Archive for the ‘Family Recipes’ Category


Fresh Ginger Root & Cinnamon, BlackBerry Shots, Golden Valley, Minnesota, November 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

During the Holidays, friends and family shared two cranberry dishes that were so delicious, I’ve saved the recipes for next year. I thought I’d post them on red Ravine so they would be easy to find next time I want to whip them up. The recipes are fast and easy. Maybe you’ll want to try them, too. Even if you are not a cranberry lover, I guarantee they will not disappoint you!


Liz made this fresh and tangy Cranberry-Orange Relish for one of our Holiday dinners. It was even better after we left it in the fridge for a day or two. You can spread it on leftover turkey sandwiches to add a little zest; it’s also good with roast pork or chicken. One ingredient that really makes this cranberry recipe sing is the fresh ginger root (a spice that is also a winner when it comes to motion sickness!).

Cranberry-Orange Relish

12 ounces cranberries, fresh
1 medium orange, navel, washed, unpeeled & cut into chunks
1 cup sugar
1 piece ginger root, fresh, peeled, about 1-inch, chopped
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Put cranberries, orange, sugar, ginger and cinnamon in a food processor (we used an ordinary blender). Pulse until finely chopped. Scrape into a serving bowl (or storage container if making ahead). Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Makes 16 servings (at 2 2/3 tablespoons per serving). One tip — if you find the orange peel too strong, you can add fresh orange zest instead. Then remove the peel before cutting the orange into chunks.


I had this Cranberry Salsa at a potluck and it dazzled my taste buds so much, I asked for the recipe. It would be a perfect addition to New Year’s Eve. Just add your choice of chips and you are good to go. At first glance, both of these recipes look like they have a lot of sugar. But when you consider you are dealing with tart, fresh cranberries, it all evens out in the end!

Zesty Cranberry Salsa

1-12 ounce bag of cranberries, fresh or frozen
1 bunch cilantro, washed-leaves only
1 bunch green onions, washed and cut in small pieces
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and cut into small pieces
1 lime, juiced
½ scant cup white sugar
1 pinch of salt
2 cloves garlic

Combine everything but the sugar and salt into a medium food processor fitted with medium blade. Chop to medium consistency. Transfer to a glass storage container. Stir in salt and sugar until well mixed. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours. Enjoy!

IMG00667-20101124-1751 yesIMG00667-20101124-1751 yes

Cranberries & Oranges, BlackBerry Shots, Golden Valley, Minnesota,
November 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, December 26th, 2010

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Taco Soup

Taco Soup, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Family Recipes

Family Recipes, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Simple Taco Soup

1 lb. lean ground beef
1 can whole kernel corn
1 can Mexican chili beans
1 can pinto beans
1 can kidney beans
1 large can petite diced tomatoes
1 package taco seasoning mix

Brown ground beef and stir in the taco seasoning. Add canned veggies and simmer until flavors are blended — about 20 minutes. Ladle into bowls and top with your choice of cheese, sour cream, cilantro, or tortilla chips.

Top With Your Choice

Top With Your Choice, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Comfort Food - Taco Soup

Comfort Food - Taco Soup, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Sometimes it’s a gift to be a product of a blended family. There are different sets of parents, plumes of siblings, cousins galore. When I was in Pennsylvania a few weeks ago visiting my brother after his liver transplant, part of my Southern family showed up on the doorstep and surprised me. After driving the 10 hours from South Carolina, they literally stepped right out of the front seat of their car and into my brother’s kitchen. They came bearing gifts for a celebration of Thanksgiving. It was the first time in 45 years the Robertson side of the family had been together.

Though I’m not much of a cook, I love easy-to-make meals. One of my favorite gifts was a spiral bound recipe book. Daddy and Judy had handwritten simple recipes they collected from different members of the family. And behind the pages of the recipe cards, they tucked vintage family snapshots.

Like this one:

April 1973

April 1973, Vintage Family Snapshot In Recipe Book, Morristown, Tennessee, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

If you look closely, you might spot me there in Tennessee, in a half circle with my paternal grandparents, Ada and Jess, smirking behind that 70’s smile. So many memories.

Back in Minnesota, it’s a lot colder, and I’m a lot older. I pull the ground beef out of the freezer and open the handmade recipe book to Taco Soup. Since I’m late getting home, Liz starts dinner (if you are from the South, you might say “supper”), and I walk right into the middle smell of a family memory. The recipe book makes a creative Holiday gift. All you need are recipe cards, a fast writing pen, and a strong wrist. Food and family photos are a natural combination, a memory maker that keeps on giving.

-posted on red Ravine, with gratitude to my family, Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

-related to post: Memories, Writing, & Family Recipes

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soy milk

Got (Soy) Milk?, morning fix of soymilk and coffee,
photo © 2010 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

I picked up my milk habit in Granada, Spain, in 1986. There my morning ritual was to walk out the door, hop the narrow cobblestone road to the bar across the way, and order a tall glass of café-con-leche. Pepe, the bar owner, prepared it with hot milk and just a splash of strong coffee.

Milk became over the next 20-plus years my daily vice. In all respects it seemed to be a respectable habit. My nails grew strong, hair thick, bones firm. One would expect (and I do) that my two cups of milk-and-coffee a day kept osteoporosis away.

But there were downsides. The worst was at night as I lay on my back and drifted off to sleep. I’d wake up choking to what felt like a wet hairball in the back of my throat. Mucus was the culprit, and it wasn’t just at night. When I exercised I had to clear my throat like a smoker with a hack. I suffered from morning stuffiness and a drippy nose even when it wasn’t allergy season. And forget about allergy season! During those months I was a poster child for Kleenex.

But the worst of the milk side effects hit recently as I began to enter menopause. If you’ve gone through menopause, you know the symptoms. Sore boobs, hot flashes, mood swings (mine went from grumpiness to rage).

Women I knew told me that I ought to try soy milk. My sister-in-law said it had an instant calming effect on her. Soy beans contain isoflavones, which produce an estrogen-like effect on the body. Inspired, I gave it try.

At first I disliked it. The sweetened kind was too sweet; unsweetened tasted like liquid chalk. For a few months I tried almond milk, then coconut. Nothing stuck. I turned to green tea (since I drink black tea the way I drink coffee) but didn’t like that either. I fumbled through my mornings, lost. I lamented that I’d inadvertently dumped my coffee habit. I missed my ritual.

I don’t have all that many vices, and honestly, milk-and-coffee probably did more good for my health than bad. Maybe that’s why I kept trying to find the right non-dairy version of my old favorite beverage.

Persistence paid off—I have finally discovered the secret to making the kind of non-dairy leche-con-café that might even make ol’ Pepe proud.

I am now an avid soy milk drinker. The extra mucus is gone, as are a couple of extra pounds. I only rage once in a blue moon. But most importantly, I got myself a new morning ritual. Life is good.

Roma’s Menopause-B-Gone Soy Milk-and-Coffee Drink

Start with a good brand of unsweetened soy milk. Not all brands are the same. Soy milk is processed from soy beans, and as with other processed foods, the processing can take something that is healthy and make it unhealthy. So if you’re going to drink soy milk, you need to check out the soy scorecard.

Pour about a cup of soy milk into a glass saucepan (preferably with a pouring spout) and heat on low for about 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly. I add just enough local honey (no more than a teaspoon) to give the unsweetened soy milk a hint of sweetness. I’m not a fan of sweet coffee, and so I’m stingy with the honey. Just a bit. Helps with allergies, too.

Once the soy milk is good and hot yet not boiling, pour it into a curved mug that fits your hand just so. Add in enough strong coffee to top the drink. (I make the coffee beforehand in a French press.)

Walk into your writing room, sit down, take a few sips, and then write. A calm beginning to any day.

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By Lita Sandoval

Let’s just say that 2009 has not been my best year. I was laid off from my job in January. I accepted a position for another job soon after I was laid off and it turned out to be a terrible situation. I quit within three months. To add to the stress of finding a job, I got kidney stones twice, caught two teenage girls trying to steal my car from the driveway, and even had my garbage can stolen!

I am fortunate I have a temporary part-time job, which basically has saved my life. I make just enough money to pay bills and only have enough left over for a few extras. I’ve been thinking about how I am going to afford Christmas gifts for my family. I cut my list way back to gifts for immediate family only. My daughter also wants to give gifts to her friends—six of them.

I decided that I would make gifts for everyone. And I wanted my daughter to make gifts for her friends, too. Together we made jewelry for her friends. It was fun spending time together picking out beads and deciding which friends would like certain beads and colors. The whole idea of making gifts together was definitely cost effective, but what came out of that experience was a great bonding opportunity. It was also fun watching my daughter’s creativity explode. We can now check six people off the Christmas list!

My father helped me to decide on very special gifts I will be making for my sister, niece, and daughter. My father is always heavy on my mind during the holidays. He passed away seven years ago. The man was a fabulous cook. Family and friends still salivate when they talk about his amazing marinated steaks or his incredible paella. I thought it would be cool to gather all of his recipes, re-type them, put them in a beautiful box and give them to my sister, niece, and daughter for Christmas.

It has been an incredible experience going through those recipes! It was like going back through a time machine. I can look at a recipe and associate a special occasion with the meal my dad prepared. On many of his recipe cards, he wrote little notes that made me remember his wicked sense of humor. He named dishes after himself or altered the name of something that would incorporate his name.

Some of his notes were just cool, like the one on his paella recipe. He named it Paella Al Al. My dad’s name was Al and if you speak Spanish, you get the humor in the title. At the bottom of the recipe card it says:

Recipe from a restaurant at La Carihuela – a fishing village on the Mediterranean outside Torremolinos. 1984

While going through the recipes, I found one of my favorites: my dad’s Tequila Shrimp. I had never attempted to make this particular dish. I decided I would make the Tequila Shrimp and take it to a party I was invited to.

I used to love going to the grocery store with my dad and helping him find just the right ingredients for his meals. Going to the store and picking out ingredients for the shrimp dish with my dad’s very particular eye was important. I was excited to put it all together. I took out the special cazuela my dad gave me and took care to make sure the tequila shrimp not only tasted good, but looked good. I think I succeeded.

I hope my sister, niece, and daughter will think of my dad when they try out one of his famous dishes. It really is a wonderful legacy that he has left all of us. What better way is there to connect with family and friends than to sit around a table with a wonderful meal? And because I saw that my mom had her own little box of recipes, I’ve decided I must put hers in with my dad’s. Most of her best recipes aren’t written down, so we made a date to sit down and write them all out.

Needless to say, my stress of holiday gift giving has gone by the wayside. Jewelry has been made, recipes have been written out and precious time has been spent being with, thinking of and enjoying time with family. It seems as though my year has ended so much better than it started out.

Dad Grilling, photo of Al Sandoval (Lita’s father) grilling
steaks at home circa 1966, photo © 1966-2009
by Olga Sandoval. All rights reserved.

Tequila Shrimp

  • 2 lbs. cooked shrimp
  • 2 oz. Tequila
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • 3 garlic cloves crushed
  • 1 bay leaf broken up
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • Dash black pepper
  • Garlic salt to taste

Mix well and add to shrimp. Coat well. Add:

  • 1 lemon and 1 lime thin sliced
  • 4 pearl onions thin sliced
  • 1 cup black olives sliced
  • 2 Tbs. chopped pimiento
  • 2 roasted, peeled, chopped green chilies

Marinade in refrigerator for at least three hours.

Lita Sandoval is a native of Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is a local blogger (currently on hiatus) known as Adelita—she made the top five “Best Bloggers” in Albuquerque the Magazine’s Best of City 2009, and for the past two years she’s been in the top three bloggers in the Alibi‘s Best of Burque—who writes about the funky hometown she affectionately calls “Burque” (pronounced boor-keh, extra roll on the “r”). She’s also a jewelry artist (check out her work at her Etsy shop, although she warns that she hasn’t had time to add much to it lately but will in the new year) and collector of many unusual things. Her teenage daughter keeps her on her toes, as do her rowdy dogs, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Etta James. Her favorite saying is, “Oh sí liar!”

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Liz Really Liked It!, BlackBerry Shots, vintage recipe card, November 2009, all photos © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It’s almost Thanksgiving, a time of gratitude for our many blessings. And a time for good food. I walked over to the fridge this morning and under a Morton Salt “When it rains it pours” magnet was this faded recipe card for Chicken L’Orange. Liz’s mother (oliverowl) mailed it to us after a discussion on Memories, Writing & Family Recipes.

She told us that Liz’s maternal grandmother, Frances Oliver Biggs, loved that Liz liked the Chicken L’Orange. So much so, that she handwrote her comment on the back of the family recipe card she sent to Liz’s mom:

Does Liz remember the recipe for “Chicken L’Orange” that her Nana sent me? I still have the card in my recipe box. At the end is her comment, “Liz really liked it!” (Sent after Liz’s visit to CA.) It is probably similar to what you had on the Cornish game hens.

My contribution to yesterday’s meal was Grandma Caroline’s Green Salad (OLD family recipe) and a Cranberry Sauce that had orange juice and a whole jar of Orange Marmalade cooked with the fresh berries!

Now the recipe card with Liz’s grandmother’s handwriting hangs on our fridge. I told Liz I want to try Grandma Caroline’s Green Salad this year. It reminds me of my family’s version of Jell-O salad with whipped cream. Below is the recipe that Liz’s mom Marylin dropped into the red Ravine comments.



Grandma Caroline’s Green Salad


1 large box of Lime Jell-O
1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
1 14-15 oz. can crushed pineapple, including juice


Take the cream cheese out of the fridge, so it begins to soften. Prepare the Jell-O, using 1 less cup of water than the recipe calls for. Chill it until it begins to thicken, but don’t let it solidify, or you’ll have a mess!

Since I only have one mixer, I whip the cream and place it in a small bowl. Then I cut the cream cheese in small chunks and place them in the mixer bowl and beat it well. When the Jell-O is a thick syrupy consistency, I add it to the cream cheese and mix until they are homogenized! (You’ll have to scrape down the sides of the bowl several times.) Next, the pineapple is mixed in and then the whipped cream, both at the slowest speed. Refrigerate until firm. Enjoy!



We’re going to stop at the store today for last minute ingredients. What traditional recipes will you be sharing this Thanksgiving week? Are there any that have been passed down by your grandmother? Bob mentioned he’s making Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters. ybonesy’s family always makes tamales for Christmas. And my family makes Southern Banana Pudding for almost every family gathering. Old recipes are invaluable to memoir writers. Family flavor.

Hope you enjoy Grandma Caroline’s Green Salad. And if you put together the two front and back photos of the recipe card in this post, you’ll have the Biggs family recipe for Chicken L’Orange — two great family recipes, one post. And any leftover turkey? Try Amelia’s Soft Dumpling Recipe.


Chicken L’Orange, When It Rains, It Pours,  BlackBerry Shots, vintage recipe card, November 2009, all photos © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Post Script: The Morton Salt girl has always been a favorite icon of mine. She’s officially called the Morton Umbrella Girl and according to the Morton website, the slogan, “When it rains it pours” first appeared on the blue package of table salt and in a series of Good Housekeeping magazine advertisements in 1914. The slogan is adapted from an old proverb, “It never rains but it pours.”

You can read more about the history of Morton Salt, view vintage ads, and see the transition of the Morton Umbrella Girl from the roaring twenties to the 1968 image that we still view on packaging today. They’ve also got a recipe section with Winning Kosher Salt Recipes.


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

-related to post: Reflections On The Other National Bird*

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Apple Harvest Pie

  • Gluten-free pie shells from Whole Foods: As with Everything-Whole-Foods, these pie shells are pricey ($7.99 for a package of two shells as of yesterday) BUT in this case, they’re worth the cost. I use both shells to make one pie. (Also, you could buy a Gluten-free pie shell mix, but those are about $5 a package, and you have to do all the work. Believe me, the $7.99 pie shells are worth every penny.)
  • 7-8 good-sized apples (if you’re using small apples, throw in an extra three or so)
  • 1 lemon (you can use a couple of limes if in a pinch)
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup gluten-free flour (I like rice flour best, but a general mix of gluten-free baking flours also works well)
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • a few pads of butter (preferably unsalted, but salted works, too)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • handful of white sugar
  1. Turn on oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Thaw the gluten-free pie shells slightly, but not too long, only about an hour, else it will be hard to get the one out of its shell to use as the cover.
  3. Peel, core, and cut into thin slices the apples. Put the apple slices in a large bowl and add to them the juice of 1 lemon. Also add finely shredded lemon peel, just a few swipes against the small part of the grater. Add the vanilla. Mix well to coat all the apple slices with lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla. (I ran out of lemons recently but had a bunch of limes. I used three, since they don’t produce much juice, and I skipped the zest part. It worked beautifully.)
  4. In a separate, larger bowl, mix together the dry ingredients: brown sugar, flour, and spices. The trick to making great apple pie filling is to make sure your dry ingredients are thoroughly mixed before adding them to the apples, which are nice and wet with the lemon juice and vanilla. Add the apples to the mixed dry ingredients. You’ll know you have enough moisture in the apples if you start to see a nice caramely-looking goo appearing as you mix everything together.
  5. Pour the apple pie filling into one of the pie shells. Make sure you scrape out all of the goo from the bowl. You don’t want your apple filling to be dry. Top the apple filling with four small pads of butter.
  6. Take the remaining shell and cut away the zig-zag edge. You only need enough crust to cover the pie. Carefully place the second pie crust onto the apple pie. If it breaks, that’s fine. In fact, my saying is, The uglier the crust, the better the pie. Gently press together, as if stitching, the top crust to the edge of the bottom crust. Since the pie crust is sure to break as you’re placing it on top, you won’t need to make vent slits, BUT if you manage to get the top crust on without any breakage, make two or three slits with a knive. I also use the leftover edging from the second crust to make cool designs, or if my pie crust has broken too much, to patch it up. My girls love crust, so the edging always gets used.
  7. Finally, brush the pie crust with egg yolk, and then sprinkle a handful of sugar over your pie crust. This will make the pie crust turn out nicely browned and gorgeous.
  8. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the pie filling bubbling. Cool for at least an hour before you dig in.

Note: I adapted the pie filling recipe from Paula Deen’s Food Network site. On the pie crusts, you can also use store-bought shells that are not Gluten-free (and, hence, not expensive). These days the store-bought pie crusts are so good that it’s almost not worth making your crust. (Does that sound sacrilege to the purists out there? If so, Paula Deen’s site includes a link to a homemade pie crust.)

Enjoy your fall apples!

-Related to posts Apples For Sale and Pies Across America.

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Bobs Scalloped Oysters, Kansas City, Missouri, April 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Bob’s Scalloped Oysters, dinner at a writing retreat in Kansas City, Missouri, April 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Last weekend I was in Kansas City, Missouri for a short writing retreat with three other Midwest writers. We did Writing Practice, slow walked, sat in silence, and recalibrated our project goals for the next 6 months. There were a couple of breakthroughs and much clarity. I met two of these writers at the last year-long Intensive we attended with Natalie in Taos. We try to meet every 6 months, check in on our goals every two weeks. No one should have to do this alone.

I also met ybonesy at a Taos writing retreat and we are still going strong. We created red Ravine because we didn’t want writers and artists to feel like they had to do this alone. We wanted a supportive place people could visit 24/7. We didn’t want to be tossed away. I feel grateful for the online community, and for close writing and artists friends, and try to cultivate those relationships. I encourage writers to connect any way they can.

It wasn’t all serious over last weekend though. We laughed a lot. And Bob gave us a whirlwind tour of beautiful Kansas City, Missouri. He called it “the nickel tour” but I think it was priceless. I loved the fountains, the art museums, the sycamores and the blooming redbuds. We stood by the Missouri River, drove past hundreds of limestone houses (including Hemingway’s), and ate 50 pounds of Kansas City barbecue. The Spring weather was perfect; everything was in bloom.

For dinner one night, Bob cooked Hamburger Splatter and baked his Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters, made famous in his March post on red Ravine. If you love oysters, Aunt Annie’s are to die for! Gratitude to Bob for putting up with all of us in Kansas City (it’s a great place to write). Gratitude to ybonesy for holding down the fort on red Ravine. Gratitude to Liz for taking care of Chaco while I was gone. Look for more of Kansas City in upcoming posts.


Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters, Kansas City, Missouri, April 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Dish Up The Scalloped Oysters, Kansas City, Missouri, April 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Writers' Feet, Kansas City, Missouri, April 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved


Dish Up The Scalloped Oysters!, Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters, Writers’ Feet, April writing retreat in Kansas City, Missouri, April 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

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By Bob Chrisman

Aunt Annie Saluting, photo 2009 by Bob Chrisman, all rights reserved

Here’s to you, Aunt Annie!, image © 2009 by Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.

A cup of tea with sugar brings back memories of my first cup, the day my mother said, “You’re old enough to drink tea.” Sacks of pale orange “circus peanuts” remind me of the stale ones in Grandma Hecker’s candy dish. Homemade caramel-covered apples take me to Mrs. Wallace’s kitchen where I taste tested them the night before Halloween. Ritz crackers transport me to Mrs. Thompson’s house where we played Ring-Around-The-Rosie.

Certain recipes hold special memories. I bake scalloped potatoes topped with pork chops the same way my mother did and in the same glass loaf dish. When I make Hamburger Splatter, I remember the adults who my mother babysat when they were children stopping by for the recipe. My favorite holiday dish recipe is scalloped oysters. Aunt Annie, Mom’s youngest sister, made them every Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I asked my cousins why their mom fixed such an exotic dish for such meat-and-potatoes people. Neither of them knew but thought a neighbor might have given the recipe to Aunt Annie. Oysters don’t grow in northwest Missouri. My mother and her sisters didn’t have unusual tastes in food. Yet every holiday dinner, sitting next to the freshly roasted turkey, the real mashed potatoes, the green bean casserole, and the fresh raspberry pies made from home-canned raspberries, we’d find the scalloped oysters.

I asked my aunt for the recipe. I didn’t want her to pass away without someone having it. “I don’t really have a recipe anymore. I just know how to make it,” she said. She wrote down the ingredients and instructions on a piece of notebook paper, which I lost the first time I used it. My recipe, which I carried in my head until now, captures the taste and consistency of the original.

Scalloped oysters remind me of family gatherings when my mother, her sisters and their husbands were in their prime. I remember long prayers while we held hands followed by huge meals, hours of card games, and the feeling of being loved.

Most of all I remember my Aunt Annie and Uncle Pete. They loved one another very much. They had an ease with one another and they treated each other with respect. She wasn’t always easy to live with (none of the sisters were), but Uncle Pete never fell out of love with her. I always thought, of all the sisters, Aunt Annie had the happiest marriage.

Uncle Vernon (Pete) O. Simmon in uniform, image © 2009 by Bob Chrisman, all rights reserved

Uncle Vernon (Pete) O. Simmon in uniform, image
© 2009 by Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.

Photographs from the 1940’s capture a dashing young man in a military uniform and a dark-haired beauty. They made a striking couple all of their lives.

After he returned from the war, they bought a little house on Garden Street where they raised their three children and hosted many holiday dinners. I always envied my cousins for the parents they had.

I grew closer to them as I aged. Many times I would leave my mother’s house and stop by theirs before I drove home. Aunt Annie told me stories about her sisters and the family, things my mother never mentioned. Uncle Pete would interrupt, when he could, to offer his two cents on the subject. I loved them both and came to treasure those times with just the two of them.

Uncle Pete died of pancreatic cancer in October 1996. His death broke Aunt Annie’s heart. They had been married for over 50 years. She went through the motions of living for about a year before she took sick and died in December, 1997. I think that he was waiting for her when she passed. If he had anything to say about it, I know he was.

Here’s the recipe for her famous scalloped oysters. I hope the recipe generates some good memories for you and your families.

Aunt Annie and Uncle Pete, image © 2009 by Bob Chrisman, all rights reserved

Aunt Annie and Uncle Pete, image © 2009
by Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.

Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters

1      1-pound loaf of Velveeta Cheese (sliced)
32    Saltine cracker squares (approximately one package out of a box of four)
4-5   8-ounce cans of oysters (pieces-and-bits or whole or a combination)*
2      12-ounce cans of evaporated milk**

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice Velveeta Cheese into slices about an eighth of an inch thick. Open four cans of oysters and drain off most of the liquid. (Note: Keep some to pour into the casserole to add more oyster flavor, if desired.)

Use a casserole dish that has a lid (even though the lid isn’t used except for storage of leftovers). Grease it with your choice of oil; I prefer butter.

Then begin the layering process:

Crush enough Saltine crackers to make a layer on the bottom of the dish. Next place a layer of oysters with some liquid from the can. Cover with a layer of slices of Velveeta Cheese. Pour enough evaporated milk to wet the layers. Repeat.

The amount of the ingredients given above makes about three layers. Top the dish with another layer of Velveeta Cheese. Bake until the cheese on top is melted and a warm brown, about 90 minutes (longer if you want it crustier).

This dish will serve at least 8-10 people and maybe 10-14 if plenty of other food is available. You can make smaller portions by using a loaf pan and only making two layers. I do that when I have no one else to join me. The leftovers make a tasty, if unusual, breakfast treat.

*The number of cans of oysters you buy will determine on how “oyster-y” you want the dish to be. I found that four cans make generous layers. I usually buy two cans of pieces-and-bits and two cans of whole oysters.

**You will have approximately 1/2 can of evaporated milk left when you finish. My youngest cousin says that she uses regular milk.

Hopefully you have a strong heart and clean arteries. Bon appetit.

Bob Chrisman is a Kansas City, Missouri writer who frequently writes memoir about his mother, her three sisters, and their influence on his life. His other red Ravine posts include Hands, Growing Older, Goat Ranch, Stephenie Bit Me, Too, The Law Of Threes, and In Memoriam.

We’d like to thank Bob for providing this recipe and the story of the aunt who inspired it. And thank you, Aunt Annie! We’ve been dreaming about scalloped oysters since last Thanksgiving, when Bob made mention of the dish in a conversation in the post Reflections On The Other National Bird.

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The other day I was craving one of my favorite holiday appetizers: chile con queso (recipe provided at the end of this post). I went to the grocery store in search of the main ingredient, Kraft Velveeta®. Up and down the cheese aisle I went, looking among the cheddars and Colbys.

I found the Kraft slices close to bologna (although no Velveeta loaf). I searched the string cheese, the kosher dills (the kind that need to be refrigerated), the lunch meats. Back and forth I went, past the cream cheeses, sour creams, and French dips. No where could I find the big boxes of Velveeta.

And so I did the only thing I could do. I sent a text message to my sister.

I cant find velveeta at albertsons

Look by the box macaroni and cheeses area

Box macaroni and cheese?? Don’t they keep Velveeta with the other cheeses, in the refrigerated section?

I started toward the pasta and as I wheeled around the corner, there they were. Boxes and boxes of Velveeta, stacked at the end of the aisle like cases of water bottles. I picked one up, turned it over in my hands. What exactly is Velveeta anyway??


Growing up in our house, there was almost always a loaf of Velveeta in process. We kept it in its original box, the open end swaddled as tightly as possible to keep the remaining cheese from drying out. In addition to using it for chile con queso, we always made grilled cheese sandwiches out of the stuff. It melted so well!

In fact, according to the SQUIDOO Food & Cooking blog post Velveeta…Unwrapped, this is the whole reason Velveeta exists.

Simply put, Velveeta melts nicely. I don’t think anyone outside of Kraft knows exactly why, but several possibilities have been suggested. Among them, differences in protein structure, oil content, and a Velveeta block’s own desire to please.

Velveeta seemed to be a central figure in a growing trend of households using processed foods. Shake ‘n Bake, SpaghettiOs, Spam, Hamburger Helper, Rice-a-roni—all made occasional appearances in our house. (Dad especially liked fried Spam sandwiches.) Given that our usual fare was beans and chile, enchiladas, tacos, and tortillas, I kind of liked opening the refrigerator and seeing that loaf of orangeish congealed cheese. It made me feel more like everyone else.

According to the Kraft Velveeta official history site, Kraft introduced Velveeta in 1928, “after several years of research on the nutritive value of whey—a by-product of cheese making.” In 1950, the one-pound “loaf” was introduced to the market, and in 1962, the distinctive oval logo that is still used today. A reduced-calorie “light” version of the cheese came out in 1991, and in 2006, Pepper Jack flavor hit the stores.

Velveeta Unwrapped explains that Velveeta is a “pasteurized processed cheese food.” Pasteurized process cheese foods contain one or more cheeses (which have to make up at least 51% of the total weight), with added dry milk, whey solids, or anhydrous milkfat. The mixture is heated with an emulsifier such as sodium or potassium phosphate. Color and flavoring are added, and then it’s poured into molds to congeal.
Mmmm. Tasty.


And the thing is, it is tasty. It’s creamy and gooey. Slightly sweet. Cheesy, yes, but life would be missing something if Velveeta didn’t exist.

Which is why Velveeta is our Writing Topic.

Think about a time when you remembered Velveeta cheese, um, food. Maybe it wasn’t a specific instance with the cheese, um, food itself, but rather, a time. When life was simpler, processed foods were few and far between, and the idea of a cheese that melted was kind of magical.

Then write for 15 minutes. No stopping, no crossing out. Just write.

A few other helpful links

  • Velveeta Unwrapped is an excellent source on Velveeta. Make sure to see the definitions for “cheese food,” “cheese spread,” and “cheese product,” along with a Flickr Velveeta Cheese Gallery and a recipe for Velveeta Fudge. Also check out the poll that lets readers say whether they lose just a smidge of respect for a person who is discovered to eat Velveeta.
  • 1950s foods: For foods and brands that were popular in the 1950s
  • 1960s foods
  • 1970s foods

Chile con Queso

This recipe comes from my Aunt Erma. It’s a little more involved than another approach, which is to throw a loaf of Velveeta and a jar of salsa into a crock pot and let it all melt. I prefer Aunt Erma’s queso.

You’ll need:

  • A pad of butter
  • One or two diced onions
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • A small can of hot chile or jalapeños
  • A small can of peeled tomatoes
  • A large can of evaporated milk, unsweetened
  • A pound of Velveeta

Melt the butter on medium heat in a sauce pan, add the onions and garlic, cook for a couple of minutes. Add the chile, tomatoes, and Velveeta. You’ll want to cut the cheese into small pieces so that it melts more easily. Add the evaporated milk.

As the cheese melts, stir the ingredients together. The mixture might be soupy at first, but don’t worry—it will thicken as it cools. Don’t let the mixture boil or the cheese might curdle. If making in a crock pot, make sure you keep it on low.

Once the Velveeta is melted and the ingredients blended, the chile con queso is ready. Serve in bowls as a hot dip with tortilla chips. You can also use it to make nachos.

This recipe makes enough for a large party.

(Oh, and if you’re a Velveeta snob, try this version of the recipe: Hold-the-Velveeta Queso.)

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For Christmas I got the 2009 Page-A-Day Book Lover’s Calendar, which features a different book each day. Guess which author turned up on the page for Wednesday, January 14?

Isabel Allende and her book Inés of My Soul.

I’ve never read that book, but based on the Page-A-Day write-up, it is a passionate love story that takes place in 16th Century Spain and Latin America—a sort of hot and spicy romance set in rich historical times. Which, I suppose, is why the title for the page is CHILE CON CARNE.

Chile with meat.

Chile con carne, January 14th page from the Page-A-Day 2009 Book Lover's Calendar, featuring Isabel Allende

Or, I suppose it could have just been a play on the word Chile, being that Isabel Allende is de Chile and that Doña Inés, protagonist of the featured book, ends up in Chile with Don Pedro.

No matter what the origin of Book-A-Day’s title is, I thought I’d provide my mother’s Chile con Carne recipe here. That way you can make a pot of steaming green chile stew to savor along with the heat of Doña Inés and Isabel Allende.

Chile con Carne

You’ll need:

  • A pound of pork
  • Tablespoon of olive oil
  • Tablespoon of flour
  • Two cloves of garlic
  • A large yellow (Spanish) onion
  • Five or six red or yellow potatoes, peeled
  • Four or so roasted, peeled, and deseeded chile pods
  • A package of frozen corn
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Chile con Carne, otherwise known ’round these parts as Green Chile Stew, is best made in a crock pot so that the flavors can simmer all day long and the meat becomes very tender.

First cut the pork into small chunks. (You can also use beef or chicken, but Mom always makes it with pork.) Brown the pork in oil in a large pan on the stove, along with a couple of cloves of chopped garlic and a whole chopped yellow onion. In the mean time, have your crock pot heating up.

After the meat is brown, add about a tablespoon of flour for thickening. (If you want a gluten-free version, use soy or rice flour.) Then add about four cups of water to the meat, and once the water starts boiling, put the whole thing into the crock pot.

Let the meat cook all afternoon, and about two hours before you’re going to serve the stew, add in the potatoes, peeled and chopped. (I like to cut mine into medium-sized pieces, not too small and not too big.) Also add the chopped green chiles, and 3/4 of the package of frozen corn. You may need to add more water.

Season with salt and pepper. Simmer on low for another two hours, and it’s ready to go.

NOTE: You can add fresh chopped tomatoes or any other vegetables, but the stew is wonderful with just the few simple ingredients above.

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Castles In The Sand, Ocean City, Maryland, July 2005, photo © 2005-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Castles In The Sand, Ocean City, Maryland, July 2005, photo
© 2005-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Happy New Year to all of our red Ravine readers. When I was talking to my brother on Christmas Day, he said he was going to fire up the winter grill to make my sister-in-law’s luscious Sunshine Shrimp. She commented on ybonesy’s Tamales – A Christmas Tradition  that she would send the recipe along to anyone who wanted to try it. Here it is!

I’m a big shrimp lover, and since I’m allergic to fish, tend to order shrimp whenever I get the craving for seafood (just ask Mom and Liz how many fresh shrimp I ate in Savannah and St. Simons last summer!). All this talk about shrimp led to memories of sunny days at the ocean, so I combed through the archives and landed on the beach at Ocean City, Maryland.

Liz and I joined my mother, sister, and her family there a few years back and had a great time boogie boarding and bodysurfing. (I won’t mention how many pounds of sand ended up my bathing suit when I wiped out!). It’s also the first time Liz met my family so she was very nervous. I’m happy to say, she passed with flying colors!

It’s 4 years later, New Year’s Day 2009 and we’re watching the 120th Annual Tournament of Roses parade and looking forward to more black-eyed peas for lunch. We slow-cooked them last night and ate them right up to midnight. How are you spending your New Year’s Day?

Backbone, Ocean City, Maryland, July 2005, photo © 2005-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Flipper Claw Of A Dragon, Ocean City, Maryland, July 2005, photo © 2005-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Face Of A Sand Dragon, Ocean City, Maryland, July 2005, photo © 2005-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Backbone, Flipper Claw Of A Dragon, Face Of A Sand Dragon, Ocean City, Maryland, July 2005, photos © 2005-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Sunshine Shrimp!

  • 2 lbs medium sized shrimp (peeled & deveined)
  • 2 lbs assorted fresh vegetables cut into 1 inch pieces (yellow squash, green squash, yellow & red bell peppers, red onion). You can also add mushrooms to the mix but J. & I don’t like them in this recipe.
  • 1 medium sized can frozen orange juice concentrate that has been thawed
  • 2 TBSP lemon juice
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 2 tsp minced garlic or 2 cloves of garlic that have been pressed
  • 1 tsp dry Dill Weed (or fresh) that has been finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp each salt & pepper

In a large storage bag, combine all ingredients. Shake well to coat thoroughly. Chill & marinate for 30 minutes.

Preheat grill & put ingredients on a small slotted grill pan. You can also thread these on a grill skewer if you don’t have a slotted pan.

Grill for 8-12 minutes until shrimp is opaque & vegetables are tender. This can also be done in the oven rack set to broil. Best if done on a grill, though!

Serve hot with white or long grain rice.

 OC Sand Castle, Ocean City, Maryland, July 2005, photo © 2005-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.OC Sand Castle, Ocean City, Maryland, July 2005, photo © 2005-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.OC Sand Castle, Ocean City, Maryland, July 2005, photo © 2005-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Thanks to alittlediddy for her Sunshine Shrimp recipe. Gratitude to all who read, comment, and visit red Ravine. I’m grateful for your presence here. And to my blog partner extraordinaire, ybonesy, I couldn’t do it without you! A very Happy New Year to you and your family and I look forward to another year in creative collaboration with you on red Ravine.

 May your 2009 bring prosperity, love, and joy.

Sand Dragon, Ocean City, Maryland, July 2005, photo © 2005-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Sand Dragon, Ocean City, Maryland, July 2005, all photos © 2005-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, January 1st, 2009

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With the preparation being so labor and time intensive, tamales became holiday fare, made for special occasions. This tradition remained for thousands of years, with the women of the family working together to make the sauces and meats, preparing the masa, and finally assembling and wrapping the tamales before steaming them in large pots on the stove. The process takes all day, the preparation often starting one of two days in advance. It is virtually unheard of to make a few tamales. In most cases, when they are made, hundreds are made at a time. Everyone—young, old, family and friends—is invited to tamale feasts where they are enjoyed, savored and loved by all.

~from “The History of Tamales,” Tamara’s Tamales, Los Angeles, CA

Two Sundays ago the girls and I met my sister Bobbi and her daughter at Mom and Dad’s for the making of the tamales. Mom didn’t start making tamales until about 10 or 15 years ago. She began the tradition when my sister Janet began hosting the Christmas Eve family gathering at her home. Mom decided that what she wanted to contribute to the feast was several dozen tamales. Thus, a family tradition was born.

Truth of the matter is, Mom didn’t learn to make tamales from her own mother. My grandma got her tamales from an Indian woman named Benina. Every year Grandpa gave Benina the head from a butchered pig, and Benina in turn gave Grandma and Grandpa some of the tamales she made with the meat.

Mom tried to teach herself how to make tamales. Back when we lived on Neat Lane in Albuquerque’s south valley, Mom and a neighbor, Ruth, who also happened to be my godmother, tried one day to make tamales. “They ended up weighing about a pound each,” Mom recalled. She can’t remember how she finally figured out to make tamales, but she thinks it might have been her cousin Maggie who finally taught her.

Tamales are found all over Latin America but are said to be from Mexico, although back in the days when tamales first appeared, there was no such thing as “Mexico.” Which probably means that tamales were made by various indigenous groups—Aztecs, Mayans, the Incas. Tamales are made of one of the most basic staples in indigenous diets—corn. Several sources on the history of tamales described them this way:

In Pre-Columbian history, being on the move and at war, there was a need for a portable yet sustaining food; hence, the tamale was born. Tamales can be made ahead of time and steamed, grilled, put directly on top of coals to warm, or even eaten cold. There is no record of which pre-Colombian culture invented the tamale, but the evidence suggests that one culture did and the others followed the example.

Tamales caught on fast and there were a variety of dishes, many unknown to modern tastebuds. There were tamales with red, green, yellow, and black chile; tamales with chocolate; fish tamales; frog, tadpole, mushroom, rabbit, gopher, turkey, bee, egg, squash blossom, honey, ox, seed and nut tamales. There were white and red fruit tamales, yellow tamales, dried meat tamales, roasted meat, stewed meat, bean and rice tamales. There was sweet sugar, pineapple, raisin, cinnamon, berry, banana and pumpkin tamales. There were hard and soft cheese tamales, roasted quill tamales, ant, potato, goat, wild boar, lamb and tomato tamales.

The wrapping for these tamales varied almost as much as the ingredients. Cornhusks, banana leaves, fabric, avocado leaves, soft tree bark and other non-toxic leaves were used. The most typical wrappings were cornhusk and banana or avocado leaves.

Today, the most common tamales are red and green chile with chicken, pork, or beef. There are also cheese and vegetable tamales, which probably came about as more and more people have opted to not eat meat.


Making tamales requires plenty of preparation and a lot of determination. Mom makes hers over a period of three days, the last being Assembly. She doesn’t follow recipes, but I’ve done my best to document her methods.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Five pounds of pork loin.
  • About sixty or so chile pods, which you can usually buy in a Mexican fruit market, if your town has one. We often get our chile at a place called “Fruit Basket,” which is a local chain with little stores not much bigger than fruit stands.
  • A package or two of dried cornhusks, which are called hojas in Spanish. Mom gets these at Costco, or at our local tortilla factory. You can probably also get them at a Mexican fruit market.
  • A package of Masa Harina, which is pre-mixed corn mixture, or masa. This you can pick up at a regular grocery store, assuming your city has a pretty big Latino population. You might need to have on hand some baking powder to add to the mixture.
  • For seasoning, per your own tastes, have on hand fresh garlic, a few yellow onions, fresh or dried oregano and cilantro, salt.
  • A few big bowls, a kettle or deep pot, roasting pan, blender for making the chile, a food processor for mixing the masa, and a steamer that holds a lot of tamales.

Day One – The Meat & The Broth

Place about five pounds of pork loin in a large pot or kettle. Add enough water to completely cover the meat. Throw in an onion or two, about four garlic cloves, fresh or dried cilantro and oregano, and boil for about five hours. As the broth boils down, add more water to make sure the meat stays covered.

If the kettle is too big to store in the refrigerator and if you live in a climate that easily dips below freezing most nights in December, you can store the kettle outside in the garage. (That’s what Mom does.) If you don’t live in a cold climate, then make room in the fridge and place the pot in there overnight.

Day Two – Turning The Meat Into Chile Meat

The next day you’ll skim the fat off the broth; this is easy, since overnight as the broth cooled, the fat rose to the top and solidified. Take the pork out of the kettle, shred it into small pieces—it should fall apart after having boiled for so long the day before—and put them into a large bowl. Put the broth back in the garage or the refrigerator; you’ll need it tomorrow for the masa.

Here’s where the recipe gets especially intuitive. Mom makes about two blenderfuls of red chile, but we’re not sure how many pods one blender of chile requires. We’ve estimated you’ll need about 30 chile pods per blender (60 pods total).

Wash the pods in water and dry them a bit. You’ll need to clean each pod by slicing it down the seam, opening it up, and scraping out the seeds. Also discard the stem, which will require cutting it out.

The chile pods are dry and can break apart. That’s fine. Put all the “flesh” parts in the blender. Throw in a couple of cloves of garlic, a small onion (cut in fourths), a couple sprigs each of cilantro and oregano. Add in a bit of water, enough to get the blender going but not so much as to make the chile watery. You want thick chile for tamales. Blend until smooth.

Add the first batch of chile to the meat, and make a second batch. When that’s done, add it to the meat, too. You’re finished for the day.

Day Three – Assembly

Clean the hojas , which will be stiff and unusable. Put them into a roasting pan (you’ll need something long enough to lay the hojas flat), cover with water, and boil. Let the hojas boil for about two hours, until they are soft and workable.

Once the hojas are ready, the next step is to prepare the masa. Follow the directions on the package of Masa Harina, which per Mom’s recollection requires you to add salt, baking powder, and broth (or water). Put the dry masa into a bowl and moisten it with broth. Put the moistened mixture into the food processor and add more broth, a little at a time, mixing with a spatula until the mixture is moist. At some point Mom knows there’s enough broth and turns on the food processor for about 30 or 60 seconds.


Mom says you want the consistency of the masa to be similar to cake mix, but my take is that you want it to be stiffer, like frosting. (The good news is that the package will give you the right measurements, so hopefully it won’t be quite so ambiguous when you do this, although Mom doesn’t follow the package directions and instead relies on her senses to tell her when she’s added enough broth.)

Now assemble the tamales by laying out an open hoja, dropping about two or so tablespoons of masa into the center and smoothing it out like frosting, dropping about one generous tablespoon of chile meat into the center of the masa, rolling the cornhusk lengthwise until it’s closed, and then tying the ends. One person will need to tie the ends (using little strips of cornhusk, which that person can tear off to form a little pile of ties) while another person holds the tamale.

The Sunday of our tamale making adventure, we made about six dozen—not a lot compared to what some families make. We steamed enough to eat right then and there, but the rest got frozen. Tamales must be steamed for at least an hour, and depending on the thickness of the masa, maybe longer. It’s always good, too, to let a steamed tamale sit for about 15 minutes before you open up the cornhusk; that way, the masa can set.

Epilogue – To Tie Or Not To Tie

You may notice when you buy tamales at a market or order them in a restaurant that some come without ties. Many, probably most, people make their tamales by flattening the filling (much more than Mom does—hers are kind of fat and round) and folding up one of the ends of the cornhusk instead of tying both ends. This tends to be a personal preference. Some say that folding is easier and doesn’t require an extra set of hands. Mom insists that folding takes a special knack that she never learned, and so she opts to tie.

Whether folded or tied, tamales are one of the best-tasting foods there is. Maybe it’s that they’re made with such care and intention by so many loving hands. Maybe it’s the stories that get told during the hours of making, the laughter that is spilled.

We eat our tamales on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, smothered in red chile, or my favorite—on top of a bowl of posole (I’ll save that recipe for another day) and then the whole thing smothered with red chile. That’s all the nourishment I need.

Happy holidays to you and yours, whatever it is that sustains you this time of year. (And to my sister in Denver and her husband, my nieces and nephews-in-law, and my grand-niece and nephews—we love you and miss you!)

Online Resources

Corn, Maize, Masa, Nixatamal, Pozole by gourmetsleuth.com
A Thumbnail History of Mexican Food by Mexican Mercados
Making Tamales, by fellow blogger Corina of Wasted Days and Wasted Nights

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Winter is nearly upon us, which means flannel sheets are upon us, too.

Or not.

Depends on whether you’re the type who likes flannel sheets. Some people don’t.

Some people feel smothered by the extra weight and warmth. Sure, flannel sheets are snuggly when you first hop into bed, but once the body tempature rises, well, I’ll take a 100% cotton sheet any day. Or night.

People can get picky about their beddings. Or, as some say, their “linens.” Polyester sheets pill, synthetic quilts scratch. Some people insist on having their pillows down. 

It’s become a normal thing to buy cotton by the hundreds, as in 800. Count. And with foreign accents. Egyptian, for example.

I once heard of a technique where you put an old soft flannel sheet between two cotton ones and, wa-la, zee pinnacle of vinter comfort.

And are flannel sheets really made of flannel? Not exactly. Real flannel is a woolen fabric made from loosely spun yarn, which comes in varying degrees of weight and fineness. What we’ve come today to think of as “flannel” is actually “flannelette,” flannel’s skinny little cousin.

Flannelette is usually made from either wool or cotton, the latter of which is commonly used for sheets and those handsome, oftentimes plaid shirts that were popular in the 60s and 70s. (I wore mine over a tight red thermal undershirt, which, along with my wafflestompers, painter pants, and feathered hair transformed me into a Farrah-Fawcetted flannelette superette.)

Speaking of flannel, urban legend has it that Red Flannel Hash, that New England breakfast hash that involves beets, was not always a root dish.

The story goes that a mining camp wife, who also ran a boarding house, suspected her husband of having an affair. One day she woke up on the wrong side of the bed (having slept in real flannel sheets). While cooking breakfast for the miners, she noticed her husband’s red flannel long johns hanging with the laundry. She ground them up and tossed them into the hash. Breakfast was served, and the miners loved that “bright red hash.”

When they asked for more the following morning, the wife, out of red flannel long johns, substituted beets in the next batch of hash. It proved to be just as popular.

Red Flannel Hash
1 cup diced potato
1 cup shredded beets (note: original recipe missed the beet—ha!—sorry ’bout that)
1 medium onion
Chopped 8 oz. corned beef
2 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste

Slowly fry the beets, potato, onion, and corned beef until done. Fry or poach eggs and place on top. Serve immediately.

So here’s a Topic for you: write about flannel sheets. Or polyester. Or down pillows and comforters. Or sleeping naked.

You get the picture. Think about your bedding preferences, set the timer for 15 minutes, then do a Writing Practice.

You’ll sleep like a lamb afterwards.

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Odd Pop, Jim’s homemade mint-grape popsicle (recipe from
Self magazine), photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.



Minty Grape Pops

Adapted from the August 2008 issue of Self magazine. The original recipe is attributed to Jennifer Iserloh, founder of Skinny Chef Culinary Services in New York City.

1/2 cup fresh or bottled lime juice (Jim used a mix of lemon and lime)
1/4 cup honey
4 cups red (or black) grapes, halved
1/4 cup (or more, for the halitosis-afflicted) packed fresh mint

Whisk juice and honey until the honey dissolves. Add two cups cold water. Place grapes and mint into molds, then cover with liquid. Add sticks and freeze for six hours or overnight. (Perfect for first dates and pre-make-out sessions.)

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Sweet Cherry Blondies, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Sweet (Flathead) Cherry Blondies, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Flathead cherries are in season! When I lived in Montana in my twenties, I spent one summer at the top of a ladder near Flathead Lake, handpicking cherries. It was hard, tedious work; I wasn’t that good at it. But the beauty of the Flathead Valley and spending time cherry picking with my friends made it all worthwhile.

Flathead Lake is the largest freshwater lake in the U.S. west of the Mississippi; it’s also the largest lake in the state of Montana and one of the cleanest and most pristine in the world. The lake is a product of the activity of ice-age glaciers, and is fed by the Swan and Flathead Rivers. The watershed contains a diverse community of plants and animals, including over 300 species of aquatic insects, 22 species of fish, the grizzly bear, bald eagle, bull trout, lynx, peregrine falcon, and grey wolf. The snowy Northwest mountain winters are perfect for the hibernation and growth of Flathead Cherries.

To our good fortune, Liz’s sister in Wyoming picked a batch of Flathead Cherries a few weeks ago and sent them along with her Mom to Minnesota. (Rumor has it she toted them on board in her carry-on.) We ate some of them one by one off the stem. But Liz was in the mood to bake. So she searched for a good recipe and landed on these Sweet Cherry Blondies from Northwest Cherries. We substituted the Flathead Cherries. The Blondies were to die for.

         Single Cherry On Cherry Pie, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Cherry Pie, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Single Cherry On Cherry Pie, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Cherry Pie, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

We ate the Blondies hot out of the oven while watching the Beijing Summer Olympics. They reminded me of a cross between a thick chocolate brownie and Mom’s Rocks. Hmmmm, good. Liz took them to work on Friday and, let’s just say, we’ve decided to make them a new family recipe.

Right now, Liz is baking Grama Hodne’s (Ex) Ginger Snaps. And we’re heading over to our friends for a fire under the August Full Moon. What better way to spend a perfect summer evening.

There are volumes of other recipes at the Northwest Cherries site, as well as tips on freezing, canning, and drying cherries, and information on growing seasons. And the same can be found at Flathead Lake Cherry Growers. Or if you are really adventurous, check out the 25th Annual Bear Hug Mountain Festival, September 12th – 14th on Flathead Lake near Rollins, Montana. In the meantime, enjoy the Blondies!

Sweet (Flathead) Cherry Blondies

1-1/3 cups flour
1-1/3 cups packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup pitted and halved Northwest fresh sweet cherries (we used Flathead cherries)
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Yield: 16 servings.

Combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, oil, eggs and vanilla; mix on low speed of electric mixer until blended. Mix 1 minute on medium speed. Batter will be thick.

Spread half of batter in oiled and floured 9-inch baking pan. Toss cherries in small amount of flour. Scatter cherries over batter; spread remaining batter over cherries.

Sprinkle pecans over top. Bake at 325ºF 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool on rack and cut into 16 pieces.

Chocolate Chip Variation:
Sprinkle 1/2 cup chocolate chips over batter with pecans.

 Sweet Cherry Blondies Thief, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Sweet Cherry Blondies Thief, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Sweet Cherry Blondies Thief, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, August 16th, 2008

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Scratch Biscuits & Tea, Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 2007, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. 

Scratch Biscuits & Tea, Aunt Cassie’s antique teapot, Central Pennsylvania, November 2007, all photos © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Last November when I went home for Mom’s 70th birthday, she made Southern scratch biscuits. I’m heading home again next week, and I’ve been chatting with her on the phone, comparing notes on ancestral roots, drooling over all that good Southern cookin’ that lies in store. Hmmmmm. I hope the boiled peanuts at those little Georgia roadside stands are in season. And Liz wants to try the catfish stew.

As a precursor, I decided to post another family recipe, the nuts and bolts of Mom’s Southern scratch biscuits. Since I reconnected with my paternal aunts last summer (who had not seen me since I was about two), I’ve been trying to gather more tidbits from that side of the family. Mom told me she learned to bake scratch biscuits from my paternal grandmother, Estelle.

After I was born, Mom, then 16, and my father (17) lived with Estelle for a short time. Estelle taught her the secrets of buttermilk and lard, and the nuances of rolling out the dough, and flattening with the knuckles. Hand to hand to hand. It was all passed down.

Eventually, biscuit dough was manufactured and spit into a tube and many women stopped making scratch biscuits. Ever wonder when the canned refrigerator biscuit was invented? One source calls it — the path from accidental mess to Pillsbury DoughboyLively Willoughboy of Louisville, Kentucky invented refrigerator dough packed in cardboard tubes in 1930, with a patent issued in 1931. The product was acquired by Ballard & Ballard of Louisville which was acquired by Pillsbury Mills in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1951.

But let’s not think about that right now! This is our Southern scratch biscuit recipe, the way Amelia learned to make biscuits from my Grandmother Estelle. I left Mom’s notes in, just the way she wrote them. The secret’s in the simplicity. It is basic and as close to home as you can get.

Amelia's Antique Sifter, Central Pennsylvania, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. 

Two Cups, One Cup, Central Pennsylvania, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Southern Scratch Biscuits

2 cups self-rising flour
1/4 cup lard or shortening (I use Crisco)
1 cup buttermilk (if you don’t have, use sour milk)

If you don’t have sour milk, put 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar and enough whole milk to make 1 cup, and let stand 5 minutes before using. Or 1 cup whole milk plus 1 3/4 teaspoons cream of tartar (or 1 cup sour cream).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Put the flour in a bowl. With your fingertips, work the shortening into the flour until well blended and evenly mixed. Pour in the buttermilk and mix until a dough is formed. Roll out the dough to about 1/2-inch thickness on a floured board: cut with a 2-inch biscuit cutter or pluck off balls, roll, and flatten them with your knuckles. (I have used a glass as a cutter.)

Bake on a greased baking sheet for 10 to 12 minutes, or until brown. Makes 10 to 12 biscuits.

When rolling out, do it on a floured board and use a floured rolling pin. If you don’t have a rolling pin, use a smooth glass. You can always find ways to make do. I have. When you make biscuits all the time, you can go by the way it feels. I kept a mixing bowl with flour in it and just took a little shortening with my fingers and mixed with the flour until it felt like the right consistency. But until then use the recipe!

Now I’m hungry for homemade biscuits so I guess I’ll have to go make some.

Love Ya,
Happy cooking,

Cookie Sheet Close-Up, Central Pennsylvania, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. 

       Made In USA, Central Pennsylvania, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

For a real treat, check out The Rise of the Southern Biscuit by Maryann Byrd. Liz and I watched the PBS documentary last winter and came away so hungry, we had to run out to Cracker Barrel (the closest thing we have to a Southern restaurant in the Far North) for a fix of biscuits and sweet tea. You’ll learn all about the roots of the Southern biscuit tradition, from Beaten Biscuits (the first Southern biscuit) to the biscuit brake

And if your local station doesn’t have the show in its immediate lineup, you can e-mail the Documentary Channel and request that they air it. Oh, by the way, Mom mentioned using a smooth glass to roll out the dough; at the last link, there’s a photograph of Miss Daisy King’s Angel biscuits and her mother’s glass rolling pin that she inherited when she was six years old. This documentary will make your mouth water. Don’t forget the popcorn with lots of real butter!



Aunt Cassie's Teapot, Central Pennsylvania, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


-posted on red Ravine, Monday, July 7th, 2008

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First time I ate Frito Pie was in 1985, at the old Woolworth’s store on the Santa Fe Plaza. I sat on a vinyl swivel barstool in the back of the store, behind miniature Indian drums and dreamcatcher souvenirs. I think my friend and roommate, Denise, was with me. The counter help handed us each a sandwich-sized bag of Fritos, opened lengthwise and topped with chile beans (or, as Denise would have said, “chile beany”), shredded cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onion.

Mom didn’t start making Frito Pie until we were grown and out of the house. Maybe she didn’t like that the recipe included processed food. (Although that didn’t stop her from making chow mein, which she threw together with a can of sliced water chestnuts and crunchy store-bought noodles that tasted like Cheerios without the sugar.)

Now Frito Pie is one of those dishes Mom will have on hand in case everyone drops by on a Saturday or Sunday. She says it’s easy to make — all you need is a pot of beans, chile meat, shredded cheese, and a bag of Fritos.

I’ve started making Frito Pie for my family, being as how it’s one of two things my girls will ask me to cook when I give them a choice. (The other is something we call “Soupy Spaghetti,” passed down from my grandmother, who learned how to make it in the mining camp of Dawson, NM.)

I made Frito Pie last night with ground pork I picked up at the butcher shop and powdered red chile from yesterday’s growers market. Healthy as I tried to make it, Frito Pie is not the kind of meal you want to serve every day. Fritos are high in calories, although they come these days with zero trans fats. But it’s a nice treat once in a while.

As to the origin, some say Frito Pie got its start right there at Woolworth’s on the Plaza. Corporate lore at Frito-Lay, however, is that Daisy Dean Doolin, mother of the guy who first bought the rights to market Fritos in 1932, not only perfected her son’s product but also made it into a dish as a way to help market the crispy fried corn chips.


Woolworth’s on the Plaza closed in 1997, but you can still find Frito Pie in a few places around New Mexico. Like most foods, though, the best Frito Pie is the one you cook yourself:

1. Pot of Beans

Sort about two cups of pinto beans to remove any small stones or not-so-pretty beans. Wash the beans and soak them overnight in plenty of water. I always forget to soak, so I do the “one-hour method” the day of, which is to bring the beans to a boil in a medium-sized pot; the water should cover the beans by about two or so inches. Take the pot off the heat as soon as the water starts to boil, put a lid on the pot, and let the beans stand for an hour. (Either approach — soaking overnight or the one-hour method — will minimize the gas that beans are prone to cause.)

Add more water to the beans, covering them by about an inch. Make sure not to add too much now that the beans have soaked in a lot from the earlier step. Throw in a couple of whole cloves of garlic, and put the beans on a low simmer, as low as you can go (if you’re using a gas stove) without the burner going out.

You don’t want the beans to boil even slightly, as boiling makes the skins fall off. Let the beans simmer, watching the water level and adding more as needed, for two to four hours. The longer you cook them, the thicker the bean juice. Again, make sure not to add too much water; you’ll want the bean juice to be thick, not watery.

Once the beans are done, season them with salt, pepper, and a pinch of dried oregano. Don’t add the salt while the beans are simmering, as salt toughens beans.

2. Chile Meat

In a large frying pan, add just a touch of oil. I use olive oil, and I use no more than a big teaspoon. Add a couple cloves of chopped garlic and a chopped yellow or white onion. Once those are turning soft, add a pound-and-a-half of your favorite ground meat. I use lean pork or lean bison, but beef is traditional. Cook over medium-low heat until the meat browns nicely. This might take a while, about twenty minutes.

While the meat is cooking, add a teaspoon of ground cumin, a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of dried cilantro, a teaspoon of dried oregano, and a teaspoon of pepper. (Truth is, I don’t follow recipes unless I don’t know the dish, and since I know this one pretty well, I’m just guessing on the amounts. These should work.) Make sure that as the meat is cooking, you break it up well, as ground meats have a tendency to clump.

Once the meat is browned and seasoned, add three tablespoons of red powdered chile. Add another tablespoon of flour. Mix those in as much as you can. Then add two cups of water, mixing it well with the chile powder and flour to make a thick red chile sauce. You can add a bit more water if you’d like, especially as it thickens.

3. Toppings & Assembly

While the meat is cooking, shred plenty of medium sharp cheddar cheese. Chop lettuce, white onion, and tomato (you’ll want to use locally grown).

To assemble, place a couple of handfuls of Fritos (don’t get the big scooping kind) in a bowl, add in a handful of grated cheese, a ladle of beans, and a ladle of chile meat. Top it all with the lettuce, onion, and tomato. It’s ready to go.


Does anyone remember the old Frito joke from when you were a kid?

Your older brother asks you, “Hey, ya want some Fritos?” You sit up, excited. We don’t get Fritos every day; usually it’s Safeway brand potato chips, the bag of which invariably includes a few green-rimmed bitter chips.

“Yeah,” you say.

He stands up to get the chips, and while he’s standing and you’re admiring him from the bean bag chair, he sticks his bare foot into your face.

“Free toes,” he says.


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