Fresh Pear Compote…

Last year my neighbor’s apple trees produced in abundance. This year it was the pear trees and so I eventually got a bushel of pears. Off I went in search of pear recipes I might adapt to my needs and tastes.

I’ve always been a big fan of warm fruit. There’s nothing better than a piece of hot apple or cherry pie with a big dollop of vanilla ice cream. This time, I was not in the mood to make a pie. I found a great recipe for making an upside down pear cake that I adapted and will post later. But what I really wanted to make was a pear compote.

Garden Pears

A compote is basically fruit cooked in water and spices. This particular compote is cooked in butter and lemon juice along with sugar and vanilla. Now doesn’t that sound good. So let’s talk fresh pear compote…

Lesson Learned 1 – All the tedious work is in the prep: To make this compote you need to peel and slice the pears. The pears I got from my neighbor were, on average, smaller than the ones you buy in the grocery store. So I had to spend more time peeling and slicing. Keep in mind that pears, like apples, will turn brown (oxidize) when peeled and exposed to air. To slow down that process until you’ve got everything prepped, just sprinkle a little lemon juice on the pears. That will prevent oxidation until you’re ready to cook them. Every time you slice another pear and drop it in the bowl use your hands to toss it in with the others so that some lemon juice gets on it. There’s no need to add additional lemon juice every time you add another sliced pear to the bowl, unless you’re doubling or tripling the recipe. You really need only a small amount of lemon juice, a tablespoon or so.

Also make sure you slice the pears thinly. They will cook more evenly and will mash thoroughly if you slice them thinly before you cook them.

Lesson Learned 2 – Don’t be afraid to add the ingredients to taste: My recipe requires very little sugar due to the sweetness of the fresh fruit  Most compote recipes I read called for less than one teaspoon of cinnamon. The beauty of this recipe is it’s very adaptable. Once you mix the ingredients, taste the pears before you cook them. If you feel you need to add more sugar or cinnamon, add it. I also love the taste of vanilla extract in the recipe but I found that a little vanilla goes a long way. But those are my tastes. Make this recipe work for you. Just remember to err on the safe side as you can always add more but you can’t take it away once you’ve added it.

Lesson Learned 3 – This compote can be served hot or cold: Although traditionally compote is designed to be served hot, this compote tastes divine hot or cold. I would make a bowl of hot oatmeal and put some chilled compote on top and it was an insanely delicious combination. You can serve this warm with a cheese platter, or put it on crusty bread. Anyway you choose to serve it, this recipe is a winner.

It’s amazing to me how simple this recipe is. After I made pear compote I used the same recipe to make apple compote and it was fabulous. I certainly hope that you try this one.

[recipe: title=”Fresh Pear Compote…” time=”45-50 Minutes” servings=”6-8″ difficulty=”Easy”]

INGREDIENTS:

6 large pears

1 medium sized lemon, juiced and zested (plus an additional tablespoon of juice to put on pears while slicing them)

2 tsp. sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp cinnamon (start with 1/2 and add more to taste)

1 Tbs. unsalted butter

1 tsp. cornstarch

DIRECTIONS:

Peel the pears and slice them thinly. (coat them with a little lemon juice to prevent oxidation before you’ve completed pealing all the pears). Once pealed, combine pears with all of the ingredients except the butter and cornstarch.

Melt the butter in a deep sauce pan. Add the pear mixture and cook for at least five minutes on medium high heat, or until the pears are tender and can be mashed.

Remove the pears from the heat. Mash them inside the same pot. After mashing them stir in the cornstarch. NOTE: Add the cornstarch a little at a time to avoid clumping.

Put the pears back on the stove and simmer covered for an additional 20 minutes. Serve warm or chilled.

[/recipe]

Pears

Fresh Pear Compote

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So This Is Christmas…

Oh Christmas Tree...

Oh Christmas Tree…

Christmas Day 2013 and lots to reflect upon. On this day more than any other you think about the many things for which you are grateful as well as precious times past. Those thoughts can bring both smiles and tears as you revel in the holiday spirit but miss those that can no longer share it with you. For me, Christmas is the time to reflect on the past year, the good, the bad and the ugly and to begin the process of creating the hopes and dreams for the upcoming year. So here goes:

All in all, 2013 was a pretty good year. It started out rocky but is ending up positively. In January I began feeling pain and numbness in my legs that took me on a health roller coaster of doctors, vein procedures, physical therapy and finally a diagnosis of spinal stenosis. Scary as it may sound, finally getting the diagnosis and having an operation to fix it is what I am most grateful for this year. Not having pain in my legs and the feeling of having “my old legs” back is a gift I am not taking for granted. I laughed when a friend told me that I basically had a “roto-router” procedure on my spine but call it whatever you want, it did the trick. So this year I am looking forward to being physically able to work on a healthier life style without experiencing pain in the process.

Holiday Decorations

Holiday Decorations

I am also grateful for being retired and now just working on things that I choose to and that I love. Who would have ever thought that I would love working part-time in retail? Not me, that’s for sure. And I am sure that working retail in general could never be something that I would enjoy, but working at Crate and Barrel has been a blast. A great company, great people and working in customer service has really, for all intents and purposes, “cranked my switch”. I have just enough hours to effectively learn the business (I am so enjoying learning the ins and outs of corporate America) but not too many that it prevents me from pursuing my other interests. So it is a win-win situation and as long as it continues to be fun I will do it. And working on the two NRPA schools is really a joy for me. My first love was always teaching and to be able to work on schools that attract the best of the best in the field of Parks and Recreation is a gift I treasure.

I am also so grateful for my friends and to be able to have regular contact with them either the “old fashioned” way, by telephone, or the more popular ways by texting, emailing (although this is becoming less popular these days) and through social media. I love seeing what is happening in their lives and sharing what is happening in mine. To be able to maintain contact with people that I taught some 30+ years ago, colleagues from work days long gone by and new friends made along the way brings untold joy into my life.

The Christmas Village

The Christmas Village

Having had the opportunity this year to vacation with some old friends was the best. True friendship exists when you can spend time apart but, when finally together, pick up right where you left off without regret or awkwardness. We laughed so hard we cried, and we enjoyed each other for who we are now as well as for our past connections. Those friendships last a lifetime and I am so grateful to have those kinds of friends in my life.

I am particularly grateful for a special surprise gift I got this year from a former student. Nothing like getting some Lou Malnati’s pizza and popcorn to bring you back to the good ole’ Chicago days. The gift was totally unexpected and brought about tears of joy, the best kind of tears. This gift was a great reminder to me that it is the small things, the unexpected kindnesses in life, that truly matter the most.

Paying it forward by performing random acts of kindness, that is becoming a tradition for me during the holidays and really should be a year-long tradition. Buying an unsuspecting person their Starbuck’s order and looking at the smile on their face when they were told – that was a good one for me this year. But I think I am going to try to spread this out during the rest of the upcoming year as well. It makes you feel so good to do something for someone, just because, with no expectation in return. That is the true act of giving and what I’ve learned along the way is that giving is just as rewarding, if not more so, than receiving.

Me and My Dad By The Tree...

Me and My Dad By The Tree…

I can’t escape thinking about my parents at the holidays. They were the ones who always went out of their way to make my holidays special. The annual downtown Chicago shopping trips, consisting of a march up and down State Street (always ending at Marshall Fields), coffee and a treat at the Walgreens buffet (yes they used to have one), several walking trips back to the car (my dad’s job) to drop of the myriad of packages and dinner at Millers Pub (always their lamb chops for me). I remember one year my mother having too many of a drink called a “Tom and Jerry”, that was one of the more memorable dinners! We always did our trip on the first Saturday in December and even as an adult I would look forward to doing this with them. These are special, special memories. Needless to say I now miss my parents terribly at this time of year, but I know they would want me to be happy and the best way to honor their memory is to work through the sadness and revel in the joys of the past and look to the future with unrelenting optimism.

The scamp, Cody...

The scamp, Cody…

This was the second year we did not put up a Christmas tree. I can tell you the reason in one word, Cody. Cody is our orange tabby that we adopted in 2012. He is a big boy, tipping the scales at 12 pounds, and he is very rambunctious. We knew if we put a tree that it would wind up on the ground. We were hoping this might be the year we could put it up, but he is still in full blown scamp mode and so we decided against it. Next year there will be a tree for sure, whether it stands or lies down.

And as always there is the holiday baking ritual. This year was an enormous success with two new recipes (caramel butter bars and frosted cinnamon chip cookies) leading the way. I try to make at least one new recipe a year but now I am at the point were I make eight different cookie recipes, all articulated favorites, so it will be interesting to see if next year I’ll have the courage to discontinue one in order to try a new one. There are only so many types of cookies a girl can make before she becomes tuckered out! But seeing the joy in the eyes of my neighbors and co-workers when the cookies come-a-callin’ is worth all the time and energy. This year a plate even made it to a Christmas Eve dinner at the Denver Children’s hospital. I am sure those attending that dinner more than appreciated something made with such love during a difficult time in their lives.

Holiday Cookie Platter

Holiday Cookie Platter

And last but not least, there is always the sojourn to some sort of holiday theatrical production. One year it was to see the Radio City Rockettes perform their holiday extravaganza, another time it was to see a production of my favorite story, A Christmas Carol and last year I saw the stage version of “White Christmas”.

A Holiday Performance...

A Holiday Performance…

This year it was front row seats to see the Denver Ballet perform The Nutcracker. My theatre going friend had never seen The Nutcracker before, so it was an extra special treat. Seeing a holiday production always gets you in the holiday spirit. This has become a tradition that I really enjoy and plan on continuing.

So this was Christmas, 2013. All in all a pretty good one. Can’t say that every year but happy when I can. And as I reflect upon this year, I can only hope that yours had more joy than sorrow, more ups than downs, more successes than failures and was filled with friendship and love. Merry Christmas and to quote Tiny Tim, “God Bless Us, Everyone.”

My Favorite Color Is October…

Ever since I can remember Fall has been my favorite time of year. It starts in late Summer with the crisp inviting smell of loose leaf paper and the promise of another school year punctuated with shiny new school supplies. Then NFL football makes its presence known and we ask ourselves how did we ever manage so long on Sundays without it? Slowly but surely darkness creeps closer to dinner time instead of bedtime. That extra blanket sure feels good wrapped around you at night, doesn’t it?  And those smells of dinner slow roasting in the oven versus being cooked on the grill. They all create an aura of Fall and home sweet home. These traditions, memories and experiences help to make Fall that very special time of year. But perhaps the best aspect of Fall is experiencing nature’s way of ushering in Winter with palates of color that warm the heart and soothe the soul.

There have already been so many lessons learned during my recuperation from spinal surgery, some by necessity and some merely by chance. Part of my ongoing physical therapy is to take daily walks and increase the distance I walk as my body allows. I am forced to be outside and walk my neighborhood every single day. At first it was a matter of can I do this, how am I feeling, can I go any further, and watch my step. But I can tell you that gets really old after a while. Next you start thinking about how to relieve the boredom of walking in an area that’s all too familiar, the same streets, houses, cul de sacs, and park. I know I have to do this, but I sure wish the scenery was more spectacular. Then yesterday I realized I could not see the forest for the trees. Stop and smell the roses, Jan. Take a good long hard look at what is right there in front of you.

Red leaves

And so I did. It almost had to slap me in the face before I noticed it. But once it did, my eyes opened as if for the first time. It came upon me so fast it almost took my breath away. What was I thinking? Here I was longing for spectacular scenery when I was already in the midst of an unfolding story of colors, lights, sounds and smells. I was just too busy to notice. But I’m seeing it now. Time to explore.

yellow leaves

palate

I’ve always loved the ways leaves turn into an array of colors at this time of year, but never really thought about how they compliment the color of the sky or create a palate of complimentary hues that offset each other in perfect symmetry. The greens, yellow, browns, reds, pinks, purples all bathed in a backdrop of a clear blue sky is sheer and utter magnificence! The artistry of nature is at its best in the Fall and right there for all to enjoy if you take the time to notice it.

Looking around you can also see the last vestiges of Summer, annuals that look slightly worse for wear but still proudly standing like old soldiers not wanting to let go of the glory of bygone days.

Summer Flowers

Summer Flowers

And lets not forget the first big holiday of the season is around the corner and that, in itself, brings an array of creativity to lawns and porches. Traditional decorations, spooky creatures and deflated balloons awaiting darkness and air compressors to come alive all dot the streets in a festive display of Halloween magic.

tombstone

Wolfman

Wolfman

There is a wealth of spiders, cobwebs, ghosts and goblins scattered in trees, lawns and on porches all in the spirit of the season. They bask in the sunshine during the day suspended in time and space but come alive at night to roam the neighborhood in search of the faint of heart. I could feel there eyes follow me as I walked among them but they would not break their code of silence. Only in darkness do they flourish. They seemed to be challenging me to come back, at their time and on their terms. But for now they lie in wait for the sun to go down hoping I will have the courage to return and meet them once again under the veil of darkness.

A neighborhood ghost

A neighborhood ghost

And as I took all of it in I realized once again how little time I spend stopping to smell the roses. Today I saw my neighborhood in a whole new light, bathed in autumn beauty and the anticipation of Halloween. I smiled at every decoration, every tree, every pile of leaves waiting to be enveloped with children sitting in their midst and throwing them wildly into the air. I reveled in the fallen leaves crunching under my feet and took in the smells, sights, sounds and colors of October. I almost missed it. It’s so amazing. And yes, there is no doubt in my mind now, my favorite color is October.

Autumn leaves with the backdrop of a clear blue sky.

Autumn leaves with the backdrop of a clear blue sky.

The Last Day of Summer…

Even though the angle of the sun is decidedly different and the leaves on the trees have started to turn, it is still summer – the last day of it as a matter of fact. Seems like just yesterday the smell of lilacs and magnolia blossoms filled the air. Now the deck planters are slowly dying off and tomato plants are giving their final thrusts.

Summer seems to go by so fast. Maybe it’s because we’ve established this arbitrary window of summer being Memorial Day to Labor Day. Maybe it’s because we equate summer with kids being out of school. And even though the temperatures are in the mid 80’s today, truly summer weather, it’s just not summer anymore.

And for me, that’s just fine and dandy because fall is my favorite time of year. The leaves on the trees now take on the job of being our flowers with each one turning a breathtaking color as magnificent as the summer blooms. Sweater weather is upon us, pumpkins abound and ovens wake from their long summer sleep. The smell of apples, cinnamon and spice are everywhere, bedroom windows once again open to let in the cool night air, and shadows of Halloween, Thanksgiving and (dare I say it) Christmas being to creep in as the summer season fades.

So, on this last day of summer I am grateful for another wonderful season that produced boatloads of zucchini, basil, and cucumbers. I am thankful for the gorgeous mornings spent with a cup of coffee and Mia on the deck watching the birds build their nests, raise their young and cool off in the garden birdbath. I am grateful for the early morning hikes, watching the sun rise over the foothills and smelling the scent of the mountain wildflowers. I am thankful for our orange tabby Cody, who joined our family in the summer and is keeping us all on our toes. I am grateful for the smell of freshly mown grass, charcoal grills, afternoon showers, the beauty of fire flys and the sound of crickets. The sights, sounds and smells of summer. Nothing can compare. But most of all, I am grateful for being given another year to enjoy them.