Monday, November 26, 2007

Passionate Mondays

I took last Monday off, in fact, I took most of last week off from blogging. I needed some more "down time" and just wanted to slow down for the Thanksgiving holiday. I hope all of you (in the U.S.) had a wonderful, long holiday weekend.

Today I am passionate about SARK.

If you don't know who Sark is, she is Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy, and she is one inspirational woman. I first became aware of Sark while I was living in San Francisco in 1987 and would read her cards and posters. Many years, books, events, cards, newsletters, and websites later, she is still going strong, relentless in her ability to inspire.

Here are some random "sarkisms":

"We are each directly or indirectly asked to fulfill our dreams and destiny. Sometimes we crawl there, or find ourselves stuck outside of our dreams."

"Leaps of faith can put us in a new spot we couldn't see from where we stood before."

"We deserve to be caretakers for our spirits and dreams, and this means truly sensing and listening four our most alive route. It may not be a common path, or a popular one, yet it will be clearly ours."

"When considering choices in your life, the 'most alive choice' feels like a bit of a risk, makes you giggle, or makes the hairs at the back of your neck stand up. It can be a simple and tiny shift, such as taking a new route. Or as large as moving your whole life somewhere you haven't lived before."

"Learn to fight your inner critics as fiercely as you would an attacker."

I am currently reading her book THE BODACIOUS BOOK OF SUCCULENCE and it is helping me tremendously - helping me to be motivated, to create, to trust myself and to love myself more deeply. She has written many other books which you can find on her website Planet Sark.

Sark's creative energies overflow and are very contagious. Reading her books leaves you wanting to jump up and create a beautiful world for you and for everyone around you. For wherever you are at in life, Sark can speak to that place, nudging you toward what it authentically you, toward your destination, toward love and peace.

Have a Passionate Monday, or as Sark says, "Let the world speak succulently to you."

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Insalata di Radicchio e Ceci/Radicchio and Chickpea Salad

I love this salad as it is very, very easy to make, it is hearty and satisfying, it is perfect for colder weather and it is healthy. The toasted ceci/chickpeas add a nutty and meaty flavor to this salad. It turns out that these toasted chickpeas are a great replacement for croutons in any salad.

Out of curiosity I just checked on the health benefits of radicchio and found out something very interesting. Radicchio, according to an Italian study, was found to be one of the vegetables having the highest anti-oxidant content - rivaling blueberries! See this report for details. I already knew that ceci/chickpeas are high in fiber and protein. Add in a few other healthy ingredients and this is a bowlful of nutrition!

Insalata di Radicchio e Ceci/Radicchio and Chickpea Salad

radicchio (any kind)

ceci/chickpeas (canned and drained)

parmigiano reggiano

good quality olive oil

your choice of vinegar (I prefer red wine or balsamic with this recipe)

salt & pepper

Chop enough radicchio for the number of people you want to feed.

Use a small handful of ceci for each person. Put ceci in a skillet over medium flame and let them dry out well, stirring frequently so that they don't stick. When they seem like they are getting really dry and sticking, add a touch of olive oil and stir well. Allow the ceci, while stirring frequently, to brown. (Alternatively, you can keep browning the ceci without olive oil. They will stick and make a lot of mess in the pan to clean up, but it if you are trying to cut out fats, then this is an option.)

Using a vegetable peeler, shave a small amount of parmigiano and add to the radicchio. Add salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar to taste. Toss in warm (or cooled) ceci.

This is my entry for The Heart of the Matter, this month hosted by Lucullian Delights. They had a call for quick and easy recipes for this hectic holiday time, and I think this qualifies! Check out the round-up of other entries around Christmas.

Buon appetito!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Biscotti alla Mamma/Mamma's Biscotti

I still am not quite emotionally ready to write in detail about my mother, or "mamma" as I called her in our closest moments. Her recent death feels like a weight hanging on me. I can say, though, that the creation of Apples & Thyme has felt like exactly what I needed to help me process certain thoughts. My mother's passion was cooking; in the kitchen is where she glowed. Helping me to remember those times and images of her in her "element" is enabling me to overcome the sad images of the painful last years of her life.

Like my grandmothers, and probably like most of your female predecessors, my mom loved to bake cookies at the holidays. I have so many memories of making Christmas cookies with her, and in fact still have her old Betty Crocker Cookie Book that we used over and over again! This is the only time of year when I am motivated to bake cookies (not having much of a sweet tooth.) I remember giving my mom a biscotti recipe years ago, and that simple recipe blossomed into a whole repertoire of various types of biscotti coming from her kitchen. While going through her recipes, which is a library full, we found 17 collected biscotti recipes, not counting the ones in all the cookbooks. I found the original, which was always my favorite and I decided to make it this particularly foggy, cool Sunday. This is a trial run for the holidays. Since they turned out delicioso, I now know what I will be making to give to all the neighbors and our mail delivery person for holiday gifts.
Biscotti alla Mamma (modified just a bit to my taste!)
makes 30-40 biscotti

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
3 Tbsp. brandy
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup coarsely chopped, roasted hazelnuts (you can use blanched or toasted almonds here, and if so, you can add 1 tsp. almond extract if you like, too.)
3 eggs
2 3/4 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix together sugar, butter, brandy, extract(s). Add eggs and nuts.
Mix flour, baking powder and salt and then add to wet ingredients.
Mix well.
Lightly butter a baking sheet.
Shape dough into two loaves about 2-3" wide and 9-10" long.

Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until set to about a cake-like texture.
Remove from oven and let cool until the logs can be handled.
Cut in 1/2" diagonal slices. Lay flat on baking sheet and return to oven.
Bake for about 12 minutes (still at 350 degrees), then turn cookies.
Bake another 7-10 minutes until golden brown, or until toasted to your preference.

Here is the important part. Enjoy warm with a well-made espresso for an afternoon snack, just like I just did. While dipping your biscotti, think warm, wonderful, comforting thoughts of your mother, and smile at your fortune of having a mother!
This is my early entry for our December Apples & Thyme event. Entries are not due until December 10th. See my last post for all the entry details, and stop by co-hosts blog, Vanielje Kitchen to see the other half of the entries when they are posted on the 15th.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Apples & Thyme ~ a celebration of mothers and grandmothers and time spent with with them in the kitchen

Our first Apples & Thyme event was a heart-warming success. Thank you all for your wonderful entries. We are thrilled to be hosting this event monthly. So, to remind you, Apples & Thyme is a celebration of time spent in the kitchen with our mothers and grandmothers (or anyone else you wish to blog about) and what they did or did not pass on to us that influenced how we cook and eat today. We would love you to enter and share with us a person and a dish that celebrates your relationship with them. The closing date is 20th of every month, with the roundup being posted on sometime before the end of that month. My co-host in this event is the fantastic Vanielje Kitchen .

Event rules are as follows:
1. Post on your blog before 20th of the month about your mother or grandmother (or any other person special to you) and time spent with them in the kitchen that influenced how you cook and eat.
2. Include a dish which reflects the relationship.
3. Take a picture of the dish and/or person.
4. Include the words Apples & Thyme in your blog title.
5. Add a link to the Apples & Thyme's hosts blogs - Vanielje Kitchen and The Passionate Palate.
6. Please send an email to or, but not both, with the following details: Your name, URL of blog, URL of your Apples & Thyme post and a 100 x 100 pixel picture for your entry in the round-up.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Apples and Thyme - Round Up #1

The first Apples and Thyme round-up is here and at Vanielje Kitchen here.
Inge of African Vanielje and I have been writing back and forth to each other these last few weeks about how this event really touched and moved people. Remembering our mothers and grandmothers (and others) and the time spent in the kitchen with them calls to each of us, across cultures, genders, races, and ages. One can see from all of these entries that we all have strong memories associated with food and kitchens and our experiences with them.

There were many common threads and similar stories. I think my favorite repeated theme is that of amazingly strong women. I don't know that our predecessors had more difficult lives than we do, ours are just difficult in different ways. However when it came to having enough food, growing food, and making it, our predecessors did have a much more challenging time. They did not have the modern conveniences nor the easy access to commodities that we do today. These women managed to not only feed empty stomachs and usually with really tasty food, but survive wars, raise children, often without a man's help and work all while creating wonderful memories that we all carry within us. I read a quote from Maria Shriver yesterday that something like "A woman's real power is taking what we know and passing it on." Isn't this what our mothers and grandmothers (and others) did for us? And isn't that what we are now doing?
Please read these stories for they are all heart-warming and inspirational.

Elle at Confessions of a Novice tells of us of her Italian mother who cooked all kinds of food - not just Italian - in order to please her fussy family. It seems like one of everybody's favorites was these Pumpkin Donuts.

Valerie of 2 Baci in a Pinon Tree in Italy gives us a beautifully written account of her grandmother's cooking traditions and generous spirit, as well as a recipe for her Grandma Betty's Granola Fudgies.

Dolores at Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity shows us that we can have many cooking influences in our lives, not the least of which was her father. The recipe she shares is from her Italian side of her family, but its origins and even its name are a mystery -Touvlach or Toothlach. Can anyone help her figure it out?

Gay from A Scientist in the Kitchen brings us her Filipino childhood recollections of a scrumptious looking Pork & Beans from her talented aunt who spent a lot of valuable time with her in the kitchen and in the market.

Julie at One Wall Kitchen takes us on an intimate journey inside her family's lumpia traditions, and making a party out of it with some friends.

Tina at Sweet Designs shares the story of her great-grandmother who was a big influence on her love of baking. Her snickerdoodle cookie recipe is full of good memories.

Rokh of Tham Jiak shares many details of the life and traditions in Malaysia and her grandmother's cooking talents. Her favorite dish - ho lan shu chu yok (stir fry potato and pork in dark soy sauce) - sounds delicious!

Susan of The Well Seasoned Cook brings us tales of her Italian cousin's grandmother who taught her many Italian specialties, including these perfect-looking gnocchi.

Sarah at What Smells So Good was one of the few entries to offer up memories of time spent in the kitchen with a male - her Dad. He sounds like a great father, and one who makes fool-proof pancakes.

Lynnylu at Cafe Lynnylu recalls how her mother taught them how to live the "slow life" while living off their farm. My heart goes out to her as her mom has Alzheimer's just like my mother did. Like me, Lynn is full of happy memories of her mom and her recipes, like the one for 24 Hour Salad (a dessert!)

From the South of France, Riana of Garlic Breath, brings us a classic Tarte Tatin recipe which came from her adopted grandmother who also taught her valuable skills in living off the land.

Cakelaw at Laws of the Kitchen brings us her mum's super comforting Rice Pudding along with recollections of growing up on a farm.

Jenn, the Leftover Queen, pays a lovely tribute to her mom and her cooking talents. This is another entry which included a birthday treat for a mother, this one for Chocolate Volcano Cake that looks "explosively" divine!

Chris from Mele Cotte brings us two of her favorite comfort foods from her mom's repertoire, along with a poem, photos and a wonderful description of a beautiful mother-daughter relationship.

Angel of Angel's Bento Blog openly shares the trials and challenges her mother had in raising her children in very tough circumstances, but somehow still cooking memorable dishes such as Pumpkin Pie.

Merav at A Tasteful Journey writes a glowing tribute to her grandmother and gives us her recipe for her grandmother's K'Zitzot, a meatball made with chicken and turkey that looks very yummy.

Marla of Bella Baita View in Italy goes back to her Illinois Irish roots and recounts the memories of her mother's home-cooking, and her much-sought-after Sour Cream Apple Pie.

Simona at Briciole offers up beautiful memories of her childhood in Italy and the time spent in the kitchen with her aunt who always made Simona's favorite afternoon snack of crema pasticcera for her.

Anne, our Foodie Froggy in Paris, presents a story and recipe for Tea-Biscuit Chocolate Cake that has been passed down in her family for three generations, but yet no one knows its origins.

Don't forget to head over to Vanielje Kitchen to see the rest of the round up.
Thank you all for participating!

Passionate Mondays

Oops! I almost forgot my "Passionate Mondays" post. While I have a good excuse, what could be good enough to not remind myself to be passionate about something or just about life today? This post really does help me stay focused on that important quest.

It seems that last Thursday, the reality of everything I have been through in the last year, up to and including the passing of my mother, was weighing on me like a ton of bricks. I could feel the weight in my being, my mind and my soul. I suppose that is part of grieving. I kept trying to work, get things done, going through the motions without accomplishing much. Then I realized, I can't do anything right now except take care of me, or as my dad said, "Crawl under a rock and lick your wounds."

So, I asked myself what I felt most like doing, and it was curling up under a blanket with a book and hot chocolate. I am not a hot chocolate kind of person, in fact I rarely eat sweets. But then I learned these last few months that when times are tough emotionally, chocolate gives you that feeling of love. (I believe there is some scientific fact to this regarding serotonin levels, but this is not my forte'.) Getting back to my story, I did just that - curl up with a book and cup of hot chocolate. It felt wonderful to do that on a weekday at 4:00 in the afternoon. Then 5:00 rolled around, it got darker, and I asked my husband how he felt about me moving over to the couch with him, sharing my blanket and watching a movie with me, with popcorn of course! He jumped at the idea. I haven't made popcorn for years, and it added just that right amount of celebration and fun to the movie party. We watched a fun movie "Man of the Year" and welcomed in the evening smiling under a blanket.

I am slowly nursing myself back to mental and spiritual health.

It turns out that my friend, Inge, over at African Vanielje, spent Sunday being lazy, too. Check out her post on it here.

If you have trouble like I do being lazy, take some lessons from dogs and cats:

You ask, "Then what are you passionate about today, Jeni?" BEING LAZY! This is not something that comes easily to this always busy and moving woman, but I learned how healing it can be. I am sure that with the holidays upon us, things get hectic and we forget to care about ourselves. Try to find a small chunk of time to renew your spirit and nourish your soul with a little laziness.

What does a lazy day (or even a few hours) look like for you?

Have a passionate Monday (and Tuesday, and Wednesday...)!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Apples and Thyme ~ a celebration of mothers and grandmothers and time spent with with them in the kitchen

This is my entry for Inge's and my first "Apples & Thyme" event. I would like to add...first of many!I have procrastinated writing this entry as it is extra difficult. As most of you know, my mother passed away five weeks ago. My mother had one of the most intense loves with cooking that I have ever seen. I am not quite ready to write about her influence as it feels too raw still.

Since it is November 8, my mother's mother's birthday, it seems fitting that I write about her. My Nana, as we called her, was born and raised in rural (and I mean RURAL) West Virginia in, I think, 1902. Her birth name was Jennie Belle Knotts. She was one of many in long line of Jennie Belles (I have seen the many generations of them in the graveyard). When I was born, my Nana was suffering from some depression, so my parents decided to name me Jeni to cheer her up (they chose the different spelling.) She was from a real hillbilly family. Her mother died when my Nana was about two years old, but as she was the youngest of about 7 children, her elder siblings raised her. She grew up barefoot (except in winter), wild and riding horseback through the country bareback. Her grandmother was a full-blooded Cherokee Indian and the rest of her family was a mix of Northern Europeans who first arrived in America in the 1590s in what is now the Maryland area. (A fascinating family history!) Sadly, all of her brothers and sisters took after her parents and died by the time they reached 50 years. My Nana, the strongblood, lived into her 80s, and thankfully so, as we have so many wonderful memories with her.

I went with her once to see where she was raised and it was still remote and wild in the early 70s. The mountains were steep, full of cougars and deer, with lots of rivers and streams, or "runs" as they call them there. As we approached the house she was raised in, crossing the run, the two men sitting on the front porch grabbed their shotguns and pointed them at our car as clearly we were strangers and not to be trusted. My mom calmed them down and told them that her mom just wanted to see the house she was born in. The lowered their shotguns but didn't dare take their eyes off our every move. As a 13 year old from New England, this was like being in an old Western movie or something from the Twilight Zone.

Knowing where my Nana was from and what she made of a very rough life (her life got more difficult after she left West Virgina) my respect grew for her as I aged. Despite a very challenging life, she was always so sweet, nice, generous, and gentle. She only wanted to take care of others. My mother would tell me stories about her mother taking food to hungry people during the depression, or taking in homeless or poor people and giving them a bath. As times got easier her focus was on feeding her family and her grandchildren.

My memories of her in the kitchen are all so wonderful, like:
  • Making pies - any kind of pie, with whatever was coming out of their orchard, bushes or vines.

  • Peeling apples, spooning out the fruit to us as small children while we "tweeted" and pretended we were birds.

  • "Unfastening Beans" as I called it when I was little - or shelling beans.

  • Canning - she and my grandfather would can and/or freeze everything from their garden.

  • Using the old, hand-crank meat grinder.

  • Frying, frying and more frying.

  • Always filling up a little jar on the stove with leftover grease after the frying. (Everything was cooked in some kind of pork fat usually.) Yummy!

I smile when I remember that she was always wearing an apron and often had a cigarette going while cooking. Even when she was very old and suffering from some dementia, she would have a cigarette either hanging from her lip or her hands or sitting in an ashtray next to the stove. We were always reminding her that her ashes were falling. (I wonder how many ended up in the food!)

One cooking tradition I have always maintained from her is fried yellow squash. Whenever I see the first ones hit the market, I slice them in thin rounds, toss them in cornmeal and flour, salt and pepper and fry them. I remember eating them as soon as they came out of the pan when she would make them.

She influenced me, like my other grandmother, to be patient, that cooking was a labor of love, not to be rushed, but to be enjoyed. Whenever I "unfasten" beans or peel apples, I sit, as she did, with a big bowl on my lap, in the quiet of the kitchen or the fresh air outside and work calmly at my task. It is very zen for me, and for her, it was her peaceful time, before the grouchy husband got home, before the crowd showed up for dinner, when she could truly be alone with her thoughts and peaceful surroundings.

Thank you Nana for passing on the feeling of peace that cooking gives me. Happy Birthday!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Apples and Thyme - a Reminder

Just a reminder that posts for our Apples and Thyme event are due by November 10. Please consider entering this tribute to those that have gone before us and inspired us in the kitchen. See Apples & Thyme for the full information.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Passionate Mondays

Today, I am passionate about following our hearts and guts.It seems that lately I've read a lot of blogging posts about people doing just that, of course to great results. I applaud them and by writing this hope to encourage myself and others to do, or to continue to do the same!

Based on a suggestion in a very good book Callings, a few years ago I looked at my life very carefully and analyzed the big decisions I have made, like those about love, jobs, career, family, moves. When I studied the decisions I made that were poor choices they had one thing in common - I was only listening to my head and ignoring my heart and gut. When I looked at the good decisions they all happened because I had specifically followed my gut and heart.

Last year I took a big leap in life and left a very secure job because its frustrations and the work environment were very unhealthy, stressful and unfair. I could feel it taking a toll on my body, mind and spirit. I leapt into the unknown, but my gut and heart never questioned that it was the right thing to do. Since then, many doors have opened for me, opportunities I never would have anticipated have presented themselves and people have crossed my path to show me or inspire me to new avenues. Those subsequent events feel like the "proof in the pudding" that I made the right decision.

I'm sure many of you can relate to difficulties with your spouse or significant other. My husband and I had some rough times in the last three years, as all couples will. There were countless times my head was screaming, "You don't need this, Jeni. You can just leave." But always, always, my gut and heart were saying, "No, it is not the right time. You are meant to be here right now." My instincts were correct. My husband and I have grown tremendously through these tests; we love each other more now than ever before. No, not all the problems are gone, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is where I should be right now.

I want to mention some other blogs with similar stories - about finding ourselves, finding our paths all by following our instincts, even if they may be contradictory to what our brain is telling us to do. Visit Frida's Notebook for a peek into the transformations that are taking place in her life from a series of inspirational meetings with different people. Frida's friend Sussanah of Ink on My Fingers is also on the brink of some big life changes brought around by heartfelt and heart-opening meetings with friends. Gypsy over at Gypsy Girl's Guide is living proof of what a life spent following one's heart can create. (On Gypsy's site, read her "Sunset" post for some inspiration on following your heart in the poem "The Invitation.")
I will leave you with a few inspirational quotes about following your gut, instincts and heart:
“It is the soul’s duty to be loyal to its own desires. It must abandon itself to its master passion.” - Rebecca West

“The saddest summary of a life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have.” - Louis Boone

“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.” - Grace Murray Hopper
Have a Passionate Monday!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Promotion and Smiles

Yes, I am about to commit shameless self-promotion. Well, if I can't do it, why would I expect anyone else to do it for me? Right, so on with the promo, Jeni...

I have a few spots left on two of my Italy trips next year that I want to let people know about. The first is a trip to Tuscany (May 26 - June 1) and the second is to the Veneto & Friuli (June 2- June 9). My small group (no more than 14 participants) journeys are designed to show people the real Italy through the wine and food of each region. I want people to experience Italian culture the way that I have been able to over many years of travel and work there. I want to give people a sense of what it is like to live there, to feel Italian to understand where traditions came from and to take them off the beaten path. These trips involve tastings at wineries that are normally not open to the public, meetings with winemakers and winery owners, often meals with them, eating in restaurants that are dedicated to preserving traditional cuisine, tasting artisanal food products, and always having fun. I build in ample time for participants to wander, explore, photograph, visit museums, or relax.

If you would like more information on these trips you can visit these links, or email me at passionatepalate AT gmail DOT com.

Now for the Smiles-
Scarlett and "From the Shores of Introspect and Retrospect" bestowed this "You Make Me Smile Award" on me weeks ago, and I am only getting around to a proper THANK YOU just now. (My apologies dear Scarlett.) I know these things may seem a bit silly to some, but what a beautiful gift to make someone else smile. Lifting others up is the real award. As St. Francis's famous prayer states, "It is in giving that we receive."

Now it is my turn to receive by giving this award to others. (I try not to duplicate tagging someone I tagged recently, otherwise, there would be a lot more bloggers on this list.) If you have already received this award, then count yourself lucky to have made another person smile! Of course I would give it back to Scarlett if I could, because she always makes me smile.

Dana at A Child of the Universe for being exactly that!
Sussanah at Ink on My Fingers for inspiring me to be me.
Chris at Mele Cotte for always having a sense of humor in her posts.
Jenn at The Leftover Queen for the smile on her face and in her words.
Katie at Olio di Oliva Sogni di Vino for her aliveness.
Frida at Portraits of Afghanistan for giving us image of beautiful faces and places.
Thank you all for making me smile, again and again.