Archives for posts with tag: The Gram

In honor of Mother’s Day (or as I call it “Crazy Family Celebration Day”), I bring you a three act play, and totally true story, titled “The Night Nothing Happened and Other Delicious Drinks,” along with family photos that have absolutely nothing to do with this story.

I love this photo of Mom and me.

I love this photo of Mom and me.

The Night Nothing Happened and Other Delicious Drinks, Act 1:

MOM: I don’t see why I don’t get to go to her 85th birthday party, and you, Mother, and Auntie do.
ME: Well, I’ve been visiting Sinus with The Gram since I was 4.
MOM: Do you still call her that?
ME: Well, yes, the mispronounced name I gave her has kind of stuck over the years. So, yeah, sometimes.
MOM: Maybe don’t call her that in front of everyone tonight.
ME: I don’t think she cares, but I promise to be on my best behavior.
MOM: You got an invite and I didn’t…
ME: Can we move on from that? Besides, I think it was just a natural following. She is The Gram and Auntie’s cousin. I visit her often with them. Ergo, I got an invite. When was the last time YOU saw her?
MOM: There was that one time…well, when I was a kid…fine. Whatever. Just keep them out of trouble.
ME: Trouble? Why? It’s two old ladies, okay, three old cousins, who are hanging out tonight with extended family, in a private party room at a fancy hotel or something. What could possibly go wrong? Hey, does my dress look okay?
MOM: It looks great, and I’m telling you, keep them out of trouble.
ME: Sinus never gets in trouble.
MOM: I’m not talking about Sinus.

Once we arrived at the party, it didn’t take long for Auntie to discover the private bar and for The Gram to realize her clip-on earrings weren’t going to stay balanced.

THE GRAM: Okay, are they even on my ears now?
ME: Um…yes? Yep, they sure are. They look great.

And then someone begins to tell the story of Sinus’ birth 85 years ago. The Gram and I look around to see who is starting it, and to our horror, it’s Auntie, three sheets to the wind with a butterless butter knife in hand for pointed effect.

AUNTIE: 85 yearsh ago…it was me and Frieda and Mattie and we knew something BIG wash happenin’ that day. We wurh told to go outschide to play, but we knew something BIG was happenin’. Sho I schaid to everyone, c’mon kidsch, lets go schit outschide thisch window and wait. Somethin’ big ish happenin’. I know it.
THE GRAM: Oh, Sister, um, maybe let’s get you a roll to go with that butter knife.
AUNTIE: Why would I need a roll? I’m tellin’ a schtory!
THE GRAM: Yes, well, you’re….
AUNTIE: I’m the oldest pershun in thish room ish what I am, schtill your older shister too, and if I want another Manhattan, I’ll have another Manhattan! Sho anyway, Sinus wash born just a few hoursh later…
THE GRAM: Oh, bravo, good story, Sister! Loved it!
ME: Is she done yet?
THE GRAM: Oh, dear God, I hope so.

We. Were. Wrong.

First Intermission.

Auntie was formidable, but oh, so lovable. She called me Sunshine. :)

Auntie was formidable, but oh, so lovable. She called me Sunshine. 🙂

The Night Nothing Happened and Other Delicious Drinks, Act 2.

AUNTIE: Then a few yearsh later, our family got another baby and SHE wash born!!!! [Auntie points her butterless butter knife at THE GRAM who begins to groan uncontrollably.] I DIDN’T LIKE HER WHEN SHE WASH BORN!! Not one bit!!!! Mother, I said to my mother, you’re too old to have another baby with a new huschband. This ish WRONG! I’m 17 and I don’t want a schibiling now!

Speaking of siblings, The Gram is now nervously and uncontrollably laughing. And the room is dead silent.

ME [whispering to The Gram]: Is this true?
THE GRAM: Oh, God, yes. All of it.
ME: What happened?
THE GRAM: Well, a divorced Danish woman (our mother) married a poor Italian, and together they had me. It was a little scandalous for the times, I guess you could say. And it was hard on Sister. Her father had abandoned her and Mother years ago. When he was around, he wasn’t very nice to them. But my dad doted on me and was very good to Mother. It was hard for Sister to see. Some wounds take a long time to heal. So, she stayed away and we didn’t really talk much over the years.
ME: Omigod! Then what happened?
THE GRAM: Well, her husband died and I guess one of us called the other. I think she called me. And we started spending time together, and all these decades later, we haven’t really stopped.

I LOVE THEIR STORY. Auntie was always so brave in my mind. That night I learned why. It takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable. To pick up the phone, let go of the bitterness, and say “hi” to someone.

And I always knew The Gram was unconditionally loving and forgiving. That night I also learned why. Love is best when it’s shared.

AUNTIE: Scho!!!! I didn’t lichke her scho much for a lot uh yearsh!
THE GRAM: So true, dear Sister, but um, well, we’re so good now, aren’t we? Just two peas in a pod now. Okay, now…
AUNTIE: We are!! We are!!!!! When my huschband died, oh, nearly 25 yersch ago, I descheided I wash going to get to know my dear little shister. And, sho, all theesh yearsch later, we’re good friends.
ME: Umm, Gram? Are you going to grab the butter knife or should I?
THE GRAM: I’ll go for it.
ME: Actually, I’ll grab it. Wait, no, you grab it! It’s by…she’s flailing it by you!

We both missed the butter knife.

SINUS [approaching us cheerfully]: I’m so glad you three could make it tonight! Where would I be without my cousins?!
ME: Umm…
THE GRAM: Are you…
ME: Sure?
SINUS: Of course I am. You three are always a fun time. Why, I am just so glad you could all make it.
THE GRAM: Well, we won’t stay long. Must get Sister home in one piece.
SINUS: Nonsense. My dear older cousin is right. She’s the oldest in the room and can drink whatever she likes.
THE GRAM: Speaking of drinks, I need one. Maybe a fruity one. Without alcohol!


ME: So, Gram, what did you get?
THE GRAM: Something summery and sweet.
ME: Mmmm, it’s good. I want one. Does it have alcohol in it?
THE GRAM: I don’t think so. I didn’t tell her I wanted alcohol, so I would assume not. I’m not much of a drinker, unlike my SHISTER over there who is retelling that lovely story on a continuous loop.
ME: Well, I’ll go up and get one myself.


ME: I would like the same drink you made for my grandmother. It’s wonderful. What’s in it?
BARTENDER: Just a little peach schnapps and pineapple juice.

Second intermission.

When I was little, there was absolutely nothing in my life The Gram couldn't fix.

When I was little, there was absolutely nothing The Gram couldn’t fix in my life.

The Night Nothing Happened and Other Delicious Drinks, Act 3. 

ME: Well, that answers our question, Gram. The drink doesn’t have alcohol in it. I went up and asked for the exact same thing you got, and the bartender didn’t even flinch. Didn’t ask for an ID or anything. So, that’s that.
THE GRAM: Well, sure. Of course she’d ID you if it had alcohol in it.
ME: She did say it has a little peach and pineapple to it.
THE GRAM: I thought I got a hint of peach.
ME: You know, we have a pretty great family. I mean, you can’t take us anywhere, but we know how to have a good time.
THE GRAM: We sure do. And who wants to be boring? Not I.
ME: Me either.


MOM: So, how’d it go? Did you have fun? Where are Mother and Auntie? Go out and help them up the stairs.
ME: Um, well, The Gram is taking Auntie home.
MOM: They could have come up for a while and talked about the evening. I can be big about it and hear all the details.
ME: Yeah, well, I hope you still feel big and mature and open-minded, you know, later.
MOM: Why? What happened?
ME: The Gram is taking Auntie home to sleep it off.
MOM: Auntie got DRUNK tonight?
ME: Oh, yeah! She drank her weight in Manhattans. Speaking of drinks, The Gram and I had the most wonderful summery drink tonight. You should get it the next time you’re at the store.
MOM: Hold it a minute, you were supposed to look out for them!
ME: I tried! I didn’t know there would be alcohol. And anyway, I went after the butter knife.
MOM: What?
ME: Never mind.
MOM: I just, okay, fine, what’s this drink you guys liked so well?
ME: Peach schnapps and pineapple juice. Would the schnapps be in the fruit drink aisle or with the produce?
MOM: OH MY GOD! MORGAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That’s BOOOOOOZE!!!!!!! Schnapps is booze! This is getting worse. This whole evening is getting worse. You drank booze tonight.
ME: I did?
MOM: Omigod! You got drunk with MY MOTHER!!!
ME: Nope, no I did not! We only had one!! Auntie is the one who got drunk!
MOM: That. Is. Not. Helping. Who drove home?
ME: Gram did.
MOM: You didn’t drive them home?
ME: Why would I drive them home? I just started driver’s ed.
MOM: Omigod, you’re all three drunk.
ME: I’M NOT DRUNK. Nothing happened tonight, except for the part where Auntie…
MOM: I get it. I get the picture. Oh, good Lord. I cannot believe this. One night. One night out, and you three…..

She went to her room and closed the door, muttering, “My daughter got drunk with my mother. My daughter got drunk with my mother….”

But, WHATEVER, because I thought that evening WAS OUT OF THIS WORLD as were the women who raised me. And just, whatever, man, because The Gram and I were not drunk. That is my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Happy Crazy Family Celebration Day!



Toodlebug went in for allergy testing and came out allergic to the world. I’m joking, of course. Mostly. In addition to the standard fare one might expect, think indoor/outdoor allergies and cats, Toodle is also allergic to peanuts, pork, soy, and wheat. Round two added asparagus, cauliflower, raspberries (poor girl!), tomatoes, sesame seeds, ginger, and navy beans to the list. That’s a bit…tricky.

We purged the pantry again, and I ended up at the grocery store more times in two weeks than I had in the previous three months. Because we have nearly eliminated all processed foods from our diets, the hardest part is coming up with something quick at lunch or dinner if we don’t have a lot of prep time.

The big question now is whether the allergy testing was worth it. Have we seen any progress? K-Hubs and I say yes. While she still has bald patches, they aren’t spreading and new ones don’t appear to be forming. There are follicles in each patch, and hair is growing in, albeit slowly.

Another question is whether Toodle’s health, aside from hair, is improved. And to that we also say yes. Toodle is, and always will be, a spirited girl. It’s one of the many things I love about her. But she seems calmer, more able to follow through on actions and ideas. Like my mother, I am digging my heels in on this one. I whole-heartedly believe the behavior of Toodlebug’s hair is an indicator of her overall wellbeing. And maybe I can’t fix her alopecia areata, but I still believe wellness and alopecia are related.

I’m glad I pushed for round-two of allergy testing because the allergist, a little more traditional in nature than K-Hubs and I, said if her hair didn’t grow back after eliminating foods identified in the first round, there would be no need to do any other testing because the allergies were then not related to her alopecia areata.

However, per usual, something kept bugging me. Why wait? Couldn’t it be possible that some other food we hadn’t tested for be the one food that was bothering her? Couldn’t we unknowingly offer her large quantities of food that irritated her? Many people with alopecia (areata, totalis, or universalis) don’t see progress until the particularly offensive food is removed or all offensive foods are eliminated. In an effort to find alternatives to foods she could no longer eat, couldn’t we inadvertently introduce new foods that also caused allergic reactions?

It turns out, yes, that is exactly what could have happened. Tomatoes and raspberries, identified in round-two testing, were two otherwise healthy foods she not only ate in large quantities but also was highly allergic to.

Feeling self-conscious about being so persistent, I feared I was turning into “that” parent. The one everyone in the clinic whispers about. But then I had another familiar feeling. It was similar to the way Mom acted throughout my childhood every time she felt something was wrong and she was the only who could see it. She advocated for me even if, and especially when, everyone else disagreed. In spite of her 5’1 frame, she was a force to be reckoned with.

For example, there was the time she argued incessantly with the orthodontist. She simply would not hear about anything to do with headgear. In spite of his protests to the contrary, she was convinced the gear would pop out of my mouth and into my eyes, blinding me forever.

And then there was the time she wouldn’t let me sign up for pointe ballet classes because she was convinced I’d need foot and ankle surgery by the time I was 20.

So although I was going to wait a while for further testing after round one, I listened to my inner voice and lasted a whopping three days to set up round two. True confession, I would have set it up sooner but it was a weekend.

We have learned that autoimmune diseases are primarily environmental and less about genetics, which meant I had another nagging feeling. And an innocuous comment from the pediatrician (not the family physician referenced in the previous post) about early exposure to prevent future allergies led me down a pointless path.

This time the nagging feeling was that we had done something wrong. Maybe we washed our hands too much when she was little or not enough. Maybe we bathed her too often or not often enough. Did we overexpose her to germs, but maybe the wrong ones? And the family cat we never got? What if that was the whole reason she acquired alopecia areata. The “environment” we created for her was all wrong. This could have all been prevented had we just gotten a family pet. Well, shoot. We failed as parents before we even got her to Kindergarten.

But I like to think God smiles on us more often than we realize. And after the first round of testing, a woman approached me in the health foods aisle at the grocery store with a question about milk alternatives. This led to trading stories about our allergy-prone children. The woman, to whom I will always be grateful, said, “Oh, you need that book by that doctor who cured herself of Multiple Sclerosis through diet and exercise. Can’t remember her name. Something like Wall.”

Enter The Wahls Protocol: How I Beat Progressive MS Using Paleo Principles and Functional Medicine. The book has been a game changer, a lifesaver, for us. The Wahls Protocol answered many of my insecurities about Toodle’s health and why I am drawn to doctors who also have a functional approach to medicine.

Environmental doesn’t automatically mean “parental screw-up” like I had been secretly thinking. Environmental includes anything from an illness at some point in one’s life to exposure to a toxin. High fevers are also possible culprits. And combined with genetics, which do play a part, there are some people who are going to be more prone to autoimmune diseases than others. But if the environment is the main cause, then maybe the environment can be the main cure, too. Hence the emphasis in her book on diet, exercise, and assessment of stress and environmental toxins.

Dr. Wahls’ book got me thinking maybe symptoms don’t always tie nicely into one diagnosis. At the risk of making Toodlebug “special,” I found myself wondering, instead of anaphylactic shock, what if her symptoms were behavioral? What if, instead of getting physically sick from offending foods, she is ill behaved at the table because she genuinely doesn’t feel well? What if, instead of swelling and rashes with each meal, she is distracted, irritable, and hyper? This seemed to be the case for Toodle.

What are we doing about it? I remember having extremely sensitive skin until I was in high school. Mom, Dad, The Gram, and Auntie tried to keep me away from potpourri stores, perfumes, certain jewelry, and even makeup. I didn’t wear foundation until I was a sophomore. Only once Mom suggested I give it a try did I actually start.

In that same vein we have focused on perfumes and chemicals that might be bothersome. We have changed out her detergent. Overkill? Probably. But we had some Charlie’s Soap on hand so the switch was easy. Reflecting back on the little things my family did for me, I remember secretly thanking them for trying.

And once I learned the medicine she takes thins her scalp to allow it to work (I don’t know how that one never dawned on me), I traded out her shampoo and conditioner. Thank you to the lovely Whole Foods employee who helped me find an all-natural alternative that didn’t include wheat or soy. That was not an easy task.

We have eliminated nearly all processed foods. Someone hold me. I could really go for boxed brownies right now.

Toodle also drinks rice milk, and we buy our fruits and vegetables in bulk at Costco. K-Hubs is the official freezer of foods for the family. He found this site particularly helpful for learning how to freeze various foods.

What about sugar? That’s where I draw the line. I’ll give up wheat and all the goodness that goes with it. I’ll give up soy and every soy-laced chocolate on the planet. I’ll steer clear of cheese and eat it privately in the company of dear friends who let me eat the last piece. I’ll eat Jimmy John’s in my car on a side street and sneak cookies at kids’ birthday parties. I’ll develop an honest affection for fruit and kale smoothies (sweetened, of course). But sugar? I will not give up sugar.

Why? Because I have absolutely no idea how to cook with it’s brothers and sisters. Stevia? You have no idea how many desserts I have thrown away trying to bake with stevia and a bulking agent like applesauce. Agave nectar? Well, of course it isn’t recommended in large doses because that’s the one I have reasonable success with. I’m like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. “That’s the fork I know.”

Twinkleberry eats the rubbery cookies I have attempted to make, but she also tries to eat foam bath toys, so I don’t take her vote with a lot of confidence. To the men and women who have learned to make 7-layer cakes with stevia, honey, and egg whites, I salute you. K-Hubs does, too. He’d actually like to meet you and not-so-secretly wonders if you’ll adopt him for dinner and let him stay for dessert.

People with alopecia areata often do give up sugar. And eventually, I will have a burst of patience and attempt to bake with sugar alternatives again. For now, we are letting Toodle eat some sweet treats but only in small quantities. In cutting out processed foods, I was surprised how much we had cut back on sugar already.

There may be other foods to avoid, but the first two rounds were enlightening. The testing process was bothersome enough for Toodle (we are doing the scratch test as covered by insurance – I’ve heard of a blood-draw/panel option, too) that K-Hubs and I decided to postpone testing for tree nuts and shellfish since she doesn’t eat foods in either group with regularity. Already we feel a sense of relief and an ability to care for Toodle, which has been our main goal from the beginning.

As curious as we are to see how this evolves, there is another person to add to the list. The allergist. We go back for a follow-up assessment in two months. When I asked what the meeting would be about, he said, “I want to see if the hair grows back. I want to see what her scalp looks like.” I’ll accept that. We want that as well.


I promised in my previous post that I would share articles and websites that have been helpful in understanding what to try and what to expect. Below are a few of my favorites.


  • Vitamix Recipe book that came with my 5200 Series
  • Better Homes and Gardens – I modify individual ingredients
  • The Wahls’ Protocol – Awesome starter recipes


I can’t speak to the validity of any of these articles and resources, only that they helped me better understand Toodle’s situation and my own uncertainties of how we were initially addressing her alopecia areata.



Whenever I had a birthday party, two questions were inevitably asked.  Was The Gram going to attend and was she going to bring her 6-layered yellow cake with homemade chocolate frosting. Yes and yes. My parties were always well attended.

And today I share with you The Gram’s most famous recipe. But here’s the thing, I don’t actually know how to make it. As you’ll see, I tried to make it for K-Hubs’ birthday a while back, but it didn’t quite turn out. I think there are two reasons it’s so famous. It is mind-bogglingly delicious, and no one actually knows how to make it.

I now share my attempt and wish you greater success.

Cake Ingredients

I baked the cake according to package directions using 3 round cake pans. If you are wondering whether to go larger or smaller, I’d say definitely go smaller. You’ll end up slicing each cake in half to achieve the 6 layers you need. They’ll be delicately thin. Smaller and thicker is better (and easier for slicing). I used 8-inch pans and would not go any larger.

One time I helped The Gram bake this and commented there wasn’t much “cake” to the 6-layer cake recipe.  It was all frosting.  The Gram smiled wryly and offered up an, “I know.”

Well played, Gram.  Well played.  Best recipe ever.

I filled each pan about half full.

Batter in the pan

They turned out fine.

Cakes Baked

But slicing them was still tricky. When I said the slices were thin, I meant it. I used a bread knife to slice carefully through each mini cake.

Not Kidding These Slices Are Thin


I like this photo. It looks like I know what I’m doing. So organized.

Frosting Ingredients

I’ve made cakes and brownies before with chocolate chips and egg and so forth, so I thought I’d be a natural with this. I was quickly humbled. The photo below isn’t that great, but since my frosting didn’t turn out, I suppose it’s only fitting. No egg added yet.

First set of directions before egg

Egg yolks are now added but no whites.

Egg Yolks Added

And now we have the “stiff” egg whites (that I apparently didn’t do correctly) and the chocolate pieces.

Chocolate Soup Goop

I think the “stiff” part in The Gram’s recipe was the critical point in the recipe. Except I have no real idea how stiff the eggs were supposed to be. Guess I’ll have to keep making this recipe to find out. Shucks.

I did find this tutorial after the fact.  And this one.

However, I will say the total flop still tasted divine.  I wanted to eat it even though it was a chocolaty goop soup.  Actually, that sounds kind of good. It’s official. I have to make this again. Double shucks.

One time The Gram made it and it turned into chocolaty goop soup. After scooping it out of the refrigerator, everyone at the party ate it. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with this one. Because even the goop soup is tasty enough for The Gram to have put her reputation on the line by serving the mishap to friends and family.

Eventually, I just used store-bought frosting. Except I didn’t buy enough (you’ll need two cans on back-up duty), so I had to make a second trip to the store. And frosting between layers? I need to go back to home ec to learn that skill.

A Second Can of Frosting Will Be Needed

Nailed it.

Unlike those who attended my birthday parties, people near this version won’t come running, willing to risk their intestinal balance for a chance at The Gram’s frosting with raw egg in it. In spite of my attempt’s many shortcomings, K-Hubs, Toodlebug, and I still devoured it inside of 24 hours. It is also an excellent breakfast if you don’t have a party on the calendar.

Cake is Finally Frosted

Ingredients for cake

  • One box yellow cake mix, prepared according to directions and divided into 3 8-inch shallow cake pans

Ingredients for frosting

  • 1 1/2 cups butter – oleo
  • 2 cups powered sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 8 oz. chocolate (6 oz chips and 2 oz unsweetened chocolate)
  • 2 tsp vanilla

Directions (emphasis The Gram’s)

  1. Cream butter and add sugar. Cream good.
  2. Add egg yolks one at a time and beat well.
  3. Beat in melted chocolate and vanilla.
  4. Add stiffly beaten egg whites and beat again until completely blended.

The recipe ends there. Either we’re supposed to know what to do next or she missed steps. But I think you either chill the frosting for a while or if your frosting is stiff enough, you can frost your cooled cake. In the words of The Gram, “I haven’t a clue.” But I am going to make this again. Did I mention double shucks?


K-Hubs' Soup w: Noodles Close-Up 2014

When I first met K-hubs he was a fit, healthy, tuna-consuming, frozen-burrito-eating, frozen-pizza-loving bachelor.  If it didn’t come from a can or the freezer, he wasn’t eating it.  Although I’m not always the healthiest of eaters, I would have weighed seven hundred pounds had I eaten the way he did.  Since my metabolism doesn’t quite work like his, we met in the middle.  I have learned to like wheat bread, and he has learned to assemble ingredients.

Over the years it has paid off.  Just the other night he wowed us ladies, well, Toodlebug and I, with his version of crockpot chicken and vegetable soup.  We were under a blizzard advisory, a wind chill advisory, and threats to the stability of our roof, thus this comforting recipe came at just the right time.  It’s K-Hubs created and Toodlebug approved.

According to K-Hubs, he made it up as he went along, much like The Gram would have done.  I like that thought.

K-Hubs' Soup w:o Noodles Close-Up 2014


  • 2 14.5 oz. cans chicken broth
  • 2 cans water (for thicker soup, add only one can)
  • 1 12.5 oz. can white chicken breast (we use 1 can of Kirkland brand chicken breast)
  • 3-4 carrots, sliced
  • 3-4 potatoes, diced
  • 1 15 oz. can green beans
  • 1 15 oz. can corn

The following ingredients to taste

  • Onion salt
  • Garlic powder
  • Old Bay® seasoning
  • Salt
  • Pepper


  1. Set crockpot to 6 or 8 hours
  2. Combine broth, water, chicken, carrots, potatoes, and seasonings, stirring occasionally.
  3. Approximately 45 minutes before serving, add green beans and corn.
  4. Serve warm with bread or rolls.

K-Hubs' Soup Close-Up w:o Noodles 2014


Because this was an experiment from the start, we began thinking about the next time we’ll make this.  We brainstormed adding fresh garlic and onion, adding tomatoes with the green beans and corn, using less water, and serving it with seasoned breadsticks.  When we ate it as leftovers, as seen in the first photo, we added noodles.  It was divine!

There may or may not have been a Christmas when I came home with loads of groceries only to tell K-Hubs he couldn’t eat any of the food because it was for Christmas recipes to be shared at family gatherings. He reminded me we didn’t have any food to eat in our house in between these gatherings.  Oops.  Since then, I have been on a quest to find simple, quick, few-ingredient recipes.  I didn’t have to search far.  The Gram had me covered.

The Gram’s Seasoned Oyster Crackers

This one of The Gram’s is great if you just want people out of your hair. These crackers are addictive.  So you needn’t worry about someone asking when you’re going to get a real job or have a baby or finally get married or move closer to home.  You’re welcome.

Oh, and I’m cheating on this one.  I forgot to include the seasonings. We’ll combine them together and call it 3.5 ingredients.

Seasoned Oyster Crackers


  • 1 cup oil
  • ½ tsp onion salt
  • ½ tsp garlic salt
  • ½ tsp lemon pepper
  • 1 package Hidden Valley Ranch dressing, dry mix
  • 2 packages oyster crackers


  1. Mix seasonings with oil.
  2. Add Hidden Valley Ranch dressing.
  3. Mix together.
  4. Add oyster crackers.
  5. Bake in oven at 200 degrees for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

The Gram’s Cheese Ball

It’s never a good start to a recipe to say, “Keep an open mind.” However, much like you can’t judge a book by its movie, you can’t judge this recipe by its photo.  To this day, I think this cheese ball looks horrendous.  But it is such a delicious guilty pleasure I rarely make it because I would eat nothing else.  While pregnant I stayed away from deli meats, which meant I stayed away from this recipe during the holidays, and it nearly killed me to do it.

K-Hubs is the resident slicer/dicer in our family.  He wasn’t in when I made this batch, so you’ll notice the meat and green onion are a bit chunky.  The recipe is better if you can slice and dice them finer than what I did.  Serve it with whatever crackers you like.  I have used Townhouse, Ritz, and Triscuits.  But I think just about anything will do. True confession, K-Hubs and I have run out of crackers before and just eaten this by itself.  It doesn’t present well but man is it good.

Grandma's Cheese Ball


  • 1 (8) oz. package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 (2) oz. package thinly sliced beef (usually in the lunch-meat section)
  • 1 green onion, thinly sliced


  1. Dice beef into small sections and add to softened cream cheese.
  2. Add green onion.
  3. Shape into ball by hand.*

*The cheese ball is at its best when all the ingredients are mixed well together.  I’ve skimped on the kneading/blending by hand before, and it doesn’t turn out the same.  To reap the full yumminess, spend a few extra seconds mixing all three ingredients together.


We’ll revisit 8th grade and check out this fun little finger food Mrs. Whosit called Snackwiches.  I made them for Mom’s bridge club one time, so proud of myself for broiling something.  I love this recipe when I don’t have a lot of time to prep or cook, and when I want the flexibility to make as many or as few as I want.

I experimented with this simple recipe and found that if you want them to look more presentable when they’re cooked, try a longer slice of cheese.  I figured tis little gem out after I took the photos.  Play around with it to see what you like best.  I also experimented with the type of cheese used.  The original recipe calls for Swiss cheese, which I didn’t have.  So I played around with sharp cheddar, provolone, and mozzarella.  Each tasted great, however if you prefer a more intense flavor, go with the cheddar or provolone.

Snackwiches - Layer Ingredients



  • Triscuits
  • Summer sausage, sliced approximately 1/4 inch thick and then cut into half circles
  • Slices of cheese


  1. Set oven to “broil.”
  2. Place summer sausage on top of each cracker.
  3. Place cheese on top of summer sausage.
  4. Broil for 60-90 seconds while oven door is still slightly open.*

*These broil quickly, so Mrs. Whosit wasn’t joking when she said to keep the oven door ajar, and you’ll want to have oven mitts at the ready to pull them out.  I burned the first batch in the time it took to get my potholder out of the drawer.

The Gram’s Shrimp Dip

This is another great recipe if you’re short on time.  The Gram always served hers with Ruffles Potato Chips.  I made it one time and only had Tostitos Tortilla Chips in the house.  The combo tasted great.

And here’s a picture of my beloved blue bowl, part of the family of bowls that also includes the yellow bowl.

Shrimp Dip - Combine Ingredients


  • 1 (8) oz. container toasted onion dip
  • 1 can tiny shrimp (approximately 4 oz.), rinsed thoroughly
  • Garlic powder, to taste


  1. Pour toasted onion dip into small serving bowl.
  2. Add rinsed shrimp.
  3. Stir together.
  4. Add garlic powder to taste.

NOTE:  Leftovers should be refrigerated quickly.  It loses consistency after sitting out for extended periods.

For those with a sweet tooth, tomorrow I’ll be sharing three saccharine recipes with just two ingredients each.

Aside from her 6-layer chocolate cake with homemade frosting (which I’ll promptly share with you when I learn how to make it myself), quite possibly The Gram’s most requested recipe was her potato salad.

It was a staple food for nearly every family gathering and garnered its own reputation around town.  Gram’s friends often asked her for the recipe, which she was all too happy to share.  I recently made it for Toodlebug’s birthday party, and it was a hit.

But, you should be forewarned that not all ingredients are created equal.

A few decades ago, Mom, Gram, and I went to a gathering where the hostess, an acquaintance of The Gram’s, had made this all-too-famous potato salad.  I suspect we were in attendance as much to try the recipe as we were for whatever reason we were invited.

Mom, The Gram, and I eagerly filled our plates and took our seats.

We started first with deliberate chewing, like we were food judges, assessing whatever it is food judges assess.

But then The Gram started in with an “Ugh, ummm…” followed by an “Oh, oh dear, what is this?” and then an “It tastes so…it tastes so…oh something isn’t quite right.”

Mom usually did a mental eye roll whenever The Gram went into culinary mode so I looked to her to detect even the slightest eye movement.

To my surprise, shock, and horror, she, too, was caught up, grinding her bite, not unlike Clark Griswold eating the turkey in Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  They sat there, twisting their forks in the potato salad, trying to put their collective finger on what could possibly be wrong.

The Gram was still so befuddled by the whole situation she started rattling off the ingredients because, “Well, I mean, really, it isn’t that hard to make.  I just know I gave her the right recipe.  What could possibly make it taste like this?  It wouldn’t be rotten potatoes would it?”

Mom:  “I doubt that.”
The Gram:  “What about the green olives?  No, that wouldn’t be it.  And the eggs aren’t rotten.”
Mom:  “And the onion seems fine.”
The Gram:  “I agree.  The onion is perfect.”

So there we were at this quasi-formal event, Mom and The Gram forking through their potato salad.

You couldn’t take us anywhere.

Both are now deep in thought with furrowed brow when The Gram not-so-quietly blurts out, “Oh dear God, she used mayonnaise.”


The Gram:  “Can you believe it?”

No, honestly, I can’t.

How anyone could use a product other than Miracle Whip was beyond The Gram.  She went on to say, “I don’t use anything else.  Not on my sandwiches.”  Mom inserted an mm hmm to that.  “And certainly not in my salads.”

You’re welcome, Kraft.

Gram never told her acquaintance about the culinary mishap.  But, from that point on it was impressed upon me that should I ever endeavor to make this recipe I was to use nothing but Miracle Whip.  I have never dared to try anything else.

So, you have been warned.  Whether their declaration is true or not, I guess I can technically say that generations of women have agreed only Miracle Whip will suffice.  To do anything else is quite simply ridiculous.  I mean, even Mom knew that.

Notice the yellow bowl.

Yellow Bowl

When I finally asked The Gram for the recipe, she started out with, “Well, I get out my yellow bowl and fill it to the line, see, right there, with potatoes.”  To which I pointed out that without the bowl, the recipe was no good.  We figured out about how many potatoes that would be, so don’t worry.  If you don’t own a yellow bowl like this, you’re still in good hands.

The Gram was such a good cook, she didn’t bother with measurements. Over the years, I have figured out approximate amounts of her ingredients.  I’ve added notes, too, for you to adapt to your needs.

The Gram’s recipe calls for the potatoes to boil with skins on.  This time we got a little ahead of ourselves and peeled them before boiling.  From a taste perspective, I didn’t notice a difference.

Red Potatoes Washed

We boiled the potatoes for about an hour.  You should be able to easily insert a knife or fork when they’re done.  They may even flake a little when handled. That’s okay too.

Boiled Potatoes

With the potatoes already peeled before boiling, I found they were easier to dice.

Chopped Potatoes

People are often turned off by green olives, but that’s the one ingredient (aside from Miracle Whip, of course), people compliment.  It makes the salad.  I’ve even had people tell me they don’t like green olives but enjoy them in this recipe.  I use large olives purchased in bulk.

Large Green Olives

Onion amount is “to taste.”  We used 1/2 a standard size onion.  It was perfect.

Chopped Onion

When I inherited the bowl, I was told to take extremely good care of it. Therefore, I usually mix all the ingredients in a larger bowl and then transfer them to my yellow bowl for serving.  I didn’t always do this, and not only did I risk breaking my beloved yellow bowl, but I also found it difficult to evenly mix the ingredients and evenly add the Miracle Whip.

Add Potatoes

I flatten the salad into my bowl which makes decorating it easier.  Yes, The Gram decorated her potato salad.  And now I do, too.

Yellow Bowl

I also don’t add the egg decoration until right before serving.  Doing so makes it easier to add more Miracle Whip if I’ve made the salad a day in advance and the potatoes absorbed the dressing overnight.  The egg decoration won’t dry out before serving, either.  I usually leave about 5-6 eggs out of the mix to use exclusively for decorating.

Add Egg Decoration

And after our family shindig, this is what was left over.  Honestly, there wasn’t anything The Gram couldn’t master in the kitchen.



5 lb bag of red potatoes*
12 eggs
1/2 onion, chopped
21 oz jar large green olives, sliced
48 oz jar Miracle Whip
salt, to taste, if desired


  • Peel potatoes and boil for approximately 1 hour.
  • Boil 12 eggs.
  • In separate large bowl, combine chopped onion and sliced olives.
  • Chop 6 of the 12 hard-boiled eggs.
  • Refrigerate remaining eggs for decorating.
  • Add chopped egg to onions and olives.
  • Chop boiled potatoes and add to mixture.
  • Gradually add Miracle Whip to mixture. **
  • Cover tightly.***

*I’m no scientist, but I have made this salad often, and I have found a 5-lb of potatoes typically works best.  Depending on the size of the potatoes, I have sometimes had a few leftover I didn’t need.  This last time, however, I used them all with no problem.

**If making ahead of time, leave approximately 1/4 to 1/2 cup Miracle Whip in jar to add right before serving.  Similar to my point above, I’ve needed extra before and other times I haven’t.  Trust your instinct on this.  If you’re adding the dressing and the salad is getting soggy, stop.  If it still seems dry, add a little more.  If you’re unsure, wait a while before adding more and see if the potatoes absorb what you’ve added so far.

***You can cover with plastic wrap, but I have found foil or a bowl with a matching lid works better for maintaining the salad’s consistency until you’re ready to serve it.

It all happened out of order.  I knew I wanted to start a blog about fun stuff.  Design, food, travel, wine, you name it.  But I really didn’t know why writing a fun blog was so important to me.  Hey, I can talk the serious issues with the best of them.  But sometimes it’s nice to unwind and go to a happy place.  This blog is one of my happy places.

Our oldest daughter, affectionately nicknamed Toodlebug, is…busy.  And when a nurse suggested we read Raising Your Spirited Child:  A Guide for Parents Whose Child is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic, I realized I, too, am a spirited child.  Toodle didn’t stand a chance!

The book sure explains a lot about the spirited individual.  It certainly explained a lot about me!  And why having a happy-place blog, which I named before I actually ever read the book, could be so important to me.  And why I like design so much.  And why I love my home office in the morning as much as I do.

I love my home office so much I decided to feature it in my first blog post.




My office is warm, literally and figuratively, in the morning.  This is where I love to sip my coffee, read emails, and get started on my day.  One of my favorite features is the print on the wall of the woman smelling the roses.  It was a print that hung over my mom’s couch when I was growing up.



Notice the gold frame.

My grandmother, known as The Gram, “perused” a dumpster behind a boutique craft store in her hometown one day and scored a bunch of frames that were going to be thrown out.  Had I gone dumpster diving I would have, no doubt, been arrested for trespassing.  But Gram had much better luck. The manager of the store even came out and offered her more frames. Gram hit pay dirt, walking away with at least 10 frames, and then proceeded into a paint-everything-gold phase.  This frame was one of those recoveries.  I enjoy having a little bit of my mother and grandmother in my office.  And I kinda dig the fake spray-paint gold.  Proof that The Gram was a fellow “spirit.”

Another thing I really love about the room is the landscaping just outside the window.  It feels like the outdoors have been brought inside.


I’m convinced I’m allergic to clutter so I have very few items on my walls or on the floor.  That, and I have a preschooler who thinks my office is really hers.



I used to have yellow jacquard curtains but changed them to navy taffeta curtains, which I like much better!  Ever the do-it-yourselfers, my husband and I want to switch out the crown moulding around the ceiling.  It used to be stained oak, but when we switched the design, we painted it white.

Result?  The moulding lost a little something in translation.  But it makes a great excuse to tackle another project, and it’s further proof that when you love design, your work is never done!