Sixty Things (21-40)

21. Life is short. Don’t hold grudges. (I know this. I’m just not good at doing it.)

22. Live below your means if you can. If you can’t do that, try very hard not to spend money you don’t have.

23. Everyone was someone’s child once.

24. From F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby: “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.'”

I have had the great advantage to be born into a family with two parents in a stable relationship (at least until I was a teen) with a stable income in a nice neighborhood in a town with good schools. Those same parents raised my siblings and I the best way they knew how. I never went hungry or without proper clothing. My family valued education and expected us to at least try to get a college education.

Also, I’m white, and whether or not you agree, I believe that fact means my reality is vastly different from someone who isn’t, even if all the other conditions are the same.

Admitting this doesn’t take away from my achievements. It doesn’t mean The Engineer and I didn’t work hard for what we have, nor does it negate the decisions we have made to keep us safely on the paths we have chosen.

It just means we were born with a few advantages not everyone has. In some cases, these advantages were provided by our parents. Other advantages were simply by luck — being born in a first world country, for example.

Fitgerald’s words ring true for me, and I think it’s important to remember them.

25. Even now, the US is a good place to live. But I do not believe we have any right to claim it’s the only good place to live.

26. Every family has problems. If yours hasn’t had any, you’re either a liar, or haven’t lived long enough.

27. Every country has problems. Some — climate change, COVID-19, income disparity, crime — are fairly universal.

28. I believe the earth will survive long after we have destroyed its capacity to support human life.

29. I also believe we need to do what we can to reverse, or at least stall, climate change and stop destroying our world. Obviously, I’m not claiming to be perfect in my own efforts, but I’m trying.

30. This one may seem like a radical notion, but I think the world was designed for men, mostly because most of our ways of doing things were designed by men, and therefore men are considered the default. But here’s a newsflash: Women aren’t men. We aren’t even smaller men. Our bodies are different so we react differently to drugs. Heart attack symptoms are different for women, and thus frequently go undiagnosed. We are 47% more likely to be seriously injured in a car accident (statistic from Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez) because seatbelts are designed to fit men. (If you’d like to read a good summary of Criado-Perez’s book, go here.)

Don’t even get me started about bathrooms and “potty parity!”

Here’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about: I decided to look up bladders to see if there was a difference in size between women’s and men’s, and look what I found: A diagram entitled “Picture of the Bladder” on WebMD. Spoiler alert: It’s a man.

Our lives differ because women are usually the ones providing unpaid care work including child and elder care. (For many women, this fact and COVID-19 has stretched them to the breaking point.)

Safety is always more of a concern because rape of women is exponentially more common than of men. And if you’re someone who still believes a woman shouldn’t have been in a certain place or shouldn’t have worn that outfit, I’d suggest you look at this exhibition of what women were wearing when they were raped.

This is not whining. It’s merely asking to be included in decisions that affect our lives.

31. Having said that, I believe men can also be hamstrung by society’s traditional expectations.

32. Honey bees are fascinating.

33. If you look hard enough, you’ll find something interesting about almost everyone.

34. It’s good to sometimes shut up and listen — another fact I find hard to act upon.

35. The more things you can do yourself, the better off you are.

36. But sometimes it’s cheaper in time and money to pay someone to do a task.

37. Being educated and being smart are two different things. And both educated people and smart people can act stupid at times.

38. There’s no excuse for willful ignorance.

39. A birdfeeder is a relatively cheap way to add joy to your life.

40. Many times when the world seems overwhelming, it’s because you haven’t eaten.

Sixty Things

I’m coming up on a landmark birthday, and at first I thought I’d share sixty events I’ve seen or experienced.

Photo by fotografierende on

I quickly grew bored with that endeavor. And, besides, who really cares that I am one of millions who lived through 9/11 or the first moonwalk?

Instead, I’m going to share sixty lessons I’ve learned in (nearly) sixty years on this earth.

The caveats are: I may discover I don’t have sixty pieces of wisdom to share, and if I do, you may not care about those either.

That’s okay. No one is forcing you to read my posts. Close the tab, and go back to watching football, reading your email, or whatever else you were doing before my blog flashed up on your screen.

1. It’s important to be kind. Some say it’s more important than being truthful. I don’t think that’s always the case. Sometimes you have to tell the truth, even though it might be painful, which raises the question: Painful for whom? And which will cause more pain in the long run? Which leads to #2.

2. As much as feasible, it’s also important to tell the truth, and think hard about the above questions before choosing not to.

3. If you choose to have children, it’s possible to avoid the mistakes your own parents made because you’ll be too busy making your own. Or maybe that was just me.

4. On the subject of children: Not everyone wants/needs them, and it’s not up to us to tell them otherwise. And, no, we don’t get an exemption from this rule for our children.

5. “Remember then that there is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side. For these, my dear boy, are the answers to what is most important in this world.” — From Jon J. Muths children’s book, The Three Questions, based on a story by Leo Tolstoy

6. While we’re talking children’s books, here are three of my very favorites. All three are lovely stories, and each has something to say about life.
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney — When Alice was young, she wanted to see faraway places and live by the sea when she grew old, just like her grandfather. But her grandfather taught her she must do a third thing. This is the tale of how she did all three, becoming Miss Rumphius, and then the Lupine Lady in the process. How could I not love this book with its librarian heroine?

Miss Rumphius

7. My Great Aunt Arizona by Gloria Houston, illustrated by Susan Condie Lamb — Based on a true story, Arizona is born in a log cabin in the mountains. Like Alice, she also dreamed of visiting faraway places, and though she never made it, she was confident the children she taught would. My father’s family came from the mountains, and my grandmother taught in a one-room schoolhouse. When I read this book, I think of her. I’m also reminded it’s possible to inspire others to achieve what we have not been able to.

My Great-Aunt Arizona

8. The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes — Written in 1944, this book is a lesson in compassion and empathy as taught by a little girl named Wanda Petronski.

The Hundred Dresses

9. Learning your family’s history can enrich your life and can, I believe, teach us resilience. Unfolding the story of Sarah Jane Daugherty Feathers Scott (also this post) taught me that those who came before us also lived in divisive times and sometimes suffered loss almost beyond comprehension, yet still managed to somehow continue living. My family’s history includes other tragedies, as well as some tawdriness, and wonder, all adding to my own sense of who I am and where I came from. This leads to one more children’s book, which I bought for my father after he began to succumb to Alzheimer’s to remind him of where he came from. Written by Cynthia Rylant, one of my favorite children’s authors, who also came from the mountains, it’s called When I Was Young in the Mountains, and the prose reads like poetry, ending with
“When I was young in the mountains,
I never wanted to go to the oceans, and I never wanted to go to the desert. I never wanted
to go anywhere else in the world, for I was
in the mountains. And that was always enough.”

When I Was Young in the Mountains

10. One of my favorite quotes, attributed to Ghandi: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

11. Most of the times, when I didn’t get or achieve the thing I thought I wanted most in the world, it led me to a path that turned out to be better for me in the end.

12. Also, the stupidest and most painful mistake I ever made opened my eyes so I could appreciate it when someone better (The Engineer) came along.

13. That said, nothing is a complete mistake if you learn from it.

14. And, if you can, it’s better to be able to learn from others’ mistakes than to make all of them yourself.

15. Loving someone doesn’t mean you always like their behavior.

16. Family members sometimes make choices you may not agree with. They are still family. Robert Frost said, “Home is the place where, if you have to go there, they have to take you in.” I think that’s probably the best explanation of family I ever read. However, if that family member is addicted and/or abusive, all bets are off.

17. The older you get, the more important it is to try to be open to new experiences.

18. The older you get, the more important it is to learn new things — a language, a skill, a hobby.

19. Being outdoors can soothe, heal, and bring joy and contentment.

Photo by Valiphotos on

20. Exercise can also soothe, heal, bring joy and contentment. If you can exercise outside (#18), even better.

Kiss, Marry, Kill — 2020 Version

By now, you’ve read a variety of posts/newspaper articles/columns on what the end of 2020 means — what we lost through the year and what we may have gained.

I pondered the year’s events, searching for an apparatus to enable me to coherently articulate my feelings about these events.

The game “Kiss, Marry, Kill” seemed to fit the bill. For those unfamiliar with the activity, this is a “social forced choice question and answer game” (definition courtesy of Wikipedia, which refers to the activity by its more profane moniker).

For the record, I’ve never played this before, but the rules are simple so I felt confident I could handle it. Players are given three names, and must say which of the three they will choose to kiss, who they would marry, and who they would kill.

Admittedly, Wikipedia also notes “The game has variously been described as ‘tasteless’ and ‘juvenile,'” and that may well be true. But since many events that occurred in 2020 (especially in the US political realm) could also be described that way, let’s just say I’m not overly troubled by that possibility.

In my version, I have outlined a series of lists of three items that reflect my 2020 and choosing which I would

KISS (continue my flirtation with),

Photo by Anna Shvets on

MARRY (keep as a permanent part of my life),

Photo by cottonbro on

and KILL (get rid of as soon as I can).

Photo by Brett Sayles on

Ready? Let’s go!

Round One: The easy ones.

Options: Masks, Social Distancing, Vaccine

Kiss: Masks — I don’t love them, but will happily use them as long as needed to protect myself and others.

Marry: Vaccines — I’ll take any injection as often as necessary to be able to hug my mom and daughter again.

Kill: Social distancing — Being unable to hug and touch Mom, visit our daughter, and share an occasional meal with friends was difficult. Cutting back on socializing wasn’t hard. Cutting out socializing was difficult.

Round Two: Not too taxing

Options: Budgeting, Spending Money on a Whim, Thrift Shopping

Kiss: Thrift shopping — I’ve always enjoyed it and think I can indulge as long as it’s for something that fits our long-term goals.

Marry: Budgeting — Confession: I’ve never actually lived on a “budget,” sticking to the idea of not spending more than I had and being sure to save some, but with our impending retirement, it’s time to get serious about limiting expenditures. I’m sure our budget will need some adjustments, but at least we’ve begun.

Kill: Spending money on a whim. No explanationi needed.

Round Three: A bit more challenging

Options: Doom Scrolling, Twitter, Instagram

Kiss (goodbye): Twitter — I gave up Facebook after the last election, and temporarily gave up Twitter after this one. That change is now permanent. Less wasted time. Less anger.

Marry: Instagram — Still enjoying taking photos of things that catch my eye, still avoiding selfies.

Kill: Doom scrolling — In the last four years, I’d gotten caught in an endless cycle of checking my Twitter feed and following links on all the horrible things that were/are happening. Although I still regularly read all my email news updates, I no longer feel compelled to share or dwell on it.*

Round Four: COVID Cooking and Eating

Options: Dining Out Because I Can’t Be Bothered to Cook, Carryout, Forcing The Engineer to Pick New Recipes to Try/Plant-based Meals

Kiss: Carryout — We’ve discovered we enjoy picking up carryout to take home or eat outside somewhere. Bonus: It’s cheaper too, even with a good tip!

Marry: Forcing the Engineer to Pick New Recipes to Try/Plant-based Meals — Involving my husband in recipe selection and cooking and choosing to eat meat a maximum of once a day has worked well for us. Bonus: I’ve discovered he’s a pretty good sous chef.

Kill: Dining out Because I Can’t Be Bothered to Cook — Twice now we’ve inventoried our freezers, and each time we’ve been reminded how wasteful it is to eat out as often as we were.

Round Five: Travel

Options: Camping, No Long Trips/International Travel, Short Trips

Kiss: Short trips — Occasionally escaping the walls of our home have provided nice breaks. These little getaways have mostly been camping, which leads us to the next choice.

Marry: Camping — This year, we got a great deal on a huge tent, which made our camping living space a lot more roomy. We also invested in a Kelly Kettle and a Dutch Oven, making our cooking results more interesting, if not more delicious.

Kill: No Long Trips/International Travel — Oshkosh and our planned trip to France were cancelled or delayed. I greatly look forward to when we can travel further afield once more.

Round Six: Exercise

Options: Hiking/Walking/Cycling, Short Dumbbell Workouts, Exercise Classes

Kiss: Short Dumbbell Workouts — A friend and I made a pact to do short arm workouts three times a week, and we’ve followed through for the most part. I’d like to add some short yoga routines to my efforts, but hey, no promises.

Marry: Hiking/Walking/Cycling — In past years, I’ve walked regularly with a friend, and The Engineer and I have cycled during warm weather. This year, we’ve added hiking during the colder weather.

Kill: Exercise classes — I found I do just fine without them.

Round Seven: Odds and Ends

Options: Homemade Gifts, Drinking/making Mead, Big Christmas Spending

Kiss: Homemade Gifts — As readers know, I made a lot of crochet stars to attach to include with Christmas cards and gifts. I hope to continue this practice.

Marry: Drinking/making Mead — In 2019, we invested in a meadery in Nashville and began exploring the world of “honey wine.” After tasting Darling Daughter’s Boyfriend’s first attempt at making the drink, Santa Kym chose to bring us supplies to do the same. Stay tuned for details on our efforts.

*Sadly, as I write this, armed protestors are swarming the capitol of our nation’s capital because the man who is supposed to be leading our country has encouraged them and is now refusing to ask the people to go home. No doom scrolling was required to see this.

I’m scared about what this means for our country and appalled and ashamed of my fellow citizens.

A Christmas Tradition I Wish We Shared with the Brits

Many British companies, especially those in the retail segment, have a tradition of creating special holiday commercials.

Some of them are rather wonderful.

Now, my husband, The Engineer, will tell you English adverts are better overall, and I tend to agree with him, though this certainly doesn’t mean there are no stupid ones. However, for the most part, British marketing departments appear to give their customers credit for at least a modicum of intelligence.

And when it comes to Christmas … well, see for yourself.

This Christmas will likely be one we remember for a long time to come. I’m sharing these to remind us to make sure some of those memories are happy ones.

Wherever you are and however you plan to celebrate, know that I wish you and yours a very happy Christmas. And if you don’t celebrate Christmas, perhaps you can celebrate the dark nights of winter growing shorter (at least in the northern hemisphere 🌞) now the solstice is behind us.

Let me know which ad is your favorite.

On earth, peace and goodwill to all

Comfort Cooking for a Pandemic Winter: Part 9 – Misc.

And, so we come to the end of my Pandemic recipe sharing. I wish you a happy Christmas and healthy New Year, and hope you’ve found a new favorite recipe or two to keep you through the winter.

Baked Oatmeal Slow Cooker Steel Cut Oatmeal
2-1/2 cups old fashioned oats (not quick cooking)
1 cup milk
1/2 cup oil
1 egg
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
Mix all ingredients and pour into a greased 9×9 pan or round casserole dish. Bake uncovered at 350 for 30-40 min. Serve warm with milk and fresh or dried fruit.
This recipe is from a friend who got it from her college roommate who got it from her favorite hometown restaurant in Hershey, Pennsylvania. I make a batch for the fridge, warming it in the microwave for a hot weekday breakfast.

Slow Cooker Steel Cut Oatmeal
2 cups steel cut oatmeal 
6 cups water
2 cups milk
2 tbsp butter
2-3 apples (peeled and chopped, optional, might also use raisins or other dried fruit, or none)
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp Kosher salt
1 tbsp cinnamon
2-3 star anise (optional)
Put all ingredients in a slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours. This type of oats has a 4:1 liquid to oats ration, so feel free to sub other liquids (oat milk, soy milk, any type of nut milk, water). Can also be cooked on the stove by bringing to a boil and simmering for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t stick. 
I recently made this, adding some whey protein to up the staying power, which meant adding a bit more liquid. I’ve also made this for work breakfasts, served buffet style with coconut flakes, brown sugar, maple syrup, dried fruit, jams, yogurt, fresh fruit. 
Bob’s Red Mill has a great explanation of the different types of oats. 

Photo by Taryn Elliott on

Hot Fudge Sauce
Melt 1/3 cup shortening (substitute butter or ghee?) and 4 squares baking chocolate in a double boiler. Add 3 cups sugar, 1 can sweetened condensed milk, dash of salt and 1 tsp vanilla.
Although this recipe is handwritten in my mom’s writing, it says it’s from her mother, Martha Irene Sholley Armstrong. I remember Mom making this to pour over vanilla ice cream. Delicious, and no wonder — all that sugar!

Hot Spicy Toasted Nuts
I make these every year for Christmas, using a mix of pecans and walnuts. Once cool, the nuts can be stored in a tin for over a week, and I often packaged them in baking cups wrapped with plastic wrap and tied with a ribbon or yarn. The sweet heat of these treats is highly addictive. 

Comfort Cooking for a Pandemic Winter: Part 8 — Sweets, cont’d.

It’s time to bake, and my goodness there are some good recipes here! Hopscotch Cookies, Pavlova, Peanut Butter Cookies, Potato (you read that right!) Candy, Seven Layer Bars, Rum Balls … where do you begin?

Note for anyone unfamiliar with American recipes: Brown sugar is always measured by packing it into the measure so that when you add it to the recipe, it still holds the shape of the measuring container.

Honeycomb Candy
This is a fun one. Would be great to make with kids, though you’d need to watch closely because the syrup gets very hot. Unfortunately, I discovered this recipe long after our little chick had fledged, but I had fun making it anyway. Very similar to the Cadbury Crunchie Bars sold in the UK. 

Hopscotch Cookies (No Bake)
1 cup peanut butter
1-12 oz bag butterscotch chips
6 oz chow mein noodles
2 cups mini marshmallows
Melt peanut butter and butterscotch chips. Add noodles and marshmallows. Drop by spoonfuls on waxed paper. Cool completely.
Lori, one of my college roommates, used to make these. I remember her making them once, then going to class and leaving a note that said, “Save me one.” Turned out she didn’t mean that literally :-*, and I ended up buying the ingredients and making another batch for her to make up for being such a glutton. 

Impossible Pie
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
4 eggs
2 cups milk
1 cup coconut flakes
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
Place all ingredients in blender and blend well. Pour into a greased 10” pie pan. Bake 350 F, 40-45 min. Coconut comes to top and browns, Center is soft and slight crust forms.
This must be another one of my bridal shower recipes. It seems to have my two favorite traits in a recipe — simple and delicious — and I’m wondering now if I’ve ever made it.

Lemon Zucchini Cookies
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp or more grated lemon peel
1 cup shredded, unpeeled zucchini
1 cup chopped walnuts
Stir together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light. Beat in egg and lemon peel until fluffy. At low speed, or with a spatula, stir in the flour mixture until smooth. Stir in zucchini and walnuts. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls on greased cookie sheets. Bake in preheated 375 F oven until very lightly browned. (Or, if you are lazy, like me, spread on a jelly roll pan and bake 20-25 min.) While warm, drizzle with Lemon Frost and cool on racks.  Makes around 6 doz. (If baking as bars, drizzle, cool, and then cut.)
Note on top of emailed recipe: 
“Hi Kym,
Here’s the zucchini recipe I mentioned. 
It’s summer and the zucchini are threatening once again to take over the world!! Here’s an old recipe from a magazine over 30 years ago for a delicate cooke that will use up that last cup of shredded zucchini.”
And at the bottom, as her signature line, it says “I don’t want to see the kids be grown up. I want to see the grownups be more like kids.” — Woody Guthrie
I include all of this because this recipe is from my friend Pat, who died of ovarian cancer several years ago. I miss her and coming across this emailed recipe brought her back for a moment. 

Marshmallow Treats 
This is another classic “straight from the manufacturer” recipe, but still a good one. 

Mince Pies
My recipe is to order these from here or World Market. Or go to World Market and buy them. I like to put them in the oven for a little while, so I can say I baked them. 🙂

Mincemeat Squares
1-3/4 cup rolled oats
1-3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup melted butter
1-1/2 cup mincemeat
Place baking soda and flour in a blow and mix, then add in brown sugar and oats. Add butter and mix until crumbly. Put half the mixture in a square pan, and spread evenly with mincemeat. Place remainder of crumble on top and pack firmly.
Bake at 350 F for 40 min. Cool and cut into bars. 
Because I’m too lazy to actually make mince pies, I make these. 

Beat together until frothy, 3 egg whites, 1/4 tsp cream of tartar. Gradually beat in a little at a time, 1 cup sugar. Beat until very stiff and glossy. If desired, tint with food coloring. Spread on parchment paper on a baking sheet in a circle, heart, or whatever shape desired. May also make 8 individual shells by dropping 1/3 cup meringue on paper on baking sheet and shaping with the back of a spoon. Bake at 275 F (very slow oven) for 60 min. Turn off oven and leave in until cool. 
Fill with ice cream or fruit. Top with whipped cream if desired. Serves 8-10. Note: Meringue shells (cooled) may be loosely wrapped in wax paper and stored in a cupboard for several days. Do not place in an airtight container.
This recipe is actually called “Meringue Torte” and it comes from an old Betty Crocker cookbook I had from my mother. When I replaced the cookbook, I pulled out the recipes I liked, and this was one of them. I call it “Pavlova” because that’s what they called it in Australia, and I just like the way it sounds. The cookbook was from the fifties, and each recipe talks about the person who made it — Mrs. L. Norwood Smith and Miss Esoline Beauregard of Fort Lauderdale. 
The description for this recipe says, “A charming Minneapolis hostess has a special way of serving meringues at her delightful luncheon parties. She bakes little rounding handles of meringue to use with individual meringue shells (baked on the same paper) … then fashions meringue baskets of ice cream and fruit for individual servings.”
Sounds like a completely different world, doesn’t it?

Peanut Butter Cookies
1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup shortening (Since I no longer use shortening, I will use all butter next time I make these)
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
2 eggs, well-beaten
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
Cream butter (and shortening if you are using it); add sugars, cream again. Add eggs, peanut butter and vanilla. Sift rest of the ingredients and add to creamed mixture. Make small balls (walnut size) on a cookie sheet. Flatten with fork dipped in sugar. Bake 350 F for 12 min.
I love these cookies, the only peanut butter cookie recipe I’ll ever make. 

Potato Candy
Yes, it sounds weird, but it’s tasty, cheap, and super sweet. I’ve read potato candy has its roots in Irish cooking, and I’ve read it was invented in the southern U.S. during the depression. My German-descended grandmother made it, so I’ve linked to recipe that most approximates hers.
A few warnings: 
Use a small potato. You will be stunned how far it goes. 
The mixture will become watery, but keep adding powdered sugar to it until it thickens to a  dough you can roll. If it gets too dry, you can add a little milk.
My mom always put the peanut butter on, then rolled it like a jelly roll, and then rolled the jelly roll shape flat, spread with more peanut butter, and re-rolled into a jelly roll shape before slicing. 
Get creative! Search the Internet for variations. I’ve seen potato candy recipes with coconut, chocolate, and nuts. 

Salted Chocolate Toffee Pretzel Bark 
My friend Judy, who lives in IL, made this, and when I asked for the recipe, she said, “OK, but you have to promise not to over-think it. Just follow the directions and keep it simple.”  I did, and she’s right. Click through, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s simple to make and addictive so I only make it when I can give most of it away. It’s similar to graham cracker toffee, but I like the saltiness the pretzels add.

Seven Layer Bars 
1/2 cup (one stick) butter
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 cup shredded coconut
1-6 oz pkg semi sweet chocolate chips
1-6  oz pkg butterscotch morsels
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup chopped nuts
Put butter in 9”x13” pan in oven while preheating to 350 F. Remove pan once butter is melted. Add ingredients in order above in layers. Press nuts lightly in place. Bake 25-30 min. Cool before cutting into bars. Freezes nicely.
Also sometimes called “Magic Cookie Bars,” this is my Aunt Eleanor’s version of the recipe. It doesn’t get much easier, and this recipe is very difficult to mess up. In fact, for years, I made it with 12 oz bags of both the chocolate and the butterscotch, and it was fine, though I have to admit the 6 oz version is slightly less tooth-rotting. 

Sherry/Brandy/Rum Balls
This is another Phyllis recipe and another email recipe (originally sent to Darling Daughter), which I am transcribing exactly as it is written so you can get the full flavor of her personality. 

Here we go. Can’t remember which your grandmother used at my house — possibly a combination???
2 cup vanilla wafers
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut (don’t remember this item — but …)
2-1/2 cup conf sugar (divide — see below)
2 tbsp light corn syrup
1/3 cup rum 
Crumb wafers and combine in bowl with above ingredients EXCEPT use 1 cup conf sugar. Mix well. Shape into balls and roll into rest of conf sugar.

Sherry or Brandy balls
2 (7-1/4 oz) packages vanilla wafers — finely crushed
1/2 cup honey
3/4 cup sherry (or brandy — my preference)
4 cups finely ground walnuts
granulated sugar (We used powdered sugar, Helen)
Combine wafer crumbs, honey, sherry, walnuts — mix well. Shape into round balls/roll in sugar. Store in metal can or cookie jar. Flavor improves with age. 

Brandy Balls
Mix 2-1/2 cups vanilla cookie crumbs, 1 cup sifted powdered sugar; 2 tbsp cocoa, 1/4 cup brandy, 1 cup finely chopped walnuts, 3 tbsp corn syrup. Process as above. 
“YUM! Think I, too, will run out and get ingredients. Love, Phyllis”

Sugar Cookies 
1/2 cup butter + 1/2 cup shortening (or all butter)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
2-1/2 cup flour
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp maple flavoring
Cream butter (and shortening if using). Add sugar, cream again. Add egg and vanilla. Beat thoroughly. Sift dry ingredients. Add to mixture. Roll into 1” balls, 2” apart. Flatten with glass with clean, dampened dish towel around it that has been dipped in sugar. (May use colored sugar for a seasonal touch.). Bake 350 F, 10-15 min until lightly browned. 
Another family recipe.

Swedish Cookies
Cream 1/2 pound butter (1 cup, 2 sticks), 1/2 cup powdered sugar, 1/4 tsp salt, 1-3/4 cup flour, sifted, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 cup ground nuts. 
It’s a stiff mixture. May have to mix by hand like pie dough. Drop from a teaspoon onto cookie sheet. Bake 20 min at 350 F. While still warm, shake in a paper bag with powdered sugar. Makes 5 doz. 
I’ve seen similar cookies called “Russian Teacakes,” “Mexican Wedding Cookies,” or “Snowballs,” but none have ever tasted quite as good as my mom’s “Swedish Cookies.” An English friend of ours once called them “moreish.”

Holiday Humor

When I watch these commercials, I often wonder what type of person actually surprises another with a vehicle. And when I think about how I would react to such a gift, I must say this Saturday Night Live sketch comes pretty close (if you subtract the extramarital flirting).

Comfort Cooking for a Pandemic Winter: Part 7 — Sweets

This post includes a lot of pie recipes. I don’t make pies, probably because I’m scarred for life from a comment a Home Economics teacher once made about my crust. 😥 However, pies loom large in my family recipes so I’ve included theses heirloom recipes in the hope that someone will perhaps enjoy them.

Aunt Barb’s Flaky Pie Crust
2-2/3 cup flour
2 tsp salt
1 cup Crisco
1/2 cup ice water
Measure flour and salt into a bowl. With two table knives, cut Crisco into flour until the size of peas. Add ice water. Mix just until dough holds together. Roll onto floured board.
I took four years of Home Economics in High School (by choice) and generally got A’s on every project. Every project, that is, except pie-making. One year, my teacher actually held up our kitchen’s pie as a bad example. Clearly, I missed out on Aunt Barb’s crust-making skill, which she kindly tried to share at my bridal shower.

Aunt Ligita’s Latvian Apple Cake by Alexandra Cohen.
This is a super easy delicious apple confection that is sure to delight the entire family and all of your friends. 
3 Granny Smith apples, cored, peeled and sliced 1 tsp lemon juice
2 TBSP sugar
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
6 oz. margarine
1 cup flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
sugar for sprinkling 
Generously grease a 10­inch pie pan. Toss the apple slices in a bowl with the lemon juice, 2 TBSP sugar and the cinnamon. Spread them evenly in the pie pan. Melt the margarine over medium heat. Stir 3/4 cup of sugar into the melted margarine. Gently stir the flour and egg into the mixture as well. Pour and spread this mixture evenly over the apples covering all. Then sprinkle the top with 1 TBSP sugar. Bake in a 350F degree oven for about 40 minutes. Serves at least 6. 
Continuing with the “Aunt” theme, I have to admit I don’t know Alexandra Cohen, and I certainly don’t know her Aunt Ligita. I found this recipe on the Internet several years ago. It’s more like a cobbler than a cake, but delicious just the same. I’ve copied the recipe as I  originally cut and pasted, but I could only find variations online, not the original. So, whoever and wherever you are, Alexandra, thank you for sharing.

Best Cheese Cake (pie) Ever (It really is!)
1-1/3 cup fine graham crackers
1/4 cup butter
9 oz cream cheese (8 oz is ok)
2 beaten eggs
1 pt sour cream (16 oz)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Let cheese and eggs come to room temperature. Mix crumbs and butter well with hands and press on bottom and sides of 9” pie pan. Bake in moderate oven (350 F) for 5 min. Cream cheese well. Gradually beat in 1/2 cup sugar. Add eggs and 1/2 tsp vanilla. Pour into prepared pan. Bake in moderate oven (325 F), 20 min or until firm. Top with sour cream topping or canned cherry or blueberry pie filling. 
Sour Cream topping: Mix sour cream, 1/2 tsp vanilla, 5 tbsp sugar, and cinnamon. Spread on pie. Return to oven and bake 5 min. Chill and serve. 
This is my Mom’s recipe, which was demanded by my cousins for every family gathering from the yearly reunion to the Christmas party. 

Melt 3/4 cup margarine and 3 oz (squares) unsweetened or semi sweet chocolate. Let cool. Add 1-1/2 cup sugar, 3/4 cup applesauce, 3 eggs, 1-1/2 cup flour, 1/3 tsp baking soda, 3/4 cup walnuts, 1-1/2 tsp vanilla, 1/2 tsp salt, 3/4 tsp baking powder. Spread on greased cookie sheet (with sides, a jelly roll pan). Bake at 350 F, 20-25 min. Ice while still warm. 
Icing: Melt 2 oz (squares) chocolate (notes say “one is enough”), 3 tbsp margarine (butter), Add powdered (confectioner’s) sugar and cold coffee until desired consistency. Add 1 tsp. vanilla.
When I was growing up, we always used this recipe — originally from a church friend, Eula — for brownies. The coffee adds a hint of mocha to the flavor profile.

Chocolate Chip Cookies #1 
1/2 cup shortening (butter)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 egg, well-beaten
1 cup plus 2 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped nuts
3/4 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 F. Cream shortening, sugars and vanilla until light and fluffy. Fold in well-beaten egg and beat entire mixture. Sift together flour, soda, and salt. Add sifted dry ingredients to creamed mixture, and stir in nuts and chips. Mix thoroughly. Drop by small spoonfuls onto a greased baking sheet. Yield: 4 doz. Bake 10 min, turning pan after five. This recipe is from Home Ec class, probably middle school because it’s mimeographed — not Xeroxed, not dot matrix or laser printed, mimeographed! It also has names next to the ingredients and directions, dividing the work between me, Lou, Carla, and Jackie. Unfortunately, I have no recollection of these girls whatsoever. On the bright side, I do have the recipe. 🙂

Chocolate Chip Cookies #2
2-1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup butter
2 eggs
1-12 oz pkg semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 cup nuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 375 F. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt. In a large bowl, cream butter, sugars, and vanilla. Add eggs. Gradually add flour mixture and mix well. Stir in morsels and nuts (if using). Drop by spoonfuls onto cookie sheets and bake 8-10 minutes. Yield: 100 2” cookies.
Or spread into greased 15”x10”x1” pan. Bake 20-25 min. Let cool and cut into 35 2” squares. 
This is the classic “Nestle’s Original Toll House Cookie” recipe from the back of the bag.  

Cinnamon Cheesecake
2 pkg refrigerated crescent rolls
1 cup sugar
2-8 oz. packages cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla
Topping: 1/2 cup melted butter, 1/3 cup sugar, 3 tsp cinnamon
Spread one package of rolls in bottom of 9”x13” pa. Mix cream cheese with 1 cup sugar and vanilla until creamy. Spread over rolls, then spread second package of rolls over the mixture. Add sugar and cinnamon to melted butter and pour over pan of cheesecake. Bake at 350 F for 30 min. 
Back when we had a rental property, I got this from one of our tenants. It looks complicated and tastes delicious, but is super easy and fast to make. 

Easy English Toffee
1-1/2 cups walnuts, chopped
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
10 tbsp butter (do not use margarine)
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Sprinkle walnuts in the bottom of a 9” round cake tin. Combine sugar and butter in saucepan. Cook and stir until mixture reaches 290 F on a candy thermometer, stirring the toffee constantly while melting the brown sugar and butter. Remove melted toffee from the heat and cool slightly (about 5 min). Pour over walnuts and spread evenly. Immediately sprinkle with chocolate chips. Let the chips melt from the toffee’s heat, then gently spread the chocolate over the top of the hardening candy. If desired, sprinkle a few more chopped or ground walnuts on top of the chocolate while still warm. Cool at room temperature until hard (2 hours minimum), then break into pieces and store in an airtight container. 

Fantasy Fudge 
3 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter
2/3 cup evaporated (not sweetened, condensed) milk
1 tsp vanilla
1-12 oz pkg semi sweet chocolate chips
1-7 oz jar marshmallow cream
1 cup chopped nuts (optional, any kind)
Melt butter, sugar, and condensed milk, and bring to full boil stirring constantly. Boil 5 min over med heat or until candy thermometer reaches 234 F, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Remove from heat. Stir in chocolate until melted and add remaining ingredients, mixing until blended. Pour into a 9”x9” or 13”x9” pan. Cool at room temperature and cut into squares.
Fudge is so easy (and quick!). (At least, this recipe is.)  And yet, whenever you share it, the recipients always seem so excited, though it’s straight off the marshmallow cream jar. I’ve been making this recipe for Christmas every year, and it’s so much easier than cookies. 

Famous Oatmeal Cookies 
Click through for a classic, straight from the Quaker Oats website. I made them a lot in college at The University of Akron, which is appropriate because Ferdinand Schumacher the German Mills American Cereal Company — which eventually evolved into Quaker —  in Akron in 1850. Oatmeal has some fiber, and if you add raisins or nuts, you can almost convince yourself that a cookie or two is really a healthy snack. 

Grandma’s Strawberry Pie
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
Bring to boil. Mix 3-1/2 tbsp corn starch, 3 tbsp jello, 3/4 cup water, 1/4 tsp salt. Add all this to the above and cook slowly until mixture clears. Remove from heat. Add red food coloring and 1 tbsp lemon juice. Crush a few berries and place in the bottom of baked pie shell. Pour cooled glaze over enough berries for shell. Cool. Top with whipping cream or Cool Whip. 
Grandma Armstrong (my mother’s mom) gave me these pie recipes for my bridal shower. I’m putting them down for posterity, though as yet, I’ve not tried them. Perhaps it’s time to give pies a chance. 

Grandma’s Pecan Custard Pie
2 eggs
1/2 cup W Karo Syrup (Karo Syrup is corn syrup, I think the W maybe means white or light corn syrup?)
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp butter
dash salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup pecans
6 tbsp milk
Mix well. Pour into an unbaked pie shell. Bake 425 F until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 45 min or longer. 

Great-Aunt Anne’s Rice Pudding
This recipe is from author Kristan Higgins’s blog, and though she’s not British, it’s the sort of dish I think of when I hear the English expression “stodgy pudding.” Click through for a warm and comforting dessert. Warning: You’ll need lots of milk on hand. It takes more than 2 quarts.

Scrappy Christmas

While I’m not really part of the “Scrap Happy” tradition started by my friend Kate and her friends, I felt I could offer another post on the subject — or at least a continuation of the first.

Since that post, I’ve continued to crochet stars as if they were needed to populate the night sky.

I’ve made at least seventy and am still going strong.

Some have gone to work with me, as thank yous to customers who donate to our staff fund for a local charity for families in need. Some have gone in Christmas cards and on presents. Some will go to my mom to give to her caregivers and friends at her facility. And some have gone on our tree.

It’s not our usual tree. But it’s going to be a weird Christmas for everyone, and things are no different here. Darling Daughter and I have not yet decided if it’s a good idea for her and Boyfriend to come home for the holiday. Somehow dragging the tree and all its ornaments down from the loft and decorating it seemed, not a waste of time exactly, but sort of superfluous.

I wanted something simpler, and chose to decorate the Norfolk Pine I’ve been growing for more years than I can remember.

I also strung popcorn for garland. (Note on stringing popcorn: After I’d already started stringing, I read it’s best to let the popcorn sit for a day or two so it doesn’t crumble so easily. This would probably make it easier. Still, the squirrels are enjoying the scraps, so that’s a good thing.)

I’ll admit I didn’t envision the tree turning out quite so Charlie Brownish. But that’s okay. I’m going to buy more lights. Twinkle lights make everything look better. (The Brits call them “fairy lights,” I think, which I prefer. I like the hint of magic in the phrase.)

In other scrappy news, three more lap rug/afghans went to my mom’s place for the residents.

One could also make an argument that my “Comfort Cooking for a Pandemic Winter” is also scrappy. Heaven knows the recipes came from many scraps of paper stuck in many cookbooks in our cupboards.

And now, though I’ve shared it many times before, I feel compelled to (once again) share the best Christmas song ever. I know you are probably saying, “Kym, that’s your opinion,” but I disagree.

It is the best Christmas song ever.