Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Good Dishes

Grandmother Stuck's demitasse cup and saucer sitting on
Mother's homework table, built by Grandfather Page
I’m the youngest grandchild on both sides of the family - and female. That can only mean one thing: I have five complete sets of fine china. There would have been six, but I gave one away.  I am heiress apparent of all things domestic.

Wedding china packed in
shredded divorce papers. Oh! The irony!
It took about eight 18”x18”x18” boxes, $75 in bubble wrap and the helping hands of several wonderful friends to transport them to my condo. Recently, I spent a week unwrapping, cleaning and putting away china.

Don’t bother telling me I can sell or donate them. I’ll pass them on someday, but for now, they are precious remembrances of family gone on to the glory feast in Heaven. I need their sweet memories to keep me company.

Neither am I going to turn the china into bird feeders, chandeliers, flower pots or anything else chicly shabby. I’ve had enough of junky craft projects that turn into half-finished clutter. What is the purpose of these re-purposing crafts? Supposedly it’s to find a way to make the china “useful.”  Well, my friends, china already has a purpose. It’s purpose is to party!!!

There are those who think fine china is stuffy and formal. Not so in my family. A table set with the good dishes meant we were about to enjoy delicious recipes handed down for generations. It meant a wonderful evening of witty banter, news of the day, current events and spirited opinions - rather like Facebook, only without quite so many cat videos.

If those five sets of china are sitting on a shelf gathering dust, that means I am too.  How many laughs, debates, discussions, inspiring stories have not rung through my home because I didn’t want to dirty the dishes? Sure, I could use paper plates, but doesn’t Mother Earth deserve the pleasure of our company rather than be covered in our refuse? 

It’s high time to get the china out for it’s intended purpose - to entertain. Getting out the fine china need not be for any reason more special than Tuesday lunch.

Folks today seem to think setting a table with fine china is too much work.  Yet, often the same people spend countless hours making useless nut frames. Nut frames. That’s bug food, people. Bug food. 

So, when are you going to set your table with the good dishes? What happy memories do you associate with your family’s fine china? Take a picture of your good dishes and post the link in the comments below.

UPDATE: Readers sent in their photos!

Jane Gau writes: "this was my Mom's. The Green Depression glass in the cabinet is my collection!"

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal

After posting the recipe for Heidi’s Chocolate Oat Cookies, a reader asked:

Hey Sally,

Can you only use one cup of sugar?

Amber, who must watch the sugar in things, but who thinks these look really yummy and is glad SP is baking again!

Dear Amber,

Thank you for the kind words.

The sugar cannot be reduced, but here is a yummy, healthy breakfast treat with the same flavors. This, too, uses peanut butter, which has been shown to promote heart health and help prevent type 2 diabetes. You may substitute other nut butters, such as cashew or almond butter. For a treat, try substituting hazelnut-chocolate butter (such as Nutella).

Amounts are given for either one or four servings. Enjoy to you heart’s delight!

Tastefully yours,

Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal. 
Embroidery & handmade lace by Grandmother Page

Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal

One Serving:
½ cup oats
1 tablespoon cocoa
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar (or to taste)
1 ½ tablespoon peanut butter
1 ¼ cup skim milk
¼ teaspoon vanilla

Small pot (approximately one quart size)

Four Servings:
2 cups oats
1/4 cup cocoa
1/4 cup dark brown sugar (or to taste)
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons peanut butter
5 cups skim milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Large pot (approximately 2 ½ quart size)

Place the oats, cocoa and sugar in pot. Stir to mix. Add peanut butter and milk. Stir well.

Place pot on medium high heat. Stir the oatmeal with a spatula occasionally to prevent it from sticking on the bottom. Heat until it begins to boil. The single serve recipe will come to a boil in about five minutes. The four serving recipe will come to a boil in about 15 minutes. Let it cook until to desired thickness (about 5 minutes.)

Remove from heat. Add vanilla, stir and serve. May be topped with additional peanut butter, chocolate chips, brown sugar or cream. 

Handy Hints:

Different brands of peanut butter can alter the final outcome of a recipe. In recipes, try to use a peanut butter with no added salt or sugar. If that is not possible, taste the peanut butter first and adjust your recipes accordingly.

Dry ingredients mix in much better if you mix them before adding liquid ingredients.

Using natural peanut butter? Don’t like the mess of mixing back in the oil that has risen to the top? Try this. Before opening, turn the jar upside down for a day or two. The oil will mix itself back in! 

Mixing natural peanut butter is easier when it’s at room temperature. After mixing the oil back in, refrigerate.

If something begins to stick on the bottom of a pan, cover and take the pan off the heat. Let it rest a few minutes. The moisture will loosen the stuck bits. Don’t do this if the bottom is already scorched!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Heidi's Chocolate Oat Cookies

Well, my dear nieces and nephews. I’m long over due in giving you a recipe for something yummy. Time to change that.

The kitchen has been the center of much painting, unpacking, washing and organizing. Not a whole lot of cooking going on. However, in celebration of finding the baking sheets and pots, I whipped up a batch of Chocolate Oat Cookies. Actually, these are not cookies in the truest sense. They are more like fudge candies with oats added in. Whatever they are, they were immensely popular years ago. Now, my dear nieces and nephews can rediscover an easy-to-make retro treat.

This recipe was given to me by childhood friend, Heidi. In fact, I call them Heidi Cookies. Heidi and I were best friends in fifth grade. We had a terrible fight (probably over a boy. It always is.) We stopped being friends and have never seen each other since. Every time I make these cookies, I wish we could find each other again and rekindle our friendship. So, Heidi, I hope you are out there and I’m sorry.


Aunt Sally
Heidi's Chocolate Oat Cookies


2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa (1 ounce)
1 stick butter (½ cup) (or cholesterol-lowering margarine)
½ cup milk

(½ cup peanut butter) (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups oats
In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and cocoa. Stir well to combine. Add butter and milk. Over medium heat, bring to soft boil. Let boil for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat. Add peanut butter (if using) and vanilla. Stir to combine. Add oats.

Spoon out quickly onto wax paper, parchment paper or aluminum foil lined baking sheets. Cookies will harden as they set.

Handy Hints:

I use skim milk and cholesterol-reducing margarine so I can at least believe they are healthy-ish. Don’t use lower calorie margarine, since it contains too much liquid.

Cholesterol-lowering spread

Use a buttered disher (ice cream scoop) to make even sized cookies. I used a number 100 size, available at restaurant supply stores. 

Since these do not bake, you can use waxed paper instead of parchment. Much cheaper!!

I prefer them without peanut butter, yet both option are quite good.  The peanut butter will not melt completely.

Peanut butter melted in
Whisk the sugar and cocoa together first. It helps the cocoa mix in better. 
Whisk Sugar & Cocoa

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Vertigo, Vietnam and Transfiguration

Wouldn’t you know it? As soon I commited to writing in this blog regularly, I got whooped upside the head with vertigo. Round and round the room went spinning, a desperate Facebook status sent many friends calling to check and the paramedics raced to my aid. What my body decided to do is unfit for description in a food blog. I laid sick-tummy-side-up for a week, one wonderful friend after another coming to check on me. 

Then, my hard drive crashed. What happened next is also unfit for description. Somethings are just too horrifying to discuss (We’re talking over 90,000 files of hard drive horror.). Be careful where you click, my friends. Be careful where you click. 


I had planned to tell you, dear nieces and nephews, about a recently discovered Vietnamese restaurant. The memory of it’s homey comfort food haunted me. I was in dire need of comfort, after all. 

Vietnam Restaurant

An inner urban neighborhood in East Dallas. Old, charming buildings are being renovated. Some have fallen to disrepair. The occasional new condo complex stands.

On the corner of Bryan at Peak, a passenger gets on the 409 bus. It leaves and is followed by the 502. In front of Vietnam Restaurant, a man washes his car.

Karaoke night, anyone?
Vietnam Restaurant has all the quirky trappings of a hole in the wall. Waiters are cleaning up after the lunch buffet, their drink cups and spray cleaner bottles sitting about. They gossip in Vietnamese. The service is spotty but friendly.

The waitress greets me warmly and tells me to sit anywhere. I choose the room with seven flat screen tv’s. Five on. None watched.

She brings the menu. There are over 140 options with variations: crepes, egg rolls, soups, salad, stir fry, bubble tea. I chose Number 80, small; pho with “thin eyeround beef, meatball.” When it arrives, it is dropped, unceremoniously, on the table. A plate of garnishes accompanies: cilantro, basil, bean sprouts, lime, fresh jalapeno.
Pho. Wonderful, magical pho.

Then, transfiguration. The hole in the wall trappings have disappeared. I am now surrounded by mystery.

The scent of pho swirls around me like an aromatic, sweet perfume. What are those scents? Those flavors? Meaty. Savory. Floral. Spicy. Is that cinnamon? A faint hint of sweetness? The complexity makes the individual flavors almost indistinguishable. The broth is wonderfully light but rich. Noodles pick up the flavor of the broth. The meatballs are chewy and toothsome; almost an al dente texture. The beef slices are thin, cooked by the steaming broth. Red onion, green onion are sliced on top. As I sip, slurp and chew, I add one garnish after another, each changing the dish. A snippet of fresh basil, a torn cilantro leaf, a squeeze of lime. Each contributes and mutates the perfume. A slice of jalapeno steeps, making the dish spicier in each taste.

A waiter dashes behind the counter.
Lucky frog, lilies and sport trophy.

When I finish, I pay the bill at the front, a lucky frog smiling at me, his mouth full of money.

Driving home, a wave of scent and flavor wafts through my mouth and nose. Its lingering complexity surprises me, delights me. 

The memory of this pho haunts me in moments when comfort is needed. This is its healing secret.

Vietnam Restaurant Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon