Archive for December, 2010

Perfect Christmas Coffee Cake

Before I set out for the holidays and into the New Year on a short trip to see extended family and dear friends in Pennsylvania, I thought I would stop by with one more project in the Christmas Baking Extravaganza. It simply wouldn’t be a proper Christmas in my heart or belly without a small taste of this delicious, moist, sweet, and comforting loaf.

I am not sure the first time this treat made an appearance on our Christmas morning table but it has been long enough that I don’t have an adult memory without its sweet, soft, sour creamy presence in my mind. Our kitchen wasn’t a Christmas kitchen without cookies strewn across the table and counters being frosted – angels, trees, hearts, stars, and dreidels delicately painted in hues of yellow, blue, red, green, purple, and in many cases an abstract combination. The refrigerator was always overflowing with chocolate mousse. And there was always sour cream to make coffee cake.

Christmas may be many things to many people and it may change as we grow up and as our lives change – it was a miracle to me as a child, waking up to gifts from a mysterious and magical Saint Nicholas; it was a way to reconnect as a young adult; it was a sad reminder last year of all of the things it no longer could be. This year it is the realization that it could change a million different ways through the rest of my life. As I sat with Bari, Matthew, and precious and precocious Asher and trimmed their tree, I saw the way Christmas could appear a miracle in the eyes of a child again. I am looking forward this year to a Christmas morning with four young ones and sharing this Christmas Coffee Cake with them.

While I am reminded yet again that I may not be able to plan for an unforeseen future, holiday traditions and expectations are as elusive as the steam rising off of a cup of tea or the tree that is carefully and consciously decorated only to be dismantled, and hopefully responsibly recycled a week later. But I do know Christmas music always has an unknown way of lifting my spirits and in a small way reminds me of the surreal wonder of the season. As ephemeral as the holiday tree and the season may be, it still has a way to fill my eyes and heart with optimistic hope and serves as a reminder of the return of light. And no matter what tradition I may practice or where I will be year to year, I will not forget these things and I will always make this perfectly suited cake and remember all of the people I have spent this holiday with throughout my life.

Happy Holidays and peaceful baking into the New Year,



~ From our family’s well used Betty Crocker’s Cookbook © 1976


¾ cup butter or margarine, softened

1 ¼ cups sugar

3 eggs

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla

3 cups all purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

¼ teaspoons salt

1 ¾ cups sour cream

Filling: Mix ½ cup brown sugar (packed); ½ cup finely chopped nuts (our family eliminated this as my sister is allergic to nuts), and 2 teaspoons cinnamon.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease tube pan, 10×4 inches, or 2 loaf pans, 9x5x3 inches.

Combine butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla in large mixer bowl. Beat on medium speed 2 minutes or 300 vigorous strokes by hand.

In separate bowl mix together dry ingredients flour through salt.

Mix dry ingredients into butter/sugar/egg alternately with sour cream. (I do this in 3 stages – add 1 cup flour mix and then add ½ cup of sour cream mix, 1 cup flour mix, ½ cup of sour cream mix, final part cup of flour mix, and then last ½ cup of sour cream mix. This keeps the cake smooth and ohhh sooo soft!)

If using tube pan spread 1/3 of batter in the pan and sprinkle with 1/3 of filling; repeat 2 times. If using loaf pans spread 1/4 of the batter in each pan and sprinkle with ¼ of filling, repeat once so each loaf is two layers of batter and two layers of filling.

Bake about 60 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool slightly in pan(s) before removing.

Serves 14 – 16

PS – A very special thank you to Jessica who came by today to help me bake these cakes and took a few of the lovely photos you are seeing including (Picture 1, 7, and 8).

And to nugget a warm and endless thank you for everything!


12 2010

The Giving List

The air is crisp (ok, some days it is bitingly cold), and a few brief and magical snow flurries have foretold a hopefully white Christmas. There are fragrant fresh green trees and wreaths being sold on street corners all around New York City. Most certainly the holiday season is with us. Cookies are baking, cards being sent, gifts being wrapped and that is where this post is meant to begin.

Tis the season for, among many things, the ritual of gifts both of the receiving and giving kind.  As we gather for the eight nights of Chanukah (although this year along with the Kartowski family we started the a new ritual of the Ninth Night Celebration), or around carefully decorated trees on Christmas mornings, gifts and the idea and act of exchanging small beautifully wrapped tokens of love, appreciation, and kindness abound. And so this seemed a wonderful time to share my list, not for what I hope to receive or plan to give, but a different sort of favorite things list, my favorite charities and places to give that give back and continue the cycle.

This is my short list but a list very close to my heart.

MARTIN DE PORRES HOUSE OF HOSPITALITY: This one is probably closest to my heart. It is both the soup kitchen where my parents met over chopping onions and where they dedicated their lives. I was raised in the shadow of these soup pots and surrounded by this community my entire life. I have looked for much of my adult life for another place as special as this and have yet to find one, let me just say this both the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa were impressed.

“Martin’s, as it is affectionately known, is a free restaurant, serving breakfast and lunch during the week and brunch on Sundays. Our mission is to serve in the spirit of compassion, understanding and love.”

Note: Quote taken from Martin de Porres Website. See link for more information.

SEACOLOGY: This is perhaps one of the most brilliant organizations/ideas I have come across. It combines two seemingly insurmountable problems and finds a solution in an ingenious way that serves us all.

“Seacology is the world’s premier nonprofit environmental organization with the sole purpose of preserving the highly endangered biodiversity of islands throughout the world.

Indigenous people are all too often faced with the dilemma of choosing between protecting their precious natural resources, and economic development. Seacology searches for win-win situations where both the local environment is protected and islanders receive some tangible benefit for doing so. In Falealupo, Samoa, Seacology built a critically needed school in exchange for the establishment of a 30,000-acre forest reserve.”

Note: Quote taken from Seacology Website. See link for more information.

How brilliant is that!!!

ARS NOVA: How much can I say about this uber cool place for young emerging art and artists. In a creative world that is overrun with revivals, remountings, reimagined productions, what is to come of new art and the luminous minds that create the work of tomorrow and years to come? Ars Nova is dedicated to these creative souls and is giving a home to some of the most extraordinary new generation of artists and their work. I worked here for years and my heart has always remained creatively on 10th Ave and 54th Street.

“Ars Nova is committed to developing and producing theater, comedy and music artists in the early stages of their professional career.  Our unique development programs are designed to support outside-the-box thinking and encourage innovative, genre-bending work.  By providing a safe environment where risk-taking and collaboration are paramount, Ars Nova gives voice to a new generation of artists and audiences, pushing the boundaries of live entertainment by nurturing creative ideas into smart, surprising new work.”

Note: Quote taken from Ars Nova Website. See link for more information.

ASTEP – ARTISTS STRIVING TO END POVERTY: I worked with Mary-Mitchell Cambell on a few shows in New York, I remember when she went to India and I was filled with such admiration for her then. Now as this organization continues to grow and the programs reach across the globe and back, I cannot say how much I am in awe and inspired by this organization and Mary-Mitchell Cambell’s work.

“Artists Striving To End Poverty (ASTEP) uses the arts as a tool to empower young people with creativity, knowledge, and a strong sense of self-esteem, factors which help them advance their lives and communities. At ASTEP, we provide artists with opportunities to connect with global youths, allowing them to use their gifts to create meaningful and effective change for young people in need.”

Note: Quote taken from ASTEP Website. See link for more information.

DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS: “Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international medical humanitarian organization created by doctors and journalists in France in 1971.

Today, MSF provides aid in nearly 60 countries to people whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe, primarily due to armed conflict, epidemics, malnutrition, exclusion from health care, or natural disasters. MSF provides independent, impartial assistance to those most in need. MSF reserves the right to speak out to bring attention to neglected crises, to challenge inadequacies or abuse of the aid system, and to advocate for improved medical treatments and protocols.

In 1999, MSF received the Nobel Peace Prize.”

Note: Quote taken from Doctor’s Without Borders Website. See link for more information.

GIRL EFFECT: “The Girl Effect explores the unique potential of 600 million adolescent girls and how they can put an end to poverty for themselves and the world.”

They create some of the greatest and invigorating videos. Get involved and see how the smallest change can have unimaginable impact.

Note: Quote taken from Girl Effect Website. See link for more information.

I hope you saw one or more of your favorite charities on this list, and I hope this inspires you to give just a little more on this holiday season, remember tis also the season of end of the year tax write offs (and that is the gift that keeps giving, and giving, and giving just a bit more).

Also, because I was raised by a family that dedicated their lives to non-profits and to a free soup kitchen, just remember if you are gifted out at this time of year, these lovely organizations need your help year round and not just in the months from November to January. So if it’s a birthday, a thoughtful way to say I am thinking of you, ground hog day makes a great excuse to find a charity that means something to you and find the true joy of the gift that gives boundlessly.

Cheers of the season and love and light to your lives,



12 2010

The Baking Goes On

This past weekend I posted two recipes for cookies my mother and grandmother loved and taught me to love and bake by their sides.

Well the baking goes on….and not by me. It seems that a few pictures of my Meshuga Mama’s Rugelach has sparked a desire for these small, neat, parcels of comfort and joy to find their way into other kitchens from one coast to another. In fact they found their way into my good friends Anne and Jessica’s kitchen.

Yesterday I was minding my own business going about work, trying to figure out how one gets a visa to go by land border from Vietnam into Laos without having to pay a second Visa for Vietnam or submit my passport via mail to an embassy in DC, when I got a little picture from Anne that said she was baking Rugelach and thinking fondly of her friend Madame Boodie (how my mother referred to herself not me).  Anne’s cookies looked oh so delicious and it made my heart brim knowing we both loved and missed this person and could feel just the slightest bit closer to her infectious presence by mixing, rolling, and tasting her beloved Rugelach recipe.

A few hours later as I sat and worked after meetings and work calls Jessica sent a message saying she had been provoked to try these delightful delicacies herself. Now Jessica while one of the most wonderful, giving, adventurous people I know has to her own description never been a baker – she said she once burned water. While she has become a remarkable cook in the past year she has always admonished that she was not a baker. When she saw this recipe she said to herself “I have most of these ingredients here in the house and this doesn’t sound too complex and Mike and I LOVE Rugelach, I am going to give it a try”. Her attempt…WONDERFUL and delicious, a baker she is!!

From the golden hills of Salinas to 8th Avenue in New York, everyone is rolling out the dough and sprinkling the sugar, spreading the jam, and making their homes smell like a beautiful baked good smell of butter and sugar.

It couldn’t mean more to me that this recipe has struck a chord. There is something in knowing the person you love and miss is being loved, missed, and more important, remembered and in a small bite size way immortalized in their cookie recipe. My hats and oven mitts are off to you. And from the bottom of my heart I love and appreciate that you are at your ovens and honoring and remembering Meshuga in every way that she is remembered.

Moved beyond belief and eating more cookies,


Photo Credits:

Photo 1: Anne’s Cookies by Anne Hietbrink

Photo 2: Jessica’s Cookies by Jessica

Photo 3: Candid shot of friends Boo & Anne at the beach in Pacific Grove CA 2008 by Ra


12 2010

Remembering two women I love and miss in their favorite cookie recipes – Part II Grandma Biniek’s Snickerdoodle Recipe:

My grandmother Lois Biniek died a brief 5 months before my mother. They were two distinctly different women who have both inspired me in life and have shown me the greatest role models as woman, mothers, matriarchs, strong and yet compassionate, and ever evolving they are somehow perfect compliments and contrasts to each other. At times it seems strange to think of both of these losses so close together but at most points it seems perfectly fitting. My mother and grandmother while different in so many ways both held certain core truths and ideals so firmly – they were both unbelievably caring, thoughtful, deeply spiritual woman. My mother learned to count on my grandmother’s almost instantaneous thank you cards, her condolence cards would arrive before any other, and her notes of encouragement and hand made towels were (and remain) a cornerstone in our homes.

While my childhood in San Francisco may have been anything but conventional and predictable, weekends with my Grandparents were the very fabric of stability, reliability, and normalcy. On the forty-five minute drive from San Francisco to Napa I watched the golden hills be over taken with vineyards through the years, I saw once farmland turn into sprawling home developments. But when we exit the freeway and snake the familiar side streets to the drive my Grandparents lived on I still see what I did decades ago. Their house has always been pink with a green lawn. There was always candy in the bowl on the hutch by the front door.  We went for walks to the nearby playground and would asses the Napa River in its evolving stages of flood and drought. When other cousins where in town we would ride plastic big wheels up and down the street and around the block aiming for the irragular sidewalks and the jumps in gravity they would provide us with. There has always been a small porcelain Christmas tree with marble ornaments that lit up and served as a night light for sleep overs.

Grandma would make dishes we never ate at home – Pot Roasts and mashed potatoes made from snowy flakes that fell from a box. We ate around the kitchen table that would be set with place mats from the various destinations my grandparents had traveled together. I liked to set the table placing each plastic covered card and then tracing the picture with my finger – Lake Tahoe, Hawaii, Minnesota, Boston, Panama, San Francisco. I dreamed of these places as my finger followed the pictures around the country and world. After dinner we had dessert and the one that always makes me think the most of my grandmother in her kitchen proudly dressed in her apron with each grandchild’s name stitched into an apple, were her snickerdoodle/sugar cookies.

This past summer on a visit with my grandfather to this same pink house I asked if he still had Grandma’s recipes. He pulled the cards out and I looked first for her cookie recipe, although now that I think of it I should have copied more recipes down while I was there, and while my dad and his father talked ideally in the kitchen I copied my grandmothers handwritten recipe below.

Grandma Biniek’s Sugar Cookies (Snikerdoodles):

2 cups of sugar

3 eggs

1 cup shortening (I use butter for this)

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 ½ cups flour

½ teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of baking soda

1 teaspoon cream of tartar (I used arrowroot for this and it worked just fine)

3 tablespoons of sugar (reserved to roll cookies in)

1 tablespoon of cinnamon (reserved to roll cookies in)

In a large bowel cream together butter and sugar until fluffy and then add eggs one at a time and vanilla.

Sift together dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients to butter, sugar, egg mixture.

Chill Dough at least one hour or up to over night.

Combine reserved sugar and cinnamon.

Form golf ball size portions of dough and roll in cinnamon sugar mixture.

Place on a prepared cookie sheet 2 inches apart.

Bake in a preheated oven at 350-degree for 8 – 12 min

After making both sets of cookies this weekend I made two small care packages – one for my grandfather in Napa and the other for my Sister in Portland to share some of the baked memories from these two remarkable woman we so love and miss.

In loving memory and endless admiration for Lois Biniek and her many expressions of love in all of the lives around her.




12 2010

Remembering two women I love and miss in their favorite cookie recipes – Part I My Meshuga Mama’s Rugelach Recipe:

As we celebrate Chanukah these past few days and move into the holiday season with all of the different ways to celebrate the return of light, for me there is no better place than at the oven baking and thinking of two inspirational women from my life. Following today and tomorrow will be two recipes that make me think of these ladies as their spirits are forever in my mind and I can feel them ever closer with me in the kitchen.

My mother was an amazing cook and an even greater baker. Her forte beyond her highly praised chocolate mousse recipe was her cookie recipes. I loved the chocolate chip cookies she made almost weekly for my stepfather, but the cookies that most remind me of my mother is her Rugelach. A few years ago I asked her to share her Rugeach recipe and below are directly our e-mail correspondence regarding said piece of family heritage

Meshuga Mama’s Rugelach Recipe:

1/2 pound unsalted butter

8 ounces of cream cheese

2 cups flour

3 heaping tablespoons white sugar

optional fillings: (preserves – apricot or raspberry, chocolate chips, sugar/raisins/nuts, or any combo of the above)

cream together butter, cream cheese and sugar

add flour and mix to form a smooth dough.

wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until fairly firm at least an hour

divide ball into 2

roll out dough on a lightly floured board

to make a circle about 1/16th inch thick

now some people put the stuff on top and then cut it into16

pieces, some cut it in 16 pieces and then put stuff on top.

you can put a thin layer of jam tiny chocolate chips, finely chopped nuts and raisins and cinnamon and sugar, or use different combos. be careful not to overfill or it will make a mess. (Ra’s note – I am still working on this and it is true, I highly recommend baking these on parchment paper to catch the mess.)

starting at the wide end roll up, place on ungreased cookie sheet

sprinkle with a little sugar and cinnamon

bake at 350 until they smell done

straight from yur meshuga mama……..

My reply to Meshuga Mama: “Ummm how long is until they smell done?”

Mama Reply: “You know Ra until the house smells like a beautiful baked good smell of butter and sugar.  for 20 or 5 minutes or golden.”

Thanks Mama. I think of you allways, especially when my house smells nice filed with baked goods and the scent of butter and sugar.

Your Meshuga,

Ramona Sky


12 2010

A week in Phoenix as seen in 6 hours

It has been a long time since I have stopped by My Purple Sky but it hasn’t been for lack of stories, in fact life and work have kept me busy and on the move collecting more adventures.

Still full and a little sleepy from my Thanksgiving feast I jetted off immediately to Phoenix for a week of work at the Biltmore Hotel. Miraculously for an on site work week I had more than just one night off for dinner outside the make shift office, I had an entire few hours to explore and see one of the sites of the city.

It has always been a joke between my sister and I, that I have traveled to upwards of twenty countries and a good part of the North East including entire summers in the Berkshires and Westport Connecticut. Yet with all of that far flung travel I have seen little of the United States, that is except for when I drove coast to coast in 5 days with my godmother Annie and her partner Mary; but other than Cheyenne WY by dawn, and Salt Lake City by noon and Iowa City by night fall, we did not see much of the country other than the breathtaking and expansive scenery off of I-80. With all of this travel I have neglected the part of the country my sister has spent the better part of her youth visiting once a year – the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico. Since my sister could first make comparisons about our two travel lives she has always said “but you haven’t seen Arizona…I can’t believe you have been to Bali but you have never seen Arizona…” Well I may not have seen much on my six days on site but I can now say to my little nugget “I have seen the sunrise in Arizona. I have seen the mountains envelope and surround the city of Phoenix and the rosy light of dusk, I can now imagine the rocks in silhouette against brilliant midnight skies with stars of vibrant light and the glowing silver sliver of a phosphorescent moon, I know the feel of the desert cool winter air with a cactus in bloom.” Next time nugget I hope to see more and maybe even see more of it with you – a road trip, and some good chuckles among sisters.

With the few hours I had off I went straight for the HEARD MUSEUM, Carol Sue had recommended I check it out and I am so glad I did. The HEARD MUSEUM is dedicated to the art and culture of Native Americans and specifically the original culture of New Mexico and Arizona. I was taken away by the art especially the modern art and by the artwork by school children of the Hopi and Navajo. I was horrified and humbled to learn a part of the American History too often neglected and am ashamed to say I was ignorant to, and that is the boarding school experience of Native Americans up to and through this past century. I felt closer to my Swim teacher from summer camp who worked much of her dedicated life with the Diné people of Big Mountain and their struggle to keep their land. Big R this one is for you.

Intertribal Greeting, 2003 – by Doug Hyde

Waiting for the Bus (Anadarko Princess), 1977 – T.C (Tommy Wayne) Cannon

For our dinner out of the office Bari accomplished checking off one of those important Life List moments, with myself and two other friends we journeyed to Pizzeria Bianco. Well worth the life list placement we started with a tickle of the palette and some salads, only to feel better about  the real reason for the visit and that is some of the BEST pizza in the United States. We savored four pizzas – a classic Margherita, the Biancoverde a sumptuous white pie with arugula, and my favorite the Rosa (this is a specialty to Pizzeria Bianco) with red onion, Parmigiano Reggiano, rosemary, and pistachios (ahhhh the unexpected splendor of it).

Before heading out after our last day of work we had one final meal worth noting for anyone making a quick trip or a long stay to Phoenix, and that was at True Food Kitchen. I couldn’t have found a better way to end a week of non stop work than this meal, True Food Kitchen is based on the principle of simple, sustainable, “true food”. They work to be as organic, as local, as seasonal as possible – could I love anything more…I don’t think so. We had a hamachi appetizer that was so good we ordered a second before finishing our fist, I had a salad (look for a future post I have already been trying out variations in my kitchen) with greens, farro, Manchego cheese, and other seasonal delectables.

It may have been brief, and packed with long work hours, but it accomplished a few exciting things Pizzeria Bianco off of Bari’s life list (it was an honor to be a part of this) and my sister can no longer say – “you’ve been to Panama twice but haven’t been to Arizona”. Ok so now she has started with “Your going to Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam and you still haven’t been to New Mexico…”. I am holding that one for you nugget – you me a convertible car (or a Matrix) and a few great restaurants. We could even aim for the Grand Canyon, I so want to hike that!!

Love from the road and home again,



12 2010