Candy Cane Cookies

My family doesn’t have many food traditions I’ve hung onto; but candy cane cookies, made by my mother’s sister and mailed out each holiday season, is one I resurrected when I had children of my own. Now they make them with their children. And so it continues.


  • 3/4 c. butter, softened
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. peppermint extract
  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/3 c. flaked coconut
  • 1 tsp. red food coloring
  • Crushed peppermints, opt.


Place the softened butter and sugar in a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer). With a hand mixer (or stand mixer with a paddle attachment) on medium speed, beat until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add the egg, vanilla and peppermint extract and mix well to combine. Stir together dry ingredients and add to butter mixture. Divide dough in half. Stir coconut into half of the dough. Add food coloring into the other half, knead to incorporate evenly.

Wrap each ball of dough in plastic wrap and chill 30 minutes. Divide each half into 30 balls. Keep half of the balls of each color in the refrigerator. Roll each ball into 5″ ropes. Twist a red one and a white one together and curve top. (Opt. Mix it up a little and make half the plain dough green!)

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place cookies on ungreased cookie sheet and bake 10 minutes, or just until white dough looks golden. Repeat with remainder of dough. Optional: sprinkle with crushed peppermint candies as soon as they come out of the oven.

Let cool completely on the baking sheets. Store in an air-tight container in a single layer, between sheets of parchment paper, for up to 1 week at room temperature, or two weeks in the refrigerator. (They freeze well too.)

Potato Carrot Cabbage Soup

I had rarely cooked with cabbage before moving in with my mother, but she kept buying it and I kept looking for recipes to satisfy her soup passion. This one is super easy, which was my passion.


4 large carrots, thinly sliced
2 large potatoes, thinly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1/4 medium head green cabbage, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, smashed
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon salt
ground black pepper to taste


Combine the carrots, potatoes, onion, cabbage, garlic, stock, olive oil, thyme, basil, parsley, salt, and pepper in a stock pot over medium-high heat; bring to a simmer and cook until the carrots are tender, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a blender (or VitaMix or use immersion blender) in small batches and blend until smooth.

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

I was always on the lookout for new soups to make for Mama, even though I was not the soup fan she was. We both liked this autumn yumminess.


4 pounds whole butternut squash (about 2 medium), halved lengthwise and seeds removed (for easier halving, cut stem end off first)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium Granny Smith apples
1 medium yellow onion
8 fresh sage leaves
Salt, pepper. Pinch each of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger
4 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
1 cup water
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup heavy cream or coconut milk
(optional) 1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds, avocado, sage leaves, sour cream for garnish


Heat the oven to 425°F and place rack in the middle.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the squash pieces cut-side up on the baking sheet. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and brush all of it over the tops and insides of the squash halves (alternatively, you can rub it on evenly with your fingers). Season generously with salt and pepper. Roast until knife tender, about 50 minutes to 1 hour.

Meanwhile, peel, core, and cut the apples into medium dice. Cut the onion into medium dice. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the apple, onion, and sage, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 7 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

When the squash is ready, set the baking sheet on a wire rack until the squash is cool enough to handle. Using a large spoon, scoop the flesh into the saucepan with the sautéed apples and onions; discard the skins.

Add the broth, water, and measured salt and pepper, stir to combine, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, stirring occasionally and breaking up any large pieces of squash, until the flavors meld, about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cream.

Using a blender, purée the soup in batches until smooth, removing the small cap (the pour lid) from the blender lid and covering the space with a kitchen towel (this allows steam to escape and prevents the blender lid from popping off). Alternatively, use an immersion blender or VitaMix.

Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Serve with garnish(es) if desired.

Blueberry Lemon Muffins

The Story:

I didn’t often make muffins for my mother, I don’t remember why, although she probably would have rejected the blueberry skins in these. But when I opened my airbnb in 2017, homemade granola (recipe here), homemade applesauce (recipe here), and muffins were on the breakfast menu. (It’s my favorite part of being an airbnb host.) I try to make muffins that match the season; in August, it’s blueberry! Here are not one, but two recipes!

Blueberry Lemon Muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
1 T baking powder
¼ cup vegetable oil
4 T butter, melted
¾ cup buttermilk (I use powdered buttermilk)
2 eggs
1½ tsp. vanilla extract
zest of 2 lemons
1¼ cups blueberries (fresh or frozen; if frozen mix with a bit of flour)
Coarse sugar for topping, optional


Preheat oven to 350º. Prepare 12 standard muffin cups with liners, lightly oiled.
Lightly beat together oil, butter, vanilla, lemon zest, eggs, and milk.
In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
Add dry ingredients to wet. Mix until combined. Don’t over-mix.
Gently fold in blueberries.
Scoop batter into prepared muffin cups, filling ⅔ of the way full. Sprinkle with raw sugar for a lovely crunch (opt).
Bake for 24-30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool in pan for 10 minutes. Place muffins on wire rack to cool completely.


Blueberry Whole Wheat Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

1/4 cup butter softened
1/2 cup sugar
zest from one lemon
juice from one lemon
1 egg lightly beaten
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 T poppy seeds
2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 T baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1-¼ cups blueberries (fresh or frozen, if frozen mix with a bit of flour)

Glaze (optional)
1 cup powdered sugar
1-2 T lemon juice fresh squeezed


In a large mixing bowl, combine butter and sugar.
Mix in lemon zest, lemon juice, egg, milk and vanilla
Mix in poppy seeds, whole wheat flour, baking powder and salt. Mix just until combined.
Bake at 400º for 15-18 minutes in lightly-oiled muffin liners.
Let cool slightly for 5 minutes and then remove from tin. Continue cooling on a baking rack.
While muffins are still warm, but not hot, drizzle with glaze, (or sprinkle with course raw sugar).

Pots du Créme au Chocolat

The Story:

Over my adult lifetime, my mother frequently expressed her failure as a mother because she fed her babies Gerber’s chocolate pudding, getting her daughters started early on sugar. They were different times, I tell her, can’t know what you didn’t know. And besides I have no chocolate love regrets. (Does early exposure prevent allergies? I would hate to be allergic to chocolate.) Jell-O chocolate pudding, the kind you stir constantly on the stove, not the instant variety, was one of the few cooking experiences I remember from childhood. Now my tastes are more sophisticated, and this chocolate “pudding” recipe is blue ribbon. And so easy. I hope I made it for my mother, I don’t remember. She did love chocolate!

The Recipe:

Makes six servings


2 cups heavy cream (or whole milk, if you’re on a diet, haha)
6 oz dark sweet chocolate (I use 60% Ghiradelli), cut into small pieces
⅓ cup sugar
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla (or Grand Marnier, or rum, or Kahlúa)
Chocolate curls


Preheat oven to 350º. In a heavy saucepan combine cream and chocolate and cook over medium heat stirring until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

Whisk in sugar, yolks (one at a time), and vanilla. Strain (if you want, I don’t) the custard into 6 one-half cup ramekins and place in a baking pan. Add hot water to the pan to reach halfway up the side to create a water bath. Bake 25 minutes or until top is set. Remove from pan and let cool. Garnish with chocolate curls (whipped cream opt). Pure deliciousness! Even better after refrigerating.

Risotto with Mushrooms

The Story:

Making risotto is contemplative cooking: it must be stirred, it can’t be rushed, you can’t be distracted, you can’t leave it. It’s soft, and therefore was a favorite of my mother’s when I moved into her home to companion her in her end years.

While cooking risotto late one afternoon, Mama napping on the other side of the wall behind the stove, I became aware that she had been asleep for a long time and was much later than usual getting up. She usually walked into the kitchen while I cooked, flipping on the overhead light that was off because I detest overhead lights. She asks me what I’m cooking, then decides if she can eat it or not that day, like I had given her a choice. But that evening, she wasn’t up. I couldn’t leave the risotto to check on her, and my head went crazy with the unlikely possibilities, even while knowing she had overslept and would be irritated with herself, or, more likely, with me.

Finally able to set the pot off the burner, I went to her bedroom. I stood in the doorway until I heard a soft snort. I let out a sigh of relief. I realized then that while I might say I was ready for this to be over, I was not. When I woke her to tell her dinner was almost ready, she was predictably vexed that I had let her sleep so long. Maybe I was ready for this to be over. But first, the Parmesan needed to be stirred into the risotto.

The Recipe:

Makes 4 servings


4 cups chicken or vegetable broth, divided
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
20 ounces mushrooms, thinly sliced (however much of whatever kind you want, or mixed)
2 shallots, diced
1 carrot, minced
1 cup Arborio rice
3 tablespoons dry white wine
sea salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
2 tablespoons butter
¼ c freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Optional additions: frozen peas, steamed asparagus, baby spinach (add to cooked risotto and heat until wilted), parsley or basil . . .


In a saucepan, warm the broth over low heat.
Warm 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the mushrooms, and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Remove mushrooms and their liquid, and set aside.
Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to skillet, and stir in the shallots and carrots. Cook 1 minute. Add rice, stirring to coat with oil, about 2 minutes. When the rice has taken on a pale, golden color, pour in wine, stirring constantly until the wine is fully absorbed.
Reduce heat to low: Add 1/2 cup broth to the rice, and stir until the broth is absorbed. Continue adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring continuously, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al dente, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add more warm liquid as needed.
Remove from heat, and stir in mushrooms with their liquid (and other cooked vegetables you may choose), butter, chives, and Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

The Story

Mama developed a serious sweet tooth as she aged (not uncommon in the elderly), though she complained about cookies being too sweet. One of the first things to go when the brain gets old is sense of taste. Given the same thing twice, one time she will love it and the next time “they don’t make it like they used to.” Or I didn’t make it the same. Or it wasn’t as good as it was last time, when last time it wasn’t as good as the time before. We had a lot of food fights.

She was on a mission to find the perfect chocolate chip cookie—an impossibility, of course, see above. I refused to engage in the activity, so she put her occasional hired caregiver on the task. It’s like a test: given three trials, can Michelle use the same recipe and the same ingredients and make the result be different? It’s the Great American Bake-off with Michelle competing against herself and Mama starring as contestant-bashing judge.

She never, ever ate a whole cookie in one sitting. Half would sit on the kitchen counter next to her Centrum Silver vitamin bottle. When she sat in the chair next to the counter, she would nibble at it until I finally threw the petrified remains out.

For the cookie story that didn’t make the cut in the memoir, click here.

Anyhoo, here is my own long-favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. Of course Mama didn’t like them for myriad reasons, including they weren’t sweet enough. I made these for me!

The Recipe


1 c. shortening (or ½ c. shortening and ½ c. butter)
¼ c. peanut butter (chunky or smooth)
½ c. white sugar
½ c. brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1-½ c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
2 c. rolled oats
1-2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips (I use two cups, because more is better when it comes to chocolate.)


Cream together first six ingredients. Add dry ingredients and mix well. Mix in chocolate chips. Drop by teaspoon full (or more because bigger is better when it comes to chocolate chip cookies) onto a greased cookie sheet.

Bake at 375º for about 10 minutes. Makes two dozen biggish cookies.

Pork Tenderloin with Goat Cheese & Honey

The Story:

Meat was hard for Mama to chew and to digest, but pork tenderloin passed all the tests. We both loved this recipe. It’s soft (if not overcooked) and tasty. And it’s easy to prepare! It continues to be my favorite meat recipe.

The Recipe:


½ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. light brown sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
1 lb. pork tenderloin, silverskin removed
1 tsp. olive oil
1 tsp. chopped rosemary (opt.)
3 oz. goat cheese, sliced or crumbled
2 T. honey


Combine first five ingredients. Rub all over tenderloin and let sit for 30 minutes. (Or five, if that’s all you have.)

Drizzle with olive oil and brown on all sides in a Dutch oven.

Place in the oven and bake uncovered at 400˚F for 13-15 minutes, flipping the tenderloin over halfway through baking. Bake until center of pork registers 150˚F then transfer to a cutting board and let meat rest 5-10 min. Temperature will rise while resting, so you might find you need to remove it from the oven before it reaches 150º. (Don’t overcook! A little pink out of the oven is fine.)

Slice and place on platter or plates. Top with rosemary and goat cheese and drizzle with honey.

P.S. You can also grill meat: 18-20 minutes, to internal temperature of 130º. (I haven’t done this.)

Peanut Butter Vegetable Chicken Soup

The Story

As I’ve said, Mama loved soup. One of her favorite past-times, when she could still see what was in the refrigerator, was to put all the dribs and drabs of leftovers into her ancient Revere Ware pot with the cracked handle and add water (or maybe canned tomatoes if she was feeling especially festive and ambitious) and heat it into one small serving of soup. She might have been better at this in earlier years, but it was a lost talent. Well, in my opinion; but she didn’t make me eat it, so whatever. Truth is, I have never been a vegetable soup fan. But I did find this one that is rather delicious, especially on these rainy or cold winter days. Mama liked it too, as long as I withheld the fact that is had peanut butter in it.

The Recipe

4 cups chicken broth
1 cup diced, cooked chicken meat
1/2 cup peeled and cubed potatoes
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup diced zucchini (or not)
1/2 cup broccoli florets
1/2 cup canned whole tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup peanut butter
1-1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley (or not)
salt to taste
ground black pepper to taste
red pepper flakes

In a large stock pot, combine the broth, chicken, potatoes, and carrots. Bring the soup to a boil, and then reduce heat to medium. Cook for about 10 minutes, till vegetables are tender.
Add zucchini, broccoli, tomatoes, celery, onion, green pepper, and garlic. Simmer for about 8 minutes.
Add peanut butter, parsley, salt, and pepper; stir until peanut butter is fully blended. Simmer for 3 minutes longer.

Makes four servings (unless serving your old-old mother, then more servings)

(Not) Boston Brown Bread

We pass on what we know. From one generation to the other, we want to share the best of what we knew growing up.

The Story

Every Saturday when I was a child my mother made Boston baked beans, the recipe on page 427 of the tattered 1945 seventh edition Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking School Cookbook that is still on the shelf in her kitchen that is now my kitchen. I can still smell them on slow bake in the oven in the brown bean pot with turquoise glaze inside, the molasses, apples, and bacon filling the house for hours. Along with beans, she always served Boston Brown Bread that came in a can, B&M brand. The can was opened at both both ends and the moist bread slid out and sliced into rounds along the indentations formed by the tin can, served with a generous slathering of cream cheese.

We ate that meal on the floor in front of the fireplace, sitting on the worn and faded pale blue and white plaid “school blanket,” so named because it was my older sister’s nap blanket when she was in kindergarten. All kinds of wonderings come up now, questioning my memory of this tradition. I suppose that’s how it always is as we age and come to know our family members as adults. Did my mother really let us eat in the living room? It seems an unlikely meal to eat on the floor. Every Saturday? I never asked her to confirm, and I’ve never asked my older sister who has more accurate memory from her childhood vantage point of the elder sister. I don’t want to know. I want to keep this story.

I made the beans a few times for church potlucks back in the day (infinitely better than canned pork ‘n’ beans); and I found a recipe for brown bread that I still make every year for New Year’s Day snack supper. It’s delicious with cream cheese, but I love it with sandwich-sliced bread and butter pickles and soft cheese, like Gouda or Havarti. It’s not Boston, which can be homemade in a can and steamed and sounds like way too much work, but it reminds me of childhood and my mother.

The Recipe

1 T quick-cooking oats (I use regular oats, because that’s what I have)
2 ½ cups graham flour (wheat, or ½ wheat, ½ white)
½ cup quick-cooking oats
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
2 cups buttermilk
¾ cups light molasses (or whatever you have)
1 T quick-cooking oats

Heat oven to 350º. Grease 2-quart casserole generously and sprinkle with 1 T oats. (A round casserole is nice. I used a Pyrex one until I broke it, now I use my mother’s that matches the bean pot! But a bundt pan works too.)

Mix flour, ½ cup of oats, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Stir in buttermilk and molasses just until dry ingredients are moistened; pour into casserole. Sprinkle with 1 T oats. Bake until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool completely.

(This recipe and the beans from my mother’s 1945 Fannie Farmer Cooking School Cookbook can be found in the 25th edition of Story Circle Network’s Kitchen Table Stories 2022: Sharing Our Lives in Food.)