Accidental cornbread: One delicious oops

The bustle of the holiday is over for this household. New Years is ahead but Christmas is the most active and exciting period of merriment for our preteens. It was fun but man I’m glad it’s done! There are decorations to take down (which I dread) but thankfully it doesn’t have to be done right now. Nope, not today. Today is for easing up, for taking a slow, comfy, casual coast downhill; and when I think of slow, comfy, and casual, I think of the richness and the flavors of southern food. Nothing says “don’t hurry” like a pot of pinto beans cooked with honest-to-God ham hock, and a pan of so-heavy-you-wonder-if-you-did-something-wrong cornbread.

Oh yes you did something wrong. But sometimes wrong is the only right there is.

And then there’s even wronger that turns out even righter if you’re lucky or if you only have enough cooking wit to be halfway dangerous. I’m not saying I’m smart or possessed of good fortune but the pan of blogging-inspirational cornbread worked. It was one mistake after another, pure kismet mixed with a smidgen of autodidact kitchen edge-oo-macation keeping it from turning into a disaster, which it certainly could have without realizing the potential for wasteful ruination of simple fine ingredients, and without the oven hovering (hovenering?). I was determined. And, dearest readers, determination can sometimes compensate for a lack of good sense.

What started this whole mess was a joyful collection of leftover ingredients from the riptide of Christmas cooking. When such an eclectic gathering amasses in the kitchen it’s a shame to let it go bad. Waste buttermilk and cheese? Not in this house, not even a little bit.

I really wanted Mexican cornbread but didn’t have jalepenos although there was some leftover hot sauce from the many batches of holiday Brunswick stew. I also happened to have white cornmeal on hand which I prefer to yellow because it’s usually a little less sweet and because southeasterners are supposed to prefer white cornmeal to yellow, and who am I to buck a tradition? (Well … I am usually one of the first contrarians to veer off the established path but that’s a story for another time. In this case, according to regional laws of cornmeal preference, I remain true to time-honored roots.) It seemed like the perfect crave-taming set-up.

There were no recipes that used exactly the ingredients I wanted to use which meant I either had to compromise or come up with my own recipe. Since my 2012 resolution was to be more stubborn (yeah, not really – stubbornness is a personal time-honored tradition) it seemed better to create than to settle. Here’s the recipe with dire warnings attached. DO try this at home but DO be vigilant when it comes to the actual baking. That is where disaster can strike if you dare to blink.

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 Accidental Cornbread

2 c. cornmeal (yellow or white, your preference)

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

2 tsp sugar

1-1/4 c. buttermilk plus ¼ to ½ c. more

1-1/4 c. corn (about a can, if you’re not using fresh) – do NOT use creamed corn!

1 c. cheese

2 eggs

6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

1 – 2 Tbsp hot sauce (optional)

Oil spray or greasing agent for pan(s)

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

2. In a large bowl, combine cornmeal, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Mix well and set aside.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk 1-1/4 c. buttermilk and both eggs until well-mixed. Set aside.

4. Put corn in a container somewhat larger than one in which the corn will fit (a 2-cup measuring cup works great). If you are using canned corn, drain the liquid off the corn first.

5. Pour buttermilk over corn until it just fills the crevices between the corn pieces. Do not use one more drop of buttermilk than it takes to be level with the top of the corn in your container. (It won’t hurt to use slightly less, in fact.)

6. Add corn and buttermilk to buttermilk and egg mixture. Add in melted butter, cheese, and hot sauce and mix well.

7. Add wet mixture to dry ingredients and stir until just well-mixed. Mixing with a spatula is probably your best bet.

Let’s take a quick break, have some tea, and talk for a minute. We have some options here. You can either make one really thick luscious cake of cornbread (pictured) or you can make two somewhat smaller cakes. It’s totally up to you. Making the two smaller ones will be far less treacherous. The working accident, for me, occurred at this point because I chose to make just one cake. Be wary but fear not: I’m taking most of the guesswork out of it for you. It’s no longer an accident! Making the over-full one will require some watching and testing but when it’s done it’s a wow!

IF you choose to make the two smaller loaves, here are the instructions:

1. Spray two 8” cake rounds with cooking spray and divide the batter evenly between them.

2. Cook in your preheated 400 degree oven for 12 – 15 minutes, or until a knife or cake tester inserted near the center of the cake comes out clean.

3. Ta da! You’re done!

IF you instead choose to make the one gigantic cake, continue on, Brave Soul. Bon fortune and godspeed. This is a messy procedure that should only be attempted by the true extreme devil-may-care foodie adventurer.

1. Spray ONE 9” cake round with cooking spray and pour cornbread batter in. The batter should be about 1/4″ from the top of the pan. If you have excess batter, you can cook it in a dry non-stick frying pan, or in a frying pan with a spray of oil, and make yourself a little pre-cornbread cake treat.

2. With the oven rack at the halfway spot, place the cake round in the oven and with a baking stone or some other hearty pan on the bottom rack to catch the stuff that drips down. It will drip. A lot. These drippings will make you happy to be alive.

3. Cook for 15 minutes. Do not cringe when you hear the sizzle of the batter drippings hitting your stone. The drippings are divine, and you are going to (carefully) reach in to get them. Be excited!

4. Turn the oven temp down to 350. This is a great time to carefully move the top and bottom racks into position to allow you to scrape or scoop the dripped cornbread onto a plate. Be sure to keep the cake round over the drip pan. This dripped stuff is now cooked, and tasting it will give you a hint of what is to come. Be sure to have a good hold on the counter when you take a bite – swooning is entirely probable.

5. Put the pans back into position (keeping the drip pan where it is for now). Set the timer for 20 minutes. At the end of the 20 minutes, you can probably remove the drip pan. You can tell if you can move the drip pan by shaking the cake round. It should have lost most of its glop character.

6. Loosely cover the top of the cake in foil. Set the timer for 20 – 25 minutes. At the end of that time, test the cake for doneness by inserting a cake tester or butter knife near the center. If it comes out clean, it’s done. The top of your cake should be dark golden and the middle should be moist and light. If the cake doesn’t test as done, cook in 5-minute increments until the testing utensil comes out clean. When done, cool for 5 minutes, cut into 8 pie-like wedges.

And there you have it: simple fine ingredients to make one filling suppertime indulgence. If you want to send your crew into decadence overdrive, rub a little salted butter over the top of the still-warm cake before serving.

Coffee liqueur: Holly jolly cheer

Don’t you love the festivity of the holidays? Isn’t it fun being out in the crowds, choosing and wrapping just the right presents and putting them under the tree, watching (or maybe taking part in) parades, and hosting and attending parties? But if I may be frank with you, before one more person comes over to our little corner with the mistletoe, there are moments that I close my eyes and try to wish the holidays away. The frenetic pace occasionally gets a little heavy.

Every magazine and major website reminds us to take care of ourselves during the days of Fa La La. But who can turn off the phone, TV, and computer for an hour every day with the big days looming? And do I really want to chew / infuse / drink / otherwise ingest special relaxing herbs? The idea of a hot bath sounds nice but I’d soak for about 30 seconds before feeling uncomfortably selfish. Those holiday de-stress tips, all of them, are surely helpful. If you actually do them. But as it is with New Year’s resolutions, the follow-through can be difficult despite the best of festive intentions.

Happily, there is a solution that is guaranteed to make you smile, not (just) because I’m talking about alcohol but also because homemade liqueur doubles as a gift with a high coolness factor. Although this recipe isn’t cheap to make – the addition of commercial chocolate liqueur makes this recipe somewhat pricy (but oh so worth it) – it is nevertheless a worthwhile treat. To lessen the sticker shock you can make your own chocolate liqueur if you have the time (it takes about a week).

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Coffee Liqueur

1 c. water

¾ c. cheap(!!) vodka (a 750 ml bottle will make this recipe, as written, three times)

½ c. brown sugar

½ c. white sugar

4 Tbsp (2 oz.) chocolate liqueur (the larger measure on a jigger)

2 Tbsp + 1 tsp instant espresso

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in a pitcher and stir until the sugars and the espresso are dissolved. Draw off a little of the mixture and taste it. If you need to add anything to make it sweeter or give it more coffee flavor, add it now, stir well, and taste again. When the mix is right, place a funnel in the mouth of a clean bottle (I prefer using something with a clamp stopper, like a Grolsh Beer bottle) and pour your fresh-made liqueur in the bottle. Store in a cool dark place. This liqueur is usable right away, and it also ages well. Shake well before each use.

One quick note: This makes a liqueur that is extremely sweet. Although liqueurs are typically very sweet you can back off the sugars a little bit and add additional espresso. What’s the Simple Fine mantra? If it doesn’t pass the taste test, add ingredients (or rework the recipe) until it suits you!

Yield: approx 2 cups. This recipe can be doubled, tripled, infinitupled!

Until next time, dear friends. Salud!

Slow-cooked Brunswick stew

Ladies and gentlemen, we are in the midst of one of the finest southern seasons and I don’t mean the holidays. I am talking about time for Brunswick stew. We here in the southeast love good barbecue (although I’m sure we could debate which US region makes the best) and we also love its well-known associate, Brunswick stew. Pulled pork sandwiches and hot Brunswick stew go together like Adam & Eve – a mixture of solid and sinful – and we are quite emotional about this. Grown lumberjacks and burly truck drivers have been known to weep for joy and gratitude over the first bowl of the season.

The reason for this outpouring of affection (other than its hot-dang deliciousness) may be due to its short-term supply. Brunswick stew is served only from about the beginning of October until the very start of springtime. Sit down at your favorite barbecue joint and order a cup in March and you’re pressing your luck. Try to get a bowl in April and you’re just stuck. You can’t beg, borrow, or steal it.

But you can make it. In fact, you can make it while you sleep or watch TV or go to work. Warm up your Crock Pots, folks. We’re going to do something so decadent and so simple that Santa’s putting you on his naughty list.

If this is the first time you’ve heard of Brunswick stew, let’s chat for a minute so that you understand what kind of treasure chest we are about to smash open. Brunswick stew is expensive to buy, priced at about $4 for a small cup and $6 for a (still small) bowl. The reason it costs so much is because roasting and barbecuing a whole shoulder takes a lot of time.

~looking left, looking right, dropping her voice to a conspiratorial level~

But you and I aren’t going to be out at the barbecue pit all day using a sauce mop on a spitted pig. Not only that, our cost per serving is minute compared to what you pay at a restaurant.

The origin of Brunswick stew is shrouded in deep dark southern foodie mystery. Some people (especially those who live in Brunswick, Georgia) insist it came from Brunswick, Georgia. Other people (especially those who live in Brunswick, Virginia) claim it came from Brunswick, Virginia. And still others (who don’t live in either place but who love a good historical yarn) like to believe it came from Germany and was the favorite of Queen Victoria. But we don’t care where it came from: we just want to eat it!

This recipe has a lot going for it, especially at the holidays. It’s cheap, it’s easy to make, and people love it which makes it a great gift idea. Buy a few plastic pint jars and some tea towels and you’ve got an adorable present that people will be still be talking about next year. Come on to the workshop – I’ll show you.

Tools you need to make this recipe as written: 6 qt. Crock Pot, meat board, sharp knife, cooking spoon. If you don’t have a slow cooker, stay with me to the very end and I will show you how to make it in regular cooking pots. : )

Brunswick Stew

28 oz. crushed tomatoes *

28 oz. (approx) chicken broth plus more in reserve (a 32 oz. box container is perfect – you might not use all of it)

¼ c. barbecue sauce (plus more to taste)

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. hot sauce (or a sprinkling of cayenne if you prefer) plus more to taste

¼ tsp. pepper

3 lb pork shoulder **

9 oz. bag of frozen lima beans (precook to al dente if using fresh)

9 oz. bag frozen peas (precook to al dente if using fresh)

9 oz. bag frozen corn (does not need precooked if using fresh)

4 medium-sized red potatoes, peeled and diced *** (does not need precooked)

1 Tbsp corn starch (plus 1 Tbsp in reserve, if needed)

* I did not have crushed tomatoes this time. I used a can of whole tomatoes and used my fingers to squish them.. I could have tossed the tomatoes in the food processor until they were indeed crushed but I didn’t feel like dragging out or cleaning the equipment for such a small task. As with many recipes, this recipe is versatile – substitute what you have if you don’t have what the ingredients list calls for!

** Let’s talk about that pork shoulder. IF you are lucky enough to live in a town with a butcher shop, the butcher shop might cut three pounds of pork shoulder for you (if you’re double-lucky). If you do not have a butcher shop in your town, or if your butcher will not cut three pounds off a shoulder (pork shoulders huge things and some butchers are loathe to piece them out), a 3 lb. Boston butt will do.

*** If you don’t have red potatoes you can substitute any non-sweet potato. I use red potatoes because they stay firm. Other potatoes may become mushy after 8 – 10 hours of cooking.

1. Pour crushed tomatoes, approx 28 oz of the chicken broth (measure it by using the tomato can), barbecue sauce, hot sauce or cayenne, salt, and pepper in the crock and stir until evenly mixed.

2. Cut off the large outer layer of fat that will probably outline at least one side of your meat. Once the fat is removed, cut the meat into good fist-sized chunks, removing the larger bits of fat as you cut (you can remove the inner layers of fat easily once the meat is cooked). Put the cuts of meat in the crock and stir them in the tomato mixture.

3. Add the frozen vegetables and stir them into the tomato and meat mixture until they are well-coated. It will seem like there’s not enough sauce for the vegetables to cook, but the frozen vegetables will create some extra juice from thawing. If you can’t stir the frozen vegetables due to frozen clumping, drizzle a little of the reserved chicken broth on top to help break the vegetables apart.

4. Set your Crock Pot to low. Mine has a choice of 8 hours or 10 hours. It does not matter which you choose. Do not choose a high setting – the meat needs time to break down so that you can easily shred it.

5. Once the stew has cooked for 8 – 10 hours, use a slotted spoon to pull out the meat pieces. Put them on your meat board or on a plate and mash the pieces with a spoon or fork. The meat should be very soft and should come apart with no problem. If there is excess fat in the meat that was resistant to removal when the meat was raw, you can pull it out now.

6. Return the meat to the crock. Stir.

7. The liquid in your mixture is probably kind of thin. If you like it like that, great! You’re done! If you prefer a thicker, stew-like liquid, use a small measuring cup pressed down along the side of the crock (to avoid scooping out large scoops of vegetables) and draw off ¼ c. to ½ c. of the hot stew liquid. Add 1 Tbsp. cornstarch and mix until smooth. Add this mixture to the crock and stir the stew until the cornstarch mixture is well-distributed. The color of your stew will change slightly. WARNING: ADDING CORNSTARCH DIRECTLY TO THE CROCK, WITHOUT FIRST MIXING IT SMOOTH IN A SMALL AMOUNT OF LIQUID, WILL RESULT IN DOUGHY LUMPS!

8. Now for the best part: taste it. Is your stew a little too bland? If so, add a little more of the flavoring agents (barbecue sauce, chicken broth, hot sauce).

Yield: 6 quarts

Freezes well

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This recipe makes a darling gift when a pint container is wrapped in a tea towel and secured with a safety pin and ribbon. If you are not in the position to give individual gifts, however, you can serve this at a holiday get-together. A gallon of sweet southern tea and some good heavy cornbread will feed a small army and is very inexpensive per individual serving.

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If your slow cooker holds less than 6 quarts, reduce the recipe (keeping the ratios the same) to make an amount that will fit.

No slow cooker? No problem. Prepare the raw meat as above, then put the meat pieces in a pan, cover the meat with water, add a cube or two of bouillon, and bring to a boil (when the meat is finished cooking you can use the liquid in place of the chicken broth). Reduce heat, cover and simmer for a couple of hours,or until the meat is so tender that it shreds with slight pressure from a fork or spoon. Shred all the meat and combine it with the rest of the ingredients in a large pot. Let the completed mixture simmer, covered, for at least an hour or until the vegetables are soft, stirring regularly. You may have to add liquid so be sure to compensate for flavor by alternately adding broth, barbecue sauce, and (if desired) hot sauce. Cool stew to room temp and refrigerate, letting the flavors mingle overnight. When you warm it up, it will be just as delicious as the slow-cooked stew.

Winter wonderland: The call of the snowball

‘Tis the season and snow is on my mind today. Snow was part of the winter routine when I was young and living in West Virginia. Even in the cold months my friends and I regularly walked a mile to and from our elementary school (no kidding – I just looked it up on Google Maps), and we took our time despite the cold. After all, the walk was uphill both ways (you saw that coming, right?) and the snow gave us an irresistible fresh canvas. There were boot tracks and mitten prints to make in the virgin white, snowmen to roll, and drifts of snow to whisk off cold iron railings, chrome bumpers, and big blue mailboxes. We must have made a Rockwell-worthy picture as we crunched and squeaked up snow-piled sidewalks, pink-cheeked, laughing, and nibbling handfuls of clean white snowballs. It was a different time and place.

As if reading my mind – or like she was reading over my shoulder as I was writing – my daughter paused from her studies and said “Mom, do you think we’ll have snow this year? When I wake up on Christmas morning I want to look outside and see snow. Inches of snow!”Alas. Living in the Piedmont Triad region of North Carolina means that most of the snow we see is either “Greensboro snow” (meaning rain) or in news reports from other places. The Triad gets some ice and an occasional and short-lived flaky dusting, but rarely do we get a flat-out snow storm. White Christmas? Not here, not often.

Until this year it didn’t matter to me if I ever saw snow again. Snow up your sleeves and pantlegs, nooo thanks! This season is different. I really really really really want snow, not because I want it in the cuffs of my clothes but because a traditional winter season would be a welcome change of pace. I don’t want to be trapped in the house for months but I’d enjoy a couple of knee-deep snows interspersed with a few smaller ones. I’d like for the grass to be hidden and for the squirrel (and chicken) tracks to be visible. I’d like to be able to build a snowman that still looks like a snowman the next day rather than like an eroding white yard stalagmite. Heck, I’d like to be able to build a decent snowman in the first place. I’d like to rush out after supper and make igloos and snow forts with the kids until well after dark, engaging the neighbors in snowball fights, and make peace offerings of snow cream and hot chocolate. And as I recall, sledding is high entertainment especially at night. How much more tolerable the short days would be!

Back to reality. We probably won’t have a winter like that unless we move North or West so we’ll (ok, ok, I’ll) have to be satisfied with a typical central NC winter. Even though we’ll have to be content with our cold rain and messy ice, I’ll make snowballs. Cookies, that is, my mother’s recipe from my earliest memories. It’s one of my favorite winter treats and there’s nothing like coming into the house while they’re baking. They’re like Danish wedding cookies, except with a KEY additional ingredient. See if you can spot it in the recipe. (Eliminating it will still yield some pretty nice cookies, but including it will give your guests something to talk about.)

Snowball Cookies

1 c. butter, softened

1 tsp. almond extract

2 heaping c. flour (If you are using single cup measuring cups to do your measuring, don’t heap the flour with both scoops – heap only one time, and not a mountainous heap, or you’ll wind up with dry dough that won’t form.)

1 c. chopped nuts

½ c. powdered sugar, plus about ¾ c. for later

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees (these cookies are delicate – be careful not to overheat the oven).

2. Lightly spray a cookie sheet with oil. Set aside.

3. Mix butter, almond, flour, nuts and ½ c. powdered sugar. Blend until the mixture forms small clumps. The dough may seem dry but when you squeeze it, it should form in your hand.

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4. Roll dough into 1-1/2 inch balls and place on a cookie sheet. Make sure the balls are tight enough to not fall apart in your hands. As you are forming the cookies, make sure to mix in any dry ingredients remaining in the bowl so that the cookies you make at the end of the end are as moist as those at the beginning.

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5. Bake the cookies for 30 minutes. While hot, they should have a slight “give” to them when squeezed. They will harden as they cool. Do not overcook.

6. Place cookies on cooling rack for about 5 minutes then, while they are still warm, shake a few at a time in powdered sugar. Return to cooling rack. Let cool 20 – 30 minutes. The cookie will still be very visible through the sugar.

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7. Once the cookies are cooled completely (about a half hour), shake the cookies again in powdered sugar. The sugar will mostly coat the cookie color and will leave you with snowballs that you made in your kitchen! Store them in an airtight container, not that they’ll last long enough to go stale. They will keep well for a few days if you need to make them ahead of time.

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If you need to freeze the cookies for an advance date, freeze the formed uncooked dough balls and then allow them to thaw to room temperature when you’re ready to make them. Once thawed, bake as directed. These cookies are exceedingly rich and are ideal with a cup of coffee.

Gifting and glitching: mishaps at the holidays

Life is full of many (and mini) gifts, like walking into a fragrant kitchen so warm from cooking that the windowpanes are opaque in the middle. Or like sipping hot Lady Grey tea while reading a good book. Like finding a lone wildflower beaming over the tops of crunchy brown leaves. How about that first bite of food that’s so good it makes you shiver?

Gifts can be – and often are – simple fine things. If you ask me, the thrill of giving others store-bought presents pales in comparison with the grace of gifting loaves of your own baked bread. Wrapping and ribboning a piece of technological gadgetry is far less satisfying than gift engineering with sticky fingers and floured hair … which brings me to the main idea of today’s post: homemade gifts for holidays (or special days, or Tuesday, or …).

Simple fine things may be less exciting for the gift receiver than, say, a new car; but I guarantee the recipient will realize, at least eventually, the treasure of your time and effort. One phrase that never gets old: “I just ate / used that item you gave me and it was incredible!” The sentiment is even better with “Will you make some more?” tacked on the end.

Presents are tricky things though. The action of the offering is rife with snares and potholes, and maybe a bear trap or two. For instance, my mother is a very generous and kind person who loves giving presents. Before my husband and I had children, we (my husband, mother, and I) planned to spend Christmas with relatives out of state. The weatherman predicted sleet the night before we were supposed to leave which put our travel plans in question. My mother, having left a couple of days before, was already there.

When I called to tell her that we might be unable to spend the holidays with the family, Mom was beside herself, truly having fits – thankfully not of the hissy variety although not far from it – insisting that we make the trip early if necessary. “If you leave right now you will be here; and you will be here.” There was more froth in her tone than in  any latte in the history of milk foam. It seemed a little overboard. Thank goodness the sleet didn’t fall. We made the trip on time and later discovered the reason for my mother’s insistence on Christmas Ho! Sleet be damned!: she bought us bicycles, and by “bicycles” I mean the awesome kind from a bike shop and not something at a mass merchandiser. Cool, huh? Except for one thing. Bike riding terrifies me and I refuse to do it. We had a crushed mama that year.

The point is that you can avoid having your gift giving feelings hurt by knowing what others prefer. Does this person cook? Is this person an adventurous eater? Will he turn to mush for the right kind of cookie? What colors of food make her want to vomit? (Using the word “vomit” on a cooking blog is edgy, no?)

My original plan for today was to give you at least one honest-to-goodness recipe. Instead – due to a malfunction and the need to tweak the ingredients or the method (or both) before posting it – here is a much simpler idea for cold-weather gifting. You don’t cook it, bake it, stir it, or coax it, but it is something you make with your own hands, it’s consumable, and it makes a very pretty gift. So! With our friends in mind, let’s go to the gift-giving workshop and try it out, chugging toward home cooking next time.

Mint Chocolate Chip Cocoa Mix

½ c. sugar

½ c. cocoa

½ c. powdered milk

¼ tsp. salt (optional, but nice!)

¼ c. chopped chocolate morsels (smaller pieces = easier melting) – I use a combination of white chocolate and semi-sweet morsels but you can use whatever you have

7 – 8 starlight mints or an equal amount of candy canes, broken into small pieces

Airtight pint container if you are not giving right away or any pint container if you are giving the gift immediately (see pic).

Directions:

1. Chop chocolate morsels by pulsing in food processor until you have nice small pieces (grinding to a powder is ok but having pieces is more exciting). If you do not have a food processor, put morsels in a plastic bag and hit with rolling pin, hammer, or other hefty object. Set chocolate aside.

2. Put starlight mints or candy canes in a bag and break apart with rolling pin (or whatever you have that will break them apart). I did not try to break these in the food processor – I do not know how well it would have worked. And whoa, it would have been REALLY NOISY! Set broken candy pieces aside.

3. In a pint jar, layer the sugar, cocoa, powdered milk, salt, chocolate, and mints. As you add each new layer, use a spoon to level off that layer and to tamp the ingredients down. If it will be some time before you give this gift, make sure the container is airtight so that the candy doesn’t go stale.

4. Make an instruction card for your recipient.

* Mix the contents of container in a large bowl

* Measure 5 – 6 Tbsp. of mix into mug; add hot water, stir, and enjoy!

* Store remainder of mix in an airtight container

You can double, triple, quadruple … err … infinituple (yeah, cool new word!) the ingredients to make larger batches. I doubled the recipe to what should have been 1 quart, so I don’t know if my container was too small (I found it at World Market for under $3 and it looked like a quart) or if the measure of ingredients was too great. Since I was giving the gift right away I improvised the “lid” and used cling wrap tied with a ribbon. As a less expensive alternative, you can also half or quarter the quantities to make smaller batches. Wouldn’t it be cute to make a single serving packed in a mug?

Hi, my name is ____, and I am ____.

Do you remember those days in school, at a new job, or at some social event which started with everyone taking turns introducing themselves? My name is Camilla (pronounced CAM-ul-uh) and I am a hopeless romantic, terminally curious, and an easily distracted thinker, creator, designer, listener, reader, student. That covers most of it anyway. I’ve spent most of my life trying to “find myself” through new careers, educational opportunities, community events, and popular hobbies, attempting to find an unequivocal fit with the things that interest me. I’ve performed on stage, washed dogs, typed memos, shown property, written articles, gone to college and to grad school for journalism, English, and psychology (not all at one time) but none of it stuck. Do you know the feeling?

How I got here is a long story. It started with a glorious case of random – just a day, just a book – but it reminded me about life. About living. About what good living is to me: savoring joyful simplicity. I hope to demonstrate that there is no need for long lists of ingredients, the best serving pieces (or even matching serving pieces), a huge grocery budget, or expensive gadgets in order to serve wonderful food to wonderful people. Work with what you have or what you can get or simply change the plan. One of the most satisfying things about cooking and entertaining is that nothing is set in stone. Strategies and recipes are malleable.

I promise to not post recipes I haven’t tried  (they are probably things I have tried, and tried, and tried), and I will include anything interesting, important, or surprising that might have happened. If I attempt the same recipe with different ingredients or methods, I will post those outcomes too. If I can think of shortcuts or ways to save money, my ideas are yours.

This is not a blog about budgets, economy, whole food, organic food, gluten-free food, vegetarian food, or diet food. There will be some recipes full of fat, some recipes full of vegetables, some with no gluten, and some recipes that call for vintage trendy items like raw milk and homegrown heirloom tomatoes. But use this little space as you will. Substitute. Change. Experiment. Lose yourself. Impress yourself. E-mail and comment with questions, challenges, and ideas.

To those who have never really cooked or entertained, or for those with rusty kitchen and hosting skills, I hope you find something useful in these simple fine things. You can eat well and feed plentifully using what you have or what you can affordably obtain (or save for without driving yourself nuts). We – you and I – have options, information resources, online marketplaces; and perhaps most happily, we have each other.

Until next time.