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Ham and Corn Chowder

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Life is made up of a series of memories; some big, some small, some clearly life-changing, and some seemingly inconsequential. My wedding day, the births of my children, the loss of loved ones…all clearly consequential. But the little memories…like singing the soundtrack to Grease with my sisters while we played on our childhood swingset or selling candy bars outside the grocery store or riding our bikes in the park…turns out that those are just as consequential. We just don’t always realize it in the moment.

So, I’m lying on the couch last night, glass of wine in hand, playing around on my computer and distractedly watching American Idol, when two of the contestants come on stage and begin singing Islands in the Stream, a duet originally performed by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. In an instant I was transported back to my childhood, in my parents’ room, where my sisters and I used to stand at the foot of their bed, with our toes jammed between the mattress and boxspring, so that when we’d lean forward, the edge of the mattress would catch our calves and we’d suspend there, bobbing forward with our arms outstretched. We’d sway back and forth, mock-gliding over the mattress singing Islands in the Stream at the top of our lungs…with all the wrong lyrics, I am sure.

Such a simple little memory and yet it’s etched in my mind. Because it’s more than the ordinary event of singing a song with my sisters. It was a matter of being together, of laughing, of loving, and of feeling at home. Those are consequential, life-altering sorts of things wrapped in a silly little memory and tied together with a country song.

Every morning, our boys come bursting into our bedroom. The baby is usually already there by that point, drowsily enjoying a morning feeding. But the older boys don’t wake drowsily. They wake with a lightening bolt and go 0 to 60 in the moment they open their eyes. They fly into our room in a flurry. They do not stick their toes between our mattress and sing a Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton duet. They mostly just make animal noises and shout things like underpants. They climb into my armoire. They climb under the bed. They jump on top of the bed. (Just imagine if you released a couple of monkeys into an enclosed space…it’s exactly like that.) Every so often we can convince them to climb under the covers for a snuggle. And sometimes we’re inclined to just send them back to their room because the activity level far exceeds what we’re prepared to handle that early in the morning. But those morning memories, of waking to a family that loves them…those memories matter.

This weekend we’ll be making more memories, the kind that add a bit of mystery and magic to childhood. Though I’ve expressed my half-hearted support for the Easter bunny, he will be visiting our home, hiding eggs, and leaving a basket filled with soft, stuffed-bunny toys, bubble wands, chocolate-dipped marshmallow Peeps, chocolate eggs, jelly beans, and animal crackers hidden under the cellophane grass. We’ll color eggs and make a coconut-covered bunny cake with shoe-string licorice whiskers and a jelly bean nose. It’s tradition. And tradition matters too.

For dinner, we will most likely enjoy slow-roasted lamb with a fresh mint sauce, along with roasted red potatoes, roasted asparagus, and slices of warm French baguette. Our family prefers lamb over ham, but for many families, ham is the star of their traditional Easter feast. With that in mind, I came up with this ham and corn chowder, which would make perfect use of leftover Easter ham. This satisfying soup is worth making, even if you don’t have leftover ham on hand! It’s hard to go wrong with sweet kernels of corn in a warm, creamy broth. Use fresh corn, cut from the cob, if corn is in season or use frozen when it is not. I used frozen corn kernels and it was perfect.

P.S. I just purchased Islands in the Stream from iTunes and have been listening to it on repeat as I write this post. I’m considering teaching it to the boys and showing them how to stick their toes under the edge of my mattress.

Ham and Corn Chowder

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 15-ounce cans vegetable broth (about 3 1/2 cups)
  • 2 cups ham, diced (approximately)
  • 2 1/2 cups sweet corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
  • 6-8 green onions, sliced
  • 1 large baking potato, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Additional sliced green onions, for garnish

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic. Cook for a few minutes, until lightly golden and tender. Sprinkle the flour over the onions and garlic. Stir to coat and cook for another minute or so. Whisk in the vegetable broth. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for about 3 minutes. (The broth should begin to thicken slightly.) Add the ham, corn, green onions, potato, and half and half to the pan. Bring the soup to a boil. Boil, stirring frequently, for 10-15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Ideally they should just be beginning to break down (to add extra thickness to the soup) but not so mushy that they’re falling apart. Season with the paprika and salt and pepper, to taste. Serve warm, garnished with additional sliced green onions.

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Coconut Crisps

I mourn my lack of singing ability every time O Holy Night comes on the radio. Man, do I wish I could sing the bananas out of that song! Mind you, my lack of musical ability doesn’t even begin to stop me from belting it out at the top of my lungs. My poor, unfortunate children who have to listen to me sing!

It’s one of my life’s greatest heartaches; my longing for even a pinch of musical ability. I would have been a Broadway star. Or maybe taken Michael Flatley’s place as the fast-stepping star of Riverdance. At least I could have tried, if I’d had even an ounce of talent to pursue that path. But I’m resigned to simply sing along with the soundtracks and watch episodes of So You Think You Can Dance, with both admiration and envy in my heart. It just wasn’t the path my life was meant to take.

But, I can bake.

And I can play around with ingredients to create delicious treats, like these coconut crisps. O holy night, are these good! Thin, crispy, and buttery. We’re going coconuts over these cookies around here. It’s gonna take a lot of self-control to save some for our Christmas guests. I promise I’ll try.

Coconut Crisps

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 cups sweetened, shredded coconut

Directions

Using a hand-mixer, blend together the butter and sugar until pale and creamy. Add the salt, vanilla, and egg. Beat until well-blended. Blend in the flour and the coconut. Form the dough into a ball and refrigerate for about 30 minutes, until firm and moldable. Form the dough in a log shape, about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap the log in the wax paper and roll the dough to make it as even and round as possible. Freeze for at least 2 hours, until hard.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut the dough into 1/4 inch slices. Arrange the slices on cookies sheets, at least two inches apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes until golden brown around the edges and on the bottom. Allow to cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet, then carefully transfer to a cooling rack. The cookies will be soft initially, so you can somewhat adjust the shape, if necessary. Store the completely cooled cookies in an air-tight container.

Makes about 3 dozen

No-Bake Ginger Fruit Cake Balls

Did you know that you can watch the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular on Netflix? I was beyond thrilled when I found it yesterday.

Growing up on Long Island, attending the Christmas Spectacular was just about an annual event. To me, it is the epitome of Christmas in New York City. I have been itching to make a trip down to NYC to share the experience with the boys, but for the cost of the good seats, they’re just not ready. We’ll definitely bring them in a few years, when all of their attention spans are a bit more predictable. If you ever find yourself in NYC during the holiday season (and I strongly suggest you make a point of finding yourself there at some point in your life), make sure you get yourself tickets to the show. And if you can’t get there to see it, check it out on Netflix. It’s really wonderful. I’m totally going to be a rockette when I grow up.

In between working on my kickline skills and practicing my sweet tap dancing moves, I started working on this year’s cookie collection. I baked eleven dozen Double Chocolate Peppermint cookies for a little cookie exchange I’m hosting tonight. And then I made these little no-bake fruit cake balls. Crushed gingersnaps and sweet molasses make up the spiced base, while tender bits of brightly colored candied fruit deck the balls with festive fruitcake flavor. And if you like your Christmas cookies spiked with a bit of booze, go ahead and soak the candied fruit in a bit of spiced rum for even more fruitcake flavor! Loving this new addition to my cookie collection!

No-Bake Ginger Fruit Cake Balls

Ingredients

  • 2 cups gingersnap crumbs (about 40 gingersnaps, very finely crushed)
  • 6 tablespoons molasses
  • 4 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup candied fruit (fruit cake mix)
  • 1-2 tablespoons spiced rum (optional)
  • 3/4 cup white chocolate chips or candy melts

Directions

If desired, pour the rum over the candied fruit and allow it to soak for at least an hour. Combine the gingersnap crumbs, molasses, peanut butter, and candied fruit until well blended. The mixture should stick together when pressed, but not be overly wet or sticky. Add a touch more molasses if the mixture is too dry. Use your hands to form balls, about 1″ in diameter. It’s helpful to press the mixture into a rough ball shape before rolling in your palms. Gently melt the white chocolate chips or candy melts in the microwave or in a double boiler. Use a spoon or pastry bag fitted with a fine round tip to drizzle the melted chocolate over the fruit cake balls. Store in an air-tight container.

Makes about 40

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