Tag Archives: sugar

Double Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti for my Chocolate Queen

I love those special days, Mother’s Day being one, when everyone’s nice to you and you get to do anything you want.  I got out of bed this morning when I wanted to, got dressed and left the house to work out.  What a gorgeous day!!  The sun was out and stiff breezes kept me cool.  An hour later I returned home red-faced, wet and happy knowing I won’t have to do this again until tomorrow!  I prepared my breakfast while listening to Rick Steve’s travel program on NPR.  It was a predictable Mother’s Day program but I almost lost it when he spoke of his mother who had passed away a few days after this past Christmas.  It was quite touching.  He spoke of the gifts his mother had given him and credited her with giving him the gift of travel.  Made me think of our Cookie.  She was so cool, we just didn’t know it!   She gave us the gift of language when she insisted we speak Spanish.  Keep in mind, when I was growing up, there were really no Hispanics in Fort Lauderdale.  Granted, we traveled often to Puerto Rico and would stay for long periods of time, but we also had to write our thank you notes and letters in Spanish and her frequent calls to the family meant WE had to actively participate in those conversations.  I’d always try to sneak out of the house when I heard her speaking in Spanish on the telephone.  And I’d always get caught.  Mama would pull me to the phone, hissing in my ear “YOU GET ON THE PHONE RIGHT NOW AND SAY HELLO TO EVERYONE.  DO NOT EMBARRASS ME!”.  I hated it.  With a dark and sullen look on my face I would brightly say, “Hi, Madrinita!  It’s Alicia.  How are you?”.  I could feel my tongue getting thick and tangled up and self-consciousness would creep in.  Well, guess what?  At 56 years old I still speak Spanish.  Relatively well, and without an accent.  I can thank Mama for the gift of language.  That just staggers me.  She gave us ANOTHER LANGUAGE.  Mama also gave us the gift of faith.  We were all raised Catholic and we WERE at church every Sunday morning.  And we went to catechism.  Holy days of obligation were always observed and confession was said every week.  I don’t talk about it much because religion is extremely intimate to me.  Faith was not a big deal until I hit a rough patch.  Loneliness and fear struck debilitating blows at 3:00 in the morning.  Anger, pain and confusion played dominant roles in my pathetic, crumbling life.  What did I do?  More importantly, where did I turn?  My church.   Mama had given us the foundation and solace of religion.  Without it, I would not be here today.  ‘Nuff said.  On a more shallow note, she taught us to appreciate….JEWELS!!!  Pearls, gold, rubies, emeralds, it matters not which stone.  If you love it, it CAN be yours!  Anything!  A car.  That $800.00 bag you just can’t live without.  Save.  Just save.  She taught me that even 10 bucks a week will one day become seven thousand dollars and, you TOO, can be the proud owner of the fillintheblank!  She taught us no matter how little money you have, you can always save.  You girls out there need to pay attention to this.  Open your own account and keep it.  Maintain it.  You don’t have to tell anybody, either.  It’s MORE than humiliating to have to ask.  It’s contemptible to have to ask a man.  Get it yourself and you’ll enjoy whatever it is way more!  Mama taught us, in NO uncertain terms, your name is one of the few things you always have.  You represent your entire family…in my case, the Puerto Rican, the French, the English, and the more recent Greek.  Anytime we’d leave the house, especially after nightfall, she would call out to us, “Fly your banner high!”.  I have to admit, I made more wrong choices than I would have liked, but there WERE times when her words would ring in my ears and I did the right thing.  “Fly your banner high.”  I really do believe we all did.  Well, at least we tried!

My birthday, 2006

Mama loved chocolate.  One could safely say she loved chocolate as she would have a fifth child!  It mattered not if it was a Snickers bar or the finest chocolates of Europe.  She loved them all.  And you could never, EVER, have too much.  She and Daddy never really fussed much but one time, when Dad came home from a speaking trip abroad, he mentioned to her that he had been given boxes and boxes of fine Swiss and French chocolates, gifts from his clients.  He didn’t want to be weighted down or inconvenienced by carrying them on the flight home so he just left them unopened in the hotel room for the chambermaid.  Mama was furious.  She just BLEW UP.  “But, Jackson, you KNOW how I love chocolate!  How could you!! How could you!!”.  It wasn’t pretty.  So, itty bitty precious Mama, I give you CHOCOLATE CHOCOLATE CHIP PISTACHIO BISCOTTI.  And Happy Mother’s Day!  You duh Mama!!!!

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Pistachio Biscotti

yield: 13-14 biscotti not including the end pieces, (they’re the baker’s treat!)

  • 7 tablespoons of softened butter, one is for the baking sheet
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup shelled pistachios
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Line a standard size baking sheet with parchment paper and, using on tablespoon of butter, spread evenly on parchment, down the middle, covering approximately 13 X 5 inches.  Just eyeball it.
  3. In a medium bowl whisk flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.
  4. Using a stand-up mixer if you have one, otherwise use an electric mixer or arm power, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  5. Add eggs and beat until well combined.
  6. Add flour mixture and stir to form a stiff dough.
  7. Add pistachios and chocolate chips.  I stir this addition in by hand.
  8. Transfer dough to prepared parchment paper and form into a 12″ X 4″ flat log.  Smooth and shape where needed.
  9. Bake until slightly firm, roughly 25 minutes.
  10. Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes.
  11. Reduce oven temperature to 300°.
  12. Transfer log to a cutting board and cut diagonally into 1″ thick slices.  I always use a serrated knife.
  13. Return to baking sheet, cut side down, and bake until crisp but still slightly soft in the center, about 8-10 minutes.
  14. Cool completely before storing.

An Unexpected Friend

Banging around the kitchen this evening, I heard an interview on NPR of Greece’s ex-PM, George Papandreou.  I had just gotten home, still had to change my clothes but first let me just straighten this, wait, let me put that away… Y’all know what I mean.  As I wiped down the counters, or did something equally significant, I stopped to listen.  There were no surprises in his comments but they DID turn my cerebral energies towards my island, my heaven, one of the most beautiful places on this planet.  Lesvos, Greece.  I thought of our daily activities and all the people we’ve gotten to know…and really like.  Not just family, but shop owners, hotel staff, restaurant owners, waiters, locals, dogs, donkeys, horses, farmers, our tastes run the gamut!

We try to go for at least two or three weeks every summer but last year, when the temperature in the house soared to the high eighty-somethings, we took the envelope marked VACATION 2011 and handed it to the AC man.  Yes, we needed an entire new central air system.  So it’s been two years this summer since we’ve been to Greece.  I miss it.  And I worry about it.  We’re going this August.  What will we find? Thankfully, the island of Lesvos is not dependant on tourism.  We’re usually about the only Americans there!  None the less, I’m sure the island, like the entire country, is reeling from this hideous financial quagmire.  I thought of my early morning runs,

never starting later than 6:30  in the morning because of the crushing heat.  The sun would start coming up at 5:30, I would see it peeking through the hotel curtains.  It felt soooo good in that bed, especially since we had usually been drinking the night before!  Sunscreen on, contacts in, hair back, shades, cap, music and I was off!  The resort where we stay is terraced and there must be 7 gazillion steps from top to bottom.  Each terrace has vines with velvety, deep orange flowers growing and I would always stop and just look out.  It’s unbelievably magnificent!  The swath of brilliant orange, the ancient, gnarled olive trees and then… the Aegean.

I’d trot down the steps figuring that would be a sufficient warm up, there really isn’t any place to sit and stretch, and, on my way down, decide which direction I would go.  But each morning I would always start in the same direction!  Off I’d go with my walk-man, then in later years, an iPod, music blaring just way too loud for my poor eardrums but I felt incredibly happy and free.  Leaving the Sunrise, that’s where we stay, I ALWAYS turned left and headed towards the hot springs.  I would race-walk on the winding road and my unbreakable rule was any hill, you gotta run.  Up AND down.  Those are the rules.  And you can’t stop unless you come across something really cool or pretty or dead.  My favorites tunes would come on, maybe Bob Seger’s “Katmando” and I would jam!  I would find the most darling little dogs sitting at the end of the driveway of their hotels or family’s summer home every morning. They’d watch, loyally guarding their homestead, and at attention, too!  It took a few years for us to become friends, but we did.  There was a pack of wild dogs that lived on the beach but they didn’t look feral.  They were small and cute, however, as I’m not one to temp the fates, mutual respect was observed by all.  They lived close to the guy who would be homeless except HE INHERITED A SHACK ON THE BEACH AND THE SAND IT SITS ON.  I have a photo of it somewhere, I had to kind of sneak up on it and quickly take the picture before the dogs alerted the man.  Things like that just scare me to death!

Continuing on, I passed older, sprawling hotels, newly renovated with flowers everywhere, lemon and orange trees jumping out from around every corner and majestic swimming pools all lined with local marble.  Old school meets new school.  Up and down the hills I welcomed the gusty winds as I would begin to feel the morning heat.  I’d still be riding on happy, it’s just so incredibly gorgeous.  The Aegean was right next to me, waves gently lapping at the stone beach!!  Can you stand it??!!  When I heard fast, hard music, I’d look around, not that there would ever be anybody out, and play MY version of air guitar.  I love my classic rock and, in years past, would carefully pack my fave CD’s, Allman Brothers, Bob Seger, Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top.  “Southbound”, “Done Somebody Wrong” or “Tush” would come on and I was in another world.  I ran in some kind of reverie and, when my most loved chorus would come on, I’d burst into a blistering air guitar riff.  And that’s when the sound of a deafening horn BLEW me off the road.  Scared the life out of me!!!  A chain of foul and ugly words spewed forth from my mouth as I was harshly jolted out of La-La land.  Almost falling, I spun around to see who was the dolt, the dunderhead, the ASS who was fixin’ to feel my wrath TAKE.HIM.DOWN.  I turned to see a mammoth tractor, dressed with a flowered wreath and finished with a smokestack train whistle. Seated on the very top was a man with THE biggest handlebar mustache I had ever, EVER seen.  And he was laughing at me.  Yes, laughing.  He had on one of those black and white checked headscarves like Yasser Arafat used to wear.  I spoke no Greek, none, except for my food vocabulary and what was I going to call him?  You freakin’ loser stuffed grape leaf?  Well, I showed him!  I gave him my haughtiest, scathing look and off he chugged, laughing all the way down the road.  In the following days I’d hear him coming and, you bet I made it a point, I would just stand out of the way until he passed.  A full year passed, we’re on vacation, YAY!, and I’m back to working out.  I heard the familiar chug-chug-chug.  As he passed I didn’t reward him with a smile but I did, ever so imperceptibly, give him a polite nod.  That’s it… that’s all he got that year.  Now we’re into the following summer.  Back on the road, hot, sweaty, winding down with Freebird, and I hear it.  Chug-chug-chug.  I was elated!!  By then I had been taking Greek for a few years.  Every so often I would think of this man, almost fondly, during the year especially during winter when the days would get dark early and I longed for a 9:00 p.m. sunset.  Jimmy, Selene and I gave him a name, “My Friend”.  He tooted his horn, still laughing at me, but this time I managed to sputter my name and my nationality as my face lit up with a smile to match his.  I saw him at least every other morning, we’d laugh and wave, I have no idea where he was going or where he’d been.  On my last day I took my camera.  This is before cell phones with cameras.  I’d run, take a few photos, run, take a few photos and then I heard that familiar engine cough.  I turned, smiled and waved.  I gestured with my camera, was it okay?  He just laughed and kept smiling but brought the tractor to a halt giving me enough time to snap a few shots. The sun had just come up and was just blazing away behind him.  It was too, too bright, the photos would NEVER come out!  And I knew he wouldn’t turn the tractor around just so I could take his picture, he seemed to be a real man’s man.  What I had would just have to do.  The following year I never saw him on the road but, one day, driving through some village, in the corner of my eye, I saw him, headdress on, sitting outside a taverna with his cronies flipping his worry beads.  I felt SO much better that I knew my friend was all right!  I hope he’s well.  I hope I see my friend.  And I hope he’s on his tractor.  I’ll keep you posted!

My Friend.

I want to give you a quintessential Greek dish, Baklava.  It’s easy.  You just need a little time.  The nuts are interchangeable so you can combine them any way you’d like.  A syrup is made to pour over the Baklava in the final stages of preparation and either fresh orange or lemon juice and peel can be used.  The spices in the syrup call for cinnamon, but as of late, I’ve also been adding a spice called Mahlep.  Mahlep is the kernel of a kind of wild cherry.  Its flavor is extremely subtle, its addition adds another layer of flavor.  If you don’t have an international market close to you, don’t fret.  It will be still be fabulous!  But if you DO, grab some.  It’s not expensive at all.  The kernels look like enormous sesame seeds.  When I make the syrup, I toss a tablespoon of the mahlep into a ziplock bag and pound it with a pestle, of the mortar and pestle combo, on the counter.  Enough to break it up.

The syrup will later be strained so there’s no right or wrong here.  Butter is now used more frequently between the sheets of phyllo whereas in the past, the fat of choice was high-grade, local olive oil.  As I mentioned, different combinations of nuts can, and are, used.  Walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, almonds, even pecans can be gently layered in the sheets of dough, and all taste great!  I hope you won’t let phyllo intimidate or torture you.  Just follow a couple of simple rules and you’ll be golden!  Like the Baklava I’m sure you’ll make!  Oh, and let me be so bold to add, it’s better the next day!

Baklava

yield: 1 13X9 pan

  • 2-2 1/2 cups finely chopped walnuts, or 1 cup walnuts, the other cup your nut of choice, but finely chopped not ground
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 pound phyllo dough, opened and covered with a clean, damp linen towel.  Turn your ceiling fan off.  It’ll dry out the dough.
  • 1 cup butter, melted
  • 2 cups syrup, at room temp, recipe follows

Syrup

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup honey
  • 2-3 wide strips of lemon or orange rind
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice if using. 3 tablespoons of juice if using fresh orange.
  • 2 teaspoons of smashed Mahlep, if you can find it.  Greek markets carry it.
  1. Combine all the syrup ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.
  2. Simmer until thickened, maybe 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Strain into a bowl and let come to room temperature.

Baklava

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Mix nuts, cinnamon and 2 tablespoons of butter together in a small bowl and set aside.
  3. Spray the bottom and sides of pan with nonstick spray.
  4. With a pastry brush, butter one sheet of phyllo and place on bottom of pan, taking care to fit into corners.  Don’t worry if any sheets tear, you’ll never know looking at the final product. Butter and stack 9 or 10 sheets.  Ends can hang over as long as they’re buttered.
  5. Scatter 1/3 of the nut mixture over the buttered phyllo.
  6. Butter and layer another 9 or 10 sheets of phyllo and scatter another third of the nut mixture over that.
  7. Repeat once more and finish with the last sheets of buttered phyllo.  Any remaining butter can be liberally brushed all over phyllo.
  8. Using a sharp knife, cut through all the layers, making diamond or square-shaped serving pieces, being careful not to scratch the bottom of your pan.
  9. Holding the pan in one hand, use your other hand to sprinkle water from your faucet aaaaaaallllll over the baklava.  But be careful to only sprinkle, if you drench it it’ll be soggy.  It takes a minute or two but keeps the phyllo edges from curling up.
  10. Bake 40-45 minutes until the top is light gold  and crisp to the touch.
  11. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
  12. When the liquids in the dish no longer sizzle, carefully spoon the syrup in the cuts in between the pieces and around the edges of the baklava.  Try not to pour the syrup over the phyllo because it will make it soggy.
  13. Let it cool completely and when completely cooled, but only then, cover.  Let it sit all day or over night to soak up the syrup.

Candied Coconut Rice for dessert

In my house, we quote often from movies, and I’m not even a big movie goer!  The earliest quote I remember, that we used often, was “…Ain’t got no underwear!”, from the musical, “Hair”.  Mom and Dad saw the play in Palm Beach and I saw the movie.  Dad would sing that line to us anytime one of us would ask him for money.  I guess we were supposed to feel sorry for him, no underwear = no money?  Apparently it didn’t faze us a bit as we continually went back for more!!  One of my favorite movies, if not my favorite, is “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”  With a stellar cast of Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, George Segal and Sandy Dennis, it is my #1, go-to, cheer me up movie!  I will frequently quote from the movie, “Never mix, never worry!”, a line I happily chose to follow in high school!!  I love that movie… it’s SO brutal!!  And visceral.  Pamela and I have adopted a line from “Beetlejuice”, a movie we watched over and over screaming and cackling with sheer delight over some really terrific lines.  Our favorite is most often and best used in public, drawing questioning looks from strangers that are now certain those two girls are really strange losers.  It is heard most often in Publix, Target and the Dixie, when one sister unexpectedly comes upon the other.  Low, harsh and guttural, one will call the other, “HEY! AIL-VUS!!”  The head of the startled sister being called will shoot up in recognition.  And we always laugh as if it’s the very first time!  At Jamesy’s and Biscuit’s baseball games, she and I would yell, “Hey, battuh, battuh, battuh, battuh.  Suh-WING, battuh”, from the movie everyone adores, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”.  I might announce my arrival into the house for James by calling loudly, “Randy Watson.”  I stomp my foot then add, “Randy Watson and Sexual Chocolate”.  From the movie “Coming To America”.  James, Elizabeth and I will say to one another, “YOU LIE!!! You ain’t NEVAH seen Dr. Martin Luther duh King!”  Correct response to that incendiary charge?  And in falsetto, please. “He ain’ lyin’!!”  Sometimes when I say goodbye to James, but only if he’s going out, not when he’s going back to school, I’ll yell as he goes through our gate, “His mama call ‘im Cassius Clay, I call ‘im Cassius Clay!” and I’m always rewarded with a blazing, white smile!   If James is going out for the evening, and in an exceptionally good mood, he might say to the dog, Pericles, “I have a date with LEEsa!”  And many an advice session has been wrapped up with a resounding, “Go on, honey. Take a chi-ance!”, again, from “Coming To America”.   But I have to say, the one person who is ALWAYS ready to give me a choice quote, a pet bit, is my friend, SELENE!!!!  That girl LOVES her movies!! And do we ever have some top seed quotes!!  Every single weekday morning on my way into work I call Selene and if she doesn’t answer, what do I say?? “Disappointed!!” “A Fish Called Wanda”.  Got your panties in a wad over something you know, YOU KNOW, is just plain stupid?   We say, “Fester, fester.  Rot, rot”.  “French Kiss”.  Irritated at a staff meeting because your co-workers just aren’t quite sharp enough??  “I don’t get it.  I don’t get it.”, said as nasally as is possible.  “BIG”.  Husband annoy you because he didn’t clean the bottom of the pan, wipe down the counters, put down the commode seat, put UP the commode seat, put away the hose, make the coffee, put gas in the car, put his dishes in the sink OOOOOR, do anything?????  “That boy is a P-I-G, pig”.   “Animal House”.   I’m probably going to get in trouble for that one.  But the other friend always says, “I’m wit’ cha.  An’ when I say I’m wit’ cha, I’M WIT’ CHA!”  “My Blue Heaven”.   Selene and I LOVE “My Blue Heaven”!!  We’ll give a play-by-play of our dinner menus for the day  and, so frequently we say, “Uh-roo-guh-luh.  It’s a ve-ge-tuh-BUL.” If we’re talking about an incredible, 12-ply, aqua colored, cashmere sweater from Italy that one of us found on extra, extra clearance for $22.00, the other one will say, “Todd Wilkerson.  It’s Italian for extra special”, or, “You could MELT all this stuff!”, again, “My Blue Heaven”.  It’s fabulous.  But our ALL TIME FAVORITE is used when one is truly distressed.  I mean upset, pissed off, outraged, incensed, furious, fuming.  And that’s when the put-out one says, “Oh, fuck the sweater.  She’ll have to learn to live with disappointment.” “The American President”.  That says it all.  Harsh, but true.  And when we’re satisfied, “That’ll do, Pig.  That’ll do”, spoken by Farmer Hoggett.  Movie?  “Babe”.

This is an exquisite recipe from Puerto Rico, rich in spices, smooth with coconut milk and warm in comfort and steadfastness.  We fall back on it because it says the right thing to us.  It does the right thing for us.  It will fill part of the black hole.  It’s home with an offbeat twist!  All the ingredients are found at the grocery store and, lagniappe, it’s a walk away kind of recipe.  It just knows what to do and how to do it!  This is a rice pudding, cooked in coconut milk in lieu of whole milk.  Replacing vanilla, are whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, freshly bruised ginger and star anise.  We’re not in Kansas anymore!  Trust me.  It’s unbelievably satisfying!

Coconut Rice

Yield: 10-12 scant cup servings

  • 2 cups short or medium grain rice
  • 4 cans coconut milk, don’t use lite.  Just don’t.
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large piece fresh ginger, about the size of a man’s thumb
  • 8 cinnamon sticks
  • 7 or 8 whole cloves
  • 1/2 cup raisins, (optional)
  • ground cinnamon for garnish
  1. In large bowl, wash and rinse rice in water until water runs pretty clear.
  2. Add fresh water to bowl, an inch above rice, and let soak for at least 2 hours.  This will soften the rice and keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot when cooked.
  3. When rice has soaked sufficiently, drain and add to heavy-bottomed pot along with cloves, cinnamon sticks, salt, and 3 cans of coconut milk.
  4. Take the whole piece of ginger and using something hard and heavy, I use a pestle but a wine bottle, heavy sauce pan or meat tenderizer can be used, give the ginger a couple good whacks.  Just enough to open it to allow the flavor out.  Add that to the pot.
  5. Stir well, cover and cook at low heat checking every once in a while that it’s not cooking at too aggressive a boil.  You want it to just simmer.
  6. When the rice is just about dry, add the sugar, the last can of coconut milk and the raisins if you’re using them.  Stir, cover and continue to cook on low.
  7. When rice is almost dry pour onto platter and chill.
  8. Sprinkle with cinnamon just before serving. Buen provecho!

*He’s never going to leave his wife.  “When Harry Met Sally”, silly!  We say that about  something that is NEVER going to change!

Sugar and Spice, Sweet Potato Bread

I love my girls!!!  My friend, Dana, called this evening just to chit-chat and, just like always, we laughed and laughed!!  Her little sister, Dawn, had been in the hospital all week and was FINALLY allowed to go home.  Thankfully, she’s on the mend.  Part of our conversation was the topic of Dawn’s best friend, Alyson.  For those of you who didn’t grow up here, Alyson is Andrea’s baby sister.  Isn’t that great?  We’re all friends and laughing a mile a minute!!  We have massive amounts of dirt on each other, but in the South, we glorify that.  And we DON’T rat on each other.  We feel it makes us special.  And dirt gives us color.  Alyson helped Dawn with those incredibly personal things that only a sister or mother will do.  She spent the night in the hospital so Dawn’s husband could go home.  And after that, helped her bathe and took her to get her hair done.  THAT’S a true, blue friend.  Anyway, Dana and I would segue off onto some silly girlie tangent, like I just did, about all of us. We laughed when Dana mentioned how we used to dance at her house for her parents.  Full out, go in the living room and put on a show.  And her parents never laughed!!  Heck, sometimes they’d get up, dance with us and jitter bug the night away!!! We all went to each other’s birthday parties.  First wearing black, patent leather Mary Janes, then into tennis shoes, and on into Go-Go boots.  I have the black and whites to prove it!!  We grew up on streets parallel to each other, right side by side.  I was on Sea Island, Ang and Al on Barcelona, Dana and Dawn on Aqua Vista.  As young girls, we rode our bikes to each other’s houses.  Back then, there were still a few vacant lots on the islands so we might end up in the shade under the canopy of some big Florida oak.  Just wiling away another hot afternoon.  We walked to the bus stop in junior high and the early years of high school, together, sometimes talking, sometimes not.  And in the afternoon, same thing, opposite direction.  We each had our own daily MAJOR problem.  I remember it felt as tho weight of the world was on our bony shoulders.  Our conversations were quiet, no big deal, scattered snippets of our safe, little lives.  I don’t remember any problems, except one of mine.  Would my father let me go to “the store” to get an outfit for that weekend’s party?  My father had a women’s clothing store and it was the hottest place in town.  Remember, we’re talking pre-Galleria days.  I’d say if not getting the latest outfit is YOUR biggest problem, you’re doing okay!!  We all saw each other day in, day out.  And we spent the night at each other’s houses on Friday and Saturday nights.  Saturdays were always spent at the beach or shopping.  Sometimes we’d get along, and sometimes there would be a small explosion and you wouldn’t see a sister for a couple of days.  She’d make herself scarce.  But then it would all melt away and there we’d be, trudging back to the bus stop for school.  We just accepted walking to the bus stop, never noticing that our route was through one of the most beautiful areas of South Florida.  Our bus stop was at a gas station, Pier 66 on Las Olas.  Walt was the owner, and with his son, Wally, they would take care of our parent’s cars and always allow us to fill our bike tires with their air.  There was also a small, family run market a few doors down.  Everybody had a house charge so, when you thought you could get away with it, you’d charge a little candy after school.  Heath Bars, Bazooka, Mary Jane’s, sour apple bubble gum and fireballs were popular favorites.  If you knew you’d get in trouble for charging or you had to pay for it and you barely had any money, there were also large, rectangular sheets of taffy in all different shades and rainbow-colored, for 5¢.  A NICKEL!!!!  Everyone HATED that taffy, but if that’s all you could get…   and you wanted some sugar…  well, I ate A LOT of taffy!!  How we were never thrown into hypoglycemic shock, I’ll never know!!  As we got older, driving and dating, our happy encounters were at the hallowed halls of Fort Lauderdale High School or standing in the keg line at parties!!!  There was such a beautiful ease to our relationships.   We all moved away for school, moved back, maybe moved around a bit more.  We’d just fall in and fall out with the tempo of the times.   Luckily, we all recognize how fortunate we are.  I can go a year without talking to Andrea.   But on her birthday,  when her phone rings and she hears someone whistling the ENTIRE “Happy Birthday” into her telephone without ANY hesitation or self-consciousness, she knows it’s ME!!  ME.  And no one else.  And if I hear the sweet, chirping of Jiminy Cricket, I know my Ang is right around the corner and just a laugh away!!!  (She’s the only person I’ve ever known who can replicate that darling chirp!)  It’s a beautiful rhythm.  We’re concerned about each other’s parents and all our children.  I used to see Effie, the nickname I had for Andrea and Alyson’s father, F.J., at the Dixie.  I’d get so excited.  I’d chew that sweet man’s ear off.  He is just the NICEST man!  It’s wonderful when we see each other and then, clairvoyantly, voice each other’s thoughts.  Or we hear a song, and BAM!!  We’re propelled back into somebody’s kitchen or bedroom, riding bikes or back to that 2nd grade classroom with the teacher nobody liked.

“Listen,

Do you want to know a secret,

Do you promise not to tell, whoa oh, oh.

Closer,

Let me whisper in your ear,

Say the words you long to hear,

I’m in love with you…”

This bread, Sweet Potato Bread, is what I like to take to a friend who needs a little love and care.  I’ll grant you, it does take some time, but the recipe yields TWO loaves!  One for you and one for me!!  I love the spicy aroma that fills my house while it’s baking.  And it always looks spectacular, all golden and glossy.  It’s Bill Neal’s recipe from his book entitled, “Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie”.  It’s fabulous lightly toasted with a little butter or peanut butter.  It also pairs REALLY well with a cold, spicy crab or shrimp salad.  Something about sweet, spicy and savory.  It’s just gorgeous and delicious with a rich crumb. Oh, and, somehow, the oats just meld into the dough.  I often send it to James at school.  It’s perfect on the fly with a quick smear of any nut butter.  I love it toasted with my morning cafe con leche.  And it is most excellent in the afternoon as a quick pick me up.  Enjoy!!

Sweet Potato Yeast Bread

  • 2 packages dry yeast
  • 1/4 warm water
  • 1 cup milk, fat-free is fine
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, that’s one stick
  • 1 1/2 cup cooked, mashed, cold sweet potatoes
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, please don’t use that jarred, powdered stuff
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour, I always combine 2-3 cups white whole wheat with 2-3 cups unbleached all-purpose
  • 1 cup uncooked oats, quick is fine but not instant
  • 1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water or milk

yield: 2 beautiful, fill-you-with-pride loaves!

  1. Dissolve the dry yeast in the warm water.
  2. Heat the milk with the sugar and salt, stirring until dissolved.  Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.  If I’m short on time I’ll even put it in the freezer for short period to cool.
  3. Cream the butter and the sweet potatoes well.  Add the dissolved yeast, the milk mixture, and then all the dry ingredients.  Beat very well, then turn out onto a floured surface.
  4. Knead vigorously until satiny, about 10 minutes.
  5. Place the dough in a bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
  6. Punch down, and using a dough scraper or knife, divide into two equal portions.
  7. Divide 1 portion into 3 equal parts.  Roll each part out to make a rope.  Place side by side on an ungreased sheet.  Braid and tuck the ends under.  Cover loosely and let rise about an hour or until doubled.
  8. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 400° for about 20 minutes, then brush with the beaten egg and continue baking 15 minutes more for a total of 35 minutes.
  9. The loaves should be a lovely, deep honeyed color.
  10. Bask in your cleverness!!!

R.I.P., Loser

I don’t bake much, I’m not that crazy about cakes and pies or even cookies.  But when I DO bake it’s usually sweet potato bread, a quick bread like banana or zucchini bread or a pound cake.  I’m a real sucker for a dense, rich pound cake.  I like a sour cream and I also like a lemon pound cake.  Neither are too sweet and marry so well with berries and freshly whipped cream.  When James was home for Christmas I made a few sour cream ones.  Why??  I just told you.  Because James was home!!  I had been looking through some of my older cookbooks and the recipe just jumped out at me.  My favorite sour cream pound cake recipe is Lee Bailey’s recipe from his book entitled “Country Desserts”.  When one of his later books came out in the early 90’s, Jimmy suggested, “Would you like to go to Mizner this weekend? Lee Bailey’s signing that book you have.  You can take it with you and have it signed.  We’ll poke around the book store and then go someplace for brunch and Bloody’s.  You want to?”  Well, yeah!!!! Back then Lee Bailey was my idol.  A cute, Southern boy with style who could cook?  Who cares if he’s gay!  Hell!  Even better!  Anyway, that morning I took extra time getting ready.  I tried on outfit after outfit.  I HAD to look darling.  I wanted him to know I was special.  Not only could I cook but I ALSO had an talent for fashion! One look would speak volumes!! I did my hair carefully so it looked full but not too big.  And it had to be shiny.  My makeup was meticulously applied.  It would not do to have a heavy hand THAT day!  When I finished my toilette, I grabbed my purse, and with book in hand, we were off to Boca!!  I didn’t say much during the drive to the bookstore.  I have a tendency to get really quiet and lost in my thoughts whenever we get on a highway.  And that day was no exception.  I had so much to think about!  And I was so nervous!!  What would I say?  What could I say that would set me apart from all others??  How would he know that we were meant to be best friends?  Oh, Lord.  My heart was beating like a rabbit on crack.  I just KNEW any minute Jimmy was going to turn to me and ask, “What IS that noise?  Can you hear it??  Is it the car?”.  It was my heart pounding like a drum.  And my hands were damp.  We got to the bookstore, I took my place in line and Jimmy took off for the Urban Renewal department or something equally spellbinding.  As I moved forward with my beautiful book, my heart raced and my thoughts were scattered and unfocused.  All of a sudden I was standing in front of him.  It was my turn.  He looked up at me expectantly, I shot him my best, blinding smile and handing him my book, started fawning.  “Oh, Mr. Bailey!  Thank you SO much for your beautiful books!  They make me so happy!  Even when I’m a little blue, I can look at your books and they just make me feel so much better!”   He snatched the book out of my hands and snarled, “Don’t just look at the pictures!! Read the books!!  Name??” “Alicia”, I replied quietly as was possible.  “A-l-i-c-i-a”.  In spite of the fact that my eyes had filled up with tears, I could still make out the irritation and disdain he felt towards me as he scowled and thrust the book back.  And then, HE DISMISSED ME BY LOOKING AWAY!  I felt as though I had been slapped.  No.  I felt as though I was naked and in front of people had been slapped.  I thanked him, after all, I AM a nice girl, and searched for Jimmy as quickly and inconspicuously as possible.  Fighting back the tears, I found him and blurted out, “We have to go home.  NOW!”  God bless that man.  He put his book right down and said “Okay”.  I could tell he was searching my face trying to make out what had happened but he didn’t say a word.  I fought the tears all the way home and never let them spill over until I was locked in the safe haven of my bathroom, my crying spot.  Later, much later, I told him what had happened.  I shelved the book with my other cookbooks and I didn’t take that book out again for at least another year.  It was at least ONE YEAR before I took that book out and saw what he had written.  He wrote, “For Alicia” and underneath signed “Lee Bailey”.  He does have one good pound cake recipe, tho!  I don’t get that “hot” feeling anymore when I take out any of his books.  I think I have them all.  And he died.  My little brother, Tommy, says he’s in a bad place.  I know this is awful but I’m glad.  Hope he died in a fiery ball.  So there!

This is one of those pound cakes that gets better after a day or two.  And it freezes so beautifully!  Just make certain it’s really well wrapped and date it.  I haven’t changed much of the recipe.  One time I inadvertently dropped an extra yolk into the sugar and have made it part of the recipe.  The cake is moister and richer.  Oh, and the recipe doubles well.  I also use non-fat Greek yoghurt in place of sour cream but if you do that make sure it’s real Greek yoghurt.  You want that thickness and tartness.  Paired with fresh berries or any fresh stone fruit slices, well, it’s just heaven on earth.  Right up my friend Dana Lynn’s vanilla alley, ain’t it, Missy??!!

Sour Cream Pound Cake

  • 1 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup ( 1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs, separated and at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup sour cream or fat-free Greek yoghurt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Preheat oven to 325°.  Butter and flour, (I just use Pam), a 9X5-inch loaf pan or bundt pan of your choice.  Set aside.
  2. Sift together flour and baking soda and set aside.
  3. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add egg yolks and beat well.
  4. Add one-third of the flour mixture and mix until incorporated.  Add one half of the sour cream and beat again.  Continue with flour and sour cream until it’s all well mixed.  Stir in vanilla.
  5. Beat the egg whites until very stiff and then carefully fold into the batter with an over-and-under motion.
  6. Pour into the prepared pan.
  7. Bake on the center rack of the oven for 1 hour 20 minutes, or until golden on top and cake has pulled away from the sides of the pan.
  8. Cool the cake in the pan on a cooling rack.
  9. Store in an airtight container.  Freezes really well and indefinitely.  It’s nice to always have one on hand!