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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Memories & Recipes: Please Share

low country potato salad

low country potato salad

Have you read The Giver by Lois Lowry? It is the story of a frightening world where freedom of choice has been taken away. It is a world of government-controlled sameness devoid of emotion and memories. There are vivid scenes of infanticide and elder euthanasia that brings this one to tears. Thankfully, the main character, a 12-year-old named Jonas, is about to set this world on fire. He is “the Receiver” of the memories and quickly learns it is just too much for one person to bear.

sharing some memories

Sharing some memories

memories of great friends

Fun Family Memories

Like Jonas, I agree that memories are meant to share. After William died the best gifts given to me were memories of him. The personal stories provided a glimpse into his world through the eyes of others. I learned so much about him from friends, family, classmates, military brothers and sisters. They felt so very privileged to know him and were delighted to share a few tales. It was the good, the bad and the ugly of William. It was comforting. For the most part it made me laugh and to this day thoughts of these memories continue to heal me. I would be lying, however, if I did not admit to at least one story that made me cringe. Trying to put that one out of my mind and forgive the one who shared it.

memories of great friends

Memories of great friends

So if you ever find yourself wondering what to say or write to someone who is grieving…Share a good memory of the deceased. And if you live close and feel the need to stop by share a family favorite recipe. Bring your most comforting dish. It is a sign of your love and caring. Don’t forget to share a copy of the recipe.

I never quite understand those who covet their recipes. Guarding grandma’s secret sauce mix or worse, yet, sharing a recipe, but omitting an ingredient on purpose. I, on the other hand, think it the ultimate compliment when one asks me for a copy of a recipe. Recipes like memories are meant to share. Enjoy. This one brings back memories of my days in the South.IMG_0845

Low Country Style Potato Salad

12 small (1 pound) red-skinned potatoes

2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning

½ pound large shrimp, shelled, deveined

1 cup fresh cut or frozen sweet corn, thawed

2 links fresh andouille sausage, casing removed

½ cup mayonnaise

¼ cup chili sauce

2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley plus additional for garnish

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons prepared horseradish

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 rib crisp celery, chopped

4 green onions, thinly sliced including some of the green part

2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped

Place a metal steamer basket in a large pot. Add water to a depth of 2- inches. In a bowl, toss potatoes with vinegar. Drain vinegar into pot with water; bring water-vinegar mixture to a boil. Toss potatoes with 1 tablespoon old bay seasoning; place in steamer basket, cover and cook 20 minutes or until tender. Transfer potatoes to a plate; let cool. In bowl, toss shrimp with remaining 1-tablespoon old bay seasoning. Place shrimp and corn in steamer basket; cover and cook 3 to 5 minutes or until fully cooked. Transfer to plate; let cool. Meanwhile, brown sausage in small skillet, breaking up into crumbles with a wooden spoon; set aside. In small bowl, whisk mayonnaise, chili sauce, parsley, lemon juice, horseradish and Worcestershire sauce; cover and chill dressing until ready to assemble salad. Cut potatoes and shrimp into bite-size pieces. In a large bowl, toss potatoes, shrimp, corn, half the sausage crumbles, celery, green onions and eggs with the dressing. Place potato salad on a large serving platter. Sprinkle with remaining sausage crumbles and garnish with parsley.

Old Memories Inspire New Recipes

Guinness Beef Stew Boxty

Guinness Beef Stew Boxty

A time will come when the memory will fade like the fabric on the old wing chair sitting in the sunny window. Memories are all we have. Blogging is a way of preserving those memories. It took me by surprise when some old memories of William inspired last night’s dinner. The memories are happy and the food is comforting like a warm hug from someone well-loved.

Will & cousin Alexis-I need a

Will & cousin Alexis-I need a “love” button

In 2009 while attending a medical conference in San Diego I spent several days with William as he was stationed there and working at the US Naval Hospital, Balboa. We shared some fun adventures as he showed me all his favorite spots including “The Market” on the pier and the Irish pub known as “The Field” in the gas lamp district. The raw bar guy at the Market knew him by name.

we also got to visit with cousin Alexis

visiting family in San Diego

However, it is delicious dinner memories of The Field which sends my culinary creativity into action. William insists I order the beef stew in a boxty. What the heck is a boxty? It’s like a crepe marrying a potato pancake. Wrap it around some Guinness beef stew and you have a match made in heaven. It makes for a most memorable St. Patrick’s Day feast.

I love you William. You continue to inspire me every day. Thanks for such wonderful memories. I am so very proud to be your mom and grateful to have had you in my life.

Boxty

Boxty

Boxty & Guinness Beef Stew

1 (8 oz) Yukon gold potato, peeled, cubed

1 (4 oz) Yukon gold potato, peeled, grated and squeezed dry in paper towels

¾ cup all purpose flour

½  teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

Guinness beef stew, warmed (recipe follows)

Heat oven 200F. Cook cubed potato in salted water until tender. Drain potatoes and mash. Mix mashed potato with grated potato, flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk; blend well. On a medium hot greased skillet, pour 1/3 cup of potato mixture into center of skillet spreading with the back of a spoon to form a 6-inch pancake. Cook about 2 minutes or until edges are dry and pancake is golden brown. Flip and cook other side.  Transfer pancake to baking sheet and keep warm in oven. Repeat with remaining batter, greasing skillet between pancakes. To assemble, place one pancake on serving plate. Spoon ½ cup of stew down center of pancake; fold over.  Serves 6.

Guinness Beef Stew

1 ¼ pounds beef for stew, cut into bite-size pieces

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons all purpose flour, divided

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 sweet onions, chopped

1 ½ cups carrots, bite-size

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 (14 oz) can chicken broth

1 ½ cups Guinness beer

½ tablespoon dark brown sugar

¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried

Season beef with salt and pepper; toss with 1 tablespoon of flour. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in oven-safe Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown half the beef; transfer to plate. Add remaining beef; brown and transfer to plate. Add remaining oil to Dutch oven. Add onions and carrots; cook, stirring occasionally, for 6 to 8 minutes or until onions are golden brown. Add tomato paste, garlic and remaining flour; cook for 2 minutes.  Add chicken broth and Guinness, stirring to scrape up any browned bits. Stir in sugar, half the parsley and all the thyme; bring to a boil. Transfer, uncovered, Dutch oven to 325F. oven. Bake 60 minutes or until beef is tender, stirring after 30 minutes. Stir in remaining parsley.