Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Holiday Baking.


Many years ago (1977, in fact) my friend Wendy and I lived in apartments close to one another. At Christmas, we would get together and make Cranberry Nut Bread, which was awfully good. We used empty soup or vegetable cans for making round loaves, which made great presents (we thought) but these days I use small metal loaf pans. Still makes a great gift for the holidays.

The recipe calls for cranberries to be cut into quarters, and since we were young and somewhat new to cooking and baking, we took it literally and used a small sharp knife to cut the berries into quarters. Talk about devotion to detail! These days I imagine you could use a large knife or even one of those kitchen blade choppers.

Or a food processor, but I’ve never had one, and that seems too easy, and would maybe take some of the charm out of it. This morning I made 3 small loaves, and yes, I actually chopped each berry into quarters with a paring knife. Just like old times.

I don’t think Wendy would mind if I shared the recipe, so here goes.

Cranberry Nut Bread

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon grated orange rind
1/3 cup orange juice
1/2 cup water
1 egg, well-beaten
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup chopped nuts
1 cup raw cranberries, cut into quarters

Sift all the dry ingredients together.
Combine the orange juice, orange rind, water, egg and salad oil, and add to the dry ingredients. Then add the nuts and cranberries. Bake in a well-greased loaf pan, or use 3 smaller foil loaf pans. (You could probably make muffins out of this, too.)

Bake at 350 degrees for 50 − 60 minutes, until you can insert a toothpick and have it come out clean. For smaller pans, about 30 minutes will do.

Bridgeman’s Peppermint Krisp Ice Cream


Is there anything better this time of year?


Answer: No, there is not.

Better hurry, though. It’s only selling until the holiday season is over.

PS: Bring $7.99. (SO worth it.)

Something Gooey This Way Comes


images-2If there’s one thing I love (and actually there are bunches of things) it’s finding old recipe collections at thrift shops or auctions. I especially love the ones with smudges on them, which usually means they were used a lot because they were so good. I am also a huge fan of the hand-written ones, and get weak-kneed over ones with little notations, like “use less sugar,” or “Harvey won’t eat these.”

My sister Kim recently gave me a box of very old recipes; some from the 1930s. Many are unreadable at this point, and some newspaper ones are so yellowed and fragile that they fall apart in your hands.

But I found this really good one that I just had to try. If you’re looking for something chocolatey and gooey and great with cold milk, try this. Simple to make but oh, so good!

Not sure how old this recipe is (it was cut from a newspaper) but on the back is a small box reading “Dolby Stereo at Marcus Theater.” So maybe the 70s?

Yummy Bars
1 package (18 oz) chocolate cake mix
1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup melted butter or margarine (Oy! The cost of butter these days.)
1/2 cup chopped nuts
6 ounces chocolate chips
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk

Combine the cake mix, milk, butter and nuts in a large bowl. Mix well. (I used a wooden spoon.) Press half of the mixture into a greased 9 x 13″ cake pan. Bake this at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Immediately sprinkle chocolate chips over the partially baked crust, and pour the condensed milk over all. Sprinkle the remaining cake mixture over the top. Bake 15 – 18 minutes. Cool thoroughly before cutting.

That’s all there is to it.



Back on Track. And Apple Muffins.


imagesFirst of all, my apologies to those of you who sent an Email to say that you could not leave messages at this blog. I “assumed” it was a problem of your computer, and not mine. Ha! The other day I tried to leave a message, and got the error page that everyone had complained about. I’d love to say I fixed it all by myself, but of course that did not happen. I had to call for technical help. Turns out the fix was very simple, and now everything’s back to normal again. Sorry for the delay!

Meanwhile, here’s a recipe for some wonderful apple muffins. If you like apples, you’ll love these.



Apple Muffins

In a small bowl, mix the following ingredients with a wooden spoon:

1 21-oz can apple pie filling
(I empty these into a small deep bowl and use a sharp knife to cut through them a few times to make them smaller)

1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1 teaspoon vanilla

Then add 2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional), 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Spoon this into lined muffin tins.

Before baking, mix this up and spoon it over the top of the muffins:

1/2 cup brown sugar
3 Tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. This recipe makes about 2 dozen muffins.


The Amazing Checkerboard Cake


Unknown(This is how it would look if you had amazingly steady hands. Which I do not.)

Last week, one of my best friends turned 85. That seems like a long time to live, but when you have filled those years with joy and world travel and a great love story, as my friend has, you probably want it to go on for lots longer. She is an inspiration to me, and an 85th birthday calls for something special, so I dug out my checkerboard cake pans.

While checkerboard cake is only two cake mixes all prettied up, it does have that “wow” factor, and I only make it for special occasions or when I need a really great desert to follow a mediocre dinner.

To get started, you need this set of 3 cake pans and a plastic or metal batter divider. I honestly can’t remember where I bought this set, but I do have a funny story about them.


Many years ago, in the early 1970s,  I was living down south, and one summer I came back to Duluth for a family visit. I brought my sisters each a set of the checkerboard cake pans, and I brought my dad a couple of spatterware enamel coffee mugs. Not very practical, but you know — pretty. My sister Be stared at the puzzling cake pans for a while, and then turned to my dad and said “Trade you for the coffee mugs.”

So first you mix up two cake mixes, like a chocolate and yellow, or you can use two white cake mixes and add food coloring to one of them. Follow the directions with the pans, and you should end up with three cakes that look like this:


Then, create a gooey chocolate or vanilla filling to cement the layers together, since a 3-layer cake is kinda tall. I use the standard cocoa powder, butter, powdered sugar and vanilla recipe with a bit of hot coffee in it. Spread this between the layers and even them out as best you can. I do love my offset spatula, which makes frosting things so much easier. Go buy one.



Then you need a lot of fluffy frosting to cover up any rough spots on the cake, so here’s a simple recipe that makes enough frosting for this cake, until you take a picture of it and then think uh oh, I’d better make more.


Quick Fluffy Frosting

1 small package Jello instant chocolate pudding
1 cup milk
1 8-oz carton of Cool Whip, thawed
Combine the pudding and cup of milk in a large bowl and whisk for about a minute, until well mixed and thick. Fold in the Cool Whip. Spread on cake. Hopefully, it will look better than this:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou could sprinkle some cocoa powder on top, too.

Here’s the finished and cut cake. This is why you need a steady hand to pull the divider out of the batter, but even with wavy lines, it looks impressive. (At least to the worn out baker.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd here it is, on a plate with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some strong coffee. A good time was had by all.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHappy birthday, dear friend. And many, many more!





Let’s Start With Thanksgiving


Now that Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwaanza and New Year’s and MLK Day are over, it’s time to talk about Thanksgiving. At least my Thanksgiving weekend, which I’d been too addled to write about, but now have sorted through the odds and ends moving around in my brain. Poetic, isn’t it?

My family broke tradition this year by each going our separate ways for Thanksgiving. It is a time in our lives when there are children and grandchildren and new in-laws and outlaws, and it’s getting harder and harder to work out who goes where and when, which is probably a common family issue. My choice this year was to accept an invitation from my friends Jerry and April, and their affable kids Lydia, Mahalia and Henry, to spend the weekend with them at their home in Thief River Falls. And off I went.

We really had a blast. Jerry’s a great cook who had a wonderful turkey dinner ready by the time I arrived. This is the first year I’ve tried oyster dressing, and I have to say it was marvelous. There was a slight malfunction with the gravy pan, which upended itself onto the kitchen floor, but Jerry can always make something out of nothing, and came to the rescue with another kind of gravy that was perfect.

(As an aside, I just upgraded my blog features. That is why there are no photos posted, though I do have some funny gravy and other pictures that I’ll share later. I hate upgrades. For me, it always means that I have to learn something new, when the old stuff was working just fine, thank you very much. Why do they always say upgrades are an improvement? When things are going well, don’t change them. The End.)

On Friday of that weekend, April and the kids and I went shopping at thrift stores in Thief River Falls, which was a lot of fun. We visited their very homey library, where I happened to find a book about the Congdon family of Duluth, which seemed like serendipity to me.

Friday night was game night, with dessert-laden friends coming over to the to play games whose names I have forgotten. Jerry’s kids had made 3 kinds of chocolate truffles, which were fabulous, and we had brownies, jello salad, cookies and various other snacks. And fruit,  a tip of the hat to good health, which I avoided. Holidays are holidays.

On Saturday some of us drove to Grand Forks and visited a bunch of thrift shops, an international food market where I could have spent hours, and had dinner at a good Chinese place, where the waiter unfortunately did not understand English, and we did not understand Chinese, but somehow really good food appeared.

On the way to Grand Forks, we stopped at a wonderful huge consignment shop in a town called Red Lake Falls. (Wright’s Everything Consignment. Go see it.) The shop is an endless string of rooms and levels filled with fabulous finds: antiques, new stuff, old stuff, vintage stuff, clothing, jewelry, furniture, household stuff, figurines, paper ephemera, dishes… it went on and on and although I filled up a charming tote bag with holiday gifts, I’m sure I missed a ton of stuff on one level or another. The building was formerly a furniture store, so there were many cavernous floors with steep levels taking you here and there. At times some of the walkways felt more like walls than floors, and I skipped some of the rooms. But if you like junk (and hey: who doesn’t?) it’s well worth the six hour drive.

So on Sunday morning I was happily on my way home, filled with happy holiday memories, thinking that after all the car troubles I’d had the past few weeks, I would Email my sister Kim and say “500 miles without incident!” 94 miles from home, just entering the town of Ball Club on a blue-sky dry pavement day, I hit a patch of black ice at about 60 MPH and before I knew what I’d hit, I flew off Hwy 2 (literally, I think) and landed in a ditch.

When I first felt ice beneath the tires, and that “uh oh” feeling, the car sailed into the oncoming lane. So happy to report nobody was coming, or if they were, they quickly got out of my way. I can not remember. Just as quickly, I was going backwards into the ditch. Did I really feel the steering wheel moving round and round in my hands? I think I did. What I do remember is three distinct and very loud BOOM sounds. One was a road sign that I hit sideways, which still didn’t stop the car. I do not know what the other two were. I remember sailing backwards into the woods, and I remember hitting the brakes.

I’m pretty sure I did everything wrong from the moment I knew I was in trouble. There was little time to think, although I do remember thinking “This is how I’m going to die.”

Happy to report that I did not receive so much as a scratch. Everything inside the car went flying: Water bottles, CDs that had been stored away, quarters that were kept for parking meters, pieces of candy that were in the console. Everything flew. I managed to stay put. (Wear your seat belt, please.)

There is a scene in a funny movie where an actor (Alec Baldwin?) drives woozily through town, hits a streetlight and garbage can, and emerges from his car and says, “Well, that happened.”

I always hoped I could be that calm in the face of trouble. Turns out I’m not. Every joint in my body turned to Jello. I could barely walk on my shaky legs, or open the door with my shaky hands. But I’m grateful I could walk.

Ahead on the highway I saw flashing squad car lights and heard sirens heading in my direction. Apparently I was not the only driver caught unaware that day (thanks for the “CAUTION” signs, by the way) but I think I was one of the lucky ones, who only had to call a tow truck. Two men stopped their car to tell me that I had almost “taken out” the street sign I hit. As if I didn’t know that. “Really?” I might have said. “I wondered what that noise was.” They weren’t much help, though I think they were as shocked as I were after seeing what had happened. They offered a phone but I had one of my own, and somehow managed to dial 911.

A nice dispatcher sent a tow truck my way. The nice tow truck driver suggested we flag down one of the cops on the highway to give an accident report; a thought that had not occurred to me. It wasn’t hard to find the police; they were everywhere, along with an ambulance and some fire trucks. They took my name and phone number, but could not make a report since other people had not fared as well as I had.

I spent the night at a motel in Deer River while my car was towed to Grand Rapids. Two very nice ladies heard my story (and heard the same sirens that I’d heard) and put me in a very nice room (with cable!) for very little money. I think they saw the look on my face (plus my arrival in a tow truck may have given away part of the story) and were very kind to me. I must have looked half crazy to them.

The next day, when I fully expected my car to be ready for the trip home (slow to grasp the obvious) I learned it would be at least a week before the broken tie rod, cracked bumper, dented hood and fender would be repaired, repainted, and ready to go.

My wonderful brother-in-law Lenny drove from Gordon, Wisconsin, to Deer River, MN, in his truck, in the middle of a sudden blizzard, to bring me back to Duluth. When I saw his truck barreling into the parking lot of the motel, I nearly burst into tears. It was like seeing the US Cavalry coming to rescue! And it is so true that there is no place on earth like home. So so so happy to be here.

So that was my Thanksgiving weekend, my “non-traditional” getaway holiday. I didn’t have the presence of mind to take photos of the car (probably would not have found my camera anyway) but it was fixed, my insurance covered repairs and a rental car, and all is (once again) right with the world.

Pictures will follow, though not pictures of the accident. I have some learnin’ to do now that I’ve upgraded, but for now, this is my story and I’m sticking with it, even though I am not going to take time to proofread. I think I dragged this out as long as I can.

Coming soon: New electronics at my house! What’s new at the Little Free Library! Other Stuff!

I know it seemed like I’d abandoned my blog, but I would not.

Thanks for reading.



Cold Day, Quick Dinner


This isn’t exactly gourmet food, but that could be said for about 85% of my diet. Still, once in a while you need something that is quick and hearty for a day like today, when the first thing you see in the morning is snow on the back deck, and more flakes coming down. It’s a kind of day ovens were made for. Crank it up!

You know those people who cook and bake wonderful dishes and then take creative photos of their accomplishments? I am not one of those. But I did snap a photo of this dish mostly because the top of the stove was clean. I seized my opportunity! Here’s the recipe.

Pork Chops with Sour Cream and Stuffing

3 or 4 chops
1 package stuffing, prepared as directed on container or bag
1 can Cream of Mushroom soup
1/2 pint sour cream
1/2 soup can of milk

Brown the chops on both sides. They don’t have to be thoroughly cooked, because they’re going into the oven. Browning them just makes them look better. Place the chops in a 9×13″ baking pan.

Mix the soup, sour cream and milk together and pour this mixture over the chops. Top this with the prepared stuffing.

Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Then cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes longer.

Bob’s yer uncle.


It’s Pudding, Puddin’!


Oy, the day I've had.

Let’s say you’re a semi-retired old woman who actually works 2 days a week in other people’s homes, and who has yard work that’s not getting done, laundry piling up, dust balls in all corners and 7 (seven!) hospice patients to visit each week as well as a hospitalized friend that you visit each day. Let’s say you come home some chilly fall night and you’re too tired to cook actual food, but something sweet would just hit the spot. You know those nights.

What says quick energy more than pudding? Nothin’.

So here are two quick recipes guaranteed to warm up a chilly night and soothe those jangled “How the hell did she use 17 towels in one week” nerves. One’s easy, one takes a little more time, but they’re both really really good. And worth the bother. Just like you!


3 Tablespoons white flour
4 Tablespoons granulated sugar
3 Level Tablespoons cocoa powder
1 egg
3 Tablespoons milk
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
3 Tablespoons chocolate chips (optional but a luxurious touch)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Put all the dry ingredients into a large microwave-safe mug and mix well with a fork. Add the egg, milk, oil and vanilla, and mix thoroughly. Stir in the chocolate chips if you plan to use them. Put the cup in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes at high power. The cake may rise over the top of the mug (depending on the cup you chose) but won’t spill over. You can use a knife to tip it out onto a plate, but I figure why mess up one more plate? Grab a spoon and enjoy!

(When I was taking Home Economics in junior high school, back when they still called it junior high school, our scary teacher Mrs Olsen instructed us to use a capital T for tablespoon in all recipes, and a small t for teaspoon. I don’t know if anyone still does this, but it sticks in my brain, so I do it most of the time. I digress.)

If you want to spend more time in the kitchen and get all Betty Crockerish, here’s one that’s really delicious and will serve more people than just you so you can feel a little more righteous. I think this may be one of my aunt Kay’s recipes. My sisters and I have made versions of this for years.


1 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons cocoa powder (plus 1/2 cup for later in the recipe)
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup milk
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1-1/2 cups hot hot hot water

Heat oven to 350 degrees. You won’t even need a bowl for this. In an ungreased 9″ square baking pan, stir together the flour, white sugar, 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder and salt. Mix in the milk, oil and vanilla and stir with a fork until smooth. The batter will be very thick at this point. Spread it over the bottom of the pan as best you can. Sprinkle the batter with the brown sugar and 1/2 cup cocoa powder, and the pour the very hot water over the whole shebang. Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes. Remove from oven and let it sit for about 15 minutes before serving. You can serve this with whipping cream or ice cream if you’d like, but it’s great all by itself.

Don’t forget to eat real nutritious food at least once a day, but don’t neglect that part of you that yearns for sugar, either. And maybe clear some stuff off your calendar so you can take an occasional walk.

Happy fall! (The seasonal kind, not the kind I did at an auction recently that involved a boat motor and what my sister Kim jokingly called my “falling shirt” when I wore it a second time.)

Strange Go-Togethers.


Cleaning out the refrigerator this afternoon, I came across the world’s strangest carrot, at the very bottom of the vegetable bin. Had to share!

Then I figured, hey. What goes with a strange carrot better than a goofy rabbit? So here’s the chalkware Bugs Bunny that I found at auction a few weekends ago. I love this guy!

So that’s my quick entry for tonight. More to say (some heavy stuff next time, I think) but for now, a goofy carrot and a wascally wabbit, and best wishes for a happy and safe holiday weekend!

Spanikopita Recipe


My grandma made spinach pies quite often, but no matter which recipe I try, none of them match my memory of the ones she made. Maybe it’s nostalgia or wishful thinking, but I’d love to have just one more of Grandma Swor’s dinners again.

This recipe came from America’s Test Kitchen, and it’s pretty close to what Grandma made. (Where did she get phyllo dough back then? I wonder if she made her own, or used a different crust recipe? I wish I knew.) You can watch a video of this at their website, free. My complaint about America’s Test Kitchen is that you have to sign up “Free,” meaning you have to leave a credit card number. You know what that means: unacceptable charges on your card, eventually. Somehow the video is free, though.

This one is fun to make, and tastes pretty darned good.



Ingredients you’ll need:

20 oz fresh spinach (which amounts to 2 bags of fresh spinach leaves, though I imagine frozen would work just as well.)

1/4 cup water (won’t need this if you’re using frozen spinach)

12 oz crumbled feta cheese (I thought this was too much; will only use 8 oz next time)

3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt

Small onion, chopped

2 eggs

2 Tablespoons dill

A pinch of mint flakes

A little lemon zest

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

salt and pepper to taste

7 Tablespoons butter, melted (I used nearly an entire stick)

1/2 cup pecorino or grated parmesan cheese

16 sheets phyllo dough (1 roll of phyllo is 16 sheets. Freeze the second roll for your next recipe.)

2 teaspoons sesame seeds (optional, but pretty)

Steam the spinach in 1/4 cup of water in the microwave for about 5 minutes. Drain well, using a spatula to press out excess water. Chop the spinach up. (You don’t need to remove stems.) Squeeze spinach in an old kitchen towel (“old” because it will stain) to remove all moisture.

In a large bowl, mix the spinach with the yogurt, feta cheese, onion, 2 eggs and the spices, stirring well.

Place a sheet of parchment paper on a large cookie sheet. (If you use a 9×13 pan, you’ll have excessive moisture in the recipe, making a soggy crust. A cookie sheet and parchment allows moisture to drain off.) Butter the parchment and then begin stacking 10 phyllo sheets, buttering each sheet after you add it to the pile. Don’t worry if they break up (you can move them back in position) but phyllo tends to dry quickly, so work fast. When you have 10 sheets of buttered phyllo, spoon the spinach mixture on that, and distribute evenly, leaving about 1/4 inch of space around all 4 sides.

On top of the spinach mixture, butter the remaining 6 sheets of phyllo. Sprinkle pecorino or parmesan cheese evenly between the last 2 sheets. Pat the layers down gently with your hands.

With a paring knife, score gently through the first 3 layers, marking off about 24 squares, or less, depending on your preference. Sprinkle the top with the 2 teaspoons of sesame seeds.

Bake in a 425 degree oven for 20-25 minutes,until golden brown. Allow spanikopita to rest about 10 minutes before cutting. Serve warm or at room temperature.

I think Grandma would approve!