Thinking Thanksgiving…

Ah… November… when visions of Thanksgiving dance in our heads. Nonna’s favorite holiday! It’s all about the FOOD! (and family) I don’t mean to say that we don’t take time to reflect on all the blessings for which we are grateful—we do—however, that is for another letter.

There was a time when I attempted to improve upon the traditional menu, some were good and some were maybe not disasters, but definitely not to be repeated—think cranberry stuffing. Cranberries just aren’t sausage!

The appetizers and desserts may vary, but the main menu is turkey, gravy, Aunt Annie’s sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.

You gotta plan if you want to ensure that everything gets on the table at the same time! Begin with making a list of the ingredients for each part of the menu and creating a shopping list (hoping that this will prevent a bunch of trips back to the grocery store for things forgotten). Oh yeah right, not to worry, this year we have Audra to make those last minute emergency runs!

After the menu and lists are completed, we create a schedule of what needs to be prepared and when. Figuring out what can be prepared ahead of time frees up The Day for fun and relaxation with family and friends. Since one of our favorite reasons for Thanksgiving is leftovers such as Turkey and Gravy on waffles, an important make-ahead is stock for the gravy. If you don’t do this, I can guarantee you won’t have enough gravy. This makes at least 10 extra cups of gravy… oh yum! This can be done several days in advance and refrigerated.

Turkey Stock for Make-Ahead Gravy

Roast 3 pounds turkey wings in a single layer in large roasting pans at 450 degrees for 1 hour or until browned. Remove wings from pan, add 1 cup water, and heat over medium-high heat, stirring to loosen browned bits. Remove from heat.

Heat oil in large Dutch oven, add and cook 5 minutes:

  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • ½ cup chopped carrots
  • ½ cup chopped celery

Then add:

  • turkey wings, pan liquid, 15 cups of water
  • ½ teaspoon peppercorns
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 4 parsley springs
  • 1 bay leaf

Simmer 3 hours or until reduced to 12 cups. Strain through a sieve over a bowl and discard solids. Cool, cover, and chill overnight. Skim solidified fat from surface and discard.

Yield: 12 cups (enough for 2 recipes of make ahead gravy)

Make ahead Gravy

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • 5 cups Roasted Turkey Stock, divided
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground pepper

Bring 2 cups of the stock to a boil and reduce to ½ cup. Set aside.

Mix flour with 1 cup of stock. Melt butter, add flour/stock mixture and whisk till smooth.

Add remaining 2 cups of stock and the reduced stock. Stir and cook until thickened. Adjust seasonings.

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What is the first thing my girl usually asks for when coming home to visit? Yep… brownies! (Well, at least in the dessert category.) Now there are about a zillion recipes for brownies, but in our family the winner is undoubtedly Cream Cheese Brownies. The runner up would be Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies. Let’s start with the winner!

Years ago, while living in Colorado, I was taking riding lessons from a young woman from Pennsylvania named Barb Skelly. How brownies came to be mixed with the art of horsemanship I can’t remember. Perhaps she gave me a treat for staying in the saddle. At any rate, it was love at first bite. It wasn’t easy to get her to share her secret family recipe, but one day she blessed me with this bit of heaven. I believe it originally called for only 3 oz of cream cheese (they used to sell 3 oz packages) but that wasn’t nearly enough. I may have given up riding, but I’ve not given up Brownies.

Cream Cheese Brownies

  • Melt together and let cool 1½ squares of unsweetened chocolate and ½ cup of unsalted butter
  • Mix and set aside: 8 oz cream cheese, 1 egg, and ½ cup raw sugar
  • Stir together: 2 cups unbleached flour, 2 cups raw sugar, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • Mix together: ¾ cup water, ½ cup sour cream and 2 eggs
  • Combine the wet and dry ingredients, mixing well
  • Pour into a buttered and lightly floured 9×13 pan. Drop cream cheese mixture over top by tablespoonfuls and pull a knife through to marble the cheese through the chocolate batter
  • Sprinkle over the top: 6 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips and 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • Bake at 350 for 40 minutes or until done. Cool and refrigerate before cutting. Store in refrigerator.

And in second place we have Katharine Hepburn Brownies!

This recipe originally was published in Gourmet Magazine in a column written by Laurie Colwin. Sadly, she died of heart failure in her sleep at age 48 in 1992. Laurie Colwin’s books are still in print and I believe we have them in our family collection of cookbooks. She wrote: “The best recipe I have for brownies comes from a friend who got it from a magazine article about Katharine Hepburn. It is, apparently, her family’s recipe. If there were no other reason to admire Katharine Hepburn, this pan of brownies would be enough to make you worship her.”

  1. Melt together 1 stick butter and 2 squares unsweetened chocolate and take the saucepan off the heat.
  2. Stir in 1 cup sugar, add 2 eggs and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and beat the mixture well.
  3. Stir in 1/4 cup all-purpose flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt. (In the original recipe, 1 cup chopped walnuts is added here as well.)
  4. Bake the brownies in a buttered and floured 8-inch-square pan at 325 degrees for about 40 minutes.

The article continued: “You can cut these brownies into squares, once they have cooled, and eat them out of the pan, but it is so much nicer to pile them on a fancy plate, from which people are going to eat them with their hands anyway. If you want to smarten up your act you can put a square of brownie on a plate with a little blob of crème fraiche and a scattering of shaved chocolate.”

I still miss Laurie Colwin…


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Buffalo Chicken Pizza

Gee I don’t know what happened to the month of September, but here it is… October already. And you know what that means–Fall Break! One week from today, Audra will be home for a week. YAY!

That means that the menu requests are starting to roll in. First on the list is Buffalo Chicken Pizza. A rather new addition to the family favorites. Who knew it was SO good?  The first time we (I say we rather loosely here to incorporate all who eat from Nonna’s Kitchen) made it at home Holly and Mike were visiting. Mike and Megan made it outside on the grill. It was love at first bite! Love? Well… more like a new addiction began. And when it got too cold to grill outside, we found it is just as good made in the oven on a pizza stone.

We originally started with a recipe from Rachel Ray and adapted to our tastes. Coming next week!

Buffalo Chicken Pizza

  •  8-12 oz shredded chicken breast
  • 1 pizza dough, from our favorite pizzeria
  • Cornmeal for pizza paddle
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, eyeball it
  • 5 to 6 tablespoons Texas Pete hot sauce
  • ½ cup tomato sauce
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • ½ cup blue cheese crumbles, gorgonzola
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling (optional) and on crust edges

Place pizza stone in oven and preheat oven to 450 degrees F.  Shred chicken (from rotisserie or left over)

In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt butter and stir in Worcestershire, hot sauce, and tomato sauce. Add chicken, simmer a few minutes, and let sit to marry flavors. Adjust seasoning, add more Texas Pete to taste.

Stretch dough to form pizza. Sprinkle cornmeal on paddle and place stretched dough on paddle.

Cover the pizza dough with the saucy Buffalo chicken and cheeses. Slide dough onto hot baking stone. Brush edges of dough with EVOO. Bake 10-12 minutes until crust is brown and crispy and cheese is melted.

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First Day of Classes!


What an exciting day for you, Audra! Although living away from home for school is “old hat” for you, beginning  college is a new chapter in your life.

You are creating a new “community.” You have the community of the sensational seven (was that what you called yourselves?)  in NJ, your Salem Community, and now a Roanoke Community. It is about making new friends, having new relationships while staying connected in some way to the old ones. We change and grow as we go through life, sometimes that means we leave loved ones behind. Learn to be okay with that… know that who you are will always be attracting special people into your life.

Your education is something no one can ever take from you so make the most of your time at Roanoke. And while you are there…

  • Don’t compare yourself to the best others can do,  rather compare yourself to the best you can do.
  • Treat other people with honor and respect… what goes around comes around… what you give is what you get.
  • Keep an open mind… about everything… because there is always more going on than we can see.
  • Ask questions… and listen to the answers.
  • Be happy and enjoy every moment!

I love you,


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Green Chili Burritos

Audra Loves Green Chili burritos!

Since you always ask for Green Chili Burritos when you come home on visits, I thought I’d tell you how it all started. The first time I ate Mexican food I was 20 years old and visiting a former roommate who had moved  back home to Rocky Ford to get married. Another friend was from the same town and going to visit her family. The two of us traveled by train to Colorado. While there we went out to their favorite Mexican restaurant. I don’t remember what I ate, but I was hooked!

My life long love affair with all things Mexican began in earnest after moving to Colorado in 1966. While living in Fort Collins, I attended Mexican cooking classes with a woman who had lived in Guadalajara, Mexico. From her, I learned all the basics of sauces, chilies, refried beans, cheeses, and how it was all done in Mexico.  This is the recipe she gave us in Lesson 9 of the cooking class.

Chile Verde with Pork Meat

  •  Pieces of pork
  • Tomatillos
  • Green Serrano chilies
  • Cilantro
  • Onion
  • Garlic

Brown lightly the pork meat in heavy skillet, add onion cut into pieces and garlic. Stir all together and fry until dry. Add water, enough to cover the meat. Simmer. Add toasted, peeled tomatillos, green chilies (to taste) and chopped cilantro. Cook slowly until meat is tender and the sauce is thick. Serve as a main meat dish with fresh hot tortillas.

Then the Denver Rocky Mountain News published a recipe whichwas closer to the one served in restaurants. Here is a copy of the much used and stained recipe. The Green Chili we love today, evolved over the years from this one. In Colorado, it is served either in a bowl as a soup or to smother over burritos, topped with cheese, sour cream, lettuce, and tomatoes.

And today we make:

Nonna’s Green Chili Gravy Denver Style

Brown and set aside:

  • 1-2 lbs pork bones
  • 1 lb cubed pork (country style ribs, butt or chops)

In same pan, sauté

  • 1-1/2 cups chopped onions
  • Then add & sauté a few minutes:
  • 3-4 cloves chopped garlic
  • 3-4 minced Serrano chili peppers


  • 3 C chicken broth (or water)*
  • Bones
  • Salt, pepper, cumin

Bring to boil, reduce heat & simmer one hour.  Remove bones, let cool, shred meat

Add & simmer one hour:

  • 1 (or 2) can(s) stewed tomatoes with green chilies
  • 2 cans diced green chilies
  • Pork pieces

Mix ¼ (to ½) C flour with 1 C broth (or water) and stir into sauce.  Simmer till thickened. Adjust seasonings, add more Serrano chilies if necessary. Ladle over bean burritos. Top with cheese, cilantro, shredded lettuce, sour cream, and salsa.

*If neck bones are well browned, water works well.  If you need more flavor, use broth.

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Driving with Audra

After years of being your driver, today you were my driver. What a milestone! Just so you know, Nonna usually finds it difficult to relax when someone else is behind the wheel. However, no such thing happened… your driving left me totally at ease!

Like everything in life this gives me an opportunity to share words of wisdom. Don’t roll your eyes! It is not about how to drive, rather it is about developing a driving attitude that will help keep you safe on the roads.

I know I don’t have to worry about you texting and driving–you are too smart to do that. But then again, there are a lot of drivers out there who aren’t as smart as you. So we drive defensively, keeping alert and being prepared for the unexpected.

A huge concern is road rage. People are stressed, in a hurry, and many of them are angry. They probably haven’t looked at themselves clearly enough to identify and deal with the real cause of the anger.   So what ends up happening is they project their anger outward on the world; and when they are behind the wheel their anger is often directed on other drivers.

The lesson for us is to pay attention to our own attitude when driving. If someone cuts in front of you, how do you handle it? What about the person behind you who hits the horn if you don’t start through the green light fast enough for them? Or the one who tailgates because you are driving the posted speed limit?

Simple answer is to be accepting and forgiving. Say a simple prayer, “I am willing to forgive this.” Or say get in the habit of saying the Hawaiian Healing Prayer, “I love you. I am sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.” It truly does work miracles. I suggest this because we just don’t know what is going on with the other person. Perhaps he is in a hurry to get to the hospital to see a dying loved one… or late to pick up her child. Sure, it could be that he has real anger issues or could even be driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The point is that you just don’t know so forgive and let it go.

Many people blame anyone or anything for the cause of their anger, however,  I have worked with enough people on anger issues that I believe all anger is really SELF anger.  It is just projected outward because the person doesn’t know any better.  We can’t change them, but we can say the prayer. Or send Reiki! If nothing else, it keeps you calm and relaxed.  Try it you’ll be amazed!

Love you bunches,


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Audra loves Pancakes!

Elizabeth Kremmel Buchleitner


One of the shadowy memories of my grandmother is that she made pancakes. I don’t know if this is the one she made for me, but this is her recipe for Flapjacks.

Beat together: 2 eggs, 3/4 cup water, 3 Tablespoons sugar

Then add: 1 cup + 2Tablespoons flour

The batter will be thin. Put a large spoonful of batter into a greased skillet, spread around quickly to cover the bottom of the skillet, and brown on each side. You can also make each flapjack as small as you like. Serve with butter and syrup.

Although there are many recipes for pancakes and many different toppings, it seems we always prefer maple syrup. I don’t think I knew what real maple syrup was until after I was married… probably due to the cost. We always had Log Cabin Syrup which definitely was not pure maple syrup. When we ran out of that, my mother would make her own by boiling maple flavoring and sugar and fill the empty Log Cabin bottle. This made a very thin syrup… it tasted more like sugar than the real thing!

Over the years I’ve tried many different pancake recipes. The one that seems to be our favorite originally came from a Farm Journal cookbook. I’ve adapted the recipe. Audra, this is the one I made when you asked for pancakes the Sunday before you left for college.

 Nonna’s Sour Cream Pancakes

  • 1/3 cup whole wheat flour (preference is King Arthur)
  • 2/3 cup unbleached white flour (organic or at least without anything added)
  • 1 Tablespoon raw sugar (NO white sugar)
  • 1 Tablespoon Rumford baking powder (no aluminum)
  • 1/8 teas sea salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup Greek yogurt or sour cream
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tablespoons melted butter
  • Optional: 1/2 cup blueberries

Stir the dry ingredients together. Melt the butter. Whisk together the milk, yogurt, and egg. Gently combine all the ingredients with a whisk. A few lumps are ok. Lightly brush a griddle or skillet with light olive oil and heat (a drop of water should dance around on it). Drop batter by spoonfuls onto griddle (about 2 Tablespoons per pancake). Brown on one side till golden and some bubbles break on the surface. Flip and brown on second side.

Makes about 18 pancakes.

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My Only One,

This summer with you has been delightful! I don’t know what I expected, if anything, but it has been such a special time. What is so amazing is to see the beautiful person you have become. You always were the cutest one; now you are the most beautiful one. It has been such a gift for me to be a part of your life as you grew from a cute little 5th grader to now when you are about to leave in a few days to begin college. Am I a lucky duck or what?

I didn’t know what it was like to have a relationship with a grandmother . Both of my grandmothers died young. My dad’s mother, Ida Belle Barnes Graham , died before I was born… in fact, she died months before my dad and mom married. Grammy’s mother, Elizabeth Kremmel Buchleitner died a few days before her 52nd birthday… I was 3 years old. My memories of her are shadowy at best.

Perhaps because I did not have a grandmother with whom I had a relationship, I don’t think I had expectations of what it would be like to be a grandmother having a relationship with my granddaughter. Some people say that if you go through life without expectations you won’t get hurt. But, I have come to believe that if your expectation is that whatever happens is for your best and highest good, then whatever happens is the best!

Years ago, when you were still a toddler, I had a psychic reading during which I was told that you and I would spend a lot of time together, and have a very special relationship. At the time you were living so far from me, I never expected that could mean you and your mom would come to live with me in NJ… of all places. At the time I was living in Virginia, and I never expected to leave what I consider my heart’s home.

So I thought, “do I have any expectations of Audra?” Only this, from Lou Holtz, the legendary former coach of Notre Dame. He wrote that everyone is intuitively asking these three questions of everyone else.

1. Can I trust you?

2. Are you committed to excellence?

3. Do you care about me as a person?

My expectation is that you live your life with integrity–do what is right, do your best, and treat others the way you want to be treated. Then, I believe, that people will answer YES! to these questions when they think of you. And that, my only one, will leave you feeling good about you!



I love you!


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