Preserving Tradition

I have wonderful memories of holiday meals with my extended family. We would all gather for every major holiday–Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter–and most of the minor holidays–Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and often Independence Day.

The faces at the table changed over time. Babies came, loved ones passed, and new husbands or wives appeared. Always present, though, was the love for each other. And the Southern Maryland Stuffed Ham.

When Ken and I got married, I insisted on a complete, traditional Southern Maryland fall menu. That had to include stuffed ham. My Dad and my grandmother spent days making enough stuffed ham for 300 people. Ken’s Eastern Shore relatives never again saw holidays meals the same way. Each time we returned from Thanksgiving or Christmas at my Mom’s house, Ken’s family asked, “Did you bring back any stuffed ham?”

Looking back, I’m amazed that Dad and Gram pulled off this feat for my wedding. Stuffed Ham is not your average meat.

If you look closely at the Thanksgiving picture above, you will see the stuffed ham in the middle of the table. “What’s all that green stuff?” you may ask. That, my friend, is the stuffing. It’s not your average stuffing made of some kind of bread and mild spices. This ham is stuffed with a bushel of fresh, leafy kale and a boatload of hot, savory spices. It’s unlike anything you’ve had before, and unlike anything you will have anywhere other than St. Mary’s County, Maryland (yes, Charles County and a small area of Virginia have their own versions of stuffed ham, but it’s not the same) and small parts of Kentucky to which early Marylanders migrated.

While the dish itself is one of the most unique you could ever have, it’s the process and the history that really make this truly different and special.

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Brownies – Good for the Body and the Soul

I am a brownie person, and I’ve raised brownie-loving girls! It’s not unusual for me to come down in the morning (when the girls are home) to find a batch of brownies on the kitchen counter–half-eaten of course! On the other hand, I’ve come down to peanut butter cookies, oatmeal no-bake cookies, and cakes in assorted colors (the green cake with blue icing looked so awful that even the baker–whose reputation I will protect–didn’t even eat it!

My sister-in-law, Lisa, makes wonderful brownies, and I never turn her down when she offers to bake them for any family occasion. And who doesn’t love brownies topped with ice cream like the delicious ones my mother made the last Christmas we were all together?


Alas, I’m on this anti-inflammatory diet, so brownies are off the menu, or they were…

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Sweet and Sour – Necessary Ingredients in Life

Morgan in her white coat

There’s just something about this time of year that makes me think of sweet things as well as sour things. Summer is winding down, and fall is quickly approaching. Schools are heading into session, and our youngest daughter has been back in Pittsburgh for just over a week now for her junior year of college, the hardest year for nursing students.

This is the time of year when the lazy days of summer are waning, and the busy fall season begins, the time of year when we start thinking about the holidays. Before we know it, January 1 will be upon us! Hot, sunny days will give way to cooler, blustery ones, and then winter will arrive just before ushering us into spring. Hot and cold, sunny and bleak, sweet and sour.

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Serving on Earth

Our family loves to entertain. I’ve written about taking friends crabbing, hosting our annual Mother-Daughter Cookie Swap, and hosting huge gatherings for holidays, graduations, weddings, and any other occasions that come along. I get a real thrill out of seeing a new RSVP pop into my inbox, and I spend hours planning menus, setting tables, putting up tents, decorating, and trying to make our home feel as festive and inviting as I can. I love finding and sharing new recipes as much as I love making the same beloved recipes over and over.

Whether we’re hosting a large event or simply having friends over for lunch or dinner, inviting others to our home and finding a way to make it special is the way I show my love and appreciation for them. That’s how our annual cookie swap got started–as a way of inviting our closest friends into our home to celebrate the gift of their friendship and let them know how special they are to us.

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Make Your Sacrifice and Eat It, Too

Kneeling in Prayer

Here we are in the last week of Lent. It’s time to reflect on the past nearly forty days and examine how we did, not as an exercise of beating up oneself for our failures but in recognizing how far we have come. Have we grown spiritually? Have we gotten better at prayer? Have we grown closer to God? What sacrifices did we make, and how did they improve us?

Sacrifices come in many different forms. I’ve often wondered about those who forego chicken on Fridays but dine on lobster instead. I’m not judging. Perhaps they would rather be having chicken! Besides, in our house, Friday dinners during Lent consist of homemade crab cakes, but it’s not the crab cakes that I see as the sacrifice.

It’s everything that goes with them. Here’s what I mean…

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Better than Chuck E. Cheese

Rebecca as an award winning actress

There was a beautiful, tear-jerking scene toward the end of last week’s This is Us (I know, right?) in which Kate calls her mother to thank her for giving the three “triplets” a childhood in which they never knew they didn’t have money. She told her mother that their homemade Halloween costumes and big, backyard birthday parties with homemade cakes “were better than at Chuck E. Cheese.”

Boy, can I relate to that, and I think my girls can, too, if not now, then when they have kids of their own.

Until my girls were in high school, I made every Halloween costume they wore. They were simple and inexpensive and were often made of materials we had around the house or purchased from the Dollar Tree. Despite all that, the girls loved them, and some even brought home trophies, winning accolades over the most expensive store-bought costumes or the hours-long, detail-oriented ones of Pinterest fame. Even thrift shop dresses and grandma’s old stole can turn an ordinary girl into an Academy Award Winning Actress (who traded her Oscar for a Prettiest Costume trophy).

My mother taught me to a make what you can, buy what you must, and use more imagination than money, but the key ingredient was always love. Mom loved us, and she loved showing us how much she loved us, not by breaking the bank, but by putting her heart into whatever she did (and still does).

And something else Mom taught me is something that I can’t help but wonder if so many moms have forgotten in the past several years: The more you spend on something…

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Not Your Grandmother’s Egg Nog

We’re in he midst of the holidays, and most people are still stuck at home. It seems that most home improvement jobs have been completed, the exercise equipment gathers dust, and Netflix binges are becoming stale. However, it looks like many are still cooking and baking and trying to come up with new recipes. We’ve been baking cookies, cakes, and pies and making hot chocolate bombs. Today, I’m going to experiment with pumpkin spice bread pudding. I can’t wait to taste it!

One thing that is always the hit of the party in our family is our homemade ice cream cake. At the end of Island of Promise, it’s what Kayla makes for Todd for his birthday, and subscribers to my newsletter received the recipe in my Island of Promise Companion Cookbook.

This year, my mother had the brilliant idea to make an egg nog ice cream cake for Christmas, and I decided to make my own version. We decided one a challenge to see what recipe seemed to be preferred. I can’t tell you that there was a clear winner because not a scrap of the cake was left over in either house. Clearly, this is one that may need to become a staple in our Christmas recipe file!

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The Secret Ingredient

One of my favorite memories as a little girl is of baking and decorating sugar cookies with my mom. Baking them for Christmas is a tradition I’ve taken over, and now my girls and I are the sugar cookie providers for our family and friends. Every Christmas, we do a huge cookie swap dinner with the mothers and daughters we are closest to. It’s something we look forward to all year long–planning, preparing, baking, cooking, decorating, and then finally enjoying. This year would have been our sixteenth cookie swap, and my girls and I are so disappointed that we won’t be able to have it under the current circumstances. However, we certainly will be baking our sugar cookies because they are more than cookies.

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Have Your Cake…

Did you know that today is National Dessert Day? Yep, it’s the day on which you can indulge in a decadent concoction with the knowledge that you are just doing your part to celebrate the happiness that can be found in a bowl of fudge ripple or a slice of blueberry lemon cake. It’s your chance to bake something sweet or order dessert or…

Take the family to the ice cream parlor. Because, while there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a perfectly torched plate of Bananas Foster, I’d like to suggest that it isn’t the dessert itself that we love and take pleasure in. It’s the people we share it with and the occasion on which we share.

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It’s Pumpkin Time!

Today is the Tuesday after Labor Day, and we all know what that means…

It’s time for everyone to begin going crazy for pumpkins! 

I will admit that I am a pumpkin loving gal. I love pumpkin pie, pumpkin decorations, pumpkin candles, cookies, cakes, and yes, pumpkin spice lattes. I just bought the most adorable pillows for my living room. And I haven’t dug them out yet, but I have even more pumpkin pillows that I like to put on our front porch swing.

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