Whole Grain Fruit Crisp

Two years ago, I gave up sugar and instead use agave for sweetener. However, I still have a sweet tooth and when I want something “dessert-y,” this is a good alternative. You’ll find you use much less agave than if you use sugar.

Directions:

Note: The agave nectar in the topping makes it less crumbly and more like a cookie batter. Crumble it as best you can over the fruit.

For the fruit:

6 cups of your favorite fruit, pitted, peeled and sliced as necessary

2 tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour

juice of one lemon

1 tablespoon agave nectar

For the topping:

1 stick margarine

1 cup agave nectar (I used ½ c. and it was fine)

3/4 cup oatmeal

1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or just plain whole wheat flour)

3/4 cup pecans, broken into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 350*.

Combine the fruit ingredients in a Pyrex pie plate. Mix well.

Combine the topping ingredients in a mixing bowl with your fingers till well mixed.  It will be less crumbly than a traditional crisp topping. Scatter the topping in bits over the fruit.

Bake for about an hour, till the top is beginning to brown.

Serve warm or refrigerate for up to three days. If you are refrigerating it, bring it back to room temperature before serving.

 

 

Advertisements

Wands and Wings

This Christmas the Crankee Yankee and I gave our 2.5 year old granddaughter, Ava, a bag of presents. Honestly, it wasn’t a big deal; a fairy tale book I had when I was 7, a Doc McStuffins puzzle set, some plastic elves and some Dollar Store stuff including a pair green gauze fairy wings and a light-up blue heart “magic wand.”

Ava loved the wand and wings, and the first thing she wanted to do was to fly–of course. There she stood, in her Christmas dress and pink tights, wings on her shoulders and wand at the ready. Her mother said, “Say the magic words to fly!”

Ava cried out, “Pixie dust–AWAAAAY!” And off she flew, powered by her dad’s arms, all around the living room, the dining room, the kitchen, the hallway and back into the living room. She screamed in delight all the way, waving her bright blue magic wand, and yelling, “I FWYING!!” You just can’t beat magic like that.

It’s taken me over six decades to realize that it isn’t so much the price of the gift you give, it’s what the gift means to the giftee. Thinking back over the Christmases past as I like to do this time of year, I remember some of the gifts I was given and how much they meant to me. For instance, the year my uncle gave me the fairy tale book I just passed on to Ava, I can still feel how those stories felt to me when I read them for the first time. The cover of the book was a deep, glossy emerald green, exactly the color of the plush moss in the meadow behind my grandparents’ house. The front cover had a red-haired, freckle-faced little pixie wearing a yellow flower as a hat, sitting on a mushroom, telling stories to prettily dressed children. I called it my Green Fairy Book, and read it over and over again.

Those stories took me far away to another place where magic lived, and I could expect anything from a wicked witch who enticed children into her delicious candy house to a wolf lying in a grandmother’s bed, waiting for Little Red Riding Hood. When I finished reading, I would put the book up for the day, feeling the enchantment of those moments slowly slip away—then I was back to my ordinary life. For a while, I would feel a little empty, missing that magic, but I knew it would be right back whenever I picked up the book again.

I wish for this magic for my incredible, amazing and utterly wonderful Ava. My hope is that Ava and all children may have all the skills they need to become good and wise adults, but still keep a corner in their hearts for wonder, joy and of course–magic.

Today is My Parents’ 58th Anniversary

My amazing parents have been together for  58 years of their lives. 58 years ago today, they were married in my grandparents’ parlor, in front of the Christmas tree in the bay window. Imagine–58 years of loving each other, going through all the hard times and good times and everything in between.

It is a testament to love, endurance, tolerance, faith, knowing when to speak up and when to be still, when to laugh or cry, or just BE. I am in awe of this marriage, which has been my foundation and my strength for all these years. To this day, they speak to each other with love and kindness, respect and clarity, thoughtfulness and caring, and always build each other up. It has truly been a ‘for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, in joy and in sorrow’ all these years. They know what makes each other tick, they understand who they are married to, and what kind of people they are.

The Crankee Yankee and I have been married over 11 years, both second marriages. His parents were much like mine, and conducted their lives and marriage in the same way. The Crankee Yankee and I grew up with love and support, always knowing that the arms of our parents were around us. They raised us to be adults, able to live and survive on our own, and for that we are both grateful.

My personal glass is raised in respect and joy to my parents, and to all couples who share their lives together.

 

YOU Are the Gift This Christmas Day

You–yes, YOU–are the gift on Christmas Day, and every day of the year. You are here right now at this moment in time because YOU matter, because YOU are needed, and because YOU are necessary to the lives around you.

There is no one on the earth like you, nor will there be again. You, and all you bring to your life, are important. Whether you think you are beautiful, ugly, tall, short, fat, thin, old, young, deformed, whole–all the things that make you who you are–matter.

We have all thought at one time or other, ‘why am I here? Does what I do matter?’ It is human to ask these questions and seek the answers. No matter how humdrum you think your life is, you affect other beings as you live your life.

Case in point: one day I was in a mall and decided to stop and have a pastry and a coffee. It was crowded that day, and there was no place to sit. I had made up my mind that I would just have to stand there and juggle my purse, coat, coffee and roll when someone from a table called out to me to come sit down. It was a table of two women and their two children, and I thanked them and sat. One of the women told me that they too had had no place to sit when they came in, and someone offered them a place at their table. The person offering said that they, too, had been invited to sit at a stranger’s table, and decided to pass the favor on.

So after my two new friends and their children left, I finished my coffee. A few feet away stood a young man and his wife holding their coffees, and I invited them to sit down. I told them the story before I left. As I walked away, I saw the young man beckon to a stranger to join them. And that’s how we pass on grace to one another. It’s a small thing, but it was a lesson I didn’t forget.

How many times have we seen on the news how people come together to contribute to a pet’s necessary surgery when the owner can’t afford it? Or how about the One Fund after the Boston Marathon? This was a result of ordinary people contributing what they could to help others, and look what was accomplished.

The “power of one” is a powerful force. You matter, you are meant to be here, you are one-of-a-kind and are necessary to the world. We may never see our own worth in our lifetime, but believe me, others do.

Does anyone remember the brief but powerful television show starring Keiffer Sutherland called “Touch?” It always began with this voice-over: “There’s an ancient Chinese myth about the red thread of fate. It says that the gods have tied a red thread around every one of our ankles and attached it to all the people whose lives we are destined to touch. This thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break.”

We may never realize the effect we have on others, but the simplest thing; say, a random act of kindness to a stranger–may re-direct a person’s life. I have a dear artist friend who makes incredible jewelry who has taught me many lessons in love, kindness and generosity over the years. Each year she makes gifts of her lovely earrings to those people in her life who help her throughout the year; the woman in the post office, the receptionist at the doctor’s office, the girl at the drive-up window, and often total strangers. These gifts are given not just in thanks, but in the hope of making another person happy.

Because of her beautiful influence in my life, I now do the same thing–not because I am such a good person, but because she is.

Whoever you are, whatever your circumstances, remember that you matter to us all.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

 

An Excerpt From My Children’s Book, “Jelly Bean Jones”

I wrote a 9-chapter children’s book called “Jelly Bean Jones.” It is about a girl born in Oahu and orphaned as a baby, adopted by her Aunt Samantha. Together with the devoted Hawaiian couple, Uncle Pau and Aunty Mei Mei, who worked for her parents,  they form their own ohana, or extended family.

In the summer of 1958 when Jelly Bean turns 10, they move to a small town in New Hampshire, where she makes fast friends with her next door neighbors, 10-year old Cecilia and her 12-year old brother, Julian. They have never met anyone like Jelly Bean and her family, and before they know it, they are helping to host the first-ever neighborhood Hawaiian luau, taking on the local mean girls, living their dreams and having more adventures then they could have imagined.

The following excerpt is from Chapter 3, where Jelly Bean tells Cecilia one of her “Rainy Stories.” These are stories for a rainy day, that start where the traditional fairy tales end. This one is called “What Happened to Snow White AFTER the Prince Arrived.”

“Snow White woke up in her new bedroom in the palace. She thought about yesterday when the handsome prince had placed her tenderly in front of him on his saddle on his beautiful white horse and galloped her away to her new life. All seven dwarves had clapped and cheered loudly as she rode away, and she had waved back gaily.

But now, in the unfamiliar bed with silken sheets and fluffy pillows (at home her pillow was a sack of flour), she realized that she had no idea what a princess (and did marrying the prince actually make her a princess?) should be doing. Snow White was used to full days of cleaning, cooking, baking, gardening, sweeping and mending for her little friends. Who would do all that for them now? She wondered if the prince would let them all live in the palace with them, but then realized that they would probably feel like wild birds in cages.

Perhaps the prince would allow her to visit them from time to time. And surely they would all come to her wedding! Happily, she jumped out of bed and looked for her clothes from yesterday. They were gone! She opened a big wooden wardrobe to find it filled with dozens of beautiful gowns in pink and purple and green and blue and lavender and yellow. And below the gowns were pretty shoes that matched each dress.

Which one should she put on? They were all so pretty and the materials were so rich and soft. She took a blue and gold gown out and was about to put it on when she looked down and noticed that her bare feet were filthy.

Snow White just couldn’t put on a gown as lovely as this without washing up. At home, she just washed her face and hands, and only took a full bath (in the pond nearby) once a week. But where in this huge palace could she go to clean up? Just then, there was a knock at the door.

Snow White opened the door, and a young girl with pretty brown hair curtsied to her and said, “Hello, miss—I’m Katie, your new maid.”

At this, Snow White burst out laughing. “A maid? For me? Katie, I’m a maid myself—or was.” They smiled at each other. “Where should I go to wash up?”

Katie led her to a lavish bathroom, as big as the entire cottage she and the seven dwarves had lived in. There was an enormous white marble tub, already filled with fragrant sudsy water with steam coming off it. Three beautiful white lilies floated in the water, and there were thick, soft piles of pure white towels piled on a little golden chair near the tub.

“Oooh! Is that for me?” asked Snow White.

“Yes, miss. Enjoy your bath. I’ll be back in a little while to fix your hair.” She curtsied again and left.

As she settled herself into the sweet-smelling hot water, loving the warmth, she started to feel—uneasy. She couldn’t remember that last time she had spent a moment on herself since living with her little friends. Each day she was on her feet from sunup to sundown, happily caring for her friends, and singing while she worked. With a pang, she realized how much she missed them all.

As much as she loved the wonderful bath, she grew restless and got out, wrapping herself up in one of the soft towels. The gown she had picked out earlier was laid out on the bed for her, along with frilly petticoats and blue velvet slippers. Quickly, Snow White got dressed and then went to look out the window. Below in the courtyard were several fine horses, each one more beautiful than the last. The wonderful white horse belonging to the prince was there as well. He was being brushed by a groom, while another expertly braided golden ribbons into his mane and tail. The handsome buttery leather saddle on the horse was richly decorated with gold and silver, and she could see glints of diamonds here and there.

Snow White looked down at her pretty new gown and velvet slippers and started laughing. She said to herself, ‘Why, I’m just another fancy horse in fancy horse harness!’ Would the prince want her to cook and clean for him? Not likely. She bet that the palace was just full of busy servants, doing all work for the royal family. There was probably a whole stable of “Katies” as well. She sat down on the bed and thought some more.

That evening, Snow White sat at the table with the prince and his parents, the King and Queen. She was completely confused by all the silverware flanking her plate, and didn’t even recognize half the foods on it. Back in her little cottage, everyone had exactly one spoon and one fork. The little men used their working knives to cut meat and fruit. Speaking of food, as good as all this smelled, she longed for a simple bowl of the pease porridge she used to make. She would hang it in a bag over the cauldron in the hearth to simmer all day, and it would be done to a creamy turn by dinnertime.

She had tried to talk with the prince before dinner, but he seemed far more interested in his glass of ruby port than her. Oh, he gave her lavish compliments on her hair and skin and the way she was dressed and so on. He also presented her with a tremendous sparkling diamond ring that weighed her hand down. Slowly she realized that what he really wanted was for her to just sit and be beautiful, in short, to become simply another prized acquisition, like his wonderful horse.

You would think that, coming from such poverty to abject wealth would be so grand! All those lovely gowns and matching shoes, the shining ring, the silken bed and the huge bath, but—was that all there was to this life? Plus, the prince, when you took a good look at him, was handsome enough, but there was a haughty unsatisfied look about him, His table manners were horrible (even the dwarves, as rough as they were, had better ones), he talked with his mouth full, and he was rude and dismissive to his parents. On the way to the palace, he had cruelly jabbed his beautiful horse in the sides with his silver spurs to go faster. Snow White had winced at the poor horse’s cry of pain.

The King and Queen were polite enough to her, and the Queen tried to teach her what she felt she needed to know. But there were so many rules! How to sit, how to stand, how to smile, how to use her fan, and these were just rules for inside the palace! Outside, she was admonished to wear heavy veils to keep her skin white, and kidskin gloves to keep her hands soft. The Queen gently but constantly criticized Snow White’s speech, walk, manners; in short, everything.

She remembered how good the sun had felt on her face and bare arms as she worked happily in the garden by the little cottage. Her days were filled with any number of pleasant little chores, and at nightfall, she was always happy to see her friends come home and sit down to dinner.

The King had made it very clear that her main job was to please the prince by keeping herself pretty and to bear him many sons. (‘As if I were another breed horse,’ she thought.) The days and weeks passed leading up to her wedding day, and Snow White tried her best to please everyone. The fittings began for her wedding dress and veil, which had been specially designed for her without asking her opinion or what she might want. The wedding gown was an absolute triumph of shimmering white silk, frothy lace, with tiny pearls and diamonds hand-sewn into flowers scattered throughout. The filmy veil was held in place by a sparkling diamond, pearl and ruby tiara, which set off Snow White’s lustrous black hair to perfection.

She stood in the mirror, dressed in her wedding finery on the day before the wedding, with the Queen and all the attendants softly clapping their approval. ‘Why,’ she said to herself, ‘I don’t even look like me! I look like some fancy woman of court, raised in luxury.’ She allowed the maids to carefully remove the tiara, veil and gown, and she shut herself in her bedroom and thought, ‘This is no life for me. I don’t feel like myself and I certainly don’t look like myself anymore, and I’m tired of being something I’m not.’

The next morning, early on the wedding day, Katie knocked softly on Snow White’s door. There was no answer. Katie slowly opened the door to find the beautiful wedding dress and veil laid carefully out on the bed, along with the diamond ring, the shining tiara and the diamond-studded slippers. She threw open the wardrobe door, and all of the gowns were still there except for the plainest one, a simple blue one with a bit of lace on the neckline and sleeves. Katie grinned when she noticed that all of the slippers were still there as well. She couldn’t help but laugh to herself when she imagined the outcry that would follow after she made her report to the Queen about Snow White’s disappearance.

Katie was just about the Prince’s age, and had known him as a boy. Whenever he couldn’t get what he wanted exactly when he wanted it, he threw terrible tantrums involving kicking everyone in sight (including his nurse, mother, father, and once, Katie herself), also screaming and pulling his own hair, throwing anything that came to hand, and ending with holding his breath until he turned an alarming shade of purple. Everyone found it easier to just give in to him. It was certainly quieter that way.

As Snow White made her way back through the forest toward her cozy little cottage, the prince had a tantrum to rival all the ones in his youth. Upon hearing the news from his mother (who, by the way, was very relieved that her son was not marrying Snow White; it would have taken a lifetime to teach the poor girl all she needed to know, in her opinion), the prince screamed in rage. He kicked over all the urns full of beautiful yellow and white flowers in the palace’s chapel, threw his crown on the floor and stamped on it, ran through the long line of bridesmaids and groomsmen who all fled shrieking in fear, and even spit at the Bishop. Finally, he turned to his father, the King (who looked rather green from the scene his son had just made).

“How could you let this happen to me, Father? YOU should have found out all about her and made sure she was as good as she was beautiful! I will never be able to hold my head up in court again—she’s made a fool out of me! I won’t have it, I tell you, I-WON’T-HAVE-IT!” He jumped up and began stamping around again.

The King sighed, and said, “My son, you are no more ready for marriage than you are ready to be a king.” He took his son by one arm, nodded at the Queen, and said, “This has been a long time coming.” He sat down on a velvet chair, and pulled his son across his lap. There, in front of the entire court and wedding attendants, he administered his son’s first-ever spanking.

As for Snow White, how glad she was to be free! How good the warm earth felt on her bare feet! How good the hot sun felt on her face! She smiled when she saw the piles of dirty dishes and the unswept floors and hearth. Happily she went to work, singing all the while.

That night, the seven little dwarves trudged home, and to their delight found a fire going, all the rooms shining and clean, the table set and a big bowl of bright flowers in the middle. Snow White hugged each one and said, “Sit down. I made your favorite—pease porridge.”

And this time, they all really did live happily ever after.”

 

Have Fairy Tales Gone Out of Style?

Today I wrapped up my old Fairy Tales book that my favorite uncle gave me for Christmas in 1958 for my granddaughter, Ava, for this Christmas. I loved all those bloody old tales:

  • Little Red Riding Hood, where the brave woodsman guts the wolf to free poor grandma (whom the wolf had  gobbled up a few minutes before)
  • Hansel and Gretel, who were left in the woods, captured by a witch, then later burned up the old bag
  • Sleeping Beauty, who was cursed by an evil fairy and slept for a hundred years, waiting for her prince
  • The three little pigs, who defeated the Big Bad Wolf by boiling him in a stewpot
  • Snow White, who was beguiled into eating a poisoned apple

..and so on. I devoured these stories when I was young, and never had a single bad dream about them. It was clear to me that these were only fairy tales; nothing that could really happen.

But in today’s uber PC world I worry that kids are missing out filling their minds with magic, fairy tales, dreams and imagination. Have we really come to a place in our history where we are concerned that all the wolf-supporters will protest the reading of Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs because the wolf gets it in the end?

I hope not. I am still giving Ava this book and I hope she will love it as I did.

Ba’s Christmas Chowder

My grandmother, “Ba,” always made this wonderful chowder especially for Christmas Eve dinner. You can use any or all of the seafood listed. Serves 5 (plus seconds and thirds!)

 Ingredients:

2-3 slices bacon (in pieces) 

1 pint fresh or canned clams (one each whole and chopped) and liquid

1 pint fresh oysters and liquid

1 pint scallops

1 pint haddock, cod, or tilapia pieces

1 pint cooked shrimp

1 cup lobster pieces

1 cup crabmeat

1 chopped onion

1 T. Worcestershire sauce

1 T. flour

1 T. paprika

1+ cup regular whole milk (do NOT use evaporated milk) – use more as needed to add volume

1+ cup light cream

2-3 T. butter

S & P

Cook bacon in the bottom of the chowder pot; remove when crisp. Pour off the excess fat, but keep some in the pot. Fry the onion in the bacon fat til golden. Add the Worcestershire and S&P. (We also like to add a shot of Siracchi sauce to give it a little kick) Add the clam juice and bring to boil. Turn heat down to medium. Add the seafood:

  • oysters
  • clams
  • fish
  • crabmeat
  • scallops
  • lobster
  • shrimp

 (The idea is to add the seafood that needs the least cooking LAST)

Stir and add flour and stir again to thicken. Add cream and milk, stir and simmer. Add butter and allow to melt. Salt and pepper to taste. Chop the bacon into small pieces, and add on top. Take the chowder off the heat and let cool.

Store in refrigerator at least overnight to let the flavors combine. Heat and serve with oyster crackers, sweet pickles and Parker House rolls.