Giving Thanks: A Woman on the Front Lines

“I’ve always been in a man’s world. I have a son, my mother had all brothers, her mother had all brothers, now I’m here at The Heights, a boy’s school,” explained Mrs. Glenn.

I first heard about Mrs. Glenn five years ago when our son got his first late slip in his new school. He told me, “Mrs. Glenn gave me a piece of paper to give to my teacher…and, a piece of candy!”

Renetta Glenn (76) retired from Fannie Mae as an executive assistant to a CEO in a high-pressure environment. At her retirement lunch she said she didn’t want to stay home and sit. She loved kids and said that she might want to work at a school. One connection led to another. She recalls with a big smile, “Mr. [Tom] Royals interviewed me in the morning and he called me that night and offered me a job as a receptionist!”

She sits at the front desk and has a panoramic view of the action including the school crest (don’t step on it). Nothing gets by Mrs. Glenn.

“I imagine this is much different from working at Fannie Mae?”

“Oh yes, she laughs, oh my yes!”

Nothing is too much trouble for her, especially when it comes to her “precious boys” at The Heights, or their parents. Would you like your son’s report card? Mrs. Glenn has A-K (her affable co-worker, Mrs. Kilner, takes L-Z). Is your son sick? “Ahhh poor baby…what’s wrong today?”

My recent exchange was asking her if she could get a message to my son:

“I hate to ask this, and if it’s not too much trouble….”

She interjected: “Oh, it’s trouble, believe me! This will cost you…” (You could see the twinkle in her eye through the phone.)

Me, apologetically: “This is the first time in five years I have ever had to do this.”

Mrs. Glenn: “The first time? Then, we’ll let this one pass, but the next time it will cost you…”

She made me laugh just when I needed it and had a messenger dispensed lickety-split. Pitch any problem to Mrs. Glenn and she hits it outa the park.

As for that payment, I figured I would ask just in case I needed to pay her off one day:

“What kind of cookies do you like?

Without skipping a beat she said slowly: “Choc-o-late chip…home-made choc-o-late chip.

With matched intensity, I said, “With real butter?”

“Real butter,” she confirmed.

Renetta Glenn

Renetta Glenn

The Heights is not Fannie Mae but I imagine Renetta Glen has marked each career with capable skills and a hospitable attitude. Anyone who gives a boy a piece of candy for being late is tops in my book! We have a lot to be thankful for this year.

Say Thanks with Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe

Recipe adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

You can substitute any kind of chocolate (white, milk or mixed) or peanut butter chips for the semisweet ones. The recipe calls for 2 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks (the extra fat makes them chewy but not tough). The melted butter accounts for the chewy inside.

Wrap them up in a box and pretty bow and say “Thanks!”


  • 3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1-1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 (12-ounce bag) semisweet chocolate chips (2 cups)
  • 3/4 cup coconut (optional but I usually add it)
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts, optional

Adjust the oven racks to the upper and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 325 degrees. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl and set aside.

Beat the butter and sugars in a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed until combined, one to two minutes. Beat in the eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla, until combined, about 30 second, scraping down the bowl and the beaters as needed.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly mix in the flour mixture until combined, about 30 seconds. Mix in the chocolate chips until incorporated.

Working with 1/4 cup of dough at a time, roll the dough into balls and lay on two parchment-lined baking sheets, spaced about 2-1/2 inches apart.

Bake until the edges are golden but the centers are still soft and puffy, 17 to 20 minutes, rotating and switching the baking sheets halfway through baking.

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, then serve warm or transfer to a wire rack. They keep well in a sealed container.

Other stories about The Heights — The Sixth Grade Gentlemen’s Dinner and Hospitality and Raising Boys. 

Savoring Thanksgiving

Pretty as a Picture Pecan Pie

Cranberry Crazed

Holiday Pumpkin Cookies

Thanksgiving Tablescape (aka-Setting the Table)

Candied Apple Cookies

You-Picked-a-Fine-Time-to-Leave-Me-Lucille Pumpkin Roll

Emily the Dietician Chef on How to Eat Healthy During the Holidays



Paying Da Bills

My friend Margaret preserved her family legends of hospitality and food in her own family heirloom cookbook. With each recipe she told a story to go with it. She recalls the following story about her grandmother’s cakes.

My parents were born in 1924. When I asked them questions about food and their childhood, their memories were vivid and clearly influenced by the Depression. My favorite story was about my maternal grandmother’s cakes. My grandmother, her sister-and-law and a friend sold cakes, pies, cookies and fresh fruit at a little stand my grandfather built near his brother’s farm. They set up on Fridays and Saturday mornings. My grandmother also paid the family’s doctor bills with angel food cakes. For years, she baked an angel food cake each week and took it to the family physician as payment.

I wonder if our kids will be talking about memories of food? Hope so!

Esther’s Spice Cake

This was one of the cakes Margaret’s grandmother sold at her cake stand during the Depression. The mocha icing probably made it a best seller. Cindy Dyer photographed the cake I baked from Esther’s recipe with the Depression-era milk glass cake stand.

  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon mace
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup molasses

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and flour two eight-inch round cake pans.

Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, mace, and cloves. Sift together and set aside.

Put the butter, sugar and eggs in a large mixing bowl.  Cream the butter, sugar and eggs until smooth and well blended.

Stir the milk and molasses together in a smaller bowl.

Add the milk-molasses mixture into the creamed butter mixture in two stages alternately with the flour mixture.

Beat until the batter is well blended and smooth after each addition.

Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cake comes out clean.

Cool for 5 minutes. Turn out the cakes from the pans onto a cooling rack. Cool completely.

Photo by Cindy Dyer.

Read more about Margaret Barkers family cookbook in the Winter 2013 Celebrate Home Magazine, page 54, “Green Chicken: Creating a Family Heirloom Cookbook.”

Comfort Food Refined

Bread puddings are from a simpler era when home cooks used up stale bread and mixed it with milk, eggs, sugar, dried fruit and spices. Bread pudding knows no geographic limits— its variations are still made throughout the world.

This Amaretto Bread Pudding uses the basic ingredients with some refined tweaks. Before serving, the pudding is topped with an amaretto sauce and put under the broiler. Bookmark this one, because it’s the perfect fall dessert.

Amaretto Bread Pudding

The recipe is inspired from a 1989 bon appétit magazine issue. I lost the recipe and couldn’t find the precise recipe on a Google search. But I replicated the flavors and texture in my test kitchen. I nailed it!


  • 1 loaf challah bread, approximately one-pound loaf, torn into one-inch pieces
  • 1 quart half and half (Note: I did one batch with fat-free milk and, although a little less rich, it was delicious, so milk is a fine low-fat alternative)
  • 1-1/4 cups of sugar
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons almond extract
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • Butter, unsalted and at room temperature, for greasing a 9” x 13” baking pan

Combine bread and half and half in a large bowl. Cover and let stand for one hour, stirring occasionally.

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Grease pan with butter.

Whisk sugar, eggs and almond extract together. Stir into bread mixture. Gently fold in almonds and raisins. Spoon into baking dish.

Bake 50-55 minutes until firm. Cool. Can be prepared a day ahead (do not refrigerate).

Amaretto Sauce:

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 egg, room temperature, well beaten
  • 1/4 cup amaretto liqueur

Stir sugar and butter in top of a double boiler until sugar dissolves and mixture it very hot. Remove from heat and whisk in egg a little bit at a time until mixed well and slightly cool. Whisk in amaretto liqueur. Sauce can be prepared ahead and refrigerated.

When ready to serve, preheat broiler. Cut pudding into squares. Spoon amaretto sauce on squares and broil until bubbly.

Amaretto Bread Pudding makes a lovely dessert to take to a potluck party during the holidays. Decorate the tray with the colors of the season and label it for a buffet.

Amaretto Bread Pudding makes a lovely dessert to take to a potluck party during the holidays. Cut the pudding and decorate the tray with the colors of the season and label it for a buffet. Or table the dish it was baked in.

I Knew You Were Coming So I Baked a [Fast! Easy!] Birthday Cake

Everyone should feel good on his or her birthday. Here are some quick and easy ideas for busy people who love to say, “Hey! We are glad you were born!”

Recipe for Success: The rich Reese’s Peanut Butter Cake pictured above was a simple feat. Bake a white cake in two layer pans. Mix one can of milk chocolate frosting with one cup of smooth peanut butter. Spread frosting in the middle layer and on top. Decorate with chunks of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Reese’s baking chips. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

 Keep a Well-Stocked Birthday-Ready Pantry for Minimal Effort and Big Impact

Gather these items over time. Many of them can be found in the dollar, grocery, or craft stores..

  • Cake mixes
  • Brownie mixes
  • Frosting variety — canned, tubes, etc.
  • Cupcake papers of all colors and designs
  • Piping tubes for frosting. (Can purchase disposable bags and tips at Michaels or buy frosting in a can with decorating tips)
  • Toppings — sprinkles of all colors and shapes, candies, chocolate/white/peanut butter/toffee chips
  • Variety of birthday candles — numbers/candles/sparklers
  • Ribbons, table cloths, fabric remnants, burlap, candles, foil wrapping paper, colored tissue paper
  • Inexpensive trays
  • Silk flowers — standard white and a few brightly colored flowers
  • Chalkboard and colored chalk — stand-up easel style (Michaels), or  a small whiteboard with colored markers

Here are some birthday ideas I’ve done over the last year — all simple and fast!

Cupcakes decorated with Gummy Life Savers, candles. Put on a cake plate and accent with blue rafia.

Cupcakes decorated with Gummy Life Savers, sprinkles and colored candles. Arrange on a cake plate and accent with blue rafia and more gummies. 


For a fast, festive table use a chalkboard easel, a store-bought cake and candles.  For a fall birthday add gourds and fall colors.

For a fast, festive table use a chalkboard easel to send a message, a store-bought cake (pick his favorite flavor) and candles. For a fall birthday, add gourds and fall colors.

Cupcakes always work. Make them colorful and arrange on foil wrapping paper accented with ribbon.

Cupcakes always work. Make them colorful and arrange on foil wrapping paper accented with ribbon.

Bake brownies, sprinkle with powdered sugar, dot with colored frosting and sugar pearls. Accent with strawberries and add the numbers.

“29 Again?” Bake brownies, arrange on platter, sprinkle with powdered sugar, dot with colored frosting and sugar pearls. Accent with strawberries and add the numbers.

There's nothing like a birthday breakfast in bed!

There’s nothing like a birthday breakfast in bed to make someone feel special!

For a birthday sleepover, buy donuts and arrange in a festive way.

For a kids’ birthday sleepover, buy donuts and arrange in a festive way for the breakfast table.

This all started with a black and white store-bought cake.  The chalkboard easel appears again with candles, presents wrapped in black and white paper white flowers (silk), polka dot fabric remnant, and green accents with fabric and tissue paper.

This all started with a black and white store-bought cake. The chalkboard easel appears again along with candles, presents wrapped in black and white paper ,white flowers (silk), polka dot fabric remnant, and green accents with sheer green fabric and tissue paper. The number candles come in handy once again. (Always reusable.)