Gifts of the Magi

“Cornie” starts her shift at 6 p.m. nightly in the building where I work. With quiet concern she empties our trash cans. When I’m there late we share a cup of coffee. I don’t speak a word of her language and she doesn’t speak a word of mine, but we communicate with gestures and expressions while we talk in our own languages. I show her photos of my husband and son and she makes the sign of the cross. But she has no photos to show me. Those of us who are there late say I look like a giant next to her when she hugs me around my waist. I am only five feet, four inches tall, but Cornie is about two feet shorter than I am, yet she almost knocks me over with her prolonged squeeze.

I could speculate about Cornie and what her life might be like, but she’s always humbly grateful for the coffee. I get to leave for the night but her night is just beginning. And, that’s an assumption, she might have been working all day for all I know. The coffee helps us both.

A few weeks before Christmas, I was sick. I pointed to my throat and whispered to Cornie that I couldn’t talk. I gestured not to come too close as I didn’t want to get her sick. She gave me a grandmotherly look and said something with a sympathetic tone. For the first time, I didn’t get up to make the coffee.

Several minutes later she came back and handed me a carefully-wrapped paper towel bundle. I opened it and there were several mini candy canes. She pointed to the candy canes, then to her throat and gestured something that instructed me to suck on the candy canes to help me feel better.

Selfless gifts of kindness are the best. Happy Ephiphany!

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June 15th is JG Day

Johnny Garneau with KDKA-TV’s Jean Connelly in Pittsburgh, 1961

According to my food calendar June 15th is Lobster Day. But, it’s also the birth date of one curious inventor and food man, Johnny Garneau. He passed away in 2013 at age 90 but the legend lives on.

I’m sure you’ve seen it – a sneeze guard is that Plexiglass cover required by law to be over salad bars and buffets. My dad, Johnny Garneau, invented it.

Smithsonian Magazine was so fascinated with the genesis of the sneeze guard that reporter K. Annabelle Smith went digging even as far as contacting the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. An Internet search led her to me, the self-proclaimed Sneeze Guard Heiress.

Johnny Garneau was a dreamer, entrepreneur and entertainer, but most of all, a restaurant man. After the war (the big one, WWII), he sat on the bumper of his ’46 Chevy, slapped his hand on his knee and told my mom, “I’m going to start a restaurant!” And, by golly, he did! He opened The Beanery – with curb service and menu of hot dogs, burgers, fries and shakes in 36 flavors. That was only the beginning.

Fast forward to late 1950s when the sneeze guard was born. A lot of the things we see and use daily were invented by someone who had the dream and the guts to take an idea to fruition. Read the article here from Smithsonian Magazine. Enjoy the story of the inventor and the images of one of our country’s greatest inventions.

The sneeze guard at Johnny Garneau's Smorgaboard, 1958, Monroeville, PA

The sneeze guard at Johnny Garneau’s Smorgaboard, 1958, Monroeville, PA

 

Let the Kids Do the Smashing

CoverI was in Balducci’s last week stopping in for a fresh-brewed cup of their wonderful coffee on my way to the office. I noticed the gorgeous display of chocolate-covered pretzels. Price: $15.99 for 20 ounces of hand-dipped pretzels cleverly decorated with colorful toppings. I don’t know if prices are high this year or I’m feeling frugal, or just wanting to do things myself, but for whatever the reason, I re-created the pretzels, Easter style.

I took some ordinary, bagged Easter candy and used them for the pretzel toppings. Whoppers’ mini Robins Eggs and egg-shaped M&Ms are easily ground in a food processor. Or, put them in a Ziploc bag and smash them with a rolling pin. (The kids love to do the smashing.) I also used some spring-looking toppings.

In the end, I produced about 100 chocolate-covered pretzels for around $20 max. Be creative, use various toppings, different-shaped pretzels, bag them in cellophane with ribbon

Ingredients

  • Pretzels
  • Chocolate for dipping. I used white and dark chocolate. You can buy the Wilton Candy Melts where cake baking/decorating supplies are sold or Dolci frutta meltable chocolate from your grocery store. Check the baking aisle for other brands.
  • Various toppings: crushed candies, mini M&Ms, nuts, mini chocolate chips, sprinkles, and more.

    candy-close-up

    Crush candies for topping after you dip the pretzels in chocolate.

Have at It!

Melt the chocolate according to directions. Dip a pretzel in the chocolate, and then dip in the topping. Place on waxed paper to cool.

That’s it! Have fun! And, please, don’t get me wrong, Balducci’s is great.

good

I used four different toppings with white and dark chocolate.

Reprise of the Leprechauns

An Irish colleen (from the Irish cailín, meaning girl) just came a knockin’ at mee door with some leprechaun hats—edible that is!

Here is Marion Devlin’s recipe for Leprechaun Hats. (At Thanksgiving they become pilgrim hats and, at Christmas, they become Santa Claus hats! She’s a clever colleen!)

Leprechaun Hats
The wee ones love ’em!

Arrange Fudge Stripe Cookies on a baking sheet with chocolate side up (stripes down).

Melt white and dark chocolate according to package directions; keep warm for dipping in separate bowls.

Dip marshmallows in chocolate and place on top of Fudge Stripe Cookies. Top with green sprinkles. Cool to room temperature.

The Hospitality Year in Review

Here are some memories of 2015. Thanks for reading and being part of the Kelley Hospitality experience!

Flex Your Mussels

Summer is time to get together but we don’t have to fuss — it’s hot and we just want to be with family and friends and relax. Easy summer fare is steamed mussels. Add some French bread to sop up the buttery sauce, maybe a salad, and some cool beverages and you have a meal.

Bring out the lawn chairs, sweep off the porch, and roll out the welcome mat!

Steamed Mussels

  • 1 stick butter
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 3-6 cloves of chopped garlic (Some people use up to a dozen cloves; it all depends on your preference.)
  • 2 bags of mussels (Wash and throw away any open shells or ones that won’t close if you tap on them. Remove any stringy stuff that looks like corn silk with needle-nose pliers. Really, you won’t find much—this sounds more complicated than it is.)
  • 2 chopped tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup basil leaves, chopped (or more)
  • 1 cup white wine

Wash mussels and set aside. Sauté chopped garlic in olive oil in a large sauce pan until soft. Add butter, chopped tomatoes and fresh basil. Stir until butter is melted. Add white wine and mussels and steam for 10-12 minutes. All shells should open; if they don’t, discard them. Serve immediately.

In Memory Of

This recipe was adapted from Delicious Memories of Karen’s Kitchen (Morris Press Cookbooks, 2007) — A collection of recipes by family and friends of Karen Circharo to support the Karen Circharo Memorial Fund. Proceeds from the cookbook benefit the Sister to Sister: The Women’s Heart Health Foundation. I didn’t know Karen, who passed away at 47 from heart disease; the book was a gift to me. Like so many of these homegrown cookbooks, the recipes are fabulous because people submit their finest.

The dedication in the book, written by Robin Silvis, reports that Karen Marie Circharo was a creative cook, wonderful hostess, loving wife, devoted mother and so much more. I would have loved to meet her.