Women Always Find the Good in Each Other — Garlic helps

Theresa is the first wife of my ex-husband.

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Fran and Theresa the only two members of a very exclusive club.

She rocks.

But for years I didn’t realize that because I was married to my then husband, and his characterizations may not have been completely accurate because pesky emotion was involved.

I should have known better because the son she and my ex had together is absolutely wonderful. You don’t turn out that great if there isn’t someone molding you, and the master molder was Theresa. We only got Brandon a few weekends a month, so we were assistant molders. And I have to say, that my ex was a good dad to Brandon. He loved him completely, Brandon knew it, and that makes a big difference.

But now that my ex is my ex, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Theresa much better. It all started around the time I was getting divorced. I had the massive realization that there were going to be stories out there about me that might be one-sided, colored by emotion and, therefore possibly, not completely true.

I realized then, that for decades, I’d only been getting half the story about her and their relationship.  Much of it was factual, but much was colored by emotion, and we all know emotion is a lousy gauge for accuracy.

As my grandfather Bernardo once said, “You gotta eat a sack of salt with someone before you really know him/her.” It’s so true. You only sprinkle a little salt when you eat, so it takes quite a while to get through a good sized sack of salt and that’s how long it takes to truly know someone.

Sometimes people can fool you, but most of the time, you see what people are about.

So, I wrote to her on Facebook because she was nice enough to friend me after the divorce.  I told her I was sorry if I ever misjudged her, but if I did, it was because I was only getting half the story. I also told her I respected her for being a fantastic mom to Brandon. And I meant every word of it. She was in her early 20’s when he was born. (I would have been a hideous mom at that age!)

I didn’t plan to go on so long about this, because it’s becoming more a story about exes than the yummy garlic spread recipe Theresa shared with me, but it’s a story about how to deal with divorce, and it starts with love.

I knew two things when I first got involved with my ex:

#1. I loved my mom more than anything and would have happily strangled anyone who said anything bad about her.

#2. I knew Brandon loved his mom, so I did my best to always let him know I totally understood and supported him in that love, because I loved my mom too. And I’m sure Theresa did the same for me. Feeling that love and understanding it, makes you much more compassionate.

You never score points with a kid by badmouthing their parent. That lesson came in handy years later when I was getting divorced. God knows it’s hard not to say what you’d like to when you’ve been hurt. But it lessens you, and it hurts your kids who are one half the “other” parent. Of course I’ve slipped, no one’s perfect, but I think my kids have always known that my intention was never to harm their relationship with their dad.

Take that little bit of wisdom to heart, divorced parents. I’ve lived it and I know it’s true.

Now, back to Theresa. Our first meeting without other family members around was a lunch a few years ago. She was visiting family about a half hour away and drove down to meet me for lunch.

The second time we got together alone, she was driving down to see my ex’s mom, Lois, who was very ill. We’d both been wanting to see her and were always told by our mutual ex, that it was a bad time, so she asserted herself and said, “I’m going. You’re welcome to come if you want to Fran.” I did want to go, so she picked me up and off we went.

It’s about a two hour drive to San Diego and back. Turned out, it wasn’t a bad time to visit. Lois was happy to see us and perked right up. And we were so glad we went because she passed away a couple weeks later. Theresa and I talked the entire way there and back. And my suspicions were confirmed, she is totally cool, which explains at least half, or more, of Brandon’s wonderfulness.

But what inspired this blog is that our first meeting, was at Zankou Chicken. We talked nonstop then too.

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Zankou chicken.

Zankou Chicken appears to only have locations in Southern California, but I think it’s worth a trip here, it’s that good. The first time my father tasted it, he took a bite, chewed, then looked up at me with a glee I rarely saw him exhibit, and said, “Holy hell, this is good! His eyes opened wider and he said,  “This is the best chicken I’ve ever had!”

After years of my mom’s cooking, he knew good food.

I’m not sure what they put on the outside of their rotisserie chickens, it could be toum, a garlicky paste, but their chicken turns out incredibly flavorful with a slightly salty, almost sticky skin you’re helpless to resist, even if you’re not a chicken skin fan. But the crowning glory is the small pot of creamy, white, garlicky spread, they serve with it. We used to call “Garlic Goo,” before we learned its real name is toum.  Toum apparently means garlic in Lebanese.

It’s amazing! And Theresa, who has a reputation for being a fabulous cook, just whipped up a batch.  She was kind enough to send me the recipe and I’m passing it on to you.  This recipe makes a lot, but maybe you can invite your husband or wife’s ex over to help you eat it. It’s great on chicken, but is probably good on anything!

Because I have been running myself ragged trying to get all things done, I did not have time to make toum tonight to test out Theresa’s recipe. But I totally trust her and you will definitely become addicted to it. It doesn’t look that appetizing, but wait until you taste it!

Toum, by Theresa Lobue

Toum.JPG

They give you two or three little containers of toum at Zankou…but we always ask for more.

1 cup peeled garlic gloves

4 cups grapeseed oil

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice 1 to 2 lemons

1/2 to 1 tsp salt
In a sturdy blender add the peeled garlic and half the salt. Blend until fine. Scrape down sides. Turn blender on highest setting and stream in 3 cups of oil. This takes time, about fifteen mins. Scrape down sides occasionally. With blender on high add lemon juice slowly then the last cup of the oil. Taste for salt. The garlic sauce should be the consistency of mayonnaise. Use it on everything that calls for oil and garlic. Theresa says one of her favorite ways to enjoy it is on pita with a bit of flake salt.
There is another recipe on the Splendid Table website, which calls for two cups of garlic,  a half teaspoon of salt, three cups of oil, 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice and 1/3 cup of water. And the Lebanese Kitchen has yet other ratios of ingredients and one that got good ratings is from the Kevin is Cooking blog. Which is better?  I’m not sure, but I’m going to make it and find out. I just need to find the time.  Let me know if you make it!

Six Months of Sitting 8 Hours a Day

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Great Veggie Soup – my vegan friends will be thrilled.

I love my job writing radio commercials. Its’ great because I love writing, and because people at my workplace actually seem to appreciate my work, which will never stop thrilling me. I’ve worked plenty of places where I was not appreciated, so I know this is not the norm.  Being valued makes you shine and want to work really hard.

The tiny downside to this job is that I sit 8 hours a day.  I’m often up and down printing things and I try to walk during my lunch hour, but sitting, not only makes me a little crazy, it’s making me round.  I’ve gained close to 10 pounds since I started. I have the beginnings of what an old boyfriend used to call, “government butt.” Not a very nice term for what government employees develop by sitting all day. Continue reading

Dante vs. Cream of Wheat

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Cream of Wheat with blueberries and candied pecans, drizzled with honey.

I try to be deep, honest I do. I do my best to read classics and ponder life because I aspire to write deep, philosophical blogs. In fact, I’m currently reading Dante’s Inferno — who knew hell could be so icky? But because of the ADHD I keep denying I have, my brain prefers to escape the circles of hell and fixate on something I enjoy more, like food. This week I’m enamored with Cream of Wheat. So,  it’s Philosophy – 0 Food – 1 Continue reading

The Most Awesome Cheesecake You’ve Ever Had

first-page-cheesecakeI am finally getting my bearings after the shock of going back to being a full-time employee on November 3rd.  I’m trying to get back on a weekly blogging schedule, and will do my best, but don’t hold your breath.  However, I just had to write about this cheesecake because it’s worth every decadent calorie.

I know I already laid claim to the best Carrot Cake ever. I’m going out on a limb again because I also have the recipe for the best cheesecake ever.  I may be a lapsed Catholic, but I cannot lie (not convincingly anyway) and I’m serious, this is the best cheesecake I’ve ever had. The common denominator for both these outstanding recipes is my sister-in-law, Donna. Her attention to detail is almost mind-numbing.   Continue reading

Your Mother’s Proud of You, No Matter What You Think – An Election Day Distraction Blog

Today’s election day,  and you’re going to need a distraction. I’ve got a little story about my mom and a good, easy, Italian, comfort food recipe because we’ll all need some comforting today, and probably for a while.

But be sure you vote.  Too many people have risked and lost their lives for freedom in this country for you not to vote.

Now back to the distraction.  I was responding to blog  comments a few days ago about my new job and there was one from George that said, “I am quite sure your mom is proud of you.”

I know it’s kind of crazy to worry if someone who’s been dead for 24 years is proud of you, but of course I went there. Probably because, whether your parents are alive, or dead for decades,  you still hope for their approval.  I wanted it years ago and I still do today.

I remember sitting in my dad’s car with my mom in the Northern Lights shopping center on a gray western Pennsylvania day many years ago and asking her about it. I was the only child who moved away, who pursued something out of the ordinary, who didn’t feel I’d had any particular success at that point, and who didn’t feel quite up to snuff when it came to accomplishments in life. I knew she loved me, but I wondered if she was proud of me, so I got up the nerve and asked her.

Mom and Me

She was proud of me after all!

She got the most horrified look on her face and said, “How couldda you askka such a ting? You done a so much, you went to school, you went outta dare alla by yourself, you work, you’re such a smartta gal…of course I’mma proud offa you! I can’d a believe you would askka me dat!”

I was amazed because I really didn’t think she was proud of me (which says more about me than her). I’m so grateful I asked her, and her response is something I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.

Sometimes that vicious little voice inside you convinces you of all sorts of things. You just have to know that the voice can be a liar and a big jerk. The best thing to do is say thanks for sharing, then tell it to buzz off. And remember this: Your parents are probably far more proud of you than you’ll ever comprehend.

Since I’ve been thinking about my mom I keep hearing  another, much nicer voice in my head that keeps saying, “Hey, make pasta fagiolo,” it was your mom’s favorite comfort food and you’re gonna need it today!  Plus, it’s easy! There’s no arguing with a voice like that.

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Plain Ceci di’ Pasta

My mom used to call it Ceci di’ Pasta, because she used chick peas instead of cannellini beans. It’s delicious, fast, easy,  healthy, and simple to modify! You can whip it together in about 20 minutes then go back to nervously watching election coverage.

You can add vegetables like sauteed spinach or zucchini, or you can make it with just pasta and beans and it’s great!  And now that I’ve made it, I’m certain my mom is even more proud of me.

And hang in there, the election will be a mere memory by the time Thanksgiving rolls around and our country will slowly move forward as it always does.

Ceci di’ Pasta

1/2 lb elbow pasta or whatever kind you like

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Ceci di’ pasta with spinach

1 Tbsp olive oil

5 cloves of garlic

1 medium onion diced

1 can chick peas (do not drain) or canellini beans

1 cup tomato sauce with fresh basil (I can never find sauce with basil, so I buy the canned whole tomatoes with basil, then puree them in my food processor).

(Optional: Sauteed spinach or zucchini or whatever veggie you like. You could even add meat if you want.)

Bring a pan of salted water to boil and when it’s done, add the pasta, cooking till it’s al- dente.  onions-and-garlic

While the water is coming to a boil, saute the chopped onion and garlic.  After 2 to 3 minutes, add the entire can of chick peas liquid and all. Next add the tomato sauce and cook it over low heat.  By now the water should be boiling, so add the pasta.  When the pasta is cooked, drain it and add the pasta to the chickpea and tomato sauce mixture.  Toss the pasta until it’s thoroughly mixed with the sauce and add salt and pepper to taste. Add whatever sauteed vegetable you like, or don’t add any, it will still be great. Serve hot with lots of grated Parmesan or Romano cheese. You may add crushed red pepper also.

When Brownie Mix is Your Best Friend

My apartment can go from immaculate to disgusting in about 2.5 days.  Having my Corgi, Topper in the house makes it all possible. Clumps of dog hair the size of tumbleweeds are rolling around as if it was the high desert. Newspapers are toppling over the basket where I usually have them neatly stacked. Dishes are piled in the kitchen and I am too stinking tired to do them. I am pooped. Working numerous jobs will do that to you. That’s why I had to turn to brownie mix tonight. Continue reading

The Circle of Life — Already?

My daughter’s been away, housesitting for the past few weeks and I’m getting a taste of what it’s going to feel like in this very empty nest. It will finally be clean, and very quiet.

It really forces you to take a look at your life, think about what you’ve done, where you’re going and whether you want company for the rest of the ride.  It brought a few tears for me because for 25 years I was a mom first.  That was my most important job.  I always worked, but my kids came first. And it’s all changed lightning fast. Continue reading

Big Ambitions…Painful Reality

My plan for this week was to write two fantastic blog posts to make up for the one I missed last week.   (I spent last weekend with my family, drinking too much wine and celebrating my brother Bob’s birthday instead of diligently writing.)  Thank you Patty (Bob’s wife) for planning the whole thing and getting me back there.

But nature said, “Nah, we want to throw you a curveball, how about a nice, painful toothache instead?” So, I’ve been sitting around whimpering like a puppy and taking far too many Advil for my own good for the past three days.  I’m embarrassed to say, I actually cried on my emergency phone message to my dentist.(This from a woman who got through childbirth twice without a peep.) My voice got all squeaky and I could barely get out my phone number it hurt so bad.   The only perk is the Tylenol with Codeine – it knocks me right out.

Today, I go to the Endodontist again, where I will be slowly tortured. They’ll place freezing cold sticks against my teeth to figure out exactly which tooth is bothering me.(Teeth are sneaky, they send the pain in a different direction, just to mess with you.) How will the Dr. know?  I will leap out of my chair and scream when the ice stick he’s holding touches the right tooth.   Continue reading

Oh, Stuff It! (Your Zucchini, That Is)

zucchini on doorstep

It starts innocently, like this.

You know it’s summer when you open your door and someone has left a beautiful zucchini on your doorstep. You feel so special, until you look at your neighbor’s doorstep and see zucchini there too. Your neighborhood is probably filthy with them because everyone always underestimates the number of zucchini that comes from one plant. My father did his entire life.

Estimates are, one plant gives three to nine pounds. That means your overzealous gardening neighbor is drowning in zucchini.

Zucchini man

Hello ma’am, I’m a thirsty, hardworking traveling salesman, may I come in?

Luckily my dad had enough kids, willing friends, neighbors, and a wife who canned, to dispose of his zucchini properly.  But, If you’ve heard a knock on your door and seen a zucchini try to push it’s way in, you can bet your gardner neighbor has underestimated.

At this very minute, gardeners are probably dropping zucchini in open car windows, dressing them in bonnets and sneaking them in bassinets. This summer, I got zucchini from my ex-husband and his wife!

The next phase for the zucchini gardner involves making every bread, cake and pie imaginable. The good news is, zucchini season only lasts a few months.

Even better?  Zucchini is versatile and looks good in a Groucho nose.  You can make cakes, breads, even savory pie with it, plus you can stuff it, use it as layers in lasagne, or make Zucchini Parmesan.  You can even grate it and freeze it for use later. Personally,  I stuff mine because it tastes great, and it’s very easy.

galbani ricotta

Galbani, the only ricotta to buy.

I make a mixture with ricotta, cooked Italian sausage, a little garlic, mozzarella, fresh basil, eggs, and my favorite Italian seasoning, Aroma. It’s just like my lasagne filling.

(Here’s an Italian insider tip: If you plan to make this and are choosing ricotta, always choose Galbani. I’ve tried others and most taste gritty. None is as creamy or smooth as Galbani — trust me on this.)  It’s also great for making cannoli. The link takes you to their website; they have awesome recipes! (And no one pays me a cent to say this, I only recommend products I like.)

Once the zucchini is cooked,  you can top it with tomato sauce. When I make my slow cooked sauce, I make extra so I can freeze it and use it for times like this. This stuffed zucchini, basically a one dish complete meal,  is delicious and not very filling, so eat up! And, for God’s sake, be careful when you open your door.

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Delicious stuffed zucchini

Stuffed Zucchini

1 large clove of garlic – minced

3 to 4  links of sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings,  cooked and crumbled

1 large zucchini

1  15 oz container of Galbani Ricotta

1 tsp. Aroma Italian seasoning

8 oz of shredded mozzarella

6 to seven medium-sized basil leaves finely chopped

3/4 cup of zucchini flesh finely chopped (be sure to remove seeds)

2 eggs

Take the Italian sausage that’s been removed from the casings and fry it in a skillet with the minced garlic until it’s cooked through. Place the cooked sausage garlic mixture in a bowl lined with a paper towel. Set it aside.

IMG_5962.JPGWash the outside of the zucchini and trim the ends off. Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise.  Take a paring knife and slide it along the edge of the seeds on each side, going no deeper than 1 inch. Take a spoon and scrape the seeds out. Then using your spoon, gently scrape a little of the zucchini flesh out, so you have about 3/4 to 1 cup. Your zucchini should look like two zucchini canoes. Set the zucchini aside.

Mix together the ricotta, the Aroma Italian seasoning, the mozzarella, the chopped zucchini flesh, the Italian sausage, the chopped basil and two eggs.

Place the halved zucchini in an oblong baking dish and fill each half with the ricotta mixture. (If it’s unsteady, fold some foil under it to hold it in place. Put it in a 350 degree oven for 75 minutes or until the top is browned and the zucchini is fork tender. Remove it from the oven and if you want, serve it with tomato sauce on top. Below is a recipe for some quick tomato sauce if you don’t have any waiting in your freezer.

Quick Tomato Sauce

2 cloves finely minced garlic

1 Tbsp. olive oil

2 cans stewed tomatoes (Kirkland or S&W) processed in a food processor until mostly smooth

 

¼ cup merlot

½ tsp. Aroma Italian seasoning

Saute garlic for about a minute, then add tomatoes, Aroma seasoning and merlot. Stir over low heat about 15 minutes. Pour over meatloaf or stuffed zucchini.

When the World Gets Ugly, Bake Cupcakes

close up cupcake.JPGThe world was very ugly this week. I don’t have a solution, and it was too awful to face, so I turned to baking because it always makes me feel good. I know it’s a cop-out, but it’s better than drinking, smoking or gambling, and everyone loves you for it, so it’s my coping mechanism.

This year has been pretty full of tragedy, so, I’ve been baking a lot. Continue reading