Friday, July 31, 2009

Underdocumented fun.

My sister, Marian, was in Dallas on business this week, and she and my nephew Henry have been staying with us. We had a GREAT visit, but I did a rotten job of documenting much of it. Here, however, are a few pictures that show just a little of the fun we had!

The Headless Hockey Boy took his cousin Henry to the mall

Henry lives in a small town, so he loved the variety of shops

Henry had a great time at the new Lego Store

My creation
My field photographer (Dots) was charged with taking pictures of Henry's adventures at the mall, but the portfolio she submitted shockingly consisted primarily of shots like these

Henry enjoyed playing with my nephew Jack

and with our neighbor Mark

He even tolerated a little bit of help from Dots on his Lego creation

One evening I had some friends over for Happy Hour after my sister finished work. Unfortunately Vivian had a seizure right after I took this shot, and I forgot to take any more pictures after others arrived (my sister is on the left)

No visit to Dallas would be complete for Marian without a trip to her favorite restaurant from SMU days, Snuffer's. Marian's high school friend Suzy and her boys joined us

I think Marian was really hoping for better blog coverage of her wonderful visit. I'm sorry, Mair! Guess you'll have to come back soon.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My favorite cookies.


I remember few happier moments in my childhood than coming home to the sight and smell of my mom baking and icing my favorite cookies: Missouri Crybabies. My sister is visiting this week, so I thought I would whip up a batch for her. She was quite pleased!

'Zuri Crybabies (as we called them) were not only my favorite cookies, but also the favorite of my dad, my sister and brother and literally every cousin on my dad's side of the family. My grandmother used to make Missouri Crybabies for my dad and his sisters and brothers when they were growing up, and she passed the recipe along to my mom. I've never heard of them or seen a similar recipe anywhere else. My aunt reported that she once came across a recipe for Molasses Crybabies in an old cookbook, and she thinks that perhaps my grandmother acquired the recipe from someone in Missouri and renamed them. At any rate, they are much beloved in our family.

At a Parker cousins reunion several summers ago, my cousin Steve requested that we stage a "Missouri Crybaby Cook-off" and offered to serve as the judge. Everyone recognized this as a thinly veiled ruse on Steve's part to garner himself a large supply of Missouri Crybabies, but my sister and two other cousins complied and brought along these cookies to the reunion. Steve sampled several from each batch and declared everyone a winner, and the cookies did not last long at that family gathering.

There's a rumor that perhaps you need to be born into my dad's family to appreciate Missouri Crybabies. My mother doesn't much care for them, nor does Robert. But a childhood neighbor's first post upon discovering my mother on Facebook was, "Do you still make those fabulous Crybaby cookies?" The neighborhood kids at my house yesterday certainly gobbled them up with raving appreciation as well.

Missouri Crybabies are a very soft, cake-like cookie with a thin powdered sugar icing on top. They are especially good with a glass of milk and also work well as breakfast or a midnight snack (not that I would know - I've just heard this).

If my dad is reading this, he'll be pleased to know that I set aside a few cookies to send to him as I know my mom doesn't make Missouri Crybabies much anymore.


Missouri Crybabies

Mix together:
1 c brown sugar
1 c Crisco oil
1 c molasses
2 eggs, well beaten

Sift together, then add to above:
4 c flour
¼ t salt
1 t nutmeg
1 t cinnamon
2 t baking soda

Stir in:
1 c boiling water

Spoon small amounts onto cookie sheet. Bake at 375° for 7 minutes. (I bake them on parchment paper. I don't think my mother greased her cookie sheet, but she did use one that was rimmed. The batter is fairly liquid, not at all like a cookie dough.)

Cool on waxed paper (or on the parchment paper if you're lazy like I am). Then frost with:
2 c powdered sugar
3 T milk
½ t vanilla

(I always run out of the icing and have to make more.)

Makes a whole lot. Maybe 8 dozen? They don't ever last long enough at my house for me to count.

A batch of Missouri Crybabies before baking

Just iced and ready to eat!

Sunday, July 26, 2009


Many thanks for all of the kind and compassionate expressions of support after my last post. They meant a lot to me and really bolstered my faltering spirits.

Vivian's nighttime loss of balance has largely gone away - hooray! She's still experiencing some drowsiness and showing some aggressive tendencies, but hopefully we'll begin to see improvement in those areas as well.

In response to an inquiry, Vivian's stroller is a Maclaren Major Elite (sometimes called the Maclaren Special Needs Stroller). I bought it about a year and a half ago online for about $400. Viivan's doctor wrote a prescription for a "wheelchair for age," and I submitted that with the receipt to our health insurance company and received reimbursement. While Vivian doesn't need the stroller for mobility issues, I think sometimes it makes her feel secure when we are in crowded places. It also works better than dragging her when she's not being compliant!

Back in March I asked for prayers for my cousin Wendy's nine-year-old daughter Katie who was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Katie received six weeks of daily radiation which were successful in shrinking the tumor and relieving its effects (headaches, slurred speech, facial paralysis, balance issues, etc.).

A few weeks ago Wendy's family was treated to a week-long retreat in Rosemary Beach, Florida that was sponsored by Lighthouse Ministries. While they were there, Katie's symptoms began to return, and an emergency MRI on Friday showed that the tumor had spread down into her spinal cord and was very aggressive.

We are heartbroken at this news and would covet your prayers for Katie.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Finding a balance.


Vivian had been doing so well. We were only seeing a couple of seizures a month, a huge improvement over the ten+ a week she was experiencing a year ago. Vivian had been much sweeter and more compliant. Life was good. Too good to last, I guess.

For about the past month Vivian has become increasingly agitated and aggressive. She has put up major fights when it was time to get on the bus for summer school. Two weeks ago at a family birthday dinner, it took Robert and me about 30 minutes of wrestling with Vivian in 100+ degree heat to get her out of the car, into her stroller and through the doors of the restaurant. After we finally thought we had her calmed down and distracted with a Madeline video on her iPod and some pages to color, we wheeled her to her spot at the table only to have her reach out and kick my sweet mother-in-law in the head as we passed by her chair. I was MORTIFIED, as you might imagine. Last week when I took Vivian to the dentist for a cleaning, she put up such a fuss that I resorted to sitting on top of her and restraining her hands, while one tech held her head still and another cleaned her teeth. Luckily she was screaming, so getting her to open her mouth wasn't an issue. The final straw came when she hit a precious little boy while boarding the bus last Tuesday.

I called Vivian's neurologist and told him about her regression in behavior. I relayed that even though we weren't seeing a lot of seizures, Vivian's behavior was completely consistent with past increases in abnormal brain activity. He told me that he suspected that Vivian's growth and the onset of puberty had likely upset her always precarious medication levels. After reviewing Vivian's most recent blood work results, he advised me to increase one of her seizure medications by a half a pill each morning.

This seemed to me a pretty minor adjustment, but egad, what effects it has had. I gave Vivian the first increased dose on Friday morning. Sunday she would not wake up until 2 in the afternoon, after sleeping for 18 hours! Then at night, beginning Sunday evening, she has experienced a complete loss of balance. If Vivian wakes up during the night, she falls and walks into things while making her way to the light switch in her room. I've resorted to sleeping with her several nights in an attempt to insure that she doesn't get up and hurt herself (she seems completely unaware that she is at all impaired).

I spoke to her doctor again yesterday, and he said to give it a few more days to see if her body adjusts. If it doesn't, we will have to modify either the timing or the dosage of her medication.

Pray that we arrive quickly at a suitable resolution. My sanity hangs in the balance.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Playing for change.

A friend shared this video with me; I found it delightful. I hope you enjoy it too.

To read more about its production go to Playing for

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Recipe Addendum.


I had a request for the dessert recipes from my party last weekend. Everyone at the party seemed to enjoy them.

Lemon Gingersnaps
From Tables of Content

4 c flour
2 t baking soda
1 t ground cinnamon
1 t ground cloves
1 t ground ginger
1½ c butter or shortening, softened
2 c sugar
½ c molasses
2 eggs, beaten
½ c sugar

Lemon Glaze:
1 lb. confectioners’ sugar (powdered sugar)
⅓ c fresh lemon juice
2 t grated lemon zest (about one large lemon)

Cream butter and 2 cups sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add molasses and eggs and beat until smooth. Sift together flour, soda, cinnamon, clover and ginger then add to mixing bowl and beat until combined.

Shape the dough into 1” balls and coat with the remaining ½ cup of sugar. Arrange the balls on a parchment-covered cookie sheet and flatten slightly with the bottom of a glass. Bake at 375° for 8-10 minutes. Remove from cookie sheet to cool.

Combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice and zest in a small bowl and beat until smooth. Spread the glaze over slightly warm cookies.

Makes 5 dozen cookies. (It made much more than this for me. Consider cutting the recipe in half. Also, I used half butter and half shortening but would use all butter next time because I think these cookies are better a little flatter.)

Rocky Road Fudge Bars
From Tables of Content

1 c flour
1 c sugar
1 t baking powder
½ c butter
1 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
¾ c chopped pecans
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 ½ t vanilla

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
½ c sugar
¼ c butter
1 egg
2 T flour
½ t vanilla
¼ c chopped pecans
1 c semisweet chocolate morsels
2 c miniature marshmallows

¼ c butter
¼ c milk
1 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 oz. cream cheese
3 c confectioners’ sugar
1 t vanilla

For the crust, sift together flour, sugar and baking powder. Melt the butter and chocolate (I microwaved them for 90 seconds at 50% power). Stir in the flour mixture, pecans, eggs and vanilla. Spread in a greased and floured 9 x 13” pan.

For the filling, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, butter, egg, flour and vanilla at medium speed until smooth and fluffy. Stir in the pecans and spread over crust. Sprinkle evenly with chocolate chips. Bake at 350° for 25-35 minutes or until the edges pull away from the pan. Sprinkle with marshmallows and bake 2 minutes longer.

For the frosting, microwave butter, milk, chocolate and cream cheese at 50% power until melted (I started with 90 seconds and then stirred and microwaved 30 seconds longer). Stir in powdered sugar and vanilla until smooth. Immediately pour over the warm baked layers and swirl with a knife to marblize.

Chill for an hour or until set. Cut into bars and store, covered, in the refrigerator.

Makes 4 dozen bars.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Two reunions and an update.

On Thursday when I wanted to upload the pictures I'd taken of Dots leaving on her mission trip, I could not find my camera ANYWHERE. I searched the house high and low, but my camera was nowhere to be found. The last time I could recall taking pictures was when I put Dots on the bus. After that, Hockey Boy and I ran some errands, including a stop at the car wash. I knew I had not left the camera in the car then, but was it possible I had taken it out of my purse to get to my wallet and then left the camera on the counter?

My camera is just a few months old, and though not the fanciest or most expensive model out there, it was a significant upgrade for me and I love it. I couldn't imagine I would have walked off and left it at the car wash, but I couldn't figure out any other place to look.


I called up to the car wash and inquired if they'd found a Nikon camera. The girl put me on hold and then returned to the phone and said, "Yes, we have it." Oh, my! I was overcome with shock, relief and immense appreciation. I hurried up to the car wash, gratefully retrieved my camera and profusely thanked the woman behind the counter. Isn't it nice that there are still honest people in the world?



Last weekend we hosted a reunion of Robert's Grand Canyon hiking group. Nine out of the thirteen guys were able to attend which I thought was great given the busyness of summer.


My photographer, Dots, told these guys to act like they didn't know their picture was being taken

I served an easy dinner of Layered Taco Salad (recipe follows) and Sangria (recipe in this post), with a tray of lemon iced ginger snaps and Rocky Road brownies for dessert. Everything went over well, and we had a very fun evening.

I divided the salad between three bowls. I should have used two because I forgot that the meat and other toppings would weight down the lettuce


Dessert tray: Rocky Road brownies and Ginger Snaps with Lemon Glaze

Robert had prepared a DVD montage of everyone's pictures from the trip set to music by The Eagles, Jackson Browne, Gin Blossoms and 10,000 Maniacs that he played on the big TV upstairs after dinner. He had also framed a picture of the group with a trail map signed by each hiker, and he presented one of those to each of them. Everyone was so appreciative!



Yesterday Dots's leader posted this picture on Facebook of a seemingly happy Dots. Their group has been hard at work chasing chickens whose wing feathers needed clipping, planting peas and harvesting watermelons. Hopefully Dots is keeping too busy for any further homesickness. She returns home tomorrow.

Dots Mendenhall
Dots is on the far left. The caption read, "5 hours on the farm makes lunch taste even better!"


Layered Taco Salad
Gourmet August 2003
Serves 6-8

¼ c fresh lime juice
½ c chopped cilantro
1 t sugar
1 T chili powder
¼ t ground cumin
½ t salt
¼ t black pepper
½ c olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 serrano chili pepper, finely chopped, including seeds
1 T chili powder
2 T olive oil
1½ lb. ground chuck
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
½ t salt
¼ t black pepper

8 cups mixed lettuce (I used half iceberg and half baby romaine/leaf/spinach mix)
1 avocado, sliced into ½” pieces
1 tomato, chopped
1½ c grated cheddar cheese
1 15-oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 6-oz can sliced black olives

Whisk together lime juice, cilantro, sugar, chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper, then add oil in a stream, whisking until emulsified. Refrigerate until needed.

Cook onion, garlic, Serrano pepper, chili powder, and cumin in oil in a Dutch oven over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is well softened, about 6 minutes. Add beef and cook, stirring occasionally and breaking up lumps, until meat is no longer pink, about 5 minutes, then spoon off any excess fat from skillet.

Add tomato sauce, salt, and pepper to beef and cook, stirring, until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Layer salad in the following order: lettuce, beef, tomatoes, cheese, black beans, avocado and olives. Drizzle dressing over salad and serve.

Eloise's note: I doubled everything but the dressing for our group of 13, and they ate almost all of it!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Dots on a mission.


Dots left this week on a mission trip with a group of 5th and 6th graders from our church. They are spending five days in rural Mississippi working on a community farm and doing some cleaning and painting at a local school. They also have an outing planned to an area nursing home.

Last night Dots borrowed her leader's cell phone and called me in tears to report that she was homesick. It about broke my heart! I could relate because I got homesick whenever I went away when I was growing up, even the summer I spent in Paris when I was 15. My mother's response to my teary phone calls was to fuss at me and tell me to straighten up. I must admit this was pretty effective because it made me question why I wanted to go home!

I talked to the counselor later last night, and her take on the situation was that Dots was exhausted after a long day. She relayed that Dots had fallen asleep within five minutes of lying down on her cot. This afternoon I received a text from the leader saying that Dots was having a ball today and had turned down an offer to use a cell phone and call home.

Here's hoping that the rest of her week is fruitful and fun and that Dots comes home reporting that the trip was a great experience, for both of our sakes!

Lots of kids and parents gathered by the bus before it departed for Mississippi. But wait... who immediately located the cute high school girls going along as leaders?

Why, it's Hockey Boy! Clearly he has found an effective way to assuage his grief at the impending departure of his sister

Dots's leader posted this picture on her Facebook page right after the bus passed into Mississippi

It was a slight improvement over the picture Dots attempted to take for me when we were on this same road last month

Monday, July 13, 2009

Pizza night redux.

The last time I posted about pizza night at our house, I neglected to take any pictures. Last week we made pizza again, and my budding photographer, Dots, documented the process on camera.

Here I am kneading the pizza dough. For this shot I had a choice between showing aging hands or alien fingers. Obviously I chose the action shot which blurred my wrinkles but left my fingers looking unnaturally elongated

Balls of dough about to be covered and set aside to rise

While the dough is rising, we make the tomato sauce

Dots prepares her pizza

Fresh pizza right after being placed on the hot baking stone


If Dots had her druthers, every night at our house would be homemade pizza night!

Click here for the previous post which includes recipes.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What's for dinner: Grilled Steak and Onion Salad


In the summer I am a big fan of grilling and one-dish meals. This salad is one of our favorites. The kids don't like everything mixed together, but it works well to serve their portions separately.

Grilled Steak and Onion Salad
adapted from Cooks Country, August 2005
Serves 4

1½ T balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
3 T olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 Vidalia onion (from my mother's hometown!), cut crosswise into ½” – thick rounds
2 boneless strip or rib-eye steaks, each 12 oz. and 1½ “ thick
11 c lightly packed stemmed arugula
½ c crumbled blue cheese

Whisk vinegar, olive oil and garlic together. Brush onion lightly with additional olive oil.

Grill over hot fire* until steaks are well browned on both sides, 5-7 minutes per side, and onions are charred and soft, 4 minutes per side. Transfer to cutting board and let steaks rest 5 minutes. Slice steaks thinly across grain.

Toss arugula with dressing and season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide arugula among 4 plates or place on large platter.

Arrange steak and onions over salad and crumble blue cheese on top.

*I abandoned our fancy gas grill in favor of an El Cheapo Weber charcoal grill, and I really love the flavor of meat, chicken and shrimp that I cook there.


Bon appetit!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Fourth of July!

We had a fun and full day celebrating America's independence. Hope you did too!


A reluctant parade-goer...

...who eventually enjoyed the festivities

Community parade

Hockey Boy and friends

Post-parade fun

Dots and I made large and small versions of the Barefoot Contessa's Fourth of July cake

Finished cake!

Smaller cake for homebound neighbors

Evening fireworks provided the perfect ending to our day of celebration

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The blessing of friends.

Anne-Murray, Cynthia and me in New York to celebrate Cynthia's birthday - 2003

Last week the kids and I drove to Mississippi to visit my dear friend Cynthia. As an added treat, my friend Anne-Murray (remember her from my Valentine Luncheon)?) came over from Alabama with her twins. We had such a fun visit!

Cynthia, Anne-Murray and I have been close friends for 20 years. We haven't lived in the same city for almost 15 years, but we still talk regularly and get together as often as we can.

Florida 1999 - left to right: Katie, Dorothy, Will, Drew, Graham, Frances and Mary Lant, with Vivian standing in the back and Lauren and Eloise in their car seats in front

When our kids were little, we used to rent a house at the beach in the summer. Every year we would line them up on the sofa for a picture. We recreated this scene last week. It's astonishing how much they've all grown!

Katie, Drew, Frances, Will, Dots, Lauren and Eloise (Graham and Mary Lant were working and couldn't make the trip and Vivian, shockingly, wouldn't cooperate and be in the picture)

I apologize again for the unexpected depletion of my camera's battery power. This was a real shame because I could have taken some great pictures of Cynthia's beautiful home and all the fabulous food she served while we were there.


Suffice it to say that we experienced Southern Hospitality at its finest. But best of all, I was able to spend time with two of my favorite people in the whole world.

Note: Yes, one of Anne-Murray's twins is named after me. I was so honored! She calls me "The Other Eloise."