Circling Back to Life (and Bread!)

Country Loaf with olives, walnuts, lemon zest

It’s been a hot minute since my last post. Do folks even read blogs these days? [her shoulders form an exaggerated shrug] I dunno…

Here I am either way.

Since my last post, a pandemic has come and gone (is it gone??). I am now a grandmother to a beautiful two-year-old. My mother-in-law has left this world. I had a teeny, tiny heart attack. (That in and of itself is a tale for another day; I am healed and stronger than ever!) Travel came to a standstill. Then travel came back full force, perhaps even more so than pre-pandemic.

In other words, the circle of life has continued.

It seems so many people channeled their inner chef during Covid times. Bread was baked, gourmet meals were whipped up, cocktails were imbibed. Oddly, I went the opposite direction. I still cooked, but I went basic. I baked no bread. Zero. My drinking decreased. A little. We ate super healthy and worked out more. Cooking became an aside for me for the first two years of the pandemic: more need based, less creative outlet. The third year of pandemic found us finally delving into the kitchen renovation project we had planned to begin summer of 2020. (Another tale for another post…btw, it turned out gorgeous!)

I was halfway through a writing program at SMU when the pandemic hit. The program was eventually dismantled, but some of the former instructors took it online during the pandemic. I kept up for a couple of classes, and I also formed an online writing group that met daily. I took a few other online classes. In many ways, those years were a time of connection for me, a time of rediscovering who I am and what I want and need in my life.

I haven’t written much since my heart attack, but I am beginning to get back to my novel (fiction; NOT food based). In May 2024 I will be attending a writing workshop in France (!) for one week. I was shocked that my submission was accepted and that I was invited to join.

And I’ve been re-engaging my own inner chef. In January I began bread-baking in earnest. I had forgotten how much I love the aroma of freshly baked breads, not to mention the taste. Nothing beats a freshly baked loaf slathered with a smear of salted butter. My increasing waistline has reminded me why I need to take it a bit slower with this renewed love. I’ve been using techniques from Chad Robertson’s “Tartine” books, which work beautifully and yield amazing breads. My favorite so far is the basic country loaf with lemon zest, olives and walnuts. I serve it next to European style butter topped with sea salt and herbs de Provence.

Here I am, full circle, back to Cleansed Palate. I hesitated in my return. I’ve steered away from social media in recent years to sustain my mental health and energy, and I fear this will throw me right back into all that mess. I’ll take this slow. One word at a time. One post at a time.

Buon Appetito, y’all!


My Favorite Easy-to-Make Mulled Cranberry Sauce

Mulled Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Sauce. It’s one of those things I never really thought much about growing up. It was always present during our big holiday meals, but we always used canned cranberry sauce. You know, the kind where you open the can on both ends and then jiggle it until it slides onto the serving dish in one fell swoop. I neither loved nor hated it. Had it not been present we may have felt something was amiss. It was not one of the more eagerly anticipated dishes. It made the table look more colorful, but not much else beyond that.

Fast forward to my first Thanksgiving with my husband’s family. His mom makes homemade cranberry sauce. Homemade! I had never really considered this to be something I might make in my own kitchen. I certainly had no idea how easy it is to prepare. But. One taste told me that I could no longer in good conscience go back to canned cranberry sauce again. Ever.

And I have not.

Below is my recipe for Mulled Cranberry Sauce. It’s one that has evolved after years of experimenting. My mother-in-law modified the recipe on the bag of cranberries, adding cinnamon when she made it. Just a hint. So delicious! After a few times of making her recipe, I took full license to experiment with my own flavor combinations, and this is the result.

Feel free to use my recipe, but also experiment with your own touches. It’s forgiving. Take out anything you don’t like…throw in flavors you think might work. Have fun with it!! I’d love to hear any of your modifications and suggestions in the comments.

**Leftover Tip: if you have leftovers, add them to Lemon Bars for an update on an old favorite! I have a link to my favorite Lemon Bar recipe in this post: Tuesdays with Frank.

Buon Appetito, Y’all!!

Cindy’s Mulled Cranberry Sauce 

– 1 12 ounce bag of cranberries (can be fresh or frozen)
– 3/4 cup dry red wine (I use one of those little bottles that come in a 4-pack)
– 1/4 c fresh orange juice, make sure to zest it first!!
– 1 cup of dark brown sugar (can also use regular cane, but the molasses in the dark brown sugar adds a flavor dimension)
– dash of cinnamon (I learned this one from my mother-in-law 😀)
– 1/8 tsp chipotle powder (just a hint of spice…but not too much!)
– 1/4 cup tart, dried cherries 
– 2 T Cointreau or Grand Marnier (can be omitted)
**other options: raisins, apples, dried cranberries (gives a texture dimension), nuts. Apple cider can be used in place of the red wine…so many variations. 
Rinse the cranberries in a colander, picking through and discarding any bad ones.
Bring the sugar and wine and orange juice to a boil, then add in the cranberries, cinnamon, chipotle powder and dried cherries. Once this returns to a boil, turn down and simmer until the berries burst, about 7-10 minutes. Take off the heat and stir in the orange zest and Cointreau (or Grand Marnier). Transfer to a bowl and let cool.
Once it comes to room temperature, cover it, and place it in the refrigerator. It should last 10-14 days. You can also freeze this in a freezer-safe container for up to 2 months.  While it will last longer from a safety perspective, the taste will begin to diminish beyond that point.

9 of My Best Tips for a Less Stressful Thanksgiving

Let them eat pie!

Ch-ch-ch-ch Changes…

Yesterday marked the two-week countdown to Thanksgiving. By this time any other November I would have in my freezer: pie crusts, pitted cherries, at least two types of rolls, and cubed bread for my stuffing. Also about this time, I would have made room in my freezer for the large turkey I would be picking up this coming weekend.

Things look a bit different this year.

I am used to cooking large and entertaining large and eating large this time of year. But not this year. Thanks to COVID, our table will only be set for two. There will be a laptop in lieu of the extra place settings. I find myself in a struggle between how to scale back to cooking for two, and at the same time, how to have ALL of our favorites on our biggest eating day of the year. Every single time I go to scratch a recipe from the list I decide there must be another less-sentimental dish to take it’s place. So far, there hasn’t been.

I will still add festive touches no matter how scaled back we go. There will be flowers on the table. I will use my favorite dishes. The glassware will be polished and ready to receive a fine wine. Perhaps Thanksgiving will be more romantic this year. Having said that, we are planning to Zoom with our kids for at least the beginning of the meal…and also with our entire family earlier in the day. Thank you, Modern Technology!!

My eldest is in charge of the alcoholic cocktail – his usual holiday task – while I am in charge of our new tradition: the mocktail. We will send our chosen recipes out to the group in advance, and during our Zoom call we will partake in one or both versions. It will kinda be like we are in the same room.  Kinda.

We are toying with the idea of eating together as well. This will obviously turn our romantic dinner for two into a more family-friendly dinner. I’ll take that!! Either way is a win-win in my book.

Fort Washington Flip – our Thanksgiving drink from 2015

I’m not a fan of Black Friday, so Pie Night is my invented holiday to take its place.


There will be no Pie Night this year. No. Pie. Night. This pesky pandemic is really mucking up our traditions!!  I typically bake 10-15 pies for Thanksgiving. Obviously, that is a LOT of pie for one night’s dessert. In the past we have invited neighbors to join us on the night after Thanksgiving to aid in the ‘disposal’ of the excess pie. I’m not a fan of Black Friday, so Pie Night is my invented holiday to take its place. It goes like this: we spend the Friday after Thanksgiving decorating for Christmas. We eat leftovers for dinner…this might be my favorite benefit to all that advance time in the kitchen! That night our guests join us for Pie Night. If all goes well, we are left with very little pie by the end of the evening. This is a tradition I eagerly anticipate every year…such a fun way to bring in the holiday season! I’ll be sad to miss it this year.

Thanksgiving Tips

But we all gotta eat, right?

Just because things will be scaled back doesn’t mean you can’t do advance preparation. There’s no reason to stress yourself out on the big day, whether you are hosting dinner for 20 or dinner for 2…or dinner for 1. Below are my best tips on how I get through cooking such a huge meal while still enjoying my family and friends.

A Month Ahead:

  • As I mentioned above, many things can be made in advance and frozen. Breads and rolls for dinner freeze very well. If you are making stuffing/dressing, you can cube your bread and freeze it. It’s not a huge timesaver; however, on the day every minute counts!
    Pie crusts can be made in advance and frozen, too. This is especially helpful if you make pies that use different types of crusts. The crust I use depends on the pie I am making. Apple and Cherry Pies get a cream cheese crust; Pumpkin gets a basic flaky butter crust; Pecan pies get a hazelnut crust. My Chocolate Ganache Pie gets a brownie crust. Advance prep here goes a long way to saving time later.
    Stock can be made and frozen as well.
  • Cranberry Sauce can me made early (up to 2 weeks) and is super easy to make. It will hold for 10-14 days in the fridge, or up to 2 months in the freezer. I usually make a double batch. Leftover cranberry sauce is amazing added to lemon bars!

The Day (or so) Before Thanksgiving:

  • I bake my pies the day before. It helps to have them out of the way so you can clean up the kitchen and begin fresh on Thanksgiving Day.
    **Take the frozen crusts the night before you plan to bake.
  • Set your table the day or two before. It always takes me longer to set the table then I remember. I also make up my flower arrangements/centerpieces the night before. It looks so pretty when I wake up the morning of and motivates me to start in!

The Day Of:

  • MAKE BREAKFAST THE MORNING OF THANKSGIVING EASY! I typically buy bagels and put together a platter with all of the fixings the night before. Maybe I’ll have a bowl of mixed fruit to set out with it. I have OJ (and Prosecco for those partaking) and coffee/tea. I set up a “breakfast station” with plates, toaster, napkins, flatware and glassware. My platter of fixings goes on the table when the first guest pops downstairs. As the rest roll into the kitchen, they are able to fix their own bagels and stay out of my way.
    **my bagel fixings usually include cream cheese, hummus, sliced red onion, capers, sliced tomatoes and lox.
  • ON THE BIG DAY (and day before depending on how much you do in advance): I ALWAYS BEGIN WITH A CLEAN KITCHEN AND A SINK OF HOT, SUDSY WATER. The sink part – for me – is critical. Whenever I have an extra minute or so, I will wash a few dishes or wipe down counters. It may not seem like much, but this makes a huge impact. Huge. HUGE! 
  • To go with the above tip, invest in a comfy pair of gloves for washing dishes to keep your hands from getting to water logged and eventually chapped and red. Despite all of my years prepping for Thanksgiving, I have only recently embraced this tip. Before that I suffered for years with chapped hands from all of the dish-washing.
  • TAKE BREAKS! Set a timer if you find you go for hours on your feet without a break. Maybe schedule in time for a walk outside. Or just sit every so often. Your back will thank you!!


  • The biggest lesson that took me YEARS to finally ‘get’ is that in the end, as pretty as the table setting may be, as tasty as the food may be, as clean as your house may be…the most important part of this day (and every day) is taking time to appreciate and spend time with your family and friends. Accept help when offered, even if it means the potatoes are not mashed the way you like them or the flowers aren’t arranged how you imagined. Sometimes you learn new ways to do things.One year we had family from Italy…2 women who wanted to learn about our holiday traditions, and who wanted to help prepare the meal. I had never accepted help in the past (other than anyone willing to wash dishes LOL). I was a bit panicked at the idea of help. But…they INSISTED. And in the end: IT. WAS. FUN. And helpful. I learned to let go a bit that year and a bit more in each year since.

The holiday season looks different for many of us this year, but hopefully next year the pandemic will be long gone and we can get back to old traditions. Or, just maybe, we will invent some new traditions to add to our old ones.

Whatever your holiday season looks like, I wish you health and peace. Stay safe out there…

Buon appetito, y’all!

Ways to Travel in the Midst of a Pandemic

Fall has arrived. With it, my sense of wanderlust has strengthened. My husband and I typically travel this time of year, and much of our travel involves Italy. Italy is never a bad idea, but Italy in the fall is an especially grand idea. We have family there, and over the years it has become more or less a tradition to visit in September or October. There are fewer crowds than summer, and the weather switches from hot to mild. And if you have never driven the Dolomites as the leaves are turning, you are missing out on one of nature’s most spectacular color shows I’ve ever witnessed. I felt like I was traveling through one of the world’s most exquisite paintings.  Breathtaking!

Italy is never a bad idea, but Italy in the fall is an especially grand idea.

Alas, there will be no autumn excursions to Italy this year. No fun European adventures lie in store for us in the foreseeable future. Dreams of any other faraway countries are also off the table at the moment. This pesky pandemic has created all sorts of havoc in the world. I feel certain my travel days have not ended, but they have been temporarily curbed. But only temporarily so!

For now I must invoke my sense of creativity for any international travel I plan to take. No, I still cannot leave the country at the moment. But ever the rebel, I have decided to travel anyway. I plan to do it through food. Yes, you heard me. While apparating “Harry Potter style” may not yet be a thing, traveling via my taste buds is. As such, I will be choosing meals in the coming days and weeks based on places I have either traveled or wish to travel. I am meal-planning at the moment, so stay tuned for “Cindy’s European Vacation!!”

No, I still cannot leave the country at the moment. But ever the rebel, I have decided to travel anyway. I plan to do it through food.

In the meantime, we did manage a bit of a getaway a couple of weeks ago. We drove to Yellowstone. We arrived as the first snowfall hit.

It. Was. Magical!

We had visited one other time, in the summer of 2002. It was quite crowded then, and with two young boys added to the mix, we did not see as much as we had hoped. For this visit, the combination of it being post-Labor Day and the fresh snow meant minimal crowds. No bumper-to-bumper cars and trailers and campers. I highly recommend! We brought much of our food with us (I pre-packaged our breakfasts and made up sandwiches for the week in advance…plus brought along fresh fruit and other healthy snacks), and we ended up ordering take out only twice for dinner. We spent our days driving the park in search of wildlife and visiting geysers and hiking. Wifi connection was minimal at best, and all of this added up to one economical yet relaxing getaway.

Here are a few of my favorite shots:

First morning into the park from West Yellowstone Entrance
Artist Point
Final morning in Yellowstone, Swan Lake Flats

Hope you all have found creative ways to get through life these days. I will be sharing my outside-the-box travel adventures in the coming weeks, and I would love for you to travel along with me!

Buon appetito, y’all!

Socializing in Times of Social Distancing

Zoom is the New Way to do Social

In mere weeks the way we have gone about our daily living has changed worldwide. Everything from how we grocery shop to how we visit friends and family is different. Social distancing is a “thing” now. Being able to socialize requires us to now think outside the box and come up with innovative twists to stay connected. Online video meeting apps have become essential to how we interact, from business to school and even happy hours.

This past weekend we visited with our sons online via Zoom, my video app of choice. It began as a happy hour to check in with everyone, but by the end we were all eating dinner together. It was so much fun catching up!! We visited online for about two hours, and it felt as if we were in the same room with each other. Almost.

This got me to thinking about other ways to connect via social media. Most weekends we get together with our neighbors for either happy hour or dinner or some other fun outing. Obviously, limits are now in place as to how many can gather in one place, and really, if we are able to gather at all (we cannot here). I decided to send out a group text to everyone and invite them to dinner…virtually.

The text invite read: “We are hosting dinner tomorrow at our place…and yours 😉 We’ll dine via Zoom, and I’ve got a special table big enough for ALL of us. Bring yourselves, your families, your meal (BYOD!!), wine (duh!), and your sparkling personalities!! Who’s in? ”

Most everyone was able to join us, and we met online at 6:30pm the next night. Because I was the host, I set our table and had dinner ready early so I could be available should any questions arise regarding the connection process. I loved that I only needed to clean the part of my house that appeared on video. No one needed to see my messy kitchen or dusty furniture. LOL

I served my homemade ricotta as an appetizer (see this post for more information), a tossed salad, and spaghetti with meatballs & Italian sausage for the main course. And since this was a dinner party, we served one of our favorite Italian bottles of wine with our meal.

Dessert was dark chocolate BarkThins, my latest culinary obsession!! I’m addicted!!


After eating we played “Psych,” a phone app that allowed us to play together even though we were in different houses. Please note the scores. Also, note that my name in Italian is Cinzia…;-)

Cinzia is my name in Italian. You might take note of the score..#NotCompetitive

ZOOM Tips for Social Meetings

As you might imagine, an online video meeting can be challenging, especially if you have a lot of people. I’ve been in other online groups that have been super loud. When too many people try to speak at once some voices get cut out and others don’t have a chance to be heard. Here are some of my suggestions for hosting a successful Zoom dinner party:

  1. Send out the link ahead of time and have everyone sign up early if they don’t already have the app. Obviously, you’ll need your own account to host. Zoom offers a free version; however, if you have 3 or more in your meeting you are limited to a 40 minute session. Your choices are to re-sign in after 40 minutes, use a different video medium (ie Skype or FaceTime), or consider getting the Pro version of Zoom. They currently offer this at $149/year, though I hear there is discount of half off right now. I had the Pro version already, so we used that for our dinner night. I am not familiar with Skype or other video options, so my focus here will be on Zoom.
  2. Send out a reminder the day before your dinner, and again a few hours beforehand.
  3. Set up in an area you are okay to have seen. As I mentioned above, one advantage of an online meeting is you only need to clean the space that is on camera. 😉
  4. If you are the host, plan to sign in a few minutes early. Be ready to assist anyone having difficulties, and also to make sure you are not having any connection issues yourself.
  5. Once the dinner has begun, use gallery view so you can see everyone present at once. In gallery view you can see up to 49 people depending on your particular computer screen. *For this reason, if there are more than 4 in your group it’s better to use a computer rather than join via phones. ‘With Zoom you cannot see more than 4 screens at a time.
  6. Microphones. As I mentioned above, it can be tricky to have so many people on at once. We did not have an issue for this gathering, and there were 8-10 of us over the course of the call. Having said that, I have been in other video meetings where speaking was difficult. A couple of my recent online classes requested mics to be muted except when comments were made or questions asked. I’m not sure how well this would work in a social video meeting and don’t really have any suggestions on how to solve this. One tip I’ve seen is to wear ear buds or good headphones because that helps with the echoing effect. I have not yet tried that.

Social Connection Tips from YOU!

This was a wonderful experiment, and I look forward to many more opportunities to gather with friends and family via social media. As of this time we are planning a birthday dinner next week with one of my sons.

I’m rather new to the hosting side of Zoom. Anyone out there with other solutions and ideas, not only with Zoom but with your own innovative ideas, please post in the comments. I’d love to hear how you are staying connected.

Until next time, I wish you health and connection with others (from a safe distance!). Bon appetit, y’all!