Christmas and Maine and Cookies and Fudge

We all associate certain foods with special occasions.  The associations usually stem from our childhood and “traditions” that were started when we were little.  For me, two occasions were and still are especially momentous in our family: Christmas, and our yearly week-long summer vacation to Ocean Park, Maine.  Of course with Christmas, there are usually special cookies associated with the holiday; and foods like potato sausage and pickled herring, (and you’ll know what I’m talking about if you come from a Swedish family, too).  For me, I associate Maine with those single-serve cereal boxes, its own array of cookies (always chocolate chip, peanut butter, and oatmeal) and Pop-Tarts.  (My brother will share in that particular memory as he once said that in his early childhood he believed Heaven to be like Maine; where he could have a Pop-Tart whenever he wanted!)  As a kid, it can be so hard to wait for these special occasions to arrive.  The excitement is almost unbearable.

When Randy and I got married and I had a kitchen of my own to “be in charge of” I remember it feeling exciting and curious that I didn’t have to ask for anyone’s permission to bake cookies if I wanted.  Or a cake.  Or brownies.  Whatever I felt like having, I could just make myself!  And because we got married at the start of summer vacation and I was a teacher, I literally had all day everyday that summer to just bake.  (I really didn’t appreciate the peaceful bliss of that time period as much as I should have. Sigh.)  Randy and I went through a lot of butter during those first few weeks/months of marriage when I was baking up a storm.  I never gained the “freshman 15” in college, but I definitely gained around there and more during our first year of marriage!  (Getting pregnant with Abby six months into our marriage didn’t help things.)  But had these former “special” treats lost their luster now that they were becoming more frequent in my new home???

Now that I am home with my kids most of the time, I do try to make everyday “special” in its own way.  We are often filling our days with trips to the park, lake, zoo, beach in the summer or library, gym, roller-skating rink, etc in the winter.  Every night as I’m tucking my kids in bed, they ask what we’re doing in the morning.  Or sometimes they even phrase it, “Where are we going in the morning?”  They are usually disappointed if my answer is “nowhere” or “it’s going to be a home-day/cleaning-day/etc” even though I have come to appreciate those days the most since they are the least in abundance.  One night Abby was in tears that we weren’t doing anything “special” in the morning and I told her that if we did a “special” thing everyday, the things wouldn’t be very special anymore.  We need to have home-days, too, so we can appreciate the times we do go out.  (“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:” Ecclesiastes 3:1) I’d like to add, “a time to go out, and a time to stay home” to that list!  I told Abby that staying home can be special, too, but I know she didn’t believe me.  😉  The same should probably be said about food, right?  I mean, even from just a health perspective alone!  Believe me, I did learn that it’s not good to have cookies or cake every single day!  But is it okay to make a “specialty” item on a non-holiday?  Just because?

There is one food item I didn’t list earlier that actually is associated with BOTH Christmas and Maine for me: fudge.  My mom made fudge every Christmas, and now I have always made it for my family, too.  And every year in Maine, we buy fudge at the ice cream parlor or candy store or both.  Mmm, fudge.  Did you know that June 16 is “National Fudge Day“?  No?  I didn’t either.  And it must not be extremely popular because Google didn’t even do anything special with their logo for it.  I discovered it, though, during a rare moment of peace when all three of my kids were having quiet time simultaneously.  Mom for the win!  Don’t get too jealous, it doesn’t happen often.  As I was scrolling through my Instagram feed in a quiet living room, behold, there is was: a recipe for Mocha Latte Fudge (!!!!) posted by my favorite magazine (Real Simple) in honor of National Fudge Day.  Right away, my soul said, “I must make this fudge right now!”  But sadly my brain then reminded me that I was already making brownies, strawberry shortcake, and banana cream pudding in one weekend.  When would I find the time to make fudge?  And besides, if I made the fudge for no real reason and loved it and started making it more and more, would fudge still be special to me?  Am I the only one who struggles with arbitrary questions like this?  My brain, who loves labels, told me that if I made the fudge “just because” then it wouldn’t be “Maine Fudge” or “Christmas Fudge” or “Birthday Fudge” or any special kind of fudge.  It would just be fudge.  And since I couldn’t make it on National Fudge Day, I really had no reason whatsoever to make it at all.  “So what?!” my soul said. “It’s fudge. It’s happiness.  And that is reason enough to make it.”  So I did.  A week later.  And my soul thanked me.

Fudge can be tricky to make.  (Which is probably another reason most people don’t make it “just because”. ) There is definitely a science to it.  But if you’ve never made it before, don’t worry, I’ll hold your hand and we’ll get through it together.  And if you’re like me, and struggle with needing a purpose to make it, don’t.  As the late “Derek Shephard” of Grey’s Anatomy used to say when he walked into the operating room, “Today is a beautiful day to save lives.”  Just throw on your apron, walk into the kitchen and say (out loud), “Today is a beautiful day to make fudge!”  Your soul will thank you.

What you’ll need:

  • a pan lined with parchment paper (8 x 8 or 9 x 12, it really doesn’t matter, just depends on what you have or how big you want your pieces to be.  There’s no baking here, so no need to worry about pan size for bake-time.)
  • a small stockpot or large saucepan, and a wooden spoon
  • a pretty apron (just kidding, kind of)
  • 1/2 pound butter, cubed
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 TB espresso powder (I used instant coffee)
  • 1 TB vanilla

Start with the butter, sugar, and sweetened condensed milk in the pot over medium heat and bring to a low boil, stirring occasionally.

I wanted to capture a few popping bubbles to show what a “low-boil” looks like.  I’m still not sure if I succeeded, but I hope you get the idea.

Add the chocolate chips and espresso powder and mix.  Then let the mixture boil for about 7-8 minutes and DO NOT STIR.  You can use a candy thermometer, and the temperature should reach 235*F.

Okay, here’s the hand-holding part.  I know you want to stir at this point!  You see what looks like sticking at the edges of your pan… It appears as if a film might be forming around and on top of your mixture… Resist!  Do. Not. Stir. Stirring during this step could cause gritty/grainy fudge.  Just breathe and don’t stir.  It’ll be okay.  Only a few more minutes to go…

Remove from heat and add the vanilla.  Stir to combine, then let cool for 10 minutes.  (Or bring the temperature down to about 110*F.  Again, do not stir during this step.  Once it’s cooled, use an electric mixer and beat the fudge on high for about 5 minutes, or until it’s the consistency of peanut butter.  Pour into your prepared pan and refrigerate for about 4 hours.  It stores in the fridge in an airtight container for about 2 weeks.

Really, does it get any better?  Coincidentally, the iced coffee I’m drinking is blueberry flavored coffee, which Randy and I tried for the first time while on vacation in Maine!  We loved it.  Now we only buy it when we want to be reminded of our lovely yearly vacation.  It’s special coffee.  It cannot be minimized to “everyday coffee” in our minds, even if we drink it everyday for a time.  See?  Fudge, too, can be special even if you make it more than once or twice a year.  And luckily, these two items are the perfect pairing!

Help!  My fudge turned out gritty!

Okay, don’t panic. If your fudge still set but is a bit gritty or grainy, it still probably tastes fantastic!  We are simply dealing with a minor sugar crystallization malfunction, here.  Unfortunately, it cannot be undone.  That’s the thing about fudge, even if you are in the process of realizing a mistake is happening, you can’t really go back or undo it.  You just have to try again next time.  But it’s okay!  It’s just another excuse to make fudge!

IMG_9626If you wind up with gritty fudge, it’s probably because you overcooked it.  This can happen even with a thermometer if it’s not accurate, or if you stir your fudge too much while it’s boiling.  Also, if you don’t allow the fudge enough time to cool properly before mixing it with an electric mixer, your texture may be off for that reason as well.  If your fudge won’t set at all, it’s been undercooked.  Again, you can’t really fix it, but you can use it for hot fudge on ice cream–yummy!

Also, you might end up with gritty fudge if you have a baby in the house who wakes up while you’re making it or disturbs you in the process.  Just sayin’. 😉

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to work.  My life is oh, so stressful… 😉  (Actually, it kind of is, but moments like this make it better!)

Here’s your printable!  Mocha Latte Fudge


For the love of God, family, and pasta!

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” 1 Corinthian 13:1

You’ve read the book, The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman, right?  If you haven’t, you SHOULD. This book points out that all people express love in different ways, and therefore also expect or infer it differently.  So one might think their significant other doesn’t love them very much, but the truth may be that the love is just expressed in an unrecognized way.  The goal is to figure out your own love language (how you are most likely to express and interpret love) and also the love languages of those who are closest to you. I’m getting ready to read it again, probably with my children in mind this time rather than my husband (we read it together a while back).  It’s good.  And insightful.

If I could add a sixth love language, it would be food.  Seriously.  And if you read my previous blog, which was almost 365 posts about food, you would believe me.  My husband says that food (or rather, cooking for someone) clearly falls under the “gifts” category of the five languages.  This is probably true since “gifts” came out as my top love language when we read the book together.  I love food.  I am what some call a “foodie”, and please don’t let the fact that I’m sitting in bed devouring a DQ blizzard right now fool you; my taste in food is somewhat sophisticated.  (But I am only human. And female. And ice cream is perfection.)  And even though my husband didn’t make this ice cream for me, he bought it for me, which makes it so much better than if I had gotten it myself. So I guess food is a love language.  Anything made (or purchased) with someone else in mind is a beautiful thing.  And this is why I love to cook.  I love to create a meal with someone else in mind and watch them enjoy it.  It is my gift to them.  A few months ago we had a couple over for dinner and when they left, Randy looked at me and said, “You made that meal for the wife, didn’t you?”  He knew I had her in mind when I planned and cooked the meal I served.  Cooking and giving/receiving gifts; they are truly my top love languages.  But that’s not the only reason I cook , or write about cooking.  I just LOVE it.  I really do.  I love planning our meals for the week.  I love standing in the kitchen over the stove and stirring a pot of something that smells so divine I almost want to bathe in it.  I love the sound of sizzling vegetables.  I love the thought of the food hitting the pan just before the butter turns brown and knowing that the flavor will be impeccable.  I love knowing that I can save and store my bacon fat and re-use it to make my apple fritters taste ten times better than if I cook them in plain, old vegetable oil.  I love cooking food, I love eating food, and I especially love sharing food.

This blog is almost a continuation of my previous year-long online journey.  That blog started as just a food blog.  And in the end, I had a collection of posts that went deeper than the kitchen table: posts about life and love, our home renovation, home-schooling (preschool) with Abby, and more.  So I’m here now to pick up where I left off, and write about it all, but still put emphasis on the food.  Because… FOOD!  The internet is a great place for sharing ideas and getting inspiration.  I want a place where I can write about what’s happening in my life and the life of my family.  I want to hear from others who can relate, and I’d love to inspire similar creativity in those who are interested.  A blog like this truly is a window.  When I started my last one, I asked my husband for permission because I knew it would be opening a window into not just our kitchen, but our lives.  Turns out, it was fun for both of us.  And when it ended, I heard from countless people about the disappointment they felt at not knowing what we were having for supper every night anymore!  This blog will not be quite as frequent, so hopefully less strenuous on us, but it will offer the same insight into our lives.  It will be the “verbal” depiction of how we try to raise our children to know Jesus.  And it will include some yummy recipes and fun party ideas along the way!

The name may seem cliche, but it really is the perfect way to describe what I want to write about–everything I love.  I don’t just want to write about what I love, I want to write with love.  “Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being, for the Lord, and not for men.” Colossians 3:23.  I don’t just cook or homeschool or anything else simply because I want to, but I do believe God has called me to.  I’ve had a few conversations with friends lately about how we hear the phrase, “Oh, I could never do that!” from people regarding some of the things we do; homeschool, foster children, own/operate a business, etc.  And our feelings are always the same: we don’t feel like we could do it, either!  We just know God is asking us to, and we’re obeying.  I firmly believe God has asked me to homeschool my children for now, and I might get into more details about that in another post.  And believe it or not, it’s the same with cooking.  God gave me this passion for food, creativity, and trying new things in the kitchen, so it’s my duty to use it to the best of my ability in the role He has me in.  That’s why I cook.  And I write about it because I see and have seen a desire among my acquaintances for more/better recipes in their repertoire.  And I want to write about the other things we do in our home so that others might be inspired as well. Sharing the good news with our children is one of our most important charges as parents, but sometimes we all need a little extra motivation to do things that will make it stick.

There was a song I used to hear as a teen called “For the Love of God” by Rebecca St. James. The chorus had a line that went, “For the love of God; let this be my motivation…”  Not a bad line to have stuck in your head for a day!  So welcome to my new blog, and I hope you enjoy it!

And with that, let me leave you with a recipe for another love of mine…. pasta!  This dish is one that I love, love, LOVE!  It’s so easy to make and very addictive.  Randy made it for me countless times during the 3rd trimester of my most recent pregnancy and I made it again a few nights ago.  Enjoy!  (And guess what?!  I now have handy-dandy printables!!!  You’ll find one at the end of the recipe.) 🙂


Penne with Spicy Sausage in Tomato Vodka Cream Sauce

1 lb penne rigateIMG_9494
1 pkg hot Italian sausage
1⁄2 onion, chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 TB butter
8 oz tomato sauce
1⁄2 cup vodka or dry white wine             1⁄2 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup fresh basil, torn, or julienned
shaved parmesan cheese

Cook the penne to al dente in salted, boiling water.
Meanwhile, in a dutch oven or heavy saucepan, brown the sausage links for a few minutes. They don’t have to be fully cooked when you remove them. Take them out of the pan and slice them into 1⁄4 inch medalions.

Add the chopped onions and garlic to the pan with a tablespoon of butter. Cook about 1-2 minutes, then add the sausage medalions back to the pan and finish cooking them.

Add the vodka or white wine and cook 1 minute. Add the tomato sauce and heavy cream. Stir. Drain the pasta and add it to the sausage sauce. Mix everything until well combined. Add the chopped fresh basil. Serve in shallow bowls or plates and shave parmesan cheese on top.


Here’s that printable I mentioned:

blog post 1 penne with tomato vodka sauce