I’m a Little Latke, A Nice Potato Pancake….

If you have a recent preschooler, you know this tune.  Happy Hannukah to those celebrating this first night.  While we do not celebrate Hannukah (my son figured this out after a year or two), we do like to partake in food traditions – no matter what the holiday or religion.  Food is a great way to learn about cultures, religion, beliefs and geography.


In the past I made my own latkes (see past recipe), however this year my kids and I discovered and sampled (and purchased) Trader Joe’s frozen latkes.  I’m sure this is probably sacriligious.  However they are tasty and came in handy today as our schedule was so hectic.  It also worked out well with our meatless Monday ritual.  I topped them with apple sauce, creme fraiche, lox and capers.


Easy, Fast Foodie Gifts for All

A View of My Countertops

Since I like to cook and everyone likes to eat, I like to make food gifts for the holidays.  They’re always the right size, never go out of style and can be made non-denominational.  So everyone can be pleased – from neighbors, to friends, to teachers, to family, etc.

Because my oven is still working, even though never “fixed”, I’m kind of scared to turn it off.  O.K. not really.  But it seems like it’s been on and I’ve been baking for 2 weeks solid.  I’m not complaining, although I need more counter space.  I’ve made a few usual favorite cookies such as Molasses Sugar Cookies.  But this year I opened my December Sunset magazine and was inspired to try their cookie contest winners.   The White Christmas Dream Drops  (click for recipe) are chewy and refreshing (and easier to make than say the name), and I can see why they won first place (Good going, Dustin and Erin Beutin of Tustin, CA).  They were my son’s choice for his school party.  While the Chai Spiced Shortbread cookies are more subtle.  I love them with tea and can’t wait to experiment with different types of tea bags for the dough.  They were a runner up (Congrats Anissa Shea from Walnut Creek, CA).  I made a variety to give to neighbors and our contractors (yes, we’re in the middle of some construction to make the holiday a bit more hectic).


crushing candy canes
White Christmas Dream Drops
chai spiced shortbread

For those who may receive lots of sweets at the holidays, I make a cookie mix jar.  This way you are giving a fun treat for the recipient to make anytime they have a craving (whether it’s January or July).  They are festive looking and the jars are quicker to measure and assemble, than make than the actual cookies.  Plus the 1 quart reusable jar has lots of recycle uses (we use them for shells and eraser collections at my house).  To present them, I found some good sturdy reusable bags with peace signs at Whole Foods that are cute.  This year my kids asked “How come we never make those cookies, just the jars?”  A good question.  So I made a batch for us, no jar necessary.  They are yummy!  Good thing, since we made them and gave them to teachers and friends.


cookie mix jar


cocoa chocolate chip cookies from jar mix

Finally, this year I also gave a mulled wine kit.  I picked up a copy of A Greener Christmas by Sheherazade Goldsmith, which has lots of DIY ideas for gift giving.  I wish I had it earlier in the season.  Filled with fun crafts for kids too.  This recipe was easy and something different from the usual wine hostess gift.

mulled wine bouquet

Mulled Wine Kit

1 cinnamon stick, break into 3 pieces

6 cardamon pods, lightly crushed

fresh nutmeg, grated

12 cloves

1 square cheesecloth (7 x 7)

1 pinch ground ginger

length of twine

1 bottle red wine (I used a french red table wine)

All the spices go into the center of the cheesecloth.  Carefully sprinkle the ground herbs over the whole.  (Because some may come out the cheesecloth, I wrapped the spice bouquet in plastic wrap before attchin to the wine bottle.  Gather cheesecloth and tie into a bouquet.  Tie around wine bottle with instruction card.

Instructions for Mulling Wine:

Put the wine, spice bouquet and 1/2 cup water and 6 tablespoons raw sugar into t pan.  Heat gently until sugar has dissolved, but don’t allow wine to come to a boil.  If you’d like optional ingredients include:

slices of oranges and lemons

juice of 1 orange

splash of port or brandy


Cake Ladies Cookbook Review and Applesauce Spice Recipe

So my oven as you know has had a few issues lately (like ruening off in the middle of my whoopie pies).  But a few days later a repairman came to fix it.  Probably is when he came, it turned on no problem.  Isn’t that always the case?  He probably thought I was crazy.  So he left and we discussed a new part that I may need to be sure it doesn’t happen again.  As soon as he left, since the oven was working I got out Cake Ladies, Celebrating a Southern Tradition by Jodi Rhoden.  I had been reading the stories of these lovely southern women (chefs, cooks, moms, grandmas, etc) who loved to make cakes as part of their heritage.


We were heading to friends for a large playdate so I thought I’d make and bring the Applesauce Spice Cake from Lois Mims in Pine Apple, Alabama.  Lois’ story is about using her intuition to cook and not measuring or writing things down.  Luckily she estimated for this recipe to share in the book.  And luckily my oven remained working through the baking.


Pros:  Fun stories of real women living in the south and the importance of their baking to their family, community and history.  Lovely, inspiring pictures.   A cake for everyone and every occassion – even vegan cupcakes.

Cons: Each recipe is by a diffrent lady, thus some are not as consistent or exact (heaping teaspoons etc).  Not surprinsigly, many are time consuming recipes.

Applesauce Spice Cake

1 cup vegetable oil

4 large eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

2 cups self rising sugar divided

1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon

1 heaping teaspoon clove

1 cup applesauce

1 cup whole shelled walnuts, coarsely chopped*


3 tablespoons milk

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar*


Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350F.

Spray two 9 inch round cake pans with cooking spray and set aside.

Mix the Batter

Combine the oil, eggs, and sugars in a stand mixer.  Beat until light and fluffy and fully creamed.  Add 1 cup of the flour, and spices and beat until just combined.  Add applesauce and combine.  Then remaining flour.  Combine.  Add walnuts and fold in with a spatula.  Beat until just combined.

Bake the Cake

Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans.  Place pans in oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean and the sides of the cake pull away from the sides of the pan.  Remove from oven and cool in pans on a rack for 5 minutes before inverting onto racks to cool completely.

Make the Glaze

In a separate bowl combine the milk and the powdered sugar.  Mix with a fork or whisk until no lumps of powdered sugar remain.

Assemble the Cake

When the layers are cool, place the first layer on a plate.  Drizzle 1/4 cup of the glaze overt the first layer to cover the surface.  Allow the glaze to drizzle down the sides a little.  Place the next layer on top of the first and repeat with remianing glaze.  Applesauce spice cake can be kept at room temperature covered for up to one week.

*Lois Kitchen Wisdom

“Way back yonder we didn’t have no mixer.  When my mama used to fix the cake we had to beat it 300 strokes every time.”

(Note: I substituted peacans since I didn’t have walnuts.   Also I sifted the powdered sugar for the glaze to be sure it was smooth)




Holidays, Cold and Flu Are Here…Tea to the Rescue

Last year we got the flu just before Thanksgiving.  This year it was literally on the drive home from my parents.  Thanksgiving dinner was great as was the visit, but the drive home made us not want to think about doing it for a very long time.  Long story short my poor son got sick in the car and we ended up having to stay in a motel on I5 just outside the Grapevine where he was up all night with the flu.  The next day we were finally able to drive home – my son sleeping most of the way.

It would be two days later when my daughter got it (although a milder version).  And now my husband and I both have colds.  There is one thing that seems to be soothing whether healthy or sick during these cooler months for all ages and that is tea.  You know about my love of iced tea, but hot’s great too.  My kids love tea with a touch of honey.  My pediatrician’s nurse actually suggested it as a remedy for coughs rather than medicine. (But never for those under 1 year.).  This time of year we stock up on peppermint tea which you can only get in winter.  But we also have a large variety of everything from cammomile to ginger to mint to chai to fit everyone’s mood and illness.  Tea is the most popular drink in the world – so there must be something there.

Mint Chamomile Tea

A cup of chamomile tea can be soothing for a child on a cold day or with a cold inside. The added mint syrup lends a bit of sweet and spice. Most children don’t like drinks and food too hot. Keep temperature on warm or lukewarm.

Makes 1 cup


1 cup water

1 bag chamomile tea

2 teaspoons Mint Syrup (see below)

Bring water to a boil
in a saucepan. Add tea bag and let steep for 3 to 5 minutes. Carefully squeeze
tea bag and discard. Add syrup and stir.


Mint Syrup

The symbol of hospitality, mint has been used for scores of culinary and medicinal purposes over the centuries. This simple mint syrup can be added as a sweetener to hot
and cold teas, as well as lemonade and plain water.

Makes 2 cups syrup


¾ cup turbinado sugar

2 cups water

2 cups fresh mint (1 bunch), torn into 2-inch pieces

In a small saucepan, combine sugar, water, and mint. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until sugar has dissolved, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and let stand for at least 30 minutes.

Pour though a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl or pitcher and discard mint.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.