Paladini Potpie

Adventures within The Crust!


Things Left in Books – a year end reflection

There are three old black and white photographs and a utility bill from the city of Pleasanton (January, 1981 for $31.27). There’s a yellowed envelope with a letter written in beautiful spidery penmanship. (It was delivered with a five cent stamp.) There’s a boarding pass for Northwest Airlines, a lottery ticket, and 43 “official” bookmarks.

I have this pile of things I collected in 2011. Things left in books. We have a book business and buy boxes of books from estate sales. It always interests me to see what people have tucked into books and forgotten.

There’s a 1982 map of The University of California at Berkeley, a little tract from 1976 (Knowing God Personally), a birthday card, and a cigarette quiz booklet published in 1967. Most amazingly, we found 3 twenty-dollar travelers’ checks from 1964.

Did the man who lost the traveler’s checks get his money back?

Did anyone miss any of this stuff?

In this quiet week as we close 2011, I want to take some time to flip through The Book of My Year and see if there’s anything important I have forgotten.

Is there any trash I need to get rid of? Are there any pages I need to reread? I marked certain pages for some reason…

Today is a good day to look over 2011 one more time. Volume 2012 will soon be in our hands.



Kitchen Catastrophes

When I make a mistake in the kitchen I’m usually sort of cavalier – I try to turn it into something else. (“Oops…ha ha…meant to do that!”)  The overdone roast miraculously becomes a tasty beef stew.  The fallen chocolate cake is cut up into chewy – very chewy – brownies.  And so on…

But sometimes there are kitchen catastrophes that can’t be salvaged. Serious hopeless disasters that make me laugh unless I’m crying too hard.

Today as I was pondering a subject for my 100th post on the Paladini Potpie, I decided to talk about some of my greatest Kitchen Catastrophes.

I’m not even going to dwell on how many times I’ve turned the oven on to preheat, and forgot to check inside.

Along with these lovely Persimmon CRISPS I accidentally made not too long ago, my most recent boo-boo was when I decided to make cornbread to go with my ham and lima bean soup. 

I don’t make cornbread very often, so I followed the recipe carefully. 

It looked a little strange when I pulled it from the oven – it was sort of pale, and had hardly risen at all.  And it was a bit on the heavy side.  A lot on the heavy side, actually.

I served it to my faithful friends who come to bible study, and like the kind women they are, they didn’t choke and spew or spit it out.  And to be honest, it didn’t taste too bad; it was just very heavy and chewy.

The next day as I was putting something in my pantry I happened to notice the label of what I had thought was baking powder.  Baking powder is the secret ingredient that would have made the cornbread light and fluffy; but what I had used was Clabber Girl cornstarch.  I’m so familiar with that picture of the cute little Clabber Girl on the baking powder container that I hadn’t even read the label.  No wonder the cornbread was so…um…starchy!

My most memorable food goof-up was many years ago when I was hosting a big group of ladies for a fancy Christmas potluck at my house. As the hostess I would have a lot of things to do in the morning, so I decided to make my salad the afternoon before.

It was a new recipe – a big mixed lettuce salad with chunks of grilled chicken, sweet pickles and grapes. But it wasn’t the season for grapes, so I decided to use chunks of kiwi. They’re both green, right? 

It looked lovely, and I happily covered it with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge.

The next day, with a houseful of women I pulled out my still-beautiful-looking salad.  I was going to toss it a little before setting it on the table. I’ll never forget lifting the salad tongs full of salad, and seeing slimy liquid dripping back down into the bowl. It was so gross!  The bottom of the salad was full of viscous liquid, and only the tiniest bits of chicken remained. 

That was the day I learned that there is an enzyme in kiwi that can be used to tenderize meat. It had tenderized my chicken to nothing.

I’m glad that luncheon was a potluck because I couldn’t get that salad into the garbage fast enough!

And finally, since we’re approaching candle season, I’m going to tell you about my worst kitchen catastrophe. And I’ll take a moment to thank God for his protection.

I love to burn those fragrant candles in jars, and when they burn out I melt the wax down and make new candles in the same jars. 

I usually set the jar in a pan of water on the stove, and I usually keep an eye on it. 

One day, though, I got distracted in another room and forgot the melting wax until I smelled smoke.  I ran into the kitchen to see that the water had evaporated and the jar in the pot was on fire.  It was just a merry little fire – and a lot of smoke.  Since there wasn’t much of a flame I was able to pick the pot up and carry it over and set it down in the sink.

I know better than this, but I wasn’t thinking. 

I know you are supposed to smother oil or grease fires, or use a fire extinguisher like the one we have under our sink. But I was caught off guard because there was so much smoke and it was such a little tiny fire. It seemed like an easy thing to fix. 

Our sink has one of those high arching taps with a sprayer, so I thought I could just extinguish the little flame by spraying it there in the sink. It was almost a reflex to spray water on it.

Never use water to put out a grease fire! 

The instant the spray of water reached that little fire, the flames swooshed up higher than my head. To a truly monstrous height!  The wood cabinetry high above our sink caught fire, and the entire kitchen ceiling was blackened and blistered with scorched paint before I managed to smother the flames with a kitchen towel.

John was hunting that weekend and came home to a mostly smoke damaged kitchen, but he was very gracious and so grateful that it hadn’t been worse. Together we retextured and repainted, and when it was done, the kitchen was prettier than it had been before. 

Grace – people who love me and who forgive my mistakes!

As we head into Christmas, I think of God who loves me and protects me and uses me in spite of my many mistakes. I thank him for all the times he has turned my foolish or careless mistakes into something good. Sometimes he used them to teach me something (kiwi is a good meat tenderizer). But sometimes he just dumps grace on my life and gives me something better than I could have expected – and certainly better than I deserve.

May He bless your Christmas Season!


Elegant Iced Coffee

Just in time for Christmas parties — this is a festive and easy drink everyone will love!

I heard the idea on a radio show back in the early eighties. Big chain coffee shops weren’t that common in those days, and I don’t think there was much marketing of the yummy, slushy, coffee drinks we take for granted today. So this iced coffee seemed like a new and novel idea. 

I was driving as I was listening to the radio, so I couldn’t write down the recipe…but I’m not very good at following recipes anyway.  A few days later I played around and came up with my version of the elegant iced coffee.  I served it at a ladies’ Christmas party at my church and it became an instant hit! 

It’s fondly referred to as the official drink of the Calvary Chapel Ladies, and I bet no fewer than 50 people have asked me for the recipe. 


3 cups of double-strength, freshly brewed black coffee (You can use decaf)

1 cup sugar

1 quart half and half

2 quarts extra rich or whole milk 

2 tablespoons vanilla (or you can use mint or chocolate…be creative.)


Pour the hot coffee into a large container and add sugar

Stir to melt the sugar

When the sweet coffee has cooled a little, stir in the milk and half and half

Stir in the vanilla

Now return the milky coffee to the milk containers.  (You will need one additional quart container)

Freeze completely until the day you plan to use it

Allow it to thaw for 2-3 hours before serving. 

The coffee will probably be in a soft icy chunk when you transfer it to your punch bowl. You can break it up with a wooden spoon or serving fork.

Serve at a slushy consistency.

This recipe makes about a gallon. That’s 16 cups. And each cup contains about 205 calories…but who’s counting!


David and Amanda’s Twelve Days of Christmas – a love story

No partridges, or calling birds or French hens, but on the first day of Christmas her true love gave her a dozen roses.

David was Amanda’s “true love”.  She had loved him since they were in the five-year-olds class at church. In fact, Amanda’s mom, Dora, remembers the exact night her daughter fell in love. Amanda came home from church with her eyes aglow over “the nice boy in the bow tie” who let her use his blue crayon during craft time.  (Yes, I did dress my little boy in a bow tie.)

Amanda says she liked him because he was nice.  As David’s mom I feel particularly blessed by this. When David was growing up he had a few heartbreaking years of dealing with “cool” boys who were mean to him. I always told him “It’s better to be nice than to be cool.”

I must have told him that a couple of hundred times. We laugh about that now.

The niceness paid off.

So Amanda loved him from afar – too shy to even look straight at him, or speak to him.  And although David was nice to her when their paths crossed at church, he never really noticed her. One of Dora’s favorite stories is when Amanda came home from junior high youth group and excitedly told her that David had said “Hi” to her. “Well, did you say hi back?” her mom asked. “NO!” an embarrassed Amanda buried her head in her pillow.

Things changed dramatically one fateful evening in 2003. Our families had begun to get to know each other, and the Nuttings invited us over for dinner.

We were sitting around the table talking. Most of us were talking, that is – Amanda was still painfully shy. Then for some reason, to make some point, David burst out singing a line from Weird Al’s “Albuquerque” song.  And – wonder of wonders – Amanda joined in! They both knew every word of the 11 minute 13 second song, and they sang it together in perfect harmony!

“I like her!” David enthused, as we were driving home.  “She’s really cool!”

He found out just how cool she was about a week later when our families went to a Modesto Nuts Baseball game together.  He found out she loved to read, she was a walking encyclopedia about all things relating to animals, she was good at video games …and best of all, she liked baseball!

But David says that was the first time in his life he went to a baseball game and didn’t pay attention to the game.

Amanda was 15 and David was 17 when they began to “like each other” officially; and when Amanda was old enough, they began to call it dating.

Amanda discovered that David really enjoyed chick flicks, and when David took her up in the hills deer hunting he discovered that Amanda was a better rifle shot than he.

When our family went on a llama pack trip with some friends, Amanda came along.

When Amanda’s entire extended family went to Hawaii to celebrate her grandparents’ 50th anniversary, David was invited to join them.  They had been dating for a year when they called us from Maui to tell us they had kissed for the first time on the beach at sunset.

And so, on December 13th, David’s Twelve Days of Christmas began, as he gave Amanda a dozen red roses.

The following day, the 11th day of Christmas, he gave her 11 sappy love notes.

On the 10th day of Christmas he gave her a $10 gift certificate for a local bookstore.

On the 9th day of Christmas he gave her 9 bath oil beads

Amanda loves V8, so on the 8th day of Christmas he gave her 8 cans of V8.

On the 7th day of Christmas he took her to the Orient House for dinner. We all love the Orient House and we always get the same thing. When the employees see us come in they know what we order. They  always laugh and say “Two Number Sevens?”

On the 6th day of Christmas he gave her a multiple picture frame he made with 6 pictures of the two of them.

On the 5th day of Christmas he gave her 5 chocolate truffles.

On the 4th day of Christmas he gave her 4 soft socks.

David and his two longtime best friends, Kyle and Shane have always called themselves “The Fab Three” …and so it was natural that the third day of Christmas would involve The Fab Three. Amanda’s mom let the boys sneak into their house very early in the morning to make Amanda a “Fab-Three-Breakfast-in-Bed”

On the 2nd  day of Christmas he gave her 2 compilation CD’s of country music.

By this time Amanda had begun to see a pattern. What would her true love give her on Christmas Eve – the first day of Christmas?

On that 1st day of Christmas he gave her a package with a big #1 on it. Inside was a scarf he had knitted himself. (Complete with puff balls!)

When the scarf was warmly in place around her neck he told her that they were going to the snow. And after an day of playing in the snow he said he had one more gift for the first day of Christmas.

Out of his backpack David pulled a box with stenciled letters that read, “The Amanda Box.” In this box he had kept a keepsake from every date they had ever been on. Amanda had found the box once before, and David told her that the only time she would ever be able to open it would be if they got married. Now she was wondering what was going on! She eagerly opened the box and found a large river rock inside. A note said, “I told you, you have to wait!” Amanda looked up curiously, and there was David on his knee in the snow. He was holding his real gift for the First Day of Christmas – an engagement ring. He was asking her to marry him.

Nope…no partridges or calling birds or French hens or swimming swans or laying geese…just sweet lovebirds. They are now in their third year of marriage – with a coopful of chickens in their back yard, and a baby in their arms, and a song in their heart!

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When Traditions Don’t Work

Christmas is a time for traditions — and our family loves traditions! Like the people in Fiddler on the Roof, we have a tradition for everything! And we keep our tongue firmly in our cheek.

Recently I had a conversation with some of my kids and they explained, a little apologetically, that they’re going to change one of our family traditions and make a new one of their own. 

I think they thought it might hurt my feelings, but it cracked me up that they were even explaining the change to me. 

Some of our traditions are serious and meaningful, but some are just for silly fun.  

Proverbs 2:8 says “Remove not the ancient landmark, which your forefathers have set.”  There’s a lot to be said for holding onto the good, and following family traditions in things that knit our hearts together, and keep us walking close to the Lord. John’s family stood in a little circle by the front door, and prayed together every morning of his growing up years. We have kept that tradition and I hope our kids will too.

But sometimes it’s meaningless, and even counterproductive to do things exactly the way they have always been done.

For example, consider my Fictional friends, Freddie and Frieda. They make a traditional Christmas dinner every year.

Frieda makes a beautiful cross rib roast, and she always prepares just like her mom always did.   

Freddie loves to watch his wife put all the special seasonings on the roast, get it ready for the oven. Just like her mom did. He noticed that she always cut off the end of the roast and put it in the pan alongside the main roast. Just like her mom did. Tradition!

Finally last Christmas Freddie asked her, “Honey, why do you cut the end of the roast?”

“I don’t really know,” Frieda admitted, “Mom always did it, so I’m just doing it too.”

Now Frieda, herself, was curious.  So after the roast was in the oven she called her mom and asked why she always cut the end off. 

Oh,” her mom laughed, “I did that so it would fit in my roasting pan.”


John’s Famous Super Secret Chinese Fried Walnuts

When my sister, Patti Ann, gave us a wok as a wedding gift 27 years ago, I don’t think any of us imagined that it would be used primarily to fry walnuts.  But yes, we have made over 200 pounds of what we call John’s Famous Super Secret Chinese Fried Walnuts!

It’s not really a super secret recipe, and it’s probably not really Chinese; but the walnuts are fried and they get more famous every year. 

John and I give fancy jars of them to co-workers, friends, and family – and everybody just raves about them.  A couple of people even save their jars and return them for refills in early December the following year.

It’s a big job – I won’t kid you.  Last Saturday it took John and me five hours to make 18 pounds. Both of us were working together pretty much without stopping.

But it was so much fun!  We had the espresso machine going full blast, and Christmas music as loud as it would go. We were dancing in our hearts, but we refrained from actually dancing around our small kitchen, since there are pots of water boiling and a wok full of oil bubbling the entire time. 

This is what you’ll need for one batch. 

4 cups walnut halves (This is about a pound of raw walnuts)

½ cup sugar

at least 2” of canola oil in the bottom of your wok


a wok

a large sauce pan (or two)

A big plastic bowl with a tight-fitting lid

2 large colanders or strainers. (One will be used for water and one will be used for oil – you can’t mix them.  You will want to set the oil colander on a pie pan to catch drips. )

You will also need several sheets of waxed paperBring 6 cups of water to a boil in the saucepan. 

While the water is coming to a boil, lay long sheets of waxed paper on the table and measure out your four cups of nuts.

When the water is boiling, add the nuts.

Let the water return to a boil and then boil the nuts at a rolling boil for 5 minutes  Use a timer.

Meanwhile measure out your ½ cup of sugar and begin to let the oil heat in the wok.

After boiling 5 minutes drain the nuts in one of the colanders in the sink. Rinse them with hot running water and shake off excess water.

Dump the wet nuts from the colander into the big bowl. Add the sugar. Put on the lid and shake it well to coat the wet nuts with sugar.

Carefully pour the wet, sugared nuts into the oil in the wok.  Be careful. If the oil is too hot or the nuts are too wet it will cause scary, excessive bubbling. We have never had it bubble over but we’ve come close a few times.

Deep fry the nuts for about 7 minutes till they are golden brown. Stir with a slotted spoon from time to time.

(If you are making more than one batch of nuts, you should be heating your next pot of water and measuring your next four cups of walnuts and sugar at this time.  You can use the same oil for as many as five batches, but then you’ll have to dump it out and put fresh oil in the wok.

When about 7 minutes has passed and your nuts are a dark golden brown, remove them with a slotted spoon to the other colander. It should be setting on the metal pie pan or plate to catch dripping oil.

Pour the fried walnuts onto the waxed paper and separate them immediately. They have a tendency to stick together as they cool.

Salt immediately.

Be imaginative and think of something fun to do as you allow the nuts to cool COMPLETELY on the waxed paper.


Immanuel Every Day

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which means “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)

We live in an age of colliding man-made wonders and man-made atrocities and it’s easy to forget that God is with us – Immanuel.

I have a happy and contented life, with predictable ups and downs. I know God is with me, but sometimes I really don’t have a feeling of his presence. Sometimes I just go through the days and remember C.S. Lewis’s words about how God is pleased when a person “…looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

But sometimes God bursts into my ordinary life in the most mind-spinning way and shouts “Immanuel! Heeelllooo…?”

He has done it three times in the last few weeks and I can hardly stop smiling.

I was with my friend Sandy and her 3-year-old granddaughter, Emma.  We usually go yardsaling together, but this day we had taken a mutual friend to the hospital for an appointment to prepare her for upcoming chemo. Our friend just had a double mastectomy.

As we were driving home, Emma must have been bewildered that we weren’t going to yard sales like we usually do. She said, “I have an idea. Let’s play a game. Whoever sees a yard sale sign…we’ll stop!”

We all cracked up. “Okay Emma,” we laughed, “We’ll look for yard sale signs.  Tell us if you see one.”  There weren’t many that day, but the sharp-eyed little girl suddenly spotted one. “Look Grammie! Over there!”

We were already past the sign, but Sandy turned the car around and we wound our way through the neighborhood to a God-ordained yard sale.

A mother and daughter were doing it. The daughter was a registered nurse and the mother was a three-year breast cancer survivor. Our friend had been looking for some pretty button-up shirts in her new size – and there they were, clean and beautiful and cheap!  But she got more than that.

The lady was selling her wigs, and that initiated a lot of conversation about cancer and chemo. The lady was very vocal about her own vibrant recovery from breast cancer; and when she found out that our friend was approaching chemo, she completely embraced her. 

They prayed together, and exchanged stories, and finally exchanged phone numbers. The yard sale lady now takes our friend to the hospital sometimes. She calls her and prays for her and has become a great support.

I think Immanuel gave Emma the idea of playing that yard sale game!

Then, a couple of weeks later, my friend Bev asked me to find her a copy of  The Strong’s Concordance, since I have a book business.

As I was on my computer, in the process of looking for the book, my neighbor came over and knocked on my door. He told me he was cleaning out some shelves and he wondered if I could use this book, or sell it, or give it to one of the ladies who come to my bible study…

My neighbor isn’t a Christian, he doesn’t know Bev, and doesn’t know she was looking for the book — but he was holding out a beautiful, hard-bound Strong’s Concordance!  

I think Immanuel told him to bring it over!

Finally, just this week Immanuel suggested I make pasta for the people in John’s department at work.  I didn’t realize He was telling me to make it; John and I just wanted to do something fun and nice.

I made a couple of loaves of bread and a big pot of pasta shuta, and they had a yummy lunch.  There was plenty left over, and John was going to put it away when a couple of  volunteers came by, so he offered them lunch.

As he was serving them, BethAnn, one of the ladies from another department came downstairs to go to the little coffee shop in the courtyard. John says when BethAnn saw them her eyes got as big as saucers.  “Oh my gosh!” she said, “I just told the ladies I was coming down to the coffee shop and asked if I could bring anybody anything and Susan said she had forgotten her lunch – would I bring her some pasta.” 

It was a joke, of course. The coffee shop doesn’t serve pasta. But five minutes later BethAnn carried a plate of pasta back up to Susan.

This is what Susan posted later on Facebook:  “Careful what you ask for. BethAnn asked us if we needed or wanted anything. I said ‘pasta please’ and look what she brought me! Yum!! On second thought, don’t be careful. Ask away! You never know what might happen! We have been talking about God showing off and He did it again!!”