Recipe Review: Balsamic Jelly

OK, we all have our weird habits, right?  One of mine is reading magazines while drying my hair upside down.  Since I am a VVVEEERRRYYY impatient person, I need to do something while I’m drying my hair or I will lose interest and spend the day with frizz head.  So to keep myself occupied, I read magazines.

The other day while drying my hair I came across a recipe that sounded really interesting.  I was re-reading the ‘R.S.V.P/ reader’s favorite restaurant recipes’ section of the August 2010 issue of Bon Appetit (I didn’t say I read current magazines) and found a request for the balsamic jelly recipe from BOKA Kitchen + Bar in Seattle and BA’s answer.

BA August 2010

Balsamic jelly? Wow – the many things I could do with balsamic jelly started spinning through my mind – put it on a turkey and brie sandwich, serve it on a cheese platter with a good smokey blue cheese, use it as a topping for a piping hot filet mignon with a slice of goat cheese, use it to thicken a vinaigrette…..and the ideas went on and on.

After I finished drying my hair, putting on my makeup and picking out clothes for the day, I headed for the kitchen and assembled the ingredients.  With just three ingredients this is a simple recipe.  However you do have to leave time (8 hours) for the jelly to chill in the refrigerator so that it sets properly; so plan ahead!

There was one part of the instructions that made me go “huh?” and that is when it instructed me to “stir over medium heat until gelatin dissolves and mixture is hot (do not bring to simmer).”  I had to think about the temperature at which liquids simmer.  So, of course, I went to Google….but I learned that liquids simmer just before they boil, which happens at 212 degrees F at sea level.  I decided to wing it and when the mixture of vinegar and gelatin reached 175 degrees F on my instant read thermometer I removed it from the heat and added the honey.

With the exception of the little research I had to do (which you may have known), it was a very easy recipe and it yielded INCREDIBLE results.  The consistency of the jelly is just what you’d want a jelly to be and there is a nice sharp tang when it hits the back of your tongue.  The balsamic jelly made an excellent condiment for the chicken cutlet sandwiches I prepared for our kayaking trip this past Saturday. And it is equally as nice on a fresh piece of Italian bread with a little butter.

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All in all I’d give this recipe 4 M’s out of 5. Mmmm.

I deducted one M because I thought the instructions could have been more specific to save the average reader the time of researching the temperature of “simmer” and I disagree with the recipe’s claim that it makes 6 servings.  For me the recipe yielded 8 half-pint canning jars of jelly and I seriously doubt you would use even 1/4 of what is in the jar as a serving.  So if you are going to make this recipe, know that – unless you are a giant – it will make significantly more than 6 servings!

What’s your favorite jelly flavor?

Balsamic Jelly from August 2010 Bon Appetit


  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
  • 6 tablespoons honey


Bon Appetit's adaptation of balsamic jelly from BOKA Kitchen + Bar in Seattle.

Can be made 1 week ahead.  Cover and keep chilled.


1. Pour vinegar into a small saucepan; sprinkle gelatin over. Let stand until gelatin softens, about 10 minutes.
2. Stir over medium heat until gelatin dissolves and mixture is hot (do not bring to a simmer).
3. Remove from heat.
4. Stir in honey.
5. Divide mixture among 6 small ramekins or bowls.
6. Chill until gelatin sets, about 8 hours.

Kayaking & Life Lessons…

On Saturday Jeff and I went on a 19.5 mile kayak trip with our friends Jenn and Brian.  The four of us have been talking about taking a kayak trip together for almost a year, so it was great when we finally got it on the calendar.  And it was even better when it happened!

You don’t set out to paddle 19.5 miles when you have other things to do….it’s a long, lazy day.  That’s not to say that there isn’t work involved….just ask my arms; but it is to say that can be relaxing, slow-paced and a good time for getting to know one another better.

We met at 9:00 am [ok, truth be told we really met at 9:04:57] on the beautiful campus of Messiah College.  We unloaded our boats and gear from the car, packed our kayaks and headed for the water.  I am used to Jeff and I kayaking alone so I must admit that I was feeling a bit spoiled when Brian carried my load in some situations…a girl could get used to such treatment, but then where will I be when it’s back to just me and Jeff and I have no choice but to carry my half of the load!?!

We were anticipating beautiful weather for our float, but when we began paddling the sky was cloudy and there was a very light rain that actually sounded quite nice as it bounced off the water.  And as the day progressed, the weather gradually improved until the sun was finally shining and the sky was a brilliant blue.

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As we paddled I couldn’t help but think about how our behavioral styles (at least mine and Jeff’s) were demonstrated on the water.  If you know anything about the DiSC behavioral inventory or Gary Smalley’s personality inventory (which assigns an animal to your personality type based upon how you answer questions) or even if you’ve just lived for a while  – you know that we are not all created equal.  Each of us has his/her own personality quirks.

Having taken the Gary Smalley inventory MANY times, I know that I am a LION and Jeff is a GOLDEN RETRIEVER.  And if I didn’t know this prior to Saturday, I could have figured it out based upon our behaviors.  The LION is goal oriented, likes to lead and enjoys challenges so it should come as no surprise that I was out in front most of the day – not because of a need to be first or to “win,” just because that’s where I am most comfortable.  Safe or not, I was ready to plunge headlong into most of the rapids without even assessing the current.  The GOLDEN RETRIEVER looks for security, is great at making friends, and works best in a steady situation so I was not surprised to hear Jeff behind me talking up a storm and watch him going last through most of the rough patches – because that is where he is most comfortable.

Our positions changed throughout the float, but I can tell you that I could feel myself getting frustrated when I was at the back of the pack and I could see a bit of anxiety begin to show around Jeff’s eyes when he was at the front or when he wasn’t sure what was coming next.  I love (but don’t always understand) that we are all wired differently and I find it interesting when you can clearly see the “animals” come out in real-life situations. But, the float was not all about personalities…

Although we see Jenn and Brian often at church, we haven’t had the pleasure of spending a lot of time with them – so the kayaking trip was the perfect day for learning about one another.  Floating along at approximately 3 to 4 mph gives you time to tell stories, ask questions and listen!

You also work up an appetite….you didn’t think I’d forget about the food, did you?  We stopped at approximately the half-way point and had a great lunch.  Jenn and Brian brought a variety of beverages and I volunteered to make the food – you know I can’t resist an opportunity to cook for people!

I made the food on Friday and packed it all in containers I thought would withstand a dunk in the water and that were light enough not to sink our kayaks on the way to our lunch spot!  We had quite the buffet when we spread it all out on the picnic table.  Jeff went to Alvaro’s in Harrisburg on his way home from work on Friday to pick up sandwich rolls so that we could make chicken cutlet sandwiches.  I prepped a bunch of things to go on the sandwiches and packed them in small containers so that everyone could assemble his/her own based upon their likes and dislikes.  Our sandwich extras included mayonnaise, balsamic jelly (stay tuned for a post), thin shavings of sharp provolone cheese, arugula with a light lemon vinaigrette dressing, and roasted red peppers with herbs.

We also had chips and citrus marinated mushrooms for the side.  And then, as if that wasn’t enough, I enlisted my mom’s help with dessert (you need a little something sweet when you’re paddling for hours).  She makes some absolutely wonderful chocolate oatmeal brownies and we were fortunate to be the recipients of her baking skills.  When he bit into the brownies, Brian proclaimed, “You can tell some love went into these!”

Not only were the brownies packed in a water-tight container, there was also a note inside – kind of like “fortune brownies” – wishing us a good day of kayaking and letting us know that the brownies with the edges were for me!!!!!  You see, my favorite part of a pan of brownies is the edges – I’d rather eat the edges than the gooey middle part!  And I learned on Saturday that when kayaking on a hot day an oatmeal brownie goes quite nicely with a cold lime beer!

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We spent about an hour total on dry land at lunch time, taking advantage of “the facilities” and following the “old wives tale” advice about not getting in the water for 30 minutes after you eat!!! [Yes, I know it’s for swimming, not kayaking].  With full bellies, we set out for the second half of our float.

Somewhere along the line, Jenn and I got ourselves into a harrowing situation [ok, no one was really at risk, but it sounds so much better than “we got stuck on a rock”].  We were heading for some rapids and rather than leaving a suitable distance between us as we approached as we had become accustomed to doing, the four of us seemed to be upon the rapids at almost the same time.  Jeff went left and cleared the rocks; but I did not and in an instant I saw part of a rock jutting up from the water and knew I wouldn’t have time to correct course.  I got hung up and Jenn, trying not to hit me adjusted course, but not enough to avoid the rocks.  So we were both stuck.

It was clear to me that the only way for me to get “unstuck” was to get out of my boat and pull.  So I did.  Now, if you’ve ever been kayaking you know that when you get out you have to hang on to your boat or the current will take it and you’ll be left walking behind it for the rest of the day!  So I was holding on to my boat and trying to “unstick” Jenn.  The current started spinning my 12-foot boat and I was trying to keep myself upright on the mossy, wet rocks, to hold onto the boat that the water was desperately trying to take from me,  AND to keep Jenn from tipping.

This is where the life lesson comes in…..sometimes you’re so invested in your current situation that you don’t see any other options.  You keep struggling where you are, doing what you’ve been doing (which incidentally is not working really well), and you begin to exhaust yourself.  I could feel myself getting tired, but I didn’t want Jenn to tip and I didn’t want to lose my boat.  I lost sight of the fact that there were other people I could turn to for help.  Although Jeff and Brian were downstream, I didn’t think to look to them for assistance.  Finally they yelled, “let go of your boat.”

Well, for a few seconds that made ABSOLUTELY no sense to me.  But they said, “we’ll get it.”  So I let go of my boat and in that instant, the rushing current didn’t seems so overwhelming.  I was able to get my footing and help Jenn get moving again.  THEN I could worry about getting back to my boat.

Of course, all I was looking at was my immediate surroundings (about 1 foot around me in all directions) and at where my boat was.  So I began trudging forward through deep, rushing water.  But Jeff, being back far enough to see the big picture, guided me to the right where the water was more shallow and the terrain less rocky.  Working together, Brian and Jeff managed to get my boat to me as I walked on more level ground.

Safely back in my boat, I couldn’t help but wonder how many times have I held onto my boat [my plan, my way, my situation] and walked through deep, rushing water because either I thought there was no one there to help me or because I was too proud to ask for help or accept it?  Then I was reminded of how tightly I held onto my former job – not leaving because I couldn’t step back far enough to see that if I just let go of it, I could get out of the rushing current and onto more level ground. I went with the flow because I thought that was what I was supposed to do and I thought it was the only option.

I shouldn’t be surprised at God’s amazing timing, but sometimes I am.  Yesterday’s sermon in church was entitled “Going Against the Flow.”  The main sermon points were:

When I live my life empowered by prayer…

  1. God becomes my anchor against the flow.
  2. I find peace in the turbulence.
  3. I find courage to go against the flow.

WOW!  I love and greatly appreciate it when God provides a smack upside my head.  I know that sounds strange, but you see, subtlety is lost on me.  I am fairly literal and so sometimes I need that extra push.  Standing in the water on Saturday and listening to those who had a wider perspective reminded me that I CAN turn to others for help when the current is raging….I can turn to God and I can turn to those who can see my situation more clearly than I can because I am too close, too scared, too mired in the details, trying too hard to make my way work.

Kayaking is like life… doesn’t always turn out the way you expect, it’s more fun when done in fellowship with others, and it can teach you a great deal about yourself and about life!

Where ever you are in your life right now, do you need to let go of the boat?

Love Your Leftovers (and your garden): Veggie & Chicken Topped Zucchini Pancakes

What’s for dinner?

I’ll bet this question is uttered in every household in the world at least once a week, if not more often. And if you answer this question, I’ll bet what happens to me also happens to you – you get in a rut. We all get in ruts from time to time, whether it’s with the food we eat or in some other area of life.

For Jeff and I, the dinner rut has been quesadillas for quite some time. If we can’t decide what to make for dinner, we fall back on quesadillas. We scrounge through the fridge and fill them with whatever we find. The beautiful thing about quesadillas is that they are soooooooo incredibly flexible. They can be filled with any kind of meat (or none), any kind of veggies (or none), beans, sauces, cheeses, etc.

In keeping with our rut, Jeff suggested chicken quesadillas for dinner on Thursday night. And I agreed…..that is until I looked in the fridge.

But I am getting ahead of myself. I began my dinner preparations in the garden. I picked a zucchini, an eggplant, some Hungarian peppers and some cherry tomatoes. These things would make a great veggie filling for the quesadillas. I also had two ears of cooked corn on the cob left over in the fridge, which I knew I would add to the veggie filling.

One the way from vine to table (800x530)

After I came inside, I washed the produce I had picked and set it all on one of the dining room chairs to photograph. I know that stopping to take pics during a recipe is not “normal” for everyone, but in our house nearly all food prep stops multiple times for photo ops. So anyway, I photographed the produce and turned my back for just a second to put the lens cap on my camera and make sure it was securely stored out of harms way. MISTAKE. When I turned back around, the cherry tomatoes and one of the Hungarian peppers were missing from the chair and there was dog “schlark” (drool) all over the chair. Kissy, who has been known to eat tomatoes right off the vine, decided she needed a snack. Ugh…….

from Vine to Plate (800x530)So I must admit, I was too lazy to pick more tomatoes so I scrapped them from the recipe. But I was not too lazy to re-wash the produce!

Sauteed Veggies and Chicken (800x530)

Back on track, I began sauteing the veggies and cutting the chicken to add to the saute. I also grated three kinds of cheese – Monterey Jack, Cheddar and Parm – for the quesadillas. Finally I reached into the fridge for the tortillas and a container of leftovers caught my eye. Hmmmmmm ……. interesting ….. zucchini pancakes – my mind started spinning.

For something different, I decided to reheat the pancakes and top them with the veggie and chicken saute and some grated cheese. As I was building my pancake stacks, I realized they might need a little zing, so I pulled out some BBQ sauce from The Shed which is now available at Karn’s (a local grocery store).  The discovery that Shed Sauce is available locally has my Facebook newsfeed atwitter (haha).

Reheating Zucchini Pancakes (800x530)

Reheated Pancakes Topped with Veggies Chix and Cheese (800x790)

with a splash of BBQ and a slice of tomato (800x530)

Many folks from our church – Daybreak Church in Mechanicsburg – have had the opportunity to eat at The Shed while on missions trips to Biloxi and because they loved the sauce so much have been ordering it online. So now that it’s available in a local grocery store, all those Shed lovers are really excited – Jeff included. As an aside, food network is launching a new show about The Shed on August 4th (tomorrow).

Anyway…..I topped my pancake stacks with a drizzle of “shed sauce” and out of the corner of my eye I spied a full-sized tomato on the counter. I thinly sliced it, added it as the final layer of my stacks and seasoned the tomato slices with salt and pepper.

I slid the stacks into a 350 degree F oven, set the timer for 10 minutes and sat down with a book.  After 10 minutes I checked the stacks and decided they needed a little time under the broiler.  I turned on the broiler, set the timer for 3 minutes and waited.

Well, I’m sure you know what I’m going to write and what Jeff said in reaction to dinner……..mmm mmm mmm!

Veggie & Chicken Topped Zucchini Pancakes (800x530)


Close Up LYL (800x530)

Don’t dread your leftovers…….love ’em!

Love Your Leftovers: Savory Veggie Waffles

Those of you who have been reading for a while know that I often go on a bender, cleaning out my fridge and making dinner from the dribs and drabs in small containers.  It’s both a culinary challenge and a great way to avoid wasting food and money!

Last night Jeff gave my dad a ride to pick up his car.  Finally – and just in the nick of time – the air conditioning is fixed!  Woooohooooo!  While they went to pick up the car, my mom and I turned leftovers into a delicious meal.  Savory veggie waffles and a refreshing summer salad.

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Monday’s MmmMmmMmm

It’s no secret that I was frustrated with the meat industry on Monday, so it should come as no surprise that we had a meatless meal on Monday evening.  It was so good I thought I’d share the pics and recipes with you.

After ranting and raving about the meat industry changing the names of 350 cuts of meat, there was no way I could bring myself to cook beef or pork.  So I pulled out the quinoa and went out to the garden…and I’m glad I did.  While the quinoa cooked, I picked some beet greens and the last of the fresh peas.

I’ve been working on a recipe for Quinoa Cakes for the last several weeks and have made a few different iterations, changing ingredients based on what I have on hand and what is in the garden.

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An Old Favorite

On the way home from church this afternoon, I got a craving for an old favorite.  A really old favorite.  When Jeff and I were first married, I made this recipe quite a bit and I haven’t made it for years.

I’m not sure what even made me think of it on the short ride from Daybreak to home; but the heart (or in this case, the stomach) wants what the heart (stomach) wants!  And since I had to be in the kitchen working on a recipe anyway, I set about making this old friend – Dilled Tuna Pasta Salad.

A quick word on the tuna.  A few months ago, I decided to try some different brands of tuna than the usual grocery store brands.  And I decided to try a few imported brands to see if there really is a difference.  The two I tried today were worlds better than your average tuna from the grocery store.  They were both packed in oil, which absolutely makes for a richer tuna experience; but the flavors were infinitely different from grocery store tuna as well.  It really is worth the extra money when tuna is one of the stars of the show!

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Love Your Leftovers

I LOVE LEFTOVERS!  I know there are people out there that subscribe to the “I don’t eat leftovers” way of thinking, but I am not one of them.  I don’t even pretend to understand people who don’t like leftovers! I believe that most foods get better when they have time for the flavors to meld; therefore I think leftovers are often better than the original meal.  Combine my love of leftovers with my love of COLD leftovers and my distaste for sweet breakfast, and you’ll often find me eating last night’s food for breakfast – straight from the container.

Love Your Leftovers 2

I also enjoy the challenge of what I call “kitchen sink cooking.”  You’ve been there – it’s when you clean out your fridge…you know, the multitude of little containers of items from previous meals or items that didn’t get used…and make a meal from what’s there.  Last night was one of my “kitchen sink” nights.  The results were soooo good that I couldn’t resist letting you in on my “recipe.”

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Monday MmmMmmMmm

Steak is something that does not make it to the menu at our house very often.  I wish I could say it’s a health thing or a moral objection to eating red meat, but neither of those things is true.  It’s just “one of those things.”

However, when it does make it to the menu, we really enjoy it.  And last night was no exception.  In fact, dinner was so yummy that I had to share the pics with you!

I worked at the Kitchen Shoppe yesterday from 8:00 a.m. until about 1:15 p.m. and didn’t give a lot of forethought to dinner.  It wasn’t until after work when I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few odds and ends that I got to thinking about what to have for dinner.

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What I’ve Been Up To

You’ve probably noticed that in the last few weeks I have been posting less frequently than I typically do.  I’m working on establishing a new normal when it comes to my schedule because I’ve accepted a part time job.  You’ve read many mentions of the Kitchen Shoppe in previous posts and until two weeks ago my work there was on a volunteer basis.  But I am happy to report that they have offered me a position that fits with both my schedule and my passion!

I am working with a wonderful team of people.  They are happy doing what they’re doing, which is quite a change from my former job.  The people are warm and genuine and share my passion for cooking.  I am helping to prep food for classes and helping execute classes in whatever capacity is necessary – washing dishes, serving and clearing, assisting the chefs, etc.  The work is more physically demanding than my cushy desk job was and although I am tired at the end of the day, I feel a sense of accomplishment as I “review the game tape” on my drive home.  It is also helping me be better prepared for the classes I am teaching, which is an added bonus.

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Recipe Mishaps

I made a recipe for the first time today and it didn’t turn out well.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say the end result was awful.  But, ever one to make lemonade from lemons, it got me to thinking about how to recover from recipe mishaps!  It will be difficult to give you information about how to fix every possible mishap; however if I can get you thinking about different options, that will be a great start!

Let me start by giving you a piece of advice with which many seasoned cooks will agree.  Don’t try a new recipe for company, when you need to make a good impression, or when you are feeling particularly stressed.  I will apologize to families everywhere; but try out new recipes on your family first or on friends who are adventurous, willing and don’t mind eating pizza with you if the recipe flops!

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Investing in the Future

Over the years Jeff and I  have made our share of financial mistakes and learned our share of financial lessons.  To quote my friend Andy, for a while Jeff and I were a “financial train wreck.”  But in 2001 we decided to do something about it.  Since then we have paid off all our debt, except our mortgage, and have done what we can to help others either become debt free or start off on a firm financial footing in their marriages.  Neither of us has a formal education in finances; but earning a degree from the School of Hard Knocks sure teaches you A LOT!!!

Today we spent the day with two great couples who will be married in the next few months. We shared our story with them, looked at what the Bible says about handling finances, and hopefully taught them some practical tools for paying off debt and living debt-free.

We also ate well!  You know I love a good opportunity to cook for other people and today provided one!  So yesterday I spent the majority of the day shopping and preparing food.  I was in my element.

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A Peek at Pasta

Ravioli with Brown Butter and SageThe week that straddled February and March brought with it more pasta making than I’ve done in the last year.  And I am somewhat ashamed.  You see, my grandmother made pasta quite frequently – to her it was not an occasion, but rather a chore that happened along with many others on any given day.

And between the demonization of carbohydrates and gluten and the availability of good, imported pastas, I’ve either shied away from eating pasta for fear of being shunned or I’ve used dried pasta when I do make it.

But I’m getting back to my roots – and of course putting my twist on things.

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Chocolate Covered February

Last Saturday I spent part of the day at the Hotel Hershey with some fellow bloggers at one the MANY Chocolate Covered February events being offered in Hershey.  We met in the lobby and then wended our way through the hotel to one of the ballrooms for a cooking demonstration by Chef Garde Manger, Mario Oliverio.

Chefe Garde Manger Mario Oliverio

Chef Mario demonstrated several components for the group, including:

  • Chocolate Pecans
  • Dried Cherry & Chive Vinaigrette
  • Salad of Frisee and Arugula with Apple, Dried Cherry & Chive Vinaigrette, and Chocolate Pecans
  • Cocoa Spiced Braised Lamb with Pickled Red Onion on Fried Wonton

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A Crackerjack Event

Last week was so much fun….I spent the majority of it preparing for a party I catered for our friends Lowell and Nancy on Saturday evening. They were welcoming some friends from our church into their neighborhood.  Lowell and Nancy are such gracious hosts and some of the most generous people I have ever met – they’re quite inspiring.  So it was my pleasure to cater the party.

We met a few weeks ago to talk about the menu, decor, buffet placement, etc. I then worked out a menu, which Nancy and I tweaked along the way, and last Tuesday I did all the grocery shopping I could do in advance.  On Wednesday food prep began and by Saturday afternoon, Jeff was helping me unload the car at Lowell and Nancy’s beautiful home.  Their house overlooks a lake, which made working in their kitchen a pleasure. The view from the window over the sink is spectacular!

Between 2:30 and 4:00 I got the bar, the dessert table and the appetizer buffet set and then at 4:00 I began putting the finishing touches on the food.

Nancy and Lowell chose a nautical theme and I had great fun coming up with ideas for the bar and buffets. Jeff agreed to tend bar, so I wanted him to have a nice space to work.  I created the bar using a 4 foot table; two vases with sand, rope and shells; a piece of reclaimed wood; and some other decorations including a string of battery-operated lights.  Everyone at the party commented on the bar.

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I Could Just…

Whew… has been a busy day!  I began by getting up early (those of you who know me well will groan on my behalf when I tell you I got up at 5:30 a.m.) to have breakfast with my dad while my mom had some minor surgery.  After seeing for myself that my mom was doing fine, my plan was to head home and catch some zzz’s. But on the way home I started the “I could just” game.

I thought to myself, “I could just run to the grocery store for a few things before I go home and have a nap.”  Then on the way to the grocery store, I thought, “I could just run to Ross’s to look for that serving dish before I go to the grocery store.”  So I did a quick scan of Ross’s and then went to Wegman’s for a few things. On my travels I talked to Jeff and he told me he’d taken some ground veal and pork out of the freezer and asked me to pick up some ground beef to add to it for a meatloaf.

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Merry Christmas Darling

Oh what fun it is… sleep late and have a luxurious morning!  That’s what I did this morning.  I woke up late – truthfully not even sure of the exact time , but I think it was close to 10:00 and spent some time in God’s word.  If I accomplish nothing else today, I have already received a great gift!

But….lo and behold, I’ve already accomplished more.

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Topic Melange

The last 48 hours feel like a whirlwind… I am glad to be sitting down for a minute to write about them!

I spent the evening on Wednesday at the Kitchen Shoppe helping at a hands-on class. And I sure had a great time!  The class, Holiday Pierogies, was composed of 23 students who had various levels of experience making pierogi.  It was so much fun to see groups of friends, grandmother & granddaughter, father & son, etc. working together to make a traditional food. Tracee, the instructor, did a fantastic job of keeping everyone on track and making sure everyone had success.  Not only was it a fun experience for the students; but the bonus for me was that I had a ball as well!

I returned home on Wednesday evening to find a brown box on my front porch – not an unusual sight at this time of year since we do much of our Christmas shopping online.  However, I hadn’t ordered anything that was scheduled to arrive on Wednesday; so the mischievous part of me was anxious to get to the box before Jeff….I know, I probably shouldn’t admit that in writing, but it’s true!  I brought the box inside and it was addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Jeffery Groff….hmmmm…..curiouser and curiouser.  Jeff and I opened the box together and found a beautiful gift tower from Harry & David, but no gift card.  Interesting.  I called Harry & David and they told me who sent it – so now I can set about writing my thank you note.  But let me tell you about this gift – it includes six of Harry & David’s famous pears – including a single one wrapped in gold foil (a H&D tradition); a bag of Milk Chocolate Moose Munch Snack (a decadent mix of chocolate covered and caramel popcorn); a bag of mixed nuts; a box of beautiful chocolates with yummy fillings including milk chocolate, coffee, cherry, dark chocolate, raspberry (my favorite) and almond; and a bag of H&D chocolate cherries.  What a terrific gift for a foodie!!!!

That brings me to yesterday.  I had an extravagantly long lunch with my friend Holly.  She and I haven’t had a chance to spend much time together lately; so it was great to have a few hours (OK, maybe more) to catch up. We met at Sophia’s on Market (you know it’s one of my fav’s), where I ordered the Marinated Roast Beef Sandwich.  Their menu has several sandwiches that I love; but I was definitely in the mood for the one I ordered and I was not disappointed.  I always order the potato salad as a side, although for my taste there is never enough salt on it.  Fortunately, a salt shaker on the table fixes it up and I always enjoy it!!!  Sophia’s has such a warm and inviting atmosphere for spending time with a friend.  It’s cozy, decorated in a funky way with local art on the walls, and the conversation is lively, but not too loud.

After lunch I did some Christmas shopping and got the supplies for a Christmas project on which I am working.  Traffic was heavier than usual, but not the frustrating mess it can be near the holidays.  I hope to have my shopping done before the roads get too crowded!  When I got home I put in a little work on my Christmas project and then worked at my consulting job for several hours.  By the time I got around to eating dinner it was 9:30 – so I had a nice little cheese plate with red grapes. Mmm mmm mmm.

EARLY this morning my brain was spinning out of control – this often happens when I work later in the day, which I did last night.  So I got up and made myself a cup of homemade Chai.  If you’re not familiar with Chai it is a wonderfully soothing, warm spiced tea and milk drink that originated in India.  It was the perfect beverage for some time in God’s Word.  Both the drink and the message from the Bible wrapped around me like a well-worn blanket, soothed my mind and soul, and brought me to a place where I could sink back into bed for another two hours of sleep.

The ingredients I use in the chai I make include: water, milk (whole milk is best but I didn’t have any in the fridge), honey, vanilla paste, loose Darjeeling tea, and a mix of spices.  The photo at right shows the tea and spices, including from front to back: fennel seed, nutmeg, cardamom, black peppercorns, tea, ground ginger (I would have used fresh if I had any), a cinnamon stick and star anise. The spices are steeped in the water for several minutes.  Then the milk, honey, vanilla paste, and tea are added and the whole thing is steeped for about 3 more minutes. After it has steeped to the desired taste, it is strained and then I froth it a bit with a whisk and serve it in a pretty mug. Mmm mmm mmm.

As I said, the Chai and God’s message for me helped me quiet my mind so that I could get a few more hours of sleep.  When I woke up, I made a delicious fritatta with onion, red pepper, a mix of ground beef and ground turkey, cheddar, and parsley.  I made enough for me to have for breakfast and for Jeff to have for dinner.  You see, I will be back at the Kitchen Shoppe tonight by the time he gets home from work and I want him to have a warm dinner on a dreary, rainy day!


A Healthier Comfort Food

The lunch I made today was so good that I just had to tell you about it.  I woke up too late for breakfast (darn), so I didn’t get to have my oatmeal (I have been on a kick lately).  So I thought to myself, “Oatmeal?  I could do oatmeal for lunch, but I don’t want anything sweet.”  That was like a challenge to myself….which I think I overcame quite nicely!

So I ended up making pizza style oatmeal – a great way to satisfy a pizza craving without having the crust.  I also added a few healthy things that you can easily “hide” in oatmeal!

I made a regular serving of oatmeal and added:

  • 1 tsp. ground flax-seed (a good source of Omega-3’s, fiber, and it helps lower cholesterol (particularly the LDL (the bad cholesterol) among other things))
  • 1 tsp. chia seeds (high in protein, fiber, magnesium, calcium, and Omega-3’s)
  • A healthy grind of black pepper
  • A handful of grated cheddar and parmesan cheeses
  • An ounce-ish of ham (that I diced) – I didn’t have pepperoni, which would have been my first choice
  • 1 Tbsp chopped sundried tomatoes
  • A sprinkle of pepitas
  • A sprinkle of chopped fresh parsley

It was DELICIOUS, warm and satisfying!!!  It really did taste like pizza…..AND it kept me full until about 5:00 p.m.  Who could ask for anything more?

A Beautiful Day for……..

The question of the day for Jeff and I yesterday was, “Do we stay home and clean the house OR do we head to Kings Gap for a hike?”  Considering the holidays are coming up, which means more entertaining than usual, the WHAT WE SHOULD DO was obvious; however it’s been a while since we had a weekend day together and the weather was perfect……so we opted for Kings Gap.

We enjoyed each others’ company on the winding ride to the top of the mountain.  And when we got there we proceeded to the mansion terrace to catch the view during the day….the last time we were there, it was pitch black and the view was non-existent.  We were amazed at how far we could see – not only is the overlook perfect, but the sky was crystal clear!

After a few minutes and several pictures on the terrace, we set off for the garden.  Although this isn’t the best time of year for looking at all the herbs and native PA plants, we still had fun wandering through the space, pointing interesting things out to one another and talking.  A few minutes into our time at Kings Gap, Jeff’s cell phone rang.  It was our friend Ben.  If you’ve been reading lately, you’ll remember he is a landscaper.  We were semi-expecting a call from him – he knew we were thinking about a trip to Kings Gap and had a landscaping job he in the area wanted us to see.  So after a few more minutes in the garden, we got back in the car and descended the mountain…talking about our bucket lists on the way to meet Ben at the local General Store.

Ben took us on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride over hill and dale to the house of a wonderful couple for whom he is doing some absolutely incredible landscape and hardscape work.  We got to see the fruits of Ben’s labor in an ideal setting.  There were all kinds of tiered stone walls, a huge patio, a built-in grill that blends in beautifully with all the hardscape, and a fire pit area with several boulders for seating. Although it’s not completely finished, it is well on the way and gave Jeff and I many ideas for the blank canvas that is our back yard!  While there we also had the undeniable privilege of meeting Gretzky, a sweet, lovable, beautiful golden retriever.  He enjoyed many pats and scratches while we talked and got to know Barb and Bill.  We are so appreciative that they let us interrupt their day to gawk and drool over their backyard!

Next stop – lunch.  Ben suggested a place he likes to go when he’s working in the area and it did not disappoint.  Caffe 101 is in Boiling Springs in a newly remodeled brick building with charming back courtyard seating and a bright, cheery indoor dining area.  You order at the counter and serve yourself drinks.  The staff brings your order to the table.

Ben was glad they had the sandwich he was craving – a barbeque chicken sandwich with apple and cheddar.




He also ordered cream of crab soup that he said was mostly crab meat and which he indicated he will definitely order again. It looked great and was served with a crisp, seeded flatbread.




Jeff ordered a Rachel, which he ate in record time – as usual, I didn’t have a chance to ask for a bite.  But when I asked how it was he said it was very good!




And I ordered a turkey, bacon and avocado sandwich that was very good.  Fortunately for Jeff I couldn’t finish it and he got to try my sandwich.  The food at Caffe 101 was very fresh, nicely presented, and quite tasty.  The only thing that will keep us from going back soon is that it’s a bit out of our way.  But I am sure we will return when we have another day that’s not jam packed!  If for no other reason than to have a cup of coffee, which smelled excellent and to try a dessert.  They had pretty cupcakes that were decorated with generous amounts of icing and other tempting sweet treats!

From Caffe 101 we followed Ben to his house to pick out another tree for our backyard.  We looked at his garden, his inventory of trees, and we heard about some of his plans for next year (or the next several years).  AND, the highlight of the visit was meeting the newest member of the family – his new backhoe.  I can’t wait to have a chance to drive it!

We had a lot of fun spending the day with one another and with Ben.  So I was glad that I had started dinner in the morning – so that I could invite Ben and his lovely wife, Christa – who was travelling for her nephew’s birthday party, to dinner.  They accepted our invitation and we parted ways.  Christa was heading back from her trip, Ben went to work on a job, and Jeff and I  headed for home to finish dinner and at least vacuum the house.

Tune in later for a full description of dinner, a sneak peek into my rookie mistake, and to hear more about cooking, eating and entertaining, which when done with and for friends is soul satisfying!!!!