From the Heart

Today, I could not help but want to repost this old Valentine’s day blog. It truly is one of my fondest memories of William. Thinking back on that visit with him always makes me smile. He was the master of fun surprises.

I continue to be inspired by his amazing brave and caring energy which brings me to this weekend’s TEDx talk. Truth be told I wasn’t exactly sure what a TEDx talk was when I accepted the invitation. I just knew it would be one more way to celebrate Will’s life, so of course I said, “yes”.

Little did I know that being invited to do a TEDx talk is kind of a big deal. Little did I know just how terrified I would be as I prepared for it. In between panic attacks over the last several weeks I prepared 7 pages of my thoughts. Too much I fretted, so whittled it down to 4. I attempted to memorize a speech. Practice, practice, practice. It felt like I was jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. It felt all wrong.

Several supportive friends suggested, “just speak from your heart”. I am taking their advice and feeling less anxious. To just simply speak from the heart feels right.

To further ease my anxiety I thought it a good idea to bake cookies for all 300 people in the TEDx audience. Baking cookies is much more therapeutic than public speaking. Just sayin’. I’m bringing the original Sweet William’s Inspired and Spirited Chocolate Chip Cookie and a Salted Chocolate Whiskey Shortbread because I wanted a heart shaped cookie.

The cookie dough for the shortbread contains no salt, so don’t hesitate to generously top each cookie with a good sprinkle of finishing salt. I highly recommend The Spice & Tea Exchange Chocolate Sea Salt for its sweet smokey flavor.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon whiskey (Jack Daniel’s recommended)

4 cups all-purpose flour (King Arthur Flour)

1 cup chopped bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate

Chocolate Sea Salt or your favorite finishing salt

In large bowl, beat butter and sugar for 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. On low speed, add egg, vanilla and whisky; blend well. Gradually add flour until fully incorporated. Stir in chocolate. Dump dough out onto some plastic wrap. Gather it up into a flat disk. Wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. Heat oven to 350F. On a silicone mat or lightly floured surface roll dough to 1/8-1/4-inch thickness. Cut out desired shapes with cookie cutters. Re-roll dough scraps as needed to cut out more cookies. Sprinkle cookies generously with finishing salt. Gently press salt into cookie with your fingertips. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes for 1 1/2-inch size cookies or until edges brown. Cool. I made about 200 cookies with a small heart shaped cutter.

On this Valentine’s Day I hope you are surrounded by those you love most. ❤

Top Recipes For 2017

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It was this same time a year ago I began to struggle with writer’s block. What to Write? What to write? What to write? Like last year, I got nothin’! So instead I will share YOUR top 3 favorite recipes from 2017. BTW-your favorites are for sure some of mine. May love always guide you in the kitchen.

Sweet William's Fancy

inspired by Will

Not one bit surprised that the recipe that got me started writing this blog makes the top list for the second time. Who doesn’t love a perfectly crisp chocolate chip cookie with a soft inside spiked with bourbon? Click here for the recipe.

 

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Next up a heart-warming nourishing bowl of soup that features wild rice. It’s perfect for the crazy cold winter we are having all over the country. Click here for the recipe.

 

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Pretty sure this third and final recipe made the list not only because people seem to love everything cheesecake, but also because it was a Food Network Magazine prize winner. Getting a little national attention never hurts in the blogosphere. Get the recipe right here.

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Food is the common denominator that brings all kinds of people together at the table

Gather the ones you love most as often as you can.

More Happiness in 2018

 

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Devil Dog Memories

img_4732Following Christmas and the new year celebrations I live a little on the edge of darkness. It revolves around the facts that during the last 5 years of William’s life (in the Navy) that I often only got to see him for brief periods during the holidays. I treasured those days and so looked forward to them. There are times I still feel he is just “away” and I will see him again. It’s a disappointment when the visit doesn’t actually happen. Camp LeJeune got the best of him in his final days and I resent that a bit. He should be here.

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A visit with long-time friends, Chrissy & William

So I close my eyes and ask for strength. My grandpa Matino greets me on the front porch of his house with his green alligator change purse. His old, calloused hands gently shake and the jingling of coins opens my eyes to a nickel in my palm and a kind smile on his face. “It’s enough to buy a devil dog down at the corner store.” At 7 years old I can stop in to Mr.Ortlip’s grocery before or after school, all by myself, and buy that devil dog or maybe some candy. It’s powerful. It’s sweet. It’s love and a kind reminder from my grandpa that I am stronger than I think at this moment in time. Just close your eyes. Take a deep breathe.

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It was very early 1900’s when my grandfather left Sicily and landed penniless at Ellis Island. The story goes that the Italian mafia attempted to entice him into “the family” by offering him a gun and a “job”. Scared out of his mind he boards the first train out of New York City and hops off an hour later when out the window he spies a sign for an Italian restaurant. “Ah, Italian people must live here.” Westfield, NJ was where my grandfather landed a job hauling coal and lumber by horse and wagon. By 1920 he was building his first home. My dad was born and I was raised in Westfield thanks to grandpa’s courage.

I wish I had that old green change purse. I wonder if one of my siblings or maybe a cousin inherited it and treasure it as much as I do. Who knew the power of a nickel? Some day, when she is older, I will give my grand-daughter “a nickel” every time I see her.

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Now for a sweet treat to bring back reality. It’s baking therapy 101. This recipe is pretty close to what I remember an authentic snack cake to be. The recipe was handed down to me from a patient’s mom many years ago. I googled it, but could not find an original source. I tweaked it a bit amping up the cocoa flavor with some salt, vanilla and espresso powder and changed a raw flour buttercream to a cooked flour version. The buttercream is kind of amazing even though the addition of shortening kind of freaks me out. I think shortening is used for its pure white color only.

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Just a couple of baking tips before we get to the recipe. First, I know you want to skip the sifting of the dry ingredients, but don’t do it. Not only does it aerate the mixture, but it also gets rid of lumpy baking soda and cocoa powder. No lumps allowed. Second, room temperature ingredients do make a difference for a light and fluffy cake. Finally, gild that lily with some melted dark chocolate or dusting of powdered sugar. Who says devil dogs can’t be fancy?

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Devil Dogs

2 cups all purpose flour

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon instant espresso powder, optional

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

½ cup sugar

1 egg, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup milk, room temperature

Heat oven 425F. Line baking sheets with parchment. In large bowl, sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, espresso powder and salt; whisk it to blend and set aside. In another bowl, beat butter and sugar for 5 minutes. Beat in egg and vanilla. Add 1/3 of dry ingredients, at a time, alternating with half the milk beating well after each addition and scraping down bowl as needed. Spoon filling into a zippered plastic bag; seal bag. Snip off a 1/2-inch piece of one corner. Pipe batter into 3-inch logs about 1½ to 2-inches wide and 2-inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake 8 minutes. Cool. Turn half the cakes over and pipe or spread flat sides with cream filling. Cover with remaining cakes, flat side down. Makes 20 devil dogs.

Flour Butter Cream Filling

½ cup all purpose flour

½ cup milk

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup powdered sugar

½ cup unsalted butter

½ cup shortening

1 teaspoon vanilla

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat whisk flour, milk and salt until blended and no lumps remain. Cook mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon, until it thickens, pulls away from the sides of the pan and forms a smooth ball. Transfer dough to a bowl. Add powdered sugar and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. In another bowl, beat butter and shortening until blended. Add vanilla and beat well. Gradually add sugar mixture beating until mixture is smooth, thick and fluffy. 

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