Yia Yia’s Meatballs

When I remember my grandmother, the memories always come hand-in-hand with delicious smells. Her apartment always smelled of all the wonderful meals she cooked there. Her cooking was simple but flavorful – true comfort food – reminiscent of her Macedonian village. One of my favorites is her meatballs. Even though I miss her deeply, preparing these brings her close. I serve them as she did
with a green salad and French bread.

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Meatballs</strong

2 pounds lean ground beef
1 large onion, chopped fine
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
4 slices dense white bread that has been run under water and squeezed out, torn in small pieces
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons olive oil
Mix all ingredients but butter and oil in a large bowl. Melt butter in a large skillet along with the olive oil. Form meatballs about the size of golf balls. Sauté in pan until uniformly brown.
Enjoy these and the wonderful aroma that will fill your kitchen!

Plums!

I picked peaches this week. Michigan has the best peaches – Red Havens are my favorites. Yellow plums were ready to pick so I picked a few pounds of those too. I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the peaches but didn’t think much about the plums. They were so pretty! So, we kept a few for eating and I used the rest to make salsa. I was happy with the results. I marinated salmon, grilled it and served it with the salsa. Here is recipe and before and after plum pics!

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Recipe for Yellow Plum Salsa:

1 pound yellow plums, pit removed and chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
3 green onions, chopped
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine, chill and serve over grilled fish or chicken.

Hauntings and Salt Shakers

Over the years, given my interest in collecting ghost stories and exploring reportedly haunted locations, I have often wondered “are some places really more haunted than others?” I mean we all have heard of some of them: Salem, the Whaley House, Gettysburg, Eastern State Penitentiary, St Augustine, and on and on.There are so many! I bet some of us have had some unexplainable things occur at one or another. I know I have. So, I ask myself “are these places more paranormally active or do they seem that way because people either expect them to be and are looking for them?”

You see, I think there are spirits around us all the time. No matter where we are. Some of them are aware of us and some not. When I visit Salem I can’t help but think about Salem’s unsavory activities in the 1600s. A witch on a broom adorns everything from buses to police cars. Understandably, I am then reminded of the possibility of restless spirits that may be present and become more focused. But, there have been times when ghosts are the furthest thing from my mind. Once in a government building, I clearly saw a full apparition of a man dressed in 19th century clothing, staring quite intently at me. I didn’t even realize immediately what I was seeing. I tend to be a little lacking in the focus department. He was very strong, energetically so it didn’t matter that my thoughts were all over the place that day. He wanted me to see him and I did. I also think that when groups of like-minded people investigate locations, they have the added benefit of their combined energy and focus to locate or experience the presence of ghosts. I do better either on my own with one or two trusted companions. Too many distract me.

So, when people ask me how to find ghosts I advise them to keep an open mind and its not nearly as hard as you think. You don’t have to go to the well-known places. Old hotels are great places to look. Give it some time. It takes time to quiet your mind and really begin to sense your surroundings. Usually with lots of patience it comes. Now, having said all that, I am going to contradict myself. The are exceptions. Some locations are so charged with paranormal energy, they are overwhelming. For me, that is Gettysburg. Looking for it or not, it is there. Has anyone felt this?

As always, I learn as I go. Last night at dinner at a renovated jail called Great Escape in Salem with my skeptic husband, the salt shaker fell over twice. Once – no big deal. Twice, I notice. If you are ever out that way, give this place a try. I love the prison themed ambience and although a little pricey, the food is amazing. Be sure to ask your server about the history! And keep an eye on those salt shakers!

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The fact that something so yummy is so good for you is one of life’s little miracles! Yesterday was picking day (with temps in the mid-nineties) and today is pie making day. It is still a heat wave but my kitchen is air conditioned and I get to eat pie so today wins hands down! Here is my recipe:

MICHIGAN BLUEBERRY PIE
– 5 cups fresh blueberries
– 1/2 cup sugar
– grated zest of 1 lemon
– juice of 1/2 lemon
– 1/2 cup instant tapioca
– pinch salt
Combine ingredients and pour into your favorite pie crust. Divide 2 tablespoons of butter and sprinkle evenly over the filling and add top crust. Pierce top crust and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until filling bubbles. Serve warm with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Perfect Pesto

I get the most amazing feeling of satisfaction when I use my garden produce to create something as gorgeous as this pesto.  It is so easy to make but it takes awhile to find the version that tastes perfect to you. For example, I am not a big raw garlic fan but I have learned that by lightly roasting the garlic first, the result is a softer, mellow garlic flavor that I think pairs better with the pine nuts. Adding some fresh flat leaf parsley keeps the color nice and bright. I also think it gives the pesto a bright fresh flavor. Using a good olive oil and quality Parmesan are very important. Cooking is all about creating so tailor this recipe to suit your tastes. Serve it over your favorite pasta. It tastes like summer!

Pesto

  • 4 cups fresh Basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 8 cloves roasted garlic cloves

Combine ingredients in a food processor bowl, fitted with a blade or in a blender. Process until it reaches a smooth consistency. Store, refrigerated,  up to four days in a tightly covered container.  This freezes beautifully.  You can freeze it in ice cube trays and store in a zip lock freezer bag until needed.  Serve over pasta, chicken, or fish. It is also amazing in your favorite pasta salad!

Fresh from the garden!

Fresh from the garden!

Ready to blend.

Ready to blend.

Drizzle a little olive oil on top and enjoy!

Drizzle a little olive oil on top and enjoy!

Brandy, sit. (Please) stay.

Over the past ten years,  my mother has noticed some unusual activity in her home. Things she couldn’t explain.  She has always believed in the existence of ghosts but hasn’t encountered many. Believe it or not, her first “close encounter” was a little unusual since it was with the spirit of her dog, Brandy,  who had recently passed after a bout with cancer. To say she and Brandy were close would be a huge understatement. Mom was devastated by her death and her grief was overwhelming. For those of us with beloved pets,  we can understand how devastating theses losses are. Night after night, she cried herself to sleep. She told me that one night, she was feeling the loss particularly keenly. My dad was out of town so she was alone in bed that night.  As they often did, her thoughts turned to Brandy and how much she missed her.  Suddenly, as if on cue, she felt something that hadnt happened since Brandy died – the feeling of a dog jumping up on the bed. She even saw the indentation on the mattress next to her where Brandy slept when she was alive. Instead of being frightened, she described a feeling of comfort. She was able to fall asleep and sleep soundly for the first time in many nights. After that night,  Brandy made a few more appearances – especially on those nights when her loss was felt the most. As Mom has adjusted more and more to not having her around, she appears less. The last time was just a few nights ago. Mom awakened suddenly and saw at the foot of her bed, a brown shape move across the foot of her bed. It would seem that the unconditional love we receive from our pets doesn’t end when they die. Brandy is still keeping watch.
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Old Salem Jail – Great Escape

 

Arancini

Arancini

Old Salem Jail – Great Escape

Now that our oldest daughter is living in Salem I have many opportunities to explore this wonderful little town with its infamous history. I remember many years ago taking the walking ghost tour with with my daughter. She is such a good sport about all the crazy places her mom drags her! This particular night, toward the end of the tour, our group stopped at the Old Jail. Our guide told us about the building’s dark history. When he was done he pointed across the street to an area that appeared to be a construction site of some kind. He leaned toward us, as  if sharing a confidence, and said “As you can see an apartment building is going up over there. You couldn’t pay me enough to live in that place when it is completed.” He never elaborated further. Can you guess where my daughter is living now?  Yep. I should have known. The apartment is complete and the spooky jail is now apartments also. I figure my daughter ended up in the better location of the two!  The jail also houses the “Great Escape” restaurant and bar. I have eaten there a few times and the food is excellent. My very favorite there so far is there Arroncini.  For those of you who haven’t had it before, they are rice and cheese balls, deep fried and served with Maranara sauce on the side. At this restaurant, they are served singly and are huge! When I made them, I made them smaller as appetizers. Either way, these are amazing! I didn’t have the restaurant’s recipe so after some research and experimenting, I found one that I love:

ARANCINI

2 cups leftover rissoto. (or equivalent of sticky rice such as Aborio or Sushi)

1 egg, beaten

2/3 cup Grated Parmesan

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 lb. fresh Mozzarella, cubed into 1/2 inch cubes

Oil for frying

2 eggs, beaten

2 cups Italian breadcrumbs

Directions

– Combine rice, eggs, cheese, salt and pepper until well mixed.  Set aside. – Beat remaining 2 eggs and set aside.

– Place  breadcrumbs in a small shallow bowl. Set aside.

– Roll rice mixture into whatever size ball you prefer. I found if I dampened my hands slightly, they were easier to roll.

– Make an indentation in each ball and insert Mozzarella cubes. Reform ball around cheese. Roll each ball in egg mixture and then into crumbs, coating well.

– Fry Arancini in 375 degree oil. Don’t overcrowd the pan. Fry until golden brown, then remove them to paper towel to drain. Salt while warm. These can be served warm or at room temperature with Maranara sauce for dipping.

This recipe make up to 12 rice balls.

You scream, I scream…

DSC_0446Surprising to me, I am enjoying getting older and hopefully a little wiser. With our kids off on their own building their lives, G and I have a little freedom now to kick back and enjoy ourselves. One of the perks of my “twilight” years is having grandkids. Just when you get to the point where your own children’s childhoods are a distant memory, along come their children and the chance to have all the fun without those parental responsibilities. Amazing!  On a recent trip to visit the little ones, I was reminded of a summer ritual that we hadn’t enjoyed in many years – early evening visits to  the neighborhood ice cream parlor. There is something about that time of day when the temperature cools off and the sound of excited children surrounds you. I had forgotten those things until I was reacquainted with them, thanks to my grandchildren. There was one flavor at the place we visited in Massachusetts – Bubbling Brook – that I found myself thinking of during the day, and looking forward to that evening – Chocolate Peanut Butter. Oh. My. Gosh!  We eventually had to head home and I found myself missing not only my beautiful grandbabies but that wicked, tempting frozen treat. I searched and experimented until (JOY!) I found the perfect recipe. I adapted it from Alton Brown’s version. I wanted a darker chocolate version so I used dark cocoa and reduced the sugar slightly. This is  a very rich and decadent ice cream. But hey, all the good ones are, right?  It doesn’t take much to satisfy my chocolate craving though. It is also a very easy recipe and the results are amazing and consistent.  I hope you will give it a try!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup good quality dark cocoa
  • 3 cups of half and half
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 8 large egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Directions

Combine the cocoa powder  with 1 cup of the half and half into a medium saucepan over medium heat and whisk to combine. Add the remaining half and half and the cream. Bring the  just to a simmer, stirring occasionally, and remove from the heat.

In a medium mixing bowl whisk the egg yolks until they lighten in color. Gradually add the sugar and whisk to combine. Temper the cream mixture into the eggs and sugar by gradually adding small amounts, until about 1/3 of the cream mixture has been added. Pour in the remainder and return the entire mixture to the saucepan and place over low heat. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon and reaches 170 to 175 degrees F. Pour the mixture into a container and allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Stir in the vanilla extract. Place the mixture into the refrigerator and once it is cool enough not to form condensation on the lid, cover and store for 4 to 8 hours or until the temperature reaches 40 degrees F or below.

Pour into an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s directions. This should take approximately 25 to 35 minutes. Mix together 2/3 c. peanut butter and 1/4 c. confectioners sugar. While the ice cream is still soft and with the machine running, drop heaping tablespoons of the peanut butter mixture into the ice cream.  Serve as is for soft serve or freeze for another 3 to 4 hours to allow the ice cream to harden.

Enjoy!

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People are often curious why I am so interested in ghosts and hauntings. Its funny, but for a long time, I thought everyone was. Some of my earliest memories are of the stories both my grandmothers told me as a child. Both women were about as different as possible. One was a farm girl from a cotton farm in Texas who taught school when she was 16 years old. The other was from the mountains of Macedonia and had twins when she was 15. Because both she and the babies survived (this almost never happened in her village) the people in her village thought she was a witch. Wow. The funny thing to me is that she was so young and naïve, she believed it too! People would show up at her door before sunrise, asking her to either put or remove a spell from them. She would by walking backwards around them three times as they lay on the ground. So, you can see that to begin with, they were unusual women. They were both also very psychic. When they told me family history stories, they often included ghosts. All kinds of ghosts. They told the stories as fact since to them they were just a part of life. I think many of their generation had experiences with the paranormal. It has only been in the last fifty years or so that people didn’t talk about “those” things. I think many still had experiences but they didn’t feel comfortable in sharing them. Those stories told to me long ago not only connected me to my family history, it was my first exposure to the spiritual aspect as well. It helped me keep an open mind as I investigated the paranormal throughout my life. I do love strong women! And….not only were they spiritual mentors, they were AMAZING cooks. I really learned so much from them that I hope to share here.

The things I’ve seen!

In the past 22 years as a paranormal investigator, I have found myself in some amazing locations – many of which were restaurants, taverns, and inns. While I was there to look into the ghostly side of each one, I was also able to enjoy some pretty amazing meals. Best of both worlds, right?  I am going to feature some of those places and include some recipes with a little of the haunted history. I would love to hear your comments on some places you may have visited or would like to!