12/11/10, Noah’s Compass and Asparagus Soup

Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live.

Robert Kennedy

Monday was 8/9/10. Uncommon occurrences like this give me a little thrill.

When I told my daughter about it she was disappointed not to be in school,  where she could have somehow put it to good use. “Oh but at least we’ll have school for 12/11/1o!”, she quickly recovered.

I won’t tell her just yet that it falls on a Saturday.

A little later in the day it hit me that 12/11/10 should have been a big day of celebration in my life, beyond the descending ordinal numbers. It would have been my father’s 80th birthday.

My father was an orphan by the time he was 15. In his ninth year, he suffered silently while his mother lie dying in their small New York apartment. After my own mother passed away, he shared a poignant story with me, for the first time.

It was the day of his fourth grade play, there had been a lot of rehearsals and excitement leading up to it. His classmates were thrilled to perform for an audience. From the stage, he scanned the seats filled with beaming parents, hoping maybe someone had been able to come to watch and applaud for him. He was alone.

When he got home from school that day, he was met in front of his apartment building by an aunt who told him not to go inside.

His mother had died.

My young father took off running, aimlessly, as an uncle chased after him. When his uncle finally caught up, he took him to a relative’s apartment a few blocks away for a while. Away from the sadness.

My grandfather felt he was unable to raise his two sons on his own. He worked nights and wouldn’t be available to a 9 and 4 year old in the way they needed. The boys were split up and lived with different relatives until they were adults. For my father it was like musical homes. Times were tough and everyone was struggling financially so some family members could only keep him for a few months at a time. Some were very receptive to sharing their homes with them, others felt it was a burden. My father heard many a heated ‘discussion’ over whose home he’d live in next. He took it all in and it festered within.

My father carried it all with him always. “Children didn’t get counseling in those years when they experienced such tragedy,” he told me. He punished himself, even as an adult for the suffering he experienced, always remembering it with the pain of the child he was.

In his late twenties, he was rescued by my mom. They met at a singles weekend in the Catskills. She, the epitome of maternal caregiver, a school teacher, found the perfect fit with this man so desperately in need of nurturing. Dad won her over with his fantastic dry wit, his bag of tricks he always relied upon to get the approval of others.

Over the years Dad often spoke of regrets. He was by far the most wise and intelligent person I’ve known, but wasn’t able to go to college because he had to work from a young age. He went into his uncle’s business for practical reasons and never had the opportunity to even attempt to live out his dream of becoming an architect. He’d share this with me while doodling well crafted graphic designs next to the newspaper crossword puzzle at our kitchen table. I felt his void so deeply.

The years of stress and self punishment along with working in a business that was simply a way to pay the bills, took a serious toll on his health. As he got older, I found myself mothering him as my mom had done. He lost his mother as a child and found her in my mother and myself.

It’s appropriate that this came to mind today, the day I planned to share a book with you I recently read; Anne Tyler’s Noah’s Compass.

The main character in this novel is Liam Pennywell, a 61 year old divorced father of three, settling into his later years, reflecting upon a life misspent. He became a widower in his twenties when his wife died, leaving him alone to care for their infant daughter. Liam had studied philosophy in college but out of necessity went into teaching high school history. He did what was necessary and practical in his mind. He marries again and goes on to have two more children with his second wife, they later divorce.

We meet him after he has been laid off from his most recent incarnation and career setback as a fifth grade teacher at an all boys school. He has been let go due to downsizing and accepts it as the push into the last stage of his life. He moves into a smaller apartment to accommodate his new financial situation. The first night there, the apartment is burglarized and he is attacked. This leaves him with no memory from when he went to sleep that night until he wakes up in the hospital.

The next part of his journey has Liam struggling with this new great loss in his life. He meets Eunice, a significantly younger, frumpy woman, who works as an assistant and caregiver to an elderly businessman suffering from memory loss. She calls herself his “external hard drive”. Liam and Eunice are drawn together by the individual needs and voids in their lives. He, in search of a caregiver is ever so attentive to her every word and thought. She, lost and lonely and searching for the connection with someone who truly listens to and needs her.

Liam is surrounded by women in his life; his second wife and daughters, who become frustrated by his detachment and each in their own way mother him. All but his youngest daughter who on some level gets him and relates to him.

I always “got” my father in a way most didn’t. He once told me he felt I was the most like him. In many ways that’s a great thing and in some, it’s an aspect of who I am that I am working to improve and grow.

I didn’t love this book because of an exceptional story. I loved this book because of an exceptional character. A character who because of some of his similarities to my own father, allowed me to see the texture of his unshaven face and feel the sadness as he would sit alone in a room or struggled with his failed memory. I connected with Liam, not as an equal but as someone I knew in a different way. Someone I loved and someone I wish had the chance to have had more fulfillment in his own life.

There is a scene in the book where Liam and his daughter Kitty share a can of cream of asparagus soup. Kitty adds some milk and crackers to it and creates a bit of a bowl of mush. I inherited my soup loving gene from my father and we shared many a can together over the years. When I finished the book I was left with a craving for asparagus soup. I was lucky to find this recipe by Emeril which is absolutely delicious and a far cry from any canned version.


  • 3 pounds fresh asparagus, rinsed
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup minced shallots
  • 1 cup minced leeks, whites only, well rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan, garnish


Trim the attractive top tips from the asparagus, about 1 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Cut the woody stem ends from each spear and reserve. Cut the remaining tender stalks into 1/2-inch pieces.

In a medium pot, bring the stock to a boil. Add the tough woody stems, lower the heat and simmer to infuse with asparagus flavor, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and discard, reserving the stock.

Add the decorative tips to the stock and blanch until tender, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Remove with a strainer and refresh in an ice water bath. Drain on paper towels and reserve for the garnish. Reserve the stock.

In a medium stockpot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. When foamy, add the shallots and leeks and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chopped asparagus stalks, salt, and pepper, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the reserved broth and simmer until the asparagus are very tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat.

With a hand-immersion blender or in batches in a food processor, puree the soup until smooth. Adjust the seasoning, to taste. If serving right away, return to medium heat and add the cream and reserved asparagus tips. Cook, stirring, until the soup is warmed through, about 3 minutes.

Alternatively, if serving the soup later, do not add the cream and let cool at room temperature (or in an ice water bath). Cover and refrigerate. Before serving, add the cream and asparagus tips, and warm the soup gently over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

To serve, place the soup in a soup tureen and sprinkle with cheese. Ladle into demi-tasse cups or small coffee or tea cups, and serve.

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Cranberry Turkey Loaf, Spinach Pancakes and Mr. Food

As a child I watched cooking shows for entertainment with the same enthusiasm and attention I gave to The Jetsons, Brady Bunch, The Munsters and other 60s and 70s shows. It fascinated me that there were people who made culinary magic in the kitchen. I had the heart of an artist and appreciated the skill and beauty of bringing together a variety of ingredients to create a glorious dish the way a painter uses colors to create a picture.

The two biggies; Julia Child and Graham Kerr captivated me at a very young age. They both had such unique voices and an effervescent passion that came through the screen and added to the intrigue. I loved the music their words created and the way they bopped around with their shiny cooking utensils. I watched them regularly but it never dawned on me in those days  to get in the kitchen myself and try a recipe out. There wasn’t a lot of cooking excitement or experimentation in my childhood home. Mom’s interests were elsewhere and Dad didn’t cook a meal until he retired. Meals were all about convenience. My parents wanted food that was quick and easy and neither had an interest in becoming a Matisse in the kitchen.

In high school I discovered Art Ginsburg, a.k.a. Mr. Food. Mr. Food’s syndicated cooking segments were a regular part of our local New York news programming and when he jumped onto my screen each day, his charm, warmth and cozy demeanor lit it up and drew me in. There was a comfy way about him and an everyman quality to his appearance that had me wishing I knew him personally. I’d sometimes daydream that he was in my kitchen getting dinner ready and when it was ready he’d say his signature “Ooh it’s so good!”. Mr. Food was the originator of Quick and Easy Cooking and watching him over time got me thinking I could do more in the kitchen then open a can and heat up a pot of ravioli


One of the first cookbooks I bought for myself was The Mr. Food Cookbook published in 1989. I was delighted to see his friendly face on the cover and took it as my invitation to enter the world of cooking creatively. It was the perfect vehicle for my transition from mostly canned and frozen foods to fresh ingredients paired with those conveniences. From this book I learned quick and easy could be tasty and satisfying.

It’s been a while since I took this book off the shelf. With multiple moves around the country over the past eleven years, it spent some time packed away in boxes and couldn’t be found and didn’t get unpacked until subsequent moves years later. It’s amazing how time flies by. I got to thinking about it just the other day because when we moved here to California, I happily found it in pristine condition in one of my box openings and immediately placed it safely in my cookbook cupboard; it was like being reunited with a long time friend. The other day I was talking to my ten year old daughter and asked if she remembered the Turkey Cranberry Meatloaf I used to make. The blank expression on her face made me realize it had been at least ten years since I made it and “Ooh It’s So Good!!!!”.

Cranberry Chicken Loaf (I use ground turkey)


1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 cup whole-berry cranberry sauce

2 pounds ground chicken or turkey

3/4 cup (6 ounces) evaporated milk

2 tablespoons bottled steak sauce

2 tablespoons ketchup

1 teaspoon prepared mustard

3/4 cup cracker crumbs

2 eggs

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (or to taste)

2 tablespoons diced onion

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the bottom of the pan.

Spread the cranberry sauce evenly over the sugar; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine  all the remaining ingredients; mix thoroughly.

OK, some people might consider the picture above to be icky, but I love it. I love the look of all those ingredients plopped together and the anticipation of digging my hands into it’s cold messiness. It takes me back to my preschool days, helping my Nana in the kitchen every time. Love it!

Shape mixture into a loaf until smooth and firm.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until done. Let set in pan for about 5 minutes, then invert loaf onto a serving platter.

Note: The sugar and the cranberry sauce combine to make a rich sweet-and-sour topping.

Beyond delicious. My family was gaga for this one! Oh and what did I serve with it? I flipped through the pages and came upon this recipe for Broccoli Pancakes. I made them with spinach because I had a craving for it. These pancakes were such a hit I made them two times after and my husband has asked for them again. They are SO easy…crazy easy to make and “Ooh So Good!”.


1 1/2 cups chopped fresh broccoli (spinach) or 1 package frozen chopped, thawed and drained

1/2 cup pancake or biscuit baking mix

1 egg

Vegetable Oil for frying

If using fresh broccoli, boil or steam it for 3 to 5 minutes just until crisp-tender. Plunge it immediately into a bowl of cold water to keep it crisp. Drain in a strainer, pressing out excess water with the back of a spoon. Combine the pancake mix, egg, and salt in a large bowl; mix well. Mix in the drained broccoli. Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet. Drop mixture by spoonfuls (about 2 tablespoons per pancake) into hot oil, being careful not to crowd pan. Cook 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Repeat with remaining batter, adding more oil to the pan if necessary. Serve warm or cold.

My family wants me to make this meal every day. I will definitely be making it a part of our regular rotation because once again, “Ooh It’s So Good!”.

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Apple Cake with Cinnamon Sugar Topping and Cake Angels

Listen closely….do you hear it? Sure you do, it’s the music of the cake angels singing as they cast their morning light of joy upon this delicious breakfast cake.

I couldn’t wait to make this one for you. We had it once before on a lazy Sunday morning and it got rave reviews. This recipe is so crazy easy and you’ll be sure to put a can of apple pie filling in your shopping cart the next time you’re at the grocery store. I for one will never be without the stuff now that I’ve experienced this breakfast bliss. With one go around of the can opener, a world of moist, apple filled, cakiness will be yours and you won’t be able to turn back to life as you knew it before.

This is another winner of a recipe from Allysa Torey’s book More from Magnolia – Recipes from the World Famous Bakery and Allysa Torey’s Home Kitchen. While it’s considered a breakfast cake, I’m up for pairing it with a big scoop of ice cream and calling it dessert.

Here’s what you need:

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup vegetable oil (preferably canola)

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

One 20-ounce can sliced apples, drained and patted dry

1/2 cup sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Here’s what you do:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

Grease and lightly flour a 10-inch tube pan.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat together the oil, sugar and eggs until light and thick, about 3 minutes.

Tangent time. Sometimes when I’m baking I look at my ingredients the way I look at cloud formations.

Like here:

When I looked at this I immediately saw the face of a frog. See? The yolks are the eyes…

And here:

That’s when the pumpkin turns into a coach in Cinderella! Right?

OK, tangent time is over.

Add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla, beating after each addition until smooth.

Next in a separate small bowl, toss the apples with half the cinnamon-sugar mixture. By the way, I played with the recipe a bit. Alyssa says to used sliced, canned apples, drained and patted dry. I went with apple pie filling, since I didn’t know of any other canned, sliced apples. Also, I didn’t drain or pat them dry. I went the full nine yards because I wanted to see if I’d get a pie-ish, pudding-ish result within the cake (yum, I did). I’ll try it the original way next time to compare.

Shane and the others were very disappointed.

Whenever they hear the can opener, they think it’s time for some canine cuisine. You know, Pavlov and all that.

Then stir half the apples into the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Drop the remaining apples on top of the batter and sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon sugar.

Bake for 60 – 70 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for one hour, then remove from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack.

Makes one 10-inch cake


Here. Try some.

Just a bite though, you don’t have time for more. You have things to do right now, like to go buy the apples and make your own.


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Giving Thanks and Making Pie

So my pie obsession continues. Undocumented on this site is the Apple Crumb Pie with the extra crispy crumbs. I realize now it’s time to take my oven thermometer out of the plastic shell and put it to use. My top oven seems to be baking a bit higher than said degrees.

So Thanksgiving was right around the corner and I decided this would be the perfect time to expand my pie repertoire. The tv in my family room/kitchen area serves as the DVR source for all my favorite cooking and craft shows and at the top of my list is The Martha Stewart Show. I scrolled through my show list and saw that Martha was having Rachael Ray on to teach her (a self proclaimed non-baker) how to bake a pie. The pie is Martha’s Apple Blackberry Pie with Fall Leaves .

I watched the show through (even the not so interesting craft segment at the end) and went to the show’s website to put together my shopping list of ingredients. My store had the Jonagold and Granny Smith. 3 of each made the 2 1/2 pounds.

Thanksgiving morning I gathered all of my ingredients, tools and food processor while the turkey cooked and queued up the DVR. With Martha ready to roll sat down at the table for a bit and peeled my apples while watching her extol the virtues of never over mixing pie crust and “Make it cold, bake it hot. ” .

The setting and mood were just perfect. Thanksgiving morning, cool morning in the desert a richly brewed cup of my favorite “Starbucks Breakfast Blend” and just the right angle of sunlight to make my apples look like they had been sent from heaven.

With apples peeled it was time to move on to lesser known and intimidating turf. The crust.

What I didn’t take the time to do was thoroughly read through the recipe to realize how long the pie crust would need to be refrigerated and rest before it became home to my apples and blackberries. Had I done this, I wouldn’t have peeled my apples for at least another two hours but…had I not done this I would have missed the perfectly angled sunlight hence no heavenly apples. So…it happened this way for a reason and no apples were harmed in the process.

So with remote in hand I followed Martha’s directions ~ watch here . I watched, rewound, watched, rewound. Family entered room asked questions, lost my train of thought. Rewound again.I pulsed my food processor and added water along the outside of the bowl just as Martha told Rachael/me to do.

Thank you Martha for going to the basics in this episode and getting into the nitty gritty of Pie 101. Without watching this I surely would have over processed and taken it to the stage of becoming a dough ball coming out of the food processor. Incorrect. It needs to be crumbly and the brought together by hand on a floured surface which is just what I did.

I made my dough recipe here (actually called “Fall Leaves Pate Brisee”), divided it in two and formed them into flattened disks (to make them easier to roll out when it was time to).

I refrigerated them as Martha told me to and got back to my apples.

Apples peeled, cored and sliced. I mixed together the ingredients for the filling and preheated my oven as Martha said to at 450 (to be turned down to 400 when pie was put in the oven), saying Martha’s pie mantra “Make it cold, bake it hot!”.

Mix mix. Stir stir.

Dough out of the fridge. Roll out one disk to create bottom crust of the pie.

Martha calls the top crust “Fall Leaves Pate Brisee” and recommends getting the perfect leaf cutters from Sugarcraft.com. Without enough time to order them I went with my Wilton pumpkin, leaf and turkey set of cutters bought from the clearance bin at WalMart. I thought the pumpkins and turkeys would be a nice touch. So next I rolled out the second dough disk and cut out a bunch of leaves, pumpkins and a few turkeys that I figured I’d put near the top as the crowning glory. These were placed in the freezer a bit to firm up. Next I added my delectable fruity filling to the bottom crust and dotted in some butter as my tv instructor told me to.

With the leaves, pumpkins and turkeys out of the freezer, I covered the mound of fruit a la Martha and it was a beautiful sight!

Next I brushed on the egg wash, sprinkled it with sanding sugar and lowered the oven.

Martha said to bake it for the first 30 minutes at 400 and then to lower the temp to 350 and continue baking for about an hour and 45 minutes. While my dough had been refrigerating I read the readers’ comments about the recipe on her website and found most cut the baking time closer to an hour or hour and ten minutes after the initial 30. That’s what I did. Took it out after the post 30 hour and let it cool while we all ooed, ahhed and enjoyed the thrill of my newborn pie.

Sadly my camera was lost in the chaos and mix of my Thanksgiving kitchen (I found it later behind the can of fried onions) and only had my phone to capture the final beauty of it all so kindly excuse the crummy photo. The top crust was a bit overcooked and next time I will surely have my oven thermometer to get an exact temperature. The pumpkins and turkeys weren’t exactly recognizable but the leaves kept their shape beautifully. Next time just the leaves. The crust was crispy and the filling was a gorgeous jammy blend of wonderful fruit. My family and guests enjoyed it and so did I. Mine was served with a heaping portion of pride on the side.

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