Upon Reflection

by Stacey Jaros


One of the first things I did in 2016 was write "2017" on a check. A work check. And I mailed it to the client. It's like my subconscious was saying, "you're gonna wanna skip this one." Yes this year was emotionally difficult. Sometimes it felt impossible to catch my breath before the next wave hit. Upon reflection I enjoyed many gifts this year.

My little home and family had a pretty good year. I was hardly ever unwell (really rare for me). We had a fun long weekend with friends and family at the occasion on my high school 30 year reunion. I attended lots of comedy shows and some cool concerts (including U2, and 2 Prince shows). I "discovered" Hamilton. My husband and some friends of ours created an episodic "do-it-yourself" show. Have a look at one of my favorite episodes if you'd like.

I'm not sorry to see 2016 behind me, and I believe 2017 will be challenging, but I'm ready for what's next.


Get Your Own Tots

by Stacey Jaros


Several weeks ago on some weekend day we had the TV on while doing chores. An episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives rolled around. One of the places profiled was Sakaya Kitchen in Miami, FL. Since I'm a fan of Asian fusion (duck tacos, yum! RIP Kung Fu Tacos.) I paid real close attention while I folded laundry.

One of the dishes they highlighted was "Chunk'd Tots." Like many things on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives I was a little afraid of just what over-the-top thing "chund'd" might mean. The chef started with a marinade, which seemed innocent enough. The meat was grilled and then set aside. Then he made a sauce which happened really quickly in TV time. I didn't even catch the details of the ingredients but the next element was deep-fried tater tots. Who doesn't love tots?

Then the tots were tossed in the sauce, topped with the meat, and served hot. Before the host took the bite of approval I shouted, "I'm making that."

Thanks to Google I found an actual recipe. The ingredients looked workable, and really delicious. I knew I could substitute bulgogi pre-marinated boneless beef ribs. I figured it wouldn't be that awful to bake the tots like I usually do at home, rather than deep-frying them.

I set about gathering ingredients. I headed to Trader Joe's for the Bool Kogi
After googling "white melting cheese" I chose some asiago and fontina while I was there. I also searched for some gochujang at Trader Joe's but they didn't seem to have any. I moved on to our local, family-owned, supermarket for tots and scallions. While there I looked for gochujang but again was denied. Since making the dish wasn't going to happen for a few days I took my shopping home. The next day I swung by our local Safeway and I was yet again denied gochujang. I was really surprised I was unable to find the condiment. I figured I'd have to order it from Amazon.

At that point the soonest I was going to make the dish was today, Sunday. Since I was headed into San Francisco yesterday I thought I'd swing by a store or two on the way home. Success! The Safeway in my old neighborhood had two varieties of gochujang to choose from.

This morning I set about preparing the cheese sauce. It came together pretty easily. I only wish I'd made a little more, I didn't measure the ingredients carefully. I also measured a little shy on the gochujang because there is some HEAT in it.

Jeff grilled up the Bool Kogi while I baked the tots in the oven. Once cooked I tossed the tots in the sauce. Even though I was being very gentle while tossing the tots a couple fell apart. I think if they'd been fried they may have held together a little better. I found using the most delicate touch  I was able to coat the remainder of the tots without breaking any more.

After dishing up the sauce covered tots, I sprinkled a handful of the cooked beef, then a few scallion slices.

This. Did. Not. Disappoint.

I will definitely make this again, and I'm wondering what else I can put this sauce on.

I've definitely made quick plans to visit a place I discovered on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (Tee Off in San Francisco) but this is the first time I've sought out a recipe this impulsively.

Even with the trouble obtaining all the ingredients I would definitely do this again. You probably should too.

I made myself take a break mid-bowl to take a picture. It wasn't easy. I didn't even bother to make sure it was in focus. I'm not sorry.

I made myself take a break mid-bowl to take a picture. It wasn't easy. I didn't even bother to make sure it was in focus. I'm not sorry.


Now It's Time To Leave The Capsule If You Dare

by Stacey Jaros


Jeff: "Oh no." I heard something disconcerting in his tone of voice. Me: "What?" Jeff: "You're not going to like this news. It's all over Twitter that David Bowie died." Me: "Are you sure? Friday was his birthday. Lots of people were wishing him happy birthday. He has a new video, Lazarus. Maybe people are talking about that?" Jeff: *BBC article* Me: *ears ringing* "Uh oh. I'm actually light-headed." I cannot believe it.

In the 70's I was playing at a friend's house and she showed me her closet door, which had been signed by David Bowie. Her step-dad was some kind of music executive and somehow Bowie visited their Westchester home, and signed that little girl's closet door. She started to explain something like, "He's a singer." I didn't even let her finish. "Oh I know who he is." I recall very clearly my mind swimming with thoughts of the characters of David Bowie, all 'attractive' to me (whatever that meant to my probably eleven-year-old self).

I cannot shake the image of the poster that hung on my wall throughout me teens. It was an image from the Serious Moonlight Tour. I had a pair of red pumps that once I saw the almost identical ones in his "Let's Dance" video I never wanted to take off.

I cannot reconcile the current issue of Rolling Stone, dated Jan. 14 which hasn't even occurred yet, which sits in my "reading room." It contains a glowing review of the just-released Black⭐️ and yet the reality is David Bowie ceases to join us in this plane. Which begs the question, did he ever join us in this plane? Did he merely hover near, and sometimes through, our world? I'd like to think his soul continues to travel in some kind of Space Oddity, spreading glitter and wisdom along its path. His art, in so many forms, is a gift to us.

So rest in peace, Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust, Jareth, all of you. Thank you for teaching us to be heroes, forever and ever.


My Zooropa Moment

by Stacey Jaros


And I have no compass
And I have no map
And I have no reasons
No reasons to get back

In August I had a surgery from which the recovery time was just over six weeks. For most of those weeks I wasn't thinking too clearly but eventually I began to feel like myself again and it afforded me a lot of time to think about things.

What do you want?

A lot of the time I thought about doing house work, or little projects around the house. Ultimately I didn't do to much about that because I was still pretty weak, and tired easily. Other than cooking a bit, and cleaning up after that, I didn't accomplish much on my wish list.

What do you want?

Once I returned to work the commute was overwhelming. It required 2+ hours each work day, regardless of whether I traveled by public transit or drove. During that time I was definitely weak but I looked fine. My husband suggested I carry a cane to give me courage to ask for a seat but carrying it around when I didn't need it seemed like it might be a hindrance. It was rough at first but as I got stronger it became easier.

What do you want?

Commuting by public transit gives you a lot of time to think. Most of the time I was thinking things like, "What's that smell?" "What's that liquid? Is it liquid?" "Why are we stopped in this tunnel for twenty minutes (when we are supposed to speed right through without stopping)?" There were several hiccups on the BART system during those few weeks and I felt it was eating up my time. I was bitter. After my surgery I became really protective of my time. I built into my schedule a lot of rest time. I declined invitations. BART was erasing my self-care cushion. It was very frustrating but I still had to get to work.

What do you want?

I worked as a Records Administrator for the same law firm for nearly 15 years. It was a great job and I worked with wonderful people. By the nature of the job I was unable to work remotely. For many years I was able to reconcile the time spent on my commute with the benefits of such a great job. Lately I had been thinking I might want something different.

What do you want?

In September U2 kicked off the European leg of their innocence + experience tour. In the city of Torino they added Zooropa to their setlist. The song includes the refrain, "What do you want?" As with many U2 songs there are lots of ways to interpret lyrics but for me, for here, for now, 'what do you want?' commanded my attention. It required an answer.

What do you want?

Years ago, when Jeff & I still lived in the outerlands of San Francisco's west side, a dear, dear, friend approached me about joining with her in her fiduciary business. At the time I couldn't see how it made sense. I didn't have a car and I couldn't see how I would get to her (non-public-transit-adjacent) office in Lafayette. Though genuinely flattered, I declined. It wasn't an easy decision but logistically I didn't see how to make it work.

What do you want?

Recently I asked my friend if that was still an option. She was open to the idea. While it was a transition I hoped might be in the works for a few months, it turns out to be great time for her to bring someone on. Now. How soon can I start?

What do you want?

I gave notice at my job with the law firm. It wasn't easy. However, knowing I gave myself at least twelve new hours a week makes me giddy. Getting home before seven at night is an experience I will definitely enjoy.

What do you want?

At the very least, I should have a little more time to write. I have a bunch of drafts (mostly from stuff I've cooked) waiting for me. Keep an eye on this site. I have a lot to say. While I am excited for new opportunities, beginning a new career is daunting. There are unknown new challenges just around the corner for me.

Uncertainty can be our guiding light.


Since you asked, some thoughts on U2 General Admission.

by Stacey Jaros


[Warning: VERY mild spoilers]

Briefly, prompted by many questions from anxious fellow-fans, here are a few of my reflections regarding lining up for General Admission, GA, spots. For the current U2 tour, the iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Tour.

Some of my favorite U2 experiences have occurred in the GA line. I wouldn't want to discourage that activity. By all means, meet up with your friends, have a BBQ/Picnic, throw around a Frisbee after a long ride. Basically, U2 has gifted fans with the opportunity to queue in a relaxed fashion - no line nazi required. In my opinion, unless you want a very specific spot, it is completely unnecessary to line up at all.

Thursday night I had seats in Vancouver. Showtime was 7:30. I sauntered up to the venue around 6:45. I had plenty of time to use the facilities, get a snack, and make my way to my seat (nearly in the rafters). The show didn't begin until around 8.

Friday night I had GA. My friends and I walked up to the arena around 7. It was more than plenty time to get to the EXACT spot I wanted on the floor. If I had wanted second from rail anywhere along the catwalk that could have been mine as well.

I've never seen anything like the stage set up before. There seems like miles and miles of rail. What looks like a catwalk connecting the "A" stage and "B" stage is also used as a stage by the entire band at certain points during the show. Bono spends a lot of time traversing this area. Some of the most impressive photos of band members have been taken by fans along this section.

The entire band spends some time on the B stage as well. Those on the floor wanting some face time with any number of band members will likely be happy to have some rail at that location.

You may not believe me but I do not believe rail will not be the most coveted spot by the end of this tour. There is a multi-media presentation that occurs in the section above the catwalk. They may look like simple, if impressive in size, screens. Without giving away the trick of it all I will merely say it needs to be experienced to understand what is happening. I do not believe photos can even capture the impact. That area is not entirely visible from the rail. Those on the rail are essentially looking up the front plane of the screens. It's pretty hard to see the impressive visual story presented there.

I heard quite a bit of rumbling from the Red Zone folks when the floor diagrams began circulating. I think the band really had your best interests at heart when designing these special sections. You get lots of un-crowded rail with a fantastic vantage point for the action on, and over, the catwalk.  Red Zone ticket holders may come and go as the please. If one wanted to get a closer spot it would be relatively easy to get within 3-4 people from the catwalk or B stage if you wanted a little closer facetime.

Individual venues may vary, but Friday we went through security check (a pretty cursory bag check), then had our credit cards scanned (we had ticketless entry - painless for me), then received wristbands. According to our tickets we were either "N" or "S" which corresponded to the Northside (Adam) or Southside (The Edge) of the catwalk.

I think it will vary by venue but I'm assuming night 2 in Vancouver, a Friday night, before a (local) three-day-weekend, was really close to capacity. It was really easy to move about. GAers are not necessarily entirely free to move around the entire floor however. Once on the floor you stayed on "your" side. Some people were able to freely move from side to side, some were only allowed pre-show, and some were not at all. I'm sure it varies by venue, capacity, and the proclivities of the security on the floor.

I think the "end zone" seats are the least desirable seats in the house. Only the first few rows get any band face time and the multi-media experience isn't really visible from these vantage points. They have provided screens that show a feed from various cameras throughout the venue, including some cool ones on on band members' wrists, but the multi-media experience is pretty much unavailable to them. However, if you're interested in seeing how some of the sausage is made these are the seats you want. You can't see the face of the screens but you can see INSIDE them. That is a lot cooler than it probably sounds.

I wouldn't want to trade the experience I had on the floor Friday night for anything. Ever. However I believe this show is best experienced from the seats. Luckily my next several shows are seats in 100-teens sections. I cannot wait to see the show from those locations. I truly believe these are going to be the sweet spots for this particular production.

The sound from my upper-tier seats was great but at the second song, Out Of Control, I was reaching for my earplugs. The high end was chimney, and echoey. On the floor, from the first opening notes I needed earplugs. The sound, especially the high-end, was particularly painful. I cannot say whether it was because of my change in location within the venue, or whether Joe O'Herlihy made changes. I can only say this: BRING EARPLUGS. If you use earplugs meant for listening to music (I like Etymotics) it will sound great. In fact Thursday night I heard, and enjoyed, Adam more than ever.

If you still don't have tickets it may not be too late. As the stage is assembled in each venue, and invited guest comp tickets are sorted, they will release the remaining tickets for sale. I learned about the Vancouver "ticket dump" at 4:30 am Thursday morning (on Twitter). I was able to buy my Friday night GA ticket from Ticketmaster Canada from my hotel room. Keep your eyes out, be flexible, be persistent. Please avoid scalpers. Good luck.

Note: there is NO OPENER this tour. There's no telling when the band will take the stage but know it will be U2, unless it's The Dalton Brothers (hey, a girl can hope).

Have a great show everybody.


All That Really Matters Is That We Are All Made From Stars

by Stacey Jaros


"We are made of starstuff." - Carl Sagan
 
"We are all made of stars." - Moby

"Born for bliss, born for this. Every human life begins with a kiss." - U2

Not so fast, Bono. That may be technically true but sometimes life requires a more circuitous route.

Due to fertility difficulties my biological father is an anonymous donor, a fact about which I was unaware until I was in my mid 20's. My mom and dad were married and raised me together. I never felt anything other than loved, wanted, and fully part of my immediate family.

Learning this secret was truly shocking at first. However, after a short time of reflection I understood my dad was my dad. He was a good, even great, though not perfect, dad. Knowing the truth of my creation changed nothing about that.

One consequence of learning that news is that it made me more compassionate towards other people. Virtually anyone walking down the street could be a relation. I imagine it is a little bit how an adoptive person feels.

Since I learned the truth I have attempted to make it as public as possible. I wanted everyone close to me to be aware because I didn't want to foster secrecy around something that is simply a matter of fact. I bring it up in conversation when it seems appropriate. I never obscure the truth of it.

I understand some people whose biological parents are unknown to them desire to meet them. That desire hasn't developed in me. I had a dad. He passed in 1996, and I miss him terribly, but he was my Dad. I do not see a need to replace him.

There are two things though about which I am curious. I've often wondered what my genetic background is. It would likely be most compelling in the event I was to have children, which is unlikely now at my age. But it could also be important for my future health. I've also wondered what my cultural heritage is.

By legend, both sides of my Mom's family are a mish-mosh of Northern European, and a healthy sprinkling of Native American. It would be great to know how much truth is in those stories.  I watch shows like "Who Do You Think You Are" (a celebrity genealogy television series) and I'm completely rapt with the personal stories the subjects learn about themselves. It makes me a little sad I have no way of knowing half my biological story.

Out of curiosity my Mom, my husband, and I did genetic testing with 23 and Me. Since I do not carry a Y chromosome I knew I wouldn't be able to learn anything about my paternal side. The results were still valuable in learning my Mom's side though.

We all received our full genetic results this week. It was able to identify my mom as such so we acknowledged that relationship on the site, thereby opening up deeper information of our connection. That link also opened up information about my paternal side. Given the Y chromosome limitation, I was not anticipating paternal information. But there it was, my genetic story split in two: that which is from my mom, and that which was given to me by my paternal father.

In addition to identifying my mom, 23 and Me identified hundreds of individuals with whom I share genetic material. Most people it found are rather distant cousins but my mom and I did have fun digging around a bit with the ones that are common to both of us. We found some likely candidates who my be as close as second cousins.

Not only did it identify potential distant relatives, the site identified someone with whom I share a large percentage of genetic information. A person they predict to be a half-sister. I am having trouble processing this new information. It never occurred to me I would find a paternal relation.

The potential match has an anonymous profile, as do I. If she matched me I can only imagine I appeared in her matches as well. I wonder how much of a shock it is to her. I wonder a lot of things, actually.

I am going to contact her in the next few days, as soon as I figure out what to say. My instinct is to make a joke of it, " So, funny story. It turns out we share a father. Probably." But I'm sure I'll come up with something more appropriate eventually.

So, in the spirit of laying it all out on the table, there is my story. So far.
 


Bastille Day Plus One

by Stacey Jaros


When Jeff & I were getting to know one another, many months before we started dating, we had a routine where after my shift at the restaurant where I worked, I would swing by Jeff's house a few blocks away and we would hang out.

We met through mutual friends. The first time Jeff invited me to his place was to watch old re-runs of the classic TV show, Match Game. He had cable, I did not. The show was re-run nightly on Game Show Network. We loved watching Match Game together and were always delighted when the frequently-run infomercial for a power ballad compilation appeared. Good times.

At the time Jeff was the proud owner of a snazzy laser disc player. It was a dual DVD/laser disc player. There were a few favorite laser discs he hadn't been able to obtain on a new medium. One of the things we enjoyed watching together were classic Looney Tunes cartoons. He really knew how to pitch some woo.

Another thing we enjoyed doing together was playing games on Jeff's desktop computer. In the early days we played mostly simple games. He had Monopoly and Yahtzee games which we sometimes enjoyed. The game we most loved to play together was You Don't Know Jack. YDKJ is essentially a trivia game. I'm a big fan of trivia games and spent many evenings in college at pub quizzes. The really fun hook about YDKJ is the snarky vibe of the game.

YDKJ is set up like a fake show. It opens as if you, the players, are present at the taping of a game show. You can hear stage directions being barked and people skittering in the background to be ready for show time. It sets a really fun mood right away. When it's Go Time there's theme music, applause, well ... you probably know how game shows work. It's like that. When the overly friendly host begins to speak he's snarky and immediately way too into your business, as game show hosts often are. The name of the host when we started playing was Cookie.

If you happen to be playing YDKJ on a Saturday night, as we often were, Cookie will chide you that you don't have anything better to do. YDKJ also makes note of calendar dates. I began visiting Jeff in late Spring. By mid-July we had been playing YDKJ, and just spending lots of time together, pretty regularly. On July 14th, 1999, after my shift waiting tables, I dropped by Jeff's house for some sweet trivia.

When the game began there were sound effects and cheering. I can't remember specifically but I recall the energy was really amped up. Cookie wished us a happy Bastille Day. We were both incredibly tickled. We're American. Neither of us has French heritage. Neither of us speaks French. It seemed so random for the game to include marking what seems to be a minor holiday (insofar as we're not IN France). It just struck us both as very funny.

Not long after that, we started dating. Our time spent together increased but we continued to enjoy doing the things we'd done in our pre-courtship days. We played a lot of YDKJ. Every new version, and I think we had them all, was a new adventure we could enjoy together. We played it on several holidays, which were all mentioned by the game. Eventually July 2000 rolled around. We wondered if the newer version of YDKJ would mention the holiday. We made a date to play and were delighted to discover the game mentioned it again. It amused us so much it became something we looked forward to every year.

With upgrades in new hardware the old games become unplayable. Jeff kept a laptop around with no necessary function other than it could run YDKJ. Over time we cultivated other interests together so we played less but we would get a game in when we could.

Eventually we began marking Bastille Day as an anniversary of sorts. Whether or not we played YDKJ we would always make note of how special that day, and the game, were to us. In 2006 we marked the day by playing the game once again. I was a little sleepy so I ended up falling asleep on the couch.

The next day we enjoyed a sensational Lord of the Rings concert at the San Francisco Symphony. It was an early show and when we exited it was still daylight. It was a spectacularly sunny day. We couldn't have had more fun together. After a full day of sunshine, wine, and beautiful music, we were unwinding at home.

After a few minutes of chatting together, our cat, Marina, hopped on my lap. At that moment Jeff began to ask me to share my life with him and be his wife. (I said Yes.)

Later Jeff let me know he had intended to propose on Bastille Day. He wanted to do it in our home with our cat there. Unfortunately I dozed off before he had his chance. Technically the anniversary of our engagement is the day after Bastille Day.

We don't really celebrate anniversaries other than our wedding anniversary. I don't remember the date of our first date, or when we first kissed. I suspect the reason we remember our engagement is because of our Bastille Day connection. I love that we have a day that makes it easy for us reflect on our early days of getting to know one another.

These days we keep a couple episodes of Match Game on the DVR. Now if you'll excuse me, I going to spend some time with Gene, Brett, Charles, and Richard, with Jeff and Marina by my side.


In Which I Claim Some Freedom For Myself and Make It Out With My Soul Intact

by Stacey Jaros


Confession time: I let my driver's license lapse. A while ago. So long ago I'm too embarrassed to mention it here. I didn't have a car when it was time for renewal and getting to the DMV seemed like an impossible hurdle. Since Jeff and I now have a car, I need to be able to drive (legally) for emergencies, if nothing else. I still love that I can conveniently walk and take public transit. I walked to BART when I was finished atu the DMV.

I look forward to being the Designated Driver when out with Jeff and other friends who've given me that gift while I haven't been driving. I also look forward to sharing the chore on road trips (Jeff & I are over-due for a long weekend getaway). It will also be great to visit Mom at her place, or meet up with her in Pleasanton, which is much easier with our car.

It took three full hours in a crowded DMV but what a relief. For the record, every employee was courteous and as efficient as they could be given their workload. A nearby office is closed for remodeling so this one has an extra load. I'm so happy I did it. Well, I will be until I see my crappy photo.


Lemon Squares - Take One

by Stacey Jaros


As you may know one of my favorite things is going on JoCo Cruise Crazy. I've been very fortunate to enjoy all four so far. While the cruises and entertainment are beyond fun, most of my joy comes from interacting with my co-attendees. We call ourselves Sea Monkeys and some of the best times of my life have been spent among these amazing people.

Some local Sea Monkeys hosted a gathering for Bay Area JoCo cruisers Saturday. It wasn't exactly a pot luck situation but bringing a sweet snack to share seemed like a good idea. There are quite a few dessert options I still haven't tackled in The Red Box but since it's just the beginning of Spring I decided on Lemon Squares.

I prepped all my ingredients and tools on Saturday morning in plenty of time for the squares to cool for transport.

My first step was to prepare my cookie sheet. My cookie sheets are hand-me-downs that I never use bare. I always use my cookie sheets with parchment paper so I'm really not concerned with the condition of the pans. For this dish I covered the sheet with foil and then parchment. I didn't want to have any trouble getting the squares out of the pan so this seemed like my best bet.

My prepped pan is visible in the back of this photo of the ingredients.

My prepped pan is visible in the back of this photo of the ingredients.

I confess I was confused about using a cookie sheet. I thought an 11x13 pan would be a typical pan used for "squares." But since the recipe specifically says "cookie sheet" that's what I did.

The first thing I did was juice the lemons. I did this first for two reasons: (1) I wanted to be sure I had enough lemon juice, and (2) since the recipe says to add the batter to the crust while the crust is warm so I wanted to have the juice ready when the crust came out of oven.

The lemons were small but I thought three might be enough for six tablespoons.

The lemons were small but I thought three might be enough for six tablespoons.

Yup. That'll do.

Yup. That'll do.

I set the oven to preheat then began assemble the crust. The butter had been sitting out for a bit since I began gathering my ingredients. The recipe didn't specify softened butter but I thought it would work out better that way. The recipe didn't specifically suggest to use a pastry cutter but it seemed appropriate. I think it worked well.

Aw, look. I already made a bit of a mess. Typical.

Aw, look. I already made a bit of a mess. Typical.

I can't tell if the crust or the parchment is thinner. That should've been a clue I was in trouble. When I think of lemon squares, or remember Noni's, the crust is thicker than what I have here.

I can't tell if the crust or the parchment is thinner. That should've been a clue I was in trouble. When I think of lemon squares, or remember Noni's, the crust is thicker than what I have here.

It was really easy to press the crust into the cookie sheet but it was pretty thin.

While the crust was in the oven I mixed the filing.

Eggs.

Eggs.

Beaten.

Beaten.

AAAaaaaannnnd then I had to start over because I added two cups of FLOUR instead of sugar. Thankfully I had plenty of eggs for that mistake.

I didn't even want to take the time to wash the bowl to start over. So I pulled out another bowl.

I didn't even want to take the time to wash the bowl to start over. So I pulled out another bowl.

Eggs, beaten until frothy, are beautiful.

Eggs, beaten until frothy, are beautiful.

This time I added sugar. Like I was supposed to.

This time I added sugar. Like I was supposed to.

It was time to pull the crust out of the oven.

Hmm. That crust is pretty thin. Also, look at all those cracks. There's not a lot of integrity to that crust.

Hmm. That crust is pretty thin. Also, look at all those cracks. There's not a lot of integrity to that crust.

The filing seemed pretty boring until I added the lemon juice.

As soon as I added the lemon juice the batter smelled so good.

As soon as I added the lemon juice the batter smelled so good.

The batter poured over the crust. Should I have been concerned how shallow the filling was?

The batter poured over the crust. Should I have been concerned how shallow the filling was?

The batter may have smelled good once I added the lemon juice but when I started to smell the cooking pan it didn't smell so good. There was a weird raw flour smell.

Here's the completely baked product.

Here's the completely baked product.

There is nothing about this pan that looked like "lemon bars."

There is nothing about this pan that looked like "lemon bars."

I went ahead and covered it in powdered sugar as instructed.

I went ahead and covered it in powdered sugar as instructed.

When I peeled the paper away from the lemon it didn't look very bar-like. I initially thought that even though it didn't look very good I could spoon the non-squares into a bowl and add whipped cream. Worse, it didn't smell very good.

I cut off a few squares to try. Uh oh. I could see, as I feared, the lemon filling seeped through the crust.

I cut off a few squares to try. Uh oh. I could see, as I feared, the lemon filling seeped through the crust.

Bless Jeff. He and I both tasted it. It was very unpleasant.

That's no bar. Unfortunately it tasted far worse than it looked.

That's no bar. Unfortunately it tasted far worse than it looked.

My first thought was to brush my teeth to get the taste out of my mouth. It was that bad.

On the one hand I think if I make it in an 11x13 dish the crust will have a little more integrity. On the other hand, I can't understand how 4 Tablespoons of flour would result in an un-cooked flavor and aroma.

I briefly looked at other lemon squares recipes online and The Red Box version is very similar to those. I don't know how different I can expect the filling to behave in a different pan.

Since this experiment was so unsuccessful I'm going to leave off the recipe. I'll include it when I figure out what I did wrong. For now I'll simply share my replica of Noni's card. I love her writing and notes (1 cube of butter, or margarine, is 1/2 cup) and the stains from use. I wonder if she just knew not to use a cookie sheet.

Since this experiment was so unsuccessful I'm going to leave off the recipe. I'll include it when I figure out what I did wrong. For now I'll simply share my replica of Noni's card. I love her writing and notes (1 cube of butter, or margarine, is 1/2 cup) and the stains from use. I wonder if she just knew not to use a cookie sheet.

This Red Box experiment was a fail. Since I didn't have anything homemade I swung by a local wine store for some interesting beverages. It turned out there were plenty of sweets at the party. I was kind of bummed I didn't have lemon squares but I'll try it again another time.


Sometimes You Just Have To Go With It

by Stacey Jaros


I don't do Valentine's day. Approximately 10 years ago my then boyfriend, now husband, Jeff, and I went out to dinner on Valentine's Day. We didn't want to make a big fuss so we chose to make reservations at a favorite neighborhood restaurant.

Unbeknownst to us the only menu available was a prix fixe, three course, menu. Our favorite items from the regular menu were not available. The price for the meal was comparable to what we would have paid for our usual menu items so at least there wasn't sticker shock. We could have walked out but at the last minute we just decided to stay.

Another surprise was that upon arrival the host walked us through the dining room with lovely booths, down a small passage way, and into some kind of auxiliary dining room. One could see how it might be cozy and intimate but on that night it was packed with "two tops" from wall to wall.

We were seated near the center of the room the tables to our left and our right were each within an arm's reach. The room was about half full already. It wasn't overly loud but every conversation was audible in the cozy space.

I do not recall anything about the diners on one side, they must have been quiet. The diners on the other side however are half the reason I don't go out on Valentine's Day any longer. They were a young male-female couple. The guy repeatedly took phone calls (texting wasn't really a thing back then), ignoring his date. The phone calls seemed unimportant and non-urgent, just seemed like chit chat. The woman appeared to not be having the best time but she also didn't seem to be upset. We were seated so close together that the whole vibe was more than distracting.

On our way home that night we both agreed we would rather celebrate the sentiment of Valentine's Day either before or after February 14. That's what we've done ever since. We exchange cards and gifts but neither one of us has regretted the decision to not go out.

The best thing that happened that night is that we discovered the existence of that banquet room. Had we not experienced the overflow dining that Valentine's night we may never have known the room existed. When we looked for a place to have our rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding it became the clear that would be a great space. It ended up being the perfect space to set up a mock wedding setting for a quick rehearsal and it was cozy and private for our family and friends.


Mexicali Eggs

by Stacey Jaros


If the Corned Beef and Small and White Bean incident was a failure, and it truly was, the next morning I redeemed myself somewhat with Mexicali Eggs.

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I was looking forward to attempting this recipe. The ingredients are things I generally have on hand.

I'd initially thought of making the meal for dinner. It would quickly come together after work and wouldn't require too much cleanup. However, Jeff isn't a big fan of dinner for breakfast (I know! He's otherwise pretty close to perfect so it's ok).

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I halved the recipe because 8 eggs is way too much for two people. Well, I halved the recipe plus one. It just seemed like the right thing to do.

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The recipe didn't suggest it but I drained the green chilies. I often make eggs with similar ingredients to this recipe. Whenever I use green chilies or salsa I drain it because I really don't like runny eggs.

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Another alteration I made to the recipe is that it called for cooking in 2 Tablespoons of butter. I did use a tiny little bit of butter but 2 Tablespoons in a non-stick pan was entirely unnecessary. I don't use non-stick for everything but it sure is great for eggs.

The biggest decision I had to make when interpreting this recipe was flour or corn tortillas. I think either would work but I chose corn for two reasons: (1) I thought it would taste delicious, and (2) if I was supposed to use flour wouldn't the recipe be called "Breakfast Burritos?" Ultimately I think either would work well in this recipe.

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The recipe doesn't mention how to warm the tortillas. I warmed them in a hot, dry pan which worked very well. Years ago I rented a place in San Francisco where the most awesome thing was an antique gas stove with a griddle in the middle. The stove wasn't level (the floor was actually the problem) so it was shite for baking (cakes would come out uneven) but the griddle was awesome for warming tortillas.

Jeff's eggs.

Jeff's eggs.

I pulled Jeff's eggs out of the pan first since I like mine well done. After his were assembled I put my tortillas in the pan to warm and continued cooking my eggs.

This was a delicious meal. I liked it so much that I'm likely to enjoy it for dinner the next time Jeff has Beer & Pizza night with a buddy.

Mexicali Eggs

8 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
Dash pepper
1/2 Cup onion, chopped
1/4 Cup canned green chilies, chopped
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 Cup shredded cheddar cheese
4 tortillas
Taco sauce

Beat 8 eggs with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a dash of pepper. Scramble with 1/2 Cup chopped onion and 1/4 Cup chopped canned green chilies in 2 Tablespoons of butter. Sprinkle on 1/2 Cup shredded cheddar cheese. Spoon eggs in 4 heated tortillas. Roll up and top with heated taco sauce. [I didn't heat the taco sauce since I only used a drizzle of hot sauce. It was fine without heating.]


Corned Beef and Small White Beans

by Stacey Jaros


Alternate title: I should have known better.

Throughout the months of September and October my friend, Colleen, was living a very overscheduled life. Wondering when she might have a minute to herself she checked her calendar and realized November 2nd was free. She declared Saturday, November 2, Couch Date. Couch Date was a day to celebrate nothing on the schedule other than doing enjoyable things one puts off while getting things done. Once Couch Date was on her schedule, and the only thing on her schedule, she suggested her friends might also enjoy a day for themselves. Many of her friends joined her.

I shared my Couch Date with Jeff. We thought we'd spend some time clearing a few things off the DVR, including the movie "The Kings of Summer" which we missed when it was in theaters. I also thought it would be a good opportunity to tackle another recipe in The Red Box.

Jeff said, "You're going to cook on Couch Date?" I said, "Well, we'll be home all day and we'll have to eat. Besides, I like to cook. Couch Date isn't about doing NOTHING, it's about not filling up a schedule with 'MUST DOs.'"

For some reason I keep laving out one item from my ingredient photos. This time it was ketchup.

For some reason I keep laving out one item from my ingredient photos. This time it was ketchup.

I looked for something that wouldn't take a lot of prep or cleanup and settled on Corned Beef with White Beans. I thought it would be something I could throw in a pan and let it go.

Initially thought about putting it in the slow cooker. I think I remember my Mom making corned beef that way. It is entirely possible Noni made it in the slow cooker too. There was often a pot of beans or greens cooking that way on the counter at Noni and Pop's house. Since the recipe didn't call for any liquid I thought it might dilute the flavor of the other ingredients. I decided on a roasting pan instead.

If you've made corned beef, or beans, you're likely shaking your head. I hadn't made corned beef in decades. I've learned my lesson. Please go easy on me. Sure I could blame the recipe but I should've known better.

When I asked for corned beef at the meat counter the meat was encased in plastic just how I remembered. Since I didn't need 5 pounds the butcher cut the corned beef for me. There were typical spices on the corned beef but it didn't some with a separate spice packet as is common for corned beef. I do not know if waiting two days to cook it contributed to it being dry due to the fact it was no longer sealed in plastic but merely wrapped in butcher wrap.

Rather than the typical Corned Beef and Cabbage, this recipe includes ingredients similar to BBQ sauce. I found that more appealing than Corned Beef and Cabbage which is really not a favorite of mine.

Salad spinners: they're for so much more than salad.

Salad spinners: they're for so much more than salad.

I turned the oven to 325° and set the timer for one hour.

The ingredients are very straightforward, other than butter. Hunks of butter seem a little odd to me. 

The ingredients are very straightforward, other than butter. Hunks of butter seem a little odd to me. 

Here is the pan stirred after one hour. 

Here is the pan stirred after one hour. 

The deepened color on the onions and ketchup were a good sign that things were heading in the right direction. The beans made a lot of noise in the pot as I stirred. I realized they were very dry. It isn't clear in the photo but there were a few inches of liquid in the bottom of the pan. That gave me hope but I was seriously concerned I should have used the slow cooker and added liquid.  Even though it was smelling good I started to worry dinner wasn't going to be delicious. I should've added water, or broth, or water plus additional quantities of the original ingredients so the flavor wouldn't be diluted. Basically, I should have added any liquid instead of doing what I did which was to put it back in the oven for another hour.

After hour two of cooking. 

After hour two of cooking. 

After another hour there was a lot of color on the beans. They weren't any softer. There wasn't a lot of liquid in the bottom of the pan. I scooped out a few beans to taste and set them aside to cool. I caved and added a splash (well, about a cup) of water. I also turned the oven down to about 250°. At that point I was just trying to have something edible. I put the pan back in the oven.

I tasted the beans. On the one hand they had a good flavor. On the other hand they were VERY chewy. The texture was really unpleasant. I casually searched the internet for corned beef recipes. Well, I probably don't need to tell you they all call for adding liquid. Every recipe I found requires liquid.

Of course I didn't search "how to cook beans" because I know beans, dried beans, require a lot of liquid to cook. Of course I know that. I'm not an idiot. Why, why, why I didn't stick with my initial instinct of the slow cooker I just can't say.

Had I used the slow cooker, with the necessary liquid, the cooking time would have been close to 6 hours. That's when I started my project. The meat had cooked in half the time. I turned the oven as low as it would go and made mashed potatoes.

I'm pretty sure a meal of beans doesn't need mashed potatoes but mashed potatoes, especially in Jeff's world, make most things better.

I'm pretty sure a meal of beans doesn't need mashed potatoes but mashed potatoes, especially in Jeff's world, make most things better.

The next night I tried to reconstitute the meal by simmering the beans in beef broth for about an hour then adding the meat to warm through. It really didn't work. The beans were a bit better -  closer to al dente rather than downright chewy, but the meat was still way too dry.

I was thankful the butcher sold me a smaller portion and that I didn't waste the whole portion. At least the mashed potatoes were delicious (& I made lots to freeze some for a future meal).

Corned Beef and Small White Beans

2 bay leaves
5 peppercorns
2 parsley sprigs
1 onion, sliced
2 Tablespoons margarine
1/3 Cup brown sugar
1/3 Cup ketchup
3 Tablespoons vinegar
Small pack white beans
1 corned beef [I've since learned a corned beef is a brisket seasoned with particular spices. It is very likely a brisket is the preferred cut of meat for this recipe.]

Cook a long time. [The ingredients should be covered with water before cooking.]


Tamale Pie

by Stacey Jaros


When I was very young, my mom, dad and I would have dinner together at the dining room table a couple nights a week. Most nights my mom and I would have dinner together just the two of us because my dad was working in retail and wouldn't get home until after my bedtime. On those nights dinner would be often be simple.

One of my favorite meal memories that I have no recollection of my dad ever eating is frozen tamales, canned refried beans, and canned asparagus. The asparagus was served chilled, soggy, and plain. Don't judge. I love fresh, roasted, asparagus but sometimes the canned stuff is just what I'm craving.

At first the meal sounds "instant" but it actually did require a bit of planning. The asparagus needed to be placed in the fridge to chill. The beans were easy enough, they're just heated on the stove top. The frozen tamales took about 45 minutes to steam on the stove top. Sure the beans and tamales COULD be warmed in the microwave but it really is best to do them on the stove. So the meal isn't instant but less than an hour is pretty quick.

The variety of frozen tamales we always had were XLNT.

Neither Jeff nor I likes olives so I decided to leave them out.

Neither Jeff nor I likes olives so I decided to leave them out.

When I thought about the tamale pie recipe from The Red Box I thought a tamale alone is a pretty perfect dish. Why would I want to mess it up with all those other ingredients? Unfortunately the only frozen tamales I've tried locally aren't very appetizing. Whereas when I lived in Southern California I always kept a few tamales in the freezer, since I've lived in Northern California it's only something I prepare from time to time and it's never as delicious as I wish it would be. Maybe using the frozen tamale as the base for a meal would help amp up the flavors.

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The first thing I did in preparation was steam the tamales. The instructions with the recipe don't specify whether the tamales ought to be cooked. In fact, it doesn't mention whether they should be frozen or fresh. I thought it would be very hard to cut frozen tamales. Since the other meat going in the dish would be hot, I thought the tamales ought to be a similar temperature. I'm pretty sure this was the right decision. I suppose if you had fresh tamales which were merely refrigerated it would be fine to add them to the dish cold. If you were using frozen tamales I think heating them is the way to go.

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While the tamales were steaming I browned the meat and onions. I drained the meat and then placed the meat and onions in the baking dishes.

When the tamales were steamed I probably should have waited for them to cool but I wanted to get the casserole in the oven. I thought they would slice easily if I kept them in their wrapper but that ended up being a poor choice.

Keeping the wrapper on ended up smushing the tamale and breaking up the masa.

Keeping the wrapper on ended up smushing the tamale and breaking up the masa.

This particular brand of frozen tamales has very chunky meat, making them even harder to slice.

This particular brand of frozen tamales has very chunky meat, making them even harder to slice.

The recipe instructions call for slices of tamale to be placed over the beef and onions. I figured it wouldn't matter much if I spooned it all over the dishes. The tamales held together much better with just the ends sliced off and the remaining wrapper removed.

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Even though it was a little easier to slice them this way it still didn't end up with discs like I thought the recipe was suggesting. Hmm, maybe they were meant to be sliced frozen. I could have gotten pretty neat rounds from a frozen tamale with a really sharp knife. Too late at that point.

The recipe easily serves 8 so I initially thought of halving the recipe and having two meals from it. Instead I made the entire recipe and split it into two halves. One half I immediately froze. The other half made dinner one night and leftovers another night. The half that was frozen made another meal and leftovers a week or so later.

Whether neatly sliced, or mushed from my failed first slicing attempt, the tamales ended up looking about the same in both of my cooking dishes.

Whether neatly sliced, or mushed from my failed first slicing attempt, the tamales ended up looking about the same in both of my cooking dishes.

Over the tamales went some of the tomato sauce and corn kernels.

Over the tamales went some of the tomato sauce and corn kernels.

I wish I could have made the tomato sauce cover a bit more of the other ingredients.

I wish I could have made the tomato sauce cover a bit more of the other ingredients.

I added the remaining tomato sauce. I wanted to cover as much of the surface with sauce as possible. I suppose you could warm the sauce before putting it the dish to help speed along the cooking process. It would probably only save you 5 minutes or so in the oven and would dirty another dish. It doesn't seem worth it but if you're in a hurry give it a shot.

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I put the portion I was serving that night in the oven. The other dish I covered and put it in the freezer. By the time I cleaned up my prep-mess, dinner was hot and bubbly.

It was quite delicious. I really liked the corn with the other ingredients. I think there is an opportunity to add some seasoning to the ground beef and onions. I'm sure if I was using my favorite XLNT tamales I would want that special flavor to stand out.

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I doubt I would ever make this dish with XLNT, or homemade, tamales. I will probably make this again with the store-bought frozen tamales I have available to me locally.

My favorite discovery when working on this recipe was learning that a limited number of local area stores of a certain chain carry my favorite frozen XLNT tamales. You can bet I'll be checking my local outlet.

Tamale Pie

1 lb hamburger
1 onion
1 can olives, sliced
2 big beef tamales
2 small cans tomato sauce
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
Grated cheddar cheese

In pan brown hamburger & onion.
Beef tamales sliced.
Cover with tomato sauce, corn, and olives.
Top with cheese.
Cover and bake 30 minutes 350° oven.


Powdered Sugar Pound Cake and Lemon Topping

by Stacey Jaros


This one's a twofer. Remember when radio stations would have Twofer Tuesdays when they'd play two songs from the same artists? It's like that.

Several of us having been on vacation when it first aired, some friends and I wanted to gather to watch the 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony together. The party was held at the house of my friend, Lisa, the biggest Rush fan I know.

I confess I sneaked a peek of a clip of Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins performing in white silk pants and kimonos before the party. Who could resist that rock and roll excess? It was really fun enjoying the remainder of the ceremony with other fans.

The party was a pot luck & I was asked to bring a dessert. There are many options in The Red Box but I chose a cake, and a topping. The cake is a Powdered Sugar Pound Cake. There is no mention of a topping or serving suggestion on the recipe. I thought of using fresh berries or whipped cream but I also realized I could knock out another recipe by also making a Lemon Topping. Lemon Topping is a recipe from the box that suggests "serve as topping for cake." Hey, I was making a cake with no other topping. It was an easy decision.

Apparently a full pound of each ingredient makes a cake too large 
for most home consumption. Consequently, most modern recipes are scaled 
down and as long as the ratio among those four ingredients remain equal 
it is still considered a Pound Cake.

Apparently a full pound of each ingredient makes a cake too large for most home consumption. Consequently, most modern recipes are scaled down and as long as the ratio among those four ingredients remain equal it is still considered a Pound Cake.

I had never attempted a pound cake. I was a bit intimidated because the recipe is written in paragraph form. I read and re-read the thing so many times I probably had it nearly memorized. I just really didn't want to have to do it more than once.

The ingredients aren't numerous but it calls for a lot of each item. I understand a traditional Pound Cake calls for one pound each of flour, sugar, butter, and eggs.

You can see in the bottom of the bowl how shiny the butter was.

You can see in the bottom of the bowl how shiny the butter was.

When I decided to make the cake I did not count on it being an outrageously hot day. Nevertheless I had to turn on the oven & get to baking.

I set the butter out early in the day so it would be soft when it was time to work with it. It was such a hot day the butter passed the softened stage and was quickly on its way to melting. I didn't even think about it until I placed the butter in the mixing bowl and it was more melty than I thought it should be. I guess I spent so many years living in San Francisco, where sometimes butter wouldn't even soften, that the prospect if it softening too much never occurred to me.

I began beating the butter and the three cubes came together really quickly. It was also extremely shiny.

Nice try, clumps. You're not getting in this batter.

Nice try, clumps. You're not getting in this batter.

Sifting the powdered sugar went quickly and I managed to get it in the bowl without getting it all over the kitchen - or me.

I started creaming the butter and sugar and that's when I really started to worry. They simply would not get to a light and fluffy stage like the directions instructed. My confidence was pretty low because it was my first attempt at a Pound Cake but I've done enough baking that I didn't panic. I was concerned the sugar was actually melting into the butter. I thought the worst thing that could happen was it might make for a heavy cake that was denser than it ideally should be so I decided to keep going.

Once the butter was creamed, I thought the mixture was slicker than it should have been.

Once the butter was creamed, I thought the mixture was slicker than it should have been.

At that point I thought I should mix it as little as possible. In went the eggs. Thankfully they didn't scramble from the heat of the butter.

Once the eggs, and the vanilla, were incorporated it was time for the flour. As with the powdered sugar I was glad to get most of it in the mixing bowl.

It didn't mention to do so in the instructions but I was so concerned about the creamed butter and sugar being too heavy to successfully rise I sifted the flour to give it the best shot. The completely mixed batter still really glistened. I decided to put the mixing bowl in the fridge while I was prepping the pan.

I didn't own a Bundt pan or a tube pan. As a treat for myself when I started this project I decided to buy one. I decided I wanted something different than a classic Bundt pan. Recently, Melissa at Cupcake Friday Project made a beautiful Lemon Lady Grey Bundt Cake With Lemon Icing  in a Heritage Bunt pan. There are several really tempting Heritage designs currently available. Her cake was so beautiful it really tipped the scales when I was choosing a pan.

I was so nervous the cake wouldn't successfully release from the pan I really wanted to be sure to adequately grease and flour the pan. A combination of a silicone brush for the tiniest corners and the old-stand-by paper towel dipped in Crisco (a family technique) did the trick.

I was so nervous the cake wouldn't successfully release from the pan I really wanted to be sure to adequately grease and flour the pan. A combination of a silicone brush for the tiniest corners and the old-stand-by paper towel dipped in Crisco (a family technique) did the trick.

The batter filled the pan a little higher than I think is ideal. Since I was concerned it wouldn't rise high enough I thought I'd just keep an eye on it.

The batter filled the pan a little higher than I think is ideal. Since I was concerned it wouldn't rise high enough I thought I'd just keep an eye on it.

It turns out the cake rose just fine.

It turns out the cake rose just fine.

I was really happy with how well the cake came out of the pan.

I was really happy with how well the cake came out of the pan.

Since the whole point of making the desert was to take it to some friends' house I needed to figure a way to transport the food so it wouldn't look inedible when it arrived. I decided to take the cake unfrosted. That choice gave me the opportunity to tackle a second recipe from The Red Box. I decided I could take the Lemon Topping in a separate dish.

I don't serve desert at home very often. One of the simplest things I've made, that Jeff really enjoys, is store-bought Angelfood Cake topped with warm cook-and-serve pudding. This cake, with this topping, seemed to be pretty similar to that. While the cake was baking I began the topping.

The ingredients for the lemon topping are simple. I pretty much usually have them on hand. Fresh lemon is key. You can't get zest from a lemon-shaped plastic bottle. I love the aroma of fresh lemon zest. Luckily I was able to get all the juice I needed from one lemon. After some furious stirring the topping really came together. I was glad to see it come to a boil because I knew it would thicken. Once off the heat the remaining ingredients came together really easily.

I tasted the sauce and was really surprised. It was a bit like a thin lemon curd. I loved the texture. It was thin enough to pour over the cake slices and never did begin to congeal unpleasantly. The nutmeg adds a bit of a surprise. I think it is a pleasant flavor but I think the nutmeg was slightly stronger than I'd like.

I put a couple of spoonfulls of the sauce on the platter before I transferred the cake to the serving dish so it wouldn't slide around in transit.

I put a couple of spoonfulls of the sauce on the platter before I transferred the cake to the serving dish so it wouldn't slide around in transit.

The cake was so enormous I had to use two widths of wrap to cover it.

The cake was so enormous I had to use two widths of wrap to cover it.

When I unpacked the supplies and unwrapped the cake at the party house, one of the other party-goers said, "That cake is badass." I was delighted the other party goers all found it to be an appealing cake. I was concerned the topping may have thickened too much but I was so pleased to discover it was still a great, saucy, consistency.

Everyone said it was delicious and they enjoyed the sauce. I thought the cake was ever-so-slightly overcooked, which is odd because I baked it 5 minutes less than the instructions called for. I wonder if the heat of the day had anything to do with it. It soaked up the Lemon Topping and crushed strawberries quite well.

The spread at the party. I'm glad I chose to offer fresh berries as well as the cake and topping. It was refreshing on such a hot summer day.

The spread at the party. I'm glad I chose to offer fresh berries as well as the cake and topping. It was refreshing on such a hot summer day.

Powdered Sugar Pound Cake
In large mixing bowl beat 3 cubes of butter or margarine until creamy. Sift 1 pound or 1 box of powdered sugar. Gradually add to butter, beating until mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in 6 eggs one at a time. Beat well after each addition. Beat in one teaspoon vanilla. Measure 2 3/4 Cups flour, and gradually beat into creamed mixture. Pour into greased and floured 10 inch tube cake pan. Bake in slow oven 300° for one and one half hours, or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan 5 minutes. Turn out on rack. This cake freezes.

Lemon Topping

1 1/2 Cups water, heated
3/4-1 Cup Sugar
2 Tablespoons corn starch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 Tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Combine cornstarch, sugar, and salt. Add beaten egg then add hot water to mixture 2 tablespoons at first then add water slowly bring to boil. Stir until it thickens. Remove from heat add butter, lemon juice, grated rind, and nutmeg. Cool.

Serve as topping for cake.


Mexican Chef's Salad

by Stacey Jaros


Back in April I posted about my Mom making Taco Salad  when she visited before we went on vacation. At the time I thought that recipe I know by heart was the one I found in The Red Box. I was mistaken.

Check out that nifty bag of chips. 

Check out that nifty bag of chips. 

One thing I definitely remember about this salad as written in The Red Box is that it called for Taco Flavor tortilla chips. Taco Flavor Doritos were created in 1967 but were discontinued at some point. I don't recall when that happened but I do remember thinking, "aw, bummer, we used that for that recipe." Recently I began seeing Taco Flavor Doritos in nifty retro-designed packaging in the supermarkets. I couldn't recall what they tasted like but I thought I'd like to try them in the recipe before they're discontinued again. I assumed they'd be a limited edition but they're here to stay.

Just like the Taco Salad from my memory this recipe begins by browning 
ground beef. I added salt and pepper to the cooking beef.

Just like the Taco Salad from my memory this recipe begins by browning ground beef. I added salt and pepper to the cooking beef.

While that was browning I prepped the other ingredients. I shredded the lettuce. The recipe doesn't call for the tomatoes to be seeded but that is how I prefer them, especially when I'm adding tomatoes to a salad.

I don't like excess
 moisture in a salad. It's kind of a pet peeve of mine.

I don't like excess moisture in a salad. It's kind of a pet peeve of mine.

Although it's not mentioned in the recipe I rinsed the beans. I don't think it's necessary but sometimes I think canned beans can be a little slimy. I did drain them pretty well.

An onion chopper similar to this makes quick work of 
chopping onions. It's not necessary but I find it very handy.

An onion chopper similar to this makes quick work of chopping onions. It's not necessary but I find it very handy.

Whenever I'm tossing a salad I like to use a bowl about twice as large as the ingredients need. I tend to be a very messy salad tosser and I find the extra volume in the bowl helps cut down on messes.

Salads like this are so easy because once all the prep 
work is complete everything just gets dumped in one bowl and mixed.

Salads like this are so easy because once all the prep work is complete everything just gets dumped in one bowl and mixed.

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The recipe calls for one onion. The onion I used yielded more than a cup. I thought that would be way, way, too much raw onion in a salad. I added a couple tablespoons before initially tossing the first ingredients.

The recipe calls for the entire bottle of salad dressing. I barely used a third of it. Jeff likes his salads well dressed. You could definitely get away with using less.

The recipe calls for the entire bottle of salad dressing. I barely used a third of it. Jeff likes his salads well dressed. You could definitely get away with using less.

The French dressing is such a surprising complement for these ingredients. It adds a spicy color but a cool flavor. I don't ever order French dressing in a restaurant. In fact I seldom see it offered but it works really well with these flavors.

I added all the next ingredients except for avocado. I was using a perfectly ripe avocado which I chopped. I was afraid if I tossed it too much with the salad it would break down to mush. I tossed it and tasted it. I thought it could use some more onion so I added a few more tablespoons. In the end I didn't end up using even half the onion I chopped.

It's not necessarily a very pretty salad.

It's not necessarily a very pretty salad.

Once I was happy with the balance of ingredients in the bowl I dished up the salad and added avocado as a topping. I like to serve a few whole tortilla chips along side the salad.

I should have set aside a couple tomato bits to place on the top to brighten it up.

I should have set aside a couple tomato bits to place on the top to brighten it up.

This salad was delicious but I think the beef could benefit from a little more seasoning. As for the onion, even though this particular onion was quite strong and really added a pungent kick, it blended well with the cool dressing and smooth beans. While I don't exactly remember the flavor of the Taco Chips, and they're not my favorite bagged chip flavor, I must say they really work with the combination of flavors in this salad.

Mexican Chefs Salad

1 onion, chopped
4 tomatoes, chopped
1 head of lettuce, shredded
1 package grated cheese
1 8 ounce bottle Kraft French dressing
1 6 ounce bag taco flavor tortilla chips
1 large avocado, cut up
1 8 ounce can kidney beans
1 pound ground meat

Toss onion, tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, and dressing. Add tortilla chips, avocado, and kidney beans. Brown ground meat. Salt and pepper to taste. Drain. Add meat to above mixture.

Decorate with extra chips, avocado, and tomato.


"I can eat that."

by Stacey Jaros


Jeff will eat almost anything. Squash is something he really does not care for. I attempted this recipe because I thought it would hide the flavor and, most importantly, the texture of the squash. Plus, Jeff likes fried things. I was relieved when that reasoning turned out to be valid.

After the first taste Jeff said, "I can eat that." Phew.

The thing I found most surprising about this recipe is that it called for Bisquick. That was not an ingredient Noni kept in her kitchen. I remember once when lots of extended family was staying at my grandparents' house while they were away. My mom's childhood friend, whom I called "Aunt" Gene, was going to make pancakes for everyone. I wish I had a picture of her face when she started looking for the Bisquick and my cousins and I told her it didn't exist in Noni's house. I can almost picture her, gulp, realize she had to make something from scratch she wasn't used to doing. I don't even remember if we ended up having pancakes that day.

Here's another recipe with too-few-for-my-comfort instructions.

It cracks me up that I didn't include the Bisquick in the photo of my ingredients.

It cracks me up that I didn't include the Bisquick in the photo of my ingredients.

Zucchini Pancakes

1 8 ounce corn muffin mix
1/2 Cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 Cup milk
2 Cup shredded unpeeled zucchini squash
1/2 Cup Bisquick

Mix and fry in small pancakes.

When I first grated the zucchini I wondered if I should drain some of the moisture from it. It was a pretty wet mess. Once I mixed it into the other batter ingredients I could see that wasn't a problem.

When I first grated the zucchini I wondered if I should drain some of the moisture from it. It was a pretty wet mess. Once I mixed it into the other batter ingredients I could see that wasn't a problem.

I made these on a work night and I didn't feel like getting the electric griddle out. It probably would have been faster to do so because I could have fried more at one time.

I made these on a work night and I didn't feel like getting the electric griddle out. It probably would have been faster to do so because I could have fried more at one time.

I had the pan too hot. It was a good thing I didn't do all the batter at once. These were pretty close to burned and the inside was undercooked.

I had the pan too hot. It was a good thing I didn't do all the batter at once. These were pretty close to burned and the inside was undercooked.

A closeup of one pancake from the second batch. The outside is brown, not burned. The inside is cooked.

A closeup of one pancake from the second batch. The outside is brown, not burned. The inside is cooked.

Eventually I was able to manage several, non-burned, pancakes. It didn't make a lot but it was a yummy side dish.

Eventually I was able to manage several, non-burned, pancakes. It didn't make a lot but it was a yummy side dish.


Dutch Babies

by Stacey Jaros


Why the name? If you've never heard of this type of pancake you're probably wondering too. It's always struck me as weird. I'm sure we talked about the mystery when my Noni began making this dish. If we wondered things in those days we had to keep on wondering them. Guess what, the Internet didn't exist then, kids.

But the Internet does exist now and with the benefit of Wikipedia I can share with you the origin of the name and the pancake. The pancake apparently originated in a Seattle cafe. It's derived from a German pancake. The term "Dutch" referenced the German immigrants known as Pennsylvania Dutch. Apparently it's well known in certain pancake chains. I'd never seen it until I found it on the menu at Outerlands in my former neighborhood. They offer a sweet version and a savory version. I've tried the savory one, with crumbled bacon, and it was delicious.

This dish made a lot of appearances on the breakfast table at my grandparent's house. Sometimes there were so many of us dining Noni had to make two pans of it. It continues to be a popular breakfast item among our family. Recently, when family was gathered for an occasion, my cousin's son left a note for his grandmother requesting Dutch Babies for breakfast.

The ingredients assembled.

The ingredients assembled.

I've always made it with a blender but I think you could have success if you used a hand mixer, or even a whisk and some tenacity.

It's such an easy thing to make. You just blend the eggs, add some salt (Noni's recipe doesn't include salt but I add a few shakes because other similar recipes I've seen call for it), then alternately add flour and milk. I think it helps to scrape down the sides of the blender a couple times after adding the flour.

Keep an eye on the butter as it melts to ensure it doesn't burn.

Keep an eye on the butter as it melts to ensure it doesn't burn.

Melt the butter in the skillet while the oven is heating. Once the butter is melted, remove the hot skillet from the oven and carefully, slowly, pour the batter in the pan. It is important to ensure the butter surrounds the batter in the pan.

I used a 10 inch skillet. I've previously used a 12 inch pan and I didn't get much height. The Wikipedia article specifically mentions a cast iron skillet. I only have a cast iron chicken fryer. I tried it once but it didn't work because the pan has really deep sides. Outerlands serves theirs in tiny single-serve cast iron pans. They're totally cute but unnecessary.


I like to position the pan in the center of the oven if I can. One of my former ovens was quite uneven (the joys of an old kitchen in an old, settling, San Francisco building) and I found it helpful to turn the pan halfway through the cooking.

The size and shape of your pan will make a difference in the height of your Dutch babies.

The size and shape of your pan will make a difference in the height of your Dutch babies.

As you can see in the photo above, there is a lot of volume there. I have had the dish climb so high it broke and toppled over the edge. It's a good idea to keep an eye on it and if it looks like it might break off, you could put a baking sheet below it in the oven. I think it's easier to clean eggs off of a baking sheet than the bottom of the oven.

It's fun to serve because it's impressive looking but the best thing about it is that it's delicious.

It's fun to serve because it's impressive looking but the best thing about it is that it's delicious.

When the eggs are completely set, and lightly brown, they're done.

Inverted on platter.

Inverted on platter.

Invert onto serving platter. It begins to fall immediately. Let it cool a bit before cutting into it so there's some lightness left when you serve it.

Dusted with powdered sugar.

Dusted with powdered sugar.

Powdered sugar isn't in Noni's ingredient list but it's definitely how Jeff prefers this dish to be finished. I can neither confirm nor deny I shouted a certain three letter word while I was dusting the Dutch Babies with powdered sugar.

Dutch Babies

1/3 Cup butter
5 eggs
1 Cup milk
1 Cup flour

Melt butter in large fry pan until hot.

Put eggs in blender for 1 minute on high speed.

Turn to low and add milk and flour and return to high for 30 seconds.

Pour into melted butter. Bake at 425 until puffy and lightly browned (20-25 minutes).


Chicken Divan

by Stacey Jaros


Chicken Divan is a dish I definitely remember. I remember it having broccoli, cooked chicken, and some kind of condensed soup dumped in a casserole. I do not remember at all the curry powder or the bread crumb topping. It really makes me wonder if there's another Chicken Divan recipe floating around the family. This is The Red Box version.


An easy work night meal.

An easy work night meal.

Since I made this for only Jeff and me I halved the recipe. I think that decision worked out quite well. I thought about making the dish as written and freezing some but I wasn't sure how that would work out. Even halved we had two dinners out of it. What's better than leftovers on a work night?

The chicken breasts I picked up from the local butcher (boneless and skinless) were enormous so I used just one.

The recipe didn't call for it but I added a little salt and pepper to the cooking chicken.

The recipe didn't call for it but I added a little salt and pepper to the cooking chicken.

As I was cooking it up I realized you could substitute any cooked chicken (or even turkey). Once the chicken was cooked I spread it on a board to cool more quickly. I honestly didn't wait for it to cool thoroughly.

I steamed the broccoli briefly on the stove top.

I love how bright green briefly cooked broccoli becomes.

I love how bright green briefly cooked broccoli becomes.

Maybe it was the brand of curry powder I used but I thought it was a little too mild. When I make it again I'll add a tiny bit more of the spice. Otherwise it was a really yummy dish.

This photo is a good representation of the creaminess of the casserole. You can also see we had plenty of leftovers for another meal.

This photo is a good representation of the creaminess of the casserole. You can also see we had plenty of leftovers for another meal.

Chicken Divan

3 whole chicken breasts
2 10 oz frozen or 2 bunches broccoli
2 cans cream chicken soup
1 Cup mayo
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 Cup bread crumbs

Cook chicken until tender - cool and debone. Cook broccoli lightly. Place broccoli in bottom of casserole pan, layer chicken on top. Mix soup and mayonnaise, lemon juice and curry and pour over top of chicken. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese and bread crumbs.

Bake at 350° for 30 minutes.


Mexican Spoon Bread

by Stacey Jaros


I was looking through The Red Box for a side dish that wouldn't take too much time to prepare. Mexican Spoon Bread wasn't a frequently made dish but I do recall having it at my grandparent's house.
 
This is a very straightforward recipe. What a relief since I served it with the somewhat complicated Savory Pork Steak.

A glimpse of the Mexican Spoon Bread in this photo with the Savory Pork Steak.

A glimpse of the Mexican Spoon Bread in this photo with the Savory Pork Steak.

The recipe offers the most important note, "Don't over cook - just till it sets."  This was the detail that kept me most nervous. Thankfully it came out of the oven just right.  

There were differing opinions at the table about a similar, but sweet, side dish offered at certain Mexican restaurants but everyone agreed this savory version is delicious. It was a big hit all around.

I definitely look forward to making it again soon.

Photo taken after the meal. There was a little Spoon Bread left to enjoy the next night. Only a little.

Photo taken after the meal. There was a little Spoon Bread left to enjoy the next night. Only a little.

Mexican Spoon Bread

1 can cream style corn
1 Cup yellow corn meal
1/3 Cup oil
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 Cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
3/4 Cup milk
1/2 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 can green chilies, chopped

Mix all ingredients except half of the cheese. Pour the mixture into greased 9x9 inch pan. Sprinkle with remainder of cheese.
Bake at 400° for 40 minutes. Don't over cook - just till it sets.