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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Tomato Fever

Summer in Pennsylvania meant stepping downstairs to a kitchen table overflowing with tomatoes.  It taught me to both love tomatoes and wonder when they were going to take over the household and squeeze me out of my room.

My father could never plant less than 20 tomato plants. Our cousin Tony would start seedlings and bring them over, then dad would go buy plants, then someone else would bring plants, so every August, tomatoes covered the basement kitchen table. Yes, basement kitchen table, because in our Italian household, one kitchen was never enough.

Even in the last two years of my dad’s life when he couldn’t plant tomatoes or dig anymore, he supervised. He wasn’t strong enough to help, so he stood in the living room’s picture window, looking out across the grassy backyard, watching me digging in his garden. I remember my hands wrapped around the wooden handle of the hoe on a sweltering July afternoon. I felt compelled to weed around all the tomatoes –grabbing the clumps of weeds with my hands and tossing them aside. I was hot, sweaty and exhausted. I  looked up and he was standing there giving me the OK sign with his hand. Nothing pleased him more than seeing his kids work their guts out. Continue reading

The Days of Spatula Licking are Almost Over

This week, I baked cookies because someone at work asked me to. I’m pretty easy. All you have to do is flatter me by telling me my cookies are the best you’ve ever had and I’ll bake for you too.

I also baked because one of my young co-workers lost his dad to a sudden heart attack a few weeks ago and the pain is still so raw for him that it breaks my heart. So, baking his favorite chocolate chip cookies couldn’t hurt.

Miss Milena

She had the whole thing licked clean before I could even take the picture.

As I was in the kitchen baking, my daughter was on the comfy, sage colored couch in the living room working on a paper for school. I was cleaning off the beater, wondering if she’d want to lick it like she used to when she was a kid. I hesitated, thinking she might not go for it, then offered it to her. She happily took it like she did when she was three. Continue reading

Women Always Find the Good in Each Other — Garlic helps

Theresa is the first wife of my ex-husband.

Theresa and Fran.JPG

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. Continue reading

Six Months of Sitting 8 Hours a Day

Good Veggie soup with spoon.JPG

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

Cream of wheat with blueberries and pecans.JPG

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.

Plain ceci di' pasta.JPG

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

img_6380

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.