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My Mom’s Christmas Cookie Recipes

My mom’s ability to draw friends close was one of my favorite things about her. She was famous for her Christmas tea parties, a tradition she started when we first moved to Brookside in 1978. She would usually make 10 or so different recipes, and continued the tradition through thick and thin, even a few weeks after my father died — the show must go on. We served these cookies, baked by some dear friends, at her funeral last year.

Of my mom’s legacies to me, these recipes are some of my favorites. Especially the last ones, in her inscrutable handwriting, that come with the memories of how I misread “Mint Brownies” as “Meat Brownies.” She and I had good laugh over that. My dad used to say we congregated at a giggle.

You may notice a bit of a theme in these. They come from an era when convenience was a welcome and delightful feature — Tang in the tea, Hershey’s syrup in the brownies, Nilla wafers in the bourbon balls. I learned to cook, or at least bake, at this altar, and I love how easily so many of these treats come together. They aren’t high-brow, they don’t take 33 ingredients, and I hope they bring you much enjoyment!

Viva la Cuppie Tish!

HOT SPICE TEA FROM TANG
INGREDIENTS:
1 1/3 cup Tang Flavor beverage crystals
1/3 cup. instant tea
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/c cup sugar
½ tsp. ground cloves.
DIRECTIONS:
Mix together well and put tin canister. Put 1 teaspoon per cup of hot water.

BUTTER TOFFEE CRUNCH
INGREDIENTS:
1 cup butter
1 ¼ cup sugar
2 tbs. water
1 tbs. light corn syrup
2 cups finely chopped blanched almonds or less
1 tsp vanilla
1 ½ cup (8 oz) semi-sweet chocolate pieces
DIRECTIONS:
Melt butter, stir in sugar, water and corn syrup.
Cook until 280 or 290 degrees, remove from heat
Stir in nuts, vanilla. Pour into pan.
Melt chocolate pieces, remove toffee onto wax paper, put on ½ the chocolate, halve the nuts, chill, flip over, and put rest of chocolate and rest of nuts on other side.

BISQUICK NO-ROLL SUGAR COOKIES
INGREDIENTS:
4 cups Original Bisquick mix
1 ½ cups powered sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
DIRECTIONS:
Heat oven to 400ºF. In large bowl, stir all ingredients except granulated sugar until soft dough forms.
Shape dough into balls, about 1 inch in diameter; roll in granulated sugar to coat. On ungreased cookie sheets, place balls about 2 inches apart. Flatten balls slightly with bottom of glass.
Bake 5 to 6 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks to cool. Store in airtight container.

THE BEST LEMON BARS
INGREDIENTS:
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 lemons, juiced
DIRECTIONS:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
In a medium bowl, blend together softened butter, 2 cups flour and 1/2 cup sugar. Press into the bottom of an ungreased 9×13 inch pan.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until firm and golden. In another bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1/4 cup flour. Whisk in the eggs and lemon juice. Pour over the baked crust.
Bake for an additional 20 minutes in the preheated oven. The bars will firm up as they cool. For a festive tray, make another pan using limes instead of lemons and adding a drop of green food coloring to give a very pale green. After both pans have cooled, cut into uniform 2-inch squares and arrange in a checker board fashion.

RASPBERRY LINZER THUMBPRINT COOKIES
Makes 4 dozen
INGREDIENTS:
1⅓ c. hazelnuts (filberts)
½ c. sugar
¾ c. butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp. salt
1¾ c. all-purpose flour
¼ c. seedless red raspberry jam
DIRECTIONS:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place 1 cup hazelnuts in 9- by 9-inch metal baking pan. Bake 15 minutes or until toasted, shaking pan occasionally. Wrap hot hazelnuts in clean cloth towel. With hands, roll hazelnuts back and forth to remove most of skins. Cool completely.
In food processor with knife blade attached, blend toasted hazelnuts with sugar until finely ground. Add margarine or butter, vanilla, and salt, and process until blended. Add flour and process until evenly mixed. Remove knife blade, and press dough together with hand.
Finely chop remaining 1/3 cup hazelnuts; spread on piece of waxed paper. Roll dough into 1-inch balls (dough may be slightly crumbly), using about 2 teaspoons dough for each ball. Roll balls in nuts, gently pressing nuts onto dough.
Place balls, about 1 1/2 inches apart, on ungreased large cookie sheet. With thumb, make small indentation in center of each ball. Fill each indentation with 1/4 teaspoon jam. Bake cookies 20 minutes or until lightly golden around edges. With pancake turner, remove cookies to wire rack to cool. Repeat with remaining balls and jam. Store cookies in tightly covered container.

ALMOND CRESCENT COOKIES
Makes 45 cookies.
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons almond extract
2 1⁄3cups all-purpose flour
1 cup ground almonds
1 cup powdered sugar
DIRECTIONS:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Spray several cookie sheets with cooking spray.
With a mixer, beat the butter with sugar until light and fluffy.
Add vanilla extract and almond extract, beat until incorporated.
Stir in the flour and almonds. Work flour mixture into a firm dough.
Working with 1 tablespoon of dough at a time, shape a long in the middle is thicker than both ends. Bend dough log into a crescent shape.
Place on greased cookie sheets and repeat until all dough is used.
Bake 12-15 minutes or until light brown.
Sift powdered sugar into a small shallow bowl.
While the cookies are still warm , roll the crescents in the powdered sugar.
Cool on racks.

BUCKEYES
INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 cups peanut butter
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 cups confectioners’ sugar
4 cups semisweet chocolate chips
DIRECTIONS:
In a large bowl, mix together the peanut butter, butter, vanilla and confectioners’ sugar. The dough will look dry. Roll into 1 inch balls and place on a waxed paper-lined cookie sheet.
Press a toothpick into the top of each ball (to be used later as the handle for dipping) and chill in freezer until firm, about 30 minutes.
Melt chocolate chips in a double boiler or in a bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water. Stir frequently until smooth.
Dip frozen peanut butter balls in chocolate holding onto the toothpick. Leave a small portion of peanut butter showing at the top to make them look like Buckeyes. Put back on the cookie sheet and refrigerate until serving.

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A New Chapbook, Readings, and Links

I’m excited to announce that my chapbook, Ardor, is out in the world. It won the annual chapbook competition from Jacar Press, please purchase it there (hit order on the top line.)

I also have a couple readings coming up I hope people can attend:

Thursday, October 19, at 7 p.m., I’ll be reading at the Thursdays are for Poetry Series, CLASSIC QUICHE. 230 Queen Anne Road, Teaneck, NJ 07666 Open mic. min $10.

Saturday, I’ll be joining a number of my favorite New Jersey poets at a celebration of the celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, beginning at 12 noon Warren County Community College. Here’s what’s happening:

Readings by Martin Farawell, Laura Boss, Kenneth Hart, Charles H. Johnson, Tina Kelley, Diane Lockward, John McDermott, Peter Murphy, Khalil Murrell, Priscilla Orr, Joe Weil, Gretna Wilkinson, and Sander Zulauf. All of these poets will read some original work, as well as their favorite poems by other poets who have appeared at one or more of the Dodge Festivals. Also on hand to celebrate will be Festival Co-Founders Scott McVay and Jim Haba. Books will be available for purchase. Join us in beautiful (particularly during this time of year) Warren County for this very special event. Free and open to the public. More details, including the afternoon’s schedule, can be found here.

Some of my writing has been appearing online lately, including this poem from Ardor on VerseDaily.

I’ve been honored to interview Pattiann Rogers for Terrain.org and The Poetry Foundation.

Lastly, here’s a bit of what I’ve been up to in my day job, journalist, in New Jersey Monthly.

Upcoming Readings

Hi, I’m excited to announce the following readings, featuring poems from Abloom & Awry, my new collection, out last month from CavanKerry Press. Please show up if you can! And please tell your friends who live in the various neighborhoods.

Saturday, May 27, 2017 at 7 PM I’ll be reading with Anton Yakovlev, courtesy of the North Jersey Literary Series, at Classic Quiche Café, 330 Queen Anne Road, Teaneck, New Jersey. Open Mic will follow. There’s a $10 minimum, come early and enjoy a relaxing meal. Café phone is 201- 692- 0150. Anton’s latest poetry collection is Ordinary Impalers (Aldrich Press, 2017) and he has authored two chapbooks: Neptune Court (The Operating System, 2015) and The Ghost of Giant Wood (Finishing Line Press, 2015). His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Hopkins Review, Prelude, Measure, and elsewhere.

Sunday, May 28, I’ll be reading at Mamapalooza, in Riverside Park South. I’ll be joining a group of writers from Mom Egg Review, time to be announced. The Festival’s theme is “SING OUT SISTER” with mothers and the people who love them, featuring music, family-focused vendors, wellness activities, art, & activism. 2017’s theme inspires all to find their voice and bring a message of peace, tolerance, and equality. Fierce FEMINISTS as well as FAMILIES of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds WELCOME.

On Tuesday, June 6 I’ll be joining Joan Cusack Handler and Danny Shot at the Cornelia Street Underground, 29 Cornelia Street in New York City, at 6 p.m. Joan is the publisher of CavanKerry Press and her most recent book, Orphans, is a verse memoir that explores our most primitive and essential relationships – those with our parents. Danny’s next book, Works, comes out from CavanKerry in 2018, and he is the poet-in-residence of the Hoboken Museum.

Saturday, June 10, I’ll be moderating a panel for the first ever Maplewood South Orange Book Festival. Poets Theresa Burns, Michael Lally, Danny Shot, BJ Ward and I will be sharing work that focuses on justice, resistance, and/or ways to bolster spirits and protect the disenfranchised in uncertain times. Post-election, poetry has emerged as a way to channel the uncertainty that comes with regime change. The panel is at 10 a.m. in the Burgdorff Center, 10 Durand Rd, Maplewood, NJ 07040.

Sunday, June 11 I’ll be reading at the Books NJ 2017 festival, at the Paramus Public Library. Check out the schedule of other terrific writers here.

Looking further ahead, I’ll be reading on Friday, July 7 at my home-away-from-home bookstore (am ever loyal to Words in Maplewood) That’s in Seattle, Elliott Bay Books at 7 pm.

On Tuesday, October 24 at 7 p.m. I’ll be reading at the Highland Park Library Poetry Night Series.

I’m very open to other opportunities to read, please let me know! Hope to see you at one of these upcoming events!

Abloom & Awry Has Arrived!

I am so excited to hold in my hand this elegantly produced book, carefully crafted by CavanKerry Press! The release sale has just been announced, 30% off! Here’s the link!

Please come out Sunday, March 26, to the Bernardsville Library in Bernardsville, NJ, for Tea and Conversation, where I’ll be interviewed by Julie Maloney about poetry and journalism. All my books will be there! Hope to see you!

A National Monument Crosses Over

RESIST. I see it on bumper stickers, and feel it whenever I read the news, particularly when I see attempts to sidestep, attack, or weaken the press. I contribute to resistance as a knitter, having completed 33 pussy hats, an organizer, and now, as a poet. I was heartsick when I read this article about immigrants risking their lives to leave my beloved country, which had previously been proud to welcome them, in theory if not always in practice. So I wrote this poem, which I’m indebted to Poets Reading the News for publishing.

“Fuhgeddaboutit,” mother of exiles
muttered, rolling thirty-inch eyes.
Dropped her torch, hiked her skirts,
stepped over to Jersey. With her stride,
three hours to Niagara Falls, Canadian side.

Seidu Mohammed had a rougher trip. In a ten-hour
slog north from North Dakota, in snow waist-high,
frostbite took his fingers off. He feared deportation
from Minnesota to Ghana, where, because he loves
both men and women, they’d kill him. Thin gloves.

“God blessed Canada with good people,” he said,
refugee from the land of the free, land I once loved.

Since when are we the people others must escape?
So it’s no wonder “Liberty Enlightening the World” —
her full name — could no longer bear the inscription
asking for homeless and poor masses. She turned
her francophone sneer and her back to hypocrisy,
headed up Belleville Avenue, past Parsippany,

over the Poconos, across the Southern Tier,
into the embrace of the wise Justin Trudeau,
who tweets love, and “diversity is our strength,”
hashtag WelcomeToCanada, we have more Sikhs
in our cabinet than India does. We don’t do sweeps.

An empty granite pedestal in Upper New York Bay.
Since when are we the people others must escape?

Abloom & Awry on the Launchpad

As I head down to the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference, where poet-extroverts get to bask in their elements, I am excited to share news of Abloom & Awry, my third poetry collection, which will appear in early April.

Here’s what the one-pager says about it:

With the eye of a journalist and the heart of a caretaker, Kelley shares her love of words, fireworks, kites, sea salt caramels, metaphor, and humans. Armed with a generative impulse, her poems pay close attention to the dark, moving through it with wit and affirmation….Journalistic sparseness and accuracy are framed with childhood’s wit and curiosity to roll around in decay, music, and love.

You can order advanced copies here!

I already have two readings planned, and am looking for more. There’s this one on March 26 at the Bernardsville Public Library, where I will be interviewed by Julie Maloney of Women Reading Aloud, and on home turf, at Words Bookstore in Maplewood on April 22. Hope you can make it!

CavanKerry Press, which is publishing Abloom & Awry, has been nominated for a Small Press Publisher Award, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they win!

A New Poem in Alaska Quarterly Review

I’m grateful to the refreshing and engaging Alaska Quarterly Review for publishing one of my poems in their current issue:

GETTING THROUGH THE A’S IN ANGELS:THEIR NAMES AND MEANINGS

There are angels for separating the soul from the body at death,
angels who invented carousels and all the new French fashions.
There’s one just for the 26th of each month, for honey, sexuality.
Aban is your guardian ten months before death, another protects

fifth children. In heaven’s meadows upon meadows, one angel
governs confusion, one does nothing at all til the second coming,
one rules warm winds. The keeper of fiery triplicities seduces
the regent of Wednesdays, and they’re all new every morning,

born through every Godbreath, created by each fresh human sin.
They knit cotton breasts for cancer survivors, telling corny jokes.
They feather insights to the bored, quietly advise on cars to buy.
One’s pregnant with death, one protects finches, but none felt like

mine, until I spotted a green sea turtle, blunt and kindly, slowly
lifting its arms in hosannas to the quicksilver surface shining down.