29 Again?

Hey busy readers….need a quick birthday cake-alternative idea? I started with a batch of brownies and punched it up with color and fresh strawberries. Whenever you’re in the store, pick up colorful candles, frostings, sprinkles to have on hand. Keep several of your favorite boxed brownie mixes in the pantry (or the ingredients for your favorite homemade ones).

Then, just let your imagination go and you never know what can happen. And, the great thing is, it can happen quickly! In these busy days of work, kids, sports and whatever else life throws you, we need quick.

For More Birthday Ideas

See my eHow™ video series here. I’ve given you some inspiration in one-to-three minute videos. Enjoy! Send me your ideas; I’d love to hear about them. (Note: all my videos will soon be captioned on my YouTube Channel, stay tuned.)

e-How Video on Throwing an Indoor Beach Party

When the weather turns cold and you are craving some beach time, throw an indoor party with a beach theme. Here are my tips on the e-How™ website on how to create the atmosphere with decorations and food from the tropics. (For the captioned video, see it on YouTube here.

Recipes featured in my video are Shrimp Cocktail, Fish Tacos with Mango Salsa, and Key Lime Tartlets. Here are the recipes. For more party ideas, see my series on Being the Best Host. (Note: Captioned version on YouTube here.)

Shrimp Cocktail
Serve these in champagne flutes.


  • Shrimp, cleaned and steamed, tails on
  • Wooden skewers
  • Cocktail sauce (either purchased or make by using 1 cup Heinz Chili Sauce plus fresh horseradish to taste, about 2-3 tablespoons)
  • Scallions, cleaned
  • Avocado, peeled and chopped
  • Lime juice, about 1 tablespoon
  • Salt and pepper to taste


Mix chopped avocado with lime juice, salt and pepper, set side. Thread three shrimp on a wooden skewer.

Assemble shrimp cocktails in glass by layering ingredients in this order:

  1. Cocktail sauce
  2. Avocado
  3. Shrimp on skewers
  4. One scallion
    Serve chilled.

Fish Tacos
Any kind of fresh, fleshy fish will work, such as Mahi Mahi, Flounder, Grouper. Really, whatever white fish is on sale is great.


  • Fish, about 2 pounds,
  • 2 mangos, chopped into small chunks — everything should be tiny bite-sized
  • 1/2 cup chopped green scallions
  • 1-2 avocados, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Soft taco shells


Make the mango salsa by combining mangos, scallions, avocados, cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Season the fish with any type of seasoning you like (this is where you improvise to suit your own taste buds). I’ve used blackened seasoning, Old Bay, salt, pepper, cayenne. Drizzle some olive oil over the fish to get ready to cook on the grill or a stove-top pan.

Cook the fish about four minutes on each side for a total of 8-10 minutes (depending on thickness, this is only a gauge).

Fill taco shells with fish and top with mango salsa.

Yield: 4-6 tacos

Key Lime Tartlets

Use real key limes for an authentic taste. Because the Florida Keys had no refrigeration until the Overseas Highway opened in 1938, bakers had to use canned milk, so sweetened condensed milk became an essential element of Florida’s state pie. This version of Key Lime Pie has a filling that doesn’t need to be baked so it’s perfect for little tartlets. Serve in tropical-colored cups and top with slices of Key lime.


  • Graham cracker crumbs, boxed
  • Sugar
  • Melted butter
  • 1 can (14-oz.) Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • 1/3 cup Key Lime juice (use a citrus reamer to extract the juice) or, use Nellie and Joe’s Famous Key West Lime Juice, found in some grocery or specialty stores.
  • 2 egg whites, beaten until thick
  • Heavy whipped cream, whipped with 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla.

Make a graham cracker crust. Follow the directions on the box for a one-crust pie using melted butter and sugar. Mix and set aside.

Combine condensed milk and Key Lime juice with an electric mixer. Fold in the beaten egg whites into the milk mixture.

Assemble tartlets by pressing about one tablespoon of graham cracker crust into the bottom of a cup. Top with about one-fourth cup of Key Lime pie filling. Chill for at least three hours.

When ready to serve, topped with whipped cream and a Key lime slice.

Yield: one dozen


Barbara Kelley on “Being the Best Host”

Chandler Macik, videographer, on the set with Barbara Kelley

Chandler Macik, videographer, on the set with Barbara Kelley

Lights! Camera! Action!

I had the great experience of filming a ten-topic video series on “Being the Best Host” for the eHow™ website just released today.  e-How™ is the online go-to expert for step-by-step instructions on how to do just about anything. They assigned me 10 specific titles that I had to interpret with my own creativity and instructions on how to execute them.

Check out my videos here. Some of the videos include food, but there wasn’t time to give recipes, so look for the recipes in upcoming blogs. Note: captioned videos can be viewed on YouTube here.

Let me know what topics you would like to see in future videos. Stay tuned and, as they say in the biz, “That’s a wrap!” 

How to make Sweet 16 centerpieces.

Barbara shows how to make Sweet 16 centerpieces.


Motivated by Coconut Oil Piecrust and Saving Money

It’s not a snazzy title but I had a hard time coming up with a title to let you know what I’m up to today. I’m going with two concepts:

  1. I love pie. All kinds, all flavors – cream pies, fruit pies, nut pies, you name it. I am tempted to buy them at the farmer’s market, the gourmet store, and at the local farm. But paying anywhere around $15 or more for a pie goes against my grain when I know I can make one for a fraction of the cost and maybe even make it better. (My family loves pie too so it’s worth making one.)
  2. I’ve had a jar of coconut oil in my pantry. Why? Because Melanie (a blog reader and contributor) tells me coconut oil is good for you and falls in the allowable foods of a Paleo diet which a lot of people follow these days for good health reasons.
    Some of coconut oil’s claims are improving brain function, lowering cholesterol, preventing obesity and heart disease, and more. WebMD says there aren’t enough clinical trials to support the claims. But, whatever the claims, I like to try new things so I bought a jar at Trader Joe’s months ago and it has been beckoning. Since then, I’ve found out coconut oil is readily available, even Costco carries it in a large jar at a good price.

Today’s Mission

I wanted to make a delicious apple pie at a fraction of the cost of buying one and use coconut oil as a healthy alternative to other oils. The result was a flaky delicious pie crust with my twist on a typical filling.

And, oh…working with the coconut oil… was heavenlywhat a lovely smell…the dough was so soft, smooth and perfectly pliable in my hands. There is one caveat to working with coconut oil dough. As with all pie crusts, you must chill the dough so the gluten can do its thing. However, coconut oil chills very hard so you have to bring it to room temperature to be able to work with it and bring it back to its pliable self. I resorted to zapping the dough for 15 seconds in the microwave. The dough was a tad temperamental, but not impossible, to roll out, and the result was worth it.

Whether you use coconut oil or not, try my recipe for the filling. It’s all good. I must admit, health benefits or not, the coconut oil pie crust was flaky, delicious, and maybe the best I’ve ever made.

Coconut Oil Pie Crust
Makes enough for one 9-inch pie crust. Double the recipe for a top and bottom crust.


  • 1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, room temperature
  • 4-7 tablespoon water, cold


Whisk together flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Rub in coconut oil with your fingertips or use a hand mixer on low speed. Using a fork, stir in cold water until dough almost comes together into a ball. Add water gradually, a tablespoon or two at a time. Press dough into a ball, divide in half, and wrap in plastic. Chill for at least one hour.

When ready to use, let the dough come to room temperature. Use flour on the surface to prevent sticking when rolling it.

Apple Pie Filling
The filling has an extra little something.


  • 5 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced thinly
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cups chopped nuts, optional
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • Egg white, lightly beaten
  • Cinnamon sugar, about 1 tablespoon of sugar mixed with a sprinkle of cinnamon


Combine 1 cup sugar with cinnamon and toss with sliced apples and set aside.

Mix brown sugar, flour and melted butter until crumbly and set aside. (Add nuts to this mixture if you choose.)

Roll out one half of the pie crust and place bottom crust in a 9-inch pie pan.

Put one-half of the apples in the pie pan.

Top with brown sugar, flour and butter mixture.

Put the rest of the apples in the pie pan.

Top with the other half of the rolled crust, pinch the crust to seal. Poke a few holes or slits in the top crust.

Brush top crust with lightly-beaten egg whites and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Bake in 375⁰ oven for about 55-60 minutes.


Fried Green Tomatoes and Yogi-isms

“It’s ain’t over ‘til it’s over” is only one of Yogi Berra’s infamous paradoxical contradictions known as Yogi-isms. Berra is one of Major League Baseball’s greatest catchers who as player, coach or manager, appeared in 21 World Series.

It’s that time of year when two of my favorite summer pastimes – watching baseball and eating homegrown tomatoes – will take a hiatus. Although the World Series is yet to be played, and with 90 degree temps here in the D.C. area last weekend, I found homegrown tomatoes. Better yet, I found green ones ready for frying up.

I’m hanging on to summer for dear life at this point. But as long as baseball is still being played and I can still find home grown tomatoes, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

Before I give you my fried green tomato recipe with a tasty sauce I just created, enjoy some more Yogi-isms (thanks to Wikipedia):

  • As a general comment on baseball: “90 percent of the game is half mental.”
  • On why he no longer went to Ruggeri’s, a St. Louis restaurant: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
  • “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” In July 1973, Berra’s Mets trailed the Chicago Cubs by nine-and-a-half games in the National League East, the Mets rallied to win the division title on the final day of the season.
  • When giving directions to Joe Garagiola to his New Jersey home, which is accessible by two routes: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
  • On being the guest of honor at an awards banquet: “Thank you for making this day necessary.”
  • “It’s déjà vu all over again.” Berra explained that this quote originated when he witnessed Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris repeatedly hit back-to-back home runs in the Yankees’ seasons in the early 1960s.
  • “You can observe a lot by watching.”
  • “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t go to yours.”

Fried Green Tomatoes with Tasty Sauce


  • Oil of your choice for frying
  • 2 large green tomatoes, washed and sliced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • I cup Panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • 3 large eggs, slightly beaten

Sauce Ingredients

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon basil, fresh and chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste


Prepare sauce first: Combine mayonnaise, ketchup, lemon juice, salt and ground pepper. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Wash and slice tomatoes. Place on paper towels to remove excess water and juice. Salt and pepper the tomato slices on both sides

Mix Panko bread crumbs, flour, and seasoned bread crumbs in a bowl.

Beat eggs slightly in another bowl.

Heat oil in a large sauté pan.

Dip a tomato slice in egg, then bread crumb mixture, then place in heated oil. Don’t overcrowd the battered tomatoes in the pan — their edges shouldn’t be touching. Brown on one side about five minutes, flip tomatoes and brown on the other side. Don’t overcook but be sure they are browned nicely with a crust. Serve hot with sauce.

Yield: About 10 slices


Put Down that Moon Pie and Have Some Space Cake

Put down that Moon Pie and try this heirloom, no-bake, cake with an out-of-this world taste!

We never called this “Space Cake,” I named it that. Whatever the name, we just knew we loved the scrumptious peanut-butter-chocolate cake. Space Cake is one of those recipes that was never written down, it was just enjoyed.

It began with my maternal grandmother, Mable Marie Varner Space, otherwise known as Gran. We figure the name Space must have been a shortened version of the German name Spache or Spacek. When our forefathers came through Ellis Island, they pronounced their names and the people at Ellis Island who recorded their entry spelled the names the way they sounded, or changed the names altogether. Gran’s maiden name, Varner, would have been spelled Warner in German with the W sounding like a V, thus, the new, Americanized spelling.

Gran was a sturdy, serious, and quiet woman who always had a quilt in progress with quilting racks adorning her dining room. My grandfather, Pa, was always cheerful. In fact, his nickname was “Happy,” given to him by people on his rural Pennsylvania mail route.

Gran made this cake, cherry and lemon meringue pie, and soft white bread with a chewy crust. Pa made homemade egg noodles. Going to their home was an adventure for me. I sat quietly for a while and listened to the grown-ups while I swiveled in the big gray knobby chair with the crocheted doilies.

Then I would go exploring. The rooms where my mother grew up were intriguing with old furniture with lots of drawers and baubles. Off from the dining room was a secret door that either went to the cellar or was a closet. I was never brave enough to open it or ask. The back yard was narrow and lush with plum, cherry and apple trees. I wanted to climb the trees but never did.

Never having a written recipe, I’ve been making Space Cake for years.

Space Cake


  • 1 box graham crackers
  • Bananas, about 3-5 depending on the size of the dish
  • Chocolate frosting, about 1-2 cups
  • Peanut butter, about 1 to 2 cups


Layer graham crackers in a baking pan. Slice bananas lengthwise and layer on top of graham crackers. Repeat the layers at least twice until you end with graham crackers. Frost the top with your favorite chocolate frosting mixed with peanut butter (about half and half). Cover tightly and let cake sit for at least 24 hours before eating it. It gets better with age and will hold in the refrigerator a few days after that.

This recipe originally appeared in Celebrate Home Magazine, summer 2013 issue. Photo by Cindy Dyer.