Bake Sale Brownies

Buckle up, friends. This might be a long post.

It’s been a while since I’ve written here. In fact, it had been so long that my Aunt called to make sure she wasn’t missing posts on my blog. #bloggingfail.

It’s not that I didn’t want to write. I almost felt like I was running out of ways to explain how I miss my mother with every single fiber of my being. I also needed to take a tiny step back from cooking. In some ways, I find cooking extremely therapeutic. In others, it just stirs up my grief and brings it to a boiling point until it bubbles over and pours out in a steady stream of tears.

Grief isn’t linear. Sure, there are stages of grief…but just because you go through one stage, it doesn’t mean you won’t return to it later. There’s no end to this process and you don’t go through the stages and then poof, you’re done grieving.

Also, summer gets crazy. The kiddo was at camp and we had a busy schedule. We also went on a family vacation and I didn’t feel the need to blog the recipes I made (they weren’t that exciting.) Is blog a verb? It is now.

We’re in more of a routine now. Kiddo is in school. First grade. How. Did. That. Happen? This week is the first school-wide activity. Because I’m a good mom sucker, I signed up to bake two batches of brownies for the bake sale. I could have signed up for cookies or Rice Krispie treats, but I chose brownies.

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Why? Because brownies make me think about baking with my Mom.

Some of my earliest childhood cooking memories involve brownies. It’s kind of amusing because Mom wasn’t really into baking. But, I distinctly remember making multiple batches of brownies with her. She’d let me help measure the ingredients, pour them into the bowl, stir it up, pour it into the pan…and then the best part, lick the spoon.

After the brownies cooled, we always tasted a piece for “quality control” as she called it. I watched as she carefully cut them into squares.  What I was really watching for is where those prized corner pieces would end up on the platter. Those pieces were Mom’s favorite and quickly became mine too. When she realized that I loved them as much as she did, she made sure she got one, but often set aside the other three for me.

On a somewhat recent trip to a thrift store with Mom, I spotted a Baker’s Edge pan. I immediately squealed with delight because I had always been intrigued by these. A pan that promises crispy edges on ALL of the brownies? I remember telling her that I was going to use it whenever I made brownies and that we’d have to try it out, to make sure it really worked, you know, for “quality control” purposes. I never did get the chance to make brownies for her using the pan.

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I used it for the first time tonight. She would have loved it. Crispy edges on EVERY piece. Also, easy clean up. I love this pan! I wanted to call Mom and tell her how amazing this pan really is.

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When my brother and I sorted through everything in Mom’s house, we each found items – often simple items – that had special meaning for us. One of those for me was a basic brownie pan. I used that tonight too.

The kiddo helped me make the brownies just like I did with Mom (except he had no interest in licking the spoon). It was impossible not to think of Mom as we made them. The smell of brownies baking in the oven immediately makes me feel like a kid again. It’s as if I’m back in the kitchen with Mom.

That, my friends, is why I will always make the time to cook brownies for my kiddo’s bake sale at school. Would it be easier to just buy some brownies at the store or even easier…sign up to drop off juice boxes? Yes. But, if I did that, I wouldn’t have the time in the kitchen with my son. I wouldn’t be making more memories with him. I wouldn’t be remembering my own memories with Mom.

Besides, crispy edges are the best.

 

 

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Lobster Dinner

Mom would have turned 64 on June 30. I’m a little delayed in writing this post, but I wrote much of this on my Facebook page on Mom’s birthday.

I was struggling to figure out a way to “celebrate” her birthday. I don’t especially feel like celebrating. I decided to spend part of my day getting a manicure and pedicure at a local salon we used to go to together when she came to visit. I actually avoided going to this salon for the first few months after she died because being there was just too painful for me. On her birthday, I chose to remember how much she liked it there. As I left the salon, I noticed how hot it was outside. Mom used to joke that her birthday was always the hottest day of June – no matter what. This year was no exception, with the heat index well above 90.  

Every year, Mom treated herself to a lobster on her birthday. Mom absolutely LOVED lobster. I decided to have a lobster dinner to celebrate. In a strange, and slightly twisted way, it seemed like the only appropriate thing to do. My brother said that he had decided to do the same. We had not discussed our plans, so the fact that he decided on a similar celebration made me feel better about my choice. 

The lobster was delicious, but every bite was bittersweet.

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I don’t remember exactly when I bought her birthday card, but I bought it very early this year. Perhaps in December when I bought my husband’s birthday card. I’ve never done that before and, of course, now I can’t give it to her. I bought it because it was so perfect. Every word is true.

 

I miss her so much.

Chicken & Watercress – Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll remember that I wrote about feeling like I was Drowning in Recipes. The truth is, not only do I have my mother’s scraps of papers to sort through, I also have my own.

Perhaps the almost compulsive need to skim through cookbooks and magazines comes from a lifetime of watching my mother do it. I remember stacks of cooking magazines around the house growing up. I remember piles of cookbooks that my mother had borrowed from the library. More recently, I remember the mountains of cookbooks in my mother’s bedroom.

Whenever I came into town to visit, I looked forward to crawling into my mom’s bed to lie down next to her. In some ways, it made me feel like I was a kid again. Except now, Mom wasn’t reading me stories…we were reading recipes together. I’d always grab a cookbook from the collection in her room and bring it into bed with me. Sometimes, if I really liked a recipe, I’d write it down on a scrap piece of paper to take home. There were a couple of times when I think Mom realized that I really liked the cookbook I was reading…those times, she told me to take the book home and keep it.

I have my own collection of cookbooks here. I also have stacks of magazine pages I’ve saved, filled with recipes that have piqued my interest in some way. As I’ve been sorting through Mom’s recipe collection, I have come to the sobering realization that she never made many of the recipes she saved. Am I destined to do the same thing? Not if I can help it.

This weekend, I decided to go through a stack of magazine pages I had squirreled away on a bookshelf. Using those as inspiration, I created a meal plan for this week.

Tonight’s dinner was adapted from a recipe I saved from the September 2012 issue of Rachael Ray Magazine.

For my version, I used ground chicken instead of ground beef (hubby is watching is cholesterol and it was on sale!). I used grated Parmesan cheese instead of the pecorino-romano because we already had some. I also substituted thinly sliced provolone for the shredded provolone because my grocery store didn’t have it.

These. Were. Delicious.

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I couldn’t get all of the filling to stay on top of the mushrooms, maybe that had something to do with me swapping out the pecorino-romano? Or, maybe I needed deeper wells in the mushrooms. What this dish might lack in presentation – it more than makes up for in flavor.

I will happily make this again.

 

 

Chicken & Watercress – Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

Ingredients

  • 4 large portobello mushroom caps, gills scraped
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 pound ground chicken, at room temperature
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 – 3 cloves garlic, chopped *I used 3 -4 large cloves
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano *I used oregano
  • 1 cup packed watercress, chopped
  • 1/2- 3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated pecorino-romano *I used Parmesan 
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded provolone *I used thin slices

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, brush the mushrooms with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper; situate them rounded side up. Roast until softened, 8 to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, 2 turns of the pan, over medium-high heat. Pat the chicken dry and add to the skillet; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, Worcestershire and oregano. Cook until the onion and garlic are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the watercress to wilt. Stir in the panko. Remove the pan from the heat; stir in the Parmesan.

Flip the mushroom caps over so they’re rounded side down and fill with the meat mixture, mounding a quarter of the chicken into each cap. Top with the provolone and return to the oven to melt the cheese, 7 to 8 minutes.

Easy Garlic Parmesan Knots

I spent most of this past weekend on my front porch. This is rare for me as I tend to avoid spending lots of time outside. Mom used to call me “bubble girl.” I sunburn easily, bugs love me, and I generally don’t like being hot.  Usually, if I told mom about a sunburn or a bug bite, she’d reply by saying, “You know you’re a bubble girl and can’t go outside!”

She would have been shocked to learn that I spent about 6 hours outside each day this weekend. I had a brief moment when I was thinking of calling to tell her what I was doing because I knew she wouldn’t believe it. When will I stop reaching for the phone to call Mom? 

The weather was practically perfect (except for some brief rain showers on Saturday morning), so I decided to have a weekend yard sale.

Mom had a huge collection of ceramics. I was with her when she purchased most of them. When I look at a mug, I don’t see the mug. I remember the day we spent walking around Collingswood. I remember standing in line at Starbucks and ordering two, Trenta black iced teas, unsweetened. I remember looking at jewelry, stained glass, artwork, tie dye shirts, and ceramics. I remember helping mom pick out the mug after we compared how the handles felt and how the glazes differed. When I look at a bowl, I remember browsing the Potters Guild shows together. That vase is from the open house at “ruffle bowl lady’s” house.

As my brother and I went through mom’s house, I told him that I’d like to try to sell the ceramics. It wasn’t really about the money. It was about finding them good homes and knowing where these prized possessions were going. He agreed to let me pack them up and bring them back home with me. I’ve been selling some over the winter – having people come browse the collection on my dining room table. Now that it’s finally nice outside, I set up outside.

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Ceramics set up for sale on the porch.

After I finished setting up, I sat on the porch and waited. It didn’t take long to notice that there was a hummingbird in the yard in front of me. I had not seen a hummingbird yet this year. If mom was up visiting, I used to show her when they’d visit my feeder. I’d also send her pictures when she was in Maryland. This one was just fluttering around the tree in front of me. Coincidence? Maybe, but it did make me smile.

At first, I didn’t get as much traffic as I had hoped. Perhaps the weather was too nice and people were out and about doing other things to enjoy it. I was a little disappointed, but then a few more people stopped by, and a few after that. It was slow, but steady both days.

While I was outside, I had my trusty assistant with me. He enjoyed playing with some toys, drawing with chalk, and just sitting next to me eating his breakfast.

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Dining al fresco.

I took some time to read through some cookbooks. I bookmarked a lot of recipes to try, but one in particular seemed so easy that I knew I just had to make it.

Garlic Parmesan Knots. Using refrigerated biscuit dough! Genius!

I made these last night and they were absolutely delicious. Again, wanted to call mom to tell her and I couldn’t. Ugg. 

It took a tremendous amount of willpower not to eat these in one sitting.

Hubby took one bite and then said “You should sell these things on the street corner!”

Enjoy!

 

Easy Garlic Parmesan Knots

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
  • 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (16-ounce) tube refrigerated buttermilk biscuits (I used Flaky Layers because that’s all the store had)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly oil a baking sheet or coat with nonstick spray.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together butter, Parmesan, garlic powder, oregano, parsley and salt; set aside.
  3. Halve each of the 8 biscuits, making 16 pieces. Roll each piece into a 5-inch rope, about 1/2-inch thick, and tie into a knot, tucking the ends.
  4. Place knots onto the prepared baking sheet and brush each knot with half of the butter mixture. Place into oven and bake until golden brown, about 8-10 minutes.
  5. Serve immediately, brushed with remaining butter mixture.
Adapted from the Damn Delicious Cookbook, by Chungah On. 

Birthday Dinner

Today is my birthday.

If I’m being honest, I’ve basically dreaded this day since Mom died.

Every year for as long as I can remember, Mom would give me a virtual play-by-play of my birthday – starting with the evening before. She’d call to tell me how her water broke on May 12, just after she had gotten into bed after a long night out at an event with my father. Apparently, I was in no rush to make my grand entrance into the world, so not much of anything happened after that. She’d end the phone call telling me that she’d talk to me tomorrow on my birthday…and then proceed to tell me that whenever she talked to me the following day that I still wasn’t born yet.

Sometimes she’d call me the morning of my birthday, sometimes during her lunch break at work, sometimes after work, sometimes around dinner. Depending on her schedule, she’d even call me all of those times during the day, if for no other reason than to tell me that I wasn’t born yet. “It’s your birthday, but you still weren’t born yet,” she’d remind me. Yes, Mom. I know. You tell me this every year. I know. I wasn’t born yet. Yes, I know I made you suffer through almost 24 hours of labor.

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My 1st Birthday

This year, I knew the “you weren’t born yet” phone calls wouldn’t come. I miss those silly calls. I’m not kidding. Sometimes I just had a message from Mom that said “Hi, birthday girl, you still weren’t born yet.” That’s it.

I’ve gotten lots of other phone calls and messages from friends today. All of them are very sweet. It’s not the same, of course. Nothing is the same. I’d be foolish to think otherwise.

I decided that I wanted to go to a familiar, comforting place for my birthday dinner. There’s a restaurant about 45 minutes away that I really enjoy. We’ve gone there before for my birthday and to celebrate our anniversary a few times. In fact, last year Mom was here visiting during my birthday weekend and watched Zack while we went to the same restaurant. I remembered this in the car as we drove tonight and started crying.

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Mom with Zack. Right before we left for dinner, 2016.

I’ve learned that about grief. I’m fine one second. Not fine the next. Out of nowhere, any memory, song, picture, trinket, etc. can ignite such a strong emotion that I’ll just burst into tears.

Then I started thinking about how this would be the first “nice dinner out” since Mom died. I can’t remember exactly when I started doing this, but I had gotten in the habit of taking pictures of meals (if we were out at nice restaurants) and sending them to Mom. Mom loved food and traveling and I think in some way, the pictures allowed her to experience these places with me.

When I traveled to Israel during college, back in the dinosaur days before smart phones, I remember taking photos of the food I ate just so I could show it to Mom. Photos on actual film. Crazy, I know.

As I was crying in the car, I was thinking that this would be the first dinner with no photos for Mom. I used to text them to her, then immediately call her to tell her to check her iPad for the photos so I could describe them in detail. Then, I cried some more as I let it sink in that I can’t do that anymore.

I can’t text Mom to share the photos anymore, but I can do it here.

So, here are the photos that I would have sent to Mom:

We finished dinner around 7 p.m. and I’m assuming I would have called her from the car shortly after. I would have told her about my meal and Mike would have told her about his. Given that it was still before 9:39 p.m., she would have told me that I still wasn’t born yet.

Yes, Mom. I know.