Who Is Anastasia?

My photo
New Castle, Indiana Zone 5, United States
When I was 55, I decided to embrace the things I love and hold precious and dear - regardless of anyone else's thoughts and opinion. I am a folk artist who loves flowers - my own flowers, grown by me. I love good, hearty, exotic foods, and I love to prepare them myself. I love the secret garden situated in my backyard, regardless of how junky it gets. No longer able to afford a vacation, this will have to be it for the time being. In the winter months, I still enjoy it. Anyway, here I am sharing my art, favorite recipes, cocktails, gardening tips, and just my usual vents and bantering. After all, I'm old enough to say whatever the heck I want to now ... Oh, the two pictures below are NOT of my garden, although the one with the pink French doors looks very much like the backyard I grew up with. I am searching for pictures of that wonderful place and will post soon.

JEWELS OF MY SOUL

JEWELS OF MY SOUL
My Book Available on AMAZON

Stacey Torres ART Prints

Stacey Torres ART Prints
A very limited selection of reproductions from my paintings can be found here

December 6, 2010

The Magic of the old Yule Log

It is Christmas Eve, 1972. Picture the home of Archie Bunker or The King of Queens; typical three windows and a door. Inside each of those nearly identical houses (one of which was mine), something charmingly peculiar was going on. Of course, you could not see it from the street – usually, because New Yorkers draw their shades at dusk. You had to live there to appreciate this strangely unique holiday tradition. The Yule Log.


This was not just any Yule Log; and, certainly not a cake, but the WPIX Yule Log, one of television’s most heart warming, time-honored traditions.

I’m originally from New York, although I’ve lived in Indiana much of my adult life. But we (New Yorkers) tend to go over the deep end with holiday traditions, and if it’s an odd one, we keep doing it.

From 1966 to 1989, folks in the Metropolitan area were treated to a televised fireplace (Yule log) on WPIX-11, which burned continuously on Christmas Eve, complete with old fashioned carols playing in the background. I know, you’re probably wondering why in the heck anyone would want to watch a fireplace on TV with carols playing half the night? Well, it goes back to that quirky little New York thing. In Manhattan, and most of the five boroughs, a lot of folks live in apartments; very small apartments. In the 70’s, as today, if you were lucky enough to have a fifth floor walk-up studio with a working fireplace, that was golden. But, most of us did not have a fireplace. The one holiday tradition that brings city apartment dwellers to their knees is the warmth and cheer of a holiday hearth. WPIX-11 provided us with the comfort on Christmas Eve.

The original Log was filmed at Gracie mansion, the official residence of New York City’s mayors. They volunteered its stately fireplace for the taping. This was an offer it probably grumbled about when a spark burned a hole in a very valuable rug in the mansion.

On Christmas Eve, people ran home from work. Stores closed early. Subways seemed to run faster, and cabs drove on the sidewalks – all so we could get home in time to turn on Channel 11. The broadcast was grainy, had a bunch of static, and it “snowed” a lot on our local channel. For you younger viewers, “snow” is what your television or monitors get when you don’t pay your cable or satellite bill.

Liquor stores stocked up, and the delis and specialty shops were filled with last minute shoppers buying treats and comfort foods for their Yule Log parties.

These parties were a common ritual. If you had met someone at a bar or the corner grocer, or a co-worker – or your beau – called and said, “Hey, wanna come by my place for a Christmas Eve nightcap?” you knew what that meant. No, no, no; not that … it was Yule Log Time in NY City! It meant you got lucky, so to speak.

People snuggled up in front in front of their cabinet television sets and watched the mesmerizing blaze, humming along to their favorite Christmas tunes. Couples got engaged over the Yule Log! So what if it was a two dimensional fire? It took you away for a few hours; took you to another place and time. I had memorized that log so well that I knew when each flame would flicker and how. Families gathered around and wrapped gifts in front of the television, decorating them with candles and greenery as if they were real mantles. My young cousin, Reva, asked me if she could hang her stocking on the TV set thinking it was just as good as a real hearth.

In 1989, WPIX-11 decided to take the Yule Log off the air due to financial reasons. Faithful fans wailed in the streets and begged the station to put it back on the air. Poor imitations began to pop up on CDs and DVDs, but they just weren’t the same. Petitions and websites began to surface from past and present native New Yorkers – anyone who had known and loved the Log, as we fondly called it, begging the station to bring it back.

Finally, on Christmas morning, 2001, WPIX-11 reinstated the Yule Log for a few short hours. The ratings went through the roof, surpassing even “Good Morning America.” I believe it was in 2006, in honor of the Log’s 40th birthday, WPIX ran a special, “The WPIX Yule Log: A Log’s Life,” during the holidays. The original film loop and three hour soundtrack had been digitally re-mastered.

The WPIX Yule Log aired on 10 other stations owned by Tribune Broadcasting as well as the WGN Superstation.

Am I sentimental about the Yule Log? You bet your Brooklyn Bridge I am. Early Christmas morning, 2009, I awoke to a familiar crackle and old time version of “The First Noel.” I arose to my feet for fear I was dreaming, but it was no dream. My old Yule Log was on television once more (don’t ask me what channel it was; I was drunk with joy and don’t remember).

My tradition with the Yule Log usually involved me visiting a friend’s house on the way home to Queens from work. We’d catch the early part of the broadcast with the usual Yule Log jokes and a cocktail. But, it always ended the same way. I would accompany my grandparents to church for the midnight service, and then rush back home for the last part of the Yule Log. Gramps and I would sit at the dining room table, and we shared two things; eggnog and some good Barbados rum. We’d toast our ancestors, bask in the aroma of the bird already in the oven, and comment on how much better the Yule Log looked that year.

For more information on The Yule Log, please visit www.theyulelog.com.

November 20, 2010

Honey Rum Glazed Turkey

Do you remember when turkey was still a luxurious treat? The family saved up for one and you only saw the big bird at Thanksgiving, Christmas or other special occasions. The inevitable turkey sandwich was a joy the next day with all of the "trimmings."
Now a slice of turkey is a dime a dozen, sold in every form or shape imaginable.
But Thanksgiving is here again, and I'm honestly sick of the old Tom Turkey and his dull brethren. Yet, I realize there are still millions who are traditionalists and want their bird on the table for Thanksgiving. Fair enough. So, why not dress the bird for the occasion, leaving a tasty lasting impression?
I perused countless recipes in old cookbooks, my recipe files and then online. To my delight, I discovered a rather cool recipe for Honey Rum Glazed Turkey at http://www.tortugarumcakes.com/:

Honey Rum Glazed Turkey


1 - 12 to 15 pound turkey
2 tablespoons butter
1 large Granny Smith apple
8 whole cloves
3 tablespoons Tortuga Dark Rum
6 cloves garlic, peeled & crushed
1 medium onion, quartered
1 tablespoon Garlic Mrs. Dash
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon garlic pepper

Glaze:
1/2 cup Tortuga Dark Rum
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1 teaspoon Grace Jamaican All Purpose Seasoning
1 tablespoon garlic pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Core & quarter apple & place 2 cloves in each quarter. Place on small dish; sprinkle apple slices with rum; set aside.

Make Glaze:
In small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat - do not allow to brown. When melted, add rum, honey, orange zest & orange juice & 1 teaspoon All Purpose seasoning, stirring well. Heat just until mixture begins to bubble & remove from heat.
Cool slightly while preparing turkey. Remove giblets from turkey cavities & rinse turkey in cold water. Pat dry with paper towel.
Place turkey in oven roasting pan. Rub the 2 tablespoons of butter into skin over turkey breast & thighs. Sprinkle the body cavity with the salt, Mrs. Dash & 1 teaspoon garlic pepper.
Insert rum-soaked apple pieces, garlic & onion. Seal cavity with piece of aluminum foil shaped to fit or secure with skewers. Spoon half of glaze evenly over turkey, coating breast, wings, legs & thighs well. Use baster to reach all surface skin areas, tucks & all. Sprinkle remaining 2 teaspoons All purpose seasoning & 1 tablespoon garlic pepper evenly over skin.
Cover with a tent of aluminum foil. Place turkey in very hot oven (450 degrees) for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and roast for 2 hours, or according to directions for weight of bird, basting with remaining glaze two or three times. Remove aluminum foil during last 30 minutes to brown skin.
Remove turkey from oven & allow to cool, covered loosely with foil, for 20 minutes before carving. Pour off remaining juices & glaze from pan into 1 quart measuring cup.
You can use the drippings & juices to make gravy or skim off fat as it rises to the surface & serve this delicious sauce as is.

October 7, 2010

It's Pie Time, Y'all

It's that wonderful time of year. Pies in the oven ... the smells of harvest and comfort. Here are two lovely pies to keep you warm this season. (From the Butterball Kitchen)

Easy No-Bake Pumpkin Pie

Make this creamy no-bake pumpkin pie a new tradition in your house this holiday season

1 unflavored gelatin
1/3 cup water
1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
2 cups whipped topping
1 large (10 inch, 9 ounce) graham cracker pie crust

Sprinkle gelatin over water in small saucepan. Let stand 1 minute. Cook and stir on low heat until gelatin dissolves.
Combine pumpkin, sweetened condensed milk and pumpkin pie spice with wire whisk until well blended. Stir in gelatin mixture. Let cool 10 minutes. Gently stir in whipped cream.
Pour mixture into crust. Chill at least 3 hours, or until set. Cut pie into 10 slices.

 
Southern Pecan Pie with Toffee Crunch

Traditional Pecan Pie with a Crispy Sweet Twist

1 (from 15 ounce package) refrigerated pie pastry
1 1/4 cups dark corn syrup
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups pecans, halved
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup toffee pieces, divided
1 tablespoon flour

Preheat oven to 350°F. Roll pastry into a 12-inch circle on lightly floured surface. Fit into 9-inch pie plate. Fold edge under and flute edge.

Combine corn syrup, eggs, pecans, butter and vanilla in a medium bowl. Toss 2/3 cup of toffee pieces with flour and stir into pecan mixture. Pour entire mixture into pie pastry.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove pie from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Immediately sprinkle remaining 1/3 cup of toffee pieces over the top. Cool completely before serving.

September 6, 2010

Bananas Foster Cake

As a rule, I am not a fan of banana cake, banana pudding or banana nut bread. In essence, I never liked cooked bananas; that is, until I was introduced to the famous Bananas Foster dessert, which is now the flagship of my dessert madness favorites. I rarely get to eat this dessert, and it is too complicated (for me) to make. There are many knock-offs and short cuts, and Bananas Foster at a family breakfast buffet just does not cut it.


But I love Bananas Foster and I love cake. How could I marry my love of this decadent dessert with my passion for cake making and cake eating? After trying out several cake combinations that failed miserably or simply came up short to my expectations, I finally came up with the perfect - well, almost perfect - Bananas Foster Cake. This is a perfect last supper dessert before embarking on that annual new year's diet.

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 large ripe banana, mashed
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup dark rum
1/2 cup melted vanilla ice cream (premium quality)
1/2 cup instant cocoa (sweetened)

Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt® or tube pan.

Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside. In large mixing bowl, beat butter on medium speed until light, about 30 seconds. (I prefer to mix my cakes by hand with a wooden spoon, but that is optional). Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. In medium bowl, mash banana. Add sour cream, milk, vanilla and rum; stir to combine. Add dry ingredients alternately with banana mixture to creamed mixture; beat well after each addition.

Reserve 2 cups of batter in two small bowls (one cup each). Fold in the vanilla ice cream into one bowl, then stir instant cocoa mix into the other bowl of batter. Spoon half of the plain banana batter into pan. Top with the vanilla (ice cream) batter. Spoon more plain batter over this. Top with cocoa batter. Bake at 350° for 55 to 70 minutes, or until a wooden pick or cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack, then remove from pan to cool completely.

Fill the center of the cake with the following filling.

1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup mashed bananas
1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup banana liqueur
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Dust the cake lightly with powdered sugar. When serving, drizzle each slice of cake with a bit of dark hot fudge syrup warmed in the microwave.

August 29, 2010

A New Day is (Always) Dawning Somewhere

Yesterday (Aug. 28), I was invited to the Indianapolis City Market to do a book signing and cooking demo from my new cookbook/memoir, THE BAJAN'S GRANDDAUGHTER. It was a successful event, and much fun. Old and new friends turned up, and I even got my mom and aunt to make the trip to Indy with me.

I made Trinidadian Curried Chicken, as well as Banana Boat Bread (bananas, coconut, pineapple, guava, mango, papaya & raisins). My book is available, should anyone be interested, just send me an email! You can purchase my book in my Etsy Store with FREE SHIPPING for the first copy.

A limited amount of copies will also be available at my Bread Booth in the (Henry County, Indiana) Farmers' Market until the end of our season.

All the best!

August 19, 2010

What's In Your Tomato Sandwich?

I've been feeling a bit sluggish, stressed, and sad that summer is once again leaving me behind without me getting to "join in." Okay, that was the pity party. Usually, to crash such a party, I seek comfort food -- that can be good or bad. But, in this case, it was actually a good thing.
Yesterday, I wanted comfort food - which, for me, involves hot, steamy chicken soup, Chinese ribs (not pre-fab buffet), oxtail stew or Bananas Foster ... none of which would be suitable considering my lowly state of financial affairs and the extreme heat. I couldn't bear to light the stove for stew or soup, and can't afford the ingredients for my all-time favorite dessert; at least not today.
But, just now, a neighbor knocked on the door. I was so surprised that my evil man-eating dog did not make a fuss, but he just raised a lazy eyebrow. The neighbor handed me four delightful Beefsteak Tomatoes, home grown in his yard. I thanked him, and brought the almost too-ripe 'maters into the kitchen. We stared at each other gloomily, and then suddenly, it dawned on me ... TOMATO SANDWICH!
I had not had a tomato sandwich in ages, and it sounded really good (and comforting) right now.
There's several ways to make a tomato sandwich; my favorite is two slices of old fashioned Sunbeam White Bread, some Miracle Whip, beautiful chilled tomatoes, sliced, and salt and pepper.
I improvised with:
2 slices thick, multi grain bread
Mayonnaise (on one slice)
One large Beefsteak Tomato, sliced thick - pile it on!
Garlic Salt
1/2 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
Smash it together, and go for it.
I've found my new comfort food.

August 8, 2010

Chinese Garlic Sauce

Garlic sauce is the base of so many Asian recipes many reasons. Beyond the fact that it is delicious, aromatic and adds full body to steamed vegetables, pan fried tofu, chicken, beef, pork or seafood dishes, Chinese Garlic Sauce is packed with powerful antioxidants. Asian cooks benefit from the simple sauce that creates wonderful flavor, while providing a healthy accent to many meals.


Don’t think that you must limit Chinese Garlic Sauce strictly to Asian dishes. It is a very good enhancement to lamb, veal and many Mediterranean recipes also.

Simple Chinese Garlic Sauce

6 whole garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
2 tablespoons of chili paste with garlic
1 sweet red pepper, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
½ cup chopped, unsalted peanuts
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons cornstarch

* Quickly saute the garlic and red pepper flakes in the peanut and sesame oils on high.*
* Reduce the heat to low.
* Add the oyster sauce along with the light and dark soy sauces, plus the rice wine, brown sugar, ginger and the chili paste.
* Stir gently and simmer slowly.
* Slice the red and green peppers into thin strips. Toss into the skillet with the garlic mixture.
* Fold in the chopped peanuts to the above.
* In a small bowl, blend the water and cornstarch until it has a smooth texture. Gradually add the cornstarch blend into the simmering pot, and stir constantly.
* Season with salt and pepper to taste.
* Stir the garlic constantly, being careful to not allow the sesame oil to burn.

July 25, 2010

Oven Cooked Steak

Many years ago, my grandmother introduced a steak recipe to our family that was wonderful and tasty. I believe the origins of the recipe was on a Lipton's Onion Soup® (dry mix) box. It has been often duplicated and improvised over the years, and I also have added my own personal touches to the mix.


Her original steak was very simple. Using a plain sirloin or "round steak/roast," place your steak in a Pyrex® baking dish large enough to hold the steak without cramping it. Sprinkle an entire packet (undiluted) of the Lipton's Onion Soup® directly onto the meat. Spread the soup evenly over the entire steak. Cover with foil, and bake in a 325 degree Fahrenheit oven until the meat is tender. The meat steams itself under the foil, hydrating the onion soup mix, and the result is a very tasty and tender steak. However, the onion soup mix tends to be very salty.

My new and improved version of the "onion steak" is to make my own lower sodium version. In a small bowl, I blend the following:

1/2 cup of dried onion flakes
1 large yellow onion, sliced
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1/4 cup chopped green onion
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon (low sodium) soy sauce
1 cup light Italian salad dressing
8 oz. frozen vegetables (your choice)

Mix well with a fork and spoon over the meat. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to allow the steak to marinate sufficiently. Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not discard the marinade; it hasn't sat on the meat long enough to be a threat to you and your loved ones. Cover with foil, and bake until tender (as in the original recipe); usually 40 minutes or so.

Your steak is virtually fool proof. Of course, you can tweak the marinade ingredients if some of them are not to your liking. You can make it as simple as Italian dressing only. It's totally up to you. Oven cooked steak is simple and fabulous!

July 15, 2010

Open for Business

My new Etsy Store (Buns 'N Roses) is finally open for business. On this site, I will be selling my Fantasy Corsages, which are all hand crafted from recycled items. At some point, I will also take orders for breads/muffins, but not at this time. I'm focusing on the Fantasy Corsages, which have been quite successful locally.

Should you know anyone who would be interested in a one-of-a-kind corsage, hair ornament, hat or whatever, PLEASE send them to Buns 'N Roses.

July 7, 2010

Summer Feast - Traditional Zucchini Boats

Okay, so my mother went with me to the farmers' market Saturday while I sold my breads and muffins. Using her walker, she managed to acquire 3 lbs. of green beans, some summer squash and the largest zucchini in the land -- and it's only early July!

She kept asking when I was going to fix it. I wasn't. I don't like zucchini; I think it's a stupid vegetable, and no, I 'm NOT going to make zucchini bread. Anyway, I decided to make something I used to like and enjoy eating. It's so simple, it shouldn't even count. I made Zucchini Boats.

The recipe for Zucchini Boats is relatively easy; so easy, a blindfolded mongoose could make it.

Ingredients:

A large obnoxious Zucchini
1 lb. ground turkey
1 small can of sliced mushroom pieces
1 can of diced tomatoes (seasoned is ok)
1 small onion, chopped fine
1/2 red, green or yellow pepper of your choice - I don't care how hot it is; that's your business

Cheese if you have it - I didn't.

Anyway, slice the big Zucchini lengthwise after chopping off the rounded ends.
With a spoon, scoop out the unnecessary seeds and pulp. If you keep the seeds to plant later, please don't leave any orphaned Zucchini on my doorstep. So, scoop out the center; leaving two "boats." If they are too long, cut them in half ... duh!
Put the boats in a baking dish they will fit into.
In the meantime, brown the turkey, onions and peppers; toss in the mushrooms and tomatoes.
Oh, if you had not figured it out - I would suggest you season the meat with seasoned salt, garlic powder, Italian seasoning and black pepper. Sorry ...
Fill the boats with the meat mixture.
Top with shredded cheese.
Cover with foil.
Bake at 325 or 350; doesn't matter - for 30 to 40 minutes. Check it at 30 minutes. The boats will steam, and all the flavors will hook up and taste divine. If you overcook it, the boats will turn to pea green swamp ...
I don't know the nutritional content, but it has virtually little or no fat; great veggies; and it's light.
See, I said it was easy.
I suppose you're wondering why I keep capitalizing the word "Zucchini" ... I just like to.
Now, where did that mongoose go with my apron?

July 2, 2010

Said Simple Simon to the Pieman, Let me Taste Your Wares ...

A little over a month ago, I got a surprising message on Facebook. It was from Indianapolis Star reporter, Jolene Ketzenberger, whom I had 'friended' a few months back. Jolene writes about all things food, and sometimes when I'm stressed or feeling out of sorts, I will read one of her delicious articles, and I'm instantly soothed.

However, it was her message to me that changed my life - well, for a few days, anyway. Ms. Ketzenberger invited me to be a judge in the Indianapolis Star's annual pie contest. Me? Did she mistakenly push "send" to the wrong person? No, she was asking me. Well, of course I said yes -- the voice in my head, actually said, "hell, yes!" but I kept my cool. After all, I had arrived, as a world class food judge and critic (the voice in my head continued to speak.)

Jolene knew I wrote food articles and enjoyed some of the recipes I regularly post on facebook (many of which feed directly from this blog). Would it be a problem for me to travel the 50 miles to Indianapolis to assist in this labor intensive project. Before the voice in my head butted in again, I hesitated not one bit. I believe the words I chose were, "Heck yes! I'd be honored."

Ms. Ketzenberger advised that the contest would be the following Monday at the Indianapolis Star, and I immediately went into pie tasting training. The few friends I told were so excited for me, especially Donna Jobe Cronk, my good friend and Neighbors Editor at The Courier-Times newspaper in my hometown of New Castle. Donna was responsible for me meeting Jolene, so I had to make her proud.

On the morning of the blessed event, Jolene Ketzenberger escorted me through the sacred halls of the Indianapolis Star, a little bit shocked at the near silence in their newsroom. I was told that it's often quiet and subdued, unlike the bustling energy I often experienced in the newsroom at The Courier-Times. This was like an inviting sleep tank, with the faint scent of pie drifting through the vents.

When we entered a small conference room, my knees began to shake and buckle. Mine eyes had seen the glory! Pies, glorious pies were lined up in the center of the conference table, and I thought my heart would stop.

Now, here's the thing. I'm not really a dessert eater, and eat pie on rare occasions; usually strawberry pie on Mother's Day. That morning I came with an empty stomach ready for battle.

There were nine pies awaiting judgment, and I was a little disappointed that the tenth entry (Gingery Pineapple Pie) did not arrive for the contest. However, the other pies more than made up for its absence. These included: Orange Candied Almond Pie (it was very pretty); Graham Cracker Pie; Summer German Chocolate Pie (a sleeper!); Bacon Maple Apple Pie (yes, I said bacon); Pear Pie with Maple and Candied Ginger (beautiful pie!); Triple Very Berry Pie; Amazing Margarita Pie (mmmm); Coffee Toffee Pie; and Rhubarb Lemon Chess Pie (darling pie).

Let the Judging Begin

The four judges (the fifth judge was unable to attend) began the task of tasting the pie entries. I made a vain attempt to look cool and confident as I started to sample each pie. Jolene sliced the pie -- I say sliced because these were not sample slivers, but normal dessert slices -- and passed them around in the order the pie appeared on the score sheet.

We were instructed to rate the pies based on appearance, crust, filling and portability, with a score from one to five. Easy enough, I thought as I began to sink deeper in my comfy chair. The Indianapolis Star's peaceful newsroom would be perfect for an after dessert nap.

It was right about that time, when I noticed Star employees edging closer and closer to the conference room, not so discreetly peeking at us with urgency in their eyes. It was then that I learned the contestants were instructed to bring two pies for the contest - one for judging, and one for pictures (translated, employees get to eat). They wanted us to hurry the heck up!

We all tallied up our scores, commenting on each pie's best features and where others fell short (very few fell short of anything). These pies had Star Power. We had agreed that the Pear Pie with Maple & Candied Ginger was the winner ... or, so I thought. Some of the judges began to toss around various opinions and critiqued the pies a little more closely. What? What does this mean?

It means we taste the pies again; at least the top three or four; I don't know, I was almost in a coma at this point. But, having considered some of the other judge's suggestions and having had a chance to digest my opinions and taste the pies anew, I too had a slight change of heart. Once again we voted, with the final results:

First Place: Amazing Margarita Pie, by Mary McCarthy
Second Place: Coffee Toffee Pie, by Joan Whelden
Third Place: Pear Pie with Maple & Candied Ginger, by Julia Hunter
Honorable Mention went to Pat Rittgers for her Triple Very Berry Pie, and Heather Johns' Summer German Chocolate Pie.

But the highlight of the day for me was the honor of being in the presence of food royalty. The judges, who had all done this before, came from Central Indiana's foodie honor roll, including A. Rene Trevino (owner of Rene's Bakery in Broad Ripple); Drew Appleby, who is a professor and co-founder of IndyEthnicFood.com; Kelly Maucere (owner of My Sugar Pie in Noblesville); and, the queen herself, Jolene Ketzenberger.

This was a day I'll never forget. My experience was not just pie in the sky, but an unexpected treat and learning experience as I cautiously set foot in the baking world. I still have so much to learn. I will forever be grateful to Jolene Ketzenberger for inviting me to my first pie fest. Never in my wildest dreams would I believe I could eat (no, I didn't just taste) at least 12 pieces of pie in an hour.

Please visit the Indianapolis Star today for Jolene Ketzenberger's wonderful article, including the recipes for the winning pies.

Did I mention I had to pull over twice on the way home for coffee?

June 22, 2010

Question for You

Here's a question for you dear followers and fellow bloggers. This is not about food or gardening, or my usual fluff, but about blogger and blogspot in general. It's a question I've never been able to get a simple answer for.

When someone writes a comment regarding a blog post (on blogspot), is there an easier way to respond to their comment - other than having to go to their blog, find a post, and comment there? In other words, if you comment, and I comment back - you don't get my response, unless you come back to my blog. I will be the first to admit, I am not BLOGLITERATE - as much as I've done here, I don't know that much about the mechanisms of blogging.

I don't want anyone to think I'm rude if I don't answer your comments - so, please, if anyone has an answer - something so logical I've probably missed - PLEASE let me know.

Meanwhile, we're wading in over 2" of rain that fell last night - no garden pics yet this year; it's just a big, nasty jungle in the garden.

I have been baking, and selling muffins and breads at our local farmers' market on Saturdays ... and, Oh!

I almost forgot! I have retired my cupcakes (except for very special occasions, friends & family) - and I am no longer The Cupcake Garden --

BUNS & ROSES is the new (unofficial) name of my (unofficial) business - featuring flavorful quickbreads, muffins and fantasy corsages - More on the Corsages later ... but, I'm sure you'll be pleased!
All the best, have a good day!

May 28, 2010

Homemade Body Care Recipes

It's summertime, and everyone loves refreshing treats for the body, mind and soul. While some of us cannot always celebrate ourselves with a day at the spa, there are tons of homemade treatments you can try.

Recently, I came across these simple recipes. These are fun, affordable, and nicer than anything you can buy.

Body Butter:
Mix 2 oz. each of cocoa butter and shea butter with 1 oz. each of olive oil, coconut oil, jojoba oil and beeswax, along with a couple of drops of your favorite essential oil.
Melt the ingredients--preferably in a double boiler or in a microwave. Check the mixture periodically to be sure you don't overdo it. It shouldn't take too long.
Mix all ingredients while they cool using a hand mixer until they are well-blended. Peaks will form in the mixture when it is ready.
Scoop the body butter into a container for safekeeping once the mixture has thoroughly cooled. Or, fill several decorative jars to set aside as gifts.

Body Scrub
Soft brown granulated sugar
Olive oil
Pour sugar in a jar ¾ full
Top with oil
Stir

Facial Toner
Add rosemary to cider vinegar
Let sit 2 weeks

Bath Salts
Epsom salts or sea salt, or both
Baking soda
Food coloring
1 or 2 teaspoons of glycerin per jar - optional, but glycerin is an effective skin moisturizer and a nice addition
Essential oils - mandarin orange, lavender, sandlewood, and patchouli

Collect your jars, remove labels, then wash and dry thoroughly.
For most bath salts recipes you can use your choice of epsom salts or sea salt, with baking soda, if desired, or a combination of all three. One good mix is one cup of epsom salts, with 1/4 cup of sea salt, and two or three tablespoons of baking soda. A little more or less of each ingredient is fine for most bath salts. Epsom salts and sea salt are soothing for tired muscles, while both will gently soften the water for a luxurious bath experience. You could also add a tablespoon or two of finely ground regular oatmeal (not quick cooking) for silky, skin-softening water.

Fill each jar to the top with the combination of bath salts that you plan to use. Empty the salts into a mixing jar and add a drop or two of glycerin, if using. Add your choice of essential oil - how many drops you use is a personal preference, but start with two or three drops and see if you like the fragrance. The same goes for the liquid food coloring; sometimes I use quite a few drops of food color to get the strong hue that I like, but so far it hasn't stained the bath tub or anyone's skin. Remember that the color and fragrance will be much diluted in the bath water. Stir the salts vigorously until all ingredients are thoroughly combined.

May 24, 2010

A Dessert for the Birthdays

Last summer, my family came to Indiana to celebrate my uncle's big birthday. My Aunt Jeanne made a fabulous rhubarb pie, which I wrote about - several posts below. This year, we are celebrating my uncle's birthday, along with my mother's (4 days apart); she will be 87.

We're having a seafood feast, and I've offered to bring a peach pie ... Here's the thing ... I didn't MEAN to offer to bring a peach pie ... I don't know how that slipped out of my mouth ...

So, I have devised a simple dessert that will be a total experiment, and my family will be guinea pigs ... they're used to that. I will post an update with pictures after Sunday. The recipe will be a Peach Passion Fruit & Raspberry Crostata ... I'm adapting the recipe from Sandra Lee's Grape & Ricotta Crostata.

So, here goes:

Ingredients
1 refrigerated pie crust
1/2 cup of passion fruit preserves
1/2 cup of raspberry preserves or jam
1 1/2 cups of sliced (fresh or frozen) peaches
1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
small box of fresh raspberries
1 egg
Powdered sugar, for dusting

Directions
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit
Unroll the pie crust and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Spread the passion fruit preserves over the pie crust leaving a 1-inch border around the edges.
Place the sliced peaches on top of the jam.
Randomly place tablespoon-sized dollops of ricotta over the filling. Fold in the edges of pie crust over the filling.
In a small bowl, beat the egg and brush over pie crust.
Randomly place the raspberries onto the crust.
Bake for 20 minutes until crust is golden and filling is puffed slightly.
Remove to a wire rack, cool 10 minutes.
When cool, dust with powdered sugar and cut into slices.

April 1, 2010

Broccoli-Asiago Cheese-Ham Soup

It is hot, creamy and steamy, and feels oh, so good going down, and even better staying put. Broccoli Cheese Soup is a staple that has grown in popularity and remains one of the most comforting of all comfort foods.

This simple, rustic (how did food become "rustic") soup is very easy to prepare, and is often adopted by newly weds and people just learning to cook. Add this delicious broccoli cheese soup to your repertoire of recipes, and you will impress your in laws, the boss, friends and neighbors effortlessly.

Broccoli & Asiago Cheese Soup
1 bunch of broccoli
1 cup of milk
1 cup of heavy cream
1 cup of chicken broth
1 can of condensed cream of celery soup, plus 1 can of water
1 large block of cream cheese
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 cup of diced smoked ham
1 cup of Asiago cheese, shredded*
salt and pepper to taste
* 1 (additional) cup of Asiago cheese, shredded to garnish each soup bowl

Wash the broccoli carefully, removing any leaves, and coarsely chop. In a vegetable steamer or saucepan with about 1 cup of water, steam the broccoli until it is bright green and tender. Drain.

In a blender, add the broccoli, cream cheese, Asiago cheese, garlic, salt and pepper. Pulse slowly until the mixture is almost pureed.

Add the milk, cream, broth, cream of celery soup and ham. Pulse a few more times until it is smooth and creamy.

Pour the entire mixture into a large saucepan or small stockpot, and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring constantly.

Serve the soup in individual soup bowls or cups, and sprinkle a generous amount of shredded Asiago cheese on top while the soup is still piping hot. This soup is wonderful with toast points or garlic bread and a small salad.

Serves 4

Easter and Passover Blessings to Everyone!

March 24, 2010

Nearly Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

Our local newspaper recently held its annual recipe contest. Since I no longer work for them I entered this year, was a finalist, and ultimately won second place in the Main Dish category. I am sharing my winning recipe with you all - hope you enjoy it:


Caribbean Rum Chicken

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup chile sauce

1/2 cup Myer’s Rum*

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup ketchup

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon ground dry mustard

ground black pepper to taste



4 Boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into strips*

½ cup butter

¼ cup olive oil

Salt & Pepper

Brown the chicken strips in the butter and oil making sure they are cooked through, but not dried out. Drain on a paper towel and set aside.
In a saucepan over low heat, mix the brown sugar, chile sauce, rum, soy sauce, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, dry mustard, and pepper. Simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken pieces, coating all sides and serve warm or at room temperature.
* If you cannot get Myer's Rum, a good Dark Rum will do.

February 28, 2010

Fruit Butters

I know, I know - usually people make fruit butters near the end of the summer, but by now you should know - I bake to a different oven.

Fruit butter is a delicious down home delicacy. It is a rich, creamy fruit spread served at breakfast, lunch, dinner and any time you have a hankering for that fresh fruit taste.


Actually, fruit butter is not a butter at all; but a tasty topping similar to jam or jelly, spread on top of toast, biscuits, crackers, muffins, thick, rustic bread, and even as a condiment for meats.

Typically, the process of making fruit butter is merely cooking the fruit, pureeing it, and then re-cooking with or without the skin on until you have a smooth paste. Fruit butters are lightly sweetened, giving the fruit itself a more concentrated flavor.

The most common fruit butter is Apple Butter, which can be a show stopper when served with fried chicken, biscuits and honey, and all the trimmings. No longer just a country specialty from Grandma’s pantry, Apple Butter is now served in some of the most sophisticated kitchens everywhere. Other scrumptious varieties include Pear Butter, Prune Butter, Peach Butter, Apricot Butter, Orange Butter and Mango Butter.

One of fruit butter’s best traits is that it is a healthy alternative to syrups and other heavy toppings, being virtually fat free and contains very little processed sugars.

Easy Breezy Plum Butter

3 cans plums in juice (not syrup)

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 ½ cup sugar

Toss all ingredients in a slow cooker and cook on low for 3 to 5 hours. Check it to see when it is thick enough and transfer to an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator.

Lite Banana Butter

5 ripe bananas, peeled

3 ½ Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 ½ cup sugar or Splenda®

1 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Chop the bananas and put in food processor. Process with lemon juice until creamy. Place the banana puree in a large saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring in Splenda® and pumpkin pie spice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring constantly. Place in an airtight jar and refrigerate.

Lite Apple Butter

3 lbs. ripe apples (tart or sweet), cored and peeled

2 cups apple cider

½ cup Splenda®

2 tsp. apple pie spice

½ tsp. lemon juice

Slice the apples and place in a large saucepan with the apple cider. Cover and bring to a gentle boil. Lower the heat and simmer until apples are soft. Drain, reserving cider, and place in food processor. Add Splenda®, lemon juice, vinegar, and apple pie spice. Process until smooth, adding the reserved cider gradually for a smooth paste. Fill an airtight container, and store in the refrigerator.

The following recipe for Peach Butter comes from Barbara Rolek, about.com. http://easteuropeanfood.about.com/od/fruits/r/peachbutter.htm. I have tried this recipe and it using her stovetop method, and it is absolutely perfect.


Peach Butter


5 large peaches washed and pitted (no need to peel)


1/2 cup water


1 cup sugar


Preparation:


In a large saucepan, place peaches and water. Bring to a boil. Return to a simmer and cook until peaches are soft, about 20 minutes. Run the peaches through a food mill or a sieve and discard the skins. Add sugar to pulp and mix well. Now reduce the pulp by one of the following methods.


Slow Cooker: Place sweetened pulp in a slow cooker with lid partially off to let steam escape. Set at low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 6-12 hours or overnight, or until thick enough so the butter doesn't run off a spoon when turned upside down.


Microwave: Place sweetened pulp in a microwave-safe bowl and cook for 20 minutes at a time, stirring frequently until thick enough so the butter doesn't run off a spoon when turned upside down.


Stovetop: Place sweetened pulp in a medium saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, for 1-2 hours or until thick enough so the butter doesn't run off a spoon when turned upside down.


Oven: Heat oven to 250 degrees. Place sweetened pulp in a heatproof casserole dish or roaster. Bake, stirring only occasionally, for 1-3 hours or until thick enough so the butter doesn't run off a spoon when turned upside down.


Place hot butter in hot sterilized jars, leaving 1/4" headspace. Cover with hot sterilized lids and rings. Process in a water bath for 10 minutes. Remove to counter and allow to cool before storing in a cool, dry, dark place.


If you don't process in a water bath, the butter can be kept refrigerated for up to three weeks or frozen for up to one year.


Note: Before attempting a home canning project, read what the Ball canning jars company has to say about it.

February 21, 2010

White Potato Pie

Our local newspaper has an annual cooking contest in the spring. The three times I have entered it I have won first place in my category, but never the grand prize or reserve grand prize. I did not enter it the last two years because I was employed by said paper during contest time, but did get to taste all of the final entries (well worth the exile).

This year, however, I intend to win, all in the spirit of fun, of course. Well, yeah, I could use the money too.

I'm entering in two categories; desserts and main dishes. While browsing through my data base of recipes and all of my old cookbooks, I tried to find something out of the ordinary, but still simple and delicious. One requirement of the contest is to make a dish that the average cook can prepare in her own kitchen without having to buy too many exotic ingredients. Pooh! I really was up for a challenge. However, I did find a recipe for White Potato Pie in one of my cookbooks, Sweety Pies, by Patty Pinner.

At first I thought, well that sounds pale and stale. But the recipe is quite nice, easy to make, and actually turned out to be just as good, if not more interesting, than her sister,
Sweet Potato Pie. Let me know your thoughts!

WHITE POTATO PIE

One 9-inch single pie crust (fitted into a plate, edged and crimped)
2 medium-sized white potatoes (I chose Yukon Gold)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 large eggs, beaten
Makes one 9-inch pie

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare the crust and set aside.

Peel the potatoes, cut into chunks, and cook in boiling water until tender; drain. In a medium-size bowl, mash the potatoes and combine with the butter, sugar, baking powder and salt until well mixed. Stir in the milk and cream, stirring until well blended.
Stir in the extracts, then the nutmeg. Add the eggs and mix well. Pour the filling into the pie crust, place in the oven, and bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Top each slice with a scoop of lemon-flavored ice cream for added flair and extra flavor. The illustration in the cookbook showed the pie garnished with thin lemon slices.

February 15, 2010

Chocolate Cupcakes Recipe | Taste of Home Recipes

Chocolate Cupcakes Recipe Taste of Home Recipes

THE ROSE

Raw Materials Rose

02/14/10 17:03:39By: Olga Ikebanova

No rose could ever rue
The exquisite embroidery
Of sparkling drops of dew.
Riumin

Roses are dusk sisters.
They start blooming when sun is rising,
And, opening, they are laughing and crying …
Rose – one of the most beautiful and praised flowers, have been valued for centuries in many cultures, and have been cultivated and hybridized worldwide. Rose plants range in size from compact, miniature roses, to climbers that can reach 7 meters in height. Species from different parts of the world easily hybridize, which has given rise to the many types of garden roses.


The name rose comes from French, itself from Latin, rosa, which was borrowed from Greek and old Persian from the beginning.

Rose absolute is the steam-extracted (or solvent-extracted) essential oil from rose flowers (mostly from Rosa damascene and Rosa centifolia) that has been used in perfumes and skin care for centuries. Rose water, made from the rose oil, is widely used in Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine.

The French are known for their rose syrup, most commonly made from an extract of rose petals. Also tea made of rose petals is extremely delicious! I brew it for 5-10 minutes and drink in the morning without anything.

Rose hips (from Rosa canina) in country kitchens are traditionally used to make wine, vinegar, jams, syrup, and tea. They are also pressed and filtered to make rosehip syrup witch is used as a nutritional supplement. Rose hips are also used to produce rosehip seed oil, which is used in skin products and some medicinal purpose. I drop the oil in my baby’s stuffed nose.

Unfortunately most of the hybrid roses bred for exotic colours lost their scent. The species R.damascena, centifolia, sempervirens, moschata known for aromatherapy use are grown in Bulgaria, Turkey, Russia, France, Uzbekistan, Morocco, Egypt, Pakistan, India, Iran and Crimea.

Flowers are hand picked either in early morning or before the dusk and extracted the same day. Rose oil contains citronellol, phenil ethil alcohol, geraniol, nerol and stearopten waxes.

Images: Olga Ikebanova, FotoDawg, Itineranttrader
Author: Olga Ikebanova
Biologist, aromatherapist, photographer, floral designer and passionate believer in Power of Nature.
This article was published in Fragantica.com News on Sunday, February 14, 2010.

February 6, 2010

Nana's Soups

My grandparents emigrated from the island of Barbados to Toronto, Canada around 1920. Nana recalled the night of her first snow fall in Canada. Her downstairs neighbor ran upstairs excitedly and announced, “Nez, Nez, it’s snowing! Look, it’s snowing!” Thinking it was just a joke; Nana was reluctant to leave her sewing machine, muttering to herself, “How can it be snowing? I don’t hear anything?”


That first winter in Canada was brutally cold, particularly to my grandparents and their small daughter. They had never experienced anything so fierce and bitter. Nothing anyone had told them could prepare them for the frosty reality of their future in North America.

Nana quickly took charge, determined to beat this beast at its game, and she began to listen and learn, speaking with new friends and neighbors all of the tricks, tips and recipes they used to survive the cold winters and help their young families to thrive.

As much as I love stews, my family is not really big on stewed and simmered meat dishes. However, soup was an economical way to create delicious aromatic meals that were stretched from meal to meal. No one could beat my grandmother at the pleasant, mouth-watering soups she lovingly created throughout the frigid season. She raised her family on these hearty soups, and by the time I came along, she nurtured me with the same magical soups throughout the long winter months during my early childhood.

The walk home from P.S. 140 in Jamaica, Queens, was a long one back then. At least it was when you were hungry and cold, as the bitter winds, sleet and snow whipped our legs and faces with a fury. By my friends and I rounded the corner at the head of our block we literally raced to our houses without even saying goodbye. I was always assured of what awaited me. I could smell it two – even three houses away.

The wholesome, spicy smell warmed me before I even touched our gate and ran into the house only to be welcomed with swirls of fragrant steam swirling around my head. A big bowl of Nana’s soup, with some Crown Pilot Crackers was a good hot lunch that stuck with me until I returned home at the end of my school day. But more often than not, it was the supper that secured warmth and security in my little belly well into my slumber.

Nana had two special soups that have really stuck with me. Both of these were usually made after one holiday or another, because the stock was often created from leftovers. My favorite (I make it to this day) was a simple, rustic chicken soup that had consisted of a large whole stewing hen, herbs de Province tied in a little satchel, celery, and big chunks of fresh carrots, peas and potatoes. These root vegetables (she called them “ground food”) were big, thick and flavorful. You don’t see carrots as big as a baby’s arm today. The entire chicken was cooked, and it was done when the meat fell from the bones, which were left in the broth to continue to flavor and nourish the pungent soup.

The other soup was a thick, rich split pea soup simmered for hours and hours with a large ham bone, a variety of spices, and the same ground food as the chicken soup. We had no dog at the time, but I know the neighbor’s dog had many a great feast himself days later when the bone was finally presented to him as a gift.

The memories of Nana’s kitchen in Queens and her kitchen in Toronto, which I’d never been in – I just know somehow – have carried over into my own now. My family has found soothing comfort and peace slurping – yes, slurping – my chicken soup; secretly sucking the bones when I’m not looking. It has eased many a stomach ache, taken the chill off of countless frost bitten fingers, while held in a large mug; and cured dozens of flu episodes and dreary days.

There is nothing like homemade soup. Forget the canned varieties now and then. Soup is nothing to make; it’s just water, meat, vegetables and seasoning. Make it however you wish, with whatever you have on the next bitter cold winter night. You’ll find peace and comfort just from making it before you taste the hot, velvety potage.

January 19, 2010

Chilly Bones



I love my garden equally in the cold, bitter winter months. I love to go out and walk among the slushy, icy paths, overrun with evergreen weeds (that believe they've got one over on me - will deal with them in March!), bird seed and rabbit tracks. I love the serene beauty and charming elegance of the bones of my garden, cloaked in clear, glassy jewels dripping with snobby class. It tells me there is hope. Hope for Springtime ...

And sometimes I go by (in an evil moment) and kick the dirt of the two groundhogs' mounds back by the cornfield, and encourage my Rudy to root them out. His Heeler instincts tell him no; one set of fisticuffs with the nasty rodents was enough for him.

I can't wait for Spring, but I love the winter like no other.

January 17, 2010

My First Wedding


I mentioned in an earlier post that I would be making a small cake and cupcakes for a friend's wedding in Southern Illinois. Originally planned for this month, it was moved up to December 2009, and I traveled to their tiny town for a day of baking in their kitchen.

The morning wedding had a delightful brunch reception in their church basement, and they had a cute, whimsical winter holiday theme. The neat thing about this wedding was the fact that the groom is the pastor of the church, and they made it fun by using stuffed animals, and Christmas decorations - all from the dollar store! Guests were encouraged to take all the decorations home with them to decorate their own trees and tables. It was inexpensive and fun!


My cakes were interesting, to say the least. The wedding cake was tiny - that's because the bottom tier FELL ... Who the hell knew cakes still fell in this millenium? Well, mine did - they laughed - I didn't ... But we went with the top tier, which was more than enough. It was a Devil's Food cake with snow white coconut frosting. I made a simple topper from silk magnolias, poinsettias and a crystal cross - again - all from the dollar store!

I made Cranberry/Orange/Carrot Cupcakes with a Gran Marnier Topping; Devil's Food Cupcakes (to match the cake); Red Velvet Mini Bundts with Cherry and Hot Fudge Glaze; and Mini Blueberry Muffins.


I'd been collecting beautiful glass plates from the Goodwill store to build up my stock, and it made a lovely little presentation. I was pleased.

I Remember The Drum Major


I was appalled and bemused as to the apathetic mood regarding the commemoration of Martin Luther King’s birthday had become. Some local schools referred to it as a “snow day” or “holiday” (to be used if you need to make up time), or by not acknowledging it at all. I know everyone does not acknowledge, reflect nor respect the day; which is their right. But when did I become so complacent and adopt the ‘just another day’ attitude? Somewhere along the way, I also took it for granted along with so many things in our daily lives.

When did I forget the horrors my forefathers endured in order for us to be able to enjoy the simple things of life, like voting for the candidate of your choice or eating wherever we wanted? I remember the courageous actions of four African American college freshmen (the Greensboro Four) who walked into F.W. Woolworth’s in Greensboro, NC, sat at the 'Whites Only' lunch counter, and ordered food. They were refused service, but stayed until closing. The next day they returned, and were again refused, as they were the next day, and the next. However, growing numbers of sympathizers, both black and white joined in their protest and sat-in with them. By the fifth day, there were over 300 protesters jammed in and around that lunch counter. Not surprisingly, the City of Greensboro took action with more stringent segregation laws, and over 40 students were arrested and charged with trespassing. Fueling protests across the country, both blacks and whites launched massive boycotts of segregated lunch counters and stores and businesses. As expected, profits fell sharply and some businesses either gave in or closed. Finally, six months later, the same four freshmen returned to Woolworth’s and were served lunch.

These protests reached the upper east coast, and hundreds of supportive marchers began to picket Woolworth’s on 125th Street in Harlem. I was confused when my grandmother would not let me get a soda or hotdog at the Woolworth’s on Jamaica Ave. We always had before? What did those people ‘down there’ have to do with us ‘p here?’ I was seven years old, and her explanations were even more perplexing to me. What were civil rights? Who was this Dr. King? Why was this our concern?

The civil rights movement got heated, and spread far beyond the Deep South. ‘Up Here’ became a playing field for me sooner than later.

In 1963, plans were made to begin construction of Rochedale Village, the largest housing cooperative in the world, with high-rises covering over 170 acres on the site of the old Jamaica Race Track – billed as a city within a city, housing 5,860 families; supposedly a huge step in integrated housing. The property was walking distance of our home, and I still did not see what all the hype was about. Why was it on the news every night? Why was my family attending meetings; what did it have to do with us? My grandmother decided to show me firsthand. Before ground was even broken, Rochedale had created enormous racial tension in Queens. The construction company that was contracted to build the complex refused to hire Black workers.

One night my grandfather took a call from someone at the local NAACP headquarters. William Booth, a local judge, civil rights leader and friend, had been arrested along with 24 other protesters at the construction site. It was on! There were rumors that Malcolm X would attend the protest at some point. My grandmother advised I would not attend school the next day, and we were going to pay a visit to Judge Booth; not in his office, but at the picket line. What awaited us that morning was a site I will never forget. There were hundreds of people gathered at the track with signs and pamphlets. My grandmother, a forceful woman with strong presence, pushed me to the front of the group and handed me a sign. That was it; I was a full-fledged protester of a cause I did not comprehend. We walked in circles; sang and shouted. And, slowly I began to understand. At the end of the sidewalk on New York Blvd., were several bulldozers, cranes, dump trucks; so huge, I thought they were war tanks. Judge Booth had returned and urged our group to press on and keep walking, singing and chanting. I went along with it, since Nana was held her ground, and I had no other choice. But things changed drastically. Nana grabbed me by the arm and forced me to the ground. Wondering what the heck was going on; I lay there with the others. Within moments, my mood had gone from excitement to one of utter terror. The ‘tanks’ began to edge towards the crowd, now prone on the street. They rumbled and roared as they approached us. To this day, I can still smell the fuel, the smoke, the asphalt, and the nervous, sweaty police dogs inches from my face. Judge Booth said to sing, and we did, for what seemed like eternity. He said Dr. King would want us to hold fast, don’t give up - don’t get up.
Mesmerized by the sight of a towering crane with its “headache ball” swinging precariously above us, I stared up at it, awaiting my death.

Suddenly, the tanks backed off, and I managed to get Nana up and away. No more singing and marching, we high-tailed it home as fast as we could. Still frightened, yet so excited to tell everyone our tale of adventure, we were almost giddy. We talked about it for years, and it became a family joke - how Nana made me lay down in front of a crane. Maybe that’s when my attitude changed, and I too seemed to take my freedoms for granted.

When I moved to a small town in Indiana in 1967, I joined my new friends at a lunch counter at in a local drugstore uptown. I never revealed my fear and hesitance to them the first few times we had a soda after school. Perhaps I was too embarrassed to say I didn’t know if it was ‘allowed’, but soon, like everything else, I took that for granted, as well.

I never met The Drum Major of Peace, as Dr. King was called. But his legacy is indelible in my life. Does non-violent direct action still work today? Maybe; but we live in a different world, and somewhere along the way, someone felt a snow day was in order.

The Backyard --Today's Vacation Spot

The Backyard --Today's Vacation Spot
A simple garden meal in the shade. No, it's not my backyard, but it looks identical to the one I grew up with at our home in Queens. Looking for an original pic of it to post soon!

Old Fashioned Tips