Patriotic Popcorn

Here’s three flavored popcorn recipes — all dressed up in red, white and blue for Memorial Day. These bags of yum make great gifts. Pop your corn in Canola or coconut oil. No time today to do this? Bookmark it for Fourth of July.

One more thing – thank you to all who served our country in the military and died for our freedom. “Some gave all …”

Popcorn Recipes Picture Here
Chocolate and M&M’s Popcorn – click for recipe

White Chocolate-Peanut Popcorn
This recipe was inspired by Chef in Training who has captured many popcorn recipes from across the blog world. 

  • 8 cups popped popcorn
  • 12 ounces of white chocolate candy melts
  • 1 – 2 cups peanuts, depending on taste, coarsely chop or not
  • Sea salt to taste

Melt the white chocolate candy melts according to package.

Mix half the popcorn with half the chocolate and half the peanuts. Mix the other half together. Salt to taste.

Line two baking sheets with wax paper. Pour the popcorn on the trays so the chocolate can set.

Store in air-tight container.

Salted Caramel Popcorn
Recipe from Six Sisters’ Stuff. These girls can cook!

  • 1 cup unpopped popcorn
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3 cups light brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Sea salt to taste

Pop popcorn and place in a large mixing bowl.

In a saucepan over medium heat melt butter. Add brown sugar and whisk together until mixed. Add water.

Continue stirring until it comes to a full boil and whisk continually for 5-10 minutes, until mixture hits the soft-ball candy stage. (Put a few drops of the cooked mixture in a glass of cold water until the drops form a soft ball.)

Remove mixture from heat and mix in vanilla extract and baking soda. Continue stirring as the mixture goes puffy.

Drizzle cooked caramel mixture over popcorn and lightly stir until evenly coated. Salt to taste.

Cool on two baking sheets lined with wax paper. Store in airtight container

It’s Corny but Yummy

I’m not breaking any ground here because flavored-up popcorn has been a favored treat for a long time. The gourmet stores are charging a hefty price for a bag of the sweet stuff. It’s so easy to make at home for a fraction of the cost.

The Chef in Training blog has captured popcorn recipes from all around the blog world. Check them out. One of the recipes inspired the one I made here.

My hints: I use Wilton Candy Melts instead of chocolate chips for the melted chocolate. I find them easier to work with. You can find similar products in the grocery store produce section.

I don’t prefer microwave popcorn; it’s too full of chemicals and seasonings I don’t want. Pop the corn in a kettle on the stove with either Canola oil or coconut oil. A bag of unpopped popcorn goes a long way.

This isn’t the last you’ll hear from me on popcorn, I’m just getting started!

Chocolate and M&M’s® Popcorn

  • 8 cups popped popcorn
  • 11 ounces of chocolate candy melts
  • 9-ounce bag of M&M’s® Crispy
  • Sea salt to taste

Pulse M&M’s® in a food processor or coarsely chop M&M’s® (put in a plastic bag and pound with a rolling pin).

Melt the chocolate candy melts according to package.

Mix half the popcorn with half the chocolate and M&M’s®. Mix the other half of the ingredients together.

Line two baking sheets with wax paper. Pour the popcorn on the trays so the chocolate can set.

Store in air-tight container (if it lasts that long!).

Serendipitous Hospitality

In this sequestered nook how sweet
     To sit upon my orchard seat
And birds and flowers once more to greet.

William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850)

Every home has a story. I had this birdhouse stashed away for 15 years in the basement until one day my husband said, “What’s the story with this house?”

I offhandedly quipped, “It’s from an old boyfriend who made it for me. I don’t know what to do with it.”

My husband unabashedly replied, “Well let’s bring it out to the yard and see what we get!” (Now that’s hospitality!)

We placed it cavalierly on the deck rail and within a few days bluebirds came shopping for a home. They bought while we watched. But, it’s not a bluebird house!

Did you know that the male and female bluebird mate for life? Do you think it was coincidence that they found our house? It’s not an ordinary bluebird house high up in the tree – it’s more like a rambling Victorian with many rooms built for a large family. And, it sits in plain sight of where we can watch up close. They’ve never been timid or spooked. They are love on display. There are four blue eggs in the nest inside right now.

When you lay out the welcome mat, the most unlikely guests show up.

This is the fourth year for the house and its resident bluebirds. It was looking worn so I remodeled it last fall before putting it away for the winter. Same colors, just a few added wooden touches.

When the eggs hatch the parents will feverously go in and out to feed the babies insects, crickets, and larvae. After about 30 days the parents stop feeding the birds. Ready to fly, the baby birds leave the house to find their own food. We remove the roof and clean out the house and watch…a second family usually moves in before summer’s end.

Remodeling the birdhouse after three years of occupation.

Remodeling the birdhouse after three years of occupation.

See photos about “Bluebirds: From egg to empty nest.”

Jam n’ Cheese

Keep the ingredients on hand for a quick and easy appetizer. You can substitute another soft cheese like goat cheese or cream cheese, depending on your taste and what you have on hand. In winter, use pecans. These morsels of good will get big YUMS and an A+ in Hospitality.

Jam and Cheese Appetizers

  • Filo dough shells (These are mini shells about 2 inches in diameter and can be found in your grocer’s freezer, usually one dozen to a pack.)
  • 1/2 pound Brie cheese (do not remove the rind)
  • 1/2 cup apricot jam
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted

Thaw filo cups for about ten minutes, and place on baking sheet.

Toast almonds by spreading them in an ungreased pan. Bake in a preheated 350⁰ oven for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally until brown. Set aside.

Cut Brie into one-inch chunks and place one chunk into each filo shell. Do not remove the rind from the Brie as it gives the warm cheese a pungent flavor.

Top the cheese with a teaspoon of apricot jam, then top with slivered, toasted, almonds.

Bake for 10 minutes at 350⁰ or until bubbly. Serve immediately.

[Photo by Cindy Dyer.]

Nothing Bundt Flowers!

Welcome spring with a flowery, colorful cake! Make your favorite Bundt cake, add some silk flowers, butterflies, garden picks and other spring accents (walk the aisles of Michaels for inspiration), and let your ideas bloom.

Make a two-layer cake by using a smaller Bundt pan for the top layer. Place the smaller cake on a cardboard cake ring. Chocolate lady bugs, mossy grass, and garden picks add some garden fun!

[Not just for Easter] Easter Pie

A woman I know told me she had so much to do to get ready for Easter…pick up her kids from college, go to the grocery store, make an Easter Pie…

Wait! Easter Pie? I had never made that! What is it? A Google search showed variations – some were pie crust pastries filled with Italian cold cuts, sausages, eggs, cheeses and ricotta cheese. The other version is a dessert made with ricotta cheese with some recipes calling for chocolate chips or candied fruit.

I chose the sweet Easter Pie, a tradition in Italian homes. (Perhaps that’s why I missed the whole Easter Pie thing.) An Internet search kept bringing me back to Giada De Lauerentiis’ recipe with toasted pine nuts and orange rind. The result was a not-overly sweet pastry with a filling resembling a rice pudding. The filo dough was buttery, crispy and light.

Make it this spring for a sweet ending to an Italian meal. Cut the pieces small and pair it with small glasses of Asti Spumante or Vin Santo.

Easter Pie
Recipe courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis

  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar, extra for sprinkling
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoons orange zest
  • 1 (15-oz.) container whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup cooked short-grained rice
  • 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 6 sheets phyllo sheets (if frozen, thawed)
  • 3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted

Blend 3/4 cup of powdered sugar, eggs, vanilla, orange zest, and ricotta in a food processor. stir in the rice and pine nuts and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Lightly butter a 9-inch glass pie dish. Lay one phyllo sheet over the bottom and up the sides of the dish, allowing the phyllo to hang over the sides. Brush the phyllo with the melted butter. Top with a second sheet of phyllo dough, laying it on the opposite direction as the first phyllo sheet. Continue layering the remaining sheets of phyllo sheets, alternating after each layer and buttering each sheet.

Spoon the ricotta mixture into the dish. Fold the overhanging phyllo dough over the top of the filling to enclose it almost completely. Brush it completely with melted butter.

Bake the pie until the phyllo is golden brown and the filling is set., about 35 minutes. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool completely. Sift powdered sugar over the pie and serve.

Lent, Hearing Loss, and Semper Fi

I met Manell on Ash Wednesday 1986. We were both in town for a funeral the following day. In a noisy room full of people, she was sitting alone reading a newspaper when I noticed the ashes on her forehead and the hearing aids behind her ears. I was instantly drawn to her. Manell lost her hearing gradually later in life until she was profoundly deaf using powerful hearing aids and reading lips. Struggling through our conversation, we hit it off — maybe because she was also a journalist or maybe because in a room full of people, we needed each other. This began our 25-year friendship until she died in 2011.

Do you have time for a story? It’s a good one, I promise.

Manell Patricia Brice was born in Wheeling, West Virginia, on Flag Day, June 14, 1924. Her parents emigrated from Lebanon through Ellis Island and ended up in Wheeling. Manell earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism, English, and education from Mount St Joseph’s College in Ohio. She taught school for a while but like many from that part of the country, she came to Washington, D.C. during World War II in search of a government job.

She eventually landed what was to be a dream job. She worked directly for the Marine Corps Commandant as a civilian public information officer.

Gen. P. X. [Paul Xavier] Kelley, Commandant of the Marine Corps, was her boss. She wrote his speeches and he made sure anything he wrote or spoke passed by her editorial eye. However, there was one stumbling block; she began to lose her hearing. Even with hearing aids, she was having a hard time in meetings, on the phone, and the usual problems faced by those who lose their hearing mid-career. Back then, there was no Americans with Disabilities Act, no support from others, no assistive listening devices, no awareness that people other than older folks could have hearing loss, and nothing to assure her that her life wasn’t over. She thought the only thing to do was take an early retirement.

She approached Gen. Kelley and told him she had to retire because she couldn’t hear well anymore and couldn’t do her job.

Gen. P.X. Kelley refused to accept her resignation and told her “even if you have no hearing, you are worth more to me than five people who have all their hearing.”

It was settled, no retirement for Manell. She continued working with the support of the general and her colleagues, albeit with a lot of stress and frustration, but always loyal to the Marines and the task at hand. Manell was a perfectionist and her work showed it.

The Bombing of the Marine Corps Barracks

In 1983, the Marine Corps Barracks in Lebanon was bombed during the Lebanese Civil War. Suicide bombers killed 221 U.S. Marines and other servicemen. It was the deadliest single attack to date since World War II on Americans overseas. Manell’s heart was broken, not only for the country from which her parents emigrated, but for the U.S. Marines who died. Their families called her office and Manell answered the phone. She couldn’t hear well enough to console them, to get their names right, or to get back to them with information. She couldn’t give comfort. She felt she had failed the families of the men who gave their lives. Not only were Marines killed but so was her spirit. She retired early from her 30-year career in defeat.

Gen. Kelley reluctantly accepted her resignation. She was made an “Honorary Marine” at the conclusion of her career – an honor bestowed to a chosen few.

When I met her on that Ash Wednesday she was enjoying retirement and volunteering for the Hearing Loss Association of America. She said if she knew then what she finally learned about hearing loss, she would not have retired so soon.

Traditional Lenten Dish

Manell was my journalistic (and all-things-life) mentor. I owe my career and much of who I am, to her. She also taught me how to cook Lebanese food and gave me the book Lebanese Cuisine by Madelain Farah, Ph.D. Her home was open to everyone – there was always delicious food, strong coffee, relatives, and engaging conversation. You never called ahead, you just showed up and you always got a big welcome!

She taught me a lot — how to make a traditional Lenten dish, Mjadra, how to be hospitable, how to be the best editor, writer and journalist, and more. Most of all, she showed me how to trust myself and my gut feelings. She brought out the best in me and everyone she met. She made her indelible red-pen mark on my soul.

Thank you, Manell, and Semper Fi!

Mjadra (Lentils and Rice)
A traditional Lenten dish. Make it on Good Friday and serve with plain yogurt, green salad and pita bread.

  • 1 large onion, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 cup uncooked lentils, rinsed
  • 4-1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup uncooked rice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

The secret is in the onions.

Slice onion thinly and sauté in olive oil until browned. This will take a while because the secret to the flavor is to caramelize the onions. Toward the end of their browning this will require constant stirring. Just before the onions are brown and ready to burn, pull them off the heat and put them directly into the boiling lentils.

While the onions begin to brown, put rinsed lentils in 4-1/2 cups of water and boil for 20 minutes.

When onions are ready, put them and their residue in the boiling lentils.

Add the rice and cover and cook for 20 minutes.

Season to taste and stir occasionally.

Dish can be eaten hot or cold.

Manell’s annotations in the cookbook she gave me.

Serves 4-6. You can easily double or triple this recipe.