A Holiday Message in My Favorite Christmas Carol

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the Feast of Stephen
When the snow lay ’round about
Deep and crisp and even

This is my favorite Christmas song, but I could never listen to it without getting teary eyed.

Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath’ring winter fuel

The story always touches me no matter how many times I hear it…

“Hither, page, and stand by me,
If thou know’st, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?”

Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine-logs hither
Thou and I shall see him dine
When we bear them thither.”

Such goodness is a beautiful thing to witness…in a song, or in your fellow man.

Page and monarch, forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather.

“Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how
I can go no longer.”

I could never get past that stanza without crying after my mom passed away. The part about the failing heart got me every time.

She’s been gone almost 26 years – you’d think I’d be over it by now. And missing her made me question my tradition of offering my baking to others as a gift.  I started asking myself why I do it, thinking maybe it’s an old custom and not necessary – other people don’t do it.

Then I played the song again and in the King’s lines, I heard my mom’s message…

“Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shall find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.”

And I knew that I should’t quit, but boldly follow in Mom’s footsteps because she created a beautiful tradition. She showed me the way to treat friends, family, co-workers, even strangers.

In his master’s step he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed

Those were some pretty warm foot prints to walk in.

Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye, who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.

Generosity of spirit never goes out of style.

I wish you all a beautiful Christmas. May you find joy in whatever the day brings, Drop your expectations and just accept what happens – it makes for a much happier time. And hang on to your traditions — they are priceless.

 

 

Granola Cluster Cookies –Even Your Healthy Friends Will Love Them!

Each winter my mother and I sported a light coat of flour from December first to the 25th. My mom flew into a baking frenzy and I was recruited to grease pans, sprinkle sugar on hot fried twists of lemony dough, and run up and down between our upstairs and downstairs kitchens like lightning for whatever mom needed  because she always said, “Honey, you gatta da fresh a legs.”

Once I remember her saying, “Honey go getta me da ting dat goes inna da ting I use to beat uppa da stuffa.” And I brought her back exactly what she needed – the beaters for her mixer.  My dad looked at us incredulously and said, “How the hell did you know what she meant?” I shrugged my shoulders and said, “I don’t know, I just knew.” My mother smiled knowing we had a baking shorthand that transcended the English language.

This year I’m trying to get it all done before I go back to Pennsylvania and I’m relying on  legs that are not quite as fresh as they were 50 years ago to get me through.

I love bringing cookies to work and to friends for the holidays.  Just being in my kitchen, baking in the evening when it’s dark outside reminds me of those childhood Decembers when condensed water in the corners of windows turned into tiny ice crystals. I’d stand at the big picture window  in the dining room, looking out on the frozen backyard and knew I was lucky to be warm and cozy, baking with my mom.

I miss her more this time of year than any other because she was like the spirit of Christmas present — large, laughing, joyful, always giving, and ready to sample every treat that came her way. Everyone, from neighbors, to friends, to the nuns at school, even the mailman, got a sample of Mama Tunno’s cookies.

Keeping that tradition alive makes me feel like our floured fingertips touch every December. And I swear, I am going to bake her banana cookies this year, and give you the recipe because they are awesome dipped in a hot cup of coffee. It’s a dough wrapped cookie filled with a mixture of chocolate, raisins, walnuts, nutmeg and cinnamon, that is awesome.

Each year I also swear I’ll expand my repertoire, then never do it.  (Apparently, I do a lot of swearing this time of year.) But, I actually did try two new cookie recipes this baking season. One was a success, the other was just meh. The success was a fantastic, sweet treat even your health conscious friends will love, called the Granola Cluster Cookie.  My daughter found it on the Bon Appetit website, which she and I both love. Their cooks  are really laid back and fun. You just want to hang out with them.

edited granola cluster.JPGThe Granola Cluster Cookie is made of pecans, almonds, pepitas, coconut and some oats, and it’s held together with egg whites beaten with sugar. I truly couldn’t stop eating them — they’re that good. And I just made another batch with hazelnuts instead of pepitas and they were even better!

But when they tell you to bake them on parchment, they aren’t kidding. They really stick to  the pan and removing them results in some broken cookies, so definitely use parchment, or wax paper in a pinch. And wait until they’re cooled to remove them or you’ll have cookie casualties.

The meh one was the Swig Sugar Cookie.  Apparently, they’re so good people stand in long lines for them in St. George Utah, but the recipe I found on a blog was not worth the effort. They were too sweet, without the balance of salt. I’d read that the sour cream in the icing made them different, but to me, it didn’t and I added a lot more sour cream to see if I could salvage it. I saw a different recipe,  on a Food blog called, The Recipe Critic, and it looked more promising with more salt and sour cream in it, but I have no more time or money to waste on recipes, so for now, I’m sticking with Gramma Ev’s Sugar Cookies as my undisputed favorite sugar cookie.

So, if you’re still looking for a great holiday cookie, I’m posting the recipe for the Bon Appetit Granola Cluster Cookies. This should satisfy your health conscious friends, who want a cookie they can eat with little to no guilt. And they’re really easy to make!

Russian Teacakes.JPGBut, what’s life without a decadent, sweet treat every now and then? So, I’m also posting one  of my, oldie but goodie, favorite Christmas cookie recipes — Russian Teacakes.

My mom called them Butterballs because they’re so buttery they just melt in your mouth.  She loved these cookies at first taste, but she didn’t have a recipe to replicate them, so she tried inventing a recipe. It didn’t work out well, and my brother Bernie, nicknamed mom’s attempt “Cannon Balls.”  Mom laughed it off, but gave up on improvisation.  Years later, my sister-in-law- Patty, gave me a great recipe she had in one of her Polish cookbooks, and I’ve been making them for years. I always lightly toast the pecans before I add them, they’re much better that way.

And, even though I’m usually worried about what I eat, at Christmas, I go with mom’s slogan, “Oh honey, you gatta try dis, ittsa so good!” You only get one life, enjoy it a little. We can all go back on the diet in January.

Granola Cluster Cookies

1 1/2 cups pecans

1 cup sliced almonds (I didn’t have any, so I chopped whole almonds)

1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

3/4 cup pumpkin seeds, (pepitas) or hazelnuts — they are awesome!

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats

1/2 tsp. Kosher salt

3 Tbsp. virgin coconut or extra virgin olive oil , melted (I used coconut)

2 large egg whites

2/3 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 325°. Toss pecans, almonds, coconut, pumpkin seeds, oats, salt, and oil on a rimmed baking sheet and bake, tossing once, until coconut is golden and mixture is fragrant, 10–12 minutes. Let it cool.

Whisk egg whites in a large bowl until foamy. Gradually add sugar, whisking until mixture is thick and opaque. Add nut mixture and fold to coat evenly.

Drop ¼-cupfuls of mixture onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing evenly. (This recipe made two batches for me — about 24 cookies). Bake cookies, rotating baking sheet halfway through, until edges are golden, 15–20 minutes. Wait until the cookies are cooled before trying to move them, they are fragile and will fall apart if they aren’t cool enough.

 

Russian Teacakes

1 cup soft butter

1/2 cup confectioners sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

2 1/4 cups flour

3/4 cup finely chopped nuts ( I use lightly toasted pecans, but walnuts work too)

Additional 2 cups confectioners sugar to roll cookies in.

Mix butter, powdered sugar and vanilla thoroughly. Blend flour, and salt and stir into mixture. Mix in nuts, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill. Heat oven to 400 degrees. (If I leave the dough in the refrigerator overnight, it gets really hard, so I zap it in the microwave for about 15 seconds, and it’s easier to work with.) Roll chilled dough into 1 inch balls, and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes and while warm, roll them in confectioners sugar. Let cookies cool and roll them in sugar again. Makes about 4 dozen.

 

If It Isn’t Broken, Don’t Fix It

I always worry that I’m not experimental enough in the kitchen. I find a good recipe and then stick with it for the rest of my life.  This worry was spurred by a friend once comparing me to another friend who cooks.  She said, “You’re a great home cook, but ______, well he’s a chef.”

My pride was wounded, but I understood. The friend who she was talking about is a fantastic cook and loves to experiment in the kitchen with whatever the latest food trends are. If they don’t sound good to me, I don’t. So, black pepper never makes it into my ice cream and I’m OK with that.

But this year, I figured my rosemary with garlic and butter under the skin turkey was getting old, so I thought I’d try something new.  I went with a Pancetta Sage Turkey recipe I found in Bon Appetit. I almost did a recipe with lemon rind, Italian parsley and saffron but decided I didn’t want to spend 12 bucks on saffron.  So I did a twist on my rosemary butter and added a little lemon rind to it instead.

Know what?  My guests preferred the rosemary turkey over the pancetta sage, which is too bad because the pancetta sage turkey was a lot of work!

And this year I didn’t stuff my turkeys. I got two smaller ones instead of one larger one. I think I prefer a larger bird than two smaller ones and I miss the stuffing in the bird.  So, lesson learned. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.  My family loves turkey with rosemary, garlic butter under the skin, so that’s what I’ll make.  But the lemon rind was a nice additional touch of flavor.

And the winner of the Annual Cutthroat Tunno Pie Competition is my nephew Chris. Yes, Chris again.  Clearly, he is putting crack in his pies, because everyone says they are absolutely the best.  One day, I will drug him so I can extract the secret to the pie and share it with you! Chris came in first, my big brother Bernie came in second and Nate, (my, I’ll make my own damned trophy) great nephew from my blog two years ago came in third.  C’est la vie. It was evenly split among the generations. (I had reported it incorrectly earlier, and thank God, Donna set me straight. No fake news here!)

However, I did try a new pie crust recipe and it was good. Not sure if it was better than my mom’s recipe, but it was definitely tied. The thing I discovered was that using a food processor when making a pie crust is absolute genius, takes one fourth the time and makes a flakier crust!

But one thing that I never see in any article about pie crusts is information about how to protect your crust from burning, especially if you have a deep dish apple pie,  because they take long to bake.  I use a Mrs. Anderson’s pie crust shield and it works like a charm. That is a link to Bed, Bath and Beyond, but you can get them at Amazon too. Both places have them for 5.99.  They also have an adjustable one, you can cut to size if you don’t make a deep dish pie size. They’re a little more expensive, but they are all worth it!

Here is the pie crust recipe. I found it in a Los Angeles Times article by Noelle Carter.

Flaky Pie Dough

1 Tbsp. sugar

1/4 cup water

2 1/4 tsp. cider vinegar

2 1/4 cups flour

1 tsp salt

4 Tbsp cold shortening or lard

1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes

Ice water if needed

Egg White for brushing crust

(The recipe in the Times said to chill everything, the blades for the processor, even the flour, but I didn’t and mine turned out fine.)

Mix together the sugar, water and vinegar until sugar is dissolved and put it in the refrigerator to chill.

Mix the flour and salt in the food processor. With the machine running, add the shortening and butter. Pulse until it resembles small pebbles. Add the vinegar water and when it starts to come together, stop the machine.  Remove the dough. If it needs additional water, add a little ice water to make it hold together. Then wrap it in cellophane and put it in the freezer for a few minutes to chill.

Remove and roll out on a lightly floured surface.

 

 

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Trophy close up- note Elissa clutching glory.

Who wouldn’t want this?

I’ll fill you in on the great Tunno Pumpkin Pie competition which is at Bernie and Donna’s house this year. We’ll see who goes home with the coveted trophy.

Enjoy your day with family and friends. If things get sticky, just remember, politicians come and go, but family is with you through thick and thin — if you’re lucky — for a lifetime.  So, celebrate the things you DO have in common – like an addiction to corn casserole.

And Happy Black Friday too! I know my Zazzle website, GettaSommaDis,  has some pretty great deals on Black Friday, so take advantage of the sales! You know you need some Italian Curse Word Wine Charms.

Topper and I send our best wishes for a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Empty Nest – HA!

Remember how sad I was when I thought I was going to be an empty nester?  Then how I instantly adjusted due to the cleanliness factor?

Milena and Andy on plane.cropped JPG.JPG

Kids — they never really leave. But you love them anyway. (My kids never take normal pictures.)

Well, things change pretty quickly around here. Now it’s my son, who is here temporarily while he finds the right place to live. Since this is southern California, where homes are totally out of reach for anyone making less than 200,000 a year, and rents are sky high, a move takes serious consideration and research.

I’m totally OK with it.  First of all my son leaves less hair in the bathroom than my daughter, leaves no beauty products on the counter, has the dishes done when I get home, and only borrows my socks occasionally, but, sadly, they’re never the same afterward.

On the down side, he offers absolutely no beauty tips, has no earrings I want to borrow, has completely different taste in music than I do, goes through espresso and coffee like water, and could probably eat an amount equal to his own body weight if money was no object. They’re tied in the leaving lights on department, but it’s a small price to pay for having kids you like, as well as love.

This is parenting in 2017 and I’m OK with it. As my parents used to say, “As long as we can help, we’ll do whatever we can,” and God knows my parents helped me! So, I’ll always do the same for my kids.

The other perk of my son being here was his stuff was all over my living room, I mean really all over it.  After my initial horror, I found a silver lining — all the crap in the room rendered it unclean-able!  It was the perfect excuse to spend the last two weeks binge-watching, Stranger Things, which is like a fabulous combination of X Files and E.T. with some ’80s video games thrown in.  I was totally hypnotized, and if you haven’t seen it yet, you should. It’s worth paying the 9.99 to Netflix, per month, for two seasons of that one show.  Normally, I try to iron while watching TV, but it was so engrossing, that I could hardly iron for fear I’d miss something. That’s a pretty big statement from a woman who generally loves English period dramas.

The other things I’ve been doing are:  getting back to the gym, writing, and cooking — not in that order though, which is why I needed the gym.

Mushroom soup

This soup is as good as it looks.

 

I just made some wonderful Cream of Mushroom soup that I haven’t made in years! And it’s as good today as the first time I made it more than 20 years ago. I got the recipe from the LA Times, back when they used to have a great Food Section.  Now, you’re lucky if you get one or two recipes in their Saturday section. I am including the recipe at the end of this post, it’s perfect with leftover turkey sandwiches.

But first, take a good look at that bowl of soup. Notice the cool table runner it’s on?  It was made by my friend Dawn, a Key West artist, who was lucky to have a home left after Hurricane Irma.  She returned to a find a place she hardly recognized. The roof was partially torn off, the walls covered in mold, the enclosed porch gone and all the landscaping they’d worked so hard on, all gone. In fact most of the trees in the neighborhood that made it such a lovely place were gone too.

I asked her how I could help her,  and since she is not one to request charitable help, she said I could ask you to like her Facebook page. Here’ a link to it:  Heliographics Facebook Page so, please, click on the link and like it.

And if you have a moment, (and she didn’t say I could do this but I’m doing it anyway — hey, what are friends for?) Please check out her website: Heliographics.com.

Good table runner.JPG

My Autumnal table runner- I’ve washed this thing dozens of times and it still looks great!

Her stuff is really gorgeous, hand drawn, and perfect, for  a home in a tropical climate like Florida, California, or Hawaii. She also does temperate prints of beautiful ferns and wildlife she finds in the Adirondacks in the summer. She’s done art for:  Ocean’s Edge Hotel in Key West, the Jupiter Island Club Spa in Hobe Sound, Florida, the Marker Hotel in Key West, and her designs there were featured in Forbes Magazine. She gives kayak tours in the Keys, and is one of the most thoughtful, talented, adventurous souls I know.

So, please check Heliographics out, or like her Facebook page, or order something and help out someone who is recovering from a hurricane. I know she’ll appreciate it and you’ll get some gorgeous art in return.

Now, finally, here’s the Cream of Mushroom soup recipe.

good close up.JPGCream of Mushroom Soup from the Los Angeles Times

1 pound of mushrooms

1/3 cup finely chopped shallots

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1/2 to 3/4 cup flour

5 cups hot chicken stock

Chopped fresh thyme

1/2 cup dry or sweet Sherry or Port wine

1/2 cup whipping cream

Salt, pepper

Finely chop 1/2 of the mushrooms. Slice remaining 1/2 mushrooms. Saute shallots in 1/4 cup butter, until tender, but now browned.  Add chopped mushrooms and saute until tender. Do not brown.

Add flour 3/4 cup for a thicker soup. (I just used a heaping 1/2 cup) and stir with wooden spoon until a smooth paste has formed. (This is never a smooth paste for me because it tries to stick to the pan and the mushrooms don’t leave it smooth. Just keep scraping the bottom of the pan so it doesn’t burn and stick. Reduce heat and cook, stirring 3 minutes. (I actually turned on the timer for this part.)

Gradually stir in the hot chicken stock, stirring constantly with a wire whisk. Bring it to a boil and simmer ten minutes.

Saute sliced mushrooms in the remaining 1/4 cup of butter in a separate pan. Season to taste with thyme (I used about 1 heaping tablespoon of fresh thyme) and add Sherry. I used 1/2 Sherry and 1/2 port wine. Cook until liquid is reduced by 1/2.

Add sliced mushrooms to simmering soup and continue to simmer 10 minutes. Add cream and season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go Ahead, Call Out Your Sexual Harasser – For All of Us Who Didn’t

me and company car

Me and my last company car.

Right out of college, I got a job as a Retail Sales Representative for the Warner Lambert Company. I sold Listerine, Listermint, Efferdent, Effergrip, Schick Razor Blades and Sinutabs. The products weren’t glamorous, but it was considered a very good job. There was about a 10,000 dollar difference between the package I would have gotten as a teacher,  and this job, so I went with the better salary, bonuses, great benefits, and a company car.

I called on drug stores and grocery stores. I learned to talk to people and give a presentation without breaking a sweat. I learned to get people to like me, or at the very least, tolerate me. I learned that getting thrown out of a store was something I should not take personally.  I learned to navigate western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio with no GPS, just a map and determination.

And I learned to put up with men making unwanted advances.

Of course, I’m thinking of this because of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman, and whoever the next sex scandal will involve. When I looked on Facebook a while back and saw all the, “Me too’s,” from women who were sexually harassed one way or another, I wasn’t surprised. Then I added my name to the list.

I never really thought about it at the time, it was just part of being a woman in the 70’s.

I was 22 to 26 years old during my sales years of 1977 to 1981. With make up on, hair blown dry and dressed nicely, I was considered attractive. I’d dealt with boys coming on to me in college because college boys are just a vat of raging hormones. I thought it would be different once I became a professional, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Some men overtly flirted with me when I walked in their store, but I was fairly good at deflecting them and nothing ever came of it.  I only ever dated one guy from one of my stores for about a month.

Then one night, an older, married man, who I didn’t find attractive at all, actually called me at home. I know I didn’t give him my number for any personal reason. I’m sure I gave it to him thinking it was for business.

He was the assistant manager of a grocery store on Market Street in Boardman, Ohio. He actually just straight out asked me to have sex with him. I was shocked and reminded him that he was married and he said, “I’m not asking you to marry me, just have sex.”

I needed to maintain a good relationship with him because it was my job to go into his store every few weeks and make sure it was well stocked with our products. So, I laughed and joked with him because I really didn’t know how else to handle it.  There was no one to tell back then, and part of the problem was, like most of us, I was raised to believe that men were just being men when they propositioned you.

But a more consistent harasser was a married district manager of a chain of drug stores in Ohio. He was very nice and friendly and always took the time to listen to my Listerine presentation, then he’d say, “I’ll order as much Listerine as you want, if you’ll go to bed with me.”

Again, here was a guy who had the power to throw me out of his stores (and he was in charge of a lot of them) so I knew I had to stay on his good side. I’d playfully punch him in the arm and tell him how funny he was. He’d come back totally serious and say, “I’m not kidding.” And I’d say, “Well, I’m not going to do that.” And he’d say, “Well then I won’t buy your Listerine display.” And that would be that.

I used to take him to lunch, hoping he could be persuaded by kindness and friendship, but he always had the same answer, and so did I. But, I have to believe it must have worked for him sometime.

This man had two little girls who were both toddlers at that time. He never mentioned them, I only discovered that fact when I happened to drive past him as he was pushing their stroller down a street one day. I was totally disgusted that this married man with two young daughters would behave so horribly toward women. To this day, I remember his name.

I never even thought of telling my boss at Warner Lambert. Back then, companies were just starting to hire women in a sales capacity. I was the only woman in my region for years. I didn’t want to spoil it by acting like I couldn’t handle it.

And I wonder if the company would have done anything. They needed to maintain a good relationship with the stores too. That’s partly why they hired me. I was young, female, personable and, in addition to filling a quota, they probably figured an attractive female could generate sales.

It made me wonder if any other female sales representatives put up with harassment back then, so a couple days ago, I called a fellow sales woman I’m still friends with named Susan. She said she was never harassed, but Susan is not the kind of woman you mess with. She could fire back a snappy response that could shrink a man in seconds. I wasn’t quite that self-possessed.

So, today I did a little digging.  I wondered if my harasser still  worked for the same company. I looked him up.  He doesn’t. He’s in his 60’s now and lives in Florida. His Linked in profile shows him on a boat, on a turquoise ocean under a beautiful Florida sun, with a self-satisfied expression on his face. He has his own business now, and I hesitate to give any more details because he’s not hard to find. With very little effort, not only did his Linked in profile come up, but so did his home address from VoterRecords.com.

I fantasized about outing him and wrecking whatever home life he may still have. But I would never do that to another woman. And besides, he was never aggressive with me, just repeatedly asked me to have sex, and always took no for an answer. He was always cordial to me and let me do my job, so was my experience so terrible? Not compared to some women, I’m sure.

So I decided to connect with him via linked in with this invitation:

Dear _____,
I worked for Warner Lambert back in the 70’s. I called on your _______ area  _______ stores. You always used to say you’d put up a Listerine display if I’d go to bed with you. I forgive you and would never out you, but would love a belated apology. I think you owe me that.
Best,
Fran Tunno

I wondered if he’d respond. I doubted he’d even remember me. But last night I was surprised by this response:

“Fran, I apologize for my behavior in _________. I’m embarrassed. I was very immature back then. I think I did put up displays for you though. Hope you are doing well in California.”

So, I guess there’s hope. At least he apologized — he could have just ignored me. Maybe the fact that he has daughters helped.   (But I can tell you this: I KNOW he never put up any extra displays for me!)

And I don’t know what happened to him after I left. Maybe someone reported him. Maybe he was reprimanded. Maybe he changed his ways. Maybe he just grew up.

I was all ready to hate him for getting to live this comfortable, seemingly carefree, affluent life, after behaving badly, in upper management, for who knows how long, but I don’t.

I’m glad times have changed though, because if my daughter was going through the same thing today, I’d have no qualms about telling her to report it. Hollywood actors are not the only ones who get sexually harassed. Sales representatives in small towns deal with it too, as do many others. No one should have to put up with that crap when they’re just trying to do their job…and immaturity is no excuse.

 

Centodue Anni!

Bernie's Lemoncello.JPG

Bernie’s Limoncello

 

My brother Bernie called me last night. He said he was making Limoncello. I love that he and my brother Bob still do that kind of thing. It’s proof they haven’t lost their Italian-ness. The label with my dad’s photo on it is one of Bob’s wine labels.

Bernie was peeling lemons as we talked, and I wanted to watch, so we Face-timed, and it was almost as good as being there. I watched his big hands peeling the lemons and it was like sitting in the kitchen with both of my parents at once. My dad’s strong bricklayer hands combined with my mom always making something in the kitchen.

IMG_2759

Lemon Cheesecake Squares

 

He asked me if I remembered that today was my dad’s birthday, and, of course, I did. My dad would have been 102 today. We always used to say Cent’anni when we toasted, hoping he would make 100 years…but, sadly he did not.  But, I’ll toast to 102 (Centodue) today in his honor.

I’ll bet Bernie was making Limoncello to honor dad, because my dad loved lemony things. Bernie and I got talking about lemons and Limoncello and recipes (we cannot talk without recipes coming up)  and how Lemon  Meringue Pie, Lemon Cake, Lemon Squares, Lemon Ricotta Cookies, and all things lemon were my dad’s favorites. Then we veered toward Chicken Piccata…and that’s when I realized I was going to have to share some lemony recipes and a story of torture you may not have heard yet.

I was an expert at tormenting my dad when I was a child. He loved lemony things but couldn’t eat an actual lemon. If you asked him to, his face would pucker up in such a sour expression.  I used enjoy torturing him by fishing lemons out of the iced tea and eating them in front of him just to get him to pucker up. He always did it, as if on cue and I would laugh hysterically.

Children are evil that way.

I miss that sweet man every day, and even though our conversations toward the end were mostly repetition, there was something reassuring about hearing him say the same things he said time and again like, “Don’t worry, we’ll get through it,” or “Stay tough,” or “Keep your nose to the grindstone, you can do it.”

My dad was the taskmaster. When there was work to be done, you did it until it was finished. Period. Not even a discussion.

Mom was fun personified, which is why I am such a mess. Half the time I’m disciplined and half the time I just want to have fun.  This does not make for a simple career path. But it’s good for blog writing, which I consider 99 percent fun.

So, Happy Birthday Dad. You are always with me in my thoughts, actions, and DNA. You’ve made me at least half of what I am today and I am so grateful for you. You are the reason anything ever gets accomplished in my life. I love you forever.

Mom, I love you forever too, but for very different reasons.

Single Lemon ricotta

Lemon Ricotta Cookies

To honor Dad, here is Bernie’s Limoncello Recipe – (if you make it – just remember one ounce will knock you out like a prizefighter). Also a link to my Really Good and Easy Lemon Cheesecake Squares Recipe, a link to my Lemon Ricotta Cookies Recipe, and a link to a Williams Sonoma Chicken Piccata Recipe, which is absolutely delicious! I used it when I catered a wedding last January and it was a huge hit.

Bernie’s Limoncello

Peel only the yellow off 14 lemons

Place the peels in a large glass container

Add 2 liters of grain alcohol

Add two cinnamon sticks (these are optional)

Let the mixture sit for 30 days.

Then strain it into a clear container and add 2 liters of distilled water and sugar to taste.  put a cork in it and put it in the freezer before serving it.

Fran’s Really Good and Easy Lemon Cheesecake Squares

Lemon Ricotta Cookies

Williams Sonoma Chicken Piccata

 

 

A Pretty Perfect Weekend

Well, I seem to be surviving the departure of my daughter.

At first, I wondered if I’d ever be alone because right after my daughter left, my son came and visited for a couple nights, but I was alone last weekend, which left time for an old friend to come and stay over and for me to finally clean my daughter’s room the way I’ve been dying to clean it for — oh about four years.

So, after maniacal cleaning on Saturday, I got to relax with Allegra. Then we got up, read the paper, had lattes, went to breakfast and I came home to a house that was still clean. I was so happy, I left to go to the mall and bought a couple little things I needed.

Then I went to see the movie, Victoria and Abdul, and for the first time in my life I actually admitted (without someone coercing me)  that I am a senior citizen to get the stinking discount. Senior citizen is defined as 60 at this theater — what kind of crap is that? It was always 65 and now suddenly, timed to make me feel older and more decrepit, it’s 60. C’est la vie. My minor irritation was overruled by my happiness at saving three bucks.

Then I got myself popcorn and thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Afterward I came home to a house that was still clean, and made some wonderful pasta for myself because, hey, it was Sunday!

If you’re noticing a theme here, it’s because I’ve spent so much time cleaning that I never really had much time to do what I wanted to do, but I can see things leveling out now and I’m very OK with it.

Plus, I have a wonderful, simple pasta dish for you to try.  It was pasta with a fresh tomato sauce with shallots, fresh basil and a little cream and mushrooms. I was going to just have the mushrooms as a side dish at first, but they were a great addition to the pasta, so I went for it. It’s good either way. I remember watching someone make this simple sauce probably 30 years ago and I remembered it for its simplicity and its wonderful flavor.

Then I got to sit, eat and watch Netflix. Relaxation in my clean house was so great, I sat there beaming. It reminded me of being in my 20’s, making myself a great meal, then soaking in the bathtub with a glass of wine and thinking, man, life is great.

It was then, and still is.

Pasta with Fresh Tomato, Shallots, Basil and CreamGreat cu pasta

1 large red tomato

2 medium shallots thinly sliced

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. butter

1/4 cup whipping cream

6 medium basil leaves chopped

6 large mushrooms

2 Tbsp. butter for the mushrooms

1 Tbsp. Fresh parsley finely chopped

2 Tbsp. port wine

1/2 lb. pasta of your choice

Salt and pepper

Fill a pot with water for pasta and heat it to boiling. While the pasta water is heating, heat another small pot with water and let it boil.  Take the large tomato and submerge it in the boiling water for about 30 seconds.  Remove the tomato and peel it. Then cut the tomato in half – width wise and squeeze the seeds out. Once the seeds are mostly out, chop the tomato into small pieces, less than an inch in size and set them aside.

In a saute pan heat the butter until melted and add the mushrooms until they have given off their water. Add the port wine and cook for another 5 minutes. Then add parsley and set aside.

Next, heat the oil and butter.  Add the shallots and saute until translucent. Add the chopped tomatoes, mix together with the shallots and saute for about 5 minutes. The tomato will give up some juice. When the juice has cooked down a bit, smash some of the tomatoes with your fork and add the chopped basil, then add the whipping cream and cook 2 to 3 minutes.

While you are making the sauce,  boil the pasta until done.  When cooked, drain most of the pasta and put it into the pan with the sauce, add the mushrooms and mix together thoroughly.  If you like your pasta with lots of sauce, then don’t add it all. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with grated Parmesan or Romano and chow down!Good CU pasta.JPG

 

 

 

Alone, After 30 Years

Dishes

Dirty dishes, her legacy.

I just calculated the last time I lived alone and it was somewhere around 30 years ago. So, once I finish the dishes that my daughter lovingly left me as a parting gift (so I wouldn’t miss her too much) and get the house cleaned, then get rid of all the furniture she left in my living room, (anybody need a nice dark brown desk?)  I am going to love relaxing here!

 

I won’t know what to do with all the extra time I won’t spend cleaning.  What a thrill! Maybe I’ll actually get this blog out on time for a change.

Of course I’ll miss her, because even though her cleanliness gene seems to have mutated into something unspeakable, she’s a lovely companion.  Some nights we’d have dinner together and talk like a couple of old friends. It was really sweet. Then she’d snap out of it and realize I’m her mom, but I always enjoyed it while it lasted. Continue reading

Singing My Loudest — Why I Love My Car

I went to the movies last week and saw Baby Driver,  a movie so full of amazing action, romance, sweetness, fast cars, evil, and the most fantastic sound track, it has me thinking about cars and music, and how sometimes the combination can be life-changing.

I also now understand why people get so attached to their cars.

My car is not flashy. It’s a 2006 dark gray/blue Honda Pilot. I didn’t like that color, my ex picked it, but since I’d made all the payments on the car, I got it in the divorce and it’s grown on me. It’s only broken down on me a couple of times in over 150,000 miles, which is a pretty decent record. My Pilot drove me out of California with a couple of El Sauz burritos, two horchatas, Brandon, my step-son-co-pilot,  and two dogs in the back — after a divorce that shredded romance for me and left my soul gasping for air.

Pilot, driver's seat.JPG

The driver’s seat of my Pilot

I took turns with Brandon driving across the country, almost 2500 miles. I wish I’d taken photos of our journey — but I have none. It was a great trip for me, and the most time alone I’d ever spent with Brandon.  He’d originally agreed, thinking the kids would be along too. When he found out it was just me, he could have backed out, but he didn’t. I’m still so grateful he went.

We walked the dogs, talked a lot, practiced Italian, went to Prairie Dog Town — a place that claimed to have the world’s largest Prairie Dog, got a ticket in Kansas (I was driving) and arrived at my brother’s home in Ohio after four days.

Kids with Bernie and dogs

I never noticed how worried Bernie looked in this photo until now. I think I know why.

Brandon got a flight back to New York — he had to be back for work — and I finally landed on my dad’s doorstep. I knocked on the door of the house where I grew up, and when my father opened the door, I broke down in tears.  We hugged for a long time, just standing in the doorway and finally made our way, up the three steps into the kitchen.

I felt like a pathetic loser. How lucky I was to have a dad who loved us enough to take me, my two kids and even the two pooping dogs in.  I stayed there for two years,  unable to buy a house because of stricter loan requirements. I worked on re-inventing myself, helping my dad while he helped us, and trying to stay sane.

Having my family there was wonderful, but getting divorced, losing my job two weeks later, then having to sell the home we painstakingly remodeled for 13 years, and losing with my entire way of life and lots of friends, was a challenge. In the wide scope of things, and compared to serious life and death situations some people endure, I know it was definitely a first world problem. But being career-less and moving my family into my childhood home, with my 95 year-old father with worsening dementia, was not what I imagined I’d be doing at 55.

My escape road

My escape route

So, at night, after I tucked him into bed, sometimes I’d run an errand, just for a ride alone in my Pilot. I’d drive down the roads I used to drive on when I was a teenager looking for fun, only now I was driving to escape.

I’d put one of the CD’s in the car that my daughter painstakingly made for me, roll down all the windows, even in the dead of winter, and sing at the top of my lungs. A couple of favorites were “Dog Days are Over” by Florence and the Machine, Diego Garcia’s, “You Were Never There,” Bon Iver’s, “Holocene,” and a song by Cults called “Bad Things,” that had this line in it: “I’m gonna run, run away, run, run, away…” you get the idea.

I’m quite certain, I looked like a lunatic, but it kept me sane.  Screaming those lyrics was pretty cathartic, but I couldn’t run away. I had my dad to think of, kids and dogs and a career to resurrect. I had to stay and figure out what the hell I was going to do.

But those moments, when it was just me, my car, my sadness and frustration, loud music and country roads in front of me, made that Pilot more than just a car. It was a friend, who carried me away and let me sing at the top of my lungs when I needed it.

Two years later, I drove back across the country so my daughter could finish high school in the same town she started kindergarten, get a better education, get to know the cute boy she’d met on summer vacation, and I could figure out how to start over in California, the place I had contacts and a track record. It took a few  starts, but at least I’m on a path now and have more of a plan than I ever did before. I’ve heard the saying, God laughs at plans, but you have to start somewhere.

I still have my Honda Pilot. I can’t imagine ever getting rid of the car that carried me out of California and brought me back in, a stronger, more whole person still singing at the top of her lungs.