in need of a chocolate fix?

Hubby and I had a deliciously, quiet Thanksgiving this year. Owing to the fact that I had just visited with our daughter for an extended stay the end of October, our family decided we’d forgo our usual celebration in her neck of the woods and stay put, she there, us here.

Because of Nutcracker rehearsals, our ballerina daughter is unable to travel home until sometime during the Christmas holidays. So with Costco’s assistance she provided the turkey breast and fixings for the pot-luck dinner with other dancer friends who were also unable to be with their families. From the sounds of it all went well, and our daughter continues, unwittingly, towards happyily-ever-after domesticity. Little does she know… 

I opted for the help of Trader Joe’s on Thanksgiving Day. It was they who provided all the neat, little boxes filled with delicacies that only required my assistance in reheating, whether in the oven or the microwave. Doing it up in style, I transferred all the goodies into my lovely Portmeiron serving dishes.Portmeirion Botanic Garden Amazon Exclusive 20-Piece Starter Set, Service for 4(amazon.com)

 If my hubby hadn’t been in on the game plan, he might’ve assumed I’d cooked everything from scratch. I guess I would’ve been outed since I hadn’t slaved away in the kitchen all day, while he relaxed watching football on the tely. If memory serves me correctly, I was probably decorating the house for Christmas. I’m not one for sitting still…unless I’m writing, of course.

One dish I knew I wanted to make with my own two hands, however, was a chocolate pie for my husband. It is one of his favorite desserts, as it was one of my father-in-law’s…a loving and generous man…whose soul now rests in heavenly peace.

Shopping for a box of chocolate pudding, among other things, I happened to glance at the recipe on its side. “Oh my gosh!” I thought, “I’m making this dessert!” Needless to say it was a huge hit with my husband, and me, as I’m sure it will be with you.

candy crunch pudding pie

1-1/2 cups cold milk*
1 pkg. (5.9 oz) JELL-O Chocolate Fudge Flavor Instant Pudding
1 tub (8 oz) COOL WHIP Whipped Topping
2 milk chocolate English toffee candy bars (1.4 oz each), chopped**
1 OREO Pie Crust (6 oz)
Chocolate syrup***

BEAT milk and pudding mix with whisk 2 minutes. Stir in 1/2 COOL Whip and all but 3 Tbsp. candy. SPOON into crust. TOP with remaining COOL WHIP and candy. Drizzle with chocolate syrup.

*I’m lactose intolerant so I used almond milk. It worked just fine.
**SKOR bars are a god option.
***Easier to use than melting BAKER’S Semi-Sweet Chocolate, as recipe said.

…from my sweet tooth…to yours…buon appetito!!!(photo by Cat Cindy Lady @ allrecipes.com)

………hugmamma.  😉

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april fool’s…gotcha!!!

As an April Fool’s Day joke, one of my husband’s coworkers brought a delicious cake, presented in a rather unorthodox manner. Unless you’re a cat lover, eating this particular dessert might have been easier said than done. I think my hubby could get past the gross factor. He’s got a sweet tooth…

not sure i could…could you?…hugmamma.

(Note: as an addition to my post, just learned my hubby couldn’t bring himself to eat this treasure trove of look-a-like cat poop. Another coworker took the remainder home to her family, but passengers on the ferry ride finished it off, with none left for whom it was destined.)

people make the place, issaquah’s gilman village

A recent visit to Issaquah‘s Gilman Village reminded me why it’s a special place to spend a few hours. It’s always great to see my hair stylist, Zorianna. She gives me a chic cut that resembles a “Brazilian Blowout.” And I don’t pay the huge bucks larger salons charge. A mom like me, we commiserate on women’s issues, parenting, the state of the economy, the dreary weather. Zorianna’s manner is easy, befitting the quiet ambiance of her surroundings. Occupying space within the Pelage Spa, the salon sits off to one side. 

I can’t say enough nice things about someone who helps me look my very best, with the added bonus that I feel like I’m sitting comfortably in my own home the entire time.

Thanks, Zorianna……………….. for being my newest BFF………………………………………………………

A newcomer to Gilman Village is a haven for writers, wannabees like yours truly and professionals like Pam Binder, President of Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association. After leaving Zorianna’s salon, I walked past PNWA’s storefront, slowing down to peer in the windows. A membership drive was underway. Joining meant “what?,” I thought to myself. Just as I’d done once before, I almost continued on my way. But the remnants of my New York “chutzpah” pushed me through the front door. As I’ve said to my daughter time and again, “All you can do is ask; all they can do is say ‘no.’ ” 

Armed with the knowledge that I could turn on my heel if I met with elitist resistance to my inquiries, I confidently greeted Pam. She rose from where she was seated behind her desk, walking forward, hand extended welcoming me, a warm smile brightening her face. I felt like Renee Zellweger‘s character in the film, “Jerry Maguire,” when she told him (Tom Cruise) “You had me at hello.”

Pam didn’t ask me to join PNWA; I told her I’d join. Probably surprised that she didn’t have to hit me with a hard sales pitch, she fumbled for a membership form. Throughout our conversation, we laughed easily, and spoke like old friends. I mentioned that she reminded me of Kristina, my exercise instructor and good friend. The likeness in general appearance and mannerisms, sold me on putting some roots down with other writers. It also helped that Pam assured me I was a writer because I wrote. She didn’t turn up her nose when I confessed that I blogged. I even went so far as to offer to volunteer for future events.

So if I do write a book, it will be owing in part to Pam Binder’s graciously making me feel that becoming an author is not so far-fetched. Her credentials only enhance my belief in the possibility. Pam is a board member for the Writer’s Program at the University of Washington, and an instructor in the university’s Popular Fiction extension program.

Thanks, Pam………………. for making me feel so welcome………………………………………………………

One of my favorite eateries in Gilman Village has always been The Boarding House Restaurant. Another cafe that served as a popular dining destination was Sweet Addition. It’s no longer in business, but was the talk of the town for a number of years. I worked there as a server when my daughter was still in middle school. That was close to 12 years ago. God, I feel old.

The Boarding House Restaurant never dwindled in its popularity, despite competition that came and went, some “stiff” like Sweet Addition. Offering a home style menu of soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts, The Boarding House Restaurant is consistent in serving up great food, warmly reminiscent of mom’s home cooking. Walking through the beautiful, stained-glass, front door is like stepping back in time. Cozily furnished with dark-wood dining tables and chairs, a couple of vintage church pews, and a large fireplace for ambiance, I feel as though I’ve been invited to share a family meal with friends. Lunching alone on the combination Boarding House salad and soup du jour, voices of others dining nearby, I settle in comfortably, enjoying my solitude, a good book my only companion.

Made-from-scratch desserts are what I’d expect at the conclusion of a home-cooked meal. The Boarding House Restaurant doesn’t disappoint. Homemade whipped cream heaped high atop a generous serving of apple crisp on a chilly, winter day, and strawberry shortcake that crumbles in my mouth as a summer breeze cools my cheek, is like heaven on earth for one who savors food as I do.

And the metaphorical icing on the cake, or the cherry on top a hot fudge sundae? Jene, the charming cashier and part-owner who takes my order, flashing a beautiful smile that warms my spirit, making me feel like I’ve come home.

Thanks, Jene……………….  for feeding my soul, as well as my tummy…………………………………

Dwellings are enhanced by those who occupy their spaces. Gilman Village is very fortunate to have some real gems among its offerings. And its patrons are indeed lucky to partake of them.

for zorianna, pam and jene…huge, heart-healthy hugs…hugmamma.

christmas 2011???

Not quite! More like Christmas 2010 is still liking our “digs,” and has decided to stay put a little longer. Truth be told, it’s not like the holiday decor has had a choice. It’s more that I’ve been slow to pack it away. So here come the excuses.

You know I was ill for awhile. I’m better now. Thank you very much. But as a result we weren’t able to entertain friends who wanted to see our decorations. Now that it’s February I think most of them will have to wait until it really is Christmas 2011, except for my good friend Cindy. She’ll be over Friday for lunch. She so enjoys how I intermix antiques, collectibles and holiday items to create a vintage wonderland. Another reason for her visit is to peruse my Venice travel guides. She’s hoping her family will make the trip there sometime this year.

Speaking of Christmas past, and being ill, my husband and daughter were fabulous to prepare the entire holiday meal, from appetizers to dessert. As one who is totally anal about details, I resisted at first. But while the brain might have been up for the challenge, my body dug in its heels and said “No way! Uh, uh. Can’t do it.” So I sat back, more like laid on the sofa, and let husband and daughter “have at it,” as the Brits like to say. Well, they knocked my gourmet socks off…way off! I had chosen the recipes, but they came up with masterpieces. I decided on the spot, that I wasn’t the only cook allowed in my kitchen. Someday I might even relinquish my chef’s hat altogether. Now when’s my hubby retiring? Hmmm…I’ll gain a cook, a gardener, maybe even a housecleaner…

Since this post is a Christmas hodgepodge of sorts, I wanted to include photos of nearby homes which exploded with holiday spirit. Our family’s favorite is the window that displays the fish-net stockinged, woman’s leg, lamp and shade, from the 60s “The Christmas Story.” Until recently it was only a favorite of my husband’s. In years past I’d grimace whenever he spoke of watching it replayed on TV. This year, however, my daughter and me purchased the DVD as a present for him. I MUST be getting older, and mellower, because I did find the movie endearing. It reminded me of the good days. Old folks are always a sucker for reminiscing about the past. I’m no different it seems.

So now you know my Christmas secrets. We’re still celebrating the holidays. Yes, I still light all 5 trees. However, I refrain from flipping the switch on the outdoor lights. The neighbors might think we’re loony. I didn’t cook the annual holiday meal. And I’ve been won over by a movie I use to think was so corny. But you know what? Extending the season just means we continue to have lots of “good will toward men,” and God knows we on earth could use several mountains worth, especially now.

ho, ho, ho…and a merry christmas to all…and to all a good night…hugmamma. (good morning, actually, since it’s 10:19 a.m. where i am.)

coconut cream cake

My family raved about the dessert I made for Thanksgiving dinner, so I thought I’d pass it along to you. Neither my husband nor my daughter are as crazy about coconut based recipes as I am, so it’s saying something when both have second helpings, the day after. Rolling her eyes and grinning from ear to ear, my daughter lauded the moistness and moderate sweetness of the Coconut Cream Cake. My husband chimed in with an approving nod. So I knew I needed to get your opinion, once you bake it, that is. Sorry I can’t do that for you.

Hope you have a reason to whip up this delicacy, or maybe you just want to treat yourself. Either way, bon appetite!!!

COCONUT CREAM CAKE 

1 18 ½ oz package regular white cake mix (not pudding type)

1  3 ½ oz can flaked coconut

1 ½ cups water

2 egg whites

1 8 ½  oz can cream of coconut

1  12 oz carton frozen whipped topping, thawed

Combine cake mix, 1 cup coconut, water and egg whites. Beat for 2 minutes at highest speed of electric mixer. Reduce speed to low, beat for 1 minute. Pour batter into a greased 12x9x2 inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until pick comes from center clean. Cook cake for 10 minutes.

Punch holes in the top of cake with toothpick. Pour cream of coconut over cake while still warm. Spread whipped topping over cake. Sprinkle with remaining coconut. Cover and chill at least 4 hours. Cut into squares to serve. Serves 15-16.

BEING an amateur cook, as I think most of you are, I had a moment’s hesitation in the preparation process. Unable to find an 8 ½ oz can cream of coconut, I bought a 15 oz can intending to use little more than half of it. Upon opening the can, I was surprised to see a dense, white, glistening mass. Spooning a couple of big chunks into a bowl, I soon hit oily liquid which I poured into the bowl. Scooping the remaining white gunk into the bowl, I mixed the contents until they formed a liquid. To my amazement, the resulting combination only amounted to 8 ounces of liquid. I’m sure a smarter person than I could explain how ingredients listed on the can label as 15 ounces, turned out to really be only 8 ounces.

I was concerned as I slowly poured the entire bowl of liquid over the cake. I kept wondering if I should stop, as the coconut cream crept up the sides of the pan. I wondered if the resulting cake would be too rich, too sweet. But when the last dregs of liquid streamed from the bowl, I knew I’d have to wait and see. And the rest is history…yummy, yummy in my tum, tum, tummy!  

for all things coconut, and my mom from whom i inherited my love of the fruit, huge hugs…hugmamma

gray skies above, warm hearts below

Our “signature” weather here in the Pacific Northwest never goes out of style. So it’s with little fanfare that we welcome the return of menacing gray skies, upon whose heels arrive the downpour of “angels’ tears.” Our family has learned to take it all in stride.

The dismal weather gives us a chance to burrow under blankets, read a mountain of books, piled high magazines and Wall Street Journals, sup on homemade soups, play endless rounds of Bananagrams, and just recently, cribbage.

Once-in-awhile, my daughter and I settle in to watch old films on DVD, like “Anna and the King of Siam,” starring Rex Harrison and Irene Dunn. Totally different from “The King and I,” the colorized version with Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr, my daughter was enthralled with the more serious story told in the older version. Unlike its successor, it was a drama, not a musical. In it the king does not dance with the teacher, nor does Tuptim stage the story of  “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

After Mass yesterday we decided to drive out to Snohomish, where antique stores abound. Enroute we stopped at a favorite haunt, Maltby Cafe. It’s not a restaurant we frequent because of its distance, and because the meals taste like mom’s cooking, which means lo-cal is not a high priority. The few times we’ve driven to partake of this gastronomical feast, there has always been a lineup of hungry customers. But everyone minds their manners. We put our names on a list, and wait patiently, the cafe’s “monster” cinnamon roll making me salivate at the thought of biting into it, melted icing escaping out the corners of my grinning lips.

The Cafe is cozily ensconced in the basement of a building. After 20 minutes or so of eager anticipation,  we were comfortably seated at a table. We took our time looking through the menu, deciding what to eat. My husband is always the first to make a selection. His pick was some gigantic omelet, whose name  escapes me. Meanwhile, my daughter and I read the menu as though it were a novel, poring over each page from top to bottom.

I started with “desserts” on the back of the menu. The “melted caramel sundae” sounded divine, and loaded with calories! Coming to my senses, I chose French toast with marionberries and creme fraiche on the side. With it I ordered a dish of red, fried potatoes, onions, mushrooms and diced ham. Of course, half of it came home in a “doggie bag.” The same was true of my daughter’s meal, homemade Italian sausages with  scrambled eggs, and biscuits with gravy.

While awaiting our main courses, we began with an appetizer. We sliced the long-awaited cinnamon roll 4 ways. We still brought home half of it. As we “oohed and aahed” and hungrily devoured morsels of the heavenly pastry, our eyes wandered around the spacious dining room. Devotees of HGTV, we agreed that the Cafe could easily be transformed into a basement apartment. The long breakfast bar along one side of the room could serve as informal family dining, while the main room could easily house a living space, office space, dining space, and perhaps spare sleeping area. Through a door towards the back would probably be a bedroom. At the very back of the restaurant were a men’s and women’s restroom. And, of course, there was a kitchen through a door behind the breakfast bar. Beams running the length of the ceiling added to the warmth and charm of the room. I think our family qualifies for its own designer show on HGTV. My husband and daughter would probably say “Yeah, right.” They’re not as full of ideas as I am. Or am I… just full of it? Hmmm. Whatever…

Tummies full, we drove on to our final destination. Hunting for bargains in antique shops is a “high” for me. Most dealers, if not all, thrive on finding treasures for unbelievably fabulous prices, in other words, cheap. Once upon a time it was possible, and it may be again, given the current economy. But the difficulty now is that while something may be a bargain, how much of a markup can the market bear? Where nearly 2 decades ago I could double the price of what I paid for an item, I’m no longer able to do so in most cases. So the profit margin has shrunk considerably. Why remain in the business?

All antique dealers are passionate about “old” stuff, their history, their  craftsmanship, and the idea that these items are very much relics of the past. Walking through aisles of artifacts usually stirs up memories of bygone days, before all the modern conveniences like dishwashers, clothes dryers, refrigerators, computers. Instead, my eyes linger over dishracks and colorful dish towels, vintage clothes drying racks or clothes lines that unwind from a green or blue tin box, pie safes that use to store perishable foods from pesky flies, and typewriters, Royals and Underwoods.

With the holidays approaching, I opted to purchase several silver plated serving platters of various shapes and sizes. The prices were reasonable, most $12, a couple $16. They’re not in mint condition, but for the right price, customers will purchase them as beautiful accents for festive celebrations. Shabby chic is in these days, especially at stores like Crate and Barrel. Why pay their exorbitant prices for “knock-offs,” when the real thing can be bought for half the price or less? “Used” means it’s been loved in its former life.

Meandering the back roads under a threatening, gray sky in verdant Washington State, is as special as lazing under the tropical sun, on a white sand beach in Maui. 

found anywhere, blessings…hugmamma.

party sweets, halloween

Something to think about, and plan ahead. If Halloween’s your “trick-or-treat,” then these might intrigue your guests, and keep the conversation howling.

  • Devilish Drink – pour grenadine syrup (as much or as little, to your taste) into a large glass pitcher. Slowly add chillded mango lemonade or your favorite bright orange juice or drink on top. Let stand—layers will separate. Beautifully delicious!
  • Spider Cookie Sandwiches – makes 12 cookie sandwiches: 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 tube (16 oz) refrigerated cookie dough (softened), 1 brick (8 oz) cream cheese, 1 jar (7 or 7 1/2 oz) marshmallow cream (such as Marshmallow Fluff), Orange gel food color
  1. Knead cocoa into cookie dough in large bowl. Shape into an 8-in.-long log; wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight until firm.
  2. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Unwrap dough; cut into 1/4-in.-thick slices (you should have 24). Place 2 in. apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake 8 to 10 minutes until set. Let cool slightly on baking sheet; remove to wire rack to cool completely.
  3. Beat cream cheese with electric mixer until smooth. Add marshmallow cream; beat until fluffy. Remove 1/3 cup, tint orange, and spoon into quart-size ziptop bag; reserve. Spread a slightly rounded Tbsp frosting on half the cookies. Top with remaining cookies, pressing gently to sandwich together.
  4. Snip a tiny corner off bag with orange frosting; pipe web design on top and down sides of cookies. Refrigerate until serving.

hugs for ghosts, ghouls and goblins…hugmamma.

surrogate fathers

Reflecting back to my fatherless childhood, I was one when my father died, I probably pined for a male figure to parent me alongside my mom. But I don’t remember obsessing about it, although there were times when certain individuals were present in my life who I wished were my father.

My earliest recognition of just such a man was Uncle Lot. I adored him even though he was not really an uncle; “calabash” relatives were commonplace in extended Hawaiian families. Bronzed by the sun, silver white hair framing a handsome face, I imagined he loved me like a precious daughter. He and our Aunt Miriam, spinster brother and sister,  lived next door to the first home I ever knew, conveniently located across the road from the beach. When not frolicking on the sand or swimming in the warm waters, we’d be playing with Melabee, a German Shepherd belonging to auntie and uncle. We were always invited into their antique-filled home where we snacked on little sandwiches or small, scrumptious desserts. I always loved curling up in Uncle Lot’s lap, burrowing my sleepy head into his chest heavily scented with cologne. I’d rest there while he, auntie and my mom chatted amiably among themselves. I never wanted to leave when it was time to return to our house.  Their home was so much grander, filled with beautiful things, and food more delicious than was our usual fare. As a child I never understood aunty and uncle’s relationship. They were related, but they seemed so comfortable in each other’s shadow, like husband and wife. But they weren’t married, so I wanted Uncle Lot to marry my mom. Of course it was a child’s fantasy, and there it remained.

As a kindergartener I remember we were in a different home, one that I would live in until I moved away to college. Our Chinese landlord lived next door. At first it was “Popo” (grandmother) to whom we paid rent, but upon her death, her son Ah Sing assumed the responsibility. I became long-lasting, best friends with his daughter, an only child for many years. A brother was born into the family when my friend was in high school.

Ah Sing took pity upon my situation, a fatherless child with a mother struggling to support her young family. He would include me on outings with his daughter. One vivid memory is of a visit onboard a navy submarine docked  in the harbor. I still have a small, black and white photograph somewhere, of me perched on a metal seat on an outer deck, long, black hair caught up in the breeze, a furtive smile on my lips, a shy glance directed at the camera. My girlfriend’s mom was not as receptive toward me however, perhaps because I wasn’t a fit companion, being poor. No matter, I became a fixture at their home because I was like a sibling my friend wanted, and another daughter Ah Sing cherished.

The only physician I recall visiting as a child was Dr. James Fleming. His shoulders seemed broad, as though he could carry the weight of the world on them, well… at least that of the sick who visited his office. His hair was a sandy blonde, he wore spectacles and he always had a smile on his face. His bedside manner was comforting, especially to a child who rarely saw a doctor because it was an expense my mom couldn’t regularly afford. But like other generous people in our lives, Dr. Fleming discounted  our fees and never pressured my mom for payment. Receiving a lollipop or large, orange gumdrop was one reason I behaved during an appointment, but more importantly, Dr. Fleming felt like a father if only for the time I spent with him. When I was much older, my mom told me that he had offered to adopt me since he had no daughters, only 3 sons. You can imagine how elated I felt, and disappointed, that I never got to live the fairy-tale life of the Lahaina Flemings. But more than anything, I would have liked to have felt the love of a father like Dr. Fleming wash over me.

My father-in-law, now deceased some 20 years or so, treated me like a daughter. When I first spent time with my husband’s family, I thought my father-in-law didn’t like me. I always seemed the butt of his ribbing. Teasing was something I grew up with as the youngest, and I wasn’t particularly fond of it. I never had the wherewithal to fight back, and felt I must not be loved, or liked. Increasingly, as I was around him more, it became obvious that I was a favorite of my father-in-law’s. I guess I was a combination, pretty Hawaiian girl like his wife, Catholic raised and educated, attending college, with lofty ambitions that might rub off on his eldest son. But best of all I could out-talk the “Portugees,” as he would love to tell me, himself being Portuguese. We could banter back and forth endlessly. My father-in-law, looking much like and behaving very much like my husband, was the closest I ever came to having a father. So it saddened me to see his body, and spirit, deteriorate through the 8 years he survived after a massive heart attack which destroyed 50% of his heart.

And then there’s my husband. A Catholic seminarian a week prior to our first meeting, he had changed his mind about being called to the priesthood. Having left home after completion of 8th grade, he had spent the next 4 1/2 years studying theology. I’ve often joked that God was preparing him for an even greater task than leading the faithful, and that was keeping me on the “straight and narrow,” which he has successfully done for 40 years.

Because I was fatherless as a child, it was imminent that my daughter bond with her dad immediately. So I didn’t look to either my mom or mother-in-law for help when our baby was born. I wanted my husband, myself and our daughter to forge a strong and loving union which would survive the ups and downs of whatever lay ahead. And to this day, our strength as a family continues to thrive upon the foundation upon which it was built. We enable one another to follow our passions, knowing that our love and support is always available 24/7.

So while I may not have had a father of my own to nurture and guide me, there were those to whom I could look for the wonderful qualities that I would one day find in a husband. So I thank my “fathers”, of whom only Ah Sing survives, on my lovely, island, childhood home of Maui.

 very fortunate to have had surrogate fathers, love me…hugmamma.