Living Your Best Life North of Forty and Fifty Plus

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It was a dark, cold, grey, January day in Manhattan. The city’s holiday shine had long faded away. Gone from the modern contemporary office lobbies across New York County were the trees, lights, and holiday decorations that made them sparkle.  Now, they were more like a rich man’s trophy wife or girlfriend, beautiful to behold, but soulless and cold.  At least that’s what went through fifty-three-year-old Clarissa Berman’s mind as she walked through the lobby of her office building on Lexington Avenue.

At 5’8, Clarissa was too tall to be considered petite, but tall enough to be above average. A very curvy African American woman, she had big boobs, a generous butt, a smallish waist with a little more tummy than she’d like. Her long, curly, thick hair was a custom mix of Clairol light reddish and cedar red-brown, which played nicely off of the red undertones of her lightly brown complexion. To say Clarissa was a convert to the natural hair movement, was a bit of a stretch. She’d done so at the suggestion of Mary Ann, otherwise known as her mothership. A woman used to having her will be done, she now suggested things to her adult daughters who’d long been onto her act. Her mothership’s suggestions were the equivalent of mutton dressed as lamb, but it was still mutton.

From the moment Clarissa and younger sister Elena were able to understand their roles in the family, her mothership Mary Anne Stevenson made it clear that even when they became queens of their own domains, they’d always be the ladies in waiting to her.  Growing up, the ‘I am the mother argument’ was the overriding element for almost everything. Everyone from her husband, friends, and most particularly, her daughters, were subject to her opinions, will, and advice.

Eventually, divorce freed their dad. The years hadn’t softened her mothership’s edges, but she appeared as a kinder, gentler person in her church. The congregation saw the well-kept silver-haired seventy-six-year-old woman as a kind grandmotherly type, with the exception of one who was both a congregation member and her friend.

Clarissa’s text notifications chimed as she got to the front entrance. She looked down. It’s mom.

I just picked Ingrid up from JFK. She went to North Carolina to see her grandchildren. Jimmy has the kids, but that ex-wife of his told Ingrid some sob story about being sick and Ingrid gave her $2,000. The girl wasn’t sick, she needed it for a boob job. Can you imagine that? I told Ingrid she’s too soft. A boob job at her age. Tiffany is damn near sixty and still dresses like she’s getting ready to climb a pole, any pole.

Ingrid and her mothership had been friends for nearly forty-plus years. Ingrid’s ex-husband had an office in the same building as the magazine her mothership worked for and they became friends.  

Clarissa shook her head. That’s not nice Mom. She typed.

It’s not meant to be nice. Jimmy’s mad at her and I don’t blame him. I told her not to give that girl any money. The money she got from selling her house isn’t going to last forever.

Okay, Mom. So, you dropped her off at home?

No. We’re going to dinner.

Before or after your church meeting?

No meeting tonight. I’m going to talk some sense into this woman. She needs to be careful with her money. It’s foolishness.

Okay, so you’re not going to the meeting. Wait. Ingrid’s in the car with you. You have Bluetooth in the car. It’s reading your texts aloud, right?

Yeah. I don’t talk behind anyone’s back. I believe in being direct.

 You’re telling me? I’m not exactly new to this Mom. Clarissa rubbed her forehead. I can’t stay on too long. I’m waiting for my uber.

So, you’re not taking the subway. Good. I don’t know how you do it nowadays. I took the subway back in the sixties, it was kinda nice then.

I am fully aware you haven’t taken the subway since 1971.

Are you running home to post food?

No, Mother, I’m going home to make dinner for my husband.

After which she would definitely post pictures and the recipe. Clarissa found it easier not to engage with anything her mothership didn’t understand.  It was best to shut her down before it turned into a sermon, or worse, an abject lesson.

Good. Posting pictures of food for attention. Everyone wants to be a bigshot. Look what I made. It’s all such…

            Foolishness. I’ve heard it before, Mom. Clarissa sighed sharply. Okay, Mom I’ve got to run now. Tell Ingrid I said hi. Better yet, hi Ingrid.

Hi Clarissa.

Enjoy dinner ladies. Try not to be too hard on Ingrid. Goodnight Mom.

Goodnight. Be careful. It’s dark.

Gotcha. Clarissa sighed softly as she stared out the car window.  Good night. It’s a wonder Ingrid still talks to her mothership. She’s nearly brought the woman to tears, but she keeps doing things with her. I suppose that’s real friendship or Stockholm syndrome.  Might be a little bit of both. Clarissa softly snickered. Her mothership is supposed to be a part of the Silent Generation. What a misnomer. Lord knows the woman is anything but silent.

Her mothership was born Mary Anne Stevenson in the early 1940s. She was a pretty girl who loved hair, fashion, and makeup in a small town in South Carolina. In addition to having deaf parents, Mary Anne had a blue and a brown eye, it made her look exotic, which was almost as misunderstood as her parent’s deafness.

It was the bad old days when deaf was often followed by two other adjectives, dumb, and mute. So, she and older brother Charles became their parents, or more specifically, their father, Landy’s protectors. Their mother’s family had the money to send her to the School for the Deaf and Blind in Spartanburg. Not only did an education put Annette in good stead, it made her confident and self-assured enough to stand up for herself.  If she wanted to make her displeasure known, she’d turn, stick her posterior out and blow a kiss. It meant kiss my ass in any language.

Dad Landy was a different story. A kind and gentle man with a trusting nature that made him a mark for passing gypsies and some of the less than scrupulous town residents. She and brother Charles would go toe-to -toe with anyone who’d duped him to get his hard-earned money back, and they defended his dignity fiercely.

These were the experiences that shaped her mothership and gave her the impetus to leave South Carolina after high school. She headed due east to Baltimore to stay with cousins. The move changed her life once she met Ernest Cannon, a native New Yorker and student at Morgan State College. They dated, got married after his graduation, and then settled on Long Island near Ernest’s mother Geneva. Her mothership used her innate sense of style to land an entry-level position at a women’s service magazine. It wasn’t Vogue, but she made the most of it.

Clarissa and Elena became her mothership’s models. She kept them in Martins, A & S, and Macy’s. Weekends were devoted to hair, hot combs, barrettes, and ribbons. The girls appearance was micromanaged from head to toe. It went swimmingly until her daughters went from girls to women with growing assets.  At the age of twelve Clarissa realized her body imperfections were as much about how her mothership saw herself, as it was about the way the world saw her and Elena.

Whether it was in spite of or because of her mothership, Clarissa and Elena turned out to be attractive, shapely, and intelligent women. Both became mothers to sons. Everything was mostly quiet on the mothership front, until she decided to implement a new tactic. When Clarissa turned 40, her mother issued some sort of weird executive order about shorts worn by women forty. It was a don’t. No exceptions. Even J-Lo’s ageless shape didn’t get a pass. To her mothership, La Lopez needed to cover it up and put a pair of slacks on.

At fifty she decided that both daughters needed to let their hair go natural. It didn’t matter that she started the whole hair relaxer thing. Elena shut it down. Clarissa decided to go natural, but the hair color stayed.   Clarissa wouldn’t go grey gracefully, but she also hadn’t worn a pair of shorts in fourteen years.

Clarissa kept watch for her Uber. A black Navigator pulled in front of the building. That’s it. Clarissa walked out and into the waiting car’s backseat.

“Good evening, Ma’am.”

“Good evening.” She closed the door, buckled up, and unconsciously twirled her hair when she saw her reflection. Again with the mirror. At least they have products to keep it looking shiny and like hair. I used to look like I had the tentacles of a Portuguese Man O War on my head. I suppose that’s progress.

Her cell rang. It was Clarissa’s best friend of over forty years, Melanie Vargas Hopkins. Their birthdays were separated by a mere few days. They graduated from the same high school and went onto Skidmore College together. The curvaceous Latina with lush brunette locks was divorced and dating a guy Clarissa set her up with a year earlier. But first, she had to give the driver her customary explanation for the use of the speakerphone.  She was partially deaf.

Clarissa was born a healthy baby girl, but at three months old, her Grandma Cannon noticed that she turned her head to the right when spoken to. When she mentioned it to her son, it ticked her mothership off. No one pushed the issue again until a routine hearing test in elementary school led the audiologist to confirm she was deaf in her left ear. Fortunately,  Clarissa’s right ear was at 99.1% and she read lips, However, conversations on the busy, noisy streets of Manhattan were another story.

Clarissa looked at her phone for the driver’s name. “Excuse me, Bernie?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“I’d like to answer this call, but I have to put it on speaker. I’m partially deaf. If it bothers you, I’ll send her a text and call her back.”

“No, that’s not a problem. Thanks for asking.”

“No. Thank you. I appreciate your understanding.” She hit answer. “Hey, Girlie. How was Fiji?”

“It was fantastic. So beautiful, warm, sunny, and lovely all the time.”

“Aww, that sounds nice. Then you flew back to grey and cold reality. What a bummer.”

“Don’t I know it? I figured I’d buzz you before you went underground to get home.”

“I am ubering home now. I didn’t feel like descending into the arteries of the city today. The whole city is shrouded in a post-holiday funk, and it’s contagious.”

“You’re not kidding.”

“When do you have to get back to the hospital?”

“I’ve got another week or so off. I have a ton of accumulated time. I’m taking some of it. No need to rush. I have to give my body a little time to re-acclimate.”

“Good for you. Where’s Jordan?”

“He went to his place, but he’s coming back.”

Fifty-eight-year-old graphic art designer Jordan Chan was always in Clarissa’s orbit as an editor and an agent. Jordan was blissfully married for many years until a drunk driver ended his happy world. Clarissa knew that people who truly loved before were likely to find love again, it was always a matter of timing. Melanie’s marriage to Troy began as a dream but devolved into a nightmare after the kids were born. Troy was a serial cheater and lazy to boot. Melanie had the role of breadwinner for their twin daughters and son. After their divorce, relationships weren’t on her radar for a long time with good reason.

It all changed during the holidays year before when Jordan finally decided to attend Clarissa’s legendary Christmas holiday buffet. Melanie met Jordan, and the sparks flew. They were a bonafide couple in no time.

“My goodness, Girlie. All of this togetherness. Why don’t you two just move in together?”

“We were just laughing about that. It’s too soon.”

“On who’s watch? I’m not saying we’re old, but our even our shadows are shrinking.”

She laughed. You’re right about that.” Melanie paused. “Before it slips my mind, my esthetician can’t take me for a few days, and I need a little manicuring.”

“You need manicuring? How wild has it gotten?”

“It’s not wild. It’s grey as hell.”

“Oh, I understand that. Can you hold for a tick?”

“ Sure.”

“Um, excuse me Bernie.”

“Yes?” He looked into the rearview mirror.

“I’m still talking to my friend, and it might get a little bawdy. I don’t want to offend you.”

“Oh, please. You don’t know the stuff I’ve heard.” He laughed. “That’s not an issue. Go ahead.”

“Cool. Thanks. Okay, Melanie, I’m back. Isn’t it a bitch when south of the equator is greying faster than the hair on your head? Since, I don’t need a rug to match the drapes, the bare floor works for me.”

“Right?  At least everything is still smooth down below.”

“Amen, girl. Knock on wood.”

“I love Jordan so much, but it’s a lot keeping up with all the stuff it takes to remain a soft and pretty woman. I was never bothered about it before we met, but you were a different story. You kept on it before you and Miles met.”

“I put dating and men on the shelf for so long, I was practically a reconstituted virgin. Nobody was on the streets of Brazil, but I was always ready if Carnivale came to town. The Boy Scouts didn’t corner the market on being prepared.”

Bernie began to howl with laughter. “I’m sorry. That was a good one.”

“Thanks.” Clarissa grinned.

“You’re talking like this in an uber?”

“I cleared it with Bernie. He’s cool with it. But getting back to you and Jordan, when are you two going to jump the broom? Seriously, have you checked our sundial lately? We have no business waiting around in this section of the pool. The water is receding. There’s no time to waste.”

“You make a good point.”

Living Your Best Life North of Forty and Fifty Plus

Monday Meal Makeover

https://stillachicklit.com/food/

Welcome to the premier posting for Monday Meal Makeover. Here we will try to up your Monday meal game for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, or snacks. All the recipes that can be adapted will include:

  • Vegetarian
  • Vegan
  • Gluten-Free, Celiac Disease
  • Low Sugar/ Low Carb
  • No Sugar
  • Lactose Intolerance/Egg Allergies

For what I hope will be the first of many, welcome to the first Monday Meal Makeover.

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Blueberry Muffins by Tastes Better From Scratch adapted by Chamein Canton

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (gluten-free all-purpose flour, 1 to 1 gluten-free baking blend, sorghum, millet, sweet or brown rice flour)

3/4 cup granulated sugar (Swerve sweetener, Splenda granulated, coconut, raw cane, or turbinado sugar, pulsed fine)

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 ½ teaspoons grated lemon or orange zest

1/3 cup oil (vegetable or canola oil)

1 large egg (2 tablespoons Aquafaba, ¼ cup silken tofu pureed with 1/8 teaspoon baking soda, 1 flaxseed or chia seed egg, or egg replacer)

1/3 cup buttermilk (dairy: full-fat, low-fat, or light)  (non-dairy: almond, rice, soy, or light coconut milk with 1 teaspoon lemon juice or apple cider vinegar, mixed. Let stand for at least five minutes before using)

1 teaspoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon lemon or orange extract, optional

1 cup blueberries , fresh or frozen

Crumb topping:

2 Tablespoons granulated sugar (Swerve sweetener, Splenda granulated, coconut, raw cane, or turbinado sugar pulsed fine)

2 Tablespoons light brown sugar (Swerve brown sugar substitute, organic light brown sugar)

2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour (gluten-free all-purpose flour, 1 to 1 gluten-free baking blend, sorghum, millet, sweet or brown rice flour)

2 Tablespoons cold unsalted or salted butter, chopped (vegan unsalted or salted butter)

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a standard size muffin tin with liners, or grease well with non-stick cooking spray.

In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, sugar, salt, orange or lemon zest, and baking powder. 

Add oil, egg, buttermilk, vanilla, and orange or lemon extract (if using), and mix just until combined. Don’t over mix (the batter doesn’t need to be “smooth”) 

Toss the blueberries in a spoonful of flour. This will help them not to sink to the bottom of the muffin. Gently fold blueberries into the batter.  

Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with batter. 

If you are making the crumb topping:

Add all of the ingredients to a bowl. Use your fingers, pastry cutter, or a fork to work the butter into the mixture. 

Sprinkle crumb mixture over the tops of muffins in the pan.

Bake for about 5 minutes at 400-degrees, then reduce the temperature to 375-degrees. Bake for about 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with just a few crumbs. 

Remove muffins from oven and allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Notes

  • The bake time may vary by ovens. It may take a little longer or a shorter time depending on your oven. I tend to err on the side of a toothpick coming out clean or with a few crumbs when inserted in the center of the muffins.
  • I don’t recommend using shortening or butter-flavor shortening. It makes the batter heavier and the muffins oily.

Dinner

Cast Iron Roasted Chicken- Recipe from America’s Test Kitchen adapted by me

1 whole chicken. Fryer or young chicken

Canola or vegetable oil

This is the seasoning rub I use, adapt it to your likes and measure it out to the size of the chicken.

Paprika sweet or smoked

Onion powder

Granulated garlic

Black pepper

Chili powder

Kosher salt

Remove the chicken back. Set aside to make stock

Combine the seasoning in a bowl

Tie the legs together with kitchen twine.

Season the chicken skin side down

Place into a cast iron skillet

Make sure the skin of the chicken is dry. Rub the skin with oil. Season liberally and tuck the wings underneath. Roast In hot oven 450-475. Make sure there’s about seven inches from the rack to the top of the oven.

Roast for about 1 hour. It could be more or less depending upon your oven. So keep a watchful eye. The temp of the chicken should be about 160-165 degrees from the thickest part of the chicken.

Barbecue Sauce

2 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion finely chopped

3 cloves of chopped garlic

1 cup of ketchup

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/4 cup molasses * (sorghum syrup)

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

3 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar

2 teaspoons Worcestershire

1 teaspoon mustard powder

pinch of cayenne

1 tablespoon chili powder

pinch of allspice

In a saucepan over medium heat, saute onions until tender, about four to five minutes. Add garlic, and stir for one minute. Add the tomato paste, and carmelize it stirring for two minutes. Add the ketchup, molasses, cider vinegar, and brown sugar. Stir for one minute. Add the chili powder, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, pinch of cayenne, and allspice. Stir. Add 1/4 cup water and cook stirring for four minutes until thickened. Take the sauce off the heat and let cool. Blend with an immersion blender until smooth. You can also use a blender or food processor, but be sure it’s cool. It will make for quite the science lesson and a mess.

  • Spruce Eats list of molasses substitutes

If you don’t have molasses, you can make one of several quick substitutes. Replace one cup of molasses with one of the following: 1 cup dark corn syrup, honey, or maple syrup. 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

3/4 cup granulated sugar, plus 1/4 cup water

These substitutions may alter the taste of your recipe a bit. If the molasses flavor is vital to the success of your recipe, try the brown sugar substitute. Since brown sugar is granulated sugar and molasses it’ll be the closest flavor match. Maple syrup or dark corn syrup would be the next best choice.

If you have to use granulated sugar or honey as the substitute, consider increasing the spices in the recipe a bit to make up for the flavors that the molasses would have contributed.

Living Your Best Life North of Forty and Fifty Plus

I was a teenage man snatcher and Martha Stewart is partially to blame

It’s a heck of a thing to call yourself a teenage man snatcher, and to point to Martha Stewart as the reason it happened. Well, I have to be honest, she was just one factor that contributed to my delinquency, and she is in good company. Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, Charlotte Bronte, and Emily Bronte also contributed to my rep as a modern Victorian seductress.

I loved all things baking from a very early age. My dad gave me an Easy Bake oven when I was four, and once I saw a wedding cake, it was all downhill from there. I was hooked on stacking and frosting cakes. Eventually, my baking repertoire grew over time to include cookies, pastries, bread, muffins, and naturally more cakes. At eleven, I had a subscription to the cooking magazine, Cuisine, which eventually became Gourmet. I loved trying new recipes to challenge myself and improve my skills.

I was a teenager in the eighties. It was a time of big hair, shoulder pads, Dallas, and Dynasty. General Hospital’s Luke and Laura were the onscreen soap couple. Cooking shows were limited to PBS on Sundays and for a few precious hours on Monday evenings. I wasn’t allowed to date at the time. So, while other girls were getting ready to go out to a movie on Friday and Saturday night, I was at home or spending the night over my best friend Melissa’s house listening to the Beatles, Adam Ant, Michael Jackson, and Prince. Madonna got some airplay from us too. After all, she was a Leo like Melissa and me. Not to mention, Madonna and I have the same birthday.

I had friends, but my girl circle was fairly small, but I had a lot of guy friends. Who were really friends and not the euphemisms used to define friendship now. Melissa liked being in the kitchen as much as I did. As a result, we were able to monopolize (as other girls and some of their mother’s thought) all of the guys time with scones, chocolate cookies, muffins, and the like. By no means was it a den of ill-repute, we’d either be at Melissa’s house under her parent’s watchful eyes, or at my house with her mothership (my mother) and my younger sister.

In the beginning, learned how to set a table for company from my mother. She worked in my junior high school cafeteria as a lunch lady, but she also worked on and off for Stone catering company. That helped me get a grip on the basics, but I wanted to do it will a little more style. I was fifteen when I went on a mission to find a cookbook that combined both recipes with entertaining. I checked the shelves of my local libraries and bookstores regularly to no avail.

Then one Sunday afternoon PBS had a special on entertaining with a caterer out of Connecticut, Martha Stewart. I’d never heard of her previously, but her name and style made a lasting impression on me. I was fascinated by her attention to detail, her home décor and the way she presented food on a holiday table. Martha was my parents age and everything about her seemed smooth, elegant, and just plain regal. I scoured TV Guide to see when she was going to be on television again. I couldn’t get enough. Then one day at Waldenbooks, I saw it. Entertaining by Martha Stewart. There she was on the cover in a Victorian style white dress presiding over a perfectly decorated table. I was there with my friend Joel, who I begged to buy the book for me. Lucky for me, he bought it with the catch that I’d have him over whenever i made something from the book. That was one of the easiest deals I ever made. There was no way I wasn’t going to cook my way through the book, or die trying.

It felt like my own little storyline was happening in real life. I wasn’t going on dates but I was in the kitchen with Martha and my friend Melissa. I was in my Victorian phase. I loved Gunne Sax dresses and old lace. We made scones, muffins, bread, pies, cakes, and more kinds of biscotti than anyone could shake a stick at. Although I predate Kelis, her Milkshake song is appropriate here, except it wasn’t my milkshake that brought the boys to my yard, it was my pepperoni loaf.

Martha Stewart’s first book was my gateway drug to Cuisinart food processors, Kitchen Aid stand mixers, mini-herb choppers, wedding cake pans, Madeline molds, and more. My entertaining game was on the rise and my guy friends could reap the benefits from my properly set table.

Entertaining worked perfectly, and I had all the eligible guys were at my house and around the kitchen. The funny thing was I didn’t want anything more than friendship. Although I had to admit there was one guy I liked, and my mother was okay with him. My sister didn’t like him that much, but that was neither here nor there at the time. I wasn’t allowed to date, and he was already in college. All the man snatching hullabaloo happened because he was the object of someone else’s affection, and that affection wasn’t returned. I can’t say that I didn’t understand why she and her mother needed a heavy. Who wants to believe a guy rejected them straight out of hand. So, naturally, I was deemed a little Entertaining hussy, tempting men with baked goods and cooked meals. Still, I didn’t let it faze me in the least.


At the height of our entertaining jag, Melissa and I held a formal dinner for all the guys at her house. There was Melissa’s Greek Moussaka, my pepperoni loaf, rolls, roasted vegetables and cake for desert made by me. It was a success and enjoyed thoroughly judging by the number of second helpings and empty plates. It was the only dinner party we ever had as teenagers, but that was okay with us. I had the opportunity to show off my Martha skills long before her name became a verb and before Snoop ever heard of the lady who used to rule over an estate and property in Turkey Hill, Connecticut (at the time). I have come a long way from the wide-eyed sixteen-year-old girl when the first edition of Entertaining was released. My skills have gotten better and while I still prefer to make things from scratch, I am a little more relaxed about it courtesy of another lifestyle/tv-chef maven, Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa. I’ve integrated Martha’s penchant for good things, with Ina’s how easy is that philosophy, and the amalgamation works.

I’m no longer a man snatcher and my milkshake is a little thicker, but I still bring all the boys to the table, only this time, the boys are mine and the loves of my life. My twin sons Sean and Scott, who are my ultimate good thing.

I am including one of the first recipes I ever made from Entertaining by Martha Stewart Copyright 1982.

Banana Bread recipe by Martha Stewart adapted for vegan, vegetarian, gluten-sensitivities, low sugar, and no-sugar dietary needs by Chamein Canton

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for pan (vegan butter, margarine)
  • 1 cup sugar (Swerve sweetener, Splenda granulated, coconut, raw cane, or turbinado sugar, pulsed finely)
  • 2 large eggs (4 tablespoons Aquafaba, 1//2 cup silken tofu, pureed with 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 2 flaxseed or chia seed eggs, or egg replacer)
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (gluten-free all-purpose flour, 1 to 1 gluten-free all-purpose flour, sorghum, millet, sweet rice, or brown rice flour)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup mashed very ripe bananas
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (dairy; light sour cream, plain yogurt) (non-dairy; soy milk, or almond milk yogurt) (vegan sour cream)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Directions

  1. Step 1 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan; set aside. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat to incorporate.
  2. Step 2 In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to the butter mixture and mix until just combined. Add bananas, sour cream, and vanilla; mix to combine. Stir in nuts and pour into prepared pan.
  3. Step 3 Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Let rest in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool.

Additional Notes

  1. To make a flax or chia seed egg, mix one tablespoon ground flaxseed/chia seed meal with three tablespoons of water. Mix together, and let sit in your fridge for 15 minutes to set up and thicken.
Flaxseed Egg photo from Chocolate Covered Katie

Living Your Best Life North of Forty and Fifty Plus

Baking, blogging, and writing. Using the pan in pandemic to keep up with both sides of a professional literary life.

It’s the last Tuesday of 2020 and I don’t think 2021 could arrive any sooner for everyone at this point. Although, there is no need to state the obvious, it’s been an overall rough year for everyone. Everything most of us took for granted like having the choice between getting a cup of coffee or a burger to go, or to stay, for a stretch of time this year, wasn’t even an option. Then there was the change of working from home that required far more adjustment than anyone ever thought it would. Kids, pets, and life at home made it hard for many to stay in work mode. As it turns out, working can be stressful in the office and at home, which was a shock to some people, not me. However, the effects of Covid-19 on an industry like publishing, where socializing in person is just as, if not more important, than emails and posts, it’s been an adjustment. It’s the last Tuesday of 2020 and I don’t think 2021 could arrive any sooner for everyone at this point. Although, there is no need to state the obvious, it’s been an overall rough year for everyone. Everything most of us took for granted like having the choice between getting a cup of coffee or a burger to go, or to stay, for a stretch of time this year, wasn’t even an option. Then there was the change of working from home that required far more adjustment than anyone ever thought it would. Kids, pets, and life at home made it hard for many to stay in work mode. As it turns out, working can be stressful in the office and at home, which was a shock to some people, not me. However, the effects of Covid-19 on an industry like publishing, where socializing in person is just as, if not more important, than emails and posts, it’s been an adjustment.

I’ve been working from home for some time. I have a very small literary agency with a handful of clients. Being a part of the publishing industry, I spend time reviewing the latest signings and deals happening with the Big-Four publishers (it was five, but Random just bought the venerable Simon and Schuster), independent, and boutique publishers. I read Publisher’s Weekly, The New York Times Book Review, to keep up with the industry. I live on Long Island and I spend time in Bethel, Connecticut with my sister’s family where I am Auntie Mimi. In New York I am a part of the otherhood (mothers with adult children, in my case sons)

I’m also a writer and author myself. I’ve been in the publishing industry for close to twenty years. I understand the publishing industry from both sides of the table. Editors, senior and assistant, along with editorial directors and acquisitions editors spend a great deal of time in meetings that aren’t in a conference room. They meet literary agents and authors for coffee, lunch, and cocktails. There are industry dinners where they have an opportunity to talk with other publishing professionals about projects and trends. Agents like having the opportunity to pitch clients in person and to find out what types of projects editors are seeking. We think using the #mswl, is terrific, but have you seen most people’s let alone agent’s Twitter or Facebooks threads, it’s easily lost in a plethora of other tweets, posts, or updates. We were just getting the hang of the new digital submission, when Covid-19 took the social scene away. Now we had to Zoom, and for some editors living in an NYC apartment with children, zooming from their closets was a close to an office situation as they could get.

Combining this with the number of changes that have occurred since the first of my ten books (1 nonfiction, 9 novels) was published in 1998 through the last book in 2015, it’s night and day. The Internet was in its toddler stage in the late nineties and still somewhat of a novelty. Publishers still accepted hard-copy submissions through the mail. You could call and editor or the art department direct without hitting a menu-option. Now it’s all email and pressing phone options if you call. Neither guarantees you’ll get through. In the nineties through the early 2000s, being traditionally published by the aforementioned publishers, was the only way to go. Any other means of publication like hybrid and self-publishing were looked down on as an inferior way to be published or as vanity-publishing adjacent. Now, there’s a self-publishing section in PW. Some of the major traditional publishers, have a waded into self-publishing offering services for people looking to publish their books. A blogger with a large social media following is more likely to get a publishing deal than a previously published author with proven sales and readership. Getting on social media to develop a platform is a little easier for boomers and gen-xers who were always techies or gamers. For some like me, changing from the analog to the digital has been a bit tougher. I believe conversation is an art, and there are things that simply cannot be conveyed through a text or post, unless you’re scream (all-caps) tweeting or texting. Still, I don’t have much choice but to try to figure my way through the maze. There are plenty of bloggers who have developed a lucrative platform and are willing to help you. Some want a lot of money, others don’t want as much, but the problem is how do you know if what they’re going to teach will actually work for you. It’s a lot to process.

To deal with the new world, I head to the kitchen. It’s my personal ashram where I find a way to quiet my thoughts so that I’m able to think without the white noise of our online lives. It allows me to work through professional and personal issues. Writer’s block is a condition no writers wants for any extended period. Novelists, songwriters, television and screenwriters, anyone who depends on words for their livelihood/career. It was the kitchen that made this past year a little easier to cope with and from the number of banana bread posts I saw at the beginning of the lockdown in March, others have discovered what a tasty oasis the kitchen is. Covid-19 also stands for the average number of pounds gained (if it was more, I won’t tell). Being in the kitchen helped me figure out different ways to pitch my clients’ work to publishers. As an added benefit, it helped me tighten up three fiction manuscripts of mine. I was able to compile the recipes for two cookbooks, one of which celebrates my family’s traditions in the kitchen.

I’ve also taken on the daunting task of trying to build an online presence. While I love all of these great articles interviewing people who had blogs, then got a publishing deal for cooking or a memoir or something else, I can’t dwell there. I am having a time figuring all of the ancillary things out. I don’t have time to ponder or mope over why I haven’t been discovered. I was never one for a diary, which is weird because I always loved writing, but I preferred writing stories centered around what did or is happening in my life and around me. I start with a pen and paper, before I type anything into Word. There is something about connecting to the paper that helps writing flow for me. More often than not, I don’t use much of what I wrote by hand, it’s just the runway and taxiing. When I begin typing, my mind takes flight, the words come. That is not to say that I don’t edit and change it extensively. Words have life. They breathe, contract, and change shape.

I find that baking helps the most when I’m writing fiction. There are no bounds to what I can write, but baking is science. It’s orderly. You can’t deviate and add just a pinch more yeast or baking powder. The measurements are precise, there is no free-styling. Somehow, all of it allows my creativity to flow freely. I’ve figured out more plot lines and characters just by sifting, measuring, stirring, and kneading. It’s what works for me in my literary life and has made it possible for me to blog and keep up with my website.

For others it might be painting, drawing, or another form of art that helps their creative juices get going. Physical activity like working out, running, walking, or yoga is helpful for some people. I enjoy doing yoga in the mornings to help center my thoughts and stretch my limbs. It helps with the every day pain of having MS, but it’s baking and writing that sets me free of the condition, even if it’s just for a little while.

Now that there are vaccines available, I believe the world will return to a new normal. I am quite sure that pre-pandemic life won’t return as we knew it. Time is going to be the key for the industries that were affected and that may not be enough to resurrect many businesses. I suppose hope springs eternal for writers, as much as I prefer to bake my own treats, I’m looking forward to having sitting in a bakery café, diner, or coffeehouse and watching as people from all walks of life interact with each other before they go about their day. Covid-19 has proven just how social we are. I will still be in the kitchen cooking and baking, but I won’t take seeing people in person for granted again. Apparently, we’re all people who need people.

I love to share recipes, particularly when it’s cake. Chocolate was a weakness for my Grandma Salley. She kept Hershey’s Kisses in the pocket of her aprons. She’d sneak and give us a couple when my mother wasn’t looking. Chocolate is something I love to bake with, but as I gathered recipes for the Cooking with My Nanas cookbook, I wanted to be sure to include every dietary need. Family is about everyone at the table enjoying a meal together. What’s the fun if some members only have a bowl of fruit for dessert. I know it’s healthier, but who wants that when everyone else has chocolate.

I found this recipe for Gluten-free Chocolate Cake on What the Fork Blog, which was adapted from Ina Garten

Chocolate Cake

For the Cake

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose gluten free flour (all-purpose flour)
  • 3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if your gluten-free blend contains it) (omit if using regular all-purpose flour)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar (Swerve sweetener, Splenda granulated, coconut, turbinado, or golden sugar pulsed fine)
  • 3/4 cups cocoa powder*
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup unsweetened coconut, rice, almond, or soy milk + 1 tablespoon white vinegar)
  • 1/2 cup avocado oil (or canola oil)
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature (1/4 cup Aquafaba, 1/2 cup silken-tofu pureed with 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 2 flaxseed or chia seed eggs, or egg replacer)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup hot coffee

For the Frosting

  • 1 cup salted butter, softened (vegan butter)
  • 3 cups powdered sugar (organic confectioner’s sugar,. Swerve confectioner’s sugar substitute)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream (full-fat coconut milk)
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup, light corn syrup, or brown rice syrup, optional

Instructions

Instructions

To make the Cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray 2 8-inch cake pans with non-stick spray. Line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper and spray that parchment paper with non-stick spray.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, sift together the flour, xanthan gum, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Use the paddle attachment to mix the dry ingredients on low speed.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, oil and vanilla.
  4. With the mixer running on low speed, slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Mix until completely combined.
  5. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and pour in the hot coffee. Mix on low until incorporated.
  6. Pour the batter (it will be very thin and pretty liquidy) evenly between the two pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 – 40 minutes. (Mine take about 37 minutes.)
  7. Cool the cakes on a wire rack (in the pan) for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the cakes from the pans and cool completely on a wire rack.
  8. When the cakes are cool, prepare the buttercream.

To make the chocolate buttercream:

  1. Add the butter to the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until completely smooth. Add the powdered sugar and cocoa powder and mix on low to combine. Mix in the vanilla extract and heavy cream.
  2. Turn the mixer to a medium-high speed and beat for 1-2 minutes or until the frosting is light and fluffy.
  3. Frost the cake as desired!
Italian Butter Cookies and Linzer cookies