Thursday, December 24, 2020

Merry Christmas!!

Happy Holidays, everyone.
Wishing you all the blessings of the season:
a Christmas filled with all you hold dear
and a New Year filled with all the best!

Thank you for visiting ~
hope to see you again in the new year!

~ Margaret

This was a holiday piece I wrote a few years ago for the CKUW radio show ‘2000 & Counting’ when we decided to chat about family holiday dinners. 
Being politically correct - and politically sensitive - was just starting around the turn of the century.
It was and is still a part of menu planning.
The family that eats a holiday dinner together… can still be in for a whole lot of trouble.

My friend Muriel still hasn't recovered from last Christmas.

The poor dear had tried to please everybody. Solomon couldn't have pulled that off. Muriel was willing to go with the flow, but she was caught in a tsunami. Her husband Tom is a simple man with simple tastes. He just wanted a roasted bird with stuffing and cranberry sauce.

He should never have had children.

Their eldest daughter, Donna, keeps up with trends. Muriel had asked Donna to bring the appetizers. Muriel expected their traditional celery sticks with cream cheese, crackers and cheese cubes. Donna waltzed in with an oriental party pack and assorted seafood and chicken wing platters. Something for everyone. Uh, huh.
Tom backed off when he saw the egg rolls. "I don't like Chinese."
Donna said, "I got you BBQ chicken wings."
Ignoring her, Tom said, "They don't serve bread." He went to the kitchen for bread.

Then Betty arrived. Betty lives in a commune and supports the rights of everything and everybody… except those of the hostess. Betty always carried tofu because she never ate dairy products or anything with eyes or eggs. Muriel had prepared a nice salad for Betty. Not good enough.
"Were the pickers paid a decent wage?"
"The lettuce had a union label."
"I only eat organically grown food. Did they use manure."
"We had to scrub the carrots with bleach to get the E coli off."
"Oh... okay."
Tom heard E coli and reached for another slice of bread.

Finally their son Bill arrived with his wife Carol and their children, Krystal and Jason. Bill and Carol had every allergy in the book. Bill also had high cholesterol and Carol had her waistline. They avoided the platters of appetizers and drank the water that they had brought.

Krystal, a tender-hearted child, burst into tears when she saw the chicken wings.
"Oh, those poor birdies. Do you know how they treat chickens, Grandma?"

Muriel figured the birds were better off than she was. They never had to make a holiday dinner for the family. But this was her granddaughter.
"Krystal, dear, these birdies lived in a happy place where they laughed and played and sang songs for a long, long time. Then one day they just went to sleep and, just like butterflies, they turned into chicken wings."
"Oh... okay."
Who says the next generation knows it all?
Tom heard Muriel's tale of the laughing, singing chickens, figured she'd finally lost it, and ate more bread.

Ignored by his elders, Jason gobbled a fistful of seafood appetizers and started wheezing. Muriel packed away the appetizers before her children could start a food fight and led them to the main event.

The table looked like a sailboat regatta that had been designed by Martha Stewart. Every dish had a tiny flag listing all of the ingredients. Muriel did not want to have to call the paramedics again. Krystal cried when she saw the turkey.

When Betty reached for the potatoes, Bill said, "But they have eyes". Betty meant to kick her brother, but got her sister-in-law, Carol, who screamed and kicked back. Muriel yelled at her kids. The holiday dinner was just like always. Damn.

After everyone had eaten what they could, Muriel brought out a carafe of hot cranberry apple cider. This was her gift to herself. Seeing all the different coffees at the supermarket had made her go all whoozie. Whatever happened to plain old coffee, black or with cream? Muriel’s children didn't say a word while visions of cappuccinos, espressos and lattes danced in their heads.

Betty was in charge of the dessert. She had created something that was just what the doctor ordered. No eggs, no cream, no butter, and no taste.
Tom just saw a pumpkin pie and it looked fine. He helped himself to a slice, smiled and thought that Betty was returning to the food of her mother.

But, something tasted... off. Maybe a new spice?
"Betty, what's in this pie," he asked.
"Geez." Tom reached for the bread.

Jason had wheezed throughout the whole meal.
All in all, it had been just another family holiday get together.

God help Muriel. The holidays are back.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Anna Sultana’s Chicken Marsala / Christmas Traditions & Baking / The Great Conjunction

It’s less than a week before we’ll be celebrating a very unique Christmas.
It’s been a hard year, but here we are. 

We’ve made it! So celebrate. Safely.

The week is off to a unique beginning.
The Winter Solstice on December 21 marks the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and is the day with the fewest hours of daylight in the entire year.
If you’re getting tired of T. V. shows - yes, one can only take so much streaming - Mother Nature will be giving us a special show on Monday night: Jupiter and Saturn will be forming a Great Conjunction.
These planets come together every 20 or so years (the last conjunction was in 2020), but this will be the closest they've been together since 1623, just 14 years after Galileo made his own telescope.
In 1614 the German astronomer, Johannes Kepler, suggested that a similar conjunction - involving different planets - occurring in the year 7 B.C. may be what the Three Wise Men in the Christmas Story called the Star of Bethlehem.

On Monday night, about 30 minutes minutes after sunset, try to have a clear view of the southwestern horizon.
The planets will be pretty low in the sky and will remain visible for about an hour.
This is the only time you’ll be able to see the conjunction. Really. On Tuesday the planets will be further apart.
Astronomers say there won't be another Great Conjunction this close until 2080.
Hope it will be a cloudless night for everyone.

Now about a Christmas dinner…
Most families will be celebrating apart, so a traditional turkey dinner might be a bit too much.
Why not try something a little different to finish off a year that has been very different.
In February, 2013 I posted this recipe for Carmela Soprano's Veal Scaloppine Marsala with Risotto, a recipe for two.
Of course, Ma’s recipe is a little different.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas!


If you’d like a thicker sauce place the flour left over from dredging the breasts into a small bowl, stir in some of the wine mixture, then stir it into the sauce in the skillet.

The parsley and a squeeze of lemon tones down sweet Marsala’s sweetness.

Don’t usually buy Marsala and not sure what it is?
Marsala is a combination of wine and a distilled spirit, such as brandy, and is similar to Madeira or sherry in flavour.
Marsala comes in both sweet and dry varieties, and either will be fine for this recipe.
For future purchases, to use sweet Marsala for sweet dishes, such as tiramisu or Zabaglione, and dry Marsala for savoury dishes.
Whichever you buy, the Marsala won’t go to waste.
Zabaglione would be a delicious dessert on New Year’s Eve.
Just buy a good quality bottle of Marsala and toast the New Year!

If you’re just cooking for two don’t worry about making four servings.
You can store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days.

                       Chicken Marsala

Serves 4

Place the rack in the middle of the oven.
Heat to 200° F

Trim and quarter
8 ounces cremini mushrooms

2 cloves garlic

One at a time, place between 2 sheets of plastic wrap or in a heavy zip-top bag
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Using the flat side of a meat mallet or a heavy plate or rolling pin, pound each breast gently into even pieces, about 1/4-inch thick.
Set aside and repeat with the remaining breasts.

On a plate-sized piece of waxed paper spread
1/2 Cup flour
Sprinkle over the flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Dredge the breasts in the flour mixture (add more flour if needed).
Set aside.

In a large skillet melt together over medium-high heat
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
Add 2 of the chicken breasts.
Fry until golden-brown on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes per side.
Remove the browned chicken to a baking dish or rimmed baking sheet.
Repeat with the remaining 2 chicken breasts. 
Cover the chicken with aluminum foil and place in the oven to keep warm.

In the same large skillet melt over medium-high heat
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
Add the quartered mushrooms and cook about 3 minutes.
Add the minced garlic and cook about 1 minute.
3/4 Cup dry Marsala wine 
Scrape the bottom of the pan to remove the browned pieces.
3/4 Cup low-sodium chicken broth
Simmer until reduced by half and starting to thicken, about 15 minutes.
1/4 cup heavy cream
Return the chicken to the sauce.
Cook until the sauce thickens about 3 to 5 minutes.
Serve hot over cooked pasta. Angel hair pasta is nice.
Garnish with chopped parsley and lemon wedges.
A nice salad completes the meal.

I also wrote the following essay about Christmas traditions for our CKUW radio show ‘2000 & Counting’. Over the years our listeners asked for some seasonal stories to be repeated.
They seemed to like being reminded that we were all in the same holiday boat, a communal ship which made us feel like we were all sinking fast.
Ah… Christmas shopping, holiday baking and holiday customs…

I don't know about you, but as far as I'm concerned, there are two questions no one should ever ask a woman.

The first is "How old are you?"
The second is "Have you done your holiday baking yet?”

Why is it that, when the thermometer falls, we're supposed to bake? 
Does the Queen whip up a fruitcake before writing her speech?
I don't think so.  

Holiday baking has been with us an awfully long time.
Did you know that ginger was popular in Greece over 5,000 years ago? The Egyptians were eating gingerbread when the great pyramid of Cheops was just a brick and a prayer. I wonder what their gingerbread men looked like.

A few years after Egypt's building boom, an English King and his hunting party got lost in a blizzard on Christmas Eve.  Well, they were clever lads full of English pluck, so they threw everything they had - meat, flour, sugar, apples, ale and brandy - into a bag and cooked it. Wallah!!  Plum pudding. The Iron Chef would've been proud.  

On Christmas Day in 1666, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary that he had risen earlier than his wife Who was desirous to sleep having sat up till four this morning seeing her maids make mince pies. 
I really admire Mrs. P. She just sat and watched her maids do the work, yet her husband felt guilty about her workload. How did she get him to suffer like that?   

Some Christmas carols seem a little too focused on food.  For example:
     “Now bring us some figgy pudding and a cup of good cheer!
     We won't go until we get some, so bring it out here.”
Those were somebody's friends?  Somebody should've called the cops.

Holiday baking has followed us into modern times. The 1970s was the decade of old time family television shows like The Waltons and memoir books.
Have you ever browsed through a memoir book? It could make you weep. They reminded us of times like this...

“Evenings when a cold blustery wind howled outside were perfect for sorting through recipes. They were cozy times. The children were sitting at the oak table helping Mama chop fruit and raisins. Papa was cracking and shelling nuts and crushing fresh spices in the grinder.”

Isn't that sweet? Sentences like that convinced me that if we did things just like people did before television was invented, the world would be a kinder, gentler place.

We'll never know. Paul told me, in no uncertain terms, that he was too busy to grind nuts for a cake he didn't even want.
Alright. Scratch Paul grinding his nuts. I bought ground nuts.

Step two... the batter had to be mixed. Back to that memoir...
“When all the fruits were in, Grandmother called, 'Come, stir the batter!'
We all took turns giving it a stir - clockwise for good luck - and made a wish."

I made a batter, threw in the fruits and called out, "Come, stir the batter!"

Carl pointed to the electric mixer sitting on the counter and said that he was staying on the eighth level of his computer game, The Temple of Ra. He also told me, in no uncertain terms, that he was too busy to stir batter for a cake he didn't even want.

I stirred the batter, clockwise.
Don't ask what I wished.

It's been downhill ever since. Do you know about the charming Swedish custom of hiding a whole almond in a serving bowl of rice pudding? The lucky person who finds the almond has to get married or do the dishes. Either my husband or my son - the fink never confessed - managed to swallow the almond every time.

I tried the German version - whoever finds the almond receives a marzipan pig. By then Paul and Carl had their own tradition: swallowing the almond. I felt so guilty looking at that poor rejected pig.
I started my own tradition and ate him... along with the cake.

There's a Christmas carol that goes: "Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat..."
Well, the goose isn't the only one.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Anna Sultana’s Rice Pudding and Bread and Custard Pudding / St. Lucia Customs / The Geminid Meteor Shower

Tomorrow is Saint Lucia Day.
It’s a very popular holiday in Sweden and, even if you’re not Swedish, a perfect time to do a bit of celebrating.
Of course it has its own traditions, as mentioned in the story below.
Yes, they require a bit of work… buns in the middle of the night, candles, poetry.
Rice pudding is an easier traditional Scandinavian winter dessert.
If you want to make some instead of the Lucia Buns I’m sure St. Lucy wouldn’t mind.

This has been a stressful holiday season, calling for comfort food, like puddings.
If rice isn’t your favourite then Bread and Custard could make you feel warm and cozy.
It’s also a great way to use up a stale loaf of bread.

Back to Santa Lucia… here are some traditional recipes:

Cardamom / Sugar & Spice Christmas Blend

Swedish Cardamom Wreath for Saint Lucia Day

Anna Sultana's Santa Lucia Cookies

Anna Sultana's Cinnamon Buns

Anna Sultana’s Almond Cookies

The Geminid Meteor Shower peaks tomorrow night and will continue until dawn.
The actual new moon is on Monday night, so the sky is very dark.
It will be perfect for enjoying 50 to 100 shooting stars per hour.
Make a pot of Apple Cider Hot Toddy and enjoy the heavenly show!


If you don’t like raisins in your rice pudding you can leave them out.

If you would like a thicker pudding make the following changes:
Increase the rice to 1 cup
Decrease sugar to 1/4 cup
Reduce milk to 3 cups

Be sure to use a baking dish that’s deep and large enough for the recipe you’ve chosen.

About the bread pudding…
If your bread is too stale to cut easily, wrap it in a damp kitchen towel, set it on a pan and heat it in a 350º F oven for 5 to 7 minutes.
Worried about cholesterol? Use 4 eggs instead of 5 egg yolks and 1 whole egg.

                       Rice Pudding

Heat oven to 350º F
Butter well a deep baking dish.
Set the buttered baking dish in a large pan that will comfortably hold it.
Place in the buttered baking dish
1 Quart milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Stir well to blend, then stir in
1/4 Cup rice, uncooked
1/2 Cup sugar
1/2 Cup raisins
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Fill the large pan with boiling water to the half-way point.
Bake uncovered for 2-3 hours, stirring every 30 minutes for the first 2 hours.
Bake until the rice is soft.
Serve the pudding hot or cold.

                       Bread and Custard Pudding

Heat oven to 350º F 
Butter well a 2 to 2 1/2 quart casserole                     
Cut baguette-size French or Italian bread into 1 inch slices.
You’ll need about 8 pieces.
Place the slices in a bowl.

Place in a small pot and heat to the boil
1 Cup milk
Pour the milk over the bread.
Set aside.
After 5 minutes drain the excess milk and reserve.

Place in saucepan
3 Cups milk
Heat but do not allow to boil.

Place in a large mixing bowl
5 egg yolks
1 whole egg
Whisk until lemony yellow.
1/4 Cup sugar
Continue beating until the mixture falls in smooth ribbons from the whisk.
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Gradually beat in the heated and reserved milk.

Set the buttered casserole in a large pan that will comfortably hold it.
Pour the mixture into the casserole.
Do not fill casserole more than 3/4 full.
Float bread on top of the custard and sprinkle on top
2 Tablespoons sugar
Fill pan with boiling water to the half-way point.
Bake for 40 to 50 minutes.
Before serving dust top lightly with confectioners sugar.

Along with being a co-host for the CKUW radio show ‘2000 & Counting’ from 1999 to 2007, I wrote stories and essays, which I then read live on air. 
Back in 2000 I wrote this for our show. 
No, I don’t do any of these seasonal feast celebrations anymore.
At my age I have to conserve my energy for Christmas!

My parents and I immigrated to New York in 1950. A few years later, when I was in school, I asked why we didn't have anything pretty to eat for Christmas. My Ma told me that in Malta, Christmas was a religious celebration. The focus was on God becoming man, not on cookies.

Maltese desserts are simple - fresh fruit and cheese with an occasional cookie. One Maltese cookie, the biskuttini tar rahal, could be described as hardened library paste with a hint of lemon and a dash of royal icing. A variation on the biskuttini cuts the sugar by half and replaces the royal icing with a sprinkling of sesame seeds.  
Both cookies are wonderful teething rings.  

Another favourite is the anise biscotti. The big thrill with a biscotti is seeing how much milk it can suck up before breaking in half and falling into your glass. 
It's like eating the sinking Titanic.  
For the holidays, we borrow from the Sicilians and make kannoli tar-rikotta (ricotta in a fried pastry tube) or a qassata (vanilla custard shmeared over a sponge cake).  
How lame is that?  

I knew my German classmates ended their meals with more oomph. Our parish, St. Fidelis, was a cookie heaven. The most amazing homemade cookies were brought to every church and school function by my friends' Moms. They were rich and gorgeous - the cookies, I mean. They were loaded with spices, fruits, nuts and jams, and were covered with thick layers of frosting and all sorts of sprinkles.  

When my Ma saw the competition she admitted defeat and took over the job of bringing coffee. I was free to eat whatever caught my eye. While I gushed, my friends' Moms all beamed. My friends thought I was nuttier than the cookies.  

My husband is a third generation American - half Swedish and half German. Okay, I was marrying into the Cookie Big Leagues. I thought, along with the change of name, I'd return from my honeymoon a changed woman able to make cookies with a capital ‘C’. To paraphrase the biblical story of Ruth, I believed, "What thou eatest, I will eat... thy cookies shall be my cookies..."

Well, you get the picture.  Thanks to the movie ‘The Sound of Music’, I just knew we'd celebrate Christmas a la von Trapp: sitting beneath a huge, glowing tree,
singing Edelweiss and munching beautiful cookies, my favorite things. Ethnic things.
The ethnic bit nearly ended my marriage.

There's an old German saying: ‘That which really tastes oft us trouble makes’.
Now, there's truth in advertising. Clear as a bell, they were warning me to not even go there. If I'd had half a brain I'd have just thrown in the mixing bowl and placed a huge order at the local German bakery for a deluxe assorted cookie platter, with some stollen on the side.

Nope, I didn't take the hint. I studied every German and Swedish cookbook I could find. The biggest surprise was that there were other days that had to be celebrated. Okay, I thought, practice makes perfect. Maybe it's like opening a Broadway show in Boston. I learned about their holiday customs.  

The first Advent biggie was December 6. St. Nicholas' Day. That called for small presents in Paul's shoes and some hot chocolate and buns for breakfast. No problem. The morning went without a hitch.  
Huzzah!! One day I'd bake cookies that looked like jewels!  

I spent more nights baking instead of sleeping. My next goal was an authentic Swedish Saint Lucia Day for our first December 13.
Maybe the lack of sleep was affecting my mind.  

According to one big fat book, a good Swedish wife got up at four a.m. to start tossing her cookies. God forbid any sunlight should shine on the dough or disaster would befall the household. Every hefty housefrau hoped a crescent moon was hovering on the horizon to bring good luck to the baking.  

No kidding. Without that sliver of light she could get killed, stumbling around in the dark like that. I really thought that if I followed the customs, my baking would get better. I got up at four a.m. and baked. Okay, I cheated. I used electric lights.  

Then I ran into a slight problem. According to tradition, saffron buns and coffee were served between three and four a.m. by the eldest daughter, who was dressed as the Lucia Queen. We didn't have children and I couldn't borrow a neighbour's kid for that ungodly hour. I had to make some changes in the sacred customs. I, as an eldest daughter, became the first Maltese Lucia Queen. Ever.

I stitched up a long white robe and tied shining red balls to our Advent wreath. I memorized the traditional poem. Then, when I saw how much saffron cost, I made another teeny change. I made cinnamon buns. What harm could it do?

The days flew. Finally, it was December 13, 3:45 a.m. Show Time!
I was clad in white, balancing an advent wreath with bouncing red balls and gleaming white candles upon my head. I was a glowing, flaming cherries jubilee, clutching a tray laden with coffee and cinnamon buns and walking ever so slowly to our bed.  

Hovering over Paul, I chanted: "Night goes with silent steps..."
Hmmph... No answer. He was snoring. No Swedish genes were making him wake up to behold his Lucia Queen.  
Well, after all that work, this Lucia Queen required an audience.
Creating my own liturgy, I ad libbed. "Wake up, Paul."
Still no answer.
I set the tray down, gave him a push and repeated: "Night goes with silent steps... Damn it, wake up."
He snorted, turned and faced me. It took him a while to focus.
Okay, finally, I, the Lucia Queen, was getting the respect I deserved.  

I went back to chanting, my voice building to an impressive boom.
"Night goes with silent steps round house and cottage.
O'er earth that sun forgot, Dark shadows linger.      
Then on our threshold stands white clad in candlelight,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia."

He looked. He blinked. He screamed.
He said something that no one should ever say to a Lucia Queen.

I blamed the cinnamon. Maybe the Swedish mojo just doesn't work with cinnamon.
Look, if my Ma can blame religion, I can blame spices.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Apple Cider Hot Toddy / Seasonal Drink Recipes / Hunting the Winnipeg Christmas Tree by Margaret Ullrich


Covid-19 is making us do strange things.
Well, okay, maybe they’re not all strange, but things we didn’t normally do.
Remember the toilet paper hoarding and the sourdough craze we went through back in the Spring?

On the news tonight they reported that people were rushing to buy real trees.
Yes, even people who normally didn’t do ‘the Christmas tree bit’ wanted a real, honest-to-goodness pine tree in the house.
All of a sudden everybody wants a real, over the top, Clark Griswold Christmas, starting with a real tree.
A tree about the size Clark had in ‘National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation’ is now the thing to have. About the folks who normally didn’t bother with a tree…
I picture rows and rows of popcorn garlands winding around that huge bit of wood.

The weather isn’t being deterred by the virus.
It’s winter, and, here in Manitoba, that means cold.
A toddy is a traditional cold remedy.
It’s perfect both for when you’re feelng chilled or a bit under the weather.

Some say the first toddies were made in 18th century Scotland, where folks added honey and spices hide the flavour of bad scotch.
Whatever… it’s become a folk remedy that, in moderate amounts, can warm you from head to toe.


Don’t have apple cider? You can use apple juice or hot water.
For a tart flavour you can add a slice of lemon, or a few drops of lemon juice.

Don’t have bourbon? You can use almost anything alcoholic in a toddy, even tequila or gin.
Want a non-alcoholic hot toddy? Fine, don’t add the bourbon. It’ll still be warming.

If you want to prepare hot toddies for the gang after you’ve been tree chopping, it’s easy to increase the ingredients in a large pot.
Just let it simmer over a low flame.
Keep the bourbon and honey handy and let your guests ladle the apple cider mixture into their mugs.

You can add a few spices to each mug for an extra touch of aroma.

                        Apple Cider Hot Toddy

For two servings

Place in each of two heat-proof mug
1 1/2 ounces bourbon
1 teaspoon honey

Place in a saucepan
1 cup apple cider
10 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 anise stars (optional)
Heat the mixture over medium-low heat.
Let  simmer about 10 minutes.
Strain the cider into the mug and stir.


For another broadcast of our CKUW radio program ‘2000 & Counting’ we planned to reminisce about when we had gone out into the woods to chop down a Christmas tree.
Yes, this was, and is, a popular Winnipeg Christmas tradition.
And, yes, in Manitoba it can get cold enough to make trees brittle!

God, it was cold.

I didn't know it could get that cold.
I didn't know I'd ever be stupid enough to be outdoors in that kind of cold.
I didn't know I'd been stupid enough to marry someone stupid enough to work with people stupid enough to be out in that kind of cold.

It was December in Winnipeg.

Paul and I had grown up in New York City. There people went to an empty parking lot where the trees had magically appeared, like the pre-wrapped ground beef at the local supermarket. No questions asked. No one wanted to get too personal with an ornament that would be out with the trash in a matter of weeks.

At the New York parking lot we'd browse, find a tree we liked and switch the price tag with the cheaper tree which no one liked. Then we'd carry the tree to the clerk, who gave us the fish eye as he noticed the fullness of such a "good find", sighed and took our money. The whole deal was done in ten minutes. Another Christmas had begun.

Apparently, that isn't good enough for Winnipeggers.
Oh, no, they have to get down and dirty with their holiday bushes.

I'll never forget how happy Paul was when he came home and told me we'd been invited to join his co-workers, a group of Winnipeggers, for a real, old-fashioned Christmas experience. If I'd had a clue I'd have realized that giving birth in a barn, unaided, would've been an easier old-fashioned Christmas experience.
We were going to chop down a real Christmas tree, just like our ancestors.

Well, my parents are from Malta, a sunny Mediterranean island. It just wasn't in my genes to know how to dress for a freezing, miserable, forced march through a blizzard-hit forest. The windchill - which I still didn't understand - was in the "exposed skin can freeze in 2 minutes" range.

That didn't sound good, so I said, "Thanks, but no thanks."

Somehow Paul convinced me that his entire future career prospects, our unborn children's college fund, our grandchildren's lives and our golden years' security and comfort would all go up in smoke if I didn't join in the mighty tree hunt.

His Jewish co-workers were going. Everybody, even that ditzy receptionist who always dressed like a showgirl wannabe with skirts up to there, was going.

So, we were going.

God, it was cold.

I thought I had dressed warmly.
That fink, the ditzy receptionist, showed up looking like the Michelin Man. She was ready to march to the North Pole for the perfect tree, if necessary. So were the three other women co-workers. The other wives - who all knew better - had begged off. One was even pregnant. Or so she said.

I was alone with four career women who were full of the 1970s "I am woman, hear me roar" career fever. While they talked shop I felt as welcome as a lump of coal in a kid’s Christmas stocking.

The Jewish co-workers - who I had hoped would keep the tree hunt frenzy within limits - had turned into lumberjacks. They were also ready to march to the North Pole for the perfect tree, if necessary.

After walking five minutes I couldn't feel my toes. We hadn't even gotten out of the parking lot. I was doomed.

I didn't know it could get that cold.
We marched. Finally, someone approved of a tree. The men chopped. The tree crashed. The branches that hit the ground broke off the tree.

I said, "The bare side could be placed against a wall."

The heat from their glares should have restored my circulation. It didn't. We marched. Someone approved of another tree. The men chopped. The tree crashed. It broke.

God, it was cold.

We were doomed to spend all day wandering like Flying Dutchmen on a quest to find the perfect unbreakable tree. The lot was littered with other broken felled trees. Some trees had landed across their comrades in a criss-cross pattern that looked like a cradle.
A cradle, something soft, something to receive and hold...

Hold it… something to catch a damn tree!

Dripping snot and tears had frozen my mouth shut. If I'd had the equipment I would've written my idea in the snow. I slapped my face trying to restore circulation to my lower jaw. Finally my lips parted. I clutched Paul's arm.

"Cradle... tree... cradle," I mumbled and criss-crossed my arms.

The women thought I was pregnant and wanted a homemade cradle. Thank God, months of marriage, misery and love had united Paul's mind to mine. Months of marriage had also taught us that Paul was no carpenter. He knew the homemade cradle idea was bunk. Paul caught on to my pantomime and told the others of my plan.

Someone approved of another tree. It could land on four broken trees. The men chopped. The tree landed on its fallen comrades. It survived.
We marched. Someone approved of another tree. It, too, survived.

Christmas was saved.

God, it was cold.

I didn't know it could get that cold.
I couldn't believe it.
Some fool was planning the next year's tree chopping expedition.


Here are a few more hot, and cold, drinks. Curl up and enjoy!

Golden Milk Lattes

Appletini and Hot Apple Pie Vodka Drink Recipes

Long Island Iced Tea

Old Fashioned Recipe

Highball Recipe

New Year Hot Toddy

Anna Sultana’s Hot Drinks: Caramel Coffee & Spiced Vanilla Coffee

Anna Sultana's Nonalcoholic Hot Chocolate

Anna Sultana’s Pumpkin Smoothie

Anna Sultana's Mulled Apple Cider

Anna Sultana's Mulled Wined

Carmela Soprano's Hot Buttered Rum

Carmela Soprano's Spiked Hot Chocolate with rum and hazelnut liqueur

Carmela Soprano's Candy Cane Martini

Carmela Soprano's Spiked Egg Nog

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Anna Sultana’s Creamy Baked Chicken for Thanksgiving

This year, thanks to Covid-19, has definitely not been anything like anyone planned.
And now we’re facing the holidays.
A time filled with traditions and customs.
A time for gathering with our nearest and dearest.

Please, not this year.

Zoom, Skype, telephone, email, conference call… do anything but put your family and friends at risk.
As they said on the introduction to ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’, a television show that was popular in the 1970s, “We have the technology.”
The best way to show your love is to follow health guidelines - no cheating.

Since this isn’t the year for gathering the family around a big turkey or roast with all the fixings, why not try something new?

Ma’s Creamy Baked Chicken is easy to make, yet something a little different.
You don’t have to do much, so you’ll be free to check if everyone can hear you on Zoom.
No cranberry sauce or gravy is needed.
Just some favourite vegetables, with rice or pasta, and a nice dessert.
It’s been a hard year. Why not relax this Thanksgiving?

The Full Moon will be its brightest at 4:30 A.M. EST on November 30.
Nice to know some things haven’t changed.


Depending on your preferences, you can use two servings each of breasts and legs or thighs, or four of the same.
The recipe is easy to expand if you have a larger household.
It’s also easy to reduce if you’re a couple or alone.
The leftovers are good for a few days, too.

Instead of Mozzarella you can use Swiss or Monterey Jack cheese.
Use whatever you prefer or have on hand.
You can also use a bit more or less, depending how creamy you like your chicken.

You can also place a slice of ham on each of the chicken portions before you add the cheese.

                        Creamy Baked Chicken

Grease an 8 inch square or 9x13 inch pan

Combine in a small bowl
4 Tablespoons mayonnaise 

4 Tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 375º F

Place in prepared pan
4 servings of chicken
Layer on top of the chicken pieces

4 slices Mozzarella cheese
Spread the mayonnaise mixture over the chicken.

Sprinkle over the chicken
4 to 8 Tablespoons grated Parmesan Cheese

Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour.
Serve over rice or noodles.

About the holidays…
Back in 2002 I wrote an essay for the CKUW radio show ‘2000 & Counting' about getting Christmas gifts.
It was a meant as a light piece, filled with hints. Many of our listeners were seniors or college students, folks known for having to stretch their dollars. It’s always something…

Okay… listen up! There are about five weeks left until Christmas. That means gifts. I know, I know, it's more blessed to give than to receive. But, unless you have ways of shopping that you'd like to keep secret, giving gifts means money.

It's a little late to start a Christmas gift account at your bank and the utility companies really lose that Ho Ho Ho spirit if you try to skip paying their bills.

If the charge cards are already maxed out - or you just want to keep your nearest and dearest on a cash and carry basis - gift getting is going to take a little effort.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. As we're all stuck with holidays - oh, lucky us - I'll tell you some of my desperate measures.

Live off your hump. You know what I mean. Things like the 18 cans of tuna you have left from the time you bought 20 cans so you could get 50 bonus airmiles. Now's the time to crack those babies open. I know the family hates tuna. That's why there are 18 little cans of fishies swimming around your pantry. Well, the family would hate a Giftless Christmas even more. Think about it. Lousy dinners happen to everybody. But the family Grinch who comes up giftless at Christmas gets blabbed about throughout the neighbourhood and the generations. You don't want to be remembered by your great great grandchildren as Granny Grinchie.

Try creative cooking. Pretend you're on the TV show Iron Chef. You've just been given a tube of ground beef, a bag of marshmallows, a jar of salsa, a bottle of raspberry vinegar, a carton of frozen spinach, a jar of maraschino cherries and a box of rice-a-roni. Think only a nut throws odd things together? How do you think raspberry vinegar was invented? If the family gets snarky, tell them you found the recipe in a magazine - Drop names. Martha is always good - and if they can't appreciate all the effort you put into making dinner interesting… Well! You know the speech. Remember, guilt, when the other person has it, is a good thing.

Go ethnic. Granny's recipes don't have to be saved for Folklorama. God bless ancestors. Go to an ethnic restaurant and get a load of the prices they charge for a plate of pasta fagioli (that's noodles and beans). Grandma would die laughing if she saw those prices. Starch and beans got millions of people through tough times. Go thou and eat likewise.

Beans aren't good enough? Go past the recognizable cuts and shop the mystery meats. Put enough spices on them and the family won't know what hit them. I once made spaghetti and meatballs using animal organs only a mother could love. Guess what? Hubby had invited a friend. Well, the buddy was getting a free meal, so I followed the Cook’s Golden Rule: Don't apologize and don't explain. The buddy said it was delicious, like the meatballs they serve at the Bay. Hmmm… I notice the Bay is still in business. There's more than one way to skin a cat.

Shop your house. No kidding. Grab a bag and stroll through your house. Look for things somebody foisted… uh… gave to you. Well, why should you be stuck with it until you're six feet under? Unless it was made by your preschooler - don't even think it, they DO remember - you're free to pass it on to someone else. Just don't give it to the person who gave it to you.

Pack your own. Ever notice the little overpriced goodies the stores stuff into baskets and bowls? One current gift item is a box of pasta, a tin of sauce, some cheese and some wooden spoons nestled within a large bowl. Are you too stupid to do the same thing? I didn’t think so. It's one way to get rid of some of those extra airmiles purchases. Let somebody else eat the tuna.

Still thinking about the folks in the flyers looking wildly happy over a toaster?
Toss the flyers. Those models were paid big bucks. Stores want you to buy. A stress free family holiday is not their goal. If they had their way you'd replace everything and pay 50% interest.

Remember how the best presents were things that showed that someone cared? Maybe somebody hunted down an out-of-print book by your favourite author.
The gadgets that looked amazing seem strange on December 26.

While you're shopping, get yourself some treats.
I have a friend who picks up a bag of pfeffernusse cookies every year. When she feels like all she's doing is giving, giving, giving, she pops a pfeffernusse and gives herself an old time Christmas. It doesn't take much.

God bless us, everyone.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Happy Eleventh Birthday to I’m Turning 60…!! by Margaret Ullrich

Happy 11th Birthday to I’m Turning 60… and its readers!!
I want to thank each of you for visiting, whether it's been on a daily, weekly or occasional basis!
Also, a big 'Thank you!' to those who've invited their friends to visit!

I especially want to thank those who have commented. 
I really appreciate it when you tell me that your family enjoyed a recipe, or when you ask if I have a recipe for a particular dish.

I’m Turning 60… continues to be more popular than its older ’sibling’ blog
I’m Turning 60… - with 1,098 posts - has had over 955,000 visitors since July, 2010, when Blogger started keeping track of both blogs.
That's more visitors than its ‘elder sibling’ blog, Winnipeg is Better Than Chocolate, which has 2,787 posts, and has received a little over 475,000 visitors.
That's less than half the number of posts with over twice as many visitors!

Okay… enough with tallying the reader numbers.
Let’s get back to the recipes which deserve the credit for all these visits!

I recently took a look at how this blog’s posts have been doing.   
The current all-time top ten posts are pretty much the same as last year's favourites:
               Italian Easter Pie with Ricotta and Meat
Carmela Soprano's Scungilli in Hot Tomato Sauce                           

The monthly top ten choices have frequent changes, especially during holiday seasons. 
During the past month many posts were the same as those in the all-time posts.
Please, if you haven’t already, do try a few of the recipes on these lists.
Anna Sultana's Imqarrun il-forn (Baked Macaroni, Maltese Style) has been viewed - and, hopefully, enjoyed - 19,343 times as of today.

A few months ago, when the virus first came to Canada, i gathered recipes for two as well as recipes according to type of ingredients, and shared the posts on Facebook.
Here are the posts:

Bread Recipes made with Yeast, Baking Soda, Baking Powder or Sourdough Starter

Anna Sultana's Roasted Cornish Game Hens 

Anna Sultana's Lemon Cranberry Muffins / Baking Powder Substitutes 

Anna Sultana's Pull-Apart Pizza 

Anna Sultana's Pork Chops in Lemon Caper Sauce / Wine Substitutes for Cooking

Anna Sultana’s Milkless, Eggless, Butterless Cakes (Chocolate or Raisin) 
       and Two-Egg Sponge Cake

       and Quick Fudge

Hope you find them useful, too.

I also get a kick out of seeing how you search for my blog, such as: 
folklorama filipino pavilion food
a christmas story red cabbage recipe
hoito pancakes
red cabbage a christmas story
the hoito thunder bay pancake recipe
how to fix ross il-forn maltese receipy 
cheesecake co-pckers new jersey
eat your manicotti
pudina tal hobz ricetta bil malti
depression fruit cake recipe
how to cook petite scungilli with tomato sauce
maltese macaroni
cake with coconut

And my personal favourite:
nearer and dearer anna
Ma would've loved that!

I'm always amazed at learning where you live.
I expected visitors from the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom since many Maltese immigrated to these countries, especially after World War II.
I’m surprised to see that Russia is one of the top five countries, while the United Kingdom is a little lower on the list.

Now the top ten countries and their visitors are:   
United States………….. 480,119
Canada………….……….…. 82,337
Australia………….………… 56,161
Malta……………...…………  54,783
Russia…………………….…. 33,453
United Kingdom…….….  33,223
Turkey……….………………. 29,364
France………….………..…. 18,191
Germany……….…..…….  16,649
Ukraine.…….…….….……. 11,760

During the years there have also been visitors from Italy, Finland, Poland, Spain,
the Netherlands, Macedonia, Mexico, Afghanistan, Thailand, Slovakia, Ireland, 
Denmark, Bangladesh, Sweden, Israel, Moldova, Malaysia, Singapore, Kuwait, 
Greece, Kenya, Vietnam, Czech Republic, Brazil, Bermuda, Namibia, Cyprus, India, 
Philippines, Japan, South Korea, Norway, New Zealand, Madagascar, Armenia, 
South Africa, Romania, Iceland, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Tanzania, Argentina, 
United Arab Emirates, Belgium, Tunisia, Taiwan, Paraguay, Columbia, China, Jamaica, 
Portugal, Bahamas, Kazakhstan, French Guiana, Côte d’Ivoire, Bangladesh, Egypt, 
Kenya, Oman, Hungary, Belarus, Switzerland and Romania.

Since last October 20 there have also been visitors from Czechia, Lebanon, Austria, 
Venezuela, Hong Kong, Bulgaria, Dominican Republic, Lebanon, U.S. Virgin Islands, 
Gibraltar, Jersey, Nigeria, Serbia, Equador, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Estonia and Albania.
It is a small world after all!!

Recently there has also been a visitor which Blogger is calling ‘Unknown Region’.
I don't know where these unknown visitors live.
Oh, well, I wish a hello to you, wherever you call home.
Hope you found a recipe or two that you enjoyed.

I don't post very regularly and I don’t post on Facebook.
Please become a subscriber to the blog I’m Turning 60…
It’s easy and FREE - just click on the ‘FOLLOW’ link under the pictures of followers and post your email address. 
You can also follow I’m Turning 60… by email. 
Free, easy, and, I promise, your address will never be shared with anyone.
You’ll get an email when there is a new post, so you'll never miss a post.

I do post a link on Twitter whenever there is a new post. 
If you feel more comfortable using Twitter, just click on the Twitter link '@ImTurning60' and we’ll keep in touch that way.

I'd also like more comments.  Really.  
It's easy to do - just click on 'Comments' and write. 
Tell me what you want to know about. 
Would you like more holiday recipes, or more easy, cheap, quick meals or…?

Thanks again for visiting!
Hope to see you again real soon!

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Anna Sultana’s Lemon Blueberry Muffins and Fried Green Tomatoes

Happy October first!
COVID-19 has been with us for over six months.
It’s been a half year like no other.

But some things have stayed the same, such as tonight’s Full Harvest Moon.
It got its name because the Autumn Equinox happened on September 22nd.
The full Moon that comes nearest to the equinox is the one called the Harvest Moon, and it can occur in either September or October.
The full moon rises above the horizon around sunset, about 30 minutes later each night.
This extra light gave farmers extra time for harvesting, giving it the name Harvest Moon.

Here in Manitoba we’re also at risk of getting more frosty nights.
I harvested the tomatoes that were still on the vine.
Some were ripe, but most weren’t.
No problem - I’ll just make some Fried Green Tomatoes.

Last April I posted the recipe for Anna Sultana's Lemon Cranberry Muffins.
They’re delicious, but since we’ll be having cranberries as a side dish with a holiday meal - or two - it’s time to make muffins with blueberries.

Stay safe and well!


You don’t have baking powder? Save yourself a trip and make your own.
Cream of tartar combined with baking soda is an excellent baking powder substitute.
For 4 teaspoons baking powder:
Combine 1 teaspoon baking soda with 2 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar.
To make it shelf-stable add 1 teaspoon of cornstarch to the mixture.

These muffins, unglazed, also freeze well.

                        Lemon Cranberry Muffins

Line 24 muffin cups with paper muffin liners, or grease them

1/2 Cup butter
Set aside and allow to cool slightly.

Sift together in a medium bowl
3 Cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Place in a medium bowl
1 1/2 Cups frozen blueberries
Coat the berries with
1/4 Cup flour

Place in a larger mixer bowl
1 1/3  Cups sugar
1 1/4 Cups milk
1 Cup sour cream
the melted butter
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon lemon extract
Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until blended.
Fold in the flour mixture until batter is just moistened.
Fold in the coated blueberries
Stir just enough to blend. Do not over mix.

Preheat oven to 350º F
Fill the prepared muffin cups 3/4 full.
Bake in preheated oven 30 minutes, or until golden brown.
A toothpick inserted into a muffin should come out clean.
Cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan to a wire rack.

If you want to dress up your muffins you can makes this lemon glaze:
Combine in a small bowl
1 Cup confectioners’ sugar
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
Stir until smooth.
Place the muffins on a plate and drizzle with the glaze.

                        Fried Green Tomatoes

Combine in a shallow bowl
1/2 cup flour
salt and pepper to taste

Slice 1/2-inch thick
4 to 6 firm green tomatoes

Place in a skillet
1/2 cup vegetable oil or shortening
Heat over medium high heat.

Dip tomato slices in flour and place in hot skillet.
Brown tomato slices thoroughly on both sides.
When tomatoes are finished, add to the skillet
1/2 cup milk
Stir to make a gravy.

Pour gravy over tomatoes and serve as a side dish.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Anna Sultana’s Crumb Cake / The Perseid Meteor Shower

COVID-19 has made this a summer like no other.
Including here in Manitoba.
Most of our usual festivals and events have been cancelled, and we’re nervous about going out for groceries, let alone having simple get-togethers.

Parents here, as everywhere else, are worried about what to do this September.
Should children go to school, or stay home and learn on-line?
Modern technology is amazing, but it does lack that human touch.

Some events and things can be handled on-line, but others can't.
We still have to eat something solid, something that we can touch.
Virtual reality will not work for the dining room table.
Meal times and snack times demand a bit of cooking.

The take out places have been saying that NOBODY touches the food they sell.
All well and good.
I do support local businesses, but after a while one can actually get tired of take out.
Since cheesecake usually helps keep me calm, last month I posted the recipe for Woolworth Icebox Cheesecake.
It’s an old favourite, and I do love cheesecake, but just like take out, one can get tired of eating cheesecake. Really.

When I was growing up Entenmann’s Crumb Cake was a popular dessert.
Ma had a recipe for it.
Warning: the recipe requires cake flour.
If you have cake flour on your shelf, all is well and good.
If you don't have it, you can make a cake flour substitute.

If you don’t have time to make a cake flour substitute and your store doesn’t have bags of cake flour on its shelf (yes, supplies - even of staples - have been a bit erratic since the virus came), then this recipe is for you.
Time was a precious commodity in Ma's home so she often used this recipe.
It calls for regular flour and will give you a delicious crumb cake.

About the sky this month...
The annual Perseid Meteor Shower is returning, with the peak of the shower happening between August 11 to 13.
The bright meteors are a favourite summer sight, and the virus can’t stop them.

Why not bake a crumb cake and enjoy the night skies with a slice? 
The kiddies can have a glass or two of lemonade.
Piña Coladas or Strawberry Daiquiris (with or without the rum) would be appreciated by the adults.

Stay safe and well, everyone!


It your family really likes crumb toppings, the crumb recipe can be doubled.
it won't affect baking time.

If you have salted butter, don't add the 1/8 teaspoon salt.

This cake is denser than the recipe using cake flour. 
A smaller slice will be filling.

                        Crumb Cake

For the Crumb Topping
In a small bowl mix together 
1/3 Cup sugar
1/3 Cup dark brown sugar 
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon 
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 Cup unsalted butter, melted and still warm
1 3/4 Cups flour
Stir until the mixture is a solid dough.
Set aside to cool.

For the Cake
Place the oven rack in the upper-middle position.
Preheat oven to 350º F
Grease and flour 2 8-inch square baking pans

In a large mixer bowl place
1 Cup butter, softened
1 3/4 Cups sugar
4 large eggs 
Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy.

2 1/2 Cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder 
Beat at low speed just to combine.

1/2 Cup milk
1 1/4 teaspoon vanilla 
Beat at low speed just to combine.

Spread the cake batter in the prepared pans.
Using a rubber spatula, spread the batter into an even layer. 

Break apart the crumb topping into large pea-sized pieces and spread the pieces in an even layer over the batter.
Do not push the crumbs into the batter.
Bake for 45 to 50 minutes. 
The crumbs should be a golden brown.
A toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake should come out clean.
Place the pans on a wire rack.
Let the cakes cool at least 30 minutes.

Just before serving dust with
confectioners' sugar 

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Woolworth Icebox Cheesecake & Strawberry Cream Cheese Icebox Cake / Comet NEOWISE

Thanks to the COVID-19 virus we’ve been staying home for the past four months.
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.
Staying home is always better than having to stay in a hospital.
For one thing, the food is always better.

Ah… the food.
Since the virus started there's been a growing interest in home baking, especially in baking bread, particularly sourdough.

The only problem is, since we’ve been staying home eating all that bread and not going out for walks or errands unless absolutely necessary, the calories have been staying on our hips, as well as on other places.

It’s time to get back to normal and to start getting back into shape.
But we’re still in a stressful time, and occasionally need a bit of comfort food,

If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog, you know that cheesecake is my idea of the ultimate non-pasta comfort food.
Well, there are cheesecakes, and then there are cheesecakes.
Some are rich and thick and loaded with calories.
But there are cheesecake recipes that are more diet-friendly.
And many are easy to make.

The Woolworth Icebox Cheesecake is a delicate lemony dessert.
The Strawberry Cream Cheese Icebox Cake is a light and creamy dessert.
Neither recipe requires using an oven.
Looking for something for the kiddies to do? These recipes could be fun projects.

Stay safe and well, everyone!

Here are more cheesecake recipes. Enjoy!!

Cheesecake with Strawberry Glaze from the 1960’s Argo® Cornstarch Box

                        Woolworth Icebox Cheesecake

Shake well
12 ounce can evaporated milk
Place it, along with a large mixing bowl and beaters, in the freezer.
Chill for at least 1 hour.

For the crust, combine in a medium bowl
1 2/3 Cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 Cup confectioners' sugar
6 Tablespoons butter, melted 
Reserving 1/3 Cup, press the remaining mixture in the bottom of a 9x13 inch pan.
Refrigerate until needed.

Place in a small mixing bowl
1/2 Cup boiling water
Stir in until completely blended
3 ounce package lemon jello
Stir in
1/2 Cup cold water
Place the bowl in the refrigerator. 
Leave it there until the jello is slightly thickened, about 30 minutes. 

Place in a large mixer bowl
8 ounces cream cheese
1 Cup granulated sugar
5 Tablespoons lemon juice 
Beat with mixer at medium speed until smooth. 
cooled thickened jello 
Beat until well blended. Refrigerate.

Take from the freezer the can of milk, the mixing bowl and beaters.
Pour into the bowl the cold can of evaporated milk
Beat on high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. 
It should be similar to the consistency of stiffly beaten egg whites.
Beat in the cream cheese/jello mixture.

Gently spread the filling over the chilled crumb crust.
Top with the remaining crumbs.
Refrigerate at least 4 hours. (It's better to refrigerate it overnight.)
Cut into squares and serve.

                        Strawberry Cream Cheese Icebox Cake

Spread over bottom of a 9x13 inch pan
1 1/4 Cups graham cracker crumbs
Set aside. 

2 pounds strawberries
Cut the tops off of the strawberries and slice them 1/4 inch thick.
Set aside. 

Place in a large mixer bowl
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
Beat with mixer until smooth and creamy. 
2 3.4 ounce packages instant cheesecake-flavoured pudding (or vanilla)
3 Cups milk
Mix at low speed for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the mixture starts to thicken. 
Fold in
2 cups whipped topping
Blend until smooth. 

Pour half of the cream cheese mixture into the prepared pan.
Arrange half of the strawberry slices in a single layer over the cream cheese mixture. 
Cover the strawberries with 
1 Cup graham cracker crumbs
Cover with the remaining cream cheese mixture. 
Top with the remaining strawberry slices.
Cover and refrigerate for 6 to 8 hours. 

When serving, top with whipped topping and a sprinkling of graham cracker crumbs. 

According to the Farmers’ Almanac:

There’ll be quite a few interesting and bright spots in the sky this month!

Along with Comet NEOWISE you’ll see the bright blue star, Vega, which will be the North Star 12,000 years from now.

If you look tonight or tomorrow, some time after midnight but before dawn, Mars will be near the Moon. Rising in the East after midnight, Mars is not as bright as Jupiter or Venus, and it’s found midway between them. 
At midnight, you’ll see the brightest "star" in the sky, the yellow-white planet Jupiter. The bright "star" to its left is Saturn. 

On July 14 Jupiter is at opposition to the Sun. 
Look in that same eastward direction before 5 AM to see the Morning Star, Venus.

On July 17 Venus will be joined by the crescent Moon and Taurus’s orange star, Aldebaran. Enjoy it at pre-dawn when it outshines Mars in the south, and Jupiter setting in the west.

On July 20 Saturn has its own opposition. It is also at its closest and brightest for the year. With the new Moon on the same night, Saturn viewing should be perfect.