Butterscotch Haystacks, and a story

Welcome to another installment of Tea and Cookies.  I like to think of these recipes, with their emphasis on cozy yummy-ness, as a way to add to the mystery reading “experience.”

This time, I have a family favorite for you, and a story to go along with it.

photo by K.B. Owen

The Haystacks Story:

My mom is the best cookie baker, ever.  During the Christmas season, she would really shine: our house became an all-out bake-off of epic proportions.  We rivaled the Nabisco factory a few miles down the road (I grew up just outside of Philadelphia).  I’m surprised the zoning guys didn’t come knocking on our door.  Are you running a bakery on these premises, ma’am?

Yummy smells permeated the house from the day after Thanksgiving (for us, “Black Friday” meant we’d burned a batch), until a few days before Christmas.  Enormous tins and reams of wax paper took over the garage as Mom stockpiled enough cookies for friends, family, neighbors, and the zombie apocalypse.  Potential recipients (NOT the zombies), coincidentally came out of the woodwork just in time to remind her of their existence, sometimes with special requests.  Seriously?

Sounds so Christmas-y, right?  For sure, it was fun, and memorable, but you know there’s a dark side to this story, bwahaha.  And, no, it wasn’t the size of our waistlines, which miraculously didn’t expand to rival Santa’s.  Maybe we were a leetle bit sick of cookies because we were around them so much.

The major drawback:  it was a ton of work.  As a little kid, I didn’t realize this.  My priority was to wheedle as many cooling cookies from the table as I could.  Once I got old enough to be of practical help, however, I could see the stress involved, the desire to meet – or exceed – expectations, year after year.  But we were all in it together (my dad, too: he was the wash-up guy).  There were a lot of in-jokes, and times when we were incredibly silly, in that punchy-tired sort of way.  Folks enjoyed the cookies so much.  It was a tradition.

When I was old enough, there were certain simple recipes my mom would trust me to make on my own, during the afternoons when I was home from school and she was still at work.  Haystacks was one of those.  It was only three ingredients – chow mein noodles, spanish peanuts, butterscotch morsels.  There were no microwaves back then, but a pot on the stove to melt the butterscotch wasn’t that much more difficult.  What could go wrong?

One afternoon, it was my job to make the haystacks.  It was my first time solo, and Mom had left out the recipe, and all the ingredients.

I was sailing along until I got to the Spanish peanuts, also called (although I didn’t know it at the time) “redskin” peanuts.  These nuts didn’t look anything like peanuts I’d seen before:  they had these peeling flakes of reddish skin on them.  That didn’t look too appetizing, in my mind.

image via (creative commons license)

I checked the recipe, again.  Nope, it didn’t say anything about skins on peanuts.  She must have gotten them on discount.

Sigh.  I was going to have to peel them.  Every blessed one.

Finally, exhausted but satisfied with the results, I had the last batch hardening on wax paper when my mom came home from work.

Proud of my efforts, I showed her the bowl of cast-off peanut skins and talked about that time-intensive extra step.  Could she get the regular kind next time?

Her face went from confused to surprised to laugh-out-loud.

“You weren’t supposed to peel them!  We pay extra for them to come that way!”


Apparently, spanish peanuts are prized for their colored skins and extra flavor.  Who knew?

We had a good laugh over that one.

Nowadays, spanish peanuts are less common in the stores anyway, so for this recipe, go for the regular salted peanuts (not dry-roasted, they taste kind of weird in butterscotch).  Besides, peeling them takes forever!  😀


Butterscotch Haystacks

photo by K.B. Owen


12 oz butterscotch morsels

3/4 cup Spanish peanuts (regular peanuts can be substituted)

1 and 1/2 cups chow mein noodles



Make sure it's well-blended. Photo by K.B. Owen

Melt morsels in microwave, according to package directions.  Mix in noodles and peanuts until fully integrated.  Drop in heaping spoonfuls (not too big) onto a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper.  Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.  Makes 2 dozen clusters.


These aren’t exactly cookies – you can tell I’m stretching the definition a bit – but because of their sweetness, they pair really well with a crisp green tea, or maybe a cinnamon herbal chai.

What fun stories do you have to share about baking?  I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,



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Tuesday Terrific: grandparents rock!

Tuesday Terrific: grandparents rock!

Welcome to Tuesday Terrific, where we celebrate getting over the Monday bump and picking up speed for the rest of the week.

Here at Casa Owen this past weekend, we got to enjoy a visit from my parents.  My dad was celebrating his 75th birthday, and he wanted to share it with us.  How cool is that?  The boys enjoyed spending time with Nana and Pop again, and so did we.

It got me thinking about grandparents generally, and what a treasure they are.  I grew up knowing only two grandfathers (each of my grandmothers had died long ago).  One grandfather lived far away and I only saw him a handful of times during my entire childhood, but the other grandfather, “Grandpop,” lived close enough that he was a regular fixture in my childhood: babysitting or driving me to appointments when both my parents were at work, telling me stories of his days in the coal mines, sharing silly jokes, giving me big hugs.

I think I was 12 in this pic...

He had his own set of eccentricities, too.  One particularly cute one was that he never rang the front doorbell when he came to visit.  If he brought my aunt with him, she would ring the bell, of course.  But if he came alone, he would park the car (he called it “Bessie”) in front of the house, and sit inside it until we noticed he was out there and went out to greet him.  In nice weather, he would get out of the car and walk around in the backyard until someone spotted him.

Grandpop wrote in my "autograph" book

When I was 18, he died of lung cancer, brought on by miner’s “black lung” and a lifetime of smoking unfiltered Camels.  My dad inherited his car, a big green Chevy Nova.  Sometimes, for a split second, when I’d see it parked in front of the house, I’d think Grandpop had come to visit and was waiting for someone to go out and greet him.

Grandparents are precious.  Hug them close.





In honor of grandparents everywhere, I want to share with you my

TOP 10 REASONS WHY GRANDPARENTS ROCK (with apologies for the “old-timer” jokes!)


from right: my mom, dad, and mom-in-law, with their first grandchild

1. They are either retired or semi-retired, so they have more time to spend playing with you.

2. When Mom or Dad says “no,” Grandad says “yes.”  Hey, if you’re sick to your stomach later, that’s not his problem.

3. You are the center of their world, and they like to knit/bake/send stuff to you.

image via


4. Their house is so cool.  Childproofing?  What’s that?

5. Since their joints are stiff, you can always beat them at a game of tag, and they don’t mind.  (They never seem to find you at hide-and-seek, either.  Must be their poor eyesight).

6. Your artwork is plastered on their refrigerator, and pictures of you are everywhere.

7. When you come to visit, they stock up on all your favorite foods.

8. Because they are old, they forget the knock-knock jokes you told them the last time they saw you, and now you can tell them all over again.  And they still find them funny.  Strangely, they do remember cool stories of when they were kids 50/60/70 years ago, which you love to hear them tell over and over again.

9. They’ve seen it all, so that new mowhawk you got doesn’t faze them.

10. Because they’ve been through it all, they know how to take advantage of a fun moment.  Here’s an example of an elderly couple playing the piano in the lobby of the Mayo Clinic (if one of them is there for a medical problem, you sure can’t tell!).  I’ll bet these folks are fun grandparents!


So, what made/makes your grandparents special?  What special memories do you have?  I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time,


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