Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Spiced Marshmallows

My daughter sent me a link to Joy The Baker (joythebaker.com).  I had requested suggestions from our grown children for things to make over the holidays.  Trista's suggestion was Joy's Bonkers Awesome Gingerbread Spiced Marshmallows.  I have always wanted to try homemade marshmallows and this seemed like a good time to try them.  Then my back went out.  I have been able to get up long enough to help get meals on the table, but not much more than that.

Trista and Tara offered to guest blog for me.  Great!  They did all the cooking and took scads of pictures and then declined to do the write up.  So I will attempt to write something and then have ONE of them come up and do any editing necessary. 


Spiced Marshmallows

1 cup cold water, divided use
2 1/4 ounce packages unflavored gelatin
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup dark corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
pinch of cloves
1 cup powdered sugar, for coating the pan and topping the marshmallows



Spray an 8X8 baking pan with Pam and coat with powdered sugar.  Set aside


Pour 1/2 cup cold water into the bowl of a stand mixer.  Exact measurements are key!


I use a Kitchen Aid.  Pour the 2 packets of gelatin over the cold water and let sit for 10 minutes.

Too many cooks give Mom a break...or something like that.


In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the sugar, dark corn syrup, salt and the remaining cold water to a boil.  Stir just until the sugar is dissolved.  Then attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and bring the mixture to 240°.  Remove from heat.


Use the whisk attachment and turn on the mixer to a low speed.  Carefully stream the hot syrup into the bowl while the whisk is moving.  Try not to let the hot syrup hit the whisk as it will fling the hot syrup on the sides of the bowl.  Gradually increase the speed of the mixture.  When you have added all of the hot syrup, beat on high for several minutes until it is thick and fluffy.  This will take about 8 minutes.


Add the vanilla and the spices and stir for 2 more minutes.


Spread the marshmallow mixture in to the prepared pan and smooth the top with a wet spatula.  Sprinkle powdered sugar all over the top and let it sit for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

This is how you know you covered to the edges.


Slide a plastic knife all around the edge to loosen the marshmallows and place them on a large cutting board. 


Spray a pizza cutter with Pam and use it to cut the Marshmallows into cubes.  You may need to coat the cutting wheel with powdered sugar to keep it from sticking.


If you are interested in embellishing these delightfully pillowy creations you can add a...


8 ounces dark chocolate...They used dark chocolate chips
1/3 cup crushed gingersnaps


Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, or carefully in a microwave, if you don't have one.  It is easy to burn chocolate so take it slow.  Dip one end into the melted chocolate and then coat the chocolate in the gingersnap crumbs. 


Wrap any marshmallows that the crowd does not eat immediately in plastic wrap.


For me, the marshmallow was perfect without the chocolate.  The chocolate carried it a little too far and it was a bit rich.  But if you love a rich decadent dessert, go for the chocolate.  And who doesn't love a spicy gingersnap?

I think this must be the technique to use when brushing off spilled powdered sugar that you don't want to get on the floor.  Straddle the waste basket!


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Thumb Thing

I don't usually write about gifts that I am given.  After all, not everyone has such great husbands and children.  No point making you feel bad.  This year for Christmas I got many thoughtful, and much desired, gifts.  One gift stands out.  It is a handmade gift from my son, Travis.

I love giving and getting handcrafted items.  Only a person that makes gifts can truly appreciate the work and thought that goes into something handcrafted.  My son, Travis made me a great gift this year.


When I opened the package, I had no idea what it was.  It was made of redwood and was silky smooth and had a hole in the middle.  I could fit my finger in the hole but it was way too long to be a wooden ring.  I had no clue of how it was to be used.  After he explained it to me I was thrilled.


I read quite a bit.  About 300 books a year, mostly paper backs.  I love them because they are so portable and you can take them just about anywhere.  A brand new paperback is hard to keep open.  It keeps wanting to close up on you. You have to try to hold one page of the other open enough to read it.


It is a thumb book holder opener.  It fits over your thumb and the wing span holds both sides of the book open.  Clever, isn't it?  Travis didn't invent the concept, but it is finely and exquisitely made and I love it.

My new gift does not have a name, although I am open to suggestions.  Perhaps a name like those given to items from IKEA, like a poopli or kerplunkt. Maybe a bookdee or thumbkin.  Perhaps, bookumb.  ("Book 'em Danno.  I mean, hand me my bookumb, Danno.")

Vanessa suggested a bookmark be attached to keep it in the book and so save your place in the book and keep the holder from getting lost.   Perhaps they can incorporate that in the next generation of thumbkins...or bookdees.

Monday, December 23, 2013


I know I am dating myself, but it seems to me that Divinity used to be a much more common treat.  I remember eating it as a child, but I haven't seen it in years.  While paging through the Betty Crocker Cookbook I got when I first set up a household, I found the recipe and decided to try it.



2 3/4 cups sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup chopped nuts.  I used pecans.


Place about 2 feet of wax paper on the counter.


Heat the sugar, corn syrup and water in a large saucepan over low heat.  Stir constantly until the sugar has dissolved.  Then cook with out stirring until it comes up to 260° on a candy thermometer.  Remove from heat.


Place two egg whites in a large bowl.  I used my Kitchen Aid mixer.  It doesn't like to mix only two egg whites.  I used a whisk to beat them frothy and then let the Kitchen Aid take over.  Mix until stiff peaks form. 


Continue beating, or letting the Kitchen Aid do that for you, while pouring a thin stream of the hot sugar syrup into the egg whites.  Add the vanilla.

Keep beating until the mixture becomes slightly dull and begins to hold its shape. 


I tried to stop too early.  Don't do that.  Fold in the nuts.  If you stop too early the Kitchen Aid is strong enough to keep on beating. 


Butter a spoon and knife and use them to drop small lumps onto the wax paper.  Let cool.  Place in an airtight container.  After you have eaten one (or two) to make sure they are as good as you remember.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Microwave Fudge

Fudge is a Christmas favorite at our house.  I have a recipe I got years ago from Women's Day Magazine.  I usually just make it on the stove top, but this year I chose to make it in the microwave.  You REALLY need a candy thermometer for this.  Some people can tell by the color.  And I can, too, when I am making multiple batches of fudge.  This means the first batch may be too soft or too hard until I remember. So use the thermometer.  Or go strictly by the time and hope for the best!  It is pretty spot on.

I am only making one batch this year, so I chose to leave out the nuts.



1 1/2 cups sugar
1 can evaporated milk
1/4 cup butter, cut in pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups mini marshmallows
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped (optional)


Cut up half a stick of butter and place it in a large glass bowl.  Use the other half of the stick to grease a 9X13 non-stick baking pan.  Set the pan aside.


Put the sugar, salt and milk in the bowl with the butter and cover it with a piece of wax paper.  Microwave on high for 3 minutes.


Remove the bowl, discard the wax paper, stir and put it in the microwave for 10 more minutes.  Stop the microwave every 3 minutes to stir.  After 10 minutes, check the temperature.  it should be between 234°-240°.  My thermometers never rise fast enough to catch the real temperature, because the sugar solution is rapidly cooling off.  If it is at 230°, you are good.


Add the chocolate chips to the hot sugar and stir until melted.  Then add the vanilla and the marshmallows.  Stir until melted.  You may add the nuts at this time if you desire.  Stir until glossy. 


Spread in the pan.  You can chill it, or just let it set out for several hours.  Slice with a knife that will not cut your pan.  I have a plastic one for that purpose.  Store in a covered container.  Put it high on a shelf until company arrives or they will not get very much.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Bird's Nests

It is getting close to Christmas, so I am starting to bake.  This is the first Christmas in years when the whole family will get together, so I am trying to bake a few of the traditional and a few new things.  One of the things I have made every year is Bird's Nests.  I have seen them called haystacks.

This recipe used to be made in a double boiler.  It must have been, because I was born before microwave ovens and made them as a teen!  I use a microwave because it is fast.  And because I can use a bigger bowl.  This is also a good project for kids.  It is easy and fast.


Bird's Nests

1 package Butterscotch Morsels
1 cup peanuts
1 can or 1/2 bag of Chow Mein noodles


Wipe a section of counter with a damp rag and they lay out about 3 feet of wax paper.  The moisture on the counter will keep it from curling up.


Empty the package of Butterscotch Morsels into a large glass bowl.  Microwave for one minute.  Stir and return to the microwave for one more minute. 


The morsels won't look melted.  Stir vigorously until smooth.  Add in the peanuts and stir.  Lastly add the Chow Mein noodles, but this time fold it in carefully.  You don't want to break too many noodles.


Drop large spoonsful onto the wax paper.   The  Bird's Nests will set up quickly.  Particularly on a cold day and a granite counter top.


Store in air tight container.  I like to place a sheet of wax paper on the bottom of the container.  Then place one layer on it.  Next cut a section off the cleared wax paper and place on top of the cookie layer.  Going green while making cookies!


There will be a few "orphan" noodles left on the wax paper.  These are up for grabs as a reward for doing this very time consuming and difficult labor. ;))


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Death Of Santini by Pat Conroy


Pat Conroy is a fabulous writer, but he is hard to read.  His prose is beautiful and flows and is witty beyond all.  But the subject matter and the way he can make you feel the despair and anguish of the characters can be a gut wrenching experience for the reader.  When I get a new Conroy book it sits on my bookshelf for a few days until I have steeled myself for the adventure.

For it is always an adventure.  His writing is such that you stop and savor a sentence and wish you could write as well as he.

The Death Of Santini is the first non-fiction book I have read by Conroy.  Although all of his fiction is deeply autobiographical.  That is one of the things that makes reading his books so difficult.  You know some version of that event really happened in his family.  Even The Water Is Wide which starts with such joy and promise ends up being hard to see the racism that we would like to think doesn't exist in this country.

When he mentions an event in his family, you recall the book where he explored that.  Oh, no.  That REALLY happened.  And you understand when he writes, " I was the oldest of seven children: five of us would try to kill ourselves before the age of forty."  He calls his childhood the "wound and foundation of my work.

His father was a marine fighter pilot and "meaner than a shit-house rat, and I remember hating him even in diapers."  His mother tried to protect him on the one hand and yet kept the children in a violent home where beatings were common, frequently for no reason other than the temper of a violent, angry man.

The writing of The Great Santini was both a catharsis and brought his pain and the memories that he had suppressed raging to the forefront. And guilt for telling the world of his family secrets.   "Every time I found myself censoring the writer in me, I would write it anyway.  Finally, it became a credo for my entire writing life-if I feared putting something on paper, it was a voice screaming from the interior for me to start writing it down, to leave out nothing."

After finishing the book his father called in a rage, wanting to know why Pat hated him so much and wondering what his family would think.  Don Conroy (aka The Great Santini) kept his beating and abuse from outsiders and was thought of as a prince of a man.  Although various family members, including Don's brother, a priest, had also felt free to beat and abuse the children when they visited.  Imagine, no safe place and a priest that feels comfortable and unafraid to hit a child for any small infraction.  Growing up in that family must have shaped young Don Conroy, yet no word was ever spoken about it.

The Great Santini was made into a fabulous movie starring Blythe Danner, Robert Duvall and Michael O'Keefe.  Conroy watched the seminal scene of the movie being filmed.  It is the one where the son finally beats the father in a game of basketball.  The father refused to accept the loss and bounced the ball off his wife's face when she congratulated her son on his first victory over his overbearing father.  He then followed his son all the way into the house, hitting him in the back of his head with the basketball, over and over, trying to get him to fight back.

After the scene was filmed Conroy felt gratitude and was honored.  He had seen the creation of art in the portrayals of these fine actors.

"It was so powerful in its purity and its sheer honesty that it shook me, terrified me.  But it changed me.  That is what art always does.  It always changes you and that change stays with you for a lifetime.  The magnificent cast caught with rare perfection how quickly the Conroy family dynamic could explode, grow in anarchy and acuity, until all of us were lost in our own lunatic roles of trying to defuse the chaos that had swallowed us up in an abyss we couldn't avoid."

"The movie was superb, as perfect as anything I could imagine.  Robert Duvall, Blythe Danner, Michael O'Keefe and Lisa Jane Persky taught me what it was like to be brought home to the tabernacle where art is turned into an essential thing that a human soul can feast on."

When his mother is fighting leukemia he writes, " The leukemia was not a worthy opponent in the early days of the siege, but it would grow into unseen power as though it was a tsunami, gaining monstrous strengths undetectable to the human eye."

When speaking of the suicide of his troubled brother, Tom, "..our carelessness in how we loved him, because we discovered ourselves raised in a family where no one showed us how to love.  For us, love was a circle and a labyrinth; all its passages and cul-de-sacs found themselves guarded by monsters of our own creation.  Within us, love grew as slowly as stalactites in a cave, formed by calcite drips of water, one drop at a time."

After the funeral, Conroy spoke to all of his siblings alone, except for the "unapproachable Carol Ann".  His father was devastated over Tom's death and this was proof enough that he truly did love his children.  " He loved us, in his own way, with all his heart, but he had trouble demonstrating that love, which made him just like the rest of his children.  From that day forward, my long war against Dad came to an end.  The Conroy children wiped that slate clean.  I was coming up to my fiftieth birthday.  It embarrassed me what a mess I'd made of my life and casting stones at my own parents lacked the allure for me it once had in my fire-eating youth."

Conroy's relationship with his poet sister, Carol Ann fell apart over the years, torn asunder by the shared trauma of their childhood and their coping mechanisms.  One funny story he shared was a get together for the purpose of sending a family portrait to Don. This visit was punctuated by Carol Ann's announcement that she was a lesbian and her insistence that her girlfriend be included in the picture.

Pat was concerned his grandmother, known as Stanny, would object.  Her only comment was that Carol Ann was making a fool of herself, because she had never even been to Beirut.

"What do you mean by that, Stanny?" I said.  "Who cares if you've been to Beirut or not?"

"Pat, it only makes sense if you look at it literally.  Only people who've been to Lebanon can be real lesbians."

He hollered with laughter and finally realized she had been told growing up in Piedmont that lesbians were people from Lebanon.

"That's what they're called everywhere," Stanny said, not giving an inch.  "She needs to learn these things, needs to study a little geography."

Conroy uses humor to save himself and it is the relief from the horror of his early life.  It is also the break you need when reading about it.  It's what saves him and makes his books readable, by me at any rate.

So buy his book and read it.  But only when you feel strong enough to withstand the onslaught of emotions his writing will engender.  If nothing else, it will put the crummy moments in your own childhood into perspective.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Going Green for Christmas

Sure the Christmas colors ended up as green and red.  But I meant green in the ecological sense. 

It started as self defense, because I am a terrible wrapper.  And I hate the idea of all that paper and those boxes ending up in landfills.  It doesn't make sense from an economic or an environmental standpoint.  Because I am all for saving the Earth, and , you know, I'm cheap.

We would get gifts in beautiful gift bags for our kids and I started to save them.  You can't give gifts to others in used gift bags, so I reused them for the kids.  The name was already on there.   Then I bought some To/From stickers and just covered up any name I needed to change.


One year I bought a giant bag of gift bags from Costco and a giant package of white tissue paper.  I have also purchased bags for $1 each at a Dollar Tree.  Soon I had saved a bunch of bags of every size for everyone in the family.  I used a large gift bag for each person and every year after the gift opening, I put the collection back in the large bag and stored it in the closet.  Then I started to fold up and reuse the tissue paper.  Sure, some of them are wrinkled and torn.  Those get reluctantly tossed.


The best part of this plan is the ease of gift wrapping.  I get out all the bags full of bags and the bag of carefully folded tissue paper.  Then I put a small pile of gifts on the table set up for this purpose.  Grab a gift, find the bag for that recipient and choose a bag that will fit.  Place the gift in the bag.  Place three (Yes, it must be three unless it is a wide bag, and then four.  You are dealing with OCD, here, so go with it.) fluffed sheets of tissue paper and you are done.  A gift wrapping assembly line!   Set aside and grab the next gift.


This process is easier in a room with a door, so that you can keep out unwanted "helpers"


Do you see the beauty of this process?  Each gift only takes a minute or less.  Can you say the same?  And once purchased, each bag can be used for years, so it is cost effective.  The kids even get to know which bags are for them and look forward to seeing it under the tree. 


At first I kept the filled gift bags in our closet to keep little kids from peeking.  It has become our tradition to put them out after the kids have gone to bed.  That is harder to do now that they can stay up later than we can.

We rarely have to buy any gift paper or gift bags.  I also have a selection to use for birthdays and anniversaries. 

I LIKE going green when it means I save money and time.  What is your routine?