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Almond Joy Pie (for your Valentines)

For almost as long as the internet has existed, my father has sent a daily message to his mom, my sisters, my brother, and I. Each message begins simply, Good Morning Mom, Girls, and Guy. The messages share the details of his day to day events; a note about the weather, stories of his daily LIRR commute, or tales of the ‘Russian babe’ at the barbershop. What is unique is the way my dad weaves these everyday happenings into special stories which are simultaneously comical and meaningful.

Take this recent excerpt about clothes shopping and color-blindness:

When I opened the package that arrived last night, I discovered I’d ordered Sea Lavender. I will I admit that I didn’t actually know what color lavender is, but I thought it was blue. In truth, it’s the color of the sky on the horizon just before sunrise, actually more pink than blue. I wish I’d known this sooner, because not only would I probably not have ordered the shirt, I wouldn’t have described the sky in earlier blogs as ‘salmon’. I was never comfortable using a fish to describe such a beautiful sight.

At any rate, I hate sending stuff back and I’m wearing my new lavender shirt as I write. I’m thinking about getting a pinkie ring and maybe some kind of piercing.

And sometimes, his messages take us by surprise, filling us with uncertainty about our father’s mental state. Like when he wrote this message about his fellow LIRR passengers:

There were medieval people on the train with me on the way in this morning. Peasants, actually. There was a large, florid faced innkeeper with thinning blond hair sleeping with his chin on his chest and a small, bald palleted monk with a fish face snoring in a single-seated nook reserved for handicapped people. He would jostle back and forth between the walls as the train moved, but he never woke up. His snoring made him sound like he was choking.

Followed the next day by this message:

I took some heat yesterday for my revelation about seeing medieval characters in people’s faces. I guess this might as well be a good time to reveal that I also see animals is some faces. You know, weasels, squirrels, rabbits, horses, sheep, wolves and sometimes, fish. Might as well get it all on the table so we don’t have to deal with it again, right?

PS – I think I saw one of the Sheriff of Nottingham’s men on the platform at Hicksville on the way by.

Clearly my father had been rereading Pillars of the Earth, again.

Weather is another common theme in my dad’s messages. Weather, in general, is one of my dad’s most favorite topics. He watches the weather channel like some people follow sports. And occasionally, we’ll get a story about the weather in his daily message, often involving Murphy’s law and umbrellas. Or something like this note on a chilly day:

Hoarfrost! Huh!?! Yep, you heard it right. I know it’s not a word you hear in polite company anymore, but I gotta’ call it the way I see it. There was no sunrise on the platform this morning. Instead, I was surrounded by fog and hoarfrost. If you look it up, you’ll find that ‘hoarfrost’ is defined as “white ice crystals, loosely deposited on the ground or exposed objects, that form on cold clear nights when radiation losses into the open skies cause objects to become colder than the surrounding air”. Hoarfrost.

So, why is it that, as I stood in the icy fog waiting for train, I hesitated blurting out, “Hey, look at that there hoarfrost!”? Of course, I knew the answer. It was because, Mary, the little, 4’10” , short-haired woman, who waits for the train with me every morning, would have grabbed me by the ear lobe, dragged me down to the ticket office, and demanded that I have my mouth washed out with soap. I guess ‘hoarfrost‘ is just another victim of guilt by association.

And then there are the stories involving food. Like me, my dad likes to write about food; his lunch at the deli, stories of grilling in the snow, or tales of the adventures involved in clearing out the basement chest freezer. I’d like to believe that I acquired my interest in writing from my dad, right along with my shiny brown hair, bad eyesight, and love for corned beef hash…

Anyway, early yesterday morning, as I was setting myself up to actually accomplish something during the day, I caught a movement from the corner of my eye. I turned to see a very large lady eating a fried egg sandwich on a roll. She had a large Styrofoam resting on the ledge outside my window and she stood facing me as she chomped on her sandwich. Nose to nose, we couldn’t have been much more than three feet apart, but it was apparent that, while she was uncomfortably visible to me, I was not visible to her. I wanted to tell her, “These are not the droids you’re looking for”.

We shared breakfast together, every little bite, for about five minutes before she left. If I had been hungry before her visit, I was not when she left. Mercifully, I was spared any of the eating sounds although I could hear them clearly in my mind. (sigh)

And sometimes my dad’s messages are so filled with love and so poignant, that I find myself simultaneously laughing and crying. Like when he shared this simple memory from my childhood, from a time not long after we’d lost our mother to breast cancer:

Daaaadeeeee, I want a drink of waaaaater.

I can still hear the mellifluous call in syncopated unison from the upstairs bedroom of the small Cape Cod in Valley Stream. I would dutifully trudge up the single flight of stairs and deliver water to the three little girls who were my life. I’d get my hugs and ‘butterfly kisses’ and leave them to sleep peacefully.

I’ve come to understand that the call for water was really a call for security. They needed the peace in knowing I was there for them.

I always felt sorry for the times I let myself become annoyed at this evening ritual, but I feel sorrier still that those days are gone.

Now, my beautiful little girls are all beautiful brides and will someday gladly carry water to their own children.

I hope they sing the way you did.

My dad makes me smile everyday. And sometimes we cry too. But these daily messages keep us all connected, no matter how far separated we are. Eventually, the email list for these messages became longer, as my aunts, uncles, and cousins joined in. Soon family friends were on board too. Once the back and forth responses starting overflowing in each of our e-mail inboxes, it was decided that the daily message should be moved to a message board, which is where it sits today. And every Monday through Friday, we all log on to connect with each other. What a beautiful thing!

And here’s the best part…when I sent my Dad a message to see if he’d be ok with me sharing a few bits of his writing with all of you, his response was, They’re to you; they’re yours!  – Love ya!  ~Daddo 

My dad’s the best!

Valentine’s Day is typically a holiday celebrated between significant others, but it is impossible for me to think of Valentine’s Day without thinking about my dad, the man who has been my Valentine for all of my 35 years. My father taught my siblings and I about love and family, in the way he loves us and in the way he continues to hold an unending love for those we lost too soon.

And so, on Valentine’s Day, I will celebrate my love for my five special valentines; my husband, my three little men, and my dad. For my husband, I’ll be making lobster pot pie in a puff pastry shell and filet mignon with caramelized onions and gorgonzola. For my boys, heart-shaped nutella-stuffed french toast with raspberry syrup and berry red smoothies. And in honor of my dad, this Almond Joy Pie. Daddo, I’d send you a slice, if I could. You think one of those padded envelopes might work?? Maybe I should wait until the next time we visit…

It’s always fun to celebrate your sweeties with something sweet and I’m certain this pie would fill your loved ones with coconutty joy! It starts with a homemade chocolate cookie crust, which is then coated in a creamy milk chocolate ganache and sprinkled with a layer of sliced almonds. An irresistible coconut custard fills the pie. Skip the box of candy and make this instead…it’ll save all that time and wasted chocolates trying to find the coconut filled ones.

Happy Valentine’s Day, friends!  

Almond Joy Pie

Ingredients

  • 1 chocolate cookie pie crust (store-bought or homemade)*
  • 1 cup milk chocolate chips, divided
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds, divided

For the Custard:

  • 3 cups milk (skim milk will work fine)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 cups shredded, sweetened coconut
*Click HERE for the procedure for a homemade crust, though to be honest, in this case, it’s more cost effective and just as tasty to buy a prepared cookie crust. (In my stores, the ingredients to make your own cost twice as much as the prepared crust.)

Directions

To prepare the milk chocolate ganache: Bring the heavy cream just to a boil. Pour the cream over 2/3 cup of the chocolate chips and stir until smooth. The chips should melt by the heat of the cream, but if necessary, microwave the mixture for 10-15 seconds, then continue stirring until smooth. Pour the ganache into the pie shell. Scatter about half of the sliced almonds over the ganache. Refrigerate to set the ganache. Prepare the custard while the ganache cools.

To make the custard: Bring the milk, sugar, vanilla, salt and cornstarch to a simmer over medium heat, whisking frequently so that the sugar and cornstarch dissolve. Once the mixture begins to bubble and thicken (it should only take a few minutes), reduce the heat to low. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks. Gradually whisk about 1 cup of the hot milk mixture into the egg yolks, starting with a very slow drizzle to avoid scrambling the eggs. (Gradually incorporating the hot milk into the egg yolks tempers the eggs, allowing them to slowly rise in temperature without scrambling.) Gradually whisk the egg mixture into the remaining hot milk mixture in the pot. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, whisking constantly for about 3 minutes, until thickened and smooth. Stir in the shredded coconut.

Allow the custard to cool at room temperature, stirring frequently, until it’s just barely warm. Pour the custard over the cooled ganache in the pie crust and refrigerate until the custard is completely cool and set, about 2 hours.

Melt the remaining 1/3 cup of chocolate chips in the microwave (a few seconds at a time, stirring often) or over a double boiler. Spoon the melted chocolate into a plastic baggie. Cut off a small tip of one of the corners of the baggie, then drizzle the chocolate over the pie. Garnish with the remaining sliced almonds.

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Cheesy Stuffed Meatloaf

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Let me preface this by saying that my father is an excellent cook. I have just as many fond memories from my childhood of my father’s cooking as of my mother’s. Even now, it is my father who is eager to fill the house with our favorite meals when we take a trip home. He’s got an instinct for delicious comfort food which can satisfy both the belly and the soul.

That being said, there was once a meatloaf that he will never live down; the meatloaf that even the raccoons wouldn’t eat. I can’t even remember what was wrong with it. I remember tomatoes and bacon. My father insisted it was delicious, but the decision was otherwise unanimous. The meatloaf was awful. So awful that even my frugal family decided to put the leftovers on the porch for whatever fuzzy woodland creature was looking for a meal. Sure enough, the meatloaf was still sitting on the porch in the morning; undeniable proof that the meatloaf was truly inedible.

The memory of that particular meatloaf made a strong case against meatloaf in my mind. For that reason, it’s a dish I rarely make. But, having found myself with a freezer full of ground beef (part of my attempt at trimming our grocery bill), I decided a meatloaf was in order. In my rendition, I added a bit of sun-dried tomatoes, parmesan cheese, and melty provolone. Drizzle with fresh basil pesto and serve aside smashed potatoes and roasted asparagus for a delicious, satisfying meal.

Sorry raccoons…there aren’t going to be any leftovers for you this time!!

Cheesy Stuffed Meatloaf

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4-5 slices provolone cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, egg, bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, onion, and salt until well blended. (Get your hands in there to really blend it!) Then, form the mixture into a thick rectangle (about 8×10 inches). Place the slices of provolone cheese in a thin layer on the rectangle, leaving about a 1″ edge around the cheese on all sides. Roll the meat into a log, around the cheese. Then, thoroughly seal all of the edges and form the meat into a rectangular loaf. Bake for about 50-55 minutes, until the center has reached 165 degrees, as measured with an instant-read meat thermometer.

Serve with fresh basil pesto (click here for the recipe) and roasted asparagus (click here for the recipe).

Peppermint Patty Cheesecake Bars

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For my grandfather’s 80th birthday, my sisters and I combined our talents in the kitchen to gift him with a membership to our very own Sweet Treats of the Month club. Each month during his 80th year of life, we presented him with various platters and tins of homemade cookies, candies, bars, muffins, and cakes. As my grandmother anxiously watched his waistline and blood pressure, my grandfather eagerly waited by the mailbox for his monthly deliveries. It worked out to be the perfect gift for a man who has just about everything he desires in life.

Turns out that my grandfather wasn’t the only one who thought a membership in the Sweet Treats of the Month club was a grand gift. As the holidays approached, my father made a not-so-subtle Christmas wish to be enrolled in that homemade goodies club. You can imagine his delight when Christmas brought him his first installment of goodies along with the notification of his enrollment in this very exclusive club.

This weekend, we’ll be traveling to see my parents and other family who we’ve yet to celebrate the holidays with. We’ll also be hand delivering my dad’s January installment of treats. The beautiful thing about this exclusive club is that it’s 100% customizable to the member’s tastes. This means that my dad’s year of treats will be heavily focused on dark chocolates, gingery goodies, oatmeal creations, and maybe even a few chocolate-drizzled macaroons.

So, I set out in search of the perfect recipe for the January installment of goodies. Then, as if in answer to my mission, a fellow food blogger, at Liv Life, recently posted a list of her top ten recipes for the year. Included in the list was a recipe for Chocolate Peppermint Cheesecake Bars. They looked absolutely luscious and right up my dad’s alley. Her post led me to the original Food Network recipe for Chocolate Cheesecake Candy Cane Bars. After a few little modifications, aimed at running the minty flavor throughout the bars, and a substitution of peppermint patties for candy canes, I came up with these; Peppermint Patty Cheesecake Bars. Pretty sure my dad will be pleased!


Peppermint Patty Cheesecake Bars

Adapted from Food Network’s Chocolate Cheesecake Candy Cane Bars

Ingredients

For the Crust

  • 15 Chocolate Sandwich Cookies (mint-flavored, if available), crushed
  • 4 Tablespoons Butter, melted

For the Filling

  • 1 bar (8 ounces) Cream Cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup Sour Cream
  • 2/3 cup Sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 8 ounces Semi-Sweet Chocolate
  • 1 teaspoon Peppermint Extract

For the Glaze

  • 4 ounces Bittersweet Chocolate, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter
  • 1 teaspoon Light Corn Syrup
  • 2 Tablespoons Sour Cream
  • 4-5 Peppermint Patty candies, chopped

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8×8 baking dish with foil. Combine crushed cookies with melted butter. Press the cookie mixture into the bottom of the baking dish. Bake for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Using an electric mixer, beat together the cream cheese, sour cream and sugar until smooth. Add the eggs and beat for another minute or two. Melt the chocolate slowly in the microwave or in a bowl set over a pot of boiling water, stirring frequently. Add the melted chocolate and the peppermint extract to the cream cheese mixture and mix until combined. Pour the filling over the prepared crust. Bake for 25-30 minutes until slightly puffed around the edges. The center will appear slightly loose. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 30 minutes.

To make the glaze, place bittersweet chocolate, butter, and corn syrup in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat for about 30 seconds at a time, stirring periodically, until completely melted. Stir in the sour cream. Spread the glaze over the cheesecake. Sprinkle with pieces of the peppermint patty candies.  Refrigerate overnight to thoroughly chill. Use the foil to lift the cheesecake from the baking dish and cut into small squares or bars.

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