Hey, y’all. I’m trying to bake around workmen in my kitchen and I’ve got way to much on my mind. My cousin’s wife underwent her second surgery this morning continuing her battle with cancer. Prayers, please. Also, I learned earlier today that a dear, dear friend from our first college days suffered a major heart attack and is having major bypass and open heart surgery. Both fabulous women are too young and healthy for this. So I bake. I listen to comfort music which, today, is Puerto Rican salsa, bomba and plena. My mind wanders as I murmur the lyrics to the song streaming, one of my favorite songs ever, “En Mi Viejo San Juan”, In My Old San Juan. It’s a terribly sad song but fits my mood. I reassure myself with drifting thoughts of old neighbors who lived on my grandparent’s street close to the University of Puerto Rico. Sonia, who lives catty-corner across the street, and hosted us for finger sandwiches and champagne. Those were lovely afternoons spent in her gorgeous Spanish style villa laughing, gossiping and sharing our plans for the future. Dona Angelita and Don Juan Orta lived next door to us and had Cynthia and me over for dinner often. They were okay but the person in their household I adored was Tata, the housekeeper who was more like a servant considering the way they treated her. I loved Tata!
She told me a story of a typical idyllic Caribbean morning which found her sweeping the Orta’s back courtyard, birds were singing and lemon yellow alamandas were in full bloom, rambling up the back wall of the cottage where she lived… she was lost in her thoughts. Out of the blue she heard a small but happy voice from above singing and calling out, “Hiiiiii! Hiiiiii! Hiiiii!”. Tata looked up to the second floor of our house and told me she saw two fat little hands stuck out of the window waving madly at her. It was me. In my crib. And that’s when we fell in love. She was the sweetest thing. She always made certain I was included when all the little girls played fairies and witches. When serving at the table, Tata always took care not to put any beans on my rice…just sauce and the only way I would eat them. Her hugs were strong but gentle and I liked it when she sat down and allowed me to climb in her lap. Today that gives me quiet comfort. It’ll all be okay. Everything will work out. Joy comes in the morning.
This is a super easy breakfast cake that is truly forgiving. Fresh or frozen blueberries may be used. If y’all haven’t tried Costco brand frozen blueberries you’re in for a treat. They’re harvested in Canada and they’re just like the blueberries you find in Maine… small, juicy nuggets bursting with fresh flavor.
Early mornings at my grandparent’s house in Puerto Rico were extraordinarily beguiling and captivating. My older sister, Cynthia, and I awoke every morning in the soft, white-cloud canopy of mosquito nets hung from hooks embedded in lofty ceilings. In the drowsy world of being not quite awake, as we stirred, not yet aware of sights and sounds, we felt like brides…or princesses. As we lay in our beds savoring the last vestiges of morning coolness, we took pleasure in the cooing of doves outside our windows. The gentle swish, swish, swish of slippers against old floor tiles signaled the house was coming to life and someone, thank you God!, was making coffee. Even as little girls we always drank coffee. Everyone did. I remember my mother laughing as she told me the story of my Tio Roberto and coffee. Mama said my uncle was a young boy of maybe five or six years old when my grandfather found him somewhat wistful and down in the mouth. Tio Roberto was my grandfather’s favorite boy and couldn’t bear to see him unhappy. “Mi nene, pero que te pasa”? “My son, what’s wrong?” In a low voice my uncle answered, “Aye, Papa! I hate school!” “But why?”, asked my grandfather. Tio Roberto answered, “I miss my 10:00 cafe con leche.” That cracks me up every time I think about it. His father replied, “Well, you don’t have to go to school. Stay home and have your cafecito as long as you want.” Can you imagine saying that to your kindergartener? And so my uncle did. Everyday my mother, aunts and uncles would pile into the coach to be driven to school while my Tio Roberto stayed home…alone…with no one to play with. No brothers to go fishing or ride together. No brothers to climb trees with or sisters to tease. That had to be hell. That lasted two or three days, he gave up his mid-morning coffee and back to school he happily went.
Breakfast in Puerto Rico was always modest and light. Don’t get me wrong, it was always enjoyable but never heavy with pancakes and meat and cheesy casseroles. Breakfast typically consisted of strong Puerto Rican coffee laced with steamed whole milk and a generous spoonful of island sugar. Oh, but it was good! Alongside jugs of ice-cold water, one at each end of the table, were baskets of crackers to be eaten with a little local cheese or butter. And there was, without fail, fresh fruit. Luscious wheels of deep, coral-red papaya or sweet, golden pineapple beautifully carved and laid out on platters would complete the meal. But if we were really lucky we would be served guava paste or guava spread. Guava and cream cheese spread is sublime offered firm and cold from the refrigerator or warm and runny having been freshly made. These days it’s a beautiful addition not only at breakfast or brunch but also at cocktail hour. The addition of the cream cheese and sour cream in the recipe lends the spread the perfect balance of sweet and savory. It’s beautiful at a shower, picnic or pool party and lasts forever covered in the refrigerator. Here in Florida guava paste may be found on the bread aisle at Winn-Dixie and on the canned fruit aisle at Publix. If you can’t find it just ask. And last, I buy the guava paste cryovaced in block form made by Goya. Buen provecho!
I have been preparing Apple Pie Oatmeal for my son, James, for 24 years. My 94-year old father requested some the other day so I made up a huge batch, warm and fragrant with cinnamon, apples and vanilla. I packaged them up in individual portions and popped them in his freezer ready to be heated in the microwave and enjoyed for breakfast or a nutritious snack. I made an even bigger batch for my niece, Meg, and her brother, Christopher, as part of their Christmas presents. Both are students at University of Florida, living off campus in apartments and probably starving all the time. While chopping and stirring James passed through the kitchen and asked, “What ‘cha makin’, Mama? Sure smells good!” “Why, apple pie oatmeal, son. Here, have a taste.” He had always loved it and asked if I would make some for him to take to his office. Please! Why would I ever stop now? I started making this when he was a baby and he loved it from the first bite. When he could feed himself I pulled a chair up to his high chair and read to him, often from the A. A. Milne boxed set of “The World of Christopher Robin” and “The World of Pooh” that Mama gave me when I was just a little girl. Never leaving our little house in Victoria Park, we traveled to London often, sometimes India and occasionally Spain. Enjoying his oatmeal and sneaking sips of my cafe con leche, James loved it all! We read poems of naughty children and grumpy kings, of traveling down the Amazon and the glory of butter. We laughed at runaway balloons and big, red india-rubber balls. And always, always delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red). Here’s to you, boy!
“FORGIVEN” by A. A. Milne
I found a little beetle, so that Beetle was his name, And I called him Alexander and he answered just the same. I put him in a match-box, and I kept him all the day…………………………………………………………………………….. And Nanny let my beetle out……………………………………………………………………. Yes, Nanny let my beetle out…………………………………………………………………….. She went and let my beetle out……………………………………………………………….. And Beetle ran away.
This is an incredibly healthful yet mouth-watering recipe. I use only organic apples, organic oats and almond milk instead of cow’s. For sweetening I use stevia and a bit of honey to cut any bitterness the stevia may impart but all of these ingredients may be substituted for conventional products. I freeze individual portions in baggies, just make certain all the air is squeezed out of the plastic bag, then transfer the oatmeal to a microwave safe plastic bowl to defrost overnight in the refrigerator. Sometimes I add a cap of almond milk to the defrosted oatmeal to thin it out a bit. I don’t peel the apples but feel free if you don’t care for the peel. I love this recipe…I even like it cold. I mean, really…it’s apple pie!
Last week we had a monstrous hurricane bearing down on us and after getting the house and yard storm ready all I could think of was the enormous amount of beautiful dolphin, wild caught shrimp, grass-fed beef and organic chicken lounging in my freezer. We lose power in our house about the time a storm picks up off the coast of Africa. It takes nothing for us to lose power. I hate it. A car can drive by and all of a sudden, flicker-flicker, and flat silence descends. No sound, no light, no cooling ceiling fans and no AC. The worst! And then, of course, things start thawing and dripping in my freezer. Not knowing if we would get a direct hit from Hurricane Matthew, and I thank God everyday that we did not, I figured I’d cook up a large portion of my frozen treasures and we would eat like kings for a few days. Here in south Florida we are blessed with a type of shrimp called Key West Pinks, so sweet, succulent and, yes, pink. And although their season peaks in June, they’re still quite easy to find in seafood markets. I quickly steamed a few pounds in a spicy lemony broth and set them aside for us to enjoy cold with cocktail sauce. I had all kinds of food items in my refrigerator that I was loath to toss. Bacon, peppers, milk, cream, butter, cheese…what’s a girl to do?
Well, I’ll tell you what this girl did. I prepared for dinner the most luxurious, creamy dish of Shrimp and Grits this side of heaven. I always have grits on hand, good grits. Slow cooking, stone ground grits. Not that highly processed, quick or instant, grocery store mess. All watery and bland. No. I like coarsely ground grits, loaded with texture and full of corn flavor that easily stand alone on their own merit. In fact, these are the grits you almost want to eat without anything on top but then I think of the sweet Pinks. I daydream of the bacon seasoned sauce puddling on top of creamy, white grits and I’m back on board. Oh, and by the way, Trader Joe’s store brand grits are really super if you don’t have a grist mill down the street. The shrimp will be gone in two seconds flat but you’ll probably have some grits left over. It can be gently warmed again the following day and eaten as is with nothing added but a quick grind of black pepper. The grits will take about 30 minutes to prepare so don’t start cooking your shrimp until the grits are almost done. If the grits get too thick it can be thinned out with a little warmed milk, half and half or cream. Pork is usually included in the shrimp mixture. Bacon, andouille sausage and Tasso are typically put into service. My first choice is bacon as its saltiness really brings out the sweetness of the shrimp. Andouille is good but I find its taste completely overwhelms the delicate flavors of both the shrimp and grits. Tasso is wonderful but it’s also strong plus can be difficult to find. This, Gentle Reader, is comfort food at its best. As there is such a difference in wild caught shrimp versus farmed so is there a vast difference in stone ground grits as opposed to highly processed, quick or instant. Make the effort to find wild caught shrimp and stone ground grits. You’ll be positively delighted at the difference they make in your dishes. I hope you enjoy these two recipes as much as my entire family does. They’ll do ya proud!
Okay, so I guess I slowly climbed on the pumpkin band wagon. It’s not the pumpkin flavored coffees at Starbucks. I can’t stand flavors in my morning coffee…too much like candy and certainly not enough kick. Nor is it the stand of cinnamon brooms whose scent assaults my olfactory system like a WWII blitzkrieg the moment I step foot in Publix. No. It was something as simple as two girl’s weekends, both with girls from college, one was sorority sisters and the other girls that I love. It got me to thinking about college days. And Fall. I went to Mercer University in Macon, Georgia where we had seasons. That’s where I saw leaves change color for the first time. I thought how I walked across the beautiful southern campus; orange, yellow and red leaves bouncing and spinning on gusts of wind as if doing cartwheels. Kind of like sorority sister Anne B. who, drunk and making her way across campus late one night, fell on her face in the middle of a cart-wheel and knocked out her big front tooth. The whole thing. Yup. Serves her right, though. She was never particularly nice to me plus she had borrowed a very expensive pair of gold earrings and when she finally returned them to me one had been completely destroyed. Apparently she had stepped on it. But she was very, very sorry. Anyway, where ever she is, she’s running around with a fake front tooth. Those Autumn nights were chilly for us Florida girls. In my mind’s eye I can see the wool plaid tweed car coat Daddy had special ordered for me. A soft, tobacco brown with ebony black and pumpkin gold flecks. It was sumptuous and luxurious. Striding across campus to get to class on time, I’d turn the collar up and dig my hands deep into my pockets to stay warm. In the dorm it was cozyand comfortable and on weekends music would spill out of our rooms into the halls as we got ready for our dates and went from room to room sharing cocktails before we went out. Those were the days of albums and turntables. We listened to everything! Boz Scaggs, Steely Dan, Marshall Tucker, Allman Brothers, the Eagles, Grinderswitch, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Wet Willie had us singing and dancing like you wouldn’t even believe. That was our kind of finger poppin’ music. As I walked out of my dorm with girlfriends or on a date with my boyfriend, you could almost touch the excitement in the darkness, the sensation of anticipation in the frosty, brittle darkness. Our eyes sparkled from the cold as we laughed, chatted and guzzled booze in the chilly night air. Fraternity parties were held outdoors on the patio of the lodges. Mammoth speakers were set up inside and out, as were the kegs and garbage cans filled with grain punch. More Atlanta Rythym Section, Doobie Brothers and Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Boston. Lord, I think back and laugh. Those days celebrated the folly of youth and the good looks that come with it. I’ll stop at the risk of divulging any ancient secrets. But, hey! Try this way easy bread pudding. It’s Fall and time for a little pumpkin!
These Pumpkin and Dulce de Leche Cinnamon Rolls are the stuff dreams are made of. They are a twice a year indulgence. These are the cinnamon rolls you fantasize about serving Christmas morning but are too exhausted from all the hustle and bustle to actually make them. But I’m going to tell you how you can. Huge, soft clouds of sweet golden dough are perfect to sop up the rich caramel sauce and barely tangy glaze. I don’t know what made me want to make them. I enjoy baking; I love working with dough. But I’ve got to tell ya, I had to make these over and over again. Without thinking I dumped cup after cup of flour into the mixer bowl and suddenly thought, “Wait…how many cups was that?” Into the garbage went butter, egg, sugar and who knows how much flour. Now, you can buy ready-made dulce de leche but let’s at least start out with homemade. Over and over I’d realize mid-way through baking the caramel that I had forgotten to cover the pan tightly with tin foil. Or I forgot to put the pan with the condensed milk into a larger pan filled with water. Or I just plain forgot what time I put the pan in the oven and cooked the milk way too long and, again, had to trash it. I didn’t remember the butter chunks had to be added to the top of the rolled out dough until the pans had been baking for a good 10 minutes. It went on and on like this. What could be so important that I couldn’t count 5 cups of flour? My boy. That’s what. My boy will be 25, twenty-five tomorrow. How did that happen? I’ll tell ya how. We blinked. Yesterday I was yelling at him that if he made me late for work ONE MORE TIME I was going to leave him at home and he would have to take a cab to grade school. A cab. When he was six. As if. Now he leaves for work in Miami and takes the early train, never late for that! Nuh uh. So the years have sped by…flown by actually. I’m certain all parents feel this way but when he was born we knew he was special. And there was nothing, NOTHING, I wouldn’t do for that boy. When it was snack day for us in Pre-K I agonized over what I would bake. Lemon muffins with a key lime topping and seedless grapes? Or would chocolate chip granola bars and apple slices be better? And I know some of his classmates parents thought we were the meanest parnts on the panet. We didn’t take him to Disney World until he was in, I don’t know, first grade? Awful, huh? No video games in our house, either. No, tennis, baseball and friends were priorities. And reading. Jimmy and I would get our cocktails and we took turns reading out loud to James. We read fabulous British and French story books, hooting and hollering all the while at the atrocities committed. Pirate fights, naughty children getting spanked and the odd child losing both parents at sea to be reunited months later in a Paris bistro were our favorites. Jimmy had James surfing the web at two years old. Our boy was expected to participate in the oratorical competitions at church…all of them. As a result he grew up relaxed and comfortable speaking before large groups of people and, to this day, holds his own quite well in all social settings, from the homeless shelter to Harvard’s Kennedy School. James embraced his Greek and Puerto Rican roots even when some of his classmates ridiculed him. As a parent it’s so easy to dismiss any schoolyard taunts by telling your child, “Oh, honey, just let it roll off your back. Don’t pay attention to them.” Now I know that boy’s not perfect but he held his head high and that’s not easy. He never started a fight but he never ran from one. And after all that school ridiculing he speaks Greek and Spanish. Jimmy teases me and says I’m James’ biggest cheerleader and guess what? I AM. I am so proud of him. He gives of himself unconditionally. He gives time to his elders. He respects and appreciates their opinions. He’s curious about the world and wholeheartedly receives other cultures with open arms. We pushed him to discover other countries and off he went. We’re just plain crazy about him. We like him and he likes us. So when my boy wakes up tomorrow, on his 25th birthday, he’s getting these decadent, crazy good cinnamon rolls. Happy birthday, boysie!!!
There’s nothing like the scent of caramel and cinnamon baking to make you smile and be glad you’re alive. These pillows of sweet delight can be almost completely assembled the night before and, while they’re chilling in the fridge and you’re asleep, they’ll also be rising, ready to be baked the following morning.
These rolls can now rise overnight covered in the refrigerator or in a warm corner of your kitchen for 20 minutes. In one of my kitchen drawers I keep a thin, plastic ruler to measure dough, the size of pans etc. This is my favorite ruler because it has measurements on one side and the presidents on the other. I know… geeky. Anyway, mark off your dough so that all the rolls are the same size thus baking evenly. This recipe yields 12 colossal cinnamon rolls or 24 regular servings.
And this is the only way I cut them. With unwaxed, unscented dental floss. Any knife you use, I don’t care how sharp it is, will smash the soft dough and, to add to your woes, force out the dulce de leche filling. After lightly scoring the dough to mark your 12 or 24 portions, slide the dental floss under the dough “log” and align the floss to the first marking on either end. Cross both ends of the floss as if you were going to tie a knot but instead of looping the floss to tie it continue pulling both ends and the floss will slice the dough cleanly and evenly. For the dulce de leche, it may be store-bought but it’s so simple to make that I strongly suggest you try it, if you haven’t already, and then you won’t be giving your family all those chemicals we all like to avoid. A quick recipe is in the archives. Just put in “dulce de leche” in the search box toward the upper right of this page. When the rolls have finished baking and have cooled just slightly, slide them whole, not pulled apart, out of the baking pan onto a large serving tray, preferably on with a lip. Drizzle the glaze all over the hot rolls and let it ooze down the sides. Heaven! To re-heat after they’ve cooled completely 10-15 seconds in the microwave will have them tasting as though they just came out of the oven.
Pumpkin and Dulce de Leche Cinnamon Rolls
Servings: 12 colossal rolls or 24 smaller single portions
Place yeast and warm water in a small bowl and allow yeast to bloom or “foam”, 5-10 minutes. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl or stand-up mixer cream the 1/2 cup butter and pumpkin until light and fluffy.
Add the sugar and beat well.
Add the yeast mixture and mix well.
Add the salt to the flour and mix well then add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture. Beat well.
Knead the dough with a dough hook or by hand until it’s smooth and satiny, about 5 minutes.
Lightly butter a large bowl, place the dough in it, cover and allow to rise in a warm corner of your kitchen for 1 hour or until double in bulk.
Punch down the dough and, on a lightly floured counter, gently roll the dough into a 24″X12″ rectangle. It doesn’t have to be perfect but you do want the height to be even and flat.
Spread the dulce de leche evenly over the dough leaving a 1″ border around the rectangle.
Sprinkle the cinnamon evenly over the dulce de leche followed by the cold cubes of butter.
Working from the long side, tightly roll up the dough. Pinch the dough to make a seam along the loose length.
Measure and mark your dough. Cut with floss into even pieces; either 12 or 24.
Place in a buttered 9″X13″ pan, 2 buttered 9″X13″ pans if you’re making 24 rolls.
Loosely cover pan/pans with wax paper and allow to rise in a warm corner for 20 minutes or place, covered, in the refrigerator to rise overnight. Let the dough warm up outside the refrigerator 15 minutes or so prior to baking.
Place in a pre-heated oven and bake for 25-30 minutes or until they are golden brown on top and fully baked.
Remove from oven and, in pan, cool on rack for 10-15 minutes.
Transfer from baking pan to serving tray and pour glaze over the tops of the rolls allowing to spill down the sides.
1/4 cup cream cheese, room temperature
4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1 cup confectioners sugar
With a whisk, combine cream cheese, butter, milk, vanilla extract and salt.
Add confectioners sugar and whisk until completely smooth.
Here’s a little quickie to help you take a stand against temptation this weekend. Wait. Are you really going to pretend you’re not going to be tempted? C’mon. We’re all going to brunch. We’ll all have a couple of mimosas at home then maybe move on to bloodies once we arrive at the restaurant. Oftentimes it’s downhill from there. Plates appear dripping with crunchy, smokey bacon shyly peaking out from under the heavy drip of a lemony hollandaise and a small mountain of crispy, oniony hash browned potatoes…who can resist? And then there’s that guy. You know the one. He orders the thick-cut, maple, cinnamon, praline, cream cheese stuffed french toast. With extra butter and syrup on the side. Ugh. Kill me now! It’s got to taste beyond heavenly. But guess what? I didn’t work all week at feeling good and looking good to blow it all BEFORE I get to brunch. I exercise five days a week. And I try hard to have my cocktails only on the weekend. Yes, I watch what I eat but I indulge myself regularly with healthful treats. So no. I won’t be blowing it at brunch either. Preparation is half the battle and I, for one, will.be.prepared. Oh, yes. I think treating yourself well during the week makes a huge difference in health, weight loss and mind-set and that includes breakfast Saturday mornings. If brunch is on Sunday then errands are on Saturday, meaning fuel up for another long day. My family LOVES roasted spaghetti squash so I typically have it on hand. What better way to make “hash browns” than with leftover, roasted spaghetti squash? Great texture and mild taste make it the perfect side. Simple as A-B-C and topped with a fresh, organic egg, Saturday’s looking better already. A little tomato or leftover vegetables on the side and you may find yourself looking forward to “errand day”. And by having this luxurious breakfast I find I have more resolve at Sunday brunch. The frittata of the day with an extra side of salad sounds really good to me…why, yes, please, I’d love another bloody!
Okay, I have to make an admission here. The reason the photo above doesn’t really show the squash hash browns is because I ate it all before I realized I hadn’t taken any final shots. I’m crazy about this stuff. Spaghetti squash is the healthful, fabulous, take-on-any-flavor food of the year. Already roasted and added to a hot pan with a little oil? Well, you’re just about to have a bit of heaven on earth! One pan. Quick and easy. Fried, poached, scrambled or hard-boiled, eggs pair beautifully with it. If you don’t do eggs heat up those leftover vegetables from the night before, in the same pan with the squash, add another touch of oil and you’ll have a meal from an elegant restaurant. These breakfast hacks will help keep your waistline intact and leaving you feeling good. GOOD. How many times have you felt light AND full after eating a plateful of potatoes?