Mor Monsen’s Kaker-Norwegian Christmas Cookies

plate of mor monsen’s kaker (my mother’s cake)


I took the winter off from college in 1973, to work at Big Mountain Ski Resort in Whitefish, Montana.  There in my small studio apartment’s kitchen, I first made these incredible bars, which are known for gracing Norwegian Christmases.

Scandinavian baking is in a class all its own.  These people are known to be masters of pastry as well as open-face sandwiches-often incorporating cardamom, rye, and saffron in their creations.   Presently, their culinary genius has reached new heights: numerous times in this past decade, Noma of Copenhagen has been the title winner of The World’s Best Restaurant; it promotes the popular New Nordic cuisine, which is a style of food that has gone beyond the boundaries of Scandinavia.

New Nordic is best known by the terms local and healthy.  In Norway, with a growing season that might last from June until August, it creatively uses the ocean, wild game, root vegetables, and cold-climate berries, such as the native cloudberry, which is highly valued in this country, as it can only be foraged, not cultivated commercially.

My simple, rich recipe exemplifies the culinary excellence of Norway; these lavish bars only call for currants and almonds, amidst the flour, eggs, sugar, and typical pound of butter.

Currants have an interesting history.  Today, these small dried seedless grapes, known as Zante currants, essentially come from the grape cultivar Black Corinth (Vitis vinifera), which is from the genus Ribes.  Related varieties, such as the White and Red Corinth (and other cultivars from the Black Corinth), are used rarely.

There are a total of about 150 categories in Ribes, including the above, as well as golden currants, gooseberries, and ornamental currants.  These various kinds are native to the northern latitudes of Europe, Asia, and North America, and within each individual species there are many cultivars-horticulturally derived plants, as distinguished from natural varieties-which have been developed over time.

Currants, which are most commonly dried, are generally referred to as Champagne grapes, when sold fresh, by U.S. specialty grocers.

The study of the origin of the word currant helps identify the history of our tiny fruit.  Written records of it initially date back to Pliny the Elder in 75 A.D.  A millennium later, we see the Middle English term raysons of couraunte, also known as raisins of Corinth (a region in ancient Greece which produced and exported these Ribes).

The word couraunte stands for (raisins of) Corinth, taken from the name Courauntz, which is of the Norman French dialect-a variety of speech used in Normandy and England in the Middle Ages-for this Greek region; this in turn comes from the medieval Old French Corinthe; thus, the dialectal name reysons de corauntz was first used for these grapes, when they were brought to the English market in the 14th century, from which the word currants eventually evolved.

In the 1600’s trade patterns shifted from Corinth to the Ionian Islands, particularly Zakynthos (Zante); thus, this small grape became known as Zante currant.

In 1854, the Zante currant the Black Corinth cultivar came via a trade ship to the United States, which eventually resulted in its commercial production in California; the related varieties the White and Red Corinth were established there in 1861.  (Presently, this state is one of the four major world producers of currants, with Greece covering about 80% of this total generation.)

Actually, trade ships were bringing varieties of Ribes to our soil as early as the 16th and 17th century; natural Corinth raisins, however, were indigenous here as well; the Native Americans had been harvesting them from the wild, long before any Europeans arrived, using them for medicines and dyes.

These Zante currants,  which were initially reported at the time of Christ, are presently hard to find.  In earlier days, I could find boxes of dried currants in many local supermarkets, but recently I can only find them in bulk at such upscale grocers as the national chain New Seasons, which also carries the seasonal, fresh Champagne grapes.

Try adding this dried delight to your next Waldorf salad, a batch of scones (see Scottish Oat Scones, 2016/06/20), or these superb Norwegian Christmas cookies.  Expect wonders!


cutting bars in triangles

Mor Monsen’s Kaker-Norwegian Christmas Cookies  Yields: 4 dozen bars.  Total prep time: 60 min/  active prep time: 30 min/  baking time: 30 min.   Note: these freeze extra well, to have on hand throughout the holidays.

1 lb plus 2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened

2 c sugar  (Organic is best; available at Costco and Trader Joe’s.)

4 lg eggs

1 tsp vanilla

2 c flour  (Bob’s Red Mill organic unbleached white flour is ideal; may also grind 1-1/3 c organic soft winter white wheat berries to make 2 c fresh-ground flour.)

distributing currants on dough

1 tsp salt  (Real Salt is important for optimum health; available in nutrition center at local supermarket.)

3/4 c almonds, chopped small (May purchase almond slivers for easy chopping.)

1 c dried currants

A large 11” x 16” cake pan*, or a 12” x 16” jelly roll pan  (May use a 9” x 11” pan, in addition to a 9” x 9” square pan.)

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Grease pan-see optional sizes listed above-with 2 tbsp butter; set aside.
  3. Cream pound of butter with sugar, until light and fluffy, using an electric mixer.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well with each addition; mix in vanilla.
  4. distributing almonds on top of currants

    Blend flour and salt easily, by shaking vigorously in a sealed gallon-size storage bag; then, add this to butter mixture, beating only until all is incorporated, to keep cookies from toughening; set aside.

  5. Chop almonds fine with a sharp knife, or use a food processor, by repeatedly pressing down on the pulse button, cutting any big chunks in half with a sharp knife.  Set aside.
  6. Spread batter evenly on greased pan; sprinkle surface FIRST with currants; see photo in list of ingredients; then, distribute almond pieces over the top of these; see photo above.  Press nuts and currants down into batter slightly with fingers, so they are embedded; see photo below.  (This keeps them from falling off the baked bars in crumbles.)
  7. Bake for 20-35 minutes, or until golden brown, time varies with pan-size.
  8. While bars are still hot-using an 11” x 16” pan-cut 4 rows across the width and 6 rows across the length; then, cut these squares in half; see photo of cutting technique at top of recipe.  (Amount of rows may vary with differing pan

    pressing almonds and currants into dough, to embed them before baking


  9. These freeze really well, to have on hand throughout the holidays.  They are a treat!

Nutty Coconut Pie-a Variation of Blum’s Coffee Toffee Pie

nutty coconut pie

This nutty coconut pie is my sister’s inspiration from 1980, during her days of running our family’s restaurant, which she did along with my parents and brother; there her food genius produced wonders for the American public that traveled to Glacier National Park, our home.

Among Maureen’s sumptuous creations, this coconut pie was one of my favorites: it is her modification of Blum’s coffee toffee pie-a recipe we received in 1968, when I had a serious eye operation in San Francisco (see Blum’s Coffee Toffee Pie, 2017/08/14).  She ingeniously produced multiple variations of this basic receipt, which likewise thrill; their unique directions will follow over time.  You may make this dessert ahead of the holiday festivities; I prefer it partially frozen, which gives it an ice-cream-like texture.

As a child, I loved coconut: my father’s coconut cream pie, the favored coconut Russell Stover Easter eggs in our yearly baskets, and fresh coconut-to mention but a few of my titillating experiences with that food.

This fruit of the Cocos nucifera has been regarded as the jewel of the tropics; in which it often has been called the tree of life, for their people have depended on it not only for food, but shelter, and much more-every part of it has been used for both culinary and non-culinary purposes.

The powerful coconut originated in India and Southeast Asia; with the floating properties given by its light shell, it apparently was propagated independently by marine currents, on every subtropical coastline, transcending both hemispheres.

Historians also agree that it traveled the world at the hands of men; sea-faring Arab traders most likely brought this treasure to East Africa long ago (they actively were obtaining it from India by the 8th century AD).  These same traders were responsible for its introduction to Europeans on the trans-Asian Silk Road; the Venetian adventurer Marco Polo was among those who encountered this food; he named it “Pharaoh’s nut” in Egypt in the 13th century.  Beginning in the early 1500’s, this prized fruit made its way back to Europe following such explorer-colonizers, as Portuguese Vasco da Gama.

Our prolific coconut evidently floated to the New World shores, where it prospered in its tropical lands; in addition, the European adventurers brought it to the Caribbean and Brazil, from whence it further spread to the American tropics.

For instance, in 1878, the merchant vessel Providencia, carrying this fruit from Trinidad, ran aground the coast of Florida; this resulted in a drastic change in the landscape, which became inundated with palm trees; nevertheless, the coconut didn’t change the economy much here, as was the frequent occurrence in other locales, where multiproducts resulted.

The coconut product, which interests me most, is oil, for I use this extensively in my cooking.  Many believe that this is the healthiest of all oils for our internal bodies, as well as being ideal in external beauty regimens.  Among its helpful health benefits are weight loss, boasting the immune system, and “oil pulling” in detoxifying and cleansing the body.

Here, however, I choose to elaborate on its exceptional cooking qualities, for it has the greatest resistance to oxidation (spoilage), when heated, of any oil on earth; this is due to its 92% saturated fatty acids, which represents the highest percentage in any oil.  This effectual make-up provides extraordinary protection against heat and the formation of free radicals, which are associated with many diseases, such as cancer.  How is this?

Saturated fats are full of hydrogen atoms in their carbon atom chain, giving them a durable molecular structure; thus, they can be heated to high temperatures, resisting oxidation.  They are crucial for maximum health for this reason-among other sound benefits, which I haven’t room to address in this entry.

On the other hand, monounsaturated fatty acids lack a pair of hydrogen atoms, while polyunsaturated fatty acids are missing two or more.  Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids are highly unstable and prone to oxidation, without the durable molecular structure, as found in all saturated fatty acids.

Trans fat and interesterified fat are manufactured fat molecules that don’t exist in nature; they were generated in an attempt to get more solid, stable fatty substances (examples are Crisco and margarine).  Both these types should be avoided all together (for more on the history of Crisco, see 1880’s Ozark Honey-Oatmeal Cookies, 2017/10/30).

In a natural way, coconut oil achieves these objectives, which man was seeking by forming these fake fats.  Coconut, as the most saturated of all oils, is superlative both in being naturally stable/solid and in having an abundance of health attributes, over and above all other oils on the market, in my estimation.

As I have always loved the taste of coconut, I additionally find this oil enlarges the flavor of my foods.

Unsweetened dried coconut enhances our already delightful nutty coconut recipe.  By reducing this pie’s over-all sweetness, it allows for the full impact of the fruit.  (This unsweetened flake is available in bulk in many upscale grocery stores, as well as at our local, inexpensive Winco.)

May I encourage you to slow down and smell the roses: allow yourself the luxury of the time required to produce this memorable pleasure-a gift from God, made with the ease of my sister’s foolproof directions.


  1. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 508, 509.
  2. Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973 by Reay Tannahill), pp. 141, 220n.

a piece of nutty coconut pie

Nutty Coconut Pie, a Variation on Blum’s  Yields: 1-9” pie, 8 servings.  Active prep time: 2 hr/  inactive prep time for setting up: 1/2 hr.  Note: can be kept in the freezer for long-term use, cutting off pieces as needed; serve partially thawed for a favored ice cream-like texture.

1 1/2 c nuts, chopped small and roasted

1 3/4 c unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted  (Available inexpensively in bulk at our local Winco.)

1 c unbleached white flour  (May choose to grind 2/3 c organic soft winter white wheat berries to make a total of 1 c fresh-ground flour.)

1/2 tsp salt  (Real Salt is important for optimum health; available in health section at local supermarket.)

1/2 c plus 3-4 tbsp butter, softened

1/4 c brown sugar, packed down  (Organic is best; available sometimes at Costco and always at Trader Joe’s.)

1 oz unsweetened chocolate, grated  (Baker’s will do.)

1 tbsp water

1 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 c cane sugar  (Organic is ideal; best buy is at Costco; also available in a smaller quantity at Trader’s.)

2 lg eggs, at room temperature  (If sensitive to raw eggs, may use pasteurized eggs for extra safety; available at some grocery stores.)

1 c heavy whipping cream

1/3 c powdered sugar  (High quality organic is available at Trader’s.)

Instant vanilla pudding mix, only if needed as a stabilizer  (Be sure to have on hand for quick correction.)


1 cup heavy whipping cream

8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips, or bittersweet chocolate of your choice  (These chocolate chips are available at Trader Joe’s.)

1 tsp vanilla

  1. finished ganache

    If grinding fresh flour, do so now.

  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place nuts on a cookie sheet in hot oven for 7 minutes, watching closely as not to burn; set aside to cool.
  3. Distribute coconut in a pan with edge; bake until golden brown, about 5-7 minutes, stirring mid-way; set aside.  Leave oven on.
  4. Place bowl for whipping cream in freezer to chill; this greatly facilitates the whipping process (keep beaters at room temperature for filling).
  5. Make ganache-see list of ingredients above-by bringing cream to a very low simmer, over medium/low heat (should be very hot-steaming-but not boiling); add chocolate pieces and continue to cook, beating with a wire whisk, until mixture is glossy/shiny.  Remove from heat, add vanilla, set aside, see photo above.
  6. filling beaten to perfection

    Combine flour and salt in a large bowl; blend in well 4 tbsp butter with a fork, until texture is mealy (only 3 tbsp will be needed if using fresh-ground flour).

  7. Mix together with flour: brown sugar, 3/4 c cooled nuts, and 1 oz unsweetened chocolate, which has been grated with a sharp knife.  Blend in water and 1 tsp vanilla.
  8. Butter a pie plate generously; press pie dough in pan firmly with fingers. Bake for 20 minutes in preheated oven at 350 degrees; cool in freezer.
  9. Beat 1/2 c butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until creamy.  Gradually add 3/4 c cane sugar, beating well with each addition.
  10. Add 1 egg; mix on medium speed for 5 minutes; beat in second egg

    layer of ganache on crust

    for 5 minutes more.  (Ideally when done, this filling should be like fluffy whipped butter or soft whipped cream; see above photo. The following makes this preparation foolproof: it is so important to have ingredients at room temperature; if your kitchen is either very hot or cold, this mixture may curdle; this is easily corrected, by beating in 3 tbsp of instant vanilla pudding mix-more may be needed to reach the desired soft, full-bodied consistency.  In this way, you will never fail with this recipe!)

  11. Wash and freeze beaters, along with bowl, for whipping cream with exceptional ease.
  12. Pour a thin layer of ganache on bottom of cooled pie crust-about 1/2 inch thick (see photo above); set the rest aside for garnish (leftovers can be refrigerated indefinitely in a glass jar; great, warmed, over ice cream).  Place crust back in freezer for several minutes.
  13. Fold 3/4 c nuts and coconut into filling, SAVING 1/4 c coconut for garnish.
  14. filled pie

    Spoon filling evenly into pie crust (see photo); let mixture set-up by freezing for 1/2 hour.

  15. Meanwhile, using ice-cold utensils, beat cream until it starts to thicken; add powdered sugar and vanilla; continue beating until stiff.
  16. When filling is set, cover pie with whipped cream; drizzle ganache over top; garnish with toasted coconut (see very top photo).
  17. If keeping for long-term use, be sure to freeze uncovered; then, cover extra well with plastic wrap.  I love serving this partially frozen for optimum pleasure.

Blum’s Coffee Toffee Pie

Blum’s coffee toffee pie

The following is the colorful story of the arrival of Blum’s coffee toffee pie in my family’s history; more over, it marks the beginning of the hand of Providence saving me for my work as a food historian.

Without any doubt, our lives have purpose, for we are created to fulfill specific works that only we are equipped to do.  My calling, as a writer of food history, has taken shape over my entire life.  Many times death has tried to steal this precious gift from me; my mother’s prayers, however, have covered me with the required protection, for without prayer God’s hands are tied.

My first monumental memory of our Father’s intervention was in 1967, when I incurred a near fatal concussion from a car accident.  Mom’s simple faith brought me back from what spelled destruction: I was neither dead nor a vegetable, as doctors were declaring.  Though I didn’t yet know Jesus personally in 1967, Mom’s steadfast heart acted as my shield and miracles occurred.

The preservation of my life was the first wonder, but another ensued.  Due to the concussion, the part of my brain that controlled my oblique eye muscle was severely damaged, resulting in intense double vision.  At that time, there were only three doctors in the U.S. that could perform the needed operation, then with only a 50% chance of any correction.  Thus in the spring of 1968, we were off to San Francisco, where Dr. Paul at University Hospital perfected my sight completely!  As always, Mom’s prayer life brought rich dividends.

This surgeon took my eye out of my head to shorten the errant muscle, so I saw this lively city with only half my vision, as a patch covered the deep blood-red of that where his skillful hands had been.

As we walked these lively streets, we witnessed our nation’s struggle to discover love through the hippie movement.  Every day we nurtured our hungry souls at the beloved Blum’s; this confectionery, bakery, and restaurant began charming San Francisco in the 1950’s; it closed in the 70’s.  There we devotedly indulged in its famous coffee toffee pie; my strong mother bravely asked for the recipe, which they gave her.  (They must have given it to many others as well, for numerous variations are now available on-line.)

Through its development, by my family over the decades, this recipe has emerged in ways that are outstanding, making its preparation simply foolproof.  Among many improvements, we freeze this pie for long-term use, preferring it only partially thawed, which gives it an ice cream-like texture.  Numerous other tips make my summer dessert a pure joy, to be made with ease.

Celebrate, with me, God’s good and entire provision in our lives; receive this outstanding historical receipt!

Blum’s coffee toffee pie

Blum’s Coffee Toffee Pie  Yields: 1 pie.  Total prep time: 1 1/4 hr, plus 2 1/4 hr for cooling/  active prep time: 1 hr/  baking time: 15 min.

Note: this is best kept in the freezer for long-term use, cutting off pieces as needed; serve partially thawed for a favored ice cream-like texture.

1 cup flour  (May choose to grind 1/3 cup organic, hard red spring wheat berries and 1/3 cup organic, soft winter white wheat berries to make a total of 1 cup of fresh ground flour.)

1/2 tsp salt  (Real Salt is important for optimum health; available in health section at local supermarket.)

3/4 cup butter, softened

1/4 cup brown sugar, packed down  (Organic is best; available sometimes at Costco and always at Trader Joe’s.)

3/4 cup walnuts, chopped

2 ounces Baker’s unsweetened chocolate, plus extra for garnish

1 tbsp water

1 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 cup cane sugar  (Organic is ideal, best buy is at Costco, also available in a smaller quantity at Trader’s.)

2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature  (If sensitive to coddled eggs, may use pasteurized eggs for extra safety, which are available at some grocery stores.)

8 tsp instant coffee

2 cups heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup powdered sugar  (High quality organic is available at Trader’s.)

  1. grating of chocolate

    If grinding fresh flour, do so now.

  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  3. Combine flour and salt; blend in a scant 1/4 cup butter well with a fork until mealy in texture.
  4. Mix in brown sugar, walnuts, and 1 ounce chocolate, grated with a sharp knife (see photo); add water and vanilla; blend well.
  5. Butter a pie plate generously; press pie dough in well-greased pan firmly with fingers. Bake for 15 minutes, or until light brown; begin cooling on a rack, for about 10 minutes, finish cooling in freezer.
  6. While crust is cooling, melt 1 ounce of chocolate over medium/low heat, watching carefully as not to burn. Set aside and cool.
  7. When chocolate is room temperature, beat 1/2 cup butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until creamy.  Gradually add 3/4 cup cane sugar, beating well with each addition.
  8. Add 1 egg; mix on medium speed for 5 minutes.  (The following makes this preparation foolproof.  It is so important to have ingredients at room temperature; if your kitchen is either really hot or cold, this mixture may curdle.  You can easily correct this: if it curdles or breaks because it is too hot, make the addition of the second egg a cold one, directly out of the refrigerator, to bring the filling back to its full volume.  If the butter/sugar/egg combination is too cold and curdles, warm the chocolate a little and mix this in before adding the second egg; then, follow the directions for beating.  Ideally this should be like fluffy whipped butter or soft whipped cream, providing ingredients are room temperature, in a moderate kitchen.  In this way, you will never fail with this recipe!)
  9. assembling of pie

    Blend in cooled chocolate and 2 tsp of coffee.

  10. Add second egg and beat for 5 minutes more.
  11. Place filling in cold pie crust; freeze for 2 hours.  Meantime place a large bowl and beaters in freezer as well (the whipping of cream is greatly facilitated when these are ice-cold).
  12. When pie is frozen, beat cream until it starts to thicken; add powdered sugar and 2 tbsp coffee; continue beating until stiff.  Cover pie with whipped cream and garnish with chocolate curls.
  13. Return to freezer.  When frozen, cover well with plastic wrap.  Cut pieces as needed; serve partially thawed for optimum pleasure.

Portuguese Figos Recheados

figos recheados

When I entertain, I always serve homemade candies along with the dessert.  Usually these are my Peruvian bolitos de chocolat y coco (see 2016/11/28) and the treasured national candy of India barfi; this recipe will follow in the future.  Sometimes, however, Portuguese figos recheados (figs stuffed with chocolate and almonds) are the final inspiration at my dinners.  Such was the recent case with my beloved missionary friends Val and Waffle Lomilo.  I take a tangent today into their world, so we can learn better to eat with reverence.

My relationship with Val goes back 22 years.  Our mutual friend Kelly, who now resides in heaven, introduced us over slides in her basement of Val’s mission work in Uganda.   My heart had just been softened, by my asking Jesus to live in it; thus, my supple emotions were mesmerized by this people and especially their food.

I learned that the meager diet of these poorest of poor, which are in my friends’ arid mission region, consists primarily of foraged herbs and a bitter fruit with its nuts, which are boiled three times to be made palatable; garden vegetables are available only as the frequent droughts allow; maize (cooked corn mush) and beans are also a luxury, which they can’t always afford.

The diet of the wealthier, in Uganda’s more lush areas, has a greater amount of organic garden vegetables, such fruits as mangoes and papayas, and ample beans and maize.  Also, it delightfully includes the ceremonial slaughter of a chicken for honored guests.  This nourishment of these better off is simple and pure, making it healthier than ours with all our fast foods and altered ingredients-added hormones in meat/dairy products, foods with GMO’s, etc.  (Note: in this poor country genetically moderated organisms being added to their crops is just now a controversy; they have already lifted the ban for GMO’s in the banana crop, due to its recent huge failure.)

In America food is so available that obesity is a major problem.  Our countrymen are often thrilled with weight loss when they visit Africa.  I learned, to my delight, that Africans are overjoyed with the compliment ‘you look so fat’; gratitude is expressed after a meal with ‘thank you for increasing my volume’.

At present there is a famine in Uganda’s arid region, which hurts the children and elderly the most.  We in this country can’t comprehend such food shortage and its effect on the human spirit.  According to my friends, it produces a sense of deep community, in those that withstand it, as they share each other’s pain.   These humble people know the true meaning of grace-God’s grace that keeps them alive in stark adversity.

Waffle and Val, who experience a heart for the broken, feed these hungry souls the word of God, which is also known as the bread of life.  This proven substance, in turn, can provide them with answers to their natural needs, for this is what our gracious Father does best.

We are grateful for our vast provision here in America, striving to honor our bodies with healthy eating.  Our faithful prayers move mountains as we intercede for those less-fortunate.

Now, may we take courage to experience moderate, joy-filled pleasure in this incredible dessert: be blessed by these simple figos recheados, the third recipe in my Portuguese series.

shaving chocolate

figs ready for baking

Figos Recheados (dried figs stuffed with almonds and chocolate)  Yields: 12 large stuffed figs.  Total prep time: 1 hr /  active prep time: 20 min/  baking time: 50 min.

Note: these are best served hot, but they are also great at either room temperature or cold.

1/4 cup almonds, plus 12 extra almonds (18 extra almonds will be needed for topping smaller figs, such as mission figs.)

12 large figs   (Turkish figs are best for size and quality; 18 figs will be needed, if using the smaller mission fig.)

1/2 ounce (1/2 square) semi-sweet chocolate, finely grated

  1. Best if served hot, but room temperature is also good.  (For hot figs, do steps 2-9; then, set aside.  Twenty minutes before serving, preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake as directed in step 10-11.)
  2. Preheat oven to 265 degrees.
  3. Place almonds on a cookie sheet and bake for 40 minutes in middle of oven; go to next step.
  4. With a sharp knife, finely grate the chocolate, place in a small bowl, set aside (see photo).
  5. Cut off stems of figs; make a careful, but deep, indentation in the opening of each with the tip of your finger; set aside.
  6. After nuts are toasted, remove from oven, and turn up oven temperature to 350 degrees, unless you are waiting to bake just before serving.
  7. Set aside 12 almonds (18 for smaller figs) and pulverize the other 1/4 cup in a food processor, by repeatedly touching the pulse button.  (May use a blender or Vita Mix.)
  8. Add almond meal to grated chocolate, mix well.
  9. Using a spoon and your finger, press this mixture in the hollow of each of the figs; pinch openings together firmly (see photo).  Place stuffed figs, stem side up, on a foil-lined baking sheet.
  10. Bake in middle of an oven, preheated to 350 degrees, for 5 minutes; then, turn figs upside down and bake for an additional 5 minutes.
  11. Gently, but firmly, press a whole toasted almond in top of each hot fig.
  12. May keep leftovers in refrigerator for future use, cold figs are also excellent.

Sweet Potato Pie

sweet potato pie

sweet potato pie

“Ring those Christmas bells; light the Christmas tree”…This familiar carol burst forth vitally for me first in 1994; then, I had just invited Jesus into my heart. Incipient living joy impacted me with this song, in my initial Sunday service, during that holy month of December.

For decades the Salvation Army has rung those Christmas bells every holiday season; they have invited us always to reach out to the less fortunate.

Last year a dear bell-ringer came into my life; George lite up the Fred Meyer’s grocery store, where I took my daily coffee.  During the holidays, this man reminisced about his mother’s sweet potato pie.  As he formed his words, my heart contrived an extraordinary surprise.  Days later Christmas came alive for me much the same as in 1994: I delivered my newfound creation, this seasonal treat, to my cherished bell-ringer.

My heart leaped with joy, when George returned again this year.  A friend from my church asked, in passing, if I knew this bell-ringer at Fred Meyer’s.  She implored me to join in prayer for him, as she had learned of his heartbreaking concern for a family member.

I subsequently prayed in person with George.  Wisdom, which my pastor recently preached, surfaced.  We do not let the troubles of others encroach on our personal relationship with God.  “We are concerned, but not concerned.”  George and I already knew this truth, for we cast our cares, however deep, on our Father.  His Son already carried them for us; we were not made to carry these burdens!

Back in 1994, the freedom of this reality vibrated in me, when I asked the burden-bearer Jesus into my heart.  However, from time to time, the world’s cares have crept in and dimmed this earlier jubilant provision.

I cry out for George, me, and all of us: may we know how “to put the dollar in the Salvation Army bucket” in all of life’s circumstances; yet, not forfeit our good hearts at the same time.

Unspeakable bliss is mine again this year!  I get to give my sweet potato pie to George once more.  May you, too, shower your loved ones this Christmas with this blessed recipe!

  1. dscf0070Sweet Potato Pie  Yields 1-10 inch pie.  Total prep time: 3 hr/  active prep time: 3/4 hr/  baking time: day before-1+ hr; day of-1 hr.

2 cups baked, peeled sweet potatoes, packed down in cup  (You will need 1 1/2 lbs or 2 medium sweet potatoes-note that yams are a variety of sweet potatoes.)

3/4 cup whipping cream

3/4 cup milk  (You may substitute 1 1/2 cups half and half for both the whipping cream and milk.)

1 cup brown sugar  (Organic is best; available at Trader Joe’s; coconut sugar is also excellent.)

3/4 tsp salt  (Real Salt is important; available in the health section of local supermarket.)

4 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ginger

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1 tsp vanilla

3 large eggs

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Wash sweet potatoes, dry, and pierce with a fork.  Wrap potatoes in foil and place on a cookie sheet.  Bake in oven until soft, for about 1 hour, depending on size of potatoes, cool.  MAY BE DONE A DAY AHEAD.
  2. (Note: if you don’t have a food processor, go to step 5 for doing this by hand.)  If using a food processor, place peeled sweet potatoes in the processor.  Blend well.
  3. Add cream, milk, sugar, salt, spices, and vanilla; blend; stop and scrape down sides; blend again.
  4. Add eggs.  Blend very lightly again, just until eggs are mixed in.  Do not over-blend, or pie will have a chiffon-like substance.  Set aside.  Proceed to pie crust.
  5. If doing this by hand, mash peeled sweet potatoes well with a potato masher or large fork.  Follow steps 3 and 4, but blend with a hand mixer. Set aside when filling is complete.  Proceed to pie crust.

Pie Crust  Yields: 2 simple, foolproof pie crusts.  (Note: this recipe requires 3/5’s of this dough; the rest may be baked into cinnamon sugar strips.)

1 1/4 cup unbleached white flour  (Bob’s Red Mill organic is the best.)

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour  (I grind 2/3 cup organic soft winter wheat berries, to make 1 cup of whole wheat pastry flour.)

1 tsp salt

2/3 cup oil  (Grapeseed or canola oil is best.)

1/3 cup, plus 1 tbsp, boiling water

Wax paper  (This makes for a mess-free rolling out of the pie crust.)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. With a fork, blend flours and salt together in a medium bowl.
  3. Mix in oil and boiling water until all flour is incorporated.
  4. Form into two balls and cover in plastic wrap.  (One ball should be 3/5’s of the dough; the other smaller ball can be made into cinnamon strips and baked along with the pie.)  Place balls on top of hot oven to keep warm.
  5. Using a rolling-pin, roll out larger ball between 2-18″ pieces of wax paper. Make a big, slightly oblong circle-12 1/2″ x 15″-with the dough (see above photo).  Peel off top piece of wax paper.  Turn upside down and gently place pie crust over a 10-inch pie plate; the wax paper side is up.  Very carefully peel the wax paper off.  With fingers, seal any cracks in crust and form a rim around the edge of plate with the dough; patch lean areas of the crust with excess from other areas.
  6. Pour the sweet potato puree in the pie crust.  Bake for 1 hour, or until a knife comes out clean, when inserted in center.
  7. This is good!

Bolitos de Chocolat y Coco

Bolitos de chocolat y coco

bolitos de chocolat y coco

1985 was a big year for me.  I traveled to Peru that summer to study food.  Later in September I went to Paris, with the intent of moving my business there. (Read more about France in Balsamic Vinaigrette, 8/22/16.)

My jocund days in Peru were filled with the warm blazing sun, but nights were very cold; I experienced the southern hemisphere’s winter that July. Machu Picchu met my love for mountains in a grand way.  The ancient trail leading to these ruins made for an arduous climb.  We got off the train and labored, with copious sweat, for hours to complete its last leg. The day was memorable.

My far-reaching, historical catering business was three years old during my time in South America.  My mind was a sponge for details about food.  While there, very morsel that went into my mouth came out as a comment in my journal.  Most of this keen eating took place in inexpensive cafes, where chickens were always roasting on open hearths.  The better of these humble restaurants had guinea pig and Cebiche, raw white fish “cooked” in lemon juice.  Street vendors’ food also provided me with rich information. However, my greatest joy was the private dinner invitations I received to both rich and poor homes.  Note: there are only these two classes there.

Karen, my then neighbor in Billings, Montana, and her Peruvian boyfriend inspired me to make this colorful sojourn.  Indeed Chino’s family blessed my trip: I may not be alive today, but for them, as great trauma occurred for me in this country. Fortunately his family was extremely influential.  For instance, his second cousin was president during my visit.  (This man was ousted a number of days after I left; my friend’s brother-in-law was murdered by terrorists several months later.)

My trouble came when I and my traveling companion, a longtime friend from Paris, let down our guards.  We always covered each other’s backs in the marketplace, as robbery is ever present in this poor nation.  We went our separate ways one day in Cusco.  On my own, I was mesmerized by the wide array of vendor’s goods: blankets on the ground displayed raw meats; brightly dressed women loudly announced their vibrant vegetables; modest pots and pans were set up elsewhere.  Stopping I indulged in a delicious, doughnut-like pastry.  Next I reached for my funds to buy freshly squeezed orange juice.  My wallet was gone!

Absolutely everything of importance was in it: my passport, money, travelers’ checks, credit cards, and return ticket home.  This unseasoned traveler was without identity and provision in a volatile place.

God’s grace got me to my homeland safely through a multitude of miracles! The last of these happened just hours before my plane’s departure-the president of Aero Peru, a friend of Chino’s family, reinstated my plane ticket at this critical moment.

My repertoire of catered meals included a Peruvian dinner, even before I experienced this culture. The background for this authentic repast came from a cook book shared by Chino’s girlfriend; however this account was strictly for the upper class.  For hors d’ouvres at these events, I used the youth’s favored dish Ocopa-chunks of boiled, bland purple potatoes, topped with cheese, walnuts, mild chiles, and eggs. The main course boasted of Aji de Gallina, an incredible walnut chicken. Dessert was Suspiro Limeno, a light, airy custard.  The feast ended with Bolitos de Chocolat y Coco.  To this day, these chocolate/coconut balls are the finishing touch at ever meal I host.

Chocolate has an interesting history.  Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes introduced cocao beans to Europe in 1528, when he returned from “New Spain”.  There the Aztecs mixed cocao paste with spices to make a thick drink.  In their convent at Oaxaca, creative Spanish nuns added sugar, which made this chocolate beverage even more palatable. 1

Chocolate was highly prized then and still is today.  These superb, truffle-like candies are a rich man’s food in Peru.  This recipe is simple and foolproof-don’t miss this delectable treat!

  1. James Trager, The Food Chronology (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1995), p. 89.
Making bolitos de chocolat y coco

making bolitos de chocolat y coco

Bolitos de Chocolat y Coco (Peruvian chocolate/coconut balls)  Yields: about 6 dozen balls. Total prep time: 45 min.

12 ounces unsweetened chocolate (Baker’s is best.)

1-14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk  (It’s important to use Borden’s Eagle Brand.)

2 tsp butter

2 cups unsweetened fine-flake coconut  (Available in bulk at our local Winco and other supermarkets.)

  1. Break chocolate into pieces in a medium-size, heavy-bottom saucepan.
  2. Add butter.  Melt slowly over low heat.  Watch carefully, as not to burn.
  3. Meanwhile open the can of milk and place ½ cup of coconut in a measuring cup.  Set aside.
  4. When chocolate is completely melted, quickly add condensed milk.
  5. Stir over low heat for about 30 seconds.  It will start forming a soft ball. Toward the end of the 30 seconds, stir in the coconut.  (Do not overcook, or chocolate will be dry.)
  6. Remove from heat after about 30 seconds; continue to stir vigorously until soft ball is formed all the way.  Cool just enough for handling.
  7. Place ½ cup of coconut in a small bowl.  (You will add more coconut to the dish as needed.)
  8. Form small balls of chocolate and roll in coconut.  Place in an 8×8 inch pan.
  9. Chill chocolate for several hours; then place in a freezer-storage bag.  Double the bag for long-term freezing; these will keep for a very long time in freezer.
  10. Excellent chocolate, so easy, absolutely foolproof!