Eating like a yooper


Trying something different in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Part of the fun in traveling is not just seeing the worthwhile sights but also partaking  tasty regional food as well. It’s all about experiencing something different.

If you ever venture to our neck of the woods, I’d suggest you try pierogies, a kind of unleavened dough dumpling stuffed with savory fillings like potato, cheese, or sauerkraut.

Pierogie dough is rolled out, cut in circles, filled, and then folded over in half with the ends pinched together to seal them. They are boiled in water until they float and served in melted butter with sautéed onions and/or bacon.

Or I might steer you toward a Primanti Brothers sandwich consisting of your choice of grilled meat, melted cheese, coleslaw, tomato slices, and French fries all piled up between two very thick slices of Italian bread.   Yum, yum.

Click here for a photo and to read more about this one of a kind, ‘almost famous’ sandwich. 

When Papa and I traveled to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan last month, I wanted to try something the local Yoopers (for those of us who aren’t familiar with that term, it’s what those who live in the Upper Pennisula call themselves) eat – pasties.

Pasties are pronounced PAST-tees – that is past as in not the future but the past and tees as in tee-shirts. Fortunately, the clerk at our hotel informed us about how to correctly order these goodies because mispronouncing them could cause some embarrassment when you inadvertently order paste-tees if you get my drift.

So while Papa enjoyed his fish dishes, Mama tried a pasty. Our Australian friends told us about meat pasties, although the U.P. Michigan version might not be the same, but I had never actually eaten one before.

I was so excited to dig into it that I actually took a bite before I snapped the photo above.

For those of you who haven’t heard of a pasty, it’s basically a meat pie but entirely different from anything I’ve eaten before.

It’s like a turnover with a crunchy on the outside, moist on the inside crust, filled with small chunks of ground meat (mine was beef, but not hamburger), cubed potatoes, cubed carrots, and finely chopped onions. My pasty also was served with beef gravy over it and a side of cole slaw.

I’ve gleaned the internet for meat pasty recipes and several of them used lard for the dough. That’s probably what made the crust taste so good. Some of the recipes also used rutabagas in addition to the potatoes and carrots.

Since I relished my pasty in a small but quaint café on Mackinac Island, I can’t be sure what the recipe was but I can tell you this — that pasty was filling and delicious!

“Food is not just eating energy. It’s an experience.” ~ Guy Fieri



Bird feeder thoughts


A bit fuzzy because photo was taken through a window screen.

I’m not much of a cook. Oh, I can prepare an edible meal well enough. But cooking just doesn’t stir up happiness in my pot of life.

In other words, I just do not enjoy cooking. And probably because I don’t like to cook, I’m not a very creative cook either. Because I don’t enjoy spending time in the kitchen preparing food and delivering a meal to the dinner table, I do what I call “assembling” a meal.  The simpler, the better.

Since I’m not a “foodie,” I also really don’t care much about the meals I eat. Just so they’re for the most part healthy and edible is enough for me. Some folks live to eat; I eat to live.

And that about sums it up.

Last weekend, Papa and I attended one of those home expo shows in our area. We weren’t in the market for home remodeling, or new windows, siding, water proofing, gutters, or much of all the other services displayed at the show booths.

Mostly, we attended for an afternoon out and to see a model train display that was also set up and running in the venue where the home show was located.

While strolling through the displays, we did stop briefly at a booth giving information on a meal home delivery service that is advertised often. I had heard of this particular company but didn’t know much about it. So I politely listened to the salesperson’s spiel about the freshness of the meal kits “Delivered right to your door!” for a fee.

I can understand why some folks would be attracted to such a service, but neither Papa nor I are interested in the idea, the money it would cost, and the fact that some of the meal selections just didn’t look that tasty to us.

So when the salesperson tried to pressure us into signing up for an “introductory” subscription and asking us what would keep us from using the service, we thanked him for his time and declared, “No, thank you” and moved on.

The experience came back to my mind yesterday morning while I sat at our kitchen table eating my breakfast, which of course, didn’t come in a kit and I had to prepare it for myself. While I ate and thought, I also observed birds eating their breakfast too.

We’ve had a small bird feeder suspended from a tree close to our back yard deck for many years now, but I can’t see it from our kitchen windows very well. Likewise, a suet holder hangs from a front yard tree and because of its location, I don’t always observe my fine-feathered friends there either.

So a couple of months ago, we purchased a larger, wooden bird feeder and a hanger that attaches to our deck railing. Thus, the new bird seed holder is in full view from the windows in our kitchen eat-in nook and enables us to watch birds come and go while we eat our meals.

Yesterday, while munching away on my breakfast and sipping my cup of hot tea, I observed a variety of birds visit the feeder for their treats.

Mr. Red, a brightly colored Cardinal gobbled up some seeds.  Goldie, a gorgeous yellow American Goldfinch also grabbed a quick meal. Little wrens, sparrows, and chickadees stopped by the diner too until they were chased away by a bigger fellow, Brawny, a Brown-headed Cowbird.

As I watched them all enjoy their free meals provided by Papa and me, I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be nice to not worry about making meals, buying groceries, and spending money on food, but just get a free meal made and provided for you like these birds do?”

Just flit by the nearest feeding station and fill up your tummy. No muss, no fuss. No worries.

And just then this passage from God’s Word came to my mind: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” ~ Matthew 6:25-27

I then thought how foolish I am. Even though grocery shopping, preparing food, and cooking is a chore for me, God does provide all that I need. He gives me my daily bread. Instead of complaining about cooking and preparing meals to eat, I just need to express my thankfulness for God’s provisions.

My feathered friends outside my kitchen window reminded me of that.

 “I don’t feed the birds because they need me; I feed the birds because I need them.” ~ Kathi Hutton




photo of pumpkins

Photo by Pixabay on

Tradition. To some folks, it just wouldn’t seem like Thanksgiving if certain traditions weren’t followed.

And that pertains to the food served on the day we set aside for thanks as well. In addition to the huge Tom Turkey that is the centerpiece of a Thanksgiving feast, many families serve other traditional food too.  Green bean casserole? Tradition. Pumpkin pie? Tradition. Cranberry sauce? Tradition.

When I was growing up, we celebrated Thanksgiving at one of two places – either at my parents’ home or at my aunt and uncle’s.  Tradition.

When we celebrated the holiday at my aunt and uncle’s home, just my parents and I joined them because my older sisters were already married and feasting with their in-laws. 

My mother would help out in my aunt’s kitchen where a table elongated enough to accommodate us all would take up most of the room. Dad and Uncle would sit in the front room and discuss whatever came to mind. Sometimes politics was involved because my uncle had pretty strong opinions about such things. Most likely, rather than argue, my dad would just sit and listen.

That left my cousin, who was seven years older than me, to keep me entertained while we waited for the Thanksgiving meal to be ready. We always sat in the TV room and watched the Thanksgiving Day parades on television.  Another tradition.

When my family celebrated the holiday at my parents’ home, again there were traditions that were followed. One of those was the fruit salad, called 24-Hour Salad, that my mother made and served at the Thanksgiving table. Every year. Without fail. Tradition.

I was the only one in my family who didn’t like that salad because of the vinegary taste of the homemade mayonnaise dressing. So when I began preparing our own Thanksgiving feasts after Papa and I married, 24-Hour Salad was not a tradition.

But eventually, we started our own. In addition to pumpkin pie, I make pumpkin bread. Instead of stuffing the turkey, I prepare stuffing balls that are baked in the oven. And in lieu of 24-Hour Salad, I serve another kind of fruit salad with an unusual name – Frog Eye Salad. I assure you it is tasty and I also assure you that there are no real frog eyes in this fruity salad.

Tradition. Every year.

I acquired the recipe many years ago in the Midwest when I attended a ladies retreat with a friend from church.  In a lovely retreat center, we were treated to delicious homemade meals prepared by Mennonite cooks.  They so graciously shared the recipe with those of us who thought the fruit salad – the Frog Eye Salad – was delightfully yummy.

And that’s how our own family tradition began.  I started preparing this salad for holiday dinners, especially at Thanksgiving and Easter. Our children were eager to always see a big bowl of it on the table and it became a family favorite.

When we gather for a holiday meal, the most frequently asked question when it comes to Thanksgiving Dinner is “Are we going to have Frog-Eye Salad?” We’ve even lured our son-in-law into this food tradition; he’s always happy when there is enough left-over salad so our daughter and he can take a container home.  

I’m not really much of a ‘foodie’ so I don’t even think I’ve ever shared a recipe here at Mama’s Empty Nest, so this is a first. But I’m willing to share this tradition with my readers in case you’re intrigued by the name of this fruit salad.



1 (8oz) package acine de pepe pasta

½ cup sugar

1 tablespoon flour

1 beaten egg

1 small can crushed pineapple, drained (reserve juice)

1 can pineapple tidbits, drained (reserve juice)

¾ cup pineapple juice from drained pineapple

3 small cans mandarin oranges

1 carton Cool Whip

1 cup mini marshmallows

Directions:  Cook acine de pepe pasta 8-10 minutes. Drain well, place in large serving bowl, and allow to cool. Boil sugar, flour, egg and the 3/4 cup reserved pineapple juice in a small saucepan until thickened, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and cool. Pour cooled, cooked pineapple mixture over acine de pepe. Stir to cover pasta with mixture. Cover and let chill overnight in refrigerator. The next morning, add crushed, drained pineapple, drained pineapple tidbits, drained mandarin oranges, mini marshmallows, and Cool Whip. Stir gently to mix completely. Chill again prior to serving.

Traditions. On this 15th day of my 30 Days of Thanks Giving, I am grateful for traditions that link us to one another. Traditions that link us to the past. Traditions we can carry into the future.

And I’m joining my family in being thankful for Frog Eye Salad.

“It is literally true, as the thankless say, that they have nothing to be thankful for. He who sits by the fire, thankless for the fire, is just as if he had no fire. Nothing is possessed save in appreciation, of which thankfulness is the indispensable ingredient. But a thankful heart hath a continual feast.” ~ W.J. Cameron


Here we go a-waffling

To Facebook or not to Facebook?  I waffle pexels-photo-221092.jpegback and forth on using that social networking media because at times I enjoy it and other times, I just can’t stand it.

But this morning when I opened up my Facebook account expecting to see the usual – status updates, pictures, postings of friends’ blogs –  this announcement jumped off my home page – It’s International Waffle Day!

Yes, today on Page 25, Chapter 3, in my book called Opportunity, it’s a day to celebrate waffles!

Apparently this holiday began in Sweden both as a celebration of the beginning of spring and also the Feast of the Annunciation, a Christian belief which falls on this day to commemorate when the archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary with the message that she had been chosen to bear the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

For some reason, the Swedes celebrate by making waffles and it has become a custom for every March 25.   So last night, there may have been countless people exclaiming like Donkey in Shrek: “And in the mornin’, I’m makin’ waffles!”

Our family loves waffles whether they are the fast-serving Eggo toaster waffles or the deliciously tasty homemade waffles my hubby makes when the kids come back to fill up the empty nest for a visit.  Waffles serve as one of our favorite breakfast foods, topped with maple syrup or fruit.

We don’t usually consider them dessert like some do with huge Belgian waffles topped with ice cream or fruit and whipped cream, but the idea does sound delectable.   When I think of a waffle dessert, I usually picture a waffle ice cream cone filled with chocolate chip mint ice cream…mmm, mmm, good.

So drag out that waffle iron, search out some delicious waffle recipes because today is a good day to enjoy some waffles.  And I’m not waffling!

As Professor G.H. Dorr said in the movie The Ladykillers to the waitress at Waffle House: “Madam, we must have waffles! We must all have waffles forthwith! We must all think, and we must all have waffles, and think each and every one of us to the very best of his ability…”

Okay, I’m off to convince hubby to make us waffles for dinner….either that, or I’m off to find an IHOP because today, I’ve got a hankering for waffles!


The good, the bad and the yummy

people-woman-coffee-meeting.jpgI thought perhaps opportunity really was knocking at my door today on Page 24, Chapter 3, in my book of Opportunity.

Turns out the opportunity I thought I might find didn’t materialize, but another one appeared in its place.

The long and short of it can be described in three ways:

  • The Good: I got to spend the entire day with three of my favorite co-workers at a job related meeting in the city.  It was fun traveling with them and we had a great idea for lunch at a restaurant two of us had never eaten at before.   There were some great snacks at the meeting including the roasted red pepper hummus with pita chips and fresh strawberries we brought.
  • The Bad:   For me, the meeting was a bust.  I thought I would learn something new and different there that I could use in my work, something to jazz things up a little or at least a new resource.  But no, that opportunity did not happen.  It was just business as usual, nothing to get excited about or even want to take home.    Plus sitting on a folding chair for a good three hours without a break made me squirm uncomfortably in my seat while my back let me know it was not a happy camper!
  • The Yummy:  Even though we saw the eatery we wanted to visit, and drove right past it, parking in that area of the city is at a premium.  We couldn’t find a place to park and ended up on a route taking us out of the city – the wrong way.  But we stopped at a familiar place that serves sandwiches famous to our city.  I don’t know if it was because it was so late in the afternoon and I was starving or whether the sandwich was just that good, but I ate the entire thing! Usually, I take half of it home to eat at a later time.

Two out of three.  Not bad.  The opportunity to spend the day with friends and a yummy lunch to boot – priceless.


So I’m an M & M

Every time I see a particular commercial on television I crack up.  Let’s just say this one speaks to me.  And what it tells me is I am a giant M & M.

I’m not sure which color I am; I’d like to be yellow because yellow makes me happy,  but I imagine sometimes I’m blue.  I don’t think I’m red because that is such a dominant in your face color and well….no, red doesn’t really suit me.  Green would be nice.  Makes me think of growing things.  So I’m a yellow or blue or green M & M (because I really am that indecisive sometimes!), probably with a pretzel inside.

You are what you eat, so the saying goes.  A friend of mine recently wrote in her blog ( that she needed to get into shape and not the “shape of a twisted glaze donut.”

I laugh because I can too easily picture myself as a donut too.  So you can see where I’m headed with this.  My eating habits leave a lot to be desired and need to be healthier.

Awhile back, I cleaned out the drawers in my kitchen desk and I found a copy of a local chiropractor’s newsletter that struck a chord with me.  He referenced something called the “Doctrine of Signatures.”   In short, thousands of years ago when people suffered from ailments, they experimented with plants to find cures.

According to some researchers, those who believed in God thought He provided visual clues in plants so that man could recognize which plants would benefit our health and how to utilize them.   Those “signatures” supposedly revealed what God’s purpose for a specific plant was.

Eventually, herbalists and some medical practitioners believed this idea propagated by long-ago civilizations could be applied in today’s world of medicine.  Apparently nutritional scientists confirm there is validity to the idea of a doctrine of signatures.   Some believe that every whole food displays a pattern that closely resembles human body organs or some physiological function of the body.  Hence, this pattern is a sign of that plant’s benefit to the partaker.

It’s actually kind of fascinating to read about some of these “signatures” in plants.  Let’s look at some veggies and fruits.

If you slice a carrot into a round cross-section, you will notice the slice resembles the human eye.  Look closely and you can see what looks like a pupil and an iris.  So when my mother used to say, “Eat your carrots, they’re good for your eyes,” she wasn’t just trying to stuff those orange vegetables down my throat.  Studies have demonstrated that carrots improve blood flow to our eyes and improve eye function.  Shows you that you should always listen to your mother!

Likewise, a cross section of a red tomato reveals it has four chambers, much like the human heart. Recent research says that eating tomatoes is beneficial for your heart and blood.  Tomatoes are not my favorite because of the gushy, seedy stuff in the middle; it’s a texture thing with me.  I do love tomato soup and anything with tomato sauce, but I guess I need to add gushy fresh tomatoes to my diet for good heart health.

Look at a stalk of celery, bok choy or rhubarb and you’ll notice that they all resemble bones.  Guess what they are good for?  You bet – strengthening our bones!  Supposedly, human bones are composed of 23% sodium and all three of these veggies have 23% sodium.  Evidently, when we don’t have adequate sodium in our diets, our bodies draw it from our bones weakening them.  So munching on a stalk of celery, even though it seems like diet food, will actually help replenish your skeleton!

This one sounds like a no-brainer.  Kidney beans so obviously look like…human kidneys.  These legumes are credited with healing and maintaining healthy kidney function.  Note to middle daughter:  stop picking the beans out of the chili!  Listen to your mother.

You know how onions make us weep like crazy when we chop them?  There’s a reason for that!  Examine an onion and you will notice it looks like cells in our bodies.  Research demonstrates that onions help to clear waste material from all of our body cells.  When they produce tears, this actually washes away epithelial layers in your eyes, which evidently is a good thing.  So cry away!

Last year, hubby grew some sweet potatoes in our garden and they were oh, so good.  Turns out this tuberous veggie, which looks like the human pancreas, is oh, so good for you, especially if you are diabetic.  Sweet taters balance your glycemic index.

Ladies, the following examples are just for us.  What do avocados and pears look like to you?  Our female reproductive organs, the uterus (womb) and cervix.  Both of these foods are noted to preserve health and function of these organs.  Research says eating one avocado per week will balance hormones, help shed unwanted weight after giving birth and can prevent cervical cancer.

Wow! I wish I had known how avocados balance hormones when I was a menopausal menace.  I would have forced myself to eat guacamole!  Another interesting fact about the avocado is that it takes exactly 9 months to grow an avocado from blossom to ripened fruit!

For further female reproductive health, eat olives as they promote health and function of the ovaries. Citrus fruits like grapefruits and oranges remind us of female mammary glands and are known for benefiting the health of the breasts and the movement of lymph in and out of the breasts.  So ladies, be sure to get your daily dose of citrus each day and munch on some olives too, but I wouldn’t recommend eating them together!

Men, I don’t know if this is true or not, but the research I read states that bananas, cucumbers and zucchinis “target the size and strength of the male sexual organ.”  Eating figs, which are full of seeds and hang in twos when they grow, is reported to increase male sperm motility, increase the numbers of sperm and overcome male sterility.  Um…guys…yeah…whatever.  Enough said!

The health of our hearts is a serious issue for both men and women. You may notice that a bunch of grapes hang in a cluster shaped like the heart and each grape resembles a blood cell.  Again research indicates that grapes are amazingly good food for the heart and blood.  Don’t believe it?  Watch what Alton Brown, from the TV show “Good Eats,” says on all those Welch’s grape juice commercials.

And lastly, if only the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz had eaten walnuts, he wouldn’t have been searching for a brain.  Crack open a walnut shell and you will notice the meat of the walnut looks exactly like a brain with both a left and right hemisphere and upper and lower cerebellums.  Wrinkles or fold that you see compares to the neo-cortex of the brain.   Research shows that if you want to be brainy, you need to be nutty because walnuts help develop many neuro-transmitters necessary for brain function.

So today on this fourth page, Chapter Three, in my book of Opportunity, I’ve just proved to myself and hopefully to you as well, that we really ARE what we eat.  You know what this means, don’t you?  Stop.  Step away from the M&Ms.  I don’t care if there are pretzels inside them or not!


There’s snow on the ground but the city has a fever!

blogSteeler cupcakesTwo days and counting until the madness culminates.  I suspect that our area did not get the massive snowstorm that crippled parts of the Midwest and Northeast because our city has a fever!

We’re  gearing up for the big event – the Super Bowl.   It doesn’t matter that most of Steeler Nation won’t actually attend the Super Bowl down there in Texas.

The feverish fans will celebrate right here in the Steel City.  Pittsburgh and surrounding areas are bedecked in two colors and two colors only  – black and gold.  The only colors that matter right now.  Even newborn babies in our hospitals are wrapped in terrible towels and donning black and gold knitted caps!

Terrible towels are ready to be swung in arcs so fierce, the towels may get tattered.  Refrigerators and pantries are stocked with beverages and goodies for sustenance.  Kitchens are the busiest place in the house as cooks prepare tasty treats to “feed the fever.”   If you’re cooking or baking impaired, grocery stores and bakeries are stocking up for your needs – you can buy black and gold tortilla chips to go with that home-made salsa.

Local bakeries offer such delights as “GingerBen” cookies complete with the #7 Steelers jersey iced on them; football and jersey-shaped cookies in black and gold;  Steelers cap and helmet cakes, and even terrible towel cookies.

One of the yummiest bakeries I know stocked their shelves with a Cheese-grater cake (it’s a large mouse-shaped cake dressed in a Steelers jersey chomping on a  piece of cheese!).   If you can’t imagine it, go here:

I’m not a frequenter of bars or saloons – never has been my thing and never will be – but our newspaper ran an article about a local saloon sporting black and gold everywhere.  The entire ceiling boasts a painted black and gold checkered pattern, Steelers flags wave throughout the establishment and the Steelers fight song – Here We Go!– pulsates continuously.   The ceiling alone took four days and nine gallons of paint to complete.

That same bar displays a pick-up truck painted black with a predominant gold stripe running over it.  Favorite Steelers players’ numbers are also painted on the vehicle.  Apparently, there’s a little damage on the front bumper…yep, that’s where the truck ran over a Green Bay Packer.

Yes, people, “yinz” need to understand that Steelers fans are serious about their football team!  [For those of you who don’t know what “yinz” means –   many folks here use that term for the plural of the word you instead of ya’ll or yous guys.]

Mama’s empty nest family and friends will watch the Big Game, cheering on our boys (I’ve got two faves – Troy Polamalu and Hines Ward), and will no doubt be hoarse afterwards from all the ranting and raving.  One of the members of our family is such a fan-addict (fanatic) that she is actually flying home for the weekend just to watch the Super Bowl here with fellow “Stillers”  (that’s how many western Pennsylvanians pronounce Steelers) lovers.

She laments that no one’s really interested in the Steelers way down there in Dixie and she just wants to watch the game with “people who care!”   She tried to drum up some enthusiasm from her co-workers this week  – baking and decorating Steeler cupcakes for them (pictured above) and decorated her black cat with a gold collar – but to no avail.

Oldest daughter arrives today and I assume she’s only packed black and gold clothing and her Steeler jersey (#43 – we love Troy!) in her carry-on.   I’m off to the airport to pick up my feverish daughter.  Let’s hope for victory number seven or I will have one sad, sad girl to put back on an airplane Monday.


Put that acorn down!

blog072Picture two squirrels hunkered down for the winter in a hollow tree.

Frosty, snowy weather suppresses their desire to leave the warmth of the tree and cavort around their two-plus acres like they enjoy doing in the spring, summer and fall.

Add the extra problem of shorter daylight hours in the month of January.   Squirrels’ dilemma – what else is there to do when the tree (nest) is empty, the weather’s too blustery to be outside for long, and evening comes on early but feast on their cache of acorns?

I don’t understand why winter time morphs us into eating machines.  It’s not like I need to store up fat for my winter hibernation.  I’ve got enough of that substance in my body to last several winters!

Chalk it up to the cold, the dark, the dreary weather, boredom….I don’t know but hubby and I have been digging into the comfort food lately just like acorn-ravished squirrels stuffing themselves until their cheeks explode.

We’ve been noshing on the good old-fashioned “mom style” home cooking.  You know staples like hot turkey sandwiches drenched in gravy with mashed potatoes on the side, meat loaf, chicken and dumplings, macaroni and cheese, scalloped potatoes, and a hand-me-down dish from my grandmother’s day called “ham and patches” (basically ham, potatoes and yes, more dumplings!).

Not exactly diet food, but then again, neither of us made any New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, so there’s a thought – we aren’t breaking any promises!  Actually neither of us made any resolutions at all.  However, if we keep this nosh fest up, we’re going to have to start shaking our bushy tails pronto to shed some unwanted poundage.

I’d reason this tendency to eat like we just purchased stock in a roadside diner provides us enough calories to maintain body warmth since it’s so cold in our house, but what excuse do I use for the ice cream we’ve gone through??

Maybe I could just blame it on global climate change.