Family Happiness Party!

Husband and I have been married over 35 years.  And, with the addition of our children (and  now their spouses and grandchildren) we are a Family with a capital F.  Way back when times could be very tough and we couldn’t afford trips to the mall or the movies or some main event.  What we could afford was ice cream!  And that was the beginning of a wonderful tradition which continues today.

In 1998 we were interviewed and contributed to a book call “The Heart of the Family:  Searching American for New Family Traditions that Fulfill Us” by Meg Cox. (you can find it…and the updated version on Amazon). Our family tradition of a “Happiness Party” when everyone is down in the dumps was included!

The rules of the “Happiness Party” are simple.  Anyone in the family can call for one.  The time and place must be rather immediate.  The requirements are ice cream, toppings, and lots of eagerness to let go of our blues.

We’ve had a rough few months.  My father got sick and passed away.  And nothing seemed to be going right.  And then husband and I got the worst colds of our lives.  (Still fighting that one.) So husband said that he was calling for a Family Happiness Party.

This holiday weekend we are gathering to celebrate and uplift.  The menu isn’t important….what is important is the ice cream sundaes that follow.

So…whipped cream (from the can is the most fun!), jimmies (sprinkles?), wet walnuts, peanut butter (heat it in the microwave and pour), and anything else that will make you smile.  This week STRAWBERRIES! (from the Collingswood Farmer’s Market….Springdale, Buzby, Viereck, Fruitwood…some, all!) and HOMEMADE HOT FUDGE SAUCE!  Oh, yes.  Homemade.  Hot. Fudge. Sauce.

The recipe is simple.

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
9 ounces of chocolate chips or chocolate chunks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.

In a heavy sauce pan on medium heat (do not want any of this to burn), melt two tablespoons of unsalted butter.  Add 3/4 cup of heaving whipping cream.  When the butter has melted and the cream is warm, add nine ounces of chocolate (chips or broken up).  We use a candy bar that is 85% Cacao and low in carbs.  If you like something a little less bitter look for a quality chocolate chip.  Be aware to the amount of sugar in the chocolate.  Do NOT use milk chocolate.  Stir until the chocolate is melted and the sauce is smooth.  Finally add 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract.  Stir again until smooth.

Makes about 1 2/3 cups of chocolate sauce.

If you have any left you can keep it up to two weeks in a glass jar in the refrigerator.  You can eat it cold by the spoonful (it’s fudge!) or gently reheat it.  That’s IF you have any left.

A Family Happiness Party doesn’t take our problems away.  It doesn’t solve our problems.  A Family Happiness Party brings us together so we can face whatever storm is out there, together.

Spaghetti and pork ricotta meatballs. Oh my.

Ground pork is a light alternative to beef when making meatballs.  Hillacres Pride sells delicious pork at many markets including my market, Collingswood Farmers’ market.

This is a quick and easy dish that everyone loves, including my toddler grandson (he also loves his playroom at our house…the yellow room, upstairs).

This is a dish where jarred sauce is the base and pork meatballs are the star.  Combine a jar of marinara sauce and a pink vodka sauce.  Both are available from the Villa Barone stand at the market.  Put the sauce in a pot and begin a slow simmer.


Last week (and currently) spinach is available from several farmers..A.T. Buzby, Springdale Farms.  Local spinach is almost sweet…sandy, but sweet.  Pull off the leaves and let them soak in a bowl of cold water for about 30 minutes.  Then run each leaf under the tap and let drain.  When the sauce starts to simmer, drop in the spinach leaves and put a lid on the pot.  After ten minutes or so, lift the lid and stir.  The spinach will collapse into the sauce.

Next mix the meatballs.

The ingredients are: 1 pound of ground pork (Hillacres Pride), about 6 ounces ricotta cheese (Hillacres Pride…I like theirs for this purpose because it is a little drier than most), 1 Tablespoon of dried parsley, I Tablespoon of dried green onions (or one fresh one minced), a pinch of granulated roasted garlic (or a tiny pinch of fresh garlic that has been through a press), 1/3 a cup of panko (Japanese breadcrumbs…they are lighter and crunchier that regular bread crumbs), and one egg (optional).

Dump all the ingredients into a bowl and mix with your fingers.  Roll meatballs in your hands. Gently.


Toss them into the pot with the sauce and cover with the lid.  Let them simmer lightly until the meatballs are done.  About 30 to 60 minutes.

Cook your favorite pasta.  Top with sauce and meatballs.    Done!  Delicious!




Fresh strawberry muffins with a chocolate surprise.

Saturday morning was beautiful.  Sunny and cool.  Perfect for a shopping trip to the Collingswood Farmers’ Market.  It’s the second week and I was looking for more asparagus, more spinach, and MORE STRAWBERRIES!  While the strawberries from last week weren’t super sweet, they were fresh and bright.

I recently stumbled on a pile of old Family Fun magazines.  As I went through them to recycle I realized that each of the fifteen magazines had been saved for a reason.  In an issue dated February 1998 I found a recipe for strawberry muffins stuff with a chocolate kiss.  I tore out the recipe but immediately updated it in my head.  Fresh strawberries and a   dark chocolate Lindor truffle.


I’m not much of a baker.  I like to grill meats, roast vegetables, invent a sauce.  But I had strawberries.  And Sunday afternoon was languishing ahead of me.

These muffins are quick to prepare and smell delicious while baking.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter (at room temperature)
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
20 strawberries
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 Hershey kisses (or Lindor truffles) or your favorite chocolate candy.

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  Then in a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar.  I just used my trusty old wooden spoon.  Next mix in the eggs, one at a time, and then add milk.

Rinse the strawberries, cut off the greens, slice into a couple of pieces (not too thin).  Mash the berries slightly.  Keep some nice sized pieces and release some juice.  Stir the berries into the butter/milk mixture.

In a separate bowl, measure the flour, salt, and baking powder. Stir well.

Add the flour mixture to the berry mixture.  Stir until all of the white is gone.

Line a twelve muffin tray with paper liners.  Drop the batter from a tablespoon to fill halfway.  Add the unwrapped chocolate candy (or jam).  Spoon more batter to cover the candy and fill the muffin cup.


Bake until the muffins begin to brown.  About 20 to 25 minutes.


Test with a toothpick inserted near the center.  The toothpick should come out clean.

Makes 12.

At first husband complained that I was taking his truffles (or chocolate bombs, as he calls them) but the muffins smelled great and with the piano music of Erik Satie (performed by Phillipe Entremont) wafting through the house and a cup of hot tea they tasted even better .



Quick meal for using up your market buys

An easy meal for any night of the week is one that goes together quickly and cooks all in one pan.  This easy chicken meal is my go to when I’m done with the week and I want a delicious meal.

Ingredients.  All from the Collingswood Farmers’ Market.

Chicken parts (I used two chicken breasts and three chicken thighs on the bone) enough to feed your crowd. Vegetables.  This week I had some leeks that needed to be used (but an onion would be fine),  some carrots that were already chopped for lunches, the last bunch of asparagus from Les Viereck with a little left from Springdale Farm, and a jar of marinated artichokes from Villa Barone

Place the chicken pieces on a baking sheet that is covered with foil.  Remember the dull side of the foil up keeps things from sticking.  Toss the vegetables cut into similarly sized pieces into a boil.  Squeeze lemon and drizzle olive oil over the vegetables and the chicken (I spray the olive oil).  Dot the chicken with Hillacres Pride unsalted butter. Spread the vegetables evenly around the chicken.  Sprinkle the whole pan, lightly, with salt.  Put into a 350 degree (F) oven and bake for 60 to 75 minutes depending on how crisp you like your chicken skin.


When the chicken is done (juices run clear, skin is crisp) place the chicken on a platter and out the roasted vegetables on another platter.  Any of your favorite vegetables will do.

My husband walked through the back door after a long week and the table was set and with a quick side salad, the meal was done.

“What are we having,” he asked as he came in.

“Baked chicken with vegetables”.


Some classical music on the Sonos.  Great end to a tiresome week.  And, as we sat down, the sun came out for the first time in what seems like forever.  That’s good!

My Husband’s Favorite Market Meal!

Last evening’s dinner was my favorite kind of meal. Even though the market is just starting and the farmers don’t have their summer bounty, spring in NJ is a wonderful thing.

It was raining Saturday morning in Collingswood.  But as we know, the best way to show your farmer some love is to come to the market even if it rains.

Our market has a tremendous variety of vendors…lots of farmers, bakers, ice cream, Italian specialties, coffee.  At the first market of the season I was looking for asparagus and spinach and strawberries.  And I wasn’t disappointed.

Many of the farmers had asparagus.  I bought a bunch from each of them. Some very skinny, some thicker.  I keep them in water until I use them.  It keeps it very fresh if you can’t use them the day you buy them.


For the first dinner of the new market year I made chicken cutlets (from Hillacres Pride), asparagus (from Springdale, Vireck, Buzby…..), and a pink pasta sauce from Villa Barone.  My daughter and I split a loaf of Villa Barone bread and I was set.

After the chicken cutlets were thawed I pound them with the flat side of a meat mallet until they were about a 1/2 inch thick and even.  I dropped the cutlets into a bag with about 2 tablespoons of mustard and 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise.  I let the chicken marinate in the bag while I washed the asparagus and put it in a steamer.  I also started to slowly heat the pink pasta sauce.  Then I took the chicken cutlets from the bag and placed them on a foil covered sheet pan.  I sprinkled them with some parmesan cheese.  I put the sheet pan of chicken into a 350 degree F oven for about 25 minutes.  Keep an eye on them.  The chicken is done when it is firm and a little golden.  While the chicken baked I continued to steam the asparagus until it was firm but tender and boiled some ravioli.  When everything was done…about 30 minutes total.  I served the chicken and ravioli with the pink sauce and I served the asparagus on the side.  Delicious.  Nutritious.  And very easy!

Endings and beginnings

My father passed away a month ago.  He was 90 years and 7 months old.  He lived a good full life and was only sick a few days when he passed peacefully.

He left us a little shocked and sad.  We take comfort that he didn’t suffer a long illness.  He didn’t have to move out of his house.  He still drove his car.  But now we have to clean out his house.  It’s packed with stuff that wasn’t his, wasn’t him.  He had started “picking” in the last several years.  The house is full of stuff that wasn’t his.  Stuff that holds no memories for us.  And, it is filled.  Filled.

I went to the farmer’s market today.  The one I always go to.  Collingswood Farmer’s Market.  Today was opening day.  I spoke to old friends…the farmers.  They asked how my winter was.  Fine, I replied.  I didn’t want to start that conversation.  Fine.

Today my husband and I went to my father’s house and emptied one large closet in his bedroom.  We took 24 large trash bags of clothes to Goodwill.  From one closet.  It took most of the day.  It was sad.  It was hard.

This morning I went to the farmer’s market.  In the rain.  And I bought the first asparagus, and spinach, and a box of strawberries.

My father passed away a month ago.  Both my parents are gone.  We’re left to clean up.  The end of a life.

This morning I went to the first farmer’s market and tonight….after a shower and some dinner…I’m going to eat strawberries and remember how Spring can feel.IMG_3536