My Wish for Your Wedding Reception

I’ve been to several weddings over my lifetime. They have varied with budget and locations to eras and style. I have been to large weddings, over the top, intimate and styled. The one constant in all of these have been food. Yes, everyone wants to eat, and apparently, wants to eat well.

I went to a couple over the top weddings on Long Island. It must be something about the area. They love to eat! The first was a sit down with several courses. I can’t tell you what they were due to my escalating age and deteriorating memory and the fact the wine glass was NEVER empty. Luckily the people sitting next to me were a lot of fun because we were never able to get away from the table. The second had a reception that was geared to feed an army. Or, rather,  several armies. They had pasta stations, carving stations, meatballs, cheeses and even more. I thought it was amazing until someone mentioned we still had a full sit down dinner to partake in. The sit down was substantially subpar to the “snack” beforehand, and seriously, how much food can one eat in a four hour period? (I really should have eaten more of the pasta.) I didn’t even mention the Viennese Hour following this… gluttony at it’s finest.

Mini Twice Baked Potatoes

 

I’ve been to weddings with buffets but I can’t seem to warm up to food that has been sitting there and picked over by a multitude of strangers. A personal OCD situation but nonetheless, still unappetizing. People eat more than they need to or probably want to (hence the increased cost), but who wants to see full pans of food just sitting there? It’s like they’re calling out to you, “Come eat me! Don’t let me go to waste!” And of course, you must obey.

So many weddings and so many times I’ve been unable to talk to people because we’re stuck at a table eating. It’s not as fun as dancing and mingling, but we do expect a good meal. (yes, we’re there for the bride and groom too!)

Gouda Grit Cakes with Shrimp and Bourbon Glaze

Aren’t we there because it’s a celebration, a time to catch up with people you haven’t seen for a while or meet for the first time? You don’t want to sit all night, and especially don’t want to if the ones you’re sharing the table with have no personality!                                                           

As a caterer and owner of The Twisted-Fork, I wish more brides and grooms would choose to have finger food receptions or food stations. It’s so much more fun!

 

My specialty is making big food small, so I guess I may be a little biased, but hear me out. When you have a reception of finger foods or stations, you have a variety of foods to choose from which is great for foodies and is also more accommodating to guests with dietary restrictions.

You can mingle, talk and dance and people can eat when they want instead of being sent to the troughs at relegated times. More often than not anymore, this type of reception can be quite creative. Sliders, pasta or donut stations, mini potatoes stuffed like that big one you have at the steak house, and lasagne that can be eaten in one bite but with the same big flavor punch. For a caterer and foodie like myself, this is considered nirvana.            

Other than throwing out the thought of a traditional wedding meal, this plan can really work for anyone and everyone. It can still work with your budget and style. Your stomach will still be satisfied and your guests will still be happy. You can have tables and chairs for everyone but if your space is limited take away a little of the seating and this is a great way to have everyone attend comfortably.

Basil Cheesecakes with Tomato Jam

So please, do me a favor. Get that rubber chicken idea out of your head and start thinking of Mini Chicken Parmesan Meatballs or a Mashed Potato Bar with a variety of toppings. Put your own stamp on it and let your taste buds walk on the wild side. You’ll be happy you did and you’ll make me one happy caterer.

 

Candied Bacon

We all know the food groups that were part of our learning as we were growing up.  Vegetables and Fruit, Grains and Cereals, Protein, Milk and Dairy and Sugars and Fats.  No where in that learning did we cover the sixth and barely known food group… Bacon.  People of the world…wake up!  Bacon is not a new discovery, but it has become an important part of our daily lives.  Well, unless you don’t eat meat, I guess.   It’s everywhere now.  There is bacon and maple donuts, bacon chocolate, bacon flavored gum, bacon cupcakes. Need I say more?  I have said all along it should be its own food group.   I think you too will agree with me once you try this little gem of a recipe I found in Food & Wine.

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Candied Bacon.  I made it for Super Bowl and it was gone in minutes.  It’s like food crack.  You can’t stop eating it.  Sweet and savory, salty and crisp…it’s addictive.   It might not be the healthiest thing to eat, but let’s face it, this isn’t something you’re going to eat every day.  (although I really could).  It’s super easy and one of those dishes that once you make it,  everyone wants to know how you did it.

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Trust me on this one….  Bacon and easy to make.  You can’t go wrong with this.

People of the world!  I give you Candied Bacon!

Candid Bacon

MAKE AHEAD: The candied bacon can be made earlier in the day. Store at room temperature.
Course Appetizer
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 20 Strips

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chile powder
  • 20 slices thick-cut bacon 1 1/2 pounds

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with foil.

  2. In a small bowl, whisk the brown sugar with the chile powder.

  3. Arrange the bacon strips on the foil and coat the tops with the chile sugar

  4. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until caramelized and almost crisp.

  5. Transfer the bacon to a rack set over a sheet of foil to cool completely. Serve.

Split Pea Soup, Split Decision

When it comes to the standard way of making things, or trying something new, my husband and I are typically at odds.  For Peter, lobster has to be served steamed in a shell, shrimp can be with a cocktail sauce or in scampi.  You can’t have pizza with goat cheese and you certainly can’t have pea soup without green peas.  Until now that is, because I live by a different set of rules.

Let me just give you a little background on this.  I grew up with pea soup.  It was always a staple when we had leftover ham.  It was green and thick and not very appetizing.  So it was a huge mistake on my part, when I mentioned after our ham dinner, the idea of making soup.  It turns out, much to my dismay, that he loved pea soup.

Well, I half-thought about it and when I was at the market, I picked up a bag of split peas.  Peter would be so surprised if I actually made this for him.  But visions flashed before me of the thick green paste and I immediately scrubbed that idea and threw the peas back on the shelf.  I started to walk away and out of the corner of my eyes I saw a bag with split yellow peas.  That’s right….YELLOW peas.  I never had them before, but after looking at the back of the bag and the recipe idea it gave, I thought I could make it work.  It was a good compromise.

That weekend, since it was cold and definitely feeling like a soup day, I decided to give it a try.  I cooked my ham bone down and reserved the broth and although I did refer to the bag recipe, I did change the recipe quite a bit to make it more my style.  This was working!

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The flavor was really good and the texture of the broth was more like a vegetable broth.  I was so happy because I thought his was something I could eat and Peter would love that we had split pea soup.  I really believed this was our soup of compromise.

Until my husband sat down to dinner that is.  He took a bite and it wasn’t so bad.  He took another bite and it was ok.  The third bite, he decided to tell me that pea soup was meant to be green and mushy.  This simply was NOT going to do.

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So once again we were at odds.  I loved it and he did not.  He wanted his green thick mush and I liked the texture more like a broth.  And it’s okay.  It’s okay if he doesn’t like it, because he doesn’t have to love everything I make and he has his standards.  But I will probably make it again and he will probably eat it again and complain again.   And have another two helpings again.

Do you really have two helpings if you don’t like something?

Split Pea Soup, Split Decision

Course Appetizer, Entree
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 5 hours
Total Time 5 hours 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 bag yellow split peas
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 4 carrots, diced small
  • 2 stalks celery, diced small
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 8 cups water, chicken broth, ham bone broth or a combination I used 6 cups chicken broth and 2 cups of my ham broth
  • 2 cups diced, cooked ham
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup croutons optional

Instructions

  1. Soak, rinse and sort peas per package instructions.

  2. Heat oil in a large, heavy 5-7 quart pot.

  3. Add onions, carrots, celery and cook until tender,

  4. Add garlic and cook another 1-2 minutes or until fragrant.

  5. Add salt and pepper and stir to coat vegetables.

  6. Add cup of wine and stir to deglaze, scraping up any bits from the pan.

  7. Add broth and or water and bring all ingredients to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until peas are tender, about 2 to 3 hours.

  8. Add ham and serve topped with croutons if desired.

A New Squash Appreciation

When I was a little girl and was given squash for dinner, I had a couple of different ideas on how to handle this undesirable vegetable.  None of them included eating it.  I either dropped it on the floor for the dog to eat, left it on my plate until it was much to cold to eat or my favorite was to mix it with cranberry sauce and pretend I was eating peanut butter and jelly.  I said it was my favorite idea, just not a good tasting one.

Over the years, I tried in vain to acquire a taste for it.  I would think I liked the way it was prepared but when I ate it or tried to make it myself it had that same appeal that it had when I was a child.  I felt I would never grow to like squash, in any form.

Lately, however, I have been venturing out and a desire for different types of squash is burning.  I have had it pan-fried in hash and roasted in soups.  When I was at the market the other day, I went totally out of the box and picked up a spaghetti squash.  I didn’t even know how I was going to prepare it, but I knew I was going to do something!

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Imagine the odds when a couple of days later I came across this recipe from Half Baked Harvest’s blog for Roasted Garlic Spaghetti Squash Lasagna Boats.  I immediately went out, bought my ingredients and prepared my version of her recipe.

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I was totally amazed!  This had everything I loved about lasagna but was made with squash.  Could it be?  Could I actually have found a squash that I really loved?  I think the answer was a big yes.  I can’t really call this a healthy meal because of the cheese in it, but I do have to say it’s slightly better than eating a dish of lasagna.  Squash versus pasta equals a healthy alternative, so we have a partial win with this one.

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To make this easier if you’re in a pinch you can always use your favorite jarred sauce and for the cheese sauce, just layer parmesan and mozzarella cheese as you would in the traditional recipe.  If you do have the time however, go all out and do it as the recipe states.  It is so worth it.

Take it from a former squash hater.  This is one recipe you’ll keep!

Crispy Chicken Thighs with Apple Cider Gravy

There are always those times when you want something easy but a bit more than a soup and sandwich.  Maybe it’s mid-week busy night or a Saturday evening with friends.  And of course it has to turn out right every time.

In conjunction with my last post this Crispy Chicken Thigh recipe from Bon Appétit goes very well with the Farro Risotto.  I have made this chicken several times and it comes out perfect every time.  If you aren’t confident in the kitchen you can still pull this off looking like a pro and the flavors will make everyone think you spent all day in the kitchen.

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The sauce is interchangeable.  If you don’t want it as sweet, use a tart apple and add more mustard.  It is really all about what you like.  Just have fun with it.  You can start with the basics of what I’ve given you and make it your own.  This is the reason I love cooking so much.

Have fun and invite friends over.  Let them think you worked all day.  Share what you love because this is what it is all about.

Crispy Chicken Thighs with Apple Cider Gravey

Course Entree
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs about 2 1/4 pounds
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup apple jelly
  • 2 Tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 2 Tablespoons apple brandy
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated ginger

Instructions

  1. Heat apple cider over medium high heat and cook for approximately 20 minutes or until reduced by half and thickened. Set aside to cool.

  2. Preheat oven to 475 degrees F. Season chicken wit salt and pepper. Heat oil in a 12″ cast-iron or heavy nonstick skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking. Nestle chicken in skillet, skin side down, and cook 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium high; continue cooking skin side down, occasionally rearranging chicken thighs and rotating pan to evenly distribute heat, until fat renders and skin is golden brown, about 12 minutes.

  3. Transfer skillet to oven and cook 13 minutes. Flip chicken; continue cooking until skin crisps and meat is cooked through, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate; let rest 5 minutes before serving.

  4. In the meantime, combine 2 Tablespoons of the apple cider (reserve remainder for another use), 2/3 cup apple jelly, Dijon mustard, apple brandy and grated ginger in a saucepot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and let simmer for about 10-15 minutes.

  5. Pour over chicken and serve.

Farro Risotto with Roasted Squash, Apple and Kale

I love this time of year.  I’m ready after the humid, muggy summer to breathe in some fresh crisp air.  I long for my sweaters and log fires to warm the evenings.  With the falling leaves comes the desire of using the abundance of fall flavors such as sage, pumpkins, squash and apples.

Did I mention I love fall?

I’m obsessed with apples right now.  I brought several different types of apples home with me the other day from the market, preparing for an all out apple fest.  I dove in, ready to conquer the sweet to the savory. The only thing I was missing was the road side apple cider stand.

So I have my apples, I love the fall and now I have to do something with all of it.  Well, that’s easy.  I decided to make this combination of a couple of recipes I had seen…  it was everything the autumn season is all about.  Farro Risotto with Apples, Squash, Kale and Sage.  My husband is loving me so much right now.  This meal is on his diet plan since it’s fairly healthy, but it’s also got flavor, texture and comfort, and it doesn’t taste like it’s a diet plan.

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I paired this with crispy chicken thighs and an apple cider gravy which will be coming in my next post, but for now try this out.   It’s in the top ten of my husband’s all time favorites, so I think you will like it.

Put on a sweater and fill your belly with the taste of fall.  It’s a yum on the food meter!

Farro Risotto with Roasted Squash, Apple and Kale

Course Entree, Side Dish
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup diced butternut squash
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup farro
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 2 Tablespoons diced bacon
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 dice and peeled Granny Smith apple
  • 1 cup chopped kale
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh chopped sage leaves
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees F.

  2. Toss squash with 1 Tablespoon olive oil and cook for approximately 7-10 minutes or until squash starts to brown. Remove and set aside.

  3. Soak the farro in cold water to cover for 20-30 minutes. Drain and combine with the chicken stock in a medium heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover and reduce the heat to the farro is bubbling gently; cook until just tender, 15-20 minutes. Drain the farro over a bowl so that you can reserve the cooking liquid and set both aside in a warm place.

  4. In the same saucepan, cook bacon until mostly crisp. Add butter and oil and melt slightly and then add shallots, and garlic and cook about 3 more minutes or until fragrant.

  5. Pour in the wine and turn up the heat a little and simmer until the wine has reduced by about two-thirds, another 5 minutes or so.

  6. Add the faro, the apples, and squash and enough of the reserved chicken stock to get a slightly creamy consistency.

  7. Add the kale, sage leaves and more Parmesan and/or salt if necessary and several grinds of black pepper.

  8. Serve immediately or cover and reheat gently before serving, adding more liquid if necessary.

Cold Weather and Soup

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There comes a point in time when I am tired of the summer weather.  I know many of you won't agree with me but I long for sweaters and fires and cozy comfort.  That is probably one reason why I decided I needed to ignore the 75 degree weather in the beginning of October and make some soup.

I love soup.  It takes me back to those childhood days of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches my mom would make me.  It was soup out of a can but it still gave you the warmth and cozy home feeling after the chill of the autumn air.

I had seen this soup recipe in our local newspaper and of course I couldn't leave it alone...I had to put my own spin on it.  I am so glad I did because as we were sitting around the table in our shorts and flip-flops, my husband said to me that if we weren't already married, after eating this soup he would have married me!  How is that for a testimonial on how good this was?

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This is super easy to make so even on a busy day, you can have this for your family dinner.   A salad and some crusty bread will make it a complete meal.

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Cold weather will be here soon and I will be making this again.  Heavy socks, a warm sweater and a bowl of this soup will take me back to my mom's kitchen.  I don't know about you, but it doesn't get any better than that.

 

Dinner for one

There are all forms of entertaining.  Of course there are the big parties, dinners and events.  There are also smaller and more intimate settings when you have another couple over or it’s a special dinner just for the two of you. You plan, you do the shopping, the preparation and then hope everyone oohs and ahhs.  It’s validation for the work and time you put into it and you go to sleep thinking everything was worth all the effort.  But have you ever thought of putting that same effort into a dinner for one?

What do people do when they eat alone?  I know when I was single and just starting out, dinner usually consisted of a bowl of cereal or a bag of popcorn.  I never thought of making an effort for myself.  I’m going to assume that a lot of single people have the same way of looking at things as I do.  We just do whatever is the easiest.

Tonight however, I changed my mind about things.  My husband was going to play cards with the guys and I was going to be alone for the evening.  In the past I would have eaten something I could just grab.   Not that there is anything wrong with a bowl of cereal or grabbing what ever is in the refrigerator at the moment, but I decided with the lifestyle changes we are making in our home I should make the effort and do the same for myself as I would anyone else that would be eating dinner in my home.  I was going to make myself a real dinner.

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I was inspired by a recipe in Bon Appétit that sounded so good, but my husband wasn’t as excited about this meal as I was.  It calls for adding lobster to pasta.  What was I thinking?  Doing something with it other than boil it and dip it in butter?  It was the perfect opportunity to try this…and I’m so glad I did!   Not only was this very tasty, it was also relatively easy.  The lobster was still tender and sweet with a nice spicy complement from the pasta and sauce.

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You could of course do this meal for your guests and still get the oohs and ahhs.  They won’t know how easy it was or that most of it could be done in advance.  Or you could wait until that one night when you’re sitting all alone and don’t want a bag of popcorn for dinner.  Pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy your own company.  It’s worth the oohs and ahhs you’re going to give yourself.

 

Changes in Life

Life Changes.   None of us want them because I think we all hate change.  If it’s a good life change, we’ll take it begrudgingly, but if it’s something that’s scary or undesirable, we avoid it like the plague.  Perhaps that is why so many of us cling to what we know and what is comfortable.

I am one of those people.  I get comfortable and want to stay with what I know.  Even if it makes me unhappy.  I sit and think how different life could be if I would just try something new, but it’s scary so I stay where I am.  Sometimes, however, you get a kick in the butt that forces you to make that change and you go with your heels dug in…. and then you realize that it was something you should have done so much sooner.   Yes, that’s me.  Kicking and fighting and holding on to the door jam until my knuckles turn blue.  And that is where the story begins.

To start with, I feel like it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything.  It’s only been a couple of months but when you stop doing what you love, it can seem like forever.  I stopped for several reasons.  It was a time of drudgery and unhappiness and I couldn’t wrap my mind around anything that gave me pleasure.  I was trying to figure out life’s destiny due in part to the untimely death of my brother, due in part to the fact I didn’t want to get up and do what I had done for the last sixteen years….mortgages.  Life wasn’t fun anymore.

My bosses talked to me…they were worried.  My friends and family talked to me.  I talked to myself.  I decided after several conversations and long bouts of thinking that I was going to make a HUGE change and leave my “I knew where I was going everyday” job.  I was going to concentrate on my blog and so the next change was to redo everything to make it more exciting and fun to look at. I went to a food writing seminar and hung out with chefs and other foodie writers and thought I was super cool.  But then I added in food safety courses and menus and decided to take on the catering business.  At this point I am sure my husband thought I had lost my mind and for the first few days I was almost in agreement with him.  But as time wore on and I was doing what I loved and I didn’t have the stress of my job any longer…I realized this was a dream come true and yes, why hadn’t I done this years ago?

But just as you think everything is going right with the world,  along comes another change that slaps you upside the head and wakes you up.  Out of state and only one day into our mini vacation, my husband has a heart attack.  Luckily for both of us, with fortuitous timing and excellent care, everything turned out well with no damage to the heart.  But what a wake up call for both of us!

We had to take a look at our lifestyle, our way of eating and what we were eating.  It was time for another change.  We realized how lucky we were to receive this “second chance” and made the choice to eat smaller portions, heart healthy meals, exercise and even cut down on the wine that we love to enjoy.  Some of it has been easy, and some of it has been a kicking and screaming change.

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One of the fun things is discovering foods that are good for you and still amazingly good to eat.  The day of the heart attack we had eaten that morning at the bed and breakfast we were staying at and they had been so nice to share their granola recipe with me that I had enjoyed with my yogurt.  It was one of the first things I made for my husband to make a change to his breakfast.

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Sometimes changes are good and sometimes not so good.  But it’s all about how we deal with them and how we embrace that change.  I for one am loving life right now and hope that it keeps being as exciting as it’s been the last couple of months.  And I hope you stick with me…together we’ll embrace the storm.

 

Almond Coconut Granola

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 6 cups

Ingredients

  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 bag (6 ounces) frozen coconut
  • 1/2 cup flaxseed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 6 Tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 cup mixed dried fruits I used dried cherries, blueberries, apricots and banana chips

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

  2. Stir together oats, almonds, coconut, flaxseed, and salt.

  3. Melt butter, oil and honey and cinnamon over low heat.

  4. Pour liquid mixture over oat mixture until well combined.

  5. Spread granola evenly in a large rimmed baking sheet.

  6. Bake at 325 degrees F for 15 minutes or until golden brown, stirring halfway through the baking process.

  7. Cool granola in pan on wire rack and stir in dried fruits.

A Memory

For most of us there is something that will trigger a memory.  it might be a song, a smell or even a place.  For me, it is a block of butter and a piece of toast.

We grew up on margarine.  At least my mom, my brothers and I did. It was cheaper than butter and growing up poor, my mom did what she could to control what was spent.  However, when it came to my dad, the expenditure of butter was not negotiated. My mom thought once she could fool him and put margarine on his toast.  That never, and I mean never,  happened again.

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I remember him slicing his block of butter, not from the side like most people cut it, but skimming his knife along the top as though it was a priceless commodity. .One day I asked if I could try it.  My mom and my brothers looked up like I was about to commit a crime, but my dad beamed with pride and agreed to let me try it.  I was watching a man share his pot of gold as he shaved the butter from the top with the same care as a man who was shaving his face for the very first time.  He laid the thin slices on my toast and we watched it melt into the crags.  Taking that first bite;  tasting the buttery richness that I had never experienced before, I smiled at my dad and realized we had just shared something that would always be special between only the two of us.  It was almost like he knew I understood the importance of what I had just experienced.

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I’m grown up now and my dad is no longer with us.  There is never a time, however, when I don’t come across a solid block of butter, hold it in my hand and I’m immediately back in our little kitchen. Who would have thought that one simple gesture would start me on a culinary trek of tasteful discoveries?  Unlike, my dad, I don’t use butter like it’s a treasure to be doled out sparingly.  I use butter with gusto and add a bit into everything I do.  Maybe it’s the richness it adds to my recipes, or maybe it’s just a small thank you to my dad for showing me that sometimes you just need to splurge for the sake of enjoyment.

So a toast to my dad, well,  with a piece of toast!  And of course I can’t forget that little slice of butter.

 

 

 

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