by agriculture and industrial farming.

We can do something about this, choosing to buy local when possible from smaller farms (which also cuts down on the fuel used to get our foods to us) and eating more plant-based meals by choosing to not have meat for every breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Yes, it can be more expensive to buy from local farmers. But if you buy items in season and freeze them for later, it can actually cost less than items purchased from a store. And protein from beans and legumes is not nearly as costly as meat.

After reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast, The Engineer and I made a commitment to eat meat only once a day. Sometimes it’s sausage with breakfast, but mostly we eat animal protein at dinner.

This is not a huge sacrifice, though it’s not quite what Safran Foer is encouraging. His goal is no animal products before dinner, and we still eat a lot of eggs and cheese.

A quick note on eggs: We’re fortunate to live in a county where there are still people who raise chickens, so we buy our eggs locally. In the summer, we get them with our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share, and in the winter, I keep an eye out for roadside signs, occasionally driving to a small roadside stand nearby. They cost anywhere from $3-$5 per dozen, which is substantially more than the ones at Aldi.

However, buying eggs this way means we know they come from birds that are not factory farmed.

Do this for me: Look at a standard sheet of paper. That’s 94 square inches.

Chickens on factory farms live their whole lives in a space that is 67-76 square inches.

It’s sickening, both literally and figuratively.

You see, when animals are raised in such close quarters, they are prone to illness. Because of this, they are treated with antibiotics as a preventive measure, even when they aren’t sick. These antibiotics end up in our food, contributing to resistance in humans.

Ultimately, we pay a high price for cheap eggs (and meat).

Also, local eggs just taste better. The yolks are creamier, bright orange instead of anemic yellow.

The same can be said for meat. It tastes more like, well, meat.

It also smells like meat. The first time I opened a package of local chicken, I was a bit put off. Until I recognized what was happening, I thought something was wrong. Then a sensory memory surfaced, and I realized what I was smelling was chicken. I’d become accustomed to opening packs of chicken that had no smell (probably because the parts had been chlorinated).

These are choices we have made about food, ones we are fortunate to have the option and means to make. And we have made other decisions regarding the amount of plastic and disposable items we use.

My point in writing this post is not to say, “I do this, and you should too.” It would be unethical to try to impose my beliefs on others, and the choices we have made wouldn’t work for everyone.

Nor do I hold myself blameless in what we are doing to our world. I have many wasteful habits (long hot showers and baths being two of them) and could certainly live more lightly on the earth.

All I ask is for each of us to consider the effects our daily decisions have on the world, and to factor those effects into the choices we make.

If we don’t (and honestly, maybe even if we do), we will destroy the only environment in which we can survive. Earth will continue turning, but we’ll no longer be here to enjoy the ride. The saddest part is we’ll be taking many other species with us, species that did nothing to deserve the mass extinction that lurks ahead.

Photo by Pixabay on

The best analogy I can find is the earth is like a horse carrying a rider, until it finally grows tired of the weight and bucks that rider to the ground. The horse runs on, free from encumbrance. The rider is left behind in the dust.