Category Archives: Holiday

Red-Skinned Potato Salad

We had two Christmas dinners this year – prime rib with our houseguest and her kids on Christmas day, and a separate celebration on December 28th that included my sister, her boyfriend, and their three children. We had planned to smoke a brisket using the electric smoker I got Paul the year before. Unfortunately, the temperature plummeted and it started raining Saturday night, so we ended up outsourcing the meat to City Barbeque. We did, however, end up making the sides to go with it from scratch, including this recipe for Red-Skinned Potato Salad that my sister discovered on All Recipes a couple of years back. It is hands down the best tasting potato salad I’ve ever had, even though just reading the ingredient list alone is enough to clog your arteries. Everything in moderation, right?

Red Skinned Potato Salad

Red-Skinned Potato Salad
recipe courtesy of All Recipes

2 lbs clean, scrubbed new potatoes
6 eggs
1 lb. bacon
1 onion, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
2 cups mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add potatoes and cook until tender but still firm, about 15 minutes. Drain and set in the refrigerator to cool.

Place eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring water to a boil and immediately remove from heat. Cover and let eggs stand in hot water for 10 to 20 minutes. Remove from hot water, cool, peel and chop.

Place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Drain, crumble and set aside.

Chop the cooked potatoes, leaving skin on. Add to a large bowl, along with the eggs, bacon, onion and celery. Add mayonnaise, salt and pepper to taste. Chill for an hour before serving.

Nutrition per serving: 430 calories, 36.9g fat, 133mg cholesterol.

Menu Plan Monday: Nov 19-25, 2012


It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve done a post for Menu Plan Monday – it’s not that we haven’t eaten or cooked anything – it’s been more that the last couple weeks have flown by without me really taking a moment to breathe. Over the past couple of weeks we have made a few new recipes – namely, the delicious Philly Cheesesteak Sloppy Joes.

This year is going to be a fairly low-key Thanksgiving, just Paul and I. Glad that there won’t be the stress that comes with entertaining, grateful that I have the physical ability to cook this year, and sad that this holiday marks the one year anniversary of what has become a huge fracture in the family dynamic. But also very grateful for the lack of drama that comes with maintaining that particular relationship, which was definitely taking a great toll on my mental health. Also very, very thankful for second chances – my brush with death last year led me to do a lot of healing in my relationship with my father. I will miss him greatly on Thursday, and hope that I will be able to see him and his soon-to-be wife sooner rather than later.

But we decided to keep it really simple this year – he and I both prefer white meat over dark, so we’re just doing a non-stuffed turkey breast this year – it will make eating up the leftovers a breeze rather than a chore. What are the rest of you doing for Thanksgiving? Looking over the link-up for this week’s blog party gives me tons of ideas. Here’s what we have planned this week:

Monday: Pork and Sauerkraut, Kielbasa and Knockwurst, Mashed Yukon Golds

Tuesday: Oven Hot Dogs, Make-Ahead Mac and Cheese, Corn

Wednesday: Homemade Hamburger Helper Stroganoff, Green Beans

Thursday: Roasted TUrkey Breast, Mashed Yukon Golds, Stuffing, Candied Yams, Creamy Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, Cranberry Sauce, Make Ahead Turkey Gravy, Favorite Shoofly Pie, Amish Sugar Cream Pie, Caramel Apple-Pear Crisp

Friday: Turkey Chowder with Wild Rice, Crimini and Pancetta, Thanksgiving Sandwiches

Saturday: Fried Mashed Potato Cakes with Cheddar Mustard Sauce topped with a Fried Egg (Brunch), Sweet Potato Pockets, Chicken Meatballs with Sage and Cranberries and Cranberry Reduction

Sunday: King Crab with Beurre Blanc and Spinach-Corn Orzotto

Eggnog Flan

If you’re anything like me or many others I know, eggnog is a winter holiday staple. You crave it every year, but after a glass full, you’ve had your fill and can’t bear the thought of having another glass. You may even have a couple of quarts of it languishing around in your fridge, leftover from holiday celebrations. You want to get to it before the drop dead date, but never do. This is an excellent way to both use it up, and try something different in the process. It was a hit with our family, hopefully it will be with yours as well.

Eggnog Flan

Eggnog Flan
recipe courtesy of Food Network Magazine

2/3 cup sugar
4 cups eggnog
5 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Stir the sugar and 2 tablespoons water in a medium skillet. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, swirling the pan but not stirring, until deep amber, 5 to 7 minutes. Pour the caramel into a shallow 10-inch-round cake pan, tilting the pan so the caramel evenly coats the bottom.

Bring a kettle of water to a boil. Whisk the eggnog and eggs in a large bowl until smooth, being careful not to beat in too much air. Pour the eggnog mixture over the caramel in the pan, then place in a large roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with enough boiling water to come halfway up the side of the cake pan.

Loosely cover the roasting pan with foil and bake 1 hour. Remove the foil and continue baking until the custard is set but still quivers, 40 minutes to 1 hour.
Remove the flan from the roasting pan and let cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until cold and set, about 2 hours. To serve, run a thin knife around the edge of the flan, place an inverted flat plate over the pan and flip to unmold.

Retailers’ stores thinly stocked; profits won’t be

AP Online December 28, 2009 | MAE ANDERSON Retailers have thin inventories after coming out of Christmas with slightly better-than-expected sales.

Some retailers kept inventory so low they’ve had to bring in new merchandise to restock shelves, a rare move this soon after Christmas.

That’s good news for their bottom lines. But it means slim pickings for shoppers hoping for after-Christmas clearance sales. Shoppers looking for big sales should act quickly because there are relatively few leftovers to clear out. go to site lenox square mall

“Retailers are much more nimble this year,” NPD analyst Marshal Cohen said. “Their ‘Plan B’ is to have new receipts at the ready.” Cohen said he noticed J. Crew and Coach were two that had restocked shelves with new items last week.

Because their ordering was in line with weak demand, retailers were able to sell more items at higher prices, which is critical to profits. Last year, profits were hammered by fire-sale discounts to get rid of the excess.

“The latest holiday shopping season wasn’t a rip-roaring success, but at least it met or slightly exceeded expectations,” said John Lonski, chief economist of Moody’s Capital Markets Research Group. “Consumer spending is indeed in a recovery mode, which brightens prospects for 2010.” Spending rose 3.6 percent from Nov. 1 through Dec. 24 compared with the same period last year, according to MasterCard Advisors’ SpendingPulse, which estimates all forms of payment including cash. Adjusted for an extra shopping day between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the number was closer to a 1 percent rise. That was still better than the flat sales analysts had predicted.

Some retail stocks rose on Monday. American Eagle Outfitters shares rose 48 cents, or 3 percent, to $16.80. Macy’s Inc. shares rose 19 cents to $17.76. J.C. Penney shares rose 36 cents to $27.38. Inc.’s shares rose 84 cents to $139.31, buoyed by SpendingPulse numbers that showed online sales rose 15.5 percent.

The Dow Jones U.S. Retail Index edged up less than 1 percent.

After-Christmas traffic also appeared to be relatively robust, though it wasn’t clear how much people were actually spending.

Roth Capital Partners analyst Elizabeth Pierce visited six malls Saturday in southern California and saw many shoppers without bags. It’s likely shoppers who went looking for bargains left without buying much, she said. go to site lenox square mall

Shoppers over the weekend certainly focused on deals.

Bessie Lyles of Huntsville, Ala., arrived at Lenox Square Mall in Atlanta at 6 a.m. to hunt for deals. The 57-year-old left Macy’s with two tops, sweaters and two pairs of jeans, including one pair for $4, marked down from $34.

In order to entice shoppers like Lyles through the rest of the week and into January, retailers are expected to steeply discount what leftovers they do have.

After last year’s dismal season, when unplanned discounts 70 percent off or more began appearing well before Christmas, retailers vowed they wouldn’t get caught that way again.

This year the tight control let retailers mostly keep discounts planned, said FBR Capital Markets analyst Adrienne Tennant.

NPD’s Cohen said the season was good enough for most retailers to survive, though many could shutter underperforming stores.

“If a store didn’t generate a profit, it will really be under the microscope,” he said.

A better picture of how retailers fared during the holiday will be known Jan. 7, when many report December sales.


A Little Bit of Germany in Columbus

The Christmas memories of my childhood are often punctuated by thoughts of the baked goods they used to make for the holidays. My grandfather’s stollen had a prominent place In those memories, and so did German style cookies. Holidays were big in their household, going over there on Christmas Eve every year was something I looked forward to all year.

Bierberg Bakery Outside

In the heart of German Village (where else did you think it would be?) there is a little shop, only open for 2 months a year, that sells old fashioned German cookies, the kind that is just perfect for serving with coffee or cocoa. They closed for the year on Christmas Eve, and unfortunately I didn’t make it there this year – they do, however, make the same things from year to year, so this will give you an idea of what to expect.

Bierberg Bakery Cookies

Posting this today (on the 16th anniversary of my Oma’s death) is a bit bittersweet, but in a good way. So many good memories to cherish that don’t fade away one bit as the years pass by. Even though she’s been gone a while, I still hold her close to my heart and feel like one day, somehow, some way, we’ll be together again.

What holiday traditions of your childhood are a part of your current celebrations? Which ones started with your generation and will continue for years to come?

If you’d like to go (unfortunately, you’ll have to wait until fall): Bierberg Bakery, 729 S. 5th Street, Columbus (German Village), 614-443-9959

Hoppin' John and Other New Year's Superstitions

Part of the joy of being a part of the food blogging community comes from being exposed to flavors that may be foreign to your own palate, but are mainstays somewhere in the world. This particular recipe for Hoppin’ John Soup is traditionally prepared on New Years Day, to bring luck and prosperity to those who are eating it.

This recipe is a variation of traditional Hoppin’ John in that it is served like a soup. I’m not usually fond of black eyed peas, but I enjoyed this. We usually have pork and sauerkraut on New Years Day, but this may end up as an addition to our holiday table. What New Years traditions do the rest of you engage in?

Hoppin' John

Hoppin’ John Soup
recipe courtesy Saveur Magazine

1 lb. dried black-eyed peas
1 smoked ham bone or two hocks
1⁄4 cup canola oil
1⁄2 cup finely chopped cooked ham
1⁄4 tsp. red chile flakes
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 jalapeño, stemmed, seeded,
and finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 lb. collard greens, ribs removed,
leaves roughly chopped
2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground
black pepper, to taste
5 cups cooked long-grain white rice
Chopped tomatoes and scallions, for garnish

1. Bring peas, ham bone, and 8 cups water to a boil in a 6-qt. Dutch oven. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, skimming foam occasionally, until peas are tender, about 45 minutes. Drain peas, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid along with ham bone; set aside.

2. Heat oil in a 12-qt. pot over medium-high heat. Add chopped ham, chiles, garlic, jalapeños, carrot, onion, celery, and bay leaf and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 8 minutes. Add reserved black-eyed peas, ham bone, and reserved cooking liquid, along with collards and 12 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until collards are tender, about 1 hour. Stir in vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Spoon rice into bowls and ladle soup over rice and add garnishes.

SERVES 8 – 10

Roads gridlocked? Have fun close to home

Daily News (Los Angeles, CA) July 11, 2011 The San Fernando Valley’s main gateway to the Westside will be shut down this coming weekend, but don’t let it affect your social life.

Many of Los Angeles’ hottest hangouts – beaches, nightclubs, theaters – might be out-of-reach for Valley residents, but there’s plenty to do here.

Following are a few ideas for singles, couples and families who plan to stay put in the Valley during the 405 Freeway closure period – scheduled to last from late Friday through early Monday morning.

Families Los Encinos State Historic Park’s Living History Day, held on the third Sunday every month, coincidentally falls during the freeway closure. Jennifer Dandurand, park interpretation specialist, said the event still makes Los Encinos a great option for local families to walk to while avoiding traffic.

Costumed volunteers will dress in 1870s garb, play games with children and teach them about 19th century life. The park’s normal self-guided tours of an 1849 abode house and duck feeding will also be available.

Los Encinos State Historic Park is located at 16756 Moorpark St., Encino. It is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Those who like fresh fare from farmers markets can keep their kitchens stocked and their stomachs full over the weekend with local vendors throughout the Valley. go to website 405 freeway closure

“My co-workers and I were just talking the other day about how people in the Valley should take the opportunity to shop and explore locally,” said Amber Fuellenbach, volunteer and intern coordinator at ONEgeneration, which organizes the Encino Farmers Market.

Encino hosts its market every Sunday on Victory Boulevard between Balboa and White Oak avenues. In addition to food and art vendors, the market has a number of children’s activities, including face painting and a bouncy castle.

Encino Farmers Market is located on Victory Boulevard between Balboa and White Oak avenues. It is open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Social Reaching trendy Hollywood nightclubs using the 101 will not be impossible, but heavy traffic could make the trek more trouble than it’s worth. Instead, there are plenty of spots in the Valley to drink and dance the night away. Some are even offering drink specials and planning themed parties in honor of the freeway closure.

Coda Bar and Lounge in Sherman Oaks recently announced its “405 Carmageddon” weekend-long party. Along with the normal late night happy hour from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., Coda will offer three special drinks all night long named after the weekend: The Carmageddon, the Carmarita and the Carpool. Live DJs will be spinning Top 40, 80s hits, dance music and hip-hop, and there will be no cover charge.

“We’re right off the 101, and if you live in any of the closed off neighborhoods, you can just take local streets to get here,” said Farah Casis, Coda’s event manager.

Coda Bar and Lounge is located at 5248 Van Nuys Blvd., Sherman Oaks. It is open from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Page 71 Lounge in Studio City is also hoping Valley residents who normally go into the city will check out the nightclub. Owner Bryan Suckut said he would guess there might a 10 percent to 20 percent increase in business over the weekend.

Before the freeway closure was planned, Page 71 snared a popular Miami-based DJ, Justin James, to play on Sunday night for one of only three shows in Los Angeles. Now, the club will tie promotion of James’ show into Carmegeddon.

Page 71 Lounge is located at 11916 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. It is open from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Theater Valley theater fans will have to plan to see “Les Miserables” at the Ahmanson Theatre or “Shrek: The Musical” at the Pantages Theatre on a different weekend, but venues in the North Hollywood Arts District have a number of shows to tide them over.

“NoHo is pretty active every weekend,” said Pegge Forrest, manager of the El Portal Theatre. “But business should increase because everyone should stay off the freeways if they can.” “Boomermania” at the El Portal is entering its last two weeks before it moves to a larger theater to accommodate sold-out crowds. The musical comedy recaps the fads and events of the 50s, 60s and 70s through six vignettes. Though the show usually sells out, there are still tickets available for the weekend through the El Portal’s website or ticket discounter

The El Portal also features a free art gallery open to the public. The current show, “A Passing State of Mind,” displays the work of Lola Scarpitta, whose art is described as ironic and plays with visual cues throughout art history.

The El Portal Theatre is located at 11206 Weddington St., North Hollywood. The show is at 8 p.m. on Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets can be purchased at or this web site 405 freeway closure

A collection of seven short plays and musicals by playwright Stephanie Hutchinson called “The Start of Something Real” is showing at the Secret Rose Theatre. Theatergoers can expect a night of light- hearted comedy, said owner Mike Rademaekers.

“The nice thing about a collection of short plays is if you don’t like one, the next one’s coming up in a couple of minutes,” Rademaekers said.

The Secret Rose Theatre is located at 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. The show is at 8 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets can be purchased at

NoHo Arts Center will feature the one-act comedy “Departures,” which tells the interweaving stories of eight people waiting for their flights in an airport. In one plot line a gay couple is about to leave for China to adopt a baby, and in another a father heads to Iraq to pull his son out of the war.

NoHo Arts Center is located at 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. The show is at 8 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling 818-508-7101.

Or …

If none of those Valley locales sound appealing, there’s always what most of the country will probably be doing anyway: flocking to the nearest movie theater to see the final installment of the “Harry Potter” series during its opening weekend. 818-713-3719

A Look Back at 2011

Here, in the final hours of 2011, I’m taking a few minutes to reflect on how the past year diverted from my expectations. In many ways, it was the year from hell. A few stupid nutritional decisions on my part started an avalanche of medical nightmares that almost ended up with me losing my life. While I recognized that I was getting weaker, I never suspected it was because I wasn’t getting enough protein. Still, despite my medical battles and the steep climb back up from the brink of the worst case scenario, I learned so much that I wouldn’t trade for the world – learning to let go and trust, learning who really mattered to me and learning who was there for me when the chips were down and things were the most bleak, learning how to advocate for myself and what I needed, learning that I could push myself physically far beyond what I thought I was capable of, and learning not to take life for granted were a few of the many lessons I learned in the six months or so I was in the hospital in the past year.

Recognizing that I needed to make my recovery a priority meant that the blog took a backseat to just about everything else this year. Many of you moved on, many others have stuck around and sent me emails of encouragement when I’ve needed them most, despite the infrequent updates. I can happily say that physically, mentally and emotionally, I’m in an even better place than where I started last year. I can do everything (and more) that I was doing before. It’s a miracle that the only real permanent damage from the whole ordeal is just a few scars. Losing all my hair taught me humility and how really not important vanity is to me. Being stuck in the hospital taught me to appreciate the little things in life – a meal out here, a farmers market there, going grocery shopping, driving a car, a nice hot shower, for example. I met so many awesome people – nurses, doctors, therapists, aides that made an unbearable situation bearable.

Today, in the beginning of 2012, I’m making a renewed commitment to this blog, which I’ve missed more than you know. Sometimes it was a matter of having to choose between attending an event or writing about it, because I didn’t have the energy for both. I’m slowly working my way up to doing a lot of the cooking again (I did a lot of the work putting holiday meals together). I’m far, far behind (even more so than usual) but will get caught up eventually. For those of you still reading, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have no idea how much you all mean to me.

New Look at antipsychotic side effect. (neuroleptic malignant syndrome)

Science News October 31, 1987 New look at antipsychotic side effect Psychiatrists at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., recently reviewed patient records at their facility and found that, over one year, about 1.4 percent of the patients given antipsychotic drugs developed a potentially fatal side effect known as neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS) (SN: 10/25/86, p.260). Initial signs of the reaction are fever, severe muscle rigidity and elevated heart rate and blood pressure. In some cases, coma, kidney failure, brain damage or even death can follow. web site nexium side effects

To check their “retrospective’ estimate, the researchers tracked new cases of NMS over 18 months at the hospital. NMS was diagnosed in six of 679 antipsychotic-treated patients, report Paul E. Keck Jr. and his colleagues in the Oct. AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PSYCHIATRY. go to web site nexium side effects

Combined data from the prior review and the new survey point to an estimated NMS frequency of about 1 percent, they conclude. Nevertheless, diagnostic criteria for NMS, particularly in its early stages, remain nuclear to some investigators. The McLean psychiatrists say NMS may encompass a spectrum of physiological reactions to antipsychotic drugs, with mild and more severe forms.

Christmas 2010

Hey, if my neighbors across the street can still have their Christmas lights up and on near the January, then it’s not too late for me to blog about it.  Starting this year, I’ve officially passed the gauntlet of hosting the family holiday get-together to my younger sister Maurya, because my health the past few months means that I have neither the stamina nor pain tolerance to do it anymore. The degenerative nature of my health problems have reared their head in an ugly way this past year, and I’ve felt more like a spectator to my life than an actual participant.

I love my sister’s pot roast – she changed it up a bit this year, but it was excellent nonetheless and fall-apart tender. I used some Wondra and it ended up with a great gravy. I’ll really need to get the recipe from her so I can post it here. It may not look like much but it’s the best I’ve had in a while, flavor-wise.

Pot Roast and Gravy

The mashed potatoes were just your basic butter-cream-salt types. Insert your own family recipe here.

Mashed Potatoes

What I really liked, however, was this recipe for candied carrots – it brings out the best of the vegetable’s sweetness. She used crinkle cut fresh carrots to save time.

Candied Carrots

Candied Carrots
recipe from

1 pound carrots, cut into 2 inch pieces
2 tablespoons butter, diced
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 pinch salt
1 pinch ground black pepper

1. Place carrots in a pot of salted water. Bring water to a boil, reduce heat to a high simmer and cook about 20 to 30 minutes. Do not cook the carrots to a mushy stage!

2. Drain the carrots, reduce the heat to its lowest possible setting and return the carrots to the pan. Stir in butter, brown sugar, salt and pepper. Cook for about 3 to 5 minutes, until sugar is bubbly. Serve hot!

She also made some green beans with jowl bacon – tasty, smoky wonderfulness.

Green Beans with Jowl Bacon

P. and I made some appetizers and desserts that we brought with (more about those in separate posts), but honestly, my sister worked her butt off putting a wonderful meal on the table.

But as much as I love food, I think Christmas is all about the kids – they always have such an excitement and curiosity for the world that we sometimes (hell, nearly all the time) set by the wayside as we get older and purportedly wiser. We got my 9 year old nephew Brandon his very own digital camera, an upgrade from a V-Tech kids model we got him a few Christmases back. He loved it, and has been nonstop been taking pictures of himself and food. We may make a food blogger out of him yet.

Brandon, Christmas 2010

Autumn, as the middle child (7 yrs old), is the most fiercely independent of the trio. She has an endless source of energy, and is a joy, but one heck of a handful. She’s going to be a reckon to contend with once she gets older. Hopefully she’ll contain some of that energy in athletics – we’ll see. She loves Littlest Pet Shop, so we got her a few collections plus a storage case. She’s probably the hardest to shop for, since she’s at that “in between” age.

Autumn, Christmas 2010

Amber, the youngest at 5 years old, is probably the most sensitive of the bunch. Also probably the one with the most amount of empathy and the sweetest disposition. We got her a Leapster 2 along with a few programs.

Amber - Christmas 2010

My mom came along, too – so it was the closest we’ve come to having the whole family together at once in years. How did you all spend your Christmases? What did you have to eat? Do you have any interesting family traditions?

Christmas Traditions

Here it is, very early on Christmas morning and I’ve been thinking about our families’ traditions through the years – Christmas has always been a pretty big deal when I was growing up, and fortunately, we’ve continued that trend through our generation and the next. But I thought it would be a nice time to get away from talking about food, and taking a moment to talk about the sense of family and togetherness that is behind the holiday.

As long as I can remember, and even before, Christmas Eve was a bigger deal than Christmas Day, because it was when we’d go and visit family. Even baby me was taken around to see the relatives. I love this picture, because it show the tree that my Oma and Opa put up for Christmas. Yes, that’s the Christmas tree – even as a baby, I towered over it. This is me with the tree on Christmas Eve 1973.

Becke, Christmas Eve 1973

I spent my first couple of years with my maternal grandmother (Edith Mama was what I always called her) because my mom was taking some time away to get her life together so she’d have a suitable home to bring me up in, and my grandmother and my maternal great-grandmother (Oma) were inseparable. Needless to say, that meant I spent a lot of time over there, including the holidays. She died when I was very young of a heart attack (at age 46), but I still think of her often, especially during holidays – I wish I had the opportunity to get to know her better.

Becke with Edith Mama, Christmas 1973

At 6, I still believed in Santa, so needless to say I thought it was the real thing. This is me and Santa during Christmas 1978.

Becke & Santa, Christmas 1978

From my earliest memories, I remember that we had a tradition every Christmas Eve, to visit all of the relatives in the same order every year. The first stop on the trip was to my Grandmom Jones, my paternal grandmother and to my Aunt Doreen, who lived with her.

Grandmom Jones always had milk and cookies, coffee or tea for the adults, and a kind word for everyone. And she was an equal opportunity Grandmom to everyone – even though my sister Maurya was not her granddaughter by blood, she treated her just like she was. What a wonderful woman. She died a few years ago, and I regret not visiting her more often.

Grandmom Jones

My Aunt Doreen always had a child-like excitement about Christmas, and her excitement was contagious. I think she enjoyed the holiday most of all.

Aunt Doreen

This is a picture of me, my Grandmom Jones and my sister Maurya in like 1983 or so.

Grandmom Jones, Maurya and Me

After going to my Grandmom Jones’ house, it was off to visit Nana and Puh, my great-grandparents on my mom’s paternal side. They lived in a trailer in South Jersey part of the year, but also lived in Massachusetts (or was it New Hampshire?) as well, so they had these really cool Bostonian accents. Here is my sister Maurya at 2 or 3 years old with Puh.

Maurya and Puh, Christmas Eve 1982

Nana, as a Christmas gift every year, would knit or crochet some of the ugliest hats, scarfs, etc. ever. But since it was your Nana, and since you know that she put love and care into it, would thank her profusely while thinking in the back of your mind that you’d never been seen in public with it on unless you were going to visit Nana. I’m sure all of us have gotten that kind of Nana gift. 😉 Here’s Nana with Maurya.

Nana & Maurya, January 1982

I believe that they passed away sometime in the late 80’s or early 90’s in their eighties, and again, they are sadly missed. My mom could pinpoint the dates for sure, since she’s really into genealogy, a hobby that Puh got her started in by gifting her with a family tree that he had started and that she later on seriously expanded.

My mom has many of the same Christmas memories that I have, because they spanned generations. Here she is with Opa at Christmas when she was a young child.

Mom with Opa

And here I am with Opa, on Christmas Eve, almost 30 years later. Notice that my right eye is almost swollen shut. Nana and Puh had 2 Siamese that I had a severe allergy to, so all pictures of me at Christmas at Oma’s and Opa’s have that same oh-so-flattering look.

Opa and Becke, Christmas Eve 1982

Unfortunately, I couldn’t locate a picture of Oma and me during Christmas, because she was usually the one behind the camera taking pictures of me and Opa. And they took TONS of pictures. I don’t think a week of my childhood went by where there wasn’t a picture taken. This is Oma and me (as a baby), but it’s a great representation of how to age gracefully. To me, my Oma was the most beautiful person in the world. Quite literally, she *was* my world growing up – the person who kept me centered, who was always supportive, and who always wanted the best for me. She died in 1995, and I still miss her like crazy. Each milestone of my life, I get a bit sad that she couldn’t be there. In many ways, I live my life now as a tribute to her – I always try to do the right thing that would make her proud.

Me and Oma

But the Christmas Eve festivities at Oma’s and Opa’s rocked. They would transform my playroom in the attic into a magical Christmas wonderland, with decorations, homemade cookies and other goodies, and presents out the wazoo. Oh, how I always looked forward to that day. Even Maurya got in on it, when she was old enough to understand what was going on. Here she is at all of 2 years getting a present from Opa.

Maurya Christmas Eve 1982

Afterward, we’d head back home and go to sleep, so we could get up at the crack of dawn in the morning to open presents. By then, I didn’t believe in Santa, but I wasn’t going to spoil the magic for my little sister. Here is a pic of me, my sister Maurya and my mom in front of the Christmas tree.

Maurya, Mom, and Becke - Christmas 1982

Mom, like most Mom’s, always locked herself into the bedroom to wrap presents so we wouldn’t walk in on her.

Mom, Christmas 1982

In morning, we’d tear our presents open like little bandits. This particular year, I got a Sony Walkman. I spent the next few months with it as a permanent attachment.

Becke Christmas 1982

My sister, I think, was more interested in tearing the paper to pieces than what was inside. Although, if it was something Smurf related, she’d let out a squee.

Maurya, Christmas 1982

We’ve kept a few of the traditions (opening a gift on Christmas eve, doing Christmas baking, etc) but we’ve ended up making many new ones of our own too. Here’s our tree this year – our old tree’s lights went belly up last year so we replaced it with a white one, which is kind of retro. Every year we get a commemorative personalized ornament for our tree listing the names of us and our pets. Since we don’t have kids of our own, we end up spoiling our nephew and nieces. I honestly get more pleasure out of giving than receiving. I’ve been blessed in so many ways, and love to pay it forward for the handful of people I care deeply for.

Our Xmas Tree 2010

Tomorrow, we’re going to my sister’s for Christmas dinner. I’ve decided to hand it off to her after doing it the last decade or so. And tomorrow we’ll create new memories, and new traditions. And afterwards, I can take you vicariously through how our family celebrates the holidays.

What traditions does your family have?

Turkey Dumpling Stew

I interrupt my regularly scheduled vacation to post this wonderful recipe that uses up a bunch of your Turkey Day leftovers. A stock made with the roasted carcass of the bird along with a few other aromatics serves as the base of this hearty stew. With this weekend being as chilly as it will be in much of the country, can you think of a better way to warm up?

Turkey Dumpling Stew

Turkey Dumpling Stew
recipe courtesy Food Network Magazine

1 leftover roasted turkey carcass, plus 3 to 4 cups shredded turkey meat
1 onion, quartered
2 stalks celery, quartered crosswise (save the leaves for the dumplings)
1 pound carrots (3 quartered crosswise; the rest thinly sliced)
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs parsley
3 sprigs thyme
Dumpling dough (recipe linked below)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 shallots, minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound parsnips, peeled and thinly sliced Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
Chopped fresh chives, for topping


Make the stock: Pull the turkey carcass apart into smaller pieces; set the meat aside. Put the bones in a large, deep pot and add cold water to cover, 4 to 5 quarts. Add the onion, celery, the 3 quartered carrots and the bay leaf. Tie the parsley and thyme together with twine and add to the pot, then cover and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Uncover, reduce the heat to medium low and cook 3 to 4 hours. Remove the bones and vegetables with a skimmer and discard, then strain the stock though a fine-mesh strainer. Return the stock to the pot and simmer over medium-high heat until reduced by half, 30 to 40 minutes (you’ll have about 8 cups stock).

About 45 minutes before serving,

Prepare the dumplings . Keep covered with plastic wrap while you make the stew.

Make the stew: Melt the butter in a large, wide pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Gradually add the stock, stirring, and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper. Add the sliced carrots and parsnips, cover and cook 5 minutes.

Stir in the turkey meat, lemon juice and green beans. Add the dumplings in a single layer (leave as squares or pat into rounds). Cover and simmer until the dumplings are cooked through, about 20 minutes. Ladle into bowls; top with chives.

Dumplings Recipe

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3/4 cup minced mixed fresh herbs and celery leaves
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 cups cold buttermilk


Whisk the flour, herb mixture, baking powder, baking soda, salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender until sandy. Stir in the buttermilk.

Turn out onto a floured piece of parchment paper. Pat into a 3/4-inch-thick rectangle.

Cut the dough into rough 2-inch squares with a large knife. Cover with plastic wrap.

2009 Retrospective / A Look to 2010

As is my tradition on the last day of the year, I take a few moments to evaluate how well I stuck to last year’s foodie resolutions,

– Be a lot more proactive about working on the blog. I’m so far behind right now (33 drafts in my folder right now, the events and menus haven’t been updated in like forever, etc) it’s not even funny. I need to devote as much time to the blog as if I were working.

Did horribly on this one – if anything, I’m even further in the hole – over 100 posts in my drafts folder. Lots of events I went to but never wrote about, reviews never posted, etc. I’ll try to salvage what I can, but a lot of it is hopelessly outdated now.

– Take better food photos, and learn how to use a DSLR camera. To this end, I’m starting back at CSCC in a few days to learn photography from the ground up.

I never did buy a DSLR camera (lack of employment keeps such luxuries out of reach), but I did indeed start back to CSCC, although not for photography. College has taken up much of my time for the last few months, and promises to do so for at least the next 2+ years.

– Take a foodie road trip to a nearby city (somewhere within driving distance, like Cincy or Cleveland, western PA, somewhere in Indiana, Kentucky or West Virginia) to check out their food scene and blog about it.

Did this one, sort of. I took a couple of trips to Athens, OH this past summer, and have posted about some of it, but still have a couple more restaurants I visited.

– Learn how to pressure can.

Nope, didn’t do this one.

– Cook at least one recipe from each of the cookbooks I own (who needs hundreds of cookbooks if you don’t use them?)

As if. Most new recipes I made this year were from the Internet or magazines.

– Work harder at cutting sugar out of my diet. Even though I lost almost 100 lbs this year, I know I could lose more (and break this damn plateau) if I ate less refined carbs/more protein. I want to make my health a priority and lose at least 50 lbs. this year.

Not nearly as successful with this one as I wanted. I lost about 15 lbs. this year. Better than gaining 15 lbs, right?

– Cover at least one local event per month for the blog.

I did at least one local event per month will all intentions of blogging about it, but never did get around to that part.

– Learn how to eat well on a limited budget.

I kind of had to do this, more out of necessity than desire.

– This summer, visit a local farm for a tour and blog about it.

Did this, never got around to blogging about it. It’s in that famous drafts forward, and somehow it seems wrong to blog about it when fresh veggies are months away. Thoughts?

So, that was last year….my goals for this coming year? Will be limited, that’s for sure. Being back in school means less time for things I love. But I do have a few hopes.

– Cooking time is at a premium, so I promise to make (on average) one new recipe a week.

– Still need to lose weight, and I know the key to that is to eat less carbs. I’m going to try to limit my consumption of refined carbs to one meal a day. Hopefully this will allow me to lose 50 lbs. in the next year.

– One of the Christmas gifts I got were brioche roll pans. I want to learn how to make brioche. And foccacia.

– I got a pizza oven this past year. I resolve to make time to use it at least twice a month once it gets warm enough to safely do so. Will probably use it more than that, but that’s the minimum goal I’m setting for myself.

– I want to make a batch of cheese from scratch this year. I may be something as simple as homemade ricotta, but I do want to give it a try.

Those goals are definitely within reach for me. What are your foodie goals for 2010?