My husband and I were making baked cinnamon sugar doughnut holes a while ago. The recipe we were using called for nutmeg. My husband measured out what was needed for the recipe, and I grabbed the container to sneak a sniff before I closed the lid. Yes, I am a spice sniffer. Is there a support group for that? I digress. In an instant, I was brought back to my childhood. My mom would always save empty food containers for us so we could play house or grocery store in the basement whenever it rained or was too cold to play outside. The moment that I was brought back to was sitting backwards on the steps going down to the basement. There wasn’t a back to the steps, so you could sit and let your legs dangle through, and step above you became a desk. Sometimes I’d watch my Mom doing laundry in the basement, but the moment I remembered in that flashback was sitting on the steps and coloring. Next to me were a few empty red and white containers of McCormick spices—nutmeg and cloves. Every now and then I’d sniff one of the empty spice containers, smile, and continue coloring. Perhaps I’m the only one who finds the aroma of cinnamon, anise, cloves, nutmeg or allspice comforting. To me they are like a fragrant hug, reminding me the years past of holiday baking, memories of family members who have passed, and the joys, the thrill, and the anticipation of the upcoming holiday season. As we begin the final month of this year, remember to take time to sniff the spices and be thankful for what you have and especially for those who surround you. #paulaszzerts #memories #baking #spices #mccormick
It’s funny how one image can bring back so many memories. As I was looking through pictures for this week, I caught a glimpse of my red sneakers. As a child, I loved them. As soon as I saw that picture, I flashed back to my Grandpa Z telling me not to go into the garden as it was muddy and I would ruin my shoes. I didn’t listen, and he did his best to clean up my sneakers before my mother got home. I don’t remember what happened after that, but I think my Grandpa was right…those sneakers were ruined. Despite the sad sneaker story, I wanted to share a little about my Aunt Marcia. Uncle Bud and Aunt Marcia got married a bit later than the rest of my Mom’s siblings, and I remember that wedding as Uncle Bud (I called him Uncle Buzz) and I were buddies. Part of their wedding reception (the after party I think) was in our garage- I remember watching everyone dancing. I was spying on them through the kitchen door. Aunt Marcia introduced all sorts of wonderful jello treats into our family. One of our favorites was jello surprise—you know the one that had the bits of pretzels in it. I think that was my first introduction to the sweet/salty combination. Aunt Marcia also introduced zucchini to the family. I was chatting with my mom recently and she remembered having zucchini bread for the first time, courtesy of Aunt Marcia. I still use that same recipe from Aunt Marcia when I make zucchini bread. Words of wisdom for this week—heed words of advice from your elders, as it may save your sneakers or something more important. Take some time this week to share some love with your family!
Have you ever wondered why you’re in a certain career path, or love certain hobbies or activities? Where does this deep-rooted passion come from? Why do we seem hard-wired to have certain passions in life? I’ve heard the phrase, “they come by it honestly,” multiple times. But what exactly does it mean?
Growing up, I have vague memories of my Grandpa Zagata’s corner store. He sold it and retired when I was pretty young. Grandpa Z also had a huge garden and sold his produce on the side of the road in front of his house. Grandpa Miller had a candy store (which was also a- ahem, speak easy) and later on had a barber shop in the basement of his house. I remember playing in the basement on his barber’s chair. My Great Grandfather Zagata had a reputation of making the best libation in the Rochester, NY area during the Prohibition. Whenever he was caught by the authorities, he was always quickly bailed out and had a new “shop” set up within hours due to his customers. As a child, I spent time with both my grandmothers and mother learning family recipes. My husband’s father had a restaurant. Joe picked up a passion for food working with his dad.
One family story I absolutely love involves my great grandparents, Henry and Anna Miller. The following “story” is from my Great Grandfather Henry Miller:
Once upon a time there was a house on Riverside Drive. It was Miller’s house. There were no locks on the doors.
Every Sunday the dining room was jammed with relatives, friends, and their friends comes to partake of the hospitality.
One Sunday Anna looked down the long table and said to Henry, “Who’s the fellow on the end?”
Henry peered into the distance. “I don’t know.”
Anna said, “Maybe somebody brought him and forgot to introduce him. Looks like he’s having a good time. “
Few minutes later, the fellow came up to Anna. “This has to be the finest food in town. How much do I owe?” He held forth a five-dollar bill.
Anna looked surprised. She smiled about was about to say, “Nothing,” when he glanced around the room.
“I was walkin’ up the street. I see all these people comin’ in here. I peeked in the window and saw all the food and all these diners.” He paused a seemed to be searching for words. “Lady,” he continued, ”isn’t this a family-style restaurant?”
Thus, Miller’s Inn was born.
As Anna said, “It isn’t a case of going commercial and being cheap. The more we sell, the bigger Sunday dinners we can have.”
To be honest, there is nothing that we’d rather do than to run our business. Cooking, baking and selling our foods, sharing our lives with each of you, brings such joy. Guess you could say that we came by this passion honestly.
Passion. Joy. Fulfillment. Those words mean different things to us throughout our lives. When I was young, dressing up and being outside gave me joy. What is it about what you do for a living that gives you joy? What keeps you going when the world around you feels like a tornado? Is there something that keeps you grounded and centered? If you had pixie dust, what is the one thought that makes you happy enough to fly? Sharing a part of yourself, celebrating family and friends- that’s what motivates me and brings me joy.
Growing up, one way we would share joy with others is to share our food and time with others. Pot luck dinners, bringing freshly baked cookies to neighbors or friends “just because” or perhaps as a way to bring cheer during a rough patch of life. Celebrations were always the exciting times to share homemade treats. Every June I’d practice my cake baking skills for one of my favorite teachers/friends, Dorann Salvaggio. Christmas time meant cookie decorating, cookie exchanges, and cookie gift baskets. I remember helping a family friend, Cathy Wright, with their cookie baskets one year. I learned how to make Anise Biscotti from another family friend, Angela Zale. My mom always had something to share with someone, whether it was flowers from the yard, a meal, baked goods, or her famous “Zagata Mix” (my mom’s version of Chex Mix).
One baked good I always liked to share with others was chocolate chip cookies. I’ve practiced and modified that recipe over the years, but the motive behind sharing the cookies remained the same. Love. One family I was close to growing up was with the Hinman family. Mr. and Mrs. Hinman were our youth group leaders, Mrs. Hinman was my teacher and mentor, and the Hinman kids were our close friends. Mr. Hinman had MS, and at one point, was unable to leave home. I loved visiting him, and those visits would include freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and a six pack of Dr. Pepper. Chocolate chip cookies were also sent to friends in college, although at that time, I’m sure they arrived in crumbs. Glenn Cointot was my “older brother from another mother,” and he received his fair share of chocolate chip cookie crumbs disguised as a care package. Glenn shared his cookie crumbs with a friend, Aaron Skelton, which in turn opened the door for me to go to England for a couple of years. While in England, I learned the joy of cooking & baking for large groups of people from Tony Andrea and his family.
My husband, Joseph, encouraged me to share my passion with others by starting up Paula’s Zzerts. I love spending Saturday mornings at the market, meeting new people, connecting with families, and seeing children grow up. This is our sixth season of farmers markets, and I’ve enjoyed the honor of being a part of your lives. It is so humbling when a child comes to my booth to decorate a cookie or purchase something using their own money. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of your lives, and we look forward to continuing our relationships with you.
Find your joy, find your passion- your pixie dust- and share it with others. You never know what a simple act of kindness can do to help others out and impact their life.