I am no prophetess, but I am smart enough to spot a trend when I see it and I am thinking next October would be a good time NOT to be in New Jersey.  It probably takes more than 2 years to count as a trend, but considering the past TWO Halloweens have been not only cancelled, but spent without electricity...I am going to take my chances and call it a "trend."  Granted, maybe fleeing the state is a bit overly dramatic, but at least waiting until the day before Halloween to buy our costumes would be a good idea.   

Before you misunderstand me, I want to be very clear that I am NOT complaining.  In fact, I think I am starting to get pretty good at the whole going without power thing.  So good, in fact, that I am thinking I should take my family camping.  I must have reminded them a hundred times that when our house was built... there was no such thing as electricity.  Hence, people had lived here for decades and SURVIVED.  Imagine that!  Furthermore, it was hard not to get frustrated with everyone who was acting like no electricity was the end of the world.  Seriously?  Maybe they missed the news, but there were whole towns destroyed by this storm.  Having to use warm blankets and candles is hardly a tragedy, and if it is...your life has been way too easy!  

It was a blessing and a much needed decompression for me.  I snuggled with my kids way more than I normally do.  I laid up at night talking with my teenage sons... when does that EVER happen?!  I was mesmerized by a room full of candles.  I got 10 hours of sleep at night.  It was all rather lovely.  It did not hurt that we were experienced after last year, had a pantry full of food, cars full of gas, flashlights and warm blankets located, and soup skills perfected.  Oh, and gorgeous weather allowing us to roam the town in ways our normal life does not give us time for.  We walked everywhere we went.  It was so much fun!  However, before I sound like too much of a saint... every bucket of roses has its tipping point and mine came the morning of November 7th.  

It had been a week and a few days with no power, my "positivity" was suffering a direct onslaught from those around me, my husband was out of town (not exactly a bad thing as he is way more sensitive than I am to loosing the comforts of life, but while we are listing things anyway), truly cold weather was on its way, no electrical trucks in site, school back in session (I did not need that!), and my candidate did not win the presidential election.  The latter put me right over the edge and that morning  as I came driving down the road, I caught site of Natales Bakery and at that instant I knew... it was time for a brownie.  

Life is that way. Sometimes you just have to have a brownie.  Period.  So I did.  A perfect one.  Thank you, Natales and thank you chocolate, for getting me through 13 days with no electricity, no husband, a disappointing election, and 6 kids... and maybe more importantly, thank you for making me remember that I miss WRITING.  I took a picture of that brownie and promised myself, that I would start writing again.   
 
 
(P.S. I made cupcakes for probably only the 3rd time ever and I am stupid proud of them... so be sure you stick with the article long enough to see them.  They were even filled with pineapple awesomeness! The recipe can be found on the Pinterest board.)

The Story

Recently, a little Miss Somebody turned two at our house.  She is my youngest and as much as I love her, I do find myself sometimes fighting that "been there done that" feeling and maybe being a little too practical.  Like last year when I did not give her a 1st birthday party at all.  I mean, I have been around the block enough to KNOW that not only will she NOT remember it, but at age one... she could care less.  Not to mention, the month of June is the last month of school here and super busy and I just did not need anything else on my plate.  

Well... I instantly regretted it big time.  I needed to celebrate surviving that first year. I felt awful about it. I even broke down and bought her stacks of birthday gifts four months after she turned one and vowed to give her a real party when she turned two!  I am happy to say that when the time came, this "old mother" did find a good balance between CELEBRATING and being practical and she had a lovely 2nd birthday party. 

Tips from an 'Old Mom'

1.  THROW the party.  It might be my sixth "2nd Birthday" party to throw, but it is her first... and her only.  She may not remember it, but she WILL see the pictures (granted not in a scrapbook like her older siblings).  Further more, it is that one time all year when you really pause to celebrate in a very visible way the treasure that individual is to you.  It is important... not just for the child, but for who you are as a parent and as a family.

2. PLAN (time does not grow on trees and so a good plan is essential).  Enter PINTEREST... truly a fantastic time saver for party planning.  My eight year old daughter and I created a board called "Miss June's Party" (click to view it) and being a "modern" child, we let the toddler sit on our laps and point (she thinks every picture is an 'APP' anyway).  The hilarious thing is that she was SUPER opinionated.  She knew exactly what she wanted and in the end an interesting "theme" emerged... STRAWS.  
Not kidding.  So funny.  It makes me smile every time I think about it.

3.  Looking at her board, we made a "to-do" LIST, and gave ourselves one week to EXECUTE.  How did I ever manage without an 8-year old girl in the house?  She made almost all of the giant tissue paper flowers.

4.  We kept the actual event super, super SIMPLE
 
decorated only 1 room (3 banners, 12 giant tissue flowers)

invited only 2 guests + their families
party for 1 hour
yes, you read that right, 1 hour
4 very brief activities...

colored on paper taped to the table
blew bubbles
danced to one song
ate a cupcake with strawberry lemonade

goodie bags: crayons and bubbles

Good-Bye

The best part was the little miss sang "Happy" to herself for the rest of the night.  She still beams from ear to ear when you ask her about her party.  She does not need to know that I spent a full month preparing for her oldest brother's 2nd birthday party and that it was a full on production.  I liked her's way better anyway!

(throw - plan/pinterest - execute the list - simple)
 
 
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My husband must say a thousand times a month... "it's all in the details."  Quite frankly, I get tired of hearing about it.  There are people in the world who think I am very detail oriented, but I am most certainly NOT detail oriented the way he is or wishes I was.  In my defense, I think we just focus on different details.  Usually when he is making his 'detail comment', I just try not to roll my eyes or throw something.  However, last fall I found myself whole heartedly agreeing with him.  My sister in-law is a graphic design artist and showed up to my daughter's baptism weekend with several "details" in hand.  I could not help, but think... "Wow!  What a difference something so little makes!  It really is all in the details."  Now, the likely hood that this revelation is going to transfer over into my day to day life in a way that impresses my significant other is... well, not likely at all, but that does not mean that I cannot stand in awe at someone else's gifts.  Thanks Darilyn... for the little flags.  They really did elevate the entire menu!  



Red Velvet Whoopie Pies from Brownie Points (my daughter's favorite)

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Apple Cider Donuts from Wightman's Farm in Morristown, New Jersey 

(simply the best of all the local farms)

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Homemade Macaroni & Cheese 
by Jamie Giles

(simply delicious, serves 12) 

8 Tbsp butter
6 slices good white bread, crusts removed, cut into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces
5 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup flour
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
4 1/2 cups grated sharp white cheddar cheese (about 18 oz)
2 cups grated Gruyere cheese (about 8 oz) or 1 1/4 cups grated
Pecorino Romano cheese (about 5 oz)
1 pound elbow macaroni

Heat oven to 375. Grease a 3 qt casserole dish, set aside. Place cubed
bread in medium bowl and add 2 Tbsp melted butter. Toss and set aside.

Cook macaroni 2-3 minutes less than manufacturer's directions, until
the outside of the pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone. Rinse
under cold water and drain well.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat milk. Melt remaining 6
Tbsp butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When butter
bubbles, add flour. Cook, whisking 1 minute

While whisking, slowly pour in hot milk. Continue cooking, whisking
constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.

Remove pan from heat. Add spices, 3 cups cheddar cheese, and 1 1/2
cups Gruyere or 1 cup Pecorino Romano cheese. Stir macaroni into
cheese sauce.

Pour mixture into prepared dish. Sprinkle remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar
cheese and 1/2 cup Gruyere or 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese on top.
Sprinkle breadcrumbs on top. Bake until browned on top, about 30
minutes.

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My daughter enjoying her favorite treat!

Just in case you were wondering... we did have many other things on the menu to make a more balanced meal, but my point today is that as we are all planning our summer parties... remember that a single detail or two (like a little flag) can go a long way to elevate the entire event into the special zone.  Good luck with all your entertaining!

 
 
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Recently we took our children for the inaugural first ice cream cone of the season. "The Season" is the key word here.  In fact, I added “ice cream” to my budget tracker this year.  I figure it would be a good number to know when I want to hold things over my children’s heads.  It is not entirely their fault… after all the summer swim team drops the kids off at the local ice cream shack guaranteeing at least once visit a week!  (Brilliant whoever negotiated that arrangement!)  

I am a huge fan of ice cream.  You could say I identify with King Charles I, except that we diverge at a critical point.  He supposedly offered his ice cream maker a lifetime pension to keep "his" ice cream formula a secret.  Charles wanted it to be a delicacy of the elite.  You have to love this guy’s passion! However, I think he got it backwards.  He should have shared it with the public at large… and well, to put it as delicately as possible here, he might have kept his head.  I one hundred percent agree that ice cream makers deserve a lifetime pension, but that it should be eaten in public and with the public.  Why?  Well, not so we can keep our heads, but maybe our arteries.  To put this as delicately as possible again, if people like me are to have any chance of avoiding it or keeping it minimal, it has to never come in the house.  Hence, we go OUT for ice cream.  Every time.

All of this takes me back to our first summer back on the East Coast.  We were seriously mourning California and so what better for move-induced-depression?  Find the best ice cream cone within reasonable driving distance of course!  I know, I know… not good coping skills to be passing onto my kids, but it was productive because I can now tell you who has the best ice cream within the neighboring 7 towns.   

Zita’s in New Providence.  The best tasting.  Service is so-so, parking better than most, community aspect on the outside patio is great.  Truly excellent ice cream (and my kid’s favorite Italian ice.)

Magic Fountain in Summit.  It has a cult following.  The line can literally be a mile long.  It was an instant hit with the kids, but at first I did not like it at all.  However, I now totally love it.  It truly has its own flavor.  Not sure what has changed.  Wish I could go back to those first bites to reexamine anew.   Service is fantastic, parking not so great, community aspect positive and very social. 

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Alan’s Orchard in Westfield.  This is my favorite.  Only mine, but a Mom can dream.  It is organic, local, grass-fed… everything I value and love.  The toppings are natural.  I love it!  It has that tang to it and I wish it was closer.  It is worth it just to go check it out at least once.  Great little store too and the service is awesome, but parking awful.  

Negeen’s Persian Grill in Summit.  Ok.  So this is not an ice cream shop, but since the Persians played a huge role in ice cream’s history it seems worth pointing out that you can get Persian ice cream here.  I recommend getting it with the falludeh.  While we are at it, I just really recommend this entire place.  I repetitively order the hummus, Panir-Sabzi and the Wild Strawberry Tea has to be one of the best sleep aids on the planet.  The owners Azar and Mehrdad Zarrabikia are extremely kind also.

 
 
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The super hero himself!
Everybody needs to meet a real live super hero from time to time, and a few weeks ago I had the good fortune of doing just that.  I was in Texas for my sister’s wedding, and as part of the weekend’s celebrations we met her new in-laws.  I am not sure how it came up, but I walked in on a conversation where it had just been revealed that my new brother in-law’s kid brother, Collin, (wow, that is a mouth full) had lost a hundred pounds over the past year.  Well, that had my attention!  In fact, I am pretty sure my feet instantly glued to the floor! 

Back when I was in college as a Human Nutrition student we had this mass of rubbery plastic stuff that represented 5 pounds of human body fat.  Five pounds of human body fat takes up a surprising amount of space.  Do you realize just how much ONE HUNDRED pounds of human body fat is?!  The human body does not give up fat very easily.  In fact, it holds on as hard as it can... which is totally ironic considering how very toxic it is when we carry an excess. Needless to say, getting to meet someone who has taken one hundred pounds off of their body is unbelievably awe-inspiring; especially when it is a kid!  I cannot remember everything I stuttered out at that moment, but I know the crux of it was, “How?!”  

This is the miniature version of his answer.  He had seen the documentary “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead” and decided to put it to the test.  Now, I had heard of the film and I think one of the stars visited my Whole Foods a few months back, but I did not know anything more than that.  In my defense, “Supersize Me” seems to have spawned an entire film genre and I am a little behind on my movie watching.  Collin explained that the film is about a man who goes on a juice fast for 60-days and changes his life.

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Click on the picture for information.
I was extra riveted now.  Not two days earlier, I had ordered myself a juicer.  It was in transit to my house as I stood there hearing his story.
    
I am not sure of all the details of his story, but at some point he decided to do the juice fast for ten days.  Period.  So he did.  At the end of the ten days, he decided to do another ten and then another and then another.  He made it the full 60 days!  

Before we go any farther, we probably need to have a vocabulary lesson.  Juice: We are not talking fruit juice in pretty bottles that you buy at the grocery store.  (I think I had to explain that to my husband three times.)  “Juice” (in this linguistic case) is mounds and mounds of fresh vegetables that have been pulverized and filtered into a liquid form.  Collin told me that he would put up to 13 different vegetables in one concoction!  Fast:  I get how this can be confusing. I am a Mormon and so I know all about fasting, or I thought I did.  To me, fasting means giving to the poor, and your stomach growling – no food and no water for 24 hours.  60 days of fasting would end months after your funeral!   However, apparently, if you consume ONLY juice, it is called a “juice fast.”  I wonder how long till one of my children tries to “juice fast” instead of “fast fast.”  I digress… in short, Collin went on a liquid vegetable diet for 60 days.

Collin is now a hundred pounds lighter, eats a lot less than he used to, has a diet that includes lots of vegetables, fruit, and meat in moderation, is exercising and looks terrific!  I was intrigued as he talked about how he rarely gets sick and how much better he feels now.  He had the film with him because he does not ever want to miss an opportunity to share it with someone who may want to learn more.  He recognizes that he has been given a gift.  I am not sure if he ever got to show the film to anyone while he was in Texas, but within 24 hours of returning home, I watched it (available for instant viewing on Netflix).

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I can see how a diet like this would help put a lot of distance between old eating habits and a new life, but I find myself reluctant to make the leap.  I rationalize by saying I do not need to lose that much weight and I already eat lots of fruits and vegetables.  Yesterday when I wrote this I wrote: “I will not be going on a juice fast for 60-days.”  I am already starting to second-guess that myself.  For starters, I am having a blast making vegetable juice a few times a day and increasingly turning to it as a major part of my diet.  I do feel better.  Second, I have given up wheat or at least I am trying to.  I do not know what my body’s issue with wheat is, but to say I feel better without it is a major understatement.  The problem is that I keep slipping up.  When I mess up I feel horrible for at least 24 hours.  I wonder if doing a “juice fast” would help me completely break my bonds with wheat?  Who knows?  What I do know is that Collin is one of my heroes and I love my green drinks!  My family thinks they are nasty, but I think it is funny how often they want to sample them anyway and the one year old?  I have to hide them from her.  She loves them! 

 
 
What?  I’m Irish?  Who says?  “They” do.  A quick search of "Irish Stereotypes" should have been all the proof I needed.  Everything about me is right off the Irish script, but I had not a clue until I met "them."  

In 2000 my husband and I moved to New Jersey.  He to continue his near enslavement (at least we did get paid), around the clock working in a bank in the city (just a bigger city) while I adjusted to life far, far, far away from home and family.  We had three little boys (the third born that first winter after we arrived) and my days were filled with playing outside, going to the library, bug collecting, grocery shopping, reading stacks and stacks of books, drawing, scrap booking, and in general a carefree life without  a clock.  Dad went in to work late and came home literally in the middle of the night… or the next morning.  We ate when we wanted, played when we wanted, and went to bed when we wanted.  If I had only known then how peaceful, easy, and free that life really was! Then again, how do you tell a Mom of three little kids that her life is easy?  Wow, I am way, way, way off track.  This picture just make me really nostalgic!  These three are almost as tall as me, as tall as me, and way taller than me!  Back on track...

The four of us went everywhere together and as time went I found that we were frequently being stopped by older gentlemen who would ask us if we were Irish.  They did not really want an answer.  They were already smiling… “of course you are.”  The first few times it really stumped me.  “Well, I do not know.”  Then it occurred to me that our last name was Ragan… as in formerly O’Regan.  Yes, I felt a little foolish once I registered that.  My husband's family descends from the Tribe of Tara complete with a coat of arms with dolphins on it.  The name means "Little King" (ironic because I have yet to meet a Ragan shorter than 6 foot) and they immigrated to North America in the 1600s.  I quickly got better at answering “yes” right away and smiling, but it really got me thinking…  

Did we really LOOK that Irish?  I guess I had often heard my mother in-law refer to my husband as “Black Irish” (super fair skin and super black hair) and after thinking about it, I was also aware that my Dad had often enough been asked the same question (formerly blonde, round face, super blue eyes and a personality really right off the Irish script).  I was still not sure what "Irish" looked like, but apparently my three little round-faced boys looked it and so I figured that we had better start celebrating the Irish’s biggest holiday here in the United States...       St. Patrick's Day! 

I had grown up with the Leprechauns visiting our classrooms back in Texas, but nothing like was available here on the East Coast.  The grocery stores were full of “Irish” food.  Seriously, who can honestly claim that green DYE makes something Irish?!  No, this was real stuff… soda bread, hot cross buns, corn beef stew, and imported cheeses and butters!  

(Incidentally, if someone ever writes my history, it might be worth noting that this was also the beginning of my being a holiday-celebrator.  Just, so you know.  This is 'that' moment.)  
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I checked out a Rain Dance film from the library and a recipe for corn beef stew off the internet.  Then on March 17, 2001… our family celebrated St. Patrick’s Day for the very first time!  It has now evolved into a full on holiday at our house.  Isn't it funny how small things can sometime start out?  In time, I would find out that our strongest and most recent Irish connections actually came from my side of the family (McCanns and Stanleys both immigrated in the 1800s), add the color orange to the green, understand why both colors, experience St. Patrick’s Day in Walnut Heights Elementary, California with Ms. Nancy (I suspect that celebration is not to be topped by a single other locale in all of the USA), find out quite by accident that my family recipe book had an authentic Irish recipe in it that had been handed down, and give birth to my very own mischievous princess, but... those are all their own stories.  So for now, have some stew!

Crockpot 
Corned Beef and Cabbage

Adapted from a recipe supplied to an unknown internet site (long before I knew I should remember that kind of thing) courtesy of a Mrs. Buckeye.  Thank you Mrs. Buckeye.  Whoever you are.

A package of corned beef brisket (whatever size fits your pot)
2 onions, quartered
pepper
Tarragon vinegar (or some sort of flavored vinegar)
Sugar
small potatoes, whole
Carrots, sliced or baby carrots, whole
1 cabbage head sliced
2 cups of water

Combined it all in your pot with the carrots on the bottom and the cabbage on the top.  Cover and cook on low 10-12 hours or high 6-7 hours.  Perfect!
 
 
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Recently I got a call from the preschool... my four year old had taken a tumble and stitches were in order.  Literally less than 24 hours earlier I had remarked to my husband that I could not believe she had made it this long without getting stitches.  I should have bit my tongue!  So as I had been, apparently, expecting this call I was hardly as ruffled as the poor teachers who had to deal with the immediate emergency and simply added it to my 'Things to Do List' for the day... finish picking up older child's antibiotic for strep throat, pick up injured "child", drop off baby at babysitter, stop at grocery store for sore throat supplies, pick up high schooler from early out due to finals, and then... finally... go to emergency room.  I learned how to triage a LONG time ago.  By time I get to the emergency room there is a good chance the wound has already been cleaned and I know exactly what is needed.  I usually know if I need a specialized hospital, specialist doctor, dad to come home, or... if it can wait till I 'get to it'.  

As I stood in the check out line at the grocery store thinking of my little tike sitting out in the car with her very sick, big brother and both of them feeling so sad and she with her banged up chin... that was triaged right down the list... I impulsively picked her up a heart shaped cookie.  You know the kind.  Cute, lasts forever, not very tasty - hard as rocks.  I handed it to her in the car, but told her she could not eat it until we got home from the hospital.  For the three hours or so she loved on that cookie.  When we got to the hospital she started every introduction by telling the nurse or doctor that she "had a cookie."  She would then whip it out and "surprise" them with it.  She said it with such a twinkle and delight that I could not help feeling immensely relieved that I had been so brilliant.  

What is it with sugar?  One of my Grandmas called kisses "sugar."  "Come here and give me some sugar."  I would always mutter under my breath that sugar was white stuff and NOT her very, wet kisses, but today it makes me smile.  Mary Poppins comes to mind and her wisdom that a "spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down." I also remember the first time someone made the connection for me that "sugar" is a drug.  They pointed out that it is often the drug of choice for those who abstain from alcohol and is used by many the same way alcohol is. It can likewise be destructive.  It just takes its time.  That seems like such a dark view of something so, excuse the pun, sweet.

So the question I have is, am I training her to turn to sugar at times of trauma or at times like this...is sugar just what the doctor ordered.  Now might be the time to disclose that I had also promised her an ice cream if she behaved.  I know my kids well enough to predict how they will behave in these situations and to usually help them achieve the behavior needed.  However, she was a wild card.  I told the fabulously, wonderful child life specialist just that.  I could not be confident in how she would react to the procedure and they made arrangements accordingly.  However, she did not move a muscle the entire time.  We now know our wild child can be perfectly calm... when properly motivated.  She told me as we walked out of the hospital that she was ready to eat her cookie and get her ice cream because she remembered that and had been really still.  Well, there you go.  I should have known there was a catch.  The needle alone would have done it for me, but the cookie and ice cream was all the motivation she needed.  So back to my question... am I creating a sugar dependence or is this what sugar was made for?  Sigh.  Hard to know, but I like to think I am a smart mother and so was Mary Poppins and so note to self... always take some "sugar" to the ER.

Louise Jeter's Sugar Cookies 
(my four year old's favorite)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees
8 cups flour
5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/3 c. oleo or butter, softened
3 c. sugar
4 eggs
2tsp vanilla
3 Tbs milk (or water)

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl.

Mix wet ingredients with a whisk or a mixer until smooth and light.

Add wet stuff to dry stuff. Stir and fold until pretty well mixed. There will still be dry flour visible.

With clean (or clean and gloved) hands, finish the mixing job.

Set in the fridge for 30 minutes minimum if you are going to bake right away – or separate into 4 or 5 mounds. Roll in wax paper. Store rolls in a plastic bag in the refrigerator if you are going to bake them within 48 hours or in the freezer for later baking.

To bake, grease cookie sheets.

Roll thawed dough with a rolling pin until about ¼ “ thick (thinner for a crisp cookie). Cut with cookie cutters.

Sprinkle with sugar or colored sugar if desired.

Place on cookie sheet very close together but not touching. Bake for 7 - 9 minutes. Cookies will be golden brown on the edges.

Cool completely. Paint with thin icing using a paint brush and sprinkle with cake sprinkles.

OR paint with a thin, clear glaze and sprinkle with cake sprinkles.
 
 
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I have a minor "issue" on my hands.  Granted I may be in denial about the nature of it.  It makes me think of King Louis the XVI who asked if it was a rebellion and was told it was just a revolt, and well, we all know what happened to him.  Like old King Louis I probably have a full on insurrection, mutiny, and coup d'etat going.  The "problem" is bacon... as in dead pig fat. Ironically, all things considering, it is one I will take.   Not that bacon makes me proud, but it is not exactly going to land them in jail - just a hospital.  However, by time that happens they will be off my insurance plan and it will surely mean more time with the grandkids for me.  A sick way to look at it, but I am just being honest here.  

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It goes like this.  I have never served anything more than Turkey Bacon (prepared in the microwave or oven) and that was well over a decade ago.  Apparently, someone(s) feels deprived.  I am not sure where or when my sons got their first taste of real bacon, but they have and they are OBSESSED. Everything is better with bacon (so I am told.)  Bacon is the punch line for every joke and they never miss an opportunity to cook with it;  though there is some debate about how much they actually eat.  

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Last night a group of guys had an "Epic Meal Time" event.  (Click on the word to go to their website.) It was in our house. I stayed upstairs.  I figured it was not something I wanted to see.  I am sure they did not want to see me.  All evidence was gone by the time I walked back in the kitchen this morning.  However, my house SMELLS like bacon.  It may smell this way forever.  When I logged into Facebook this morning, I understood why.  This is a whole lot of bacon! In fact, I do not see much of anything else.

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This is called...


"Bacon blanket pizza macaronie mashed potatoe root beer taco bomb"  




No, I do not have the recipe.  I would be a very uncool Mom, if I asked.  If I just comment about something I have seen on their Facebooks, I am called a "stalker".  Just imagine what stealing the photos right off their pages makes me.  So, you are on your own for the recipe.  Use your imagination.  Or do not.  Oh, this is grosse.

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This is called a... 

"Bacon Grease Shot" 

 Shhh... it is in the fridge and was totally solid fat by this morning.  No one drank a bit of it.  Thankfully they did not put it down the sink or in one of my real glasses!  Whew... not sure how they knew not to put it down the sink, but I am relieved.  Clogged arteries are bad enough, but a clogged sink... might just put me in a hospital!

 
 
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For some completely illogical reason, chocolate is a romantic Valentine’s Day gift. In fact, Valentine's Day would be better named “Happy Chocolate Day.”  For two weeks now I have been avoiding the management’s “request” to share chocolate recipes in honor of Valentine’s Day.  I am all in favor of celebrating chocolate, but why under the guise of Valentine’s Day?  I am a skeptic.  Chocolate may be useful after a break-up, but for increasing romance?  Sounds to me like a myth sold to us by chocolate makers.  So nope, chocolate does not make me think of my sweetheart.  In fact, if he has any chocolate we can probably plan on a trip to the Emergency Room, but even if that was not so, my criticism of the Chocolate-Valentine’s Day relationship stems from the observation that chocolate is a selfish lover.    

In full disclosure, for years and years chocolate never made any sense to me, at all, and on any level.  People would go on and on about it, but I could barely tolerate it.  As a child you were either one or the other: you liked it or you did not.  I did not.  I passed altogether if the dessert was chocolate… it might as well have been green beans.  As I got older, I came along and learned to like both it and the green beans, but I was still not a chocolate lover.  I much preferred other things and best I could gather… chocolate lovers love it more than anything else.  My taste buds were not ready for that kind of commitment.

Fast forward a few years and I could blame chocolate for a nice set of stitches.  I was barely in my twenties and making box brownies for a group of teenagers.  Practically all I had to do was put them in the oven and I should have been guaranteed success, but I am no baker.  My baking handicap started as a teenager when I was a wanna-be-anorexic. I made a solemn commitment to never learn to bake.  My theory was that if I could not make dessert, I would not eat dessert.  Too bad I discovered bakeries and well, cheesecake.  I loved cheesecake.  I mastered cheesecake until I discovered the perfect cheesecake… White Chocolate Cheesecake.  With hindsight I realize that this is what is called “forshadowing” in literature.  I walked away from that perfect cheesecake seven years ago.  Why? Because I would eat nearly a pound of chocolate every time I made it and that is before ever having a bite of the finished product.  I could not make it without eating it and the calories were just not worth it.  Last week my son made my White Chocolate Cheesecake for his Foods class final.  Like a shadow from the past I found myself questioning my resolve.  You see something happened about five years back that changed my relationship with chocolate all together and almost over night. 

I got pregnant…for the fifth time... for the first time in my thirties.   The hormones must be different than in your twenties. That is the only explanation I can come up with.  The change was more than subtle.  All of a sudden not only did I like chocolate, I craved it.  I lived for it.  I survived on it.  I loved it exclusive to all other sweets or even all other foods.  In fact, I am still carrying eight pounds of it on my derriere.  I did not like just any chocolate either; I wanted fine chocolate, European chocolate, and dark chocolate.  What I did not know, was that the horrible acid reflux that defined that pregnancy was a direct consequence of - the chocolate.  I figured out that connection by baby number six and thus consumed almost zero chocolate the 6th time around.  If I cheated at all - my body punished me for hours.    

So… here is the interesting thing to me… six children and I only fed one of them chocolate in utero.  Guess which one loves chocolate?  You got it.  Number five.  She picks a chocolate cake every single year for her birthday and learned to say the word quite early.  Do not get me wrong, my other children like chocolate, but she loves it.  She even went through a stage where she pouted that she was not “chocolate” (a black or brown person) because honestly, who wants to be “vanilla” when you can be “chocolate”?  My trying to explain that her “vanilla” status was permanent did not go over so well - “Noooooooooooo!”

Back to me - You would think between acid reflux, recognized lack of self-discipline, and an imposed nine-month hiatus that I would… well, have nothing to say right now.  However, my affair with chocolate is still going strong five years after that fateful fifth pregnancy.  Yesterday, I was visiting with an extremely thin woman when one of my children offered her a Valentine chocolate… she declined.  She does not eat chocolate, but she would save it for her husband.  I do not know the real reason she does not eat it, but I could not help to think that her body was proof enough that it would be a good rule to adopt.  New rule:  no more chocolate… unless it comes in the chocolate flavored oatmeal packets sold at Whole Foods.  Only a genius would put chocolate and oatmeal together and well, only an addict like myself… would go along with it! 

(Truth be told… I have been doing pretty good at keeping my caloric intake in an appropriate range until yesterday when I totally blew it on “child five’s” Valentine candy for her friends at school.  So now not only do I have to replace it, but I am full of shame.  Do not try to tell me that feeling is wrong.  Trust me, it was an amount worthy of shame.  Hence, I am trying to channel my shame into this article rather than, well, finishing off the rest of the chocolate!)

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White Chocolate Perfect Cheesecake 

also called 

Hannah's Cheesecake
(adapted from Cheesecake Recipes Online)



3 tablespoons softened butter
1 cup finely chopped, toasted macadamia nuts
25 ounces white chocolate* (1 ounce for dipping)
3/4 cup heavy cream, scalded
24 ounces of fat-free or light cream cheese
1.5 cup sugar (1/2 cup of it is for the sauce)
1/4 cup flour
4 eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla (I do not really measure, it may be 3)
sweetened whip cream
macadamia nuts (dipped in chocolate)
fresh raspberries (dipped in chocolate)
2 cups frozen raspberries

*Do not, do not, do not use cheap chocolate.  You do not want a chocolate with texture in it and in my experience South American chocolates do not work in this recipe.

Cake:
1.  Coat bottom of 9-inch springform pan with butter and sprinkle the chopped macadamia nuts over the butter.  Chill in the freezer 15 minutes.

2.  Melt 24 ounces of the chocolate the microwave and then pour the scalded cream into it.  Stir this mixture until it is smooth.

3.  Beat the cream cheese, sugar, and flour.  Add the chocolate.  Add the eggs.  Add the vanilla.

4.  Bake 20 minutes at 425 degrees and then another 45-55 at 300 degreese.

5.  Cool on rack for one hour and the refrigerate for 6-24 hours.

Topping:
1.  Melt chocolate and then dip macadamia nuts and raspberries in it.  Cool for 3 hours.

2.  Top cake with the dipped nuts and raspberries.

3.  At the last minute add whip cream.

Bottom Raspberry Sauce:
Mix melted frozen strawberries with sugar.

Serve:
Pour raspberry sauce on saucer and place wedge of cake on top.  Enjoy... both the cake and all the praise.
 
 
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http://www.cookmyway.com.au/recipe/707/pane-di-como
My baby brother is currently living in Northern Italy.  He often throws in little foodie observations and moments in his letters home.  Those images dance around in my head for days.  I absolutely loved this week's and thought I would start sharing his descriptions with you.  They are lovely! ....



A few weeks ago I said something foolish about Italians not letting anything get in between them and their daily to-do list. FALSE. They are paralyzed in the snow. They do not drive AT ALL in the snow. As in, not even a little bit. As in, we were in a car with someone when it started snowing last Tuesday . . . he dropped us off on the side of the road and turned around to go home. We walked the rest of the way (5-6 km). Trains are, on average, an hour and half late. This, of course, cancels about 50% of our appointments (the ones which we have to take trains, buses, or car rides to get to), leaving us with not much else to do except finding work, which involves a lot of being out in the cold. Yay. One cool thing is that Italian women go every day to buy bread at their favorite bakery. However, one does not leave the house when it is snowing, so they stay inside and make their own bread. I don't know how many times we've buzzed a door to have it opened by a woman with dough-y hands. Also, snow ploughs don't do very nice things to cobblestone streets, so they have to be shoveled by hand, which can only be done by the city, which is not  the fastest operation you've ever seen. They only shovel the streets - not the bike paths or the sidewalks. I've only fallen twice (not yet from the bike). I've got a pretty nice bruise on my left arm, with more (I'm sure) to come. :  )