Birthday Cake Tradition

Happy Birthday, William

Happy Birthday, William

It’s Will’s birthday. He would be 26. I do imagine where he would be and what he would be doing today. For sure he would have blown out some candles and made a wish. Happy birthday, William. This cake is for you. It has lots of warm spices in it and no nuts. Your favorite.

A heartfelt thank you to all who “Willed it” this week. Your stories made me laugh and your good deeds are so appreciated. The best gifts ever. Here are a couple of wonderful messages from some loving friends:

Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal. Gone, but not forgotten.

and

The heart is the seat of the soul and the center of courage, love and wisdom…wishing you all of these today and always.

William

Happy Birthday William. You are and always will be much loved.

3 layers

3 layers

 

Carrot Cake

  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup chopped candied (crystallized) ginger
  • 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur or OJ if you don’t like alcohol
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3 cups grated peeled carrots (about 1 pound

Frosting

  • 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons Madagascar vanilla bean creme fraiche or vanilla yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla powder or extract
  • grated zest of 1 orange
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
For cake:

Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly spray three 9-inch cake pans with no-stick baking spray. Line bottom of pans with waxed paper. Lightly spray waxed paper. In small bowl, toss raisins, ginger and grand marnier; set aside. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and vegetable oil in bowl until combined. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. In large bowl, sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. With mixer on low speed, gradually add dry ingredients.  Stir in carrots and raisin mixture. Pour batter into prepared pans, dividing equally. Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean and cakes begin to pull away from sides of pans, about 45 minutes. Cool in pans on racks 15 minutes. Turn out cakes onto racks. Remove wax paper. Cool completely. (Can be made 1 or 2 day ahead. Wrap tightly in plastic and store at room temperature.)

For frosting:

Using electric mixer, beat all ingredients in medium bowl until smooth and creamy.

Place 1 cake layer on platter. Spread with 3/4 cup frosting. Top with another cake layer. Spread with 3/4 cup frosting. Top with remaining cake layer. Spread remaining frosting in over sides and top of cake. Chill cake in refrigerator until ready to serve.

 

Commitment & Torta Rustica

 

Italian Easter Pie

Italian Easter Pie

Honor, Courage, Commitment. This is the Navy motto. Inspiring words and guiding principles. Imagine what the world would be like if we all valued these three traits in ourselves and in each other. If you follow this blog you’ve already read my views on honor and courage. Today is about commitment and how it helps keep our loved ones alive.

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Great Lakes, IL U.S. Navy boot camp

While sailors pledge to keep our country safe grievers can commit to keeping memories of the deceased safe and alive. A healthy way to do this is to continue treasured traditions. Don’t be afraid. It is OK to rummage through old photos talking about your loved one and how much you enjoyed doing certain things with him or her. Really, it is OK. You are not alone in this pursuit.

I have already shared one of my favorite rituals; hiding the pickle ornament in the Christmas tree. It’s a time honored tradition in our home and one that my William loved. I have committed to hiding the pickle every Christmas and remembering the light in his eyes as he discovers it hidden in the tree.

Further, I will continue to bake a birthday cake to honor him on April 22nd. William loved a good birthday cake. Plus baking is so very therapeutic. It’s a simple expression of love. So go ahead. Bake a birthday cake. Light a candle and make a wish. Cut the cake and with each sweet bite, remember how lucky to have had this person in your life.

Recently, my friend Rich wrote about the ritual of coloring Easter eggs with his daughter Meghan. Even though Meghan is gone, just a few short months, Rich found the courage and felt it important to continue the tradition of coloring eggs. He made beautiful eggs in honor of Meghan and his wife Eileen and nested them at their grave site. What a wonderful connection and expression of love.

Torta Rustica

Torta Rustica

Commitment to keeping traditions alive extends into my kitchen. Tomorrow is Easter. Typically, the Italian feast includes ravioli or manicotti in addition to a baked ham or leg of lamb. My mom would also bake rice pies, a sweet bread that contained colored Easter eggs and my favorite….”pizza-gain”. It’s a calorie laden, dough wrapped, cheese-filled meat pie that goes back a long way. Every Italian household has their own version and theirs is the absolute best.

nice slice

nice slice

The following recipe is  a version from Cook’s Country Magazine. I tweaked it here and there to suit my tastes and do recommend testing for doneness with an instant read themometer. I had to bake it an additional 15 minutes to get a nice brown crust and internal temperature of 150F.

Torta Rustica

Dough

3 large eggs

3 tablespoons cold water

3 cups (15 ounces) all-purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled

6 tablespoons vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled (I used lard)

Filling

1 tablespoon olive oil

12 ounces broccoli rabe, trimmed and chopped (I used 1 bunch broccolini)

8 ounces hot Italian sausage, casings removed (I used sweet)

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 pound (2 cups) whole-milk ricotta cheese (I used part skim)

4 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (2 cups)

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon black pepper

8 ounces thinly sliced aged provolone cheese (I used sharp)

6 ounces thinly sliced hot capicola

1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water

FOR THE DOUGH: Whisk eggs and cold water together in bowl; set aside. Process flour and salt in food processor until combined, about 3 seconds. Scatter butter and shortening over top and pulse until only pea-size pieces remain, about 10 pulses. Add egg mixture and pulse until dough ball forms, about 20 pulses. Turn out dough onto lightly floured counter and knead until smooth and elastic, about 20 turns. Divide dough into one 1-pound ball and one 10-ounce ball (roughly into two-thirds and one-third) and form each into 6-inch disk. Wrap disks tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.

FOR THE FILLING: Heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add broccoli rabe, sausage, and salt and cook, breaking up sausage with spoon, until sausage is cooked through and broccoli rabe is tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer to plate and let cool completely, about 15 minutes. Whisk ricotta, Pecorino, eggs, and pepper together in large bowl. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease  9-inch round cake pan. Roll 1-pound disk of dough into 14-inch circle on well-floured counter. Loosely roll dough around rolling pin and gently unroll it onto prepared pan, letting excess dough hang over edge. Ease dough into pan by gently lifting and supporting edge of dough with your hand while pressing into pan bottom and sides with your other hand. Leave overhanging dough in place. Shingle half of provolone in bottom of dough-lined pan. Spread ricotta mixture over provolone. Scatter sausage mixture over ricotta mixture and press lightly into even layer. Shingle capicola over sausage mixture, followed by remaining provolone. Roll remaining disk of dough into 10-inch circle on well-floured counter. Brush overhanging dough of bottom crust with egg wash. Loosely roll 10-inch circle around rolling pin and gently unroll it over filling. Trim overhanging top and bottom doughs to 1/2 inch beyond lip of pan and pinch firmly together. Fold overhanging dough inward so folded edge is flush with edge of pan. Crimp dough evenly around edge of pan with tines of fork. Brush top of pie liberally with egg wash. Using paring knife, cut eight 1-inch vents in top of dough in circular pattern. Bake until filling registers 150 degrees in center of pie and crust is golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer pie to wire rack and let cool for at least 4 hours or refrigerate for up to 2 days. Remove pie from pan, slice into wedges, and serve. Serves 12.

 

Courage & CHOPPED

Courage. Both my kids have it. I can assure you that they did not get it from me. For most of my life I was pretty much protected by a strict Sicilian father and 4 brothers. Since there was never anything to fear, there was no need to develop the coping skill of courage. Life was easy and sweet and I thought it would continue that way, but life doesn’t always turn out as planned.

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The first test of strength came in the form of cancer. The outlook was quite grim for my husband. Caitlin was 13 and William  was 10. A two year battle of experimental chemo, radiation, disfiguring surgery…….persisting against the odds, Bill is one of those miracles that gives all cancer victims hope. And through it all the kids persevered overcoming fears and developing a greatness in their hearts. Courage.

Still afraid of my own shadow I watched and marveled at my children as time and time again they chose to step out of the comfort zone accepting risk and going bold. They had a healthy sense of fear and a mental and moral strength that defied anything that I had ever known. They scared the daylights out of me on a regular basis.

And just when life is getting really good…BAM…a mom’s worse fear…losing one of her children. Where’s the courage now and how does one get it? One can’t survive this harsh reality without it. Help me William! Help me step up and be brave like you.

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Identifying with William is a healthy way to keep him alive in my life.  It took me a long time to figure it out, but if I am to truly honor William and his memory I must step out of my comfort zone. Following in Will’s light means taking the road less travelled; going bold and being brave. Writing this blog is certainly an example of my new found courage, but it would have never happened without a bit of encouragement.

Encouraged by Caitlin & Sam and supported by Bill I am pleased to announce that I took on the challenge of CHOPPED. A scary TV opportunity to say the least.

Here is the promo announcement.

Premiering Tuesday, May 6th at 10pm – “Mother’s Day”
In this episode, four moms battle it out for the title of Chopped Champion! Mothers who usually rule their home kitchens attempt to stay composed as they cook in a much larger arena. In the first round, the moms are given chicken noodle soup and salsa, along with other mystery ingredients for their appetizers. Then in the entrée round, the moms must contend with a sugary ingredient that kids tend to love, but parents often ban from breakfast. The final two moms find lady fingers in the mystery basket that they must work into their desserts.

At this time I can’t say much more about the show, but I hope you will watch it and let me know what you think. This is a tough week. Thanks to all of you who have supported me throughout. You know who you are. I love you and I know you are grieving, too. Have courage and walk in William’s light.

 

Honor & Ravioli

ravioli

There will always be days that cause more grief than others. Holidays and anniversaries are particularly hard for some, but for me it is the month of April. April is bittersweet; the time of one of my greatest joys and definitely my greatest sorrow. William died on the 16th of April just 6 days shy of his 23rd birthday. It has been 3 years since Will’s accident. Where do I go from here? Where do you go from here?

honor

Will at Great Lakes Boot Camp

Those in mourning have two choices as I see it. Remain in the never changing deep dark hole or adapt and develop an amazing strength (we all have it) to continue the climb up and out. The transformation is not perfect, but allows one to move forward. It is the honorable thing to do. It is what your loved one wants IMHO.

honorMy William was all about HONOR. I may be over-glorifying him, but I truly believe he had a keen sense of ethical conduct and respect for others. His word was a guarantee that it would get done. Certainly, he honored all of us with his love of family, friends and country.

Speaking of family and honor my father would always tell me that the best thing about me is being Italian. So to honor my mom and dad today I will share my mom’s best recipe. She always made these ravioli for Easter and they were created on a board that my grandpa Matino made for her. I make them now on that same board. It is my honor to share this recipe with all of you.

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Ravioli

DOUGH

1 ½ cups semolina flour

½ teaspoon salt

2 eggs

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons olive oil

FILLING

1 (15 oz) container ricotta cheese

¼ pound shredded mozzarella cheese

¼ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

salt and pepper to taste

Mix flour and salt on work surface forming a well. Drop eggs, 1 tablespoon of water and oil in center. Beat lightly with a fork and combine egg mixture and flour together, adding enough water gradually to form dough. Knead dough until smooth; cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes. Using a pasta machine, according to manufacturer directions, cut and roll dough into thin sheets. In large bowl, mix all filling ingredients together; blend well. Drop spoonfuls of filling about 1 ½-inches apart on 1 sheet of dough. Cover with another sheet of dough. With fingertips press dough around each spoonful of filling being careful not to make any air pockets. Cut into squares with a crimped rotary cutter. When ready to serve drop ravioli into salted boiling water; cook until tender. They will float. Serve with your favorite sauce.

 

 

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Food For Thought What Not To Say

lemon thyme madelaines

Lemon Thyme Madeleines

Does your mouth ever work faster than your brain? The words cause “a stir”. Too late to take them back the inevitable pain and confusion is regrettable. It takes courage to own the wrong and recognize the only appropriate response: “I’m sorry”.
Addressing someone who is in mourning is always difficult. The right words are often hard to come by. The truth is there is nothing you can say to make the bereaved person feel better. When in doubt about what to say a simple, heartfelt, “I’m sorry” is all that’s needed along with the touch of a hand or a hug….make that a big bear hug, please!
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Here are a few examples of WHAT NOT TO SAY. These cliches can do more harm than good.
  • He’s in a better place   (nope–alive and well next to me is a much better place)
  • Heaven needed an angel  (nope–I need him/her here)
  • Be brave  (nope–I need to experience this pain if I am ever going to be normal again)
  • God has a plan  (nope–we had plans, too)

madeleine pan

Here is more food for thought. Madeleines. Don’t call them cookies. In certain company you will regret calling them that as they really are a little bite of heavenly buttery cake. They can be sweet or savory. Lemons are very inexpensive this time of year and a sure sign of spring. A staple in my kitchen, lemon is one of my favorite flavors. Fresh and tart it adds balance to any dish and wakes up your taste buds. Next time you want to comfort someone set out a plate of these lemon thyme madeleines. You won’t have to say a word.

madeleines

like a delicate bite of poundcake

Lemon Thyme Madeleines

½ cup cake flour*

¼ teaspoon salt (use fine sea salt or table salt not kosher salt)

1/8-teaspoon cream of tartar

¼ cup sugar

½ tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves

Grated zest of ½ lemon

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

2 oz cream cheese, softened

2 eggs

1-teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Powdered sugar

Heat oven 375F. Spray the molds of a 12 to 20-piece madeleine pan with no-stick baking spray. In small bowl, whisk flour, salt and cream of tartar; set aside. In food processor, pulse sugar, thyme and zest until uniform. In a medium bowl, beat butter and cream cheese until light and creamy. Add sugar mixture; blend well. Add eggs and lemon juice: blend well. Add flour mixture; mix just until blended. Spoon batter into molds until even with rims. Tap pan a few times to level the batter. Bake 8 to 10 minutes for small madeleines (10 to 12 minutes for larger ones) or until edges are just golden brown and cakes feel firm when touched with the tip of your finger. Immediately invert madeleines on to a cooling rack. Cool pan before repeating with remaining batter. Cool madeleines completely before dusting with powdered sugar. Makes about 3 to 4 dozen small or 2 dozen larger madeleines.

* To make cake flour: measure out ½ cup of all purpose flour then remove 1 tablespoon of flour from that half cup and return it to the flour sack. Add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch to your measured flour, whisk and presto you now have cake flour

 

 

 

In the Trenches & Asparagus

asparagus

Korean Beef Salad with Steamed Sesame Asparagus

With a Spring rain the old dirt road on the side of the house quickly transforms into a muddy playground. It can only mean one thing. William is getting down and dirty today. SPLASH. LAUGHTER. Why not? He loved nothing more than getting covered in dirt. Clearly, the filthiest kid on the block, playing in the mud was his version of heaven on earth.

mudpuddle

Tyler and William having fun

Obviously being in the trenches of Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom was no picnic, so I can’t help but wonder what my boy was smiling about in this photo. Maybe it is because he is covered in dirt and thinking of days gone by.

Afghanistan

In Afghanistan he seemed to make the best of a bad situation. He used his time wisely not only protecting our freedom, but earning the Fleet Marine Force (FMF) Award. Here is a bit of information on the award:

Hospital corpsmen also serve as battlefield corpsmen with the Marine Corps, rendering emergency medical treatment to include initial treatment in a combat environment. Corpsmen who participate in amphibious assaults, are eligible to receive the FMF Combat Operations Insignia. Such Naval personnel are authorized to wear the Marine Corps utility uniform with Navy insignia, and must conform to all physical requirements of the U.S. Marines.

Hospital corpsmen who have received the warfare designator of enlisted fleet marine force warfare specialist are highly trained members of the Hospital Corps who specialize in all aspects of working with the United States Marine Corps operating forces. Attainment of this designation is highly prized among all corpsmen. The enlisted fleet marine force warfare designation for hospital corpsmen is the only US Navy warfare device awarded solely by a US Marine Corps general officer. Obtaining the title of “FMF” is a rigorous procedure and not every hospital corpsman who has been with a Marine Corps unit will wear the FMF warfare device.

Fleet Marine Force Board

Thanks to Chief Jeff Pritchett for this proud photo moment of William sitting with the Fleet Marine Board.

Good things emerge from the trenches….like asparagus. Roasted, grilled or steamed it is my favorite spring vegetable. It’s an acid loving perennial plant that lives in a trench and I was happy to add it to my new garden. Hope to have a bounty next year, but until then it is now fresh and ready for picking at the local market.

asparagus

happy spring

TGIF Sweet Reflections

Smokin' Chocolate Spice Cookie

Smokin’ Spice Dark Chocolate Cookie

 

It’s Friday and I am happy that my husband returned home safely after 2 weeks away in North Carolina caring for his dad. My husband is a good guy. It is the first time in probably 35 years that we were apart for this long. On my own, lots of refection took place and I liked what I saw. Certainly not the scare-d-cat I thought I was nor was I weak during another wicked snow storm.  Most impressive, I single handedly took care of a winter flood in the basement. Me and a caulk gun, cussing like a sailor–kind of bad-ass!

Being alone in the grief process, however, is another thing. There is less distraction and that black hole calls your name. It is a blessing to have someone around or someone to call when the sadness grips you by the throat. While my better half grieves completely different  without him I would never be able to be alone in my heart and mind. His strength is mine and mine is his.

cheers in Charleston

cheers in Charleston

It’s Friday and we do enjoy a little 5:00 somewhere. It’s a time to sit back, relax, and reflect on all the good in life. Like you folks who read this blog. Your support means the world to me. To show my gratitude I want to let you in on a little secret—drink some red wine with your dark chocolate–that’s a match made in heaven.

Smokin’ Spice Dark Chocolate Cookies

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, ground cloves, grated nutmeg and salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice plus 1 teaspoon grated zest

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

½ cup semisweet chocolate chips (go for the Ghiradelli double chocolate bittersweet)

2 tablespoons heavy cream

2 teaspoons corn syrup

30 whole smoked almonds or ½ cup chopped nuts

Heat oven 350F. In mixing bowl, sift flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, spices and salt; set aside. In bowl of stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light. Add egg, orange juice, zest and vanilla; blend well. Add dry ingredients; mix well. Using a cookie scoop, drop batter on to ungreased baking sheets. Bake 10 minutes. Cool on pan 1 minute before transferring cooking to rack to cool completely. In microwave or on stovetop, melt chocolate chips with heavy cream, stirring, until smooth; stir in corn syrup. Spread chocolate mixture over tops of cookies. Top each cookie with a whole almond or sprinkle with chopped nuts. Makes about 30 cookies.

Old Memories Inspire New Recipes

Guinness Beef Stew Boxty

Guinness Beef Stew Boxty

A time will come when the memory will fade like the fabric on the old wing chair sitting in the sunny window. Memories are all we have. Blogging is a way of preserving those memories. It took me by surprise when some old memories of William inspired last night’s dinner. The memories are happy and the food is comforting like a warm hug from someone well-loved.

Will & cousin Alexis-I need a "love" button

Will & cousin Alexis-I need a “love” button

In 2009 while attending a medical conference in San Diego I spent several days with William as he was stationed there and working at the US Naval Hospital, Balboa. We shared some fun adventures as he showed me all his favorite spots including “The Market” on the pier and the Irish pub known as “The Field” in the gas lamp district. The raw bar guy at the Market knew him by name.

we also got to visit with cousin Alexis

visiting family in San Diego

However, it is delicious dinner memories of The Field which sends my culinary creativity into action. William insists I order the beef stew in a boxty. What the heck is a boxty? It’s like a crepe marrying a potato pancake. Wrap it around some Guinness beef stew and you have a match made in heaven. It makes for a most memorable St. Patrick’s Day feast.

I love you William. You continue to inspire me every day. Thanks for such wonderful memories. I am so very proud to be your mom and grateful to have had you in my life.

Boxty

Boxty

Boxty

1 (8 oz) Yukon gold potato, peeled, cubed

1 (4 oz) Yukon gold potato, peeled, grated and squeezed dry in paper towels

¾ cup all purpose flour

½  teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

Guinness beef stew, warmed (recipe follows)

Heat oven 200F. Cook cubed potato in salted water until tender. Drain potatoes and mash. Mix mashed potato with grated potato, flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk; blend well. On a medium hot greased skillet, pour 1/3 cup of potato mixture into center of skillet spreading with the back of a spoon to form a 6-inch pancake. Cook about 2 minutes or until edges are dry and pancake is golden brown. Flip and cook other side.  Transfer pancake to baking sheet and keep warm in oven. Repeat with remaining batter, greasing skillet between pancakes. To assemble, place one pancake on serving plate. Spoon ½ cup of stew down center of pancake; fold over.  Serves 6.

Guinness Beef Stew

1 ¼ pounds beef for stew, cut into bite-size pieces

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons all purpose flour, divided

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 sweet onions, chopped

1 ½ cups carrots, bite-size

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 (14 oz) can chicken broth

1 ½ cups Guinness beer

½ tablespoon dark brown sugar

¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried

Season beef with salt and pepper; toss with 1 tablespoon of flour. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in oven-safe Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown half the beef; transfer to plate. Add remaining beef; brown and transfer to plate. Add remaining oil to Dutch oven. Add onions and carrots; cook, stirring occasionally, for 6 to 8 minutes or until onions are golden brown. Add tomato paste, garlic and remaining flour; cook for 2 minutes.  Add chicken broth and Guinness, stirring to scrape up any browned bits. Stir in sugar, half the parsley and all the thyme; bring to a boil. Transfer, uncovered, Dutch oven to 325F. oven. Bake 60 minutes or until beef is tender, stirring after 30 minutes. Stir in remaining parsley. Serves 6

Happiness, Let It Go & Frozen Peas

spring peas & pasta

spring peas & pasta

Inspired by the Oscar nominated songs I have decided to seek Happiness today and let the grief go…..at least for now. We all deserve a break from our grief and why not do some happy things in the process? Plus it has been one long snow storm in my neck of the woods and anything to break this cabin fever and help me ease into spring will be a welcomed delight. What makes you happy?

The Deamon Deacon Dog makes me happy

The Deamon Deacon Dog makes me happy

For me, it starts with planning a garden. I am currently taking a class, “The Hungry Gardener” at the famous Longwood Gardens which is just a mile from my house. The class is filled with a variety of interesting people including a private chef, a health coach and a young couple living on a 60 acre farm. We all have one thing in common and that is the desire to grow our own food. I also signed on with a web based program offered by the Territorial seed company. I can plan my entire garden on the computer complete with alerts and reminders about crop rotation, frost dates, when to start and plant seeds, etc. It’s fun and makes me happy. I can’t wait to harvest what I sow.

Happiness is a day with my daughter at Longwood Gardens

Happiness is a day with my daughter at Longwood Gardens

In the meantime, I am eating frozen peas. It’s OK as they are the one vegetable that tastes quite good directly from the freezer to the pot. Nothing could be easier or tastier than this old-fashioned Italian specialty: Pasta with Peas. I bet you have all the ingredients right in your pantry and freezer. Happy Spring!

Happiness in a hot air balloon and seeing Cait and Sam so happy makes me happy

Happiness in a hot air balloon and seeing Cait and Sam so happy makes me happy

mise en place

mise en place

Spring Peas & Pasta

1 ½ cups ditalini pasta or small shells

1 cup frozen petite peas

1-tablespoon olive oil (Olio Carli brand is my favorite)

1-tablespoon butter

1 sweet onion, chopped

1 large clove garlic, minced

2 slices prosciutto, thinly sliced

1 (14 oz) can chicken broth

¼ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

kosher salt

freshly ground black pepper

pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, optional

Cook pasta in salted boiling water according to package directions. During last 5 minutes of cooking time add frozen peas. Meanwhile, in large skillet, over medium heat, combine olive oil and butter. Add onions; cook 5 to 8 minutes or until softened. The onions should not get brown. Add garlic and prosciutto; cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add broth. Drain water from pasta and peas; add to skillet. Cook until just heated through. Add cheese and parsley. Spoon into serving bowls and top with additional cheese and parsley and some freshly ground pepper, if desired.

Note: season as you go with salt and fresh pepper. You can also add a pinch of crushed red pepper when you’re heating the olive oil and butter

A Part of Me Died & Winning Oscar Appetizers

Bulgogi Beef Bites

Korean BBQ Beef Bites

Not a huge fan of Hollywood, so have only seen one movie this year, Lone Survivor. The book by the same title was one of William’s favorites. It’s a true story of heroism, courage and survival. It’s about a moral decision gone wrong. It’s about good vs evil, and the strength and resilience of 4 men willing to put their lives on the line for people like you and me. It’s about a band of brothers who stay in the fight, together, until the end. William would have been proud to know that he and the director of the movie, Peter Berg, attended the same high school.

What drew me to the movie was not so much the tale, but the director. You see I have met Peter Berg and he is a fine young man. I happen to sit next to him at a school basketball game one afternoon. He loves his old high school and supports it and the students in  many ways. He’s a real nice guy, so I thought I should support him and his movie. You should, too. It is an important film.

Truly, I wasn’t prepared for the reality of the movie. The bad luck, the viciousness of the mountain and the forces of evil. To hear about it is one thing, but to visualize it is quite another. And then, right at the end, the lone survivor, Marcus Luttrell says, ” I died up on that mountain.  There is no question, a part of me will forever be up on that mountain, dead, as my brothers died.” The movie illustrates so beautifully this precious human relationship among military men that drew William into extending his stay.

safely home

When a parent losses a child it is as if a part of them dies, too. After all, your children have sprung from you and in some ways are the same as you. They are your present and your future. It is a physical and emotional investment like no other. I recall a conversation with William prior to his departure to Afghanistan. I asked him not to be a hero. I jokingly told him he had such fine genetics that it was his gift to the world to pass them on some day. It’s complicated, but I suppose in some ways your child represents your immortality. Your thoughts, values and genes are supposed to live on through your children. Losing a child is a tremendous assault on your parental identity.

Baklava Brie Bites

Baklava Brie Bites

Are you ready for the assault on the red carpet? Are you having an Oscar night party?Gather a few friends around the big screen TV and enjoy some super simple winning appetizers. I love these Athens mini fillo (phyllo) shells. The fillings are only limited by your imagination.

Pulled Pork & Slaw

Summer BBQ Pork & Slaw Bites

Summer BBQ Pork & Slaw Bites

1 cup chopped or pulled BBQ pork

¼ cup smoky BBQ sauce

15 Athens mini fillo shells

¼  cup prepared coleslaw

Heat oven 350F. Combine pork and sauce; fill shells. Place filled shells on baking sheet; bake 5 minutes or until hot. Top each with some coleslaw.

Korean BBQ Beef Bites

½ pound ground beef

1/3 cup bottle Korean BBQ sauce (bulgogi marinade)

¼ cup green onions, sliced

2 packages (15 count, each) Athens® Mini Fillo Shells

1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, thoroughly cook the ground beef. Drain beef. Over medium heat, stir in bbq sauce and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in green onions. Spoon 1 tablespoon of filling into each shell. Garnish with sesame seeds. Serve warm.

Baklava Brie Bites

1 (15 count) package Athens Mini Fillo Shells

15 (1/2-inch) cubes brie cheese

¼ cup sliced or chopped toasted nuts (almonds and pistachios recommended)

2 tablespoons orange blossom honey

1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

Heat oven 350F. Fill each mini fillo shell with 1 cube of cheese; top with nuts. Place filled shells on a baking sheet; bake 5 to 10 minutes or until cheese is melted. Drizzle each brie bite with some honey and sprinkle with lemon zest. Serves 5