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.)

Cranberry Chutney

The Story

Mama kind of liked this cranberry sauce alternative. She couldn’t digest whole cranberry sauce—or at least imagined that she couldn’t, and she understandably was not going to chance it—so I always offered the canned cranberry jelly she had been eating on holidays for years. But yuck. Chutney cooks down to something between whole sauce and jelly, and eventually she stopped eating the canned stuff. But there’s a bigger story than that.

Many years ago, on my first Christmas that my children were spending with their stepfamily, too sad to be home alone without them, I drove out to the Atlantic coast for the day. Though I did it on a couple occasions after that year, it was only that first time I found a seafood restaurant that wasn’t exclusively serving a buffet of a traditional Christmas feast. The traditional meal without family made me sad! I wanted different.

I ordered salmon, served with cranberry chutney. It was delicious! I asked the wait staff if it would be possible to get the recipe. Now I could have Googled it and found something close, but in the early nineties that wasn’t so much an option. A few minutes later, the chef came out and sat down at my table and told me how to make it! Of course, there wasn’t really a recipe, just the ingredients. I went home and experimented until I got it right. It’s been a holiday specialty ever since.

The Recipe

1 pkg cranberries
1 cup vinegar
2 cups sugar
1 T cinnamon
1 T allspice
Water to cover fruit*

Combine all ingredients in saucepan and boil down, about 30 minutes. Don’t overcook. Chutney will thicken as it cools.

* It’s hard to cover cranberries with water—they float. Be conservative. Try one cup.

The Fresh Market Scone Clone

The Story

Back in North Carolina, I fell deeply in love with the blueberry scones sold at the sweet Fresh Market grocer. It accompanied my weekend blog writing at a nearby café. Until they stopped selling it. Another lover, lost. I was devastated. The “plop” scone that replaced it was terrible. I complained to management, it came to naught. But then, one random day, my lover returned to me! I copied the ingredients from the cellophane wrapper onto a brown napkin at the cafe and put it in my computer bag. Good thing. The return didn’t last long. I set about to compare the ingredients to recipes and experimented until I got as close as I could. Now, fifteen years later, I don’t really remember the original, but this one is coffee dunkable and not doughy. It’s not for everyone, and surely not for Britons, but I like it. And so did Mama!

The Recipe

2 c flour (½ white, ½ white wheat—or all white)
2-½ tsp baking powder
⅓ c sugar + 2 T
½ tsp salt
¼ c margarine (I use butter, it’s what I have)
2 egg yolks, beaten
⅓ c low-fat milk (I use whole, it’s what I have)
⅓ c. dried blueberries (fresh berries make the dough gloppy)
1 tsp orange zest
Raw sugar

Combine dry ingredients, cut in margarine. Stir in blueberries. Add beaten egg yolks and milk. Knead 3-4 times. Pat out dough on parchment-lined baking sheet, ¾ inch thick. Cut in 6-8 wedges and separate on the sheet. Brush tops with milk. Liberally sprinkle with raw sugar. Bake at 425º on bottom rack for 14 minutes.


Hail to the Kale Salad

The Story

There was much Mama could not eat, due to her digestive issues, but she was long devoted to dark green leafy vegetables for eye health. I don’t know that it mattered, in the end, her vision all but completely gone. But maybe it put off the inevitable for a while. At one visit to her long-time macular degeneration specialist, he curtly dismissed her fears of going blind, saying, “You will never be blind.” I raised my eyebrows, and Mama didn’t buy it for a minute. Perhaps he would have been right had she not lived so many more years.

I was not a fan of kale, but I learned to cook it for her. (Goat cheese makes all things edible.) She couldn’t eat it raw, of course, and I had no interest either. Until, my first road trip after her death, a friend and I went to the Redwoods. On the way back, in Bend, Oregon, we discovered Hail to the Kale salad. It’s a summer staple now.

There isn’t really a recipe, just the ingredients from the menu. I alter it as I please, adding and deleting ingredients, and you can too. (P.S. There are many Hail to the Kale recipes online. Google is your friend, though I haven’t explored them.)

The Recipe

Curly kale, massaged (Google it)
Brussels sprouts, sliced thin
Cabbage, sliced thin
Carrots, julienned
Green apples
Candied walnuts
Balsamic dressing

Additions: goat cheese or feta; avocado; mango; salmon, pan-seared tuna, or chicken

Strawberry-Citrus Shortcake

The Story:

Strawberry Shortcake was a June staple in my childhood, Pacific NW strawberry season coming as it did in convergence with my mother’s birthday, my birthday, and my sister’s birthday. It was never ever made with the tasteless little store-bought sponge cakes sold in the produce section at the grocery store. Never with pound cake, a perfectly good dessert, but not shortcake. We might have had strawberries with angel food cake, but it was not called strawberry shortcake. I suspect my mother’s recipe for shortcake was the one on the Bisquick box, but I don’t know that for certain.

Berries were sliced, crushed, and sprinkled with sugar—the kids’ job—then left on the counter to marinate. Whipped cream was made from whipping cream and powdered sugar, whipped up in an honest-to-god mixer or with a manual hand-mixer, never squirted from a can, never Cool Whip.

I confess to having used a sugary biscuit dough recipe for shortcake, maybe even Bisquick, but none tops this one my sister found and uses. It’s strawberry season! Enjoy!

The Recipe:

Sugared strawberries w/ Grand Marnier

8 c. fresh strawberries, stemmed & sliced
¼ – ⅓ c. sugar
3 T. fresh orange juice
3 T. Triple Sec, Grand Marnier, or OJ


2-½ c. flour
2-½ tsp. baking powder
½ c. yellow cornmeal
⅔ c. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1-½ c. heavy cream
4 tsp. grated lemon zest
4 tsp. grated orange zest
4 T. unsalted butter, melted
Sugar for coating (about ⅓ c.)

Whipped cream

To prepare the strawberries: In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients. Marinate for 30 minutes to 2 hours.

To make the shortcake: Preheat the oven to 350º. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cornmeal, sugar, and salt. Stir in the cream, lemon zest, and orange zest until just combined. Turn the dough out onto a floured board. Form into a ball and knead 8 to 12 times, or until the ball holds its shape. Cut the dough into 8 equal portions and roll into balls. Roll the dough in the melted butter, then the sugar. Place on a created baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until lightly browned and cooked through. Let cool slightly on a wire rack.

To assemble: Cut each shortcake in half. Top the bottom half with fruit and whipped cream. Place the top halves on top and serve!

Best Ever Granola

The Story:

I had the great privilege during my sojourn with my mother to attend a master class at Hedgebrook women’s writing retreat center on Washington’s Whidbey Island. A week of living alone in a tiny cottage and being cooked for. None of the locally sourced healthy food was food Mama could have eaten, due to her digestive issues, and therefore food I did not prepare. It was pure heaven, and the granola was to die for. Seriously. I bought the Hedgebrook cookbook just for the granola recipe. From then on, there was a jar of it in my tiny kitchenette, along with yogurt and homemade applesauce that I warmed up. My daily breakfast. Now my Airbnb guests enjoy it during their stay!

The Recipe:

Makes about 8 cups.

4 c rolled oats
2 c flaked unsweetened coconut
2 c almonds, coarsely chopped
¾ c dried cranberries
¾ c raisins
¾ c canola oil
¾ c agave nectar (or honey, but it does taste different with honey)
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cardamom (opt., not in original recipe)
A handful of pistachios! (also not in original recipe)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, toss together oats, coconut, almonds, raisins, and cranberries (and pistachios, if using).

In a separate small bowl, combine oil, agave, cinnamon, and cardamom (if using). Stir well. Pour over dry ingredients and mix completely together until evenly coated.

Spread onto two 12×16 inch baking sheets lined with parchment paper. [I find it bakes best one sheet at a time.]

Bake stirring occasionally, until mixture is an even golden brown color, about 12-15 minutes. [I stir once after 7-9 minutes, then bake 4-5 more (times depending on the size of your baking sheet).] Don’t over bake, it hardens as it cools. Freezes well, and is lovely and crunchy eaten straight from the freezer.