How Do We Help Veterans?

SignIf you’ve ever wondered how you can help Veterans — there’s a way,  and some dedicated people are doing it every day.  I just ran into some a couple months ago.
 

I walk my dog every night and in mid-September, I was walking past a local park and saw it all lit up at ten o clock at night. There were flags planted in the ground, and chairs all set up, as if something was about to happen — but there were only two or three people  milling around.

I thought it was a film crew getting ready for the next day’s shoot. There were a couple people walking on the sidewalk in front of the park, so I asked them what was going on. They said they were with a group called, Not On Our Watch.

WalkersI’d never heard of it and asked what their group did. They were taking turns walking 24 hours a day, for three days straight, so there was never a time someone wasn’t walking in honor, or in memory, of a veteran . They were doing it to bring awareness to military suicides and the difficulties veterans have reintegrating back into society after being at war.

They told me 22 veterans a day, take their own lives, once they leave the military. That’s an astounding number and there are those who dispute it.  On a website called Military.com, there is a story about the numbers.  The story says the 22 number was taken from a report done in 2012 and a more recent report with data from 2005 through 2015 says the actual number is 20 and that includes active duty and veterans. So, 16.8 are veterans and 3.8 are active duty who are taking their own lives every day.

But the people walking for Not on Our Watch say that any number of suicides is too many, and I agree. Clearly, something is wrong when there are these kinds of numbers. And the recent killings in Thousand Oaks California by a Marine, who murdered 12 people in a bar, re-confirm, something has to be done to help these veterans.

I don’t know that war is hell from my own experience, but my father, a man of few words, said it was, and I believe him.  The fact that he wouldn’t even speak of it until he was 95 years old, and probably had forgotten the worst of it, speaks volumes. He served as a medic, and did his best to save the lives of those were in battle. I’m sure he saw things he wished he’d never seen.

Hoping to learn more about his experience, a few months ago, I watched a documentary on World War II by Ken Burns on Netflix and it was incredibly well done, showing the tragedy of war and the unbelievable human cost.

I get whiny when I have to get out of a warm, clean bed on days when I don’t feel like going to work — and these men and women, in times of war, have to eat, sleep, stay awake, and do everything outdoors, in rain, freezing snow, floods, or in suffocating heat and sandstorms, while being fired upon, or taken prisoner and tortured. I can’t even imagine what that must be like and hope I never have to.

It’s no wonder they’ll do anything to stop living that reality, leaving their families and friends heartbroken.

The brochure I got from Not On Our Watch states that their mission is to promote the optimal reintegration of veterans back into the community.  They do this while honoring their service, working to strengthen the community bond and helping restore a sense of wholeness of mind, body and soul to veterans and their families.

Their website is WellnessWorks4Veterans.org and I think it’s  a very important, and necessary undertaking.  You can’t take months teaching people to kill, send them to kill, then just put them back into society, and expect them to do just fine. There’s an interesting article at this link: National Council on Family Relations that explains what the returning veteran can experience.

Check out the WellnessWorks4Veterans.org website, learn more about Not On Our Watch at WellnessWorks4Veterans.org,  and donate, so they can continue doing this fantastic work.

Dad Saluting

Dad in the front yard saluting.

And if you know a veteran, or see a veteran (since we celebrate Veteran’s Day today) thank them. To all you veterans out there, Thank You For Your Service! I salute you, and so does my dad!

 

Veggie and Shrimp, Risotto — Delicious and Good for You!

shrimpRisotto is one of those things I don’t usually make because I always worry about the carbs. But, I just made it on Halloween night and it was creamy, delicious heaven. Not only did I not gain an ounce, I actually lost a pound, so go figure! Maybe it was because this had so many veggies in it — spinach, zucchini, mushrooms and leeks — and it was perfect!

And for all my vegetarian friends – it’s vegetarian! You could even make it vegan by eliminating the pat of butter, the cheese and the shrimp and it would still be good. Continue reading

Beware the Transition from Cool to Cute

Fran in green dress

Formerly cool, now “cute” Fran.

This is the second in my series of blog posts about not aging gracefully.

I remember the day I became invisible. I was in New York City. I was 55-years-old, walking down Broadway, and couldn’t get a soul to look at me. Not one person.

My first thought was, Wow, I could rob banks now and it would be months before I’d be captured because I don’t register on anyone’s radar anymore. It could have been liberating, if it hadn’t been so ego deflating. My daughter sometimes complains about men making comments about her and I always tell her, “The only thing worse is when men stop noticing you completely.”

I was almost over being invisible, when I started going from cool to cute. Continue reading

Growing older Gracefully? Nah.

A friend of mine sent me a link to a website where a woman talks about growing older gracefully now that she’s in her 60’s. God bless her, God bless anyone who can be graceful about growing older…I just don’t happen to be one of them.

I look in the mirror and pull my cheeks up a little and think, Yeah, that’s how I should look. But  you can’t walk around looking like Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone all the time, so I just dealt with it.

But it does a number on you. I just didn’t feel cute anymore, and when you don’t feel cute, you’re less outgoing because you feel like no one will respond. This was quietly reinforced by the fact that I seem to have turned invisible sometime in my 50’s.

I remember quite vividly when I noticed my new invisibility.

Continue reading

Judging Others — What’s That Say About Me?

I admit it, I am a judging judger.

I try not to judge people, but there are people who you instantly click with and people you don’t.  Some people I instantly make decisions about, based on what they wear, how they speak, how many nose rings, tattoos or piercings they have, or what their political party is.  It’s not good. Continue reading

Blackberry Pie with Peanut Butter Crumble? – Oh Yes!

Good pie shotWhat pushes a mostly sane woman to wade into a flesh-tearing patch of blackberry brambles? The promise of hot, crisp blackberry pie with peanut butter crust and crumble. Add vanilla ice cream and you have a holy experience.

And I must say thank you to Brian and Pam Ellis, my former next door neighbors, who always let me know when the berries in their yard are ripe for picking. Good neighbors, are a treasure.

fresh berries in basket

Fresh blackberries, (or Marionberries – I think) so worth it!

I’ve written about pie before. This was one of the pies included in my Pies and Virginity blog. But, in retrospect, I think  blackberry pie with peanut butter crust and crumble really deserves its own blog post because it’s a delicious pie, that’s destroyed many a diet. It was pioneered by my mother, and proudly carried on by me.

I may not remember the name of the actress in the movie I saw 20 minutes ago, but I never forget a life-altering food moment. One of them was the time my mom decided to put peanut butter in a crust she was making for a blueberry pie. I tasted it and knew my mom was a food genius, it was that good.

Then, I decided that if a peanut butter, double crust pie was that good, how great would a peanut butter crumble be, especially one with crunchy peanut butter? And if blueberries were good, wouldn’t blackberries be great? That question got answered a few years ago when I made it for a family get together.  Both my brothers, who don’t throw food compliments around liberally, said, “I think this might be the best pie you’ve ever made.”

You can also just make this a crisp, by eliminating the pie crust bottom. It’s also killer good, faster, and a lot less work.

As I’ve said many times, we are all ho’s for blackberry pie and the peanut butter puts a blackberry pie in a whole new category of yum. To make the crust, I just take my regular pie crust before it’s rolled out, put a tablespoon or two of peanut butter in the middle,  fold it over, roll it, and fold it again a few times, then roll it out. It leaves the crust looking swirled with peanut butter.

*Also, make the crust first, then the crumble so it’s easier to assemble quickly. You don’t want to put the berries in the crust too long before you bake it, or it will get soggy.  And bake it closer to the bottom of the oven so the bottom crust gets crisp.

Mary Tunno’s Pie Crust with Peanut Butter Swirl 

2 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup Butter Flavor Crisco

1/2 cup butter

1 tsp. salt

1 Tbs. sugar

1/2 to 1 cup very cold whole milk (you can put an ice cube in it to make it colder but remove it before you add the milk)

Mix flour, salt and sugar together then cut in Crisco and butter.  Mix well, it forms small crumbs.  Add enough milk so that dough can be molded into soft balls.  Better that the dough is too soft and sticky than too hard. Once you add the milk and have made about four or five balls, wrap each one in flour coated plastic wrap, flatten it into a disc, and cool it in the refrigerator or freezer.

Then take one of the flattened, cooled pie crusts, roll it slightly, and add one to two tablespoons of creamy peanut butter to it.  Fold it over, roll it out a little,  then fold it over three or four more times. The peanut butter should look like swirls in the crust. Roll it out on a floured board and place it in bottom of a pie pan.  Flute the edges then fill it with berries.

Peanut Butter Crumble

1 cup flour

2 cups whole, uncooked Old Fashioned Quaker Oats

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 stick melted butter (not unsalted)

1/2 cup chunky peanut butter (I use Laura Scudder’s)

 

Blackberry Pie with Peanut Butter CrumbleBlackberry crisp close up

6 to 7 cups blackberries or blueberries

1 cup sugar

2 1/2 Tbsp. flour

Mix together the berries, flour and sugar thoroughly, then place them in the bottom peanut butter swirl crust. Sprinkle a light covering of the peanut butter crumble top of the pie. You don’t want too much because the crumble absorbs a lot of the liquid, so you’ll have all crumble and not enough fruit.  (You may need to lay a piece of aluminum foil lightly on top of the pie or crisp, so the crumble doesn’t burn.) Bake at 350 for an hour or more or until you see the pie really bubbling and crust is brown.  Use a pie crust shield to protect crust from burning. And make sure you put a cookie sheet underneath or some aluminum foil to catch the drips!

At What Age Does Crankiness Set In?

Street trash.JPGI celebrated Earth Day by picking up all the crap stupid people have thrown in the street in front of my house and cursing them under my breath. Then, I came upon an empty cardboard box in the street with a name and address on it. I wanted to drive to this person’s house and drop it in the street in front of where he lived with a note that said, “How do you like it when people throw trash in front of YOUR house?”

But I could just hear my daughter saying, “Mom!  That’s what a crazy old lady would do.”  So I did the slightly less crazy thing and sent the man a letter, enclosing the label from the box I just recycled for him.

styrofoam cups.JPG

As if a waitress was on every corner.

I couldn’t help it, I was so ticked off! . My block is only 287 steps long, I only picked up my side and it totally filled a kitchen garbage bag!

So, below is what I wrote. Please read it and let me know if I’m getting pissy, or what…because I think I might be. At what age does getting cranky/pissy/irritable start? I know some 20 year olds who can be pissy, so I don’t think there’s an age limit. I think I’ve just been too nice all my life and finally, I’m fed up. Especially when it comes to littering our beautiful earth with trash.

Dear _________

I was out walking this morning and saw you left an empty cardboard box, with your name and address still on it, on the street near my home. Why would you do this? Do you not have recycling or trash cans in your home? Was your car so full you couldn’t have taken that small box home and disposed of it there? There’s a garbage can right down the street from where you carelessly dropped the box, could you not have dropped it in there, at least?

In and Out Trash.JPG

What the hell?

You must be somewhat intelligent, you’re ordering things for your computer, so how do you not understand the effect of dropping your trash in the street?

The world, and my street are not your trashcan. When you leave trash in the street, it gets pushed into our rivers and oceans, polluting them for our children and grandchildren. Maybe you don’t have any children today, but you may someday and you’ll have to answer to them about why our oceans are so polluted. It’s because people like you don’t care at all where you toss your garbage. Please think about it and do your part to save the environment, while there’s still something to save.

In the meantime, please keep your trash to yourself or in the trashcan, not on the street where I live!

Sincerely,

A Concerned Resident

He is probably laughing his head off, or maybe it got through. I ‘m an optimist, I like to hope it got through to him, particularly since it cost me 50 cents to send it.

Trident trash.JPGI remember the very first Earth Day. I was in ninth grade and through the window I could see high school kids scurrying around on the fresh spring grass, picking up trash. I was so hopeful that people would start caring about the environment, but I definitely don’t see much evidence of that on my street. And it’s a shame. As French President, Emanuel Macron so eloquently put it, “There is no Planet B.”

So, a belated Happy Earth Day to you. I plan to contact my local government to see if we can get some trash cans installed or someone (besides me)  to come and clean up the area, or get an education program started, or something, so I don’t get really cranky and start accosting people on the street. And I think a Sierra Club membership may be in order. If nothing else, it’ll be a group of people equally cranky about the environment, and we can all rant together.

I wish you and all of us an Earth that gets more beautiful as time goes on.

Bag O Trash.JPG

This was all the garbage on my side of the street –one short trashy block.

 

Buck the Bleep Up

Last week I was at work getting coffee,  talking about wanting to lose weight with a co-worker. I was saying how frustrating it was that I haven’t been successful. She’s one of my favorite co-workers. She leaned over to me smiling and said, “Sometimes Miss Fran, you just have to buck the f__k up,” which made me laugh so hard I almost spit.  She would know, she’s been a single mom for years.

But it’s so true. My half-hearted attempts at losing weight fail because I’m not pushing myself hard enough, and I know it. Simply put, I eat too damned much and haven’t been exercising enough.

It’s so easy to blame everything and everyone else, but if I really wanted to lose it, the weight would be off.  My life is everything I’ve created it to be up to this point. If I don’t like it, only I can change it.  That’s both liberating and depressing, if you really stop to think about it.

Stupid discipline — it was my father’s forte, but apparently isn’t mine. I have it in spurts. I even went running last night just to prove I could do it.  So, I’m attempting to hone more discipline so I can drop this 10 pounds I’ve gained since I started working at a job where all I do is sit and write.

IMG_7725.JPGIn keeping with my new ninja-like determination, I’m trying to create healthy lunches like the one I had today.  It was made of farro, zucchini, green onions, and sundried tomatoes, sprinkled with a little Parmesan cheese.

Farro is an ancient grain that apparently has great health benefits and has been hip for a while after falling out of favor for a few hundred years. In 1/4 cup of uncooked farro there are 7 grams of protein, 160 calories, no cholesterol, 3 grams of dietary fiber, no fat and no sugars! It’s really good and kind of chewy, and filling.

Trust me when I tell you, I will never become one of those obnoxious people who forces her health crap on you because she’s seen the light. I’ve had people do that to me with food, religion, alcohol, you name it and it drives me nuts. My blog will always contain healthy stuff and trashy stuff because life is no fun if you don’t let loose every once in a while.  Be good and take care of your health, but when you do decide to have something trashy,  REALLY ENJOY IT!!! Then go back to being good again. I live by the good 90% of the time, bad 10 percent of the time motto. It keeps me mostly sane, even if I am usually 10 lbs. overweight.

And when you can make something like this Farro Zucchini dish, that tastes good and is good for you, well that’s proof there is a God, and she likes to eat too!

closer shot of farro.JPGFarro with Zucchini, Green Onions and Sundried Tomatoes

1 cup farro

2 cups water

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 bunch of green onions chopped in 1 inch pieces

2 small zucchini, cut lengthwise in half, then chopped into 1/2 inch pieces

8 sundried tomatoes, choppped into small strips (I get big jars of sundried tomatoes at Costco and they are great!)

Parmesan or Romano Cheese

Farro cooks much like rice. Just put the farro in a pan with twice as much liquid and add a pinch of salt. Let it come to a boil, then let it simmer until it’s tender (about 20 minutes).  When it’s done, set it aside

In a medium skillet, saute the onion, and zucchini in the olive oil about 5 to 7 minutes, or until slightly golden on the sides.  Then add 1/2 of the farro (save the other half for the next night!) to the zucchini-onion mixture.  Toss to mix and add the sundried tomato pieces to the mixture. Mix thoroughly, and pour into a bowl. Sprinkle with Parmesan or Romano and serve.

You can also add chopped parsley, or chopped black olives, feta cheese, or whatever sounds good to you. I made it again with leeks and zucchini and it was fabulous! I’m sure whatever you choose it will be good!

 

 

 

Cannoli Teleportation

My mother visited me last night.  Well, maybe not physically, but she was definitely here, because I went back to being a 9-year-old tasting her homemade cannoli at Christmas time in our flour covered kitchen.

But this time it was me making the cannoli.  I am a very novice cannoli maker and was spurred into a cannoli frenzy because I promised my friend Debra I’d bring them to a dinner tonight.  I’d only made cannoli shells one time before and they were kinda meh. That was four years ago,  but I tried again last night.

Mom's recipe

I love the fact that her recipe is written on a notepad from my brother Bernie’s Insurance company.

It was a challenge because I had two recipes, one I’d written down myself, probably with input from Angelina Belculfine, my mom’s best friend and the most amazing baker. The other one was in my mom’s handwriting. I actually have it framed on my dining room wall because it’s a classic. Mom was adorable, but not terribly accurate, so I wasn’t sure whether her teaspoon meant tablespoon, etc.  But I mostly trusted her and just went for it.

I wasn’t going to eat a cannoli tonight because I’m not getting any thinner, but how could I bring them tomorrow without knowing how they’d taste? Clearly, that wouldn’t do, so I filled the smallest one, and dusted it with powdered sugar.

Cannoli beauty shotI’m certain mom was beaming because it tasted just like hers.  I ran upstairs and made my son try it and he thought it was pretty awesome too.  So, once again, through food, I was teleported to 1965 and very happy to be in my mom’s New Brighton kitchen with powdered sugar all over me.

If you’d like to be teleported to 1965, here is her recipe.

Mama Tunno’s Cannoli 

2 1/2 cups Flour

1 Tbsp. sugar

3/4 to 1 tsp. salt (this was one I wasn’t sure of. She’d written 1 tablespoon, but I think she messed up the writing so I erred on the side of caution)

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon Butter Flavor Crisco (Plain Crisco works too)

2 eggs

3 oz white wine

(One additional egg beaten in a separate cup for making the cannoli stick together)

Mix together the flour, sugar, and salt. Once combined, add the Crisco, mixing it with your fingers. Once it’s pebbly, like pie dough add the eggs and wine.  Mix well with your hands until combined. Wrap dough in plastic so it doesn’t dry out.

In a large skillet or deep fryer, pour about 40 oz of canola oil. Heat it to 375 degrees.

Lightly grease the outside of 6 metal cannoli tubes.

Dough being cut.JPGWhile the oil is heating, roll out the dough to pie crust thickness, or slightly thinner, about 1/8 inch. With a rolling cookie cutter, cut a circle in the dough about six inches in diameter. Wrap it around the cannoli tube and where it overlaps, rub some of the beaten egg to seal the cannoli shell together. (I just sat the tube on the dough and rolled around it, eyeballing how much dough I would need. It doesn’t need to overlap too much — that was my mistake with the first several I fried.

Cannoli frying.JPGThen carefully place the covered tube into the hot grease. Let it fry for about 3 to five minutes or until it’s golden brown. Carefully remove it from the pan. You can cook a few at once, but I didn’t do more than three, so I could keep an eye on them.   Once the tubes have cooled enough to touch, gently remove the metal cylinders, grease their outsides and make more cannoli until the dough is all used up.

Cannoli Filling

(My mom used Citron in hers, but I’m not a fan, so I don’t. You Cannoli purists out there can hate me if you want for that.) Feel free to chop a little up and put it in if you like it.

For the White fillingTwo containers.JPG

1 32 oz container of Galbani Ricotta (This is the absolute best for cannoli. It’s smooth and not gritty!)

3/4 to 1 cup powdered sugar

2 to 3 good sprinkles of cinnamon

2/3 cup of mini chocolate chips

With an electric mixer, whip together the ricotta, the powdered sugar and cinnamon. When it it mixed and nice and creamy, stop whipping and add the mini chocolate chips. Then separate the filling into 2 parts. Use 1/2 to make the chocolate filling.

For the Chocolate Filling

1/2 of the white filling

1/2 cup chocolate chips melted

2 Tbsp whipping cream

Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave or on the stovetop and and add the whipping cream. Mix together until smooth, then blend it into the 1/2 white filling.

Cannoli to be filled.JPGNow comes the fun part. Find 2 clean plastic Ziplock bags. (Or, if you’re advanced, use your pastry bags.) Fill one with chocolate filling and one with vanilla. Snip off one end of the plastic bags and use them to  Squirt the ricotta filling into separate ends of the cannoli.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve. Do not fill until ready to serve because they get soggy.

If you like, you can dip the ends into chocolate chips or pistachios, but I like them plain.  Enjoy!

But be sure to change your shoes before you bake, I didn’t and now mine are a floured mess – just like Mom’s always were!Foured shoe and pantyhose.JPG

 

 

 

 

 

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.