Souper Bowl MMXIII

Souper Bowl MMXIIIJeff and I and a group of our friends have changed Super Bowl Sunday into Souper Bowl Saturday!  At least we did this past Saturday evening.  No players were injured and the lights didn’t go out, but there was some trash talk!

Veggie & Ricotta Frittata

On this dreary, gray, drizzly morning (almost afternoon), I am reflecting on our competition over a wonderful veggie and ricotta frittata.  Just thinking about all the soups is making me feeI a little warmer.  But I am longing for another cup of coffee, so hang on a moment please…….

OK, I’m back and caffeine is once again flowing through my system. Ahhhhhh!

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Jingle Bells

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. Oh, what fun it is to ride in….the backseat of a Honda Pilot holding a mug of hot chocolate in your hand, laughing with friends, and peeping at Christmas lights!

Jeff and I had such a fun night with our friends Mark and Lu and their kids last night.  We were invited to their house for a casual dinner before our First Annual Christmas Light Ride.  Lu made three (yes, an overachiever if ever there was one and more energy than anyone I know) kinds of soup and had fixings for sandwiches.  The soups were D’licious!  She made a chick pea soup that you top to taste with fresh cilantro, a warm baked potato and bacon soup that you top to taste with shredded cheese, and a spicy lamb and veggie soup.  All were incredibly warming and homey.  And the sandwich fixings were definitely not your ordinary deli.  There were several kinds of bread including jalapeno cheese bread (mmm mmm mmm), different meats and cheeses, a bevy of condiments and toppings.  What a terrific meal.

And since Jeff and I don’t have kids of our own, it is a nice change of pace to have dinner in a house full of activity and some great sarcastic humor.  It was the funny banter between siblings that you just can’t get anywhere else sprinkled with movie quotes and an obvious love for one another!!!

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Ladies Who Lunch

Growing up I remember doing a lot of “visiting” on and around the holidays – in fact, it was one of my favorite parts about this time of year.  Visiting in my family typically occurred at one of three places – my grandmother’s house, her sister Mary’s house, or their sister Mag’s (Margaret) house.  Later in the evening, after each of the three families had finished their main holiday meal, all the families got together and……well…….ate some more!  Not a full meal, but there was always food and drink.

My Aunt Mary (actually my mom’s aunt, but we called her Aunt Mary)  had the best setup at her house for the large number of people who gathered because she and her husband – Uncle George – had a basement with a table that I thought could seat about 100 people!  Invariably, the women gathered either in the kitchen or the dining room (usually the kitchen), the men around the t.v., and the kids in the basement.  If I promised to be quiet, I got to sit with the big girls in the kitchen…..so, believe it or not (and I know this will be a stretch for those of you who know my ability to talk), I was quiet – most of the time!

What I remember enjoying was all the generations being together talking and laughing.  Yesterday we had a mini recreation of holiday visiting at my mom’s house.  My Aunt Pam (again, not my aunt, but my mom’s cousin – but they may as well have been sisters) came out to visit from Bethlehem; so my sister (Laura) and her girls (Vanessa and Ashley) joined my mom (Connie), Aunt Pam, and me for lunch.  It was great to have several generations around the table talking and laughing!

My mom made lentil sausage soup – Ina Garten’s recipe from her book Barefoot in Paris – and served warm bread and rolled provolone cheese & salami.  It was a warm, hearty, satisfying lunch with exceptional company and great conversation.  Cross-generational communication is always interesting to me! And I am seeing things from a new perspective these days….as I was growing up I was in the youngest or younger generation at gatherings and now I’m smack dab in the middle, so I have a new view of things – I get to listen to the younger generation and be amazed at how smart younger people are these days and occasionally roll my eyes!

Our time together was heart-warming to me….we ate good food and talked about all aspects of life – from work and careers to relationships and life lessons.  We also talked some about family history.  I love hearing stories about how things used to be; but I also love the exuberance of the generation who is just beginning their own traditions!

For dessert I made an Apple Upside Down Cake – an adaptation of a recipe from Diane Phillips – one of the instructors at the Kitchen Shoppe.  In a recent class, Diane made Pear Upside Down Cake with Warm Caramel Sauce – since I couldn’t find nice pears, I used apples and it was a nice twist on the original using ingredients that were available to me in the moment. Luckily, I was able to garnish the serving platter with the most delicious chocolate-covered candied orange peel made by my Aunt Pam – a treat we always enjoy.  We also sipped Aunt Pam’s homemade Limoncello Cream, a variation of standard limoncello from Sorrento (which you can usually purchase in a liquor store).  Limoncello Cream is made with lemons, grain alcohol, milk, sugar, and water.  It warms the body as well as the soul and since it’s not readily available, has to be homemade!

After lunch Laura and the girls left – each going a separate way. Vanessa home to West Chester to have dinner with her boyfriend, Justin.  Ashley back to school in Millersville. And Laura home – just a bit down the road in Mechanicsburg.

Mimi (my mom, Connie), Aunt Pam and I left for a little shopping.  We went to First Impressions in Linglestown – one of my favorite shops and then to Community Aid and Making Sense in Mechanicsburg. Aunt Pam won the prize for best bargains of the day.  For under $20 she bought a Talbot’s down vest, a Ralph Lauren sweater-ish vest, a three-piece velour and wool outfit from Saks Fifth Avenue – with the tag still on, a cute purse and two aperitif (no, Mimi, not “a parakeet”) glasses that I think are Mikasa. Wow – she is a consignment guru!!!

As we were driving along the river going from the East Shore to the West Shore, God treated us to the most amazing sunset…..I just have to share a photo with you, but the photo simply does not do justice to the beauty we saw before us!

In the last several years, time and distance and life (literally birth and death) has changed the makeup of our extended family.  Gatherings of extended family don’t happen nearly as often and they certainly aren’t the same as I remember them. I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to have a family lunch yesterday and I hope we can use it as a spring-board for more extended family gatherings.  I grew up spending a lot of time in the company of my aunts, uncles and cousins and I miss that time.  Although it won’t ever be exactly what it was, I hope that we can create new traditions and memories for all the generations!

Photos of the Apple Upside Down Cake w/ Warm Caramel Sauce Garnished with Chocolate-Covered Candied Orange Peel

 

Diane Phillips’ Pear Upside Down Cake with Warm Caramel Sauce

Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter (melted)
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar (firmly packed)
  • 2 Medium pears (firm-ripe (about 1 pound))
  • 1 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 2 Large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla paste or vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (softened)
  • 1 cup light brown sugar (packed)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar (packed)
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or vanilla extract

Note

Recipe courtesty of Diane Phillips

Directions

Topping - using first 3 ingredients
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat the bottom and sides of a 9 x 2 inch round cake pan with non-stick cooking spray.
2. In a small bowl, stir together the butter and sugar. Pour into the bottom of the prepared pan.
3. Peel, core, and cut the pears lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices.
4. Arrange the pear slices on the bottom of the pan in a circle around the edge, overlapping them slightly, with the pointed ends toward the center.
5. If necessary, cut a little off the pointed ends to make the slices fit better. Or if the pear slices don't reach all the way to the middle, arrange a few shorter slices in the center to cover the bottom of the pan.
Cake
6. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, and salt into a medium bowl. Stir to combine. In a small bowl, stir together the milk, eggs and vanilla.
7. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.
8. Reduce the speed and add the milk mixture, it will look curdled. Add the flour mixture, and beat until the mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes.
9. Spoon the batter in large dollops over the pears and smooth it into an even layer with an offset spatula. Bake the cake until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes. Transfer t he pan to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan. Turn a cake plate upside down on top of the cake pan and, using pot holders, carefully invert the cake pan onto the plate.
10. Serve the cake warm with vanilla ice cream and/or warm caramel sauce.
Warm Caramel Sauce - using last 4 ingredients
11. In a medium speed saucepan, melt the butter, and add the brown sugar, stir until the sugar is melted.
12. Add the cream, and bring to a boil for 1 minute.
13. The sauce can be cooled, and refrigerated for up to 1 month. Reheat on the stovetop.

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!!!!

Food Connects….Part 2

As Jeff and I sat in church this morning I was feeling particularly blessed.  I am a little embarrassed to admit that my mind was wandering a bit and that after glancing at who was sitting near me I started making notes on my service outline that had nothing to do with the message.

[I will apologize right here to Pastor Shawn. He preached a great sermon about involving God in our personal finances and I really was listening to the message.  In addition to the notes I took that had nothing to do with the message, I really did take notes that were pertinent to the sermon; it’s just that my mind was working overtime….yeah, working overtime.  It’s true that women can multitask! ]

Anyway….at some point I realized that Jeff and I were surrounded on three sides by other couples who we are so fortunate to count as friends.  I couldn’t help my mind from reaching back to what I had been mulling over all day Friday – the idea that food connects. I realized that we have shared meals with all these couples and, if memory serves, we’ve shared one particular meal with all of them.  It’s not a fancy meal by any stretch of the imagination, but it is one that is meaningful for several reasons.

We first had Taco Soup on our missions trip to Ecuador in 2008.  The last night of our trip, the full-time missionaries with whom we were serving invited our team over to their home in Quito for dinner.  They made Taco Soup.  After spending days eating in unfamiliar places and sometimes not really knowing for sure what we were having, the soup was a wonderful tonic – warm and comforting. We ate and talked and connected over the soup and were so grateful to the Brown’s for their hospitality.  Before we left, we asked for the recipe.

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve made Taco Soup since we returned to the states, but I can tell you it is ALWAYS for a crowd, there’s always lots of laughter, and invariably someone always asks for the recipe.  I always triple the recipe and make it in a huge, heavy yellow pot. I’ve even loaned the pot to a friend so that she could make the soup for a crowd too!

We served Taco Soup at our small group meeting the night before our friend, Laura (one of the folks sitting near us at church this morning), went into labor with her first baby.  We served it several times when Jeff and I have taught a finance class to premarital couples at church.  We served it to our ministry team when we had training on how to counsel people about their finances. We made it when we went on vacation with my family over Christmas in 2010. Taco soup has been like an old friend to us.

Of course, thinking about Taco Soup got me to thinking about other food / food traditions we have had at small group meetings.    Before she moved away, our good friend Bev used to make the most amazing Banana Pudding when there was a special occasion.  She got the recipe from her mother-in-law and all of us in our group are indebted to said mother-in-law for her generosity.  Our friends Laura and Aaron, who were newly married and who are so careful and smart with their money, used to bring Doritos each week.  Now, that may not sound like a big deal – but each week they’d bring a new flavor and everyone looked forward to the “Doritos du Jour.”  Until that year, I had no idea there were so many different kinds of Doritos! My personal favorite was the cheeseburger flavored!

For Valentine’s Day this year, my friend Lu and I worked together to create an unforgettable 5 course meal for the 14 people in our small group.  She and I not only made the food, but we also made a beautiful card that served as a place marker for each couple. Inside the card was the printed menu for our ‘Story of the Heart’ dinner.  To continue the theme we created a framed, hand-calligraphed favor for each couple to take home.  It read, “every heart has a story to tell” and included a three-dimensional heart with Bible verses about love printed on it.  I cannot tell you whether Lu and I had more fun getting to know one another while working together on this labor of love or having dinner with the group.  Both were incredible times of connection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So if you love cooking, eating and entertaining as much as I do, or if you simply enjoy being a gracious guest; my sincerest hope for you is that you have many of your own stories of food as a connector.  Perhaps memories of meals you’ve shared with friends or memories that warm your heart when you make a recipe that’s been shared with you by a friend or family member.  After all, every heart (and every recipe) has a story to tell!

Taco Soup

1 lb. ground beef
2 cans diced tomatoes, with liquid
2 cans corn, with liquid
2 cans chili beans, with liquid
1 pkg taco seasoning
________

Tortilla chips
Sour cream
Shredded cheddar cheese

  1. Brown ground beef.  Drain and return to pot.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and stir.
  3. Simmer for at least 20 minutes.
  4. Crush a handful of tortilla chips in the bottom of a bowl.
  5. Ladle soup over chips.
  6. Top with shredded cheese and sour cream as desired.
  7. Enjoy!!!

Note:  Taco Soup freezes well if you make too much!