The Pink Cupcake

December 16, 2016


When you readers take a break from all of your rushing about, I would like to share a short story, “The Pink Cupcake,” which I wrote a few years ago, about a traumatic event that occurred when I was 7. As small as my world was back then, I knew that each day would give me something to chew on. There was always plenty happening in my usual haunts, and it was being writ large in my brain. With such vivid memories of my childhood, I made a few attempts over the years to capture them in a novel. (Along the lines of Cold Sassy Tree or The Cape Ann.) Sadly, I just didn’t have to have the skill and gumption to weave all of the strands into one substantial rope. So, here is just one strand.

The Pink Cupcake


When my sister Kris and I were little girls in Villisca, a small town tucked into the southwest corner of Iowa, we felt lucky that our grandparents were the proprietors of the local hotel, The Elms.  There was always much to do, always another odd nook or cranny to be explored, and our easy-going grandparents rarely put restrictions on what their only two grandchildren could do. Best of all, our house was only a block away, so we could pop in any time we wished.

The Elms Hotel was one of the larger structures in our town of 2,002 residents. (“Welcome to Villisca, Home of 2,002 Friendly People,” boasted the sign out on Highway 71.) Imposing, but certainly not charming, the hotel’s most distinguishing feature was a huge front porch that faced west and then continued to wrap on around the building along the south side, uncomfortably close to the railroad tracks. (Even now, I could diagram the entire floor plan of that two-story structure, as well the basement.) Huge elm trees dotted our entire town’s landscape like a Grant Wood painting and provided luxurious shade to that porch during the hot season. When the previous owner, decades earlier, had named the hotel, he must have known that the trees would always be its most attractive asset.

Most of the inhabitants of the 15 or so sleeping rooms on the second floor were elderly people who had made it their home. There were also occasional travelers who would exit the trains and walk the few hundred feet from the depot to the hotel—traveling salesmen or railroad crews who needed lodging for a night or two.

When a person first stepped inside, it became apparent that grandness was not the goal. The Elms was utilitarian, but not in an efficient way. Timeworn too, yet not quite rundown. Ancient rotating ceiling fans propelled dust motes to the undersides of sagging sofas and chairs randomly distributed throughout the large L-shaped lobby. Most of the furniture was turned in the same direction, to the west, to afford their occupants a grand view of the railroad tracks and depot station. Watching trains heading west to Omaha or east to Chicago provided a great pastime for local spectators. When the room began to vibrate, it was time to find a spot for the show. A slight intake of breath in the room meant that everyone was watching the man lean out of the speeding train to expertly yank the mail sack hanging from the pole. Grandpa always noted that the sack had to be tied just the right way, or the man could lose his hand. I would be half-expecting a bloody appendage to come flying through the hotel window, all because of a poorly tied sack. We would wave to the people in the dining cars, and the man standing on the caboose platform never failed to smile and wave at us. Many a lazy afternoon’s entertainment was available right there for free for any of the town folks who dropped by to have a chat and cold squatty bottle of Coke from the machine by the front door.

The Elms Hotel, Villisca, Iowa

At the front counter where guests checked in, there was a glass window display case with an array of chalky plaster-of-Paris figurines, vases, horses, kittens, praying hands. They were made by our Uncle Allan back in his tiny bedroom just off the kitchen. Filled with rubber molds and big bags of plaster of Paris, his room always looked as though a flour sack had just exploded. He kept the front case well-stocked and was eternally optimistic that some itinerant artist might happen upon the hotel looking for objects to paint.

Around the corner on the back wall was an upright piano, missing several ivories. A large glass jar sat on top, filled with old used pieces of soap gathered over the years from the guest room sinks in the rooms above. It never occurred to anyone that this might be an unusual spot for discarded soap to accumulate.

All of this seemed perfectly normal to Kris and me when we sang along with Uncle Allan as he pounded out our favorite show tunes or hymns. Or, he might tap dance around the lobby or down the wide staircase, with the dust mop as his partner. Allan was our dad’s only sibling and was 10 years his junior. He was in high school. Talented, fascinating and always funny, Allan was our favorite person. We knew he would make it big in Hollywood some day. (He did get to Hollywood eventually and landed a few bit parts in some TV shows and a movie, which was never released. The rest of his time there was spent as a men’s clothing salesman at Orbach’s department store, likely because of all his experience in working for our dad’s clothing store in Villisca.) He often babysat for us when our parents went out with friends, or played golf or bridge. He and our grandparents, Burt and Dorothy, handled all the work of cleaning and running the hotel, which didn’t appear to be a big priority for any of them. This didn’t matter in the least to Kris and me. They were goodhearted people who enjoyed their lives, and we loved being immersed in the exciting yet molasses-paced lifestyle of a small-town hotel.

One Christmas, when I was 6 and Kris was 5, we received a Kenner Easy-Bake Oven. We could not have loved a gift more. Within a few weeks, we had baked almost every mix that came with it. All of the little cakes and cookies were so deliciously and artificially flavored, tasting faintly of wood pulp. We savored each one because we had made them by ourselves. Saved for last was the best one of all, a white cake mix with pink frosting to be baked in tiny white cupcake papers! These were going to be amazing. And they were!

Kris, always the thoughtful one of the two of us, insisted that we give the cupcakes to a few people who lived at the Elms. But I wanted them for us. She let me have one, and finally I relented on the other three, and we “drove” them to the hotel on our tricycles. I only accompanied her up the staircase so it would appear that I cared for these people as much as she did. After handing out the first two, we headed to the room of our third recipient, Mr. Harding, a bachelor in his 70s, spare,  dour and very private. He was a pharmacist at Moore’s Drug Store, and lived only to work, every day except Sunday. Opening the door to our knock, he appeared confounded to see us standing there proffering the tiny cupcake. He barked out a gruff thank you as he closed the door on these out-of-context gift-bearers. For the next several months, after routinely cleaning Mr. Harding’s room, Grandma or Uncle Allan would report back to us that the pink cupcake was still there, sitting on top of his bureau. By now, I also taken ownership of our kind gesture, and Kris and I would grin at each other, convinced that Mr. Harding’s no-nonsense veneer had a little crack in it.

Uncle Allan, Kris (on left) and me (1953)

On an unseasonably cold April night in 1956, Kris and I were asleep in our shared bed when the mournful sound of the Villisca fire siren pierced our dreams. Outside it was eerily bright. Mom and Dad were in their bedroom next to ours, talking agitatedly. We ran in there, where the windows faced south, to witness the unimaginable—the roof of the Elms Hotel fully engulfed in flames.

Most of the occupants escaped. Three men, including Mr. Harding, did not. Within a few hours, our beloved Elms Hotel was reduced to rubble. Uncle Allan and Grandma and Grandpa were brought to our house. With residual smoke and ash clinging to him like gauze, Uncle Allan crawled into our bed and wept into a pillow. Kris and I could scarcely take it all in.

I don’t think Mr. Harding had any living relatives. In truth, Kris and I hardly knew him; however, we were forever linked to this solitary man through The Pink Cupcake. We mourned his death as if he had been a dear family member. I hope that somehow he knew.



Now we move to happier thoughts. Christmas is sugar-cookie time, but of course we love them year-round. They are such a pleasant way to celebrate any season or holiday or special occasion. I know there are several of you who crave to make lovely decorated sugar cookies but they end up looking like broken and battered accident victims. I have taught some cookie decorating over the years to encourage wannabes that they can do it. I am not a professional. I have just developed some techniques in order to decorate a respectable cookie that I would be proud to set out on a platter. I had hoped to include all of the ideas, but it takes too much space. So allow me to share a couple of thoughts and then we’ll move on to the other special recipes I have for you.


One important requirement (law, really) in terms of my philosophy about frosting that I use for sugar cookies is that I don’t want to eat anything made with shortening or margarine, and I don’t like crunchy royal frosting. I know. It’s my issue. But trust me, butter is better. Gorgeous cookies are sold all over this town, but often the frosting is made with shortening or royal frosting is used. I do think these kinds of frostings are more flexible and allow for more creativity for cookie decorators. BUT … well you know. I won’t compromise on flavor. And my second priority is, “the look.” Every cookie should look well-composed and neat, not sloppy.

As a cookie connoisseur, you should have two expectations of decorated cookies:

They should be delicious. A treasured recipe and quality ingredients, including real butter and pure vanilla extract, are essential. In other words, they should be nothing less than splurge-worthy.



They should be eye-catching. This requires an investment of time and effort. Any schmuck can schmear a cookie with frosting. A cookie decorator will spend quality time with each crumbly soul, lovingly applying colors and and designs of buttery frosting to make each one the best darn little cookie it can be. A quick word must be inserted here about decorated-sugar-cookie-eating etiquette: A slow, deliberate approach to a proffered cookie is proper and recommended because each one should be initially admired for its beauty and uniqueness. Sadly, we are all quite aware of the end-game for the decorated cookie. Gnashing, crushing and disintegration by human mastication is its raison d’etre, its destiny. Sapient cookie artists have always been aware of this disturbing reality, and yet they know they cannot dwell on such things, opting to soldier on, creating ever more beauteous, mouth-water morsels. C’est la vie!

When friends eat my cookies with gusto, I have to remember that they really don’t care about the effort I put into creating each one. I freeze a fake happy smile on my face as these cannibals brazenly masticate my lovely works of art right before my horrified eyes. And yet, would I rather that these cookie killers just shellac them for drink coasters? Of course not. So, I silently watch them gnaw away at those crumbly little souls, each one lovingly nurtured from doughhood. Sorry. All of this talk of former cookies I have known and loved is making me melancholy and hyperglycemic.


Here are the recipes I use for my cookies. I received the sugar cookie recipe years ago from Charlotte McCormick, mother of baby Matt (story from the last post). The frosting recipe is from my friend Darla Stiles, who also loves to decorate cookies and does a spectacular job!

Charlotte's Sugar Cookies

  • Servings: Makes 2 dozen
  • Difficulty: Easy
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  •  1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons good quality vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups flour (or a bit more) (Hint: take a bit of dough and pinch between your fingers. If it holds together and doesn’t stick to your fingers, you have added enough flour.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (scant)

In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer. Add the egg and vanilla and mix well. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually mix into butter mixture until incorporated. Pat into a ball and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Remove dough from refrigerator and let rest for 15 minutes or so before rolling it out. Cut dough in half. (Note: You do not use flour to roll out this dough.) Roll out each half between two sheets of wax paper. After dough is chilled and you’re ready to cut out the cookies, pull off top sheet of wax paper. Flip it over and pull off other sheet. Lay it back on the dough and flip it over again. Cut out the cookie shapes. Bake at 375 degrees for 5 to 8 minutes (varies with size of cookies). Don’t let them brown around the edges. Remove from oven, and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Use a special thin-metal spatula to scoop up the cookies and move them to racks to cool completely.


Melt-in-Your-Mouth Butter Frosting

  • 1 (2-pound) bag powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (scant)
  • 1/2 cup whole milk or half-and-half
  • 2/3 cup butter, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons good-quality vanilla extract

Mix all ingredients together with an electric mixer until smooth. Don’t overbeat or air bubbles will form in frosting. If frosting is too thick, add another drop or two of milk. Portion frosting into small bowls and tint each with gel-type food colorings. (Note: Do not use liquid type of food colorings often found in the grocery store.)

Several years ago, I wrote a handout for people who wanted to learn how to decorate cookies, called The Well-Appointed Sugar Cookie—A ‘Cut-Out’ Above the Rest by Tracy Mullen, The Flaky Cookie Lady of West Des Moines. I have it saved in Microsoft Word. If anyone needs some helpful hints, just can leave a comment with your email address and I will forward it to you.

Welcoming winter with tiny marzipan mittens and snowballs (cake balls).

Now, on to the featured recipes for this post. I am sharing lots of my recipes today and some are from of great friends. So, hang on to your aprons!

We certainly want a beverage and a couple of appetizers to ready our constitutions for the big holiday meal(s) to come. Our first one is ‘Mullened’ Wine, my little play on mulled wine, and great sipper to thaw your core. It’s like a warm, full-bodied sangria with a skosh of Templeton Rye to help maintain the glow.

‘Mullened’ Wine


'Mullened' Wine

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Easy
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  • 1 (750 ml.) bottle red wine (I used Menage a Trois.)
  • 2 cups cranberry cocktail juice (or apple cider, if preferred)
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 to 3 sticks cinnamon
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 1 shot Templeton Rye (or less, if preferred)

In a medium saucepan or crockpot and simmer all of the ingredients for an hour or two, until the spices infuse the wine and juices. Ladle into cups and serve warm. May garnish with orange slice and/or cinnamon stick, if desired.

A a great Christmas appetizer with plenty of green and red is Rita Jennings’ recipe for Olive-Stuffed Mushrooms. So savory. One of my gourmet group friends, Rita entertains lots of friends and family, and therefore is a good source of amazing recipes.

Rita is always cooking up something delicious; at least she is when she isn’t busy traveling.


Olive-Stuffed Mushrooms



Olive-Stuffed Mushrooms

  • Servings: 12 or more
  • Difficulty: Easy
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  • 1 pound small baby bella mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup diced roasted red peppers or pimentos (from a jar)
  • 1/3 cup kalamata olives, diced
  • 1/3 cup pitted green olives, diced
  • 3 green onions, diced
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup good grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Clean mushrooms and remove stems. Mix together remaining ingredients in a bowl. Place mushrooms on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet and fill each with a generous spoonful of filling. Bake about 20 minutes in a 400-degree oven. Serve immediately. (Tracy’s note: I have baked them a day ahead and reheated them in the microwave when ready to serve. They survive pretty well.)

Some of my most favorite recipes are from my friend Lynn McCollum, and I have featured them in some of my other posts. Marinated Basil Shrimp is another great recipe of Lynn’s, which I have modified a bit. It’s always a hit with guests.

Marinated Basil Shrimp


Marinated Basil Shrimp

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: Easy to Medium
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  • 1 pound raw shrimp
  • 1 tablespoon tarragon or white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (or canola oil, if preferred)
  • 1/2 cup minced red onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon creamy horseradish
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons fresh chopped basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

To cook shrimp, drizzle olive oil over shrimp and sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper. Spread on a large rimmed baking sheet and bake 8 to 10 minutes at 400 degrees until they are pink and opaque. Meanwhile whisk all of the remaining ingredients together. Put shrimp in a bowl with a lid. Pour marinade over it and stir well. Refrigerate at least 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Put in a serving bowl and serve chilled.

Moving on to our family’s favorite Christmas Eve entreé, this outstanding recipe is from my friend Kathy Zumbach. I adore many of her recipes and another one was featured in an earlier post. This is a melt-in-your-mouth, rob-a-bank-to-pay-for-it  recipe that is reserved for special occasions. Beef Tenderloin with Black Pepper Crust is served with a stunning mushroom, sun-dried tomato, cognac pan sauce.

Beef Tenderloin with Black Pepper Crust


Beef Tenderloin with Black Pepper Crust

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Medium
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  • 1 (2-pound) beef tenderloin
  • 1/2 cup whole black peppercorns, cracked*
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • Additional butter
  • 1/2 cup shallots, minced
  • 1 (8-ounce) package sliced, fresh mushrooms
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 1/2 cup cognac
  • 1/2 cup sliced, sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Salt meat and roll it in the cracked pepper to coat heavily. (Note: To crack peppercorns, spread half of them out at a time on a cutting board. Use the bottom of a small skillet to crush them, cracking the hulls and breaking them down. You want them to remain rather coarse.) Melt the 3 tablespoons of butter in a large oven-safe skillet, browning beef on all sides over moderately high heat. Place pan with browned beef into the oven at 475 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes for medium rare (use meat thermometer). Remove meat from oven and place on a platter. Cover with foil to keep warm. (Be careful when removing pan from oven; it will be searing hot.) For sauce, add enough butter to pan drippings to make 3 tablespoons. Sauté shallots and mushrooms over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes; add beef stock, cognac and sun-dried tomatoes. Boil down to half; add cream and boil down to half. Slice meat 1/4-inch thick and serve with sauce in a sauce boat.

For dessert, we have Petite Cranberry Cakes with Vanilla Sauce. They have “holiday” written all over them. When you serve them you’ll receive rave reviews. Remember to be humble.

Petite Cranberry Cakes with Warm Vanilla Sauce


Petite Cranberry Cakes with Warm Vanilla Sauce

  • Servings: 12 to 14
  • Difficulty: Easy
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  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 2 cups raw whole cranberries, sorted, washed and drained

Combine all ingredients, except cranberries, with an electric mixer until blended. Stir in cranberries and then scoop dough (with ice cream scoop to maintain uniformity) into muffin tins. Bake about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow cakes to cool about 10 minutes and then run a knife around each one. Gently loosen them and then place them upside down on a rack to cool. Store in a large rectangular plastic container.

Warm Vanilla Sauce

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup half-and-half
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla

Combine ingredients, except vanilla, and heat to boiling. Boil 2 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla. When ready to serve, ladle warm sauce over each petite cake.

Entire recipe can be made a day or two ahead. To garnish, use sugared cranberries and a small branch of rosemary. To sugar cranberries, make a simple syrup (1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup water) and boil for 2 minutes. Cool for five minutes and then stir in cranberries (as many as you desire to use for garnish). After an hour or so, remove cranberries and roll them in sugar. (I used sugar crystals, but they are also beautiful rolled in regular sugar.) Allow them to dry overnight. (They also are delicious to eat as a snack!)

Of course, you often have to serve other meals to your crowd during the holidays, so here are a few more ideas to prevent starvation among the troops.

For breakfast, one of my family’s most favorite muffins is an old recipe from Bob’s mother. They aren’t overstuffed with the usual extras like raisins, nuts, apples, etc. Before you reject this concept, you must make them once to see how the buttermilk and bran come together to create a melt-in-your-mouth, almost graham-like flavor. The beauty of this recipe, besides the flavor, is that the batter lasts for up to three weeks, so you can bake a fresh hot batch every morning. We have loved them for years!

Mrs. Mullen’s Muffins


Mrs. Mullen's Muffins

  • Servings: Makes 6 dozen
  • Difficulty: Easy
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  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 2 cups Kellogg’s All Bran Buds
  • 1 cup butter
  • 3 cups sugar, less 3 tablespoons
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 cups Kellogg’s All Bran Original
  • 1 quart buttermilk
  • 5 cups flour
  • 5 teaspoons soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt

In a small bowl, pour boiling water over the All Bran Buds. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar; add eggs, All Bran Original and buttermilk. Add flour, soda and salt and mix well. Fold in water-soaked All Bran Buds. Store in glass jars or plastic containers in the refrigerator. Bake as many as you desire in muffin tins at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Will keep for 3 weeks.

Another one of Lynn McCollum’s recipes is perfect when I have lots of people around: Tijuana Train Wreck. It’s fun and everyone always loves it.

Tijuana Train Wreck


Tijuana Train Wreck

  • Servings: 12 or more
  • Difficulty: Medium
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  • 2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (15-ounce) can petite-diced tomatoes (and juice)
  • 2 (8-ounce) cans tomato sauce
  • 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste (Tracy does not use this.)
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed (Tracy prefers 2 cans of black beans.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder (or more)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Toppings (see below)

Brown ground beef in large skillet with onions and garlic. Add all other ingredients and simmer 1 or 2 hours. While meat mixture is simmering, assemble bowls of several or all of the following: a mixture of Fritos and tortilla chips, shredded cheese, shredded lettuce, chopped tomato, chopped green onion, guacamole or avocados, sliced black olives, sour cream and salsa. Diners file by with plates and assemble their own portions, putting chips on the bottom, then meat sauce and then their choice of toppings.

Soups are always loved by everyone and a delicious way to serve a lots of people. Back to my friends Lynn and Gordon, they have made this soup for years, and it is so soul-satisfying. It comes together quickly after all the chopping. (I have slightly modified the recipe, but just a bit.)

Frank’s Cheese Soup


Frank's Cheese Soup

  • Servings: 4 to 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1 cup diced green pepper
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup diced onion
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour (Tracy uses 1/4 cup.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (32-ounce) carton chicken stock or broth
  • 2 cups milk (Tracy uses half-and-half.)
  • 16 ounces American cheese, cubed (Tracy uses 2 8-ounce packages of shredded colby jack and or mild cheddar.)
  • (Tracy also uses one Knorr chicken-flavored bouillon cube.)
  • (Tracy also adds a tablespoon or 2 of sugar.)

Sauté veggies in butter until soft. Add flour, salt and pepper. Cook 1 minute. Add broth and milk. Heat and stir occasionally. Add cheese in handfuls and stir until melted and soup is hot.

I am a fan of winter for about three days of the year—the day I put up the tree, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and then I’m done with it. When the National Weather Service announces that a dangerous winter storm lurks, I continually track its progress on the local TV stations, as well as my favorite one—that storm-forecasting behemoth—The Weather Channel. I’m a wild horse of hyperactivity. The prospect of being snowbound for weeks à la Laura Ingalls Wilder makes my heart gallop. To prepare for the worst, I start something sturdy and luscious, such as an aromatic chicken tortilla soup, in a pot at the back of the stove to telegraph “safe,” “warm” and “sustaining” to every corner of the house. I seem to channel a pioneer woman (kind of like those DirecTV “settler” commercials). I start saying things like, “When the blizzard blows in from the prairie, we’ll have hearty provender to comfort lost souls who may find our door. Let’s burn a taper in the window for stragglers in search of refuge from the tempest. Robert, ye will set them to dry by the hearth whilst I knit them some shawls.” (Gee, now I’m thinking that maybe pioneers wouldn’t ever have supped on chicken tortilla soup. But they would have loved it!)

TNT (Tracy’s No-Tortilla) Soup


TNT (Tracy's No-Tortilla) Soup

  • Servings: 8 to 10
  • Difficulty: Easy to Medium
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  • 1 1/2 cups diced onion
  • 3 or 4 large garlic cloves, minced or crushed
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 1 (16-ounce) jar Chi Chi’s Fiesta Salsa (Mild or Medium)
  • 1 (15-ounce) can petite diced tomatoes (juice too)
  • 1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chilies, drained
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Knorr chicken-flavored extra-large bouillon cubes
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)
  • 5 cups cooked, shredded or chopped chicken (Consider using a rotisserie chicken.)

In a large soup pot, over medium heat, sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil until soft. Add broth, salsa, tomatoes, green chilies, brown sugar and seasonings. Bring to boil and then turn down low and add the chicken. Simmer for an hour or so. Taste soup and adjust seasonings. When ready to serve, ladle into bowls and consider eating it unadorned to enjoy its full, brothy flavor. But I know you won’t, so feel free to add toppings as you wish. When I add toppings, I usually only use shredded jack cheese and crushed tortilla chips. But each to his own.

For snacking, there’s nothing more addicting than TV Snack Mix, my mother-in-law’s version of party mix. It is naughty because it has lots of butter, but hey, it’s Christmas! Remember, though, when you see the amount of butter that this is a very large recipe. It’s also a great gift to give. My friends look forward to this little dalliance with decadence each year.

TV Snack Mix


TV Snack Mix

  • Servings: Lots
  • Difficulty: Easy
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  • 1 small box Cheerios
  • 1 small box Corn Chex
  • 1 small box Rice Chex
  • 1 small box Wheat Chex
  • 3 cups butter (not a typo)
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons garlic salt (I use Lawry’s.)
  • 1 large can deluxe mixed nuts or cashews
  • 1 small bag pretzels, any shape

Pour the cereals (in the proportions you like) into a very large roaster pan (or large foil turkey-roasting pan). They won’t all fit in; you’ll have leftover cereal in most boxes. Mix. In a medium-sized saucepan, heat butter, Worcestershire sauce and garlic salt, and stir until butter is melted. Pour evenly over cereal and stir gently to mix. Bake 1 1/2 hours at 250 degrees, stirring every 15 minutes. Just before last 15 minutes, add nuts and pretzels. Sprinkle with more garlic salt if necessary. Cool thoroughly before storing in large container.

And finally, this recipe for Melt-Aways (the dough is made of only three ingredients) is my son Bradley’s favorite little sweet treat. Drizzled with a little butter frosting, they are almost like a rich miniature pastry, touched with cinnamon. (The secret ingredient? Cottage cheese!)




  • Servings: Lots
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup cream-style cottage cheese
  • 2 to 2 1/2 cups flour
  • More soft butter (about 1 stick)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon

Blend butter and cottage cheese together with electric mixer. Mix in flour. Form dough ball. Chill at least 2 hours. Remove from fridge and cut into four approximately equal parts. Roll one section into a circle, about 1/8-inch thick, with plenty of flour, as you would for pie dough. Spread with butter. Mix cinnamon and sugar and generously sprinkle over dough. Cut into pie-shaped wedges (triangles). Then roll up each triangle, starting from the wide end. Do this for each quarter of the dough. You can cut the pie-wedge shapes as large or as small as you like. I prefer mine cut narrow. So, I probably get about 20 Melt-Aways from each quarter of dough. Bake at 400 degrees for 9 to 10 minutes. Cool and then drizzle with butter frosting.

Butter Frosting

  • 2 tablespoons half-and-half
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Powdered sugar

Heat first 3 ingredients until butter melts. Stir in powdered sugar until frosting is thick enough to drizzle (and stay put) on the Melt-Aways. Be sure they are completely cool before storing them in a plastic container.

So, there you have it! There are so many more from these friends and family members—an amazing collection of cooks—that I didn’t get to include because this post is too long already. I hope you have a chance to try them.

Curiosities in Food News

I also want to leave you with an extra laugh. Here are three news items that I have culled from the Des Moines Register over the years. (I am not making these up.)

  • “Sandwich Stolen at Des Moines Airport”—March 6, 2003. “The case of a stolen peanut butter sandwich at the DSM airport has been turned over to federal authorities …”
  • In the “Crime Report” section—June 22, 2012, “A man reported that somebody had put 20 pancakes in his mailbox and then knocked it over.”
  • In the “Classifieds” section—“Curing Foreman position available. Requirements: 3-5 years’ experience in receiving, injecting and cooking of fresh and frozen pork bellies, with direction toward slicing. Knowledge of product thawing, pickle mixing, pickle injection and smoke house procedures a must. Candidate should have good employee management skills.”

Christmas Gift Idea

Guess what we are giving our several of family members this year? 23andMe, a genetic testing kit so that we can learn about where we came from. ( also offers a similar kit.) I admit they are a bit pricey at $99 each. After “spitting into the bottle,” they send it back to the company and in a matter of weeks they will find out all about who they are. (For an extra $100 per person, the company will also test for health data, but we are not doing that part. That might be depressing!) I think it will be fun to see what turns up in the ancestry of our family, the inlaws and outlaws.

Final Bites

That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run. So I ran to the end of the road. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d run to the end of town …. For no particular reason, I just kept on going …. I’m pretty tired …. I think I’ll go home now.—Forrest Gump


So, I’ve come to the end of the line for my blog, as well. This is my 26th and final post. My wonderful kids who gave me this unusual gift for Christmas last year had no idea how much this would mean to me. I didn’t know myself. Somehow they knew this would be a meaningful forum for me. I have reconnected with so many friends and relatives, and have shared (and probably overshared) so many aspects of my life and how I perceive the world.

Even though I told my kids that I was stopping, they just renewed the Messy Cook Blog for another year in case I had a change of heart. But, like Forrest said, “I’m pretty tired.” It’s time to stop … and clean up the kitchen. You will be able to communicate with me through the blog any time through next December 2017,  if you wish. And I will be plugging this last post on Facebook for the next two weeks. (Also, I plan to put together a list of all the recipes in Microsoft, which I will email to anyone requesting them. Just send a request in the Comments section of the blog any time this coming year. It probably won’t be ready until at least February, but I’ll keep a list of those who want it.)


Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year! And thank you for hanging in there with me! (And thank you Bradley, Lindsey, Kelly and Bob!)—Love, Tracy


43 thoughts on “The Pink Cupcake

  1. Greetings Tracy!
    I don’t know how I found your blog but so glad I did. I’ve been reading your wonderful posts and recipes for the past 3 hours. You’re such an interesting gal and it’s been such a pleasure, I feel like I know you! I’m a retired RN after 40 years working in a large teaching hospital in SC and retiring to beautiful Ocala, Fl. I’m sorry you’re going to stop blogging but it’s time to enjoy life more. I’m wanting to go back to work but at almost 70 yrs old it’s time to relax, go fishing, enjoy church and helping others in our community. Also, cooking more for hubby! If you will please send me a copy of your recipes and I’ll print them and put them in a binder and label them Tracy’s Treasured fixin’s!!! If you don’t mind add me to your Facebook and we can chat and if you ever need nursing advice I’ll give you what I know at no charge because I do this for everyone. I’ve had doctors call me Dr Smith because they would ask my opinion and I would give it to them. After labs, ex ray etc. they would stop by and say, ” Ms Charge nurse, your DX was correct. I would say of course it was! I’ve been here 40 yrs and you’re just a baby in training!! I loved my job and wish I could go back and do it all over again. The 5 yrs of college I would skip though., just the nursing. Lol
    Now I’m making jewelry and enjoy working with my hands. One problem I’ve got so much and don’t want to sell it. I did give a few pieces to my 2 girls for Christmas. I hope you have a very Happy, Prosperous, Healthy, Safe and Blessed New Year!! To find me on Facebook I have palm trees which is my front yard and I have on a turquoise top with a turquoise necklace. There are so many Linda Smiths! I worked with 4 others luckily I was the only RN and the switchboard always sent all calls to me. One was a mean call.. a wife called to say stay away from my husband or your dead. She said I know you have long brown hair,about 5’10 and drive a Toyota.. I am blonde, 5’3 and drive a jeep. She said oops, wrong damn linda Smith. I gulped and said, Lord please keep whoever the one is please keep her safe and away from that woman’s husband. I did notify security and he knew the right Linda Smith and told me he would warn her but I had to fill out a police report. Took 2 hours of my time to take care of this but hopefully the Linda took notice of her life and quit before something did happen. Thanks Tracy for reading my rambling. I’m a detailed writer and must get every thing in. God Bless you and your beautiful family.


    1. Hi Linda! Thank you for your very uplifting and interesting comments about the blog and about you! I will respond to your comments soon. We’re on vacation. I’ll be happy to send you the cookie decorating tutorial when we return home in a few weeks. I can tell that you’re quite a woman! I will be sure to “friend” you on Facebook! Thanks for making my day, Linda! 😊


  2. I have so loved your blog and am sad it will end. The two hardest times for an artist is beginning a work and ending it. You are an artist and I admire the fact that you know when to end this beautiful work. Thank you for sharing your passion.


    1. Jean–I love what you wrote to me. You helped me know that my decision was okay to make. Thank you so much for your kind words. I am so fortunate to know you! I hope we will see you this summer! Happy New Year! 💕💕


  3. Tracy, you are an overall amazing gal with a wonderful writing talent and unbelievable in the kitchen. Thank you so much for all your stories and recipes. You really impress me. I will miss your blog so much and truly hope you will write just a few words once in a while. I love The Pink Cupcake story and all the others about you & Bob’s experiences. Enjoy your free time and all your family time.
    Please send me your cookie decorating instructions and add my email to the Microsoft recipes. Again thank you so much. Merry Christmas to you & a very special 2017!!!


    1. Hi Sherry! Thank you for the very nice comments! You made me feel so happy! You are so kind! I will plan to keep in touch with you through Facebook. I will send the cookie decorating instructions right away. And I will send you the rest of the recipes later after I pull them all together! Merry Christmas, my friend! 🎄💕😊


  4. SO – It’s really true. . . all good things must come to an end. I’m your biggest fan, and will miss it greatly. But I understand – lots to do out there besides facing that deadline every two weeks. You will become a “grandma” in 2017, and that adds a new dimension to your life. I hope you’ll keep writing that book you started a few years ago, too. Wonder why you haven’t had time to finish it. 🙂 Keep up the good work. I loved the Elms Hotel and all of the stories that came from it in our very early years. “The Pink Cupcake” story brings back many good memories. Your final blog was amazing – most wonderful recipes and the pictures were exceptional. I loved the old black and white of the Elms Hotel. Thanks for keeping those memories alive. You’ve inspired me. . . to be a better cook, and to write down memories that will fade, and finally, to take better pictures. And thanks for the DNA kit you gave me for Christmas. Are you thinking – maybe – we really aren’t related? 🙂 Happy 2017!


    1. Thanks, Sissy! Thanks for being the generous one so that I would have a story to write about our beloved Elms Hotel! 😉 It has been so much fun to do this blog. I will miss it so much. And thank you especially for all the last-minute picture requests that I put you and Fred through! Here’s to a less crazy 2017! Cheers!! 😊


  5. Dang, what will we do without new stories and recipes in 2017? This blog has been a delight to read Tracy. Please add me to the list for the recipes and thanks for the messy cook blog!


  6. I will keep trying – please send me your instructions for decorating sugar cookies.

    I am sorry you will not be continuing with the blog, but I do understand that it is a significant commitment. I have enjoyed reading it even though I really don’t cook.


    1. Hi Barb! Thank you for reading my blog. I’m glad it gave us a chance to reconnect after all these years! Hopefully we’ll keep up on Facebook. I will send you the cookie decorating info in a few days. Would you please send your email address to me at: Merry Christmas!


  7. Tracy, please include me on your list as I am attached to your blog! Your memories are warm and inspired me to conjure up my own. You and I would have been great friends….not that far from Villisca to Beaverdale really. Going to miss you- please come back after you get a loooong nap! Kathy Lillis


    1. Hi Kathy! I was so happy to hear from you and to know that I have inspired you to stroll down your own memory lane. This has been fun. I will be sure you receive the recipes when I get them compiled. Merry Christmas to you and your family!


  8. Tracy, I have really enjoyed your blog. I would hope that you would continue but realize it is a real commitment. I too would like a Microsoft version of your recipes.
    Bill Smith, Derby, KS


    1. Bill–Thanks so much for the kind words. I’m so happy to know that you were a regular reader of the blog. I will miss doing it. Yes, I will send you the recipes in January or February, whenever I get them compiled. Merry Christmas to you and Reba and all your family! Cheers!


  9. Say it isn’t so! I have really enjoyed your blog –stories, recipes and all. Please add me to your list and every once in awhile, give us another Messy Cook smile! (and a special thanks to my random questions about prepping ahead!)


    1. Hi Jan! Thank you for your very positive words about the blog. Loved that it helped to keep us connected. You can ask me a cooking question any time. I will be sure you get a copy of the recipes when I get them pulled together. Cheers!


    1. Sue, I was so happy to hear from you! I appreciate your kind words about the blog. It has been so much fun for me. Thank you for being a regular reader. Merry Christmas to you and your family!


  10. I can’t believe you aren’t going to continue with your blog! You are just getting warmed up. Keep it up only on a smaller scale, I know it must be time consuming, but your fans will love it if you keep posting every other week!


    1. Hi Carolyn. So appreciate the encouragement. I’ll see how I feel in a month or two, but pretty sure I’m done. (Wish I would have started this several years ago!) I’ve loved it all, though. I will still look forward to seeing your gorgeous photos each week! Cheers! And thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Merry Christmas Tracy to you and Bob! I am so sad to see that this is the last blog that I will be reading; I have so enjoyed all of them. Your stories have not only been so entertainig but have brought back memories to those of us who grew up with you in Villisca. I knew you were a writer (an excellent one at that) but I had no idea that you were such an excellent cook/baker. I will be using many of your receipes. Please sign me up for the Microsoft version. Tracy, I will miss your blog greatly but I feel so blessed that you have shared these writings with us!!!


    1. Thank you for being such a loyal reader of the blog, Susan! I am so glad that this caused us to reconnect after all these years. Have loved getting updated on you and your family. I’ll be sure you receive a copy of the recipes when I have them ready. Merry Christmas!!


  12. Merry Christmas to you and your family Tracy! I have enjoyed every single line of your blog and I really mean this! You are not only an exceptional cook, but a very talented writer as well. Please sign me up on your Microsoft list. I will miss reading your blogs very much. Thank you for sharing your blog and making cooking so much fun.


    1. Holly–Thank you so much for being a regular reader of the blog. I always knew I could count on a kind word from you! I will miss our regular “conversations”. :o) Yes, I will send you the recipes later when I get them compiled. I hope you all have a Merry Christmas! Cheers!!


      1. Wow! I was really getting into this, Tracy. Your Elm Hotel and railroad story brought back memories. Really enjoyed the pictures. Merry Christmas!


  13. Merry Christmas, Tracy! The year has taken you on an interesting and delicious journey…I have delighted in being part of your readership!
    P.S. Please sign me up for the Microsoft version!


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