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            Without pondering it, quickly think of 3 memorable days in your life. Chances are you’ll list the day you graduated from high school or college, got married, had your first child, got your first substantial promotion or some other equally pleasant, but innately ordinary event. Life is full of satisfying experiences, thank goodness, but they are seldom the type of stories that enthrall an audience and have them leaning forward in their seats, anxiously awaiting the outcome. When hearing these stories we politely listen, give well timed agreeable nods, and secretly prepare grocery lists or review tomorrow’s agenda. Thank God we are programmed with the ability to multitask! (Hmmm, okay, not all of us are proficient multitaskers, but at least most of us can go to our happy place and resurface at the finale of a mind-numbing story!) Let’s face it…it’s the goofs, the blunders, the mishaps, the screw-ups, the mix-ups, the gaffes, the errors, and the mistakes that make for the best stories and most repeatable tales.


Case in point…Like most women, before getting married I went out on my fair share of dates. Most of them were nice, some of them were boring, BUT, it’s the awful dates that I’ve recounted over the years. Take my date with the Congressional Page, aka, persistent frat boy determined to woo me. We were having a run-of-the-mill date at a lovely restaurant, followed by drinks at a bar frequented by state politicians. He was in the middle of laying out his 15 year plan to become a state senator. I was thinking about the guy in my Anthro class that started growing a beard. Slightly catatonic I took a drink of my Bloody Mary. (FYI…if you decide not to utilize the straws inserted in your libation, remove then before guzzling your drink, if not, you’re apt to wind up with a straw up your nose.) Yep, when I set my drink down, one of the straws remained in my nose. True story! Now, here’s an etiquette question that Emily Post was probably never asked…what do you do with a straw that you’ve removed from your nose? Do you put it back in your drink? Perhaps drop it on the floor? Call the waitress over and ask her to clear the table? As it was, I nonchalantly laid it on the table between us, and neither one of us mentioned the incident. Periodically, I’d notice him looking down at the straw. I think he was assessing my ability to function as a state senator’s wife. Well, I didn’t marry the boy, but he didn’t become a state senator either! Humiliated myself, maybe, but came away with a great story! (BTW…he did ask me out again…go figure!) (And BTW…I didn’t go out with him again…guess the incident was just too mortifying…or more to the point, he was monumentally boring!)  


            Then there was the time I was putting on a lovely Christmas dinner for a group of friends. The atmosphere was enchanting! The lights were off and the table was totally illuminated by a myriad of candles. Soft instrumental Christmas music played in the background. The conversation was peppered with laughter and good cheer. And, in all due modesty…(right!)…the food was superb! Halfway through dinner I reached across the table to pass a condiment. As I went to sit down a unified gasp arouse from my dining companions. “Oh my God, Kim. Your sleeve’s on fire!” Sure enough, when reaching across the table, I also reached across a candle that decided to test my sweater’s flammability tolerance. It failed! (Note to self: Next time I’m around open flames wear kids’ pajamas!) Well, without much effort I was able to extinguish the flames. Actually, all it really did was quite efficiently remove those nasty sweater boogers that collect on the surface of knits, although I can’t suggest this method as the preferred technique for defuzzing a sweater!  But to the point…I can almost guarantee you that no one remembers what I made for dinner that night, but EVERYONE at dinner remembers the Sweater Flambe, and I often get good naturedly teased about it.


About now you may well be asking yourself, “Uh, is there a point to this story?” And the answer is indubitably YES! Life is about taking chances and not all of them will turn out the way you planned. Your path will be littered with mishaps, but in the long run, it doesn’t matter as long as you get a good story out of it! Heck, most of the history books are filled with “Oops!” So, don’t be afraid to try new things, and when faced with embarrassing or seemingly unbearable situations (like the day I started a new job working in the stock room of a dress shop, slipped, fell backwards into an open box, and wound up with my skirt around my waist as my fellow employees tried to pull me out or the time I roomed with a woman who actually believed she was the reincarnation of Mary Magdalene, prior to meeting Jesus) remember that it is the goofs and blunders, trials and tribulation, that with time, and an occasional sprinkling of embellishments, become great stories to remember and share!


FYI…just in case you’re wondering…for dinner that night I served my mother’s recipe for Beef Bourguignonne. It is a little labor intense but well worth the effort when you want to make a lasting impression on dinner guests…maybe not as lasting as igniting yourself, but it will certainly delight and impress your company!



My mom stumbled upon this recipe many years ago and used it for “special occasions”. I’ve yet to see her make it without someone asking her for the recipe!



4 tablespoons butter

4 pounds round or chuck, cut in 2-inch cubes

1/4 cup Cognac

1 cup chopped onion (1 large)

2 cloves of garlic, mashed

1 teaspoon salt

1 bottle Burgundy

2 teaspoons tomato paste

1 can (10-1/2 oz) condensed beef broth

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon leaf thyme

2 sprigs parsley

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 pound mushrooms, sliced

24 small white pearl onions, peeled

4 tablespoons flour

4 tablespoons soft butter or margarine

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

2 tablespoons chopped parsley



Brown beef well on all sides in 4 tablespoons butter. Add only enough beef to kettle to cover bottom or beef might stew and not brown.


Remove browned pieces before adding more beef. When beef is browned, pour off any fat. Return beef to kettle. Heat Cognac in small saucepan; ignite carefully; pour over beef. When flames have died, add onion, garlic, salt, pepper, bay leaves, parsley, thyme, wine, tomato paste and 1/2 cup of beef broth.


Bring to boiling; lower heat; cover and simmer 2 to 2-1/2 hours or until beef is tender.


Heat 3 tablespoons butter or margarine in skillet; sauté mushrooms quickly until just tender; remove; reserve. Add small white pearl onions to fat remaining in skillet; brown well. Add remaining beef broth; bring to boil, cover, lower heat; simmer about 10 minutes or until onions are tender. Blend flour and 4 tablespoons butter or margarine to form smooth paste. (This is the thickening for the bourguignonne, called beurre manie.)


Add beurre manie bit by bit to hot liquid until it has reached desired thickness. Stir in lemon rind. Return beef to kettle; add onions and mushrooms. Heat until bubbly; sprinkle with parsley. Serve with small boiled potatoes, buttered noodles or rice.


(May be oven cooked in large, covered casserole. Cook at 350 degrees for 2 to 2-1/2 hours or until tender. Remove from oven; thicken liquid over direct heat.)



            I happen to be one of those people who like to cook. (Sure beats the alternatives like cleaning or the four letter word ironing…okay, I know ironing has 7 letters, but the root word is only 4 letters, but I digress.) Anyway, I’m not talking gourmet cooking, but rather those savory comfort foods that can soothe and console, calm and placate, not to mention gratify the palate. These are the soups and stews, breads and desserts, veggies and meats whose aromas’ fill the house with a sense of anticipation and promise. There’s nothing like coming home from school to the smell of tonight’s dinner simmering on the stove. It is always my practice to make twice as much as I think I need to allow for “a small taste”, a last minute dinner invitation, or leftovers for lunch.


            One day my grown son came over and looked over at the stove. A kettle of chicken soup was cooking. He fished out a steamy carrot, popped it in his mouth, and after doing what appeared to be a war dance as he hopped around the room fanning his scalding mouth, commented that I ALWAYS have a pot of chicken soup going. Truth be told, it’s an hyperbole to say I ALWAYS have a pot of chicken soup going, but I do often enough for it to be a seemingly ubiquitous feature of my kitchen.


            You might well ask, “Why the fixation with chicken soup?” Well, chicken soup is relatively easy to make, it’s nutritious, fairly inexpensive and often considered a good remedy for colds and flus…something to do with the mucous membranes, I think…BUT my main reason for making chicken soup is the fact that, oh, probably a third of the recipes I make call for cooked chicken or chicken broth. Starting a pot of soup around noon, when I have the time, allows me choices as the day progresses. If my schedule gets crazy, a few noodles and a piece of bread can turn the soup into a meal. If time permits, I am prepared to make casseroles, cacciatore, enchiladas, or unique “throw together” meals at the last minute.


            Want your house to smell “homey”? Nothing, and I’m a bit of a connoisseur on household scents…to be discussed at a later date…says “home” like the smell of chicken soup. (Hmmmm…note to self…send Yankee Candle the suggestion to include chicken soup scent in their lineup…could be called “Chicken Comfort” or “Positively Poultry”). Anyway…chicken soup IS synonymous with home and comfort…globally. All cultures seem to have their own version. Throw a matzo ball in the middle, and you have a Jewish classic. Curry and apples enhance India’s Mulligatawny. The Greek Lemon/Egg Soup is called Avgolemono and has a wonderfully surprising tartness. It is one of my personal challenges, as this list grows to unfeasibly gargantuan proportions, to try more chicken soup recipes.


            So, if you haven’t already, discover the joys of chicken soup. If you don’t see yourself as a “bona fide cook” you will be delighted to find how easy it is to make. It won’t be long before your family associates it with home and comfort and you’ll find it to be a welcomed friend in your kitchen.





This is my own recipe that evolved over the years. The longer the soup cooks the more flavorful the veggies and chicken become. Flavors will intensify the longer you cook so reduce bouillon cubes if you plan to let it simmer all day.



3 pound bag boneless/skinless chicken tenderloins*

1 gallon water

2 cups chopped celery(approximately 5 large stalks)

2 cups chopped carrots(approximately 6 large carrots)**

1 large onion, chopped

6-8 chicken bouillon cubes

4 bay leaves

2 t. dried basil

2 t. dried parsley

1/4 t. pepper



Place chicken tenderloins and water in a large stock pot. Heat to boiling, skimming until all foam is gone. Add veggies and seasoning. Bring to boil then reduce to simmer. Cook 2 – 4 hours. Remove chicken and chop into bite sized pieces. Return to soup. Remove bay leaves and serve with noodles.


*Can use fresh, whole chicken. If you do, use 4 pounds to account for bone weight and skin chicken to reduce fat.

**I often add more carrots since I can lose many to “tastes” and because everyone in my family loves the cooked carrots.


To me a stock pot is essential in every kitchen. Although I have several different sizes, I usually make most of my soups, stews and chilies in a 12 quart pot. Make sure you get a high quality pot that can simmer all day…or in the case of my chili recipe…over night. 



           One of the greatest gifts my mom gave us kids was access to the kitchen. When other moms were shooing their children out of the room because they were “underfoot”, my mom always seemed to work around us. Some of my earliest memories are of watching my mom in the kitchen peeling potatoes, checking on a pot roast, or packing lunches for school. When we got older, and expressed an interest in cooking, we were given carte blanche as long as we “cleaned up after ourselves.”


           I fondly remember a particularly complicated gastronomic endeavor undertaken by myself and a high school girlfriend (the eldest of 7, she was never allowed in her own kitchen except to do dishes). We decided to make fruitcakes for Christmas gifts. At the time I didn’t realize that nobody, with the possible exception of Uncles named Wilbur, liked fruitcake! But with earnest hearts and a sense of adventure, we began a month before Christmas, diligently chopping candied fruit, and mixing the concoction in several huge bowls. There was batter everywhere as we filled and baked 12 cakes. We doused them with brandy, wrapped them in parchment paper and cheese cloth, and stored them in my mother’s linen closet to “ripen”. Never once did my mother complain about how messy we were or chide us for embarking on such a monumental venture. As far as fruitcakes went, I’m sure they were delicious, although I happen to find the commingling of the plethora of fruits unnatural and inedible. Grandpa seemed to like his, but he also liked blood sausage, so he might not be a reliable critic! Anyway, the most important lesson learned was that the kitchen was a room of discovery and adventure, not to be feared or avoided. I lost contact with my high school friend, but I hope the frequent times she spent in our kitchen gave her the same appreciation.


           Later, when encouraging my three children to pursue their own culinary curiosities, I realized that when my brothers and I “helped in the kitchen” we probably created lots of extra work for Mom, but that didn’t stop me from allowing my children in the kitchen as soon as they could drag a chair up to the counter. They began by “assisting me” but were soon turning out their own edible creations! Even in high school my daughter and her friends were forever in the kitchen baking, which often involved simply throwing together brownie batter, then sitting around the kitchen table, eating the raw dough, while discussing that evening’s dates. They cleaned up after themselves, but I always needed to revisit the counters and floors, after they moved on to a new activity. At these times I often found myself thinking fondly of my mom. Today, all of my children know their way around the kitchen, often using our family’s recipes, but adventurous enough to “throw something together” at the last minute. My youngest son and his wife often use the recipes collected at our family’s website, adding new recipes they’ve discovered. My oldest son mostly wings it, turning out very edible endeavors!  


           And the cycle continues…the other day I was in the kitchen baking a cake for my granddaughter’s first birthday. She was busy on the floor making her own concoction, transferring potpourri tarts from one bowl to another while mixing them with bright red “Kool-Aid” spoons. Her three year old sister was sitting on the counter next to me, mixing the cake’s dry ingredients into the butter and eggs. Finally, my 4 year old grandson was at the dining room table working on his own project. His job was to place break-a-part cookies on a baking sheet. While I smiled at the hum generated by three content children busy in the kitchen, my grandson casually commented on his job. I was half listening and I gave a pat “Sounds great” comment. It took a moment, but I finally processed his words. They were, “Gammy, my job is to lick all the cookies.” I turned around and looked at him. Sure enough, there he sat, taking each cookie in turn, licking the sides and bottom before he placed them on the cookie sheet. Not to panic, right? Teachable moment, right? I said, “Hey sweetie, most people don’t like their cookies licked by other people. Why don’t you just put them on the baking sheet? You can lick your own cookie when they’re done.” So, I baked the cookies, knowing full well it was about a 50/50 crap shoot as to whether or not someone got a licked cookie. My suspicion, however, was that the licked cookies probably tasted a little sweeter!


Kids belong in the kitchen.  Not only do they learn great life skills and family traditions, they also practice reading and perform complex scientific experiments! As an added bonus, they’ll be accomplished cooks later in life when they have you over for dinner! 


            I am a seeker of all things traditional. I’m not talking about traditional furniture or even traditional values, although I certainly embrace them, but rather the establishment of family traditions. I’m always looking for events that can be named. Let’s face it, once you name something you feel a sense of ownership. If you’re a parent you totally get this. There is something magical that happens when you cross over from referring to your child, whether in utero or that red faced shar-pei look alike snuggled in your arms, as “the baby” and start calling it Rose or Byron. They become real and yours. It’s the same reason our trees have names, along with all the nooks and crannies in our yard. By calling an area “The Vancouver Garden” (long story there) or the cement bench under the Linden tree “The Serenity Garden” they become bona fide destinations.


            And so it was, 17 years ago, that our family hosted The First Annual McCombs’ Pumpkin Carving Party. The minute you slap the name “Annual” onto something, you’ve not only created a new tradition, but a family commitment that secures ownership and demands responsibility. Although the size and shape of the party has changed over the years, ranging from 135 guests (soccer teams upped that one!) to 18 attendees (a very challenging family time) we’ve never missed a single year. The Annual Pumpkin Carving Party turned into one of our family’s most treasured traditions, not only because we love the fall, and this certainly helps celebrate the season, but it also marks the beginning of “The Holidays”. (As a bit of an aside…at some point my children had a Holiday Intervention with me and I was (I can’t put this in any milder terms) FORBIDDEN to listen to Christmas carols until after Halloween!) So, as you can well image, while preparing for the Annual Pumpkin Carving Party, I also begin assembling my imposing collection of Christmas CDs! (Oh, how I long for Dean Martin!)    


            But back to the Pumpkin Carving Party…As I said, there have been a few changes over the years. For one thing it is no longer called The McCombs Annual Pumpkin Carving Party but rather The McCombs/Wise/Bonney Annual Pumpkin Carving Party. As the family grows and new surnames emerge, we may have to give it an abridged name so it fits on an invitation! Small price to pay for the addition of so many new and wonderful family members! Plus, and I’m not sure why I get a big kick out of this, our invitations have evolved. You’ll often hear me say that I have to be dragged kicking and screaming into change, however, I love the technological changes that have occurred over the past two decades, and our invitations are a testament to the advancement. We began by purchasing Halloween Party invitations, moved on to creating our own on Personal Publisher, then we began sending out invites in the form of emails. Our most recent requests were sent out via Evite which allows us to create our own invitation, do a mass mailing, and encourages invitees to RSVP on line. Isn’t technology ever so clever?!


            I’ve just realized I’m coming to the end of this blog and haven’t specifically talked about the party itself (must work on compulsive meandering). Okay, imagine if you will that you were invited to our party. You arrive at 6 ish…given there isn’t some silly Big Ten football game going into overtime…along with your costumed wee ones, a dish to pass, pumpkins and carving tools. You are greeted by the aroma of hot mulled cider simmering in a large crock pot and Celtic music playing in the background. As you make your way to the food table to set down your side dish, you realize that about 6 other people also had the inimitable idea of preparing baked beans. (Each year there is ALWAYS one food that everyone decides to make! Must be some kind of cosmic force or something) Anyway, you skirt around until you find one of the hosts or hostesses. They tell you that there are games in the basement set up for children, that a bonfire is blazing in the backyard, and that there is Hot Damn or Apple Barrel Schnapps available if you wish to enhance your hot cider. You find the Styrofoam cups, (big time sorry environment!) write your name on one, and pour yourself a toasty warm glass of liquid ambrosia as you contemplate the enhancement possibilities. Soon, children are running around, connecting up with a myriad of other short, costumed attendees, and you find a cozy little group to chat with. Around 6:30 you make up a plate for your child then grab a hotdog, 3 different scoops of baked beans and some slimy green concoction that an obviously misguided cook prepared. (You’ll be pleasantly surprised in moments when you realize it actually tastes good!) Desserts abound and you start on your second glass of grog! Everyone then moves outside to carve pumpkins and you are surrounded by giggles and “yucks” as pumpkin innards mound on table tops and children’s clothes. After the dastardly task of carving pumpkins is complete, they are lined up, lit, and a perfect photo op presents itself. At this point, families with young children usually collect up their things and load their entirely spent children into the car. Those sans children usually settle in around the bonfire or indoors, and the party can linger into the wee hours.


            Admittedly, clean up is a bit taxing. (Pumpkin innards almost instantaneously adhere to anything they touch) But with everyone pitching in (okay, truly wishful thinking…seems the family is much more committed to setting up for the party than clean-up duty!) the effort is definitely worth it. So, until next year, the tradition is secure and the family has one more cherished memory to store!


I have found it immensely helpful to keep a journal of party details, especially if you plan to turn the festivity into an annual event. Recording the supplies you bought and helpful aids (like a couple of 3 holed outlet adapters to handle crock pots and electric baking dishes) will make planning next year’s party much easier. Of course, there will always be “tweakage” as you make slight adjustments to accommodate the expected number of guests and variant activities, but in general, documenting the event is invaluable!  


            When you opened the front door of our house, you stepped into the foyer. To the right was our living room, which I always TRIED to keep company ready, (okay, frequently the overflow from the rest of the house osmosed into it) a hallway that lead to the kitchen, and the stairs that lead to our bedrooms.


            One morning I had a scathingly brilliant idea. (By the way, my life is littered with almost as many scathingly brilliant mistakes!) I decided to remove the wall-to-wall carpeting that ran up the stairs and into the hallway. There was a rational thought process involved here. Since cleaning is not high on my list of favorite pastimes, and vacuuming the stairs involved precariously balancing the vacuum cleaner while I tried to clean the 13 steps, it seldom was done. The corners of the steps became low rent housing for domestic spiders, carelessly dropped “O”s, and vintage dust. The plan: remove the carpeting allowing me to simply sweep the steps whenever necessary, and tah-dah, efficiency in housekeeping. (My parents didn’t waste money on MY home economics degree!)  


            Okay, I wasn’t imagining anything quite as grand as the stairway in Gone with the Wind, but I was more than a little surprised at what I did discover. After cutting the carpet away, and giving a mighty pull, I was staring down at what I realized was construction grade stairs. It was painfully apparent that these steps were never meant to be viewed and the obvious intent was to keep them well hidden under wall-to-wall carpeting. The stairs were made of bonfire worthy wood. You could see the footprints of construction workers that must have made a point of stepping in all sorts of gooey substances before walking up and down the steps, thus leaving their mark for posterity, which rivaled the opulence of Grauman's Chinese Theatre. And, surprisingly, at least to me, very little thought was given to precise measurements…obviously stair building is an “ish” thing. I could see my basement through gapping cracks, tackless installation strips were firmly attached to each step, and gobs of hardened, afore mentioned, gooey substances poxed the surface. General housekeeping note: Once you cut and rip carpeting off your steps, you can never put it back and expect it to look like anything other than a haphazardly laid drop cloth…kinda the same premise as refolding a map. Since the cost of recarpeting the stairs wouldn’t be in our budget, for, say, hmmmm, months, if not years, I had to think fast.


            Fortunately, I’ve always been a rather make-do-with decorator so I rolled up my sleeves, gave an exasperated sigh, but was sufficiently delusional to be optimistic. It did take the rest of the day to remove the tackless installation strips and scrap off the larger gobs of stuff that I thought might actually trip us. With demolition complete I began to think about what I wanted to do with the stairs. That evening when my then husband came home from work, I was in the kitchen cooking. He always wore shoes with hard heels, and I realized as he ascended the stairs that they had become bongo drums, amplifying each step he took. Probably as a penance for my impulsiveness, for the next several years, I was awaken each and every morning to the sound of those shoes hitting those stairs, mocking me, as if to say, dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb. To his credit he said nothing about this new household development, which I think said more about the frequency of these types of decorating debacles than personal restraint on his part.


            The next morning, with a vision firmly fashioned, I was good to go. I painted the risers of the stairs the same cream color I had throughout my house and then the steps my comfy colonial blue. I did need to install some moldings to close off the gaps to the basement, but all-in-all, it turned out to be a relatively simple project. I was quite pleased with the results, although when standing back and looking at the steps, I did feel that something was missing. Another idea! Thank God I have a million of them. I asked myself, what do I want my foyer to say to people? We’re talking first impressions here. I wanted my foyer to say, “Welcome, come on in, relax, stay awhile, and make yourself at home”. How to do that? I simply stenciled the word “Welcome” on the riser of every step. I tried stenciling every other step but you kinda got the feeling some of the steps were being antisocial, so I stenciled them all.


            The effect was perfect. When someone came over, not only were they greeted by a friendly face, they were extended a personal welcome from the house. Frequently, when my children’s friends came over, I’d listen to them read the stairs out loud, using a rhythmic head bob, “Welcome, welcome, welcome, welcome, welcome”, and they were!


Your foyer is your house’s first impression. What does yours say? Look around your entry. Does it say “welcome” to visitors? What can you do that will make people feel comfortable and welcome?