Thursday, August 31, 2023

The Charleston International Music Competition

I wanted to share a brief post and link to a very special young man. My son Thomas, who is 12 years old, has made the final cut of of this worldwide music competition. He is one out of about 150 who made it this far and the only one from New England. 

I would like to ask that you click on the link and just listen for 30 seconds at least. He is crazy talented and the hardest working young violinist I have ever heard. So take a moment and give him the gift of you like or view. It would mean the world to him. 

Thank you in advance.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Darned if you do....darned if you don't!

 My 12 year old son Thomas has been playing the violin now for a little over 3 years and he has a particular knack for this instrument, as any of my children would have had if they would have picked it up and given it a chance. No doubt each of them would have excelled as well and fast as Thomas is. Although this is a gift, it also leads to a dilemma that I truly believe is not of our making.

Here is my favorite picture of Thomas(holding the violin) and others who accompanied him to the Pine Tree Competition in 2023. Sascha Lorimer(the lady to his right)and Rob Lorimer(the gentleman in the blue shirt) have been and continue to be instrumental in his violin endeavors. Sascha is not only his maestro in the orchestra but is a profound mentor to him privately as well. Her husband, Rob, is also a dedicated fan and supporter of Thomas in ways that he will never understand. 

Now don't get me wrong, I believe positive reinforcement is key to a childs growth and self worth. For example, if a child, and I mean a youngster under the age of around 14-15, plays for any sports team they should be given play time equal to all the other children regardless of their experience or affinity to the game. Good sportsmanship medals or recognition is a great way to encourage youngsters to continue with their dreams and allows them to believe they have a chance at greatness. Any recognition at all is a great boost to moral, plain and simple.

And then we have the cases of gifted children. No, this is not coming from a biased parent or a misplaced sense of grandiose. Thomas is truly gifted as his a 14 year old friend of his who excels at the cello. Each has an uphill struggle for identification and their place. Sure, Thomas has a great chance at being first chair in the Bangor Symphony Youth Orchestra this season but he is constantly playing in quartets, chamber groups and his schools band that include children who are far below his level of playing. Some music teachers will say that it helps the other students with their playing and I do agree to a point. Thomas has helped others with their violin playing many times over and has endured playing with children less advanced than he is for 2 years now but now it is time for him to stop up and truly be challenged. He needs to be with older children that can now "teach" him or be his inspiration. 

What could possibly be the reason for certain music school directors, teachers, conductors, mentors and others "in the lead" to NOT place him in such a group? Are they afraid of singling out one student over the other? And are they trying to put all violinists of his age together, regardless of skill? To me, this is wrong on so many levels. Thomas could easily play with teens, even advanced teens but he has not been given the opportunity. This is problematic because it keeps him down, which is extraordinarily unfair and detrimental to his growth as a musician. 

"We didn't know of his skill" could be one answer if I were to ask this question. To me, I believe this is an excuse because there is only one way of determining a child's skill(as in any sports team)  and that is to listen to them play a variety of pieces that show his musicality, much as a try-out for a sports team. If Thomas were to go up to the coach of a football team, after having been sitting on the bench, and ask him why he isn't playing and not to have been given a chance to show the coach what he can and cannot do, and ask "Why can't I play?", what would be the wise answer? The coach should be drilling the child to see his skillset. The same goes for playing the violin. A teacher or coach should make determinations based on observation and intelligent dissemination of that childs skills, NOT on age alone. 

So here we have Thomas and his cellist friend who are consistently playing music far below their level simply because of their age rather than their skills. There is NOTHING in this type of judgement that enables someone to grow....period!

There, I am done ranting and would love to hear from any of your parents that are in the same boat.  


Monday, June 26, 2023

A Few Of My Summer Favorites

 Yankee Chinese Red Spareribs

This will be you favorite recipe during this summer when you have an urge to cook some Chinese-style spareribs. Honestly, you will never order out again, they are that good! Althouh the glaze/marinade is thick, it is the perfect consistency not only to marinate the ribs, but to keep as a slathering glaze and for dipping as well.

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup soy sauce

1 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

15 drops(about 1/4 teaspoon)red food coloring

2 tablespoons vinegar(see NOTE)

1/2 teaspoon celery seed, optional

2 pounds boneless, country-style pork spareribs

In a large bowl, whisk together first 8 ingredients; set aside. Cut spareribs in half from top to bottom, making each half as thick. Place in a shallow container in a single layer and pour bowl of sauce over the top, making sure each rib is fully covered. Refrigerate at least 24 hours and as long as 2 days for an intense flavor.

After removing the ribs from the marinade, transfer to a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Once boiling, remove from heat, cover and serve alongside the ribs for dipping.

Preheat only one half of an outdoor grill on high. Place ribs on the grate that is NOT over the flame. Close top and indirectly cook ribs for about 10 minutes before flipping over to continue cooking until completely done. 

If you want to cook these on the stove top, simply add 3 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add ribs, in a single layer, and cook for about 10 minutes per side, until thoroughly cooked. 

NOTE: Because this is a Yankee recipe, of course I use apple cider vinegar. It imparts a fantastic flavor, but use rice wine vinegar if desired. If you would like, add a 1/4 cup hoisin sauce as well, but it really isn't needed. Honey can also be a great substitution for maple syrup. 

Country Kitchen Potato Salad with Crabmeat 

I remember so well one of my parents first restaurants in Maine. It was the Canaan Country Kitchen. It was here that I first learned his recipe for cole slaw dressing that I have never had since. So what a perfect marriage, combining cole slaw, great dressing, some crunchy vegetables and crabmeat. Think about it for a moment......done? Now go make it!

Country Kitchen Dressing:
1 cup mayonnaise or salad dressing
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon each lemon pepper and Old Bay Seasoning
Salt and black pepper to taste
4 cups cooked, cubed potatoes
2 cups cole slaw mix
1/2 cup cooked, whole kernel corn
1/2 cup minced cucumber
4 ounces cooked crabmeat *

Whisk together Country Kitchen Dressing ingredients until smooth; set aside. 
In a large bowl, add all salad ingredients, tossing to combine. Fold in the dressing to the potatoes well. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.

* Your choice of crabmeat will be just fine, including canned(but drained well), freshly cooked and chopped or even imitation that has been chopped. 

Picnic Seafood Pasta Salad   

Who doesn't invariably have leftover lasagna noodles in the cupboard? I do constantly! So rather than looking at them every single time I open the door, I cooked them up for this refreshing, cool and great tasting seafood salad. Nothing fancy, high-end, gourmet or even expensive. Just good ol' eatin'!

4-6 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup mayonnaise or salad dressing
1 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice
2 lasagna sheets, cooked, rinsed and cooled *
3-4 ounces cooked crabmeat
1 cup frozen California mix vegetables, thawed
1/2 cup chopped, fresh cilantro

Cook shrimp in any manner desired. I simply boiled them for 2 minutes before cooling. Slice shrimp in half to form two identical halves, as seen in image; set aside. 
Cut lasagna noodles into thin strips, either from end to end or side to side; set aside.
In a large bowl, mix mayonnaise, yogurt, honey and lemon juice. Toss in the pasta, shrimp, crabmeat, vegetables and cilantro, blending very well. Serve cold. 

Enough for 2-4 servings


The Spanish answer to Ceviche, but cooked. Like ceviche, this "pickled" fish dish is enjoyed during the summer months(see NOTE). A refreshingly light and delicious broth that is just as vibrant as the dish itself, but Yanked ™!. I also cut way back on the amount of olive oil traditionally used in Escabeche, substituting more broth for a fully flavor.

1 pound firm, white fish of your choice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 each green, yellow and red bell peppers, julienned
1 small onion, diced
1 habanero pepper, seeded and minced
2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup white wine vinegar *
1 tablespoon chopped, fresh basil(or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4  teaspoon dried ginger
Pinch allspice, optional
Salt and black pepper to taste

Cut fish into bite-sized pieces; set aside. In a large skillet, add olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add bell peppers, onion and habanero pepper. Stir to combine and cook until all vegetables are crisp tender, about 5 minutes. 
Stir in the broth, vinegar and all spices as well as the basil. Lay the fish pieces on top, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer until the fish is cooked through. Remove cover to serve hot.

NOTE: Classically, the fish in Escabeche is breaded and only cooked about half way before adding to the remainder of ingredients before being refrigerated overnight so that the fish finishes cooking in the acidic marinade. It is then served either cold or at room temperature. If desired, chill the soup completely before serving with crusty bread.

* I think white wine vinegar is phenomenal in this recipe, but use your favorite.

Monday, April 10, 2023

If he would have only listened.... me that summer morning at Canaan Country Kitchen, Dad would have turned 85 today. I will never forget that few moments on a Saturday morning in Canaan. I remember it so well because to the rest of my siblings at the time, my fathers drinking was just an every day occurrence and it became a typical visual whenever we would go see Dad next door at the restaurant.

I remember it was about mid morning or so because it was just starting to get warm out and I was taking a break from helping Dad in the kitchen. He told me to go take a break and if I wanted, I could go to the take out window and he would scoop me some ice cream in a cone. On my way out, 2 men walked in(even though we weren't open at the time)and said hi to me as we passed one another. I knew who these men were and they were very friendly to me...always had been. There names were Harold and David. I knew them not only because they came to visit Dad frequently, but they would bring him in a pint bottle of vodka a couple times a week. But for some reason, this one morning it just rubbed me the wrong way. 

Anyway, I stood at the take out window for a few minutes and waited for Dad to come and give me my ice cream cone(I was about 12 or 13). He didn't come over so I put my hands up to the winder to shade the sun and looked in. I saw Dad and his 2 friends in the kitchen tipping up that bottle, each sharing a swig. This was the first time that I remember being upset. I started crying as I stood away from the window.

I remember turning around and just looking out onto the street out front, wicked upset. I wanted to say something to him so bad. I wanted my father to just stop drinking!!! As I am writing this, I am getting angry at him for drinking, but I also feel that lump in my throat at the same time. Angry and upset, at the same time. Not often that happens I must say.

I then turned around and decided to pound on the window to get his attention. I was going to have to go back in the kitchen to help Dad in short order and I wanted my ice cream. I pounded, he looked over at me and then just turned around and began swigging, joking and chatting with his friends. I didn't want to pound again cause he had an awful temper. Not a temper where he would physically hurt me or even yell at me, but the kind of look that would quickly "put me in my place".

To heck with it, I started crying and I mean sobbing crying. I decided I wanted more than an ice cream at that point. I put my hands up on the window again to shade my face as I put my nose right onto the glass. I, very gently, knocked one more time. He turned to me and walked over. He opened the sliding glass window and with the most stern face I remember he just stared at me with his pursed lips. I knew that meant he was angry but I didn't care. 

"Dad, will you please stop drinking?" I actually asked him that while very audibly crying. I honestly thought he was going to get mad but he didn't. His face turned to a more loving look and he replied "We will talk about it later." I said okay, wiped my cheeks and he dipped into the ice cream freezer and scooped some ice cream into a cone. After handing it to me, he just stood there and looked at me. I remember me telling him that I loved him and he almost...almost....nodded his agreement. I could tell, even though he didn't acknowledge it, that he loved me too.

He never did stop drinking and I soon forgot all about what had happened after Dave and Harold left. I went back to work and all I remember is him being so nice to me for the rest of the day. But he didn't bring that little conversation up again.

To this day, that was the most upsetting time of my life...right next to the day he passed away in the ICU room when it was just him and I together.

Today he would have been 85 years old.....and still alive if he had just listened to me. Boy I hate you Dad for not listening to me, and I love you more than anything. 


Wednesday, March 15, 2023

A 6th Generation Violinist

 Sure , parents brag about their child all the time and I am no different, but I truly do not embellish. Thomas is America's ONLY 6th generation violinist!

 If I say my youngest son Thomas does not swear(even behind my back or while hanging out with his friends), I truly mean it! 

When I tell family members that all kinds of people will come up to me to let me know how polite and friendly Thomas is, they really do!

When I mention that Thomas does not bully or ridicule others, he honestly is that kind of young man.

Thomas also buys children bicycles every summer as well as Thanksgiving and Christmas meals for parents who are down on their luck. He even paid off lunch debts from children whose parents fell into arrears on their bill. Paid every cent of outstanding bills!!!!

Now I am hearing from many adult, professional musicians and those in the world of strings that Thomas is gifted and a natural talent on the violin, not only am I telling the truth, but he is quite literally the best 11 year old on the violin with only 3 years practice I have ever heard....well besides some prodigies I see on social media. 

I have been teaching Thomas for this duration and just recently gave some of my teaching up to a very skilled violinist named Sascha Lorimer of Bangor, Maine, albeit it begrudgingly. But he is continuing to excel and I could not be happier.

Thomas has attended the Bay Chamber Music Schools Envision Program in Rockport, Maine, belongs to his schools band(a very meager ensemble of mostly wind instruments and a few violinists who are miles behind Thomas in relation to experience. He hated to go to it last year but after being informed by his music teacher at the school that Thomases presence is helping the other kids, he does it.

He is a second season, first violin member of the Bangor Symphony Youth Orchestra, starting in the third row and now the assistant principal while filling in for the first chair. 

He will be attending Kneisel Hall Chamber program this summer.

He is entering the Pine Tree Competition at Orono, Maine in a few short weeks playing Czardas, Schindler's List and Arioso.

He is competing in the Glen Jenks and Elsie Bixler competition in Rockport as well.

So as you can see, he stays busy and loves to be competitive. On the other hand, his love of baseball is first on his list ever simmer, being a great pitcher. 

 He began his own youtube channel, and while we do not click-bait or over dramatize the video titles, he finds enjoyment from the few subscribers and likes that he has garnered so far. 

I admit, the videos are not for everyone because they tend to be boring to those who do not enjoy the violin. But I am writing this post to see if I can drum up more support for him on this channel. 

So I guess, in short, what I am asking is for anyone who would visit his channel to either subscribe or like any of his videos, I and Thomas especially would appreciate it. Just the simple things like that makes all the difference in the world to a child.  And the one drawback we have is that we live here in Maine. Although we love this state, it offers very little in the way of publicity or renown. Heck, most people don't even know where Maine is. As for competitions, he can win state competitions but there is no chance at all to advance outside of Maine, which is not only frustrating, but it doesn't give him any hope for long term happiness. 

So I will ask once again, please like or subscribe to his channel if you would. It would mean the world to him and I cannot thank you enough.

Friday, February 3, 2023

                                               Amazing Italian Grape-nut Pudding 

Although Grapenuts was first produced in the late 19th century, within the next couple of years, these little grains were used as a crispy topping for baked custard. Here in New England, Grape-nut Pudding was at its culinary pinnacle in the 1920s and has stayed popular for almost 100 years. I created this recipe because my children dislike custard. So if I could reproduce the flavor of this classic Yankee dessert, without the overpowering flavor of eggs, than I could keep this dish alive, hopefully for another century. And this did the trick. Creamy and smooth, the flavor and crunch of Grape-nuts isn't lost, but that eggy flavor is. Don't be dismayed however, the creaminess and a sweet crust forms all throughout and around this classic, making it even better!

Nonstick cooking spray

1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese

4 eggs

3/4 cup raisins

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup Grape-nuts cereal *

1/4 cup milk

1 tablespoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon each cinnamon and nutmeg

Grease an 8-inch square pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Preheat oven to 350-degrees F. Blend all ingredients in a bowl with an electric mixer until as smooth as possible, on low speed. Pour into prepared pan and bake 34-36 minutes, or until firm to the touch in the center. Remove from oven to cool before covering to refrigerate completely.

*If you don't want to spend the money for an entire box of this cereal, your favorite granola makes a fantastic substitution.

Apple Pie Fritter Bread
On a day like this, I don't need to tell you how good this would taste sitting at home. 

Apple mixture:
2 apples
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Spice Mix:
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup oil(I used canola)
2 eggs
2/3 cup brown sugar
1(6-oz.)container vanilla or plain yogurt or use milk
1 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves or allspice, optional
2 tablespoons butter or margarine

Grease a loaf pan; set aside. Preheat oven to 350-degrees F. Peel, core and dice apples very small and mix with sugar and cinnamon; set aside. in a small bowl, blend brown sugar and cinnamon; set aside. In a large bowl, beat oil, brown sugar,
eggs, yogurt and extract until smooth. Add flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Continue beating until well incorporated. It does not have to be lump free. Pour half the batter in prepared pan. then half the apple mixture evenly over the top, then half the spice mix evenly over the apples. Repeat , this time pressing the apples just slightly into batter. Dot with the butter and bake 75 minutes, or until the middle bounces back when pressed. Remove from oven to cool before glazing with a mixture of 1/2 cup powdered sugar with 3 tablespoons milk or water.

Crispy Cheesy Potatoes au Gratin, Two Ways
Who doesn't like that crispy edge often found around a great mac and cheese? Now take that a step further and give this recipe a try. Not only is it far easier to prepare(and foolproof I might add), but you get that same cheesy crispness in every single bite!

2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled
11 tablespoons butter or margarine, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 large Spanish onion, peeled, halved and sliced thin
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 teaspoon minced garlic in oil
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon both salt and black pepper
1/2 cup(2 ounces)shredded milk Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup(2 ounces)Gruyere cheese, shredded

Begin by slicing potatoes 1/2-inch thick. Place in a large saucepan, cover with water and boil until just fork tender, about 8 minutes. Carefully pour into a strainer allowing to drain and dry while making Caramelized Onions and cheese sauce. 
Prepare Caramelized Onions first by placing 2 tablespoons butter with olive oil and maple syrup in a large skillet over medium high heat. When butter has melted, add onions and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring often, or until browned. Remove from heat and immediately transfer to 9-inch square baking pan, or equivalent; set aside to cool. It may harden, which is perfect.
Preheat oven to 400-degrees F.
Melt 3 tablespoons butter and mix with panko crumbs evenly; set aside.
Melt remainder of butter, with garlic, in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook 3 minutes. Whisk in flour until smooth. While still on heat, add milk, salt and pepper, blending well. Continue cooking and whisking until milk has thickened. Add both cheeses and remove from heat. Sir until cheese has melted.
To assemble, layer cooked potatoes over the onions. Pour cheese sauce over the top evenly and sprinkle panko crumbles over the top. Cook 20-25 minutes, or until bubbling and lightly browned. Remove to serve hot. 

NOTE: If you don't care for the Caramelized Onion layer, simply omit the entire process and follow directions for the rest of the recipe.

Bacon Cheeseburger Soup

This is probably one of my best soups for winter. And I hate to even call it a soup, more like a cheeseburger chowdah to be honest. Creamy, cheesy, thick and delicious. Many will make it a Deluxe or even a Royal with the addition of diced tomatoes and/or onions. By all means double it if you are cooking for more than two. After all, what soup isn't tastier the second day?

3 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
2 tablespoons flour
4 ounces ground beef
4-6 ounces yellow American cheese, thinly sliced
4 strips cooked bacon, crumbled
2 cups milk
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Whisk the melted butter and flour in a small bowl; set aside. In a medium saucepan, add ground beef over medium heat, breaking apart with a spatula or large spoon. Cook, continuing to break apart, until cooked through. Carefully drain grease and return to stove. Add bacon, milk, yolks and pepper, stirring well. Bring to scalding, stirring frequently and add cheese, bacon and butter mixture(roux). Stir well and continue cooking and stirring until thick, creamy and cheese has completely melted. Serve hot.

If you decide to make this either a Deluxe or Royal version, simple add diced tomatoes at the very end or cook a quarter cup diced onion with burger.

Blueberry Coffee Cake

With the wind gusting and the temperature already in the minus category, I have absolutely no issue starting up the oven and keeping it going all day long. I remember my father saying that HIS father used to repeat "Maine has 2 seasons. Winter and August". It is almost true. So sitting down to a great tasting New England coffee cake is a feel good snack or dessert. Even a husband can make this delightful cake.

1/3 c. brown sugar
3 T. flour
1/2 t. cinnamon
2 T. butter or margarine, melted
Nonstick cooking spray
2 c. flour
3/4 c. sugar
1 T. baking powder
1/4 c. butter or margarine, melted
3/4 c. milk
2 eggs
1 T. lemon juice
1 1/2 c. fresh or frozen blueberries

Preheat oven to 350-degrees F. Grease an 8-9-inch square baking pan or cake pan liberally with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.
In a small bowl, blend together brown sugar, flour and cinnamon. Add melted butter and stir until flour mixture is entirely moist; set aside.

In a large bowl, place all cake ingredients at once, except blueberries, and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Fold in blueberries. Pour batter in prepared pan and evenly sprinkle crumb topping over the top. Bake 45-50 minutes, or until the topping is crisp and the cake bounces back when touched in the middle. Use a toothpick if needed to make sure it comes out clean. Remove from oven to cool slightly before cutting to serve.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Christmas Candy......and a pudding.....and some cookies!

 There aren't many times of the year when I actually take the time to make candy but when I do, it is through the Holidays. I simply love the following candy recipes but especially adore Pumpkin Pudding. My recipe for this smooth pudding is the quickest you can find. 

Gingerbread Fudge

This fudge tastes EXACTLY like gingerbread, I promise! Light, smooth and very creamy, this noncook version takes only minutes to make and even less time to eat. Make a batch to share. See the NOTE below for alternate ways of making this fudge if all you have is marshmallows. It will be just as good!

2 cups sugar

1(12-oz.)bag white chocolate chips

1 1/4 cups marshmallow creme(see NOTE)

1/4 cup molasses

1/2 cup evaporated milk

1/2 teaspoon each cinnamon and ginger

1/4 teaspoon each allspice and nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Line an 8-inch square pan with waxed or parchment paper; set aside. Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium low heat. Continue to heat until everything is melted and smooth, stirring a few times. Immediately pour into prepared pan and refrigerate at least 2 hours, or until firm. 

-If you do not have marshmallow creme, it is easy enough to make your own or use just marshmallows in this recipe instead. If you decide to use all marshmallows, add an extra 2 tablespoons evaporated milk. Here are a couple of tips using marshmallows and marshmallow creme.

-You can substitute 1(7-oz.)container of marshmallow creme with 4 cups mini marshmallows or 40 large marshmallows. Place 1(16 oz.) bag of marshmallows in a large saucepan with 1/4 cup corn syrup and slowly heat and stir until smooth. Transfer to a covered container and cool.

-10 large marshmallows equals 1 cup mini marshmallows, which is 2 ounces. One(7-oz.)jar marshmallow creme equals 2 1/2 cups, or 1 ounce of fluff equals about 1/3 cup.

"Candied" Fruit Nougat

Really not a true candied fruit, these candies are delicious none-the-less and kids adore them. If you want, use real candied fruit in this recipe. This is a gooey messy treat, so be ready to pick your teeth afterwards. As many know, there are basically 2 kinds of nougat. One that is filled with little holes and is much less dense. Then there is true nougat, which is the consistency of stringy, sticky, very dense and thick caramel. This is just such a recipe.

2(12-oz.)bags white chocolate chips

2(10.5-oz.)bags mini marshmallows

1(9-oz.)bag gummy fruit slices

Cut fruit slices a half an inch wide; set aside. Line the bottom of a 9-inch square pan with parchment paper: set aside. In a large bowl add marshmallows and chocolate chips. Microwave for 2 minutes and stir.  If the chocolate chips have not completely melted, continue microwaving at 15 second intervals until completely melted. Add sliced gummy fruit, blend well and pour into prepared pan. Refrigerate until cold and set, about 2 hours.

Loosen the edges with a knife and invert onto work surface, peeling parchment paper from the bottom. Cut to desired sized pieces and serve. 

Chocolate Buttermint 'Cookies'

Although technically not butter cookies, using cream cheese gives these treats an amazing taste. These cookies taste exactly like fudge, even the texture! We all love this easy recipe for the Holidays and I am sure once you make and try them, you will be handing them out to family and friends as a remembrance of Holidays long ago.

1/2 cup(4 ounces) cream cheese, softened

4-5 cups powdered sugar

1 cup baking cocoa

2 teaspoons peppermint or spearmint extract

Simply place all ingredients(starting with 4 cups powdered sugar) in a large bowl and beat on high with an electric mixer until it is as smooth as possible. I would use a paddle attachment because it will get very thick. Add extra powdered sugar if needed to bring it to the consistency of modeling clay(Play Doh for example). 

Pinch off 2 tablespoon measure amounts and roll it on the counter to form a seamless ball. 

Place on a pan that has been lined with parchment paper or film wrap and press down with the tines of a fork as you would a peanut butter cookie until about a half inch in thickness.

Place them in refrigerator for at least 36 hours to dry and form a "shell". You can leave them on the counter as well, but refrigerators dry items out the best.

Once dried, you can place them in a container and enjoy.

Old Fashioned Butter Mints

Butter mints, I am afraid, have seen their days. I think the last time I heard of anyone making them was back when I was a child and my grandmother whipped up batches and batches.....But then again, we didn't have dozens of choices of sour this and extreme that in stores either. In fact, as children, it was a treat to go to the store for our favorite candy necklace or licorice once a month. But come Thanksgiving and Christmas, well these little gems were just part of our choices, as they are my children ever year as well.

P.S., everyone has asked me why there is no 'mint' in this recipe. Simply because they were not originally made with mint. The second question, invariably, is "Why are they called Butter Mints then?" I simply have no idea but if you feel better, add a 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint oil or extract to the recipe. Me? I enjoy them just the way they are!

1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened

1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk

5 cups powdered sugar, plus extra cup if needed

Simply place all ingredients in a large bowl and beat on high with an electric mixer until it is as smooth as possible. I would use a paddle attachment because it will get very thick. Add extra powdered sugar if needed to bring it to the consistency of modeling clay(Play Doh for example). See NOTE.

Pinch off 1 cup measure amounts and roll it on the counter until it is about 1-inch in diameter.  With a non serrated knife, cut off 1-inch long segments and place on a pan. Continue until all dough is formed into mints, making sure they don't touch. Place them in refrigerator for at least 26 hours to dry and form a "shell". You can leave them on the counter as well, but refrigerators dry items out the best.

Once dried, you can place them in a container and enjoy.

NOTE: If your mixer isn't powerful enough and you don't want to break it, mix the dough as much as possible with electric mixer then finish with you hands.

Eggnog Pumpkin Fudge   

A little on the sweet side......okay, a LOT on the sweetness scale, but just don't sit down to the whole pan when it's ready. You can actually taste both the eggnog and pumpkin in this recipe and it was soooooo good!

Nonstick cooking spray

3 cups sugar

1/2 cup butter or margarine

2/3 cup eggnog

1/4 cup evaporated milk

1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice*

10 ounces white chocolate chips

1/2(10-ounce)bag(3 cups)mini marshmallows

Lightly grease an 8-inch square pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

In a large saucepan, place first 7 ingredients and stir well. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring almost constantly to prevent scorching. Continue to boil and stir until your candy thermometer reads 240-degrees F, which is the high end of the soft ball stage. This will take roughly 10 minutes.

Remove pan from heat and immediately stir in white chocolate chips and marshmallows, until everything is completely melted. Pour into prepared pan and cool at least 3 hours, or until firm.

* Or make your own by blending 2 tablespoons cinnamon, 1 tablespoon nutmeg, 2 teaspoons ginger, 1 teaspoon allspice and 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves.

Creamy 5 Minute Pumpkin Pudding 

I don't know why I never made it before this year. Incredibly inexpensive, simple and delicious. If you want to bump it up a notch or two, soften 8 ounces cream cheese, beat until smooth and add to the cooled pudding, beating until the whole thing is creamy. Think pumpkin cheesecake in a bowl!

1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 3/4 cups milk or egg nog
1 beaten egg
2 teaspoons vanilla or molasses
1/2 cup canned pumpkin

In a medium saucepan, whisk together cornstarch, sugar, cinnamon and allspice. Add milk, egg and molasses(if you are using) and whish until thoroughly blended. Place over medium heat and bring to scalding. When it starts to get hot, you will have to whisk almost constantly. Continue whisking for 1 minutes when it begins to thicken. Remove from heat and whisk in pumpkin and vanilla(if using). Immediately transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate until completely cooled, about 2 hours.
When ready to serve, whisk one more time until smooth.

Soft and Puffy Gingersnap Cookies 

There are two different types of people. Those who love crispy, delicate gingersnaps(see NOTE) and those who love pillow soft, fluffy gingersnaps. Here are directions for both!. If you want darker cookies, use light or dark brown sugar in place of granulated in cookie dough. This recipe is foolproof and should be saved for many years to enjoy.

3/4 cup(1 1/2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1 egg
1/3 cup molasses
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons each baking powder and cinnamon
2 teaspoons dried ginger *
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves 
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Cream the butter and 1 cup sugar in a large bowl until as smooth as possible with an electric mixer. Add egg and molasses and continue beating until well combined. 
In a separate bowl, blend remaining ingredients and add to butter mixture slowly. After everything is beaten as smooth as possible with an electric mixer, cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour or until firm enough to handle without being too sticky. 
Preheat oven to 350-degrees F. Pinch off enough dough to form a 2-inch ball, roll it between your palms and then roll in remainder of sugar. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Repeat with remaining dough, leaving at least 1-inch between cookies. Bake 14-16 minutes, or until puffed up and starting to show small cracks on top. Remove from oven to cool slightly before removing to wire racks to completley cool.

Make 24

* Because I think all gingersnap cookies should be well pronounced with the flavor of ginger, these cookies stand up to that mantra. If a less pungent taste of ginger is desired, cut the amount in half.

NOTE: For Crispy Gingersnaps, after mixing all ingredients, transfer dough to a work surface and roughly shape into an 8 to 10-inch log. Place this rough log into the center of a large piece of film wrap. Roll the dough in wrap, forming a more uniform log as you do so. Place in freezer at least 2 hours, or until firm. Remove from freezer, unwrap and cut into 1/2-inch slices. Coat each side with sugar and place on an ungreased cookie pan with about 2-inches between each cookie. Bake in a 350-degree F oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the bottom of each is darker the the tops and the centers are firm. Remove to cool as directed above.