Spiced Pecans In My Kitchen

My kitchen was fragrant yesterday morning with an oven full of roasting sugared and spiced pecans I was making for the card party at the St. Michaels Woman’s Club. Apparently I have become known for my spiced pecans which have graced a number of luncheon salads at the club. These are really good so I only make them when they can quickly be removed from the house. We’ll get a handful and then they’ll be transported to the clubhouse. These are so good that even putting them in my car’s trunk might  not keep me from a stealthy run at them.

I meant to take a photo of the roasted pecans but got them out of the house so fast I forgot. You’ll have to make do with the package photo.

Mala’s Cinnamon Sugared Pecans (from Cookingclassy.com website who stole it from allrecipes.com. My tweaks included below.)

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pecan halves (4 cups)
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 Tbsp water
  • ½ tsp vanilla (up to 1 tbsp)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (can be half white, half brown)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (can add ½ tsp allspice, 1/8 tsp cayenne for kick)
  • ½ tsp salt (can be up to 1-1/2 tsp kosher salt)

Directions

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. (I am now baking them at 275.) In a large mixing bowl, vigorously whisk egg white with water and vanilla until very frothy. In a separate small mixing bowl, whisk together sugar, cinnamon, spices and salt. Add pecans to egg white mixture and toss until evenly coated. Pour half of the sugar mixture over pecans and toss several times, then add remaining sugar mixture and toss until evenly coated. Pour coated pecans over a Silpat or parchment paper lined backing sheet and spread into an even layer. Bake in a preheated oven for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Allow to cool, then store in an airtight container.

Notes

I use sheet pans to bake. The sides keep the nuts from falling out. Since I remove them from the oven for turning, this is crucial.

The final 15 minutes in the oven is what makes them crunchy. I checked them after what I thought was the final time and they still weren’t dry in the middle, so I put them in for another 15 minutes. The first two times you stir them they will be sticky.

I like adding that little bit of cayenne for a little heat. If you’re planning to use them as an appetizer with cheese and fruit, you could add  more salt as well.

Question: Where do you hide food so you won’t be tempted?

I Cook Calamari

I occasionally try new recipes, but the old stand-bys that I have in my head are now pared down to feed 4-6 so that there are leftovers. (When I was cooking for four hungry teens, I made lasagna in restaurant sized pans.) And the tried and true recipes have been modified for food sensitivities we have. I have several friends whose husbands won’t eat leftovers. If my husband ever started down that road, he’d have to fix himself a bowl of gluten-free cereal for dinner.

My writing partner, Laura Ambler, is an inventive cook and recently told me that she frequently makes Calamari. I often order calamari in restaurants, but didn’t even know where to find it in my supermarket. But recently, on a foray to our local big box store, BJ’s, I found it next to the frozen salmon. Turns out calamari is a fairly inexpensive protein. Be adventuresome, I told myself as I bought a box.

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I went on line to see how to fix it and was glad I did. High heat and short cooking times keep calamari from overcooking which leads to a rubber tire result. This recipe, which  I found on Chowhound.com) made a quick and tasty dinner. Cooking the jasmine rice for 18 minutes took the longest. This recipe will go into my rotation. And since what I usually order in a restaurant is fried calamari, I need to try that, too.

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Calamari with garlic and parsley

  • 1 lb squid, cleaned (it came that way in the package but I rinsed it), cut into 3/4″ thick rings, tentacles left whole
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter (1/4 stick)
  • 2 tsp finely chopped garlic
  • 1 tbsp coarsely chopped parsley (I still had some in the garden)
  • salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges

Instructions:

  • pat squid dry with paper towel
  • heat oil in a large frying pan over high heat until smoking. Carefully add squid in a single layer, then add butter, garlic, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Cook, tossing frequently, until squid is opaque and cooked through – about 1 to 2 minutes (do not overcook). Season with additional salt and pepper and serve over rice.
  • garnish with lemon wedges

Have you pursued any cooking adventures recently? Successes or epic fails?

 

 

 

 

Why House Tours are Good for My Mental Health

Last weekend I was a hostess at one of the houses on the Christmas in St. Michaels house tour – a lovely big house, on the Miles River, at the end of our street. Twelve years ago the owners demolished the small rancher (probably just like mine) on that lot and built a new house. It’s really nice. Of course all the houses on the tour are decorated – sometimes by the owners, often by professionals.

I had a two and a half hour hostess shift during which I stood near the top of the stairs on the second floor and told people about the three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and the adorable space created when the owner realized what had been in the plans as a storage room had fabulous views. An additional window was added and it was turned into a small fourth bedroom/sitting room. It really was a perfect place to curl up, watch the river or read a book.

When I came home I told my husband that these house tours were bad for my mental health. That’s because when I walk back into MY house with the clutter, the dishes in the sink, the manuscript living on the table where we eat, the bed still unmade and the headboard I’ve been thinking about recovering for three years shouting at me…for a very few minutes I believe I live in a hovel.

Those hovel thoughts doesn’t last long when I look at the overlapping photos of my grandchildren that cover my fridge.

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Or the artwork by my mother which adorns many of my walls.

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That’s when I’m reminded that I love my little one story house that doesn’t hurt my knees with second story steps. I see the only Christmas decorations I have in place. A boxwood topiary tree I made at a Green Thumb meeting and a ceramic Christmas tree that Laura gave me when my husband and I were helping her clean out her mother-in-law’s house. I am beyond grateful that she is in my life with her creative energy and friendship.

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Maybe house tours are to remind me that most of us live in palaces compared to so many people in the world. A reminder that gratitude should be the order of my days. My fridge is full of healthy food and when I run out, the grocery store is minutes away. I hear the furnace go on and am grateful that we had the money to replace it this fall.

During this holiday season, I’ll try to be more present with gratitude for what is already in my life – including my adorable cottage nestled among large old trees and the gardens I’ve created. In my mind it is house-tour worthy.

What are you most grateful for?

 

 

So Much to Do, So Little Time…

The annual Bay to Ocean Writers Conference is 20 years old in 2017. I attended my first conference the year after we moved to St. Michaels, MD – in 2007. The next year I was on the planning committee doing publicity and have been ever since in various roles. I’ve even been a co-chair with Laura Ambler and Diane Marquette a couple of years.

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Currently I (with a committee) find the thirty plus conference speakers we need, update the website, oversee production of the conference program, answer emails sent to the conference mailbox, update the evaluation form and pull together the information, and put down tape on the college floor the morning of the conference to make sure people know how to get to the cafeteria and the second building we use. It’s a  lot and as much as I love this event that brings an affordable writers conference to the Eastern Shore, this will be my last year doing all these tasks. I need to have time to write.

Today I was involved in filming a short documentary about the conference. We talked about how the conference got started and how it has evolved as the publishing world changed dramatically. When the conference began none of us were concerned about marketing on social media and there was no on demand printing. Once the film is available I’ll put it on the website and you can take a look.

I am also going off the Eastern Shore Writers Association board in January. I have been acting as the membership chair but we are transitioning to Wild Apricot, a membership software that will do most of the tasks I was doing. More time freed up.

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This weekend is Christmas in St. Michaels – a 30 year old event that raises money for good causes in the Bay Hundred area.

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The Bay Hundred is the area from St. Michaels down to Tilghman Island that could muster one hundred militia men during the Revolutionary War.

This is a very giving community. People work year round to make this festive event happen. There are so many moving parts beginning with a big party on Friday night. I went with a couple of lady friends one year (there was no way I was going to convince my husband to put on a tux) but after that decided I could donate to the cause and not go to the party. And it wasn’t like I had a closet full of gala outfits. This year they are not calling the event a Gala, but it costs the same. Apparently lots of good food, open bar and music. It will be fun for those who attend and I will be home in my PJs in front of the fire we’re now having every night. It’s very cozy.

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I baked cookies to be sold at Santa’s Wonderland for Saturday and on Sunday I am a docent at one of the houses on the house tour. It’s down the street (on the water) from my house. My house has a water view if you stand at the end of the driveway and squint.

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I am hoping to get out to mulch/mow the leaves still on the yard, but winter temps have finally arrived so I may just move the mower from the garage to the shed and call it an end to fall. Then I can organize the garage and think about painting those elephant ear leaf castings I made in October.

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Our dining out group gathered at our house this week. We’d made a reservation (way in advance) for dinner at Scossa, but they called to say they had double booked the room we were supposed to be in. I knew that meant they had gotten a booking for a larger party than our group of ten. But it all worked out. Some of our group have had health problems this fall and weren’t sure if they’d be able to go to a restaurant. I said come to the Burt’s and if you can only stay twenty minutes it will be okay. If you need to come in your PJs that would be fine, too. Everyone showed up wearing clothes and everyone brought something so it was easy. I did a ham. Another wife made one of those decadent potato casseroles, another a fabulous spinach salad with cranberries and gorgonzola and another green beans with lemon butter. For dessert one couple brought a beautiful trifle that was amazing. It was so light we were all lulled into believing it had no calories.

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I’m looking out the window of my office at the leaves on the grass. I might just have to dress for Antarctica and start up the mulching mower.

A Busy Week

It was a busy week. Cleaning out garden sheds, a Green Thumb Garden meeting, a writing conference,  a new project, and some gardening.

The family of my friend who died a week ago called to ask if I could use any of the items in her garden shed. They suggested I take anything that women in the Green Thumb Garden Club could use, so last last Wednesday and Thursday another friend and I sorted and hauled things to the Woman’s Club. They were at the club house  for the Friday meeting where people took things they could use and made a donation to the St. Michaels Woman’s Club Scholarship Fund (we give a 6K scholarship to a St. Michaels High School graduate every year).

In the afternoon I attended a meeting for something we are calling Growing Bay Hundred. It will be a collaboration of the Farmer’s Market, the Community Garden and the Stm Michaels Community Center. Lots of good ideas about how to get people to come out. For those of you who don’t know, the Bay Hundred historically refers to the area from where Harris Creek almost intersects with The Eastern Bay (in the area of Claiborn), all the way down to the tip of Tilghman Island. By the mid 1670’s Talbot County was divided into “hundreds” for administrative purposes. The term “hundred” survived from medieval England when shires were divided into segments that could each produce 100 fighting men. The Bay Hundred area is now one of the few Hundreds left in Maryland as a description of a voting district. Now you know.

Saturday was the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference, sponsored by Eastern Shore Writers Association. This was the 19th annual conference! Thirty hour-long sessions on a variety of writing and publishing topics were offered. It’s a lot of work throughout the year, and Laura and I have been involved for ten years. This year Laura wasn’t on the committee because of her work load. Most of the rest of us soldier on but it’s time to bring in some new (younger) people with fresh ideas.

This is Anny Williams who greets attendees each year. They start the day spying Anny’s yellow sweater from the parking lot and know where to go. Her big smile sets the tone for the day.

BTO 2016 Anny Williams

Below is one of the two students I sponsor each year. A budding writer, I’ve been sponsoring her since she was fourteen. This year she’s a high school senior. She’ll be attending college in the area next fall so I can continue to sponsor her. I’ve got a young man who will be a sophomore in high school next year who I’m hoping to also sponsor. It’s a little young for the conference whose attendees tend to skew middle aged, but mature, interested students can really grow from this experience.

BTO 2016 Birdie

BTO also sponsored three Chesapeake College students in conjunction with a grant from the Talbot Arts Council. They are required to write a short essay about their experience at the conference so the organizers will be interested to see what they thought.

This year we backed the conference date into March gambling that the weather would be less of an issue. When you have 18 years of missing weather bullets that would cancel the conference, you begin to get a little paranoid. The weather was great, everything went smoothly and the comments we heard were wonderful. The evaluation sheets are being tabulated and we’ll know more in a few days about which sessions and faculty had the most value to attendees.

This year I actually attended two inspiring sessions on social media with Eastern Shore Writers Association President, Mindie Burgoyne. Usually, after getting to Chesapeake College at six in the morning, I don’t have the energy. This year we started a little later, had three morning sessions, two afternoon and the conference ended at four instead of five. It made a big difference for me and I don’t think we had as many people who left before the last session of the afternoon.

On Sunday I tried to sleep in but it was the move to Daylight Savings Time which always throws me for a loop. It was supposed to rain all day, but the weather was good for working outside and I spent most of the day clipping and cleaning garden beds. This time of year is always a race to get beds cleaned up before perennials start to pop. I let fallen leaves remain in the beds as plant insulation for the winter, but it makes more work in the spring. The rain didn’t come until Sunday night so I got a lot done. Of course I was very grateful for Monday morning yoga class so I could get the body moving again.

I have lots on my desk and some conference boxes in the garage to be sorted, but I’m back to working on the next thing. That just seems to be the way I roll.

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A White Christmas and a Winter Harvest

We spent Christmas in Montana with my son, daughter-in-law and two granddaughters home from college. It was snowing when we were picked up at the airport and kept snowing for the next four days. About 24″ in all. I call this a Montana snow gauge. It’s a piece of plywood on a post and in the summer it’s a bird feeder. In the winter it makes a handy snow gauge.

Montana show gauge

The snow was beautiful. It’s been years since we’ve experienced a white Christmas.The house should be on a Christmas card. In Montana life doesn’t stop because of snow. We drove through snow covered roads to see the new Star Wars movie. I have to say I was a little disappointed. Maybe because I must have missed some of the intervening movies.

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Warm and cozy inside the house, we knit, baked cookies, and my granddaughters made a Kransekakke – a Norwegian wreath cake. The recipe is: 1 lb ground almonds, 1 lb confectioners sugar, 3 egg whites. The dough is rolled into snakes and put into special pans which create 18 rings – each a little smaller than the one before. This has become a tradition for the Christmases we spend in Montana. Traditionally you remove the rings from the bottom up so the tree shape remains. We took a vote and after Christmas dinner (where everything on the table with the exception of a can of cream of mushroom soup came from the homestead), and began eating the cake from the top down.

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When I posted pictures of the snow on Facebook people responded that they had the AC on on Christmas day on the Eastern Shore. We came home yesterday and today I went to my raised bed at the St. Michaels Community Garden. Here’s my harvest from December 29th, 2015. Kale, chard, spinach, hakuri turnips and carrots.

winter harvest

I was wondering when the seed catalogs would start to arrive. This is what was in the mail we picked up at the post office Tuesday morning. Spring gardening will be here before I know it. In the meantime, somebody needs to tell the daffodils NOT YET! Plants on the
Eastern Shore are very confused because of the warm temps.

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Letter to an Obnoxious Little Girl

Dear Little Girl,

You stood in line at Santa’s Wonderland last weekend waiting to come into the Shop and Wrap room. That’s where there are tables full of donated items that kids can buy for their parents and siblings for 25 cents. I was one of the volunteers helping kids wrap their gifts.

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© Roxichka25 | Dreamstime.com – Little Smiling Girl Photo

The people at the door were supposed to let one child in at a time who would be helped by one adult. They were also supposed to tell kids the rules: they could select six gifts, if they needed more for their family, they had to get in line again.

Suddenly you were at my side with a basket full of gifts. Way, way over the limit. When I gently told you you’d have to put some back, you whined. I don’t like whiners. That kind of set the tone, but almost immediately you realized that whining wasn’t going to get you anywhere. So, you began to argue with me. These weren’t the rules last year. Nobody told you the rules had changed. Why did we have these dumb rules anyway?

I tried my best to be patient but you were really getting on my nerves. Finally your seven (okay I did give in a little and there did seem to be some confusion about what the volunteers at the door were telling the kids) gifts were wrapped and you went out to get in line again.

After the event I kept thinking about you. I wondered why I experienced you as so annoying.

Here’s what I think it was. I was a little girl in the 50’s. We were supposed to wear dresses, be polite and never question adults. I ended up in the Principal’s office a number of times because I did.

The message to girls in the 50’s was be submissive, defer to boys and adults and generally keep quiet. Those weren’t the rules in my house. I had two educated, liberal parents, but the world gave me very different messages.

Those recordings in my brain still get activated from time to time and you turned them on, reminding me of the little girl I used to be. Thank you. I still need to work on those messages.

Here’s my advice. Cut the whining, but keep asking questions. Rules do change and sometimes it’s important to ask why, because sometimes the rules are just plain stupid. Your question might be the one that gets adults to rethink a policy. You’ll learn to pick your battles, but don’t automatically defer and don’t be submissive. Maybe if women of my generation had been more assertive we wouldn’t still be fighting for equal wages.