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Dear friends and family,
When you come to visit and you think that I cook a lot while you are here, please realize that it is not really that unusual. I cook a lot more often than not. My boys routinely invite their friends over and that usually involves cooking…especially around their birthdays. I believe that for TJ’s and Tyler’s birthdays I made platters of sushi and boneless buffalo wings. There have been 12 layer birthday cakes and 12 pounds of ravioli which enabled me to use the bowl specifically reserved for our friend Lou’s cooking when he visits.
Tonight, we hosted the physics class for baked ziti, meatballs, homemade bread and chocolate croissants. Before you get too excited and have some type of breakdown (as I did when I was first asked to host the entire physics class for a pre-exam study session), the class is small, only about 8 kids, so it is by far not as monumental as it sounds.
Easily when my oldest invites “some” friends over, it could be at least twice that many. I love to cook and I love to see people enjoy the food, so it’s all good…..and it’s great to have all their friends come and visit.
December is a month of holidays, eating and traditions– I don’t think that anyone would disagree with me on that. The holiday season can turn even the most cynical of people into those that fawn over a family tradition — or food — or activity.
Over the past few weeks on Facebook, my cousins have been discussing my grandmother’s and their great-grandmother’s recipe for meatballs, homemade pasta and sauce. They have been going back and forth with one of my male cousins and my brother over the recipes, trying to pin down the taste that we all remember so well but don’t all know how to make.
Isn’t it funny how the holidays evoke a special food or a meal that you remember from your youth? For me, Christmas is and will always be associated with antipasto (my dad’s favorite) and baccala salad on Christmas Eve. For my husband, it is his grandmother’s cookies made from leftover pie dough and boiled onions. No holiday was complete unless my Aunt Mary brought the pies (chocolate cream, pumpkin, lemon meringue and apple) which always graced our holiday table. My siblings and I still are trying very unsuccessfully to replicate Aunt Mary’s stuffing — each year one of us tries and each year we agree that it is missing something.
When we are young, we often summarily dismiss our grandparents (or if we’re lucky) great-grandparents when they try to show us something or we just don’t get the recipe since it is “a pinch of this, a little of that” – empty of any concrete measurements and never, ever written down — only memorized in the mind of someone who we usually take for granted until they and their food are no longer with us and we yearn for both.
There are traditions that each of us have, particularly as they surround food, that bring back fond memories. Some of us cook the same foods for each holiday — well, because that is the way we grew up and that is what comes to mind when we think of Christmas.
For my family, Christmas has taken on my different transformations through the years — depending a lot on who was there, or more appropriately, no longer there, to share it with. When I was very young, my grandparents lived downstairs from us and Christmas was a big holiday. The whole family on my mom’s side came to my grandparents for Christmas. My Grandma Caruso made sauce, bracciole, meatballs, sausage and homemade pasta. I remember the pasta making because us kids were the ones tasked with transporting the freshly made pasta onto the clean sheets that were placed on the top of every bed in the house, in order to lay the pasta out to dry. There was homemade chicken soup and of course, antipasto. I remember all that clearly, but the main course, well — after we got done with the antipasto, the soup and the pasta, the main course didn’t get much notice until later for sandwiches or snacking, somewhere after everyone found it in their bellies to have room for the variety of nuts, oranges, grapes and italian pastries that found their way onto the dinner table for dessert.
Then, after my grandfather became sick and eventually passed on, Christmas was a little quieter, since the whole family didn’t gather together anymore and everyone celebrated with their own families and children. That is when I really remember the antipasto, it took center stage at my house and the meal downsized just a bit. Christmas Eve however was still full of fish — we had the eel, the smelts, the baccala salad as long as my grandmother was still alive.
As we got older and Santa took less of a center stage, Christmas Eve became the bigger of the celebrating — still with the fish dishes and with Christmas Eve Midnight mass and presents afterwards. There was still a lot of eating going on–after all opening all those presents makes you hungry and baccala salad is just as good at 2 a.m. as it was a 7 or 8 p.m.
Now, that my grandparents and my dad are all gone, and we all have families of our own, Christmas has been reinvented once again. I have to admit that I have not made an antipasto since my dad died. It just didn’t seem right — although I’m trying to get over that. We often say that Christmas is not the same since he passed, because he was probably the biggest kid and loved Christmas as much, if not more, than any of us actual kids.
Now in our reinvented Christmas, we have some traditions surrounding food and the holidays of our own here at the T’s house– a blend of both of us, with enough of our past to carry our heritage forward for our boys. We have baccala salad on Christmas Eve and I have to say that Tom’s dad is my biggest compadre in the eating of it. I make bread and cinnamon buns which our own own food twist. If I can find it, we have blue cheese spread inside celery that Tom’s grandmother used to make and boiled onions with our dinner on Christmas day, which is usually a rib roast with mashed potatoes and gravy. There is pie, but no longer the sky high pies that Aunt Mary was famous for — no Italian pastries that aunts and uncles brought with them.
I often try to explain to Tom — an only child who grew up with relatively quiet holidays consisting of his parents, grandparents (and some relatives who would stop in for a visit) that the holidays in my world have always been chaotic –lots of people, lots of noise, lots of food and lots of laughter and from the early days –PoKeNo.
Quiet just wasn’t a word that we associated with Christmas at my grandparents’ and parents’ houses — how could it be when Christmas Eve or Christmas Day could easily be upwards of 35 or 40 people, a good portion of which were children and all were related? Even if we just have “family” now (meaning my siblings, their families and our parents) that is almost 20 people!
As I get older, I realize just how important all that “stuff” that I couldn’t have cared about as a kid really is — it is the basis of tradition and family and is a very big part of who we are. To have one of those raucous, loud, cramped Christmases with all of my family and extended family, both my parents and my grandparents would be a dream come true. Alas, it will never happen again because a good many of those people are no longer with us. The way to keep the memories of those we love alive is through tradition–carrying forward those same things that we have always done. Be it the same foods, the same activities or the same type of celebrations.
During December I thought that it would be fun (and therapeutic) to recreate some of those recipes and some of those memories and to memorialize for my own family some of our own traditions and recipes so that maybe, just maybe, someday when they really care, those things will be there for my boys to share with their families keeping the memories of Grandma Caruso, Nan Dotson, Nanny Smith, Aunt Mary and my dad alive for generations to come.
Lately, when I am searching for a recipe, either for some new ingredient I want to use or simply to find a different way to make the same old ingredients, I find myself clicking on the “Images” link in Google instead of sifting through the recipes themselves. I mean, we all essentially eat with our eyes, don’t we? If something is visually appealing to us, it is more a recipe that we might give a whirl. I don’t know about any of you, but personally a cookbook without pictures (with the exception of my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook) is a waste of good money. I want to see what the finished dish is supposed to look like before I attempt to cook it. I do not understand why cookbooks don’t have lots and lots of pictures. It would seem to me cookbooks sporting mouthwatering photos are more likely to sell than those that require you to imagine what the finished recipe is supposed to look like.
For example, don’t these just make you want to eat these?
Our first connection with our food, is usually its visual appeal. This is one of the reasons that presentation of food is all so important in restaurants. If it looks visually appealing and makes a nice presentation, we are eager to dig in and taste it, so we can confirm with our taste buds what our eyes are telling us.
Are you hungry yet?
I thought that it might be fun to try to incorporate a “my own…” section in on, of all days….Monday! Each week I’ll make a concerted effort to “make” something of my own that Monday. Schedules around here have been crazy busy lately, so not as much time to “make my own” as I’d like.
So, for the first My Own Monday:
Potato Leek Soup
Not so bad for a cold, cold winter’s evening? Filled our bellies and now I hear rumors that we’re having chocolate chip cookies for dessert….
I am one girl that is way happy that September has come. No, it isn’t the start of school (that was two weeks ago) or the fact that leaving are turning (making it all very pretty) or the fact that my birthday is this month (hint, hint). No, it’s the fact that today is September 1st and the Fly Sprayer Man has come to our house (way better than Santa in my present opinion).
There are many things that I have learned living here in Vermont full time. There are things that can drive one batty that either we didn’t notice when we were only here part-time or we chose to overlook, because after all, they were only temporary inconveniences at best. Number one, top of the list, at least for me, is cluster flies. Cluster flies are these horrific creatures that can take over your house seemingly overnight. They are flies, slightly larger than the common housefly, that seem to come from nowhere when the weather turns slightly cooler. There is no guessing or mistaking if you have cluster flies. You cannot ignore the hundreds of flies glued to open windows (like little prisoners except they want in) or the warm, sunny side of the house or attracted to the people or shoes or anything else that is warm near them. There is no keeping them out of old houses, they evidently are already in them. When the weather gets the slightest bit cold, they try to get inside for a warm place to spend the winter (can you blame them?) and in the spring they want out to produce more of the horrific little pests.
The problem is that there are literally hundreds of them and they are everywhere. And since even when they are inside and warm, they want to be even warmer, they are attracted to people (either that or I am dead and no one told me and I am attracting flies which depending on the day, could very well be true). They are all over the kitchen and needless to say the food. There is something decidedly unappetizing about eating food and literally swatting at several dozen flies, not to mention the fact that food preparation becomes challenging. This is the season where cooks need a third arm to hold the fly swatter while preparing food.
Our favorite pastime during this period of pure hell is basically killing flies and keeping count. One morning before breakfast Tom had a 30+ fly count under his belt. I am convinced that the little demons spawn (like some sick video game) at least ten for every one that you splatter since they seem to keep multiplying as fast as they are killed.
After a few years of this torture, which really doesn’t abate until we have a good killing frost (get it?) we decided to have the house sprayed. I am not a pesticide advocate and really truly try to avoid them at all costs especially when we are literally drinking the water they are leaching into from above, but this is the one exception. We are sprayed yearly with a chrysanthemum based spray about as natural as you can get. The spray generally lasts a year and it is so good to be fly-free.
The problem that we had this year (starting about a month ago) is that we had several really cool nights which prompted the little creatures to decide it was time to seek winter shelter, turning our house, windows, screens and doorways into fly heavens. We called my favorite person in the whole wide world right now (Mr. Fly Sprayer) and he sadly informed us that it was too early to spray. If we sprayed back in early August, then we would be miserable come the later part of the year, since the little hoards of flies would pester us to death. Wait until September he advised.
So, today is a really, really good day – September 1st and Mr. Fly Sprayer a/k/a Accredited Pest Control showed up this afternoon. We are temporarily displaced for a couple hours while they spray and fog the house but it is a small and insignificant price to pay for returning to a house sans flies. I will be very happy to hang up the fly swatter for the year. My patience was at its limit – I was this close to committing fly harey-carey .
Thank you Mr. Fly Sprayer and Happy September!
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There are those (and you know who you are) who say I take too many pictures of food reminding us all of a mutual friend who photographed everything he cooked and ate for weeks when he first started cooking on his own, but I couldn’t resist. Food is so easy to photograph, much easier than teenagers who have this very annoying habit of putting their hands up over their faces when I show up with a camera and who have the actual knowledge to take the camera and delete any pictures of themselves. (You’ll regret it one day, I’m telling you!)
Food doesn’t move, it doesn’t complain that I’m taking too long or I just want one more picture…so lately I like photographing food – plus I have this great camera that actually takes fantastic food pictures. You’d take lots of photos of food also if you were me.
These are freshly sliced cucumbers from the garden. They were sitting there on the cutting board just begging me to take their pictures. So I do apologize but in the weeks ahead, you’re going to have to put up with pictures of my garden accomplishments.
Sometimes you’re having a good day and then blam-o, it turns to crap and it puts you in a crappy mood. That’s the kind of day I’m having this evening. I was having a good day most of the day, getting work accomplished, laundry under control, managed to get kids everywhere they needed to be when they needed to be there and cook dinner and eat in less than an hour. Real food, mind you, not something we grabbed along the road somewhere – I planned on making chicken piccata (the boys love it) so in between picking up from school and dropping off at guitar I pounded the chicken cutlets and put them aside so all I had to do later was cook them up. That, rice and salad and presto-dinner. While I was doing that I was testing oldest son on his French in preparation for his oral exam tomorrow. We ate and then were right back out the door for scouts. Normally Tom usually takes them but he is away this week, so I am pulling double duty. Got a few minutes there to read my book and then back home – and that, my friends, is where it all fell apart.
Evidently oldest son was annoyed about having to look up what a “score” is (as in Gettysburg address) and copped an attitude. They wanted to stop somewhere on the way home – Doreen’s, Cumby’s but I forgot and when he brought it to my attention, well then I asked “where?” and no one answered me (which they know —or at least should know by now– really ticks me off) I guess I have a thing for being ignored and rude kids. I pulled over and waited for someone to say something about where they wanted to go. No one answered. ARGHHHH!
Well, home was the ultimate destination – a cold, stony, non-talking ride back up the hill. Talk about putting me in a bad mood, then I get a cheery phone call from Tom telling me about his great evening and trip and everything that I am NOT doing and places that I AM NOT and probably will never be. I get the cold-shouldered kids and he gets dinner in Wisconsin. What’s not to be in a crappy mood about?
I am hitting “publish” crawling into bed and hoping that tomorrow brings happier children (I doubt it since its the middle school picnic and its supposed to pour – so soggy kids aren’t necessarily happy kids) but we can always dream……
BTW, the photo is a picture of middle son refusing to allow me to take his picture – where did my cute, adoring children go? I want them back!
Probably my biggest challenge this week will be to make the type of birthday cake that my oldest requested for his birthday. It’s something that I have not made previously. It’s really not so much the difficulty but rather with the method of execution. He wants molten chocolate or lava cake for his birthday. This requires not one big cake, but rather, individual cakes. Again, not the end of the world except that we will have a company, an extra five people, maybe six, which means that I have to make 10 cakes. Now, you see my challenge. For anyone that is not familiar, lava or molten chocolate cake is a chocolate cake with a creamy or melted center. Not something that you can really make earlier in the day and serve later. It requires a from-the-oven service, not easy to accomplish times 10.
Several of the recipes that I have found (which are all pretty much the same ingredients) indicate that the cakes can be made ahead of time and simply cooked at the time that you are ready to eat. Sounds easy, right? Well, not for me. Make ahead and then cook or partially prepare and cook later is the kiss of death. The bagels I made the first time promised a do-ahead recipe, which turned into the ugliest looking flat bagels that anyone has ever witnessed. Another time, I tried to pre-make something it was also a disaster. Not something that I want to experience with a houseful of hungry kids dying for cake and certainly not something that I want to blow for one of my boys’ birthdays – after all they only come once a year.
Last night we had a feast of local food prepared by some good friends at my friend Cassie’s house. Here are some pictures of the “spread” which was quite delicious. This was the “doomer party” and the conversations certainly ran the gamut from the local to the world, from peak oil to the destruction of global finance, as well as happenings in our own little neck of the woods.
The actual recipes and pictures of the food are going to be posted at Carolyn and Tracy’s blog, 52 meals.
What a week. Tom found one of the Black Cochin roosters dead in the corner of the coop Saturday morning. No apparent signs of distress, so this proves to be a mystery. We held the appropriate burial in as dry of ground as we could find during mud season. Yesterday was a good day, 62 degrees and outside in the yard in a mere sweatshirt. This morning, we awoke to snow covering the ground once again. It is in the low 30s and has been snowing most of the day.
Today, we clipped all the chicken’s wings so that we could let them out. I really was a rather nervous about doing this since I figured for sure it would be an event and either us or the chickens would get injured. I am proud to say there were no casualties….human or poultry. It was in fact a very smooth event. I did the trimming while Tom held the bird and my oldest son held out the wing so we could properly identify the flying feathers which the chickens keep well hidden when the wing is closed. We will have to see if they are truly limited in their ability to fly now as we read that they would be. We purchased electric netting fence, but it was snowy, windy and too cold to get too far with it. And muddy, don’t forget the mud, the yard has been transformed to a gigantic mudhole with a river running through it. We clipped wings and opened the doors to the coop, no one was too interested in going outside, I guess chickens are smarter than we give them credit for since they had the common sense to stay inside while we were outside in the cold, wet windy weather.
We decided to go with the electric fence no so much to keep chickens in but to keep The White Dog and other predators out. Sure as anything, the White Dog was the first one there when the coop door was opened. Hmmmm…..did someone say chicken?
A good day for a hot bowl of pasta with some homemade bread……yummy if I do say so myself.