Friday, December 28, 2007

Glimpses of Christmas

A few glimpses of my family's Christmas. We gathered together, joyfully, and helped my father cope with his first Christmas in 54 years without his wife, my mom. The last five years she was barely able to participate in Christmas activities, but sat with us as a quiet observer. It didn't feel that much different this year, her presence was there, now in peace, watching us happily.

Our family Christmas traditions have almost always been Swedish, but this year, as in many, I threw in a few Italian traditions like Italian cheeses after dinner followed by fresh and roasted nuts and Vin Santo. Franciacorta to enjoy with antipasti, Brunello with dinner and of course, Italian cookies - biscotti and crumiri.

Poppa (my dad) and granddaughter, Kate

My mom's star on the tree watching over us (made by my sister Nancy)

Mother & Child


Aunt/Zia Jeni with niece
L'abbuffata/The Feast

I hope your holidays have been joyful.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Passionate Mondays

Here it is Monday afternoon and I haven't written my "Passionate Mondays" post. Although there seems to be a lot of heavy stuff going on in my life this year, and most recently these last four months, I am still feeling passionate about so many things. I am growing and learning, and that I am grateful for. Just this morning, I sat with a dying friend in the hospital. I washed her face and hands, adjusted her body for comfort and just watched over her while she slept. As emotionally difficult as this is coming on the heels of watching my mother die a few months ago, it feels really good to be able to do something so simple as just being with my friend. As I have mentioned before, there is so much reward in giving - it comes back to us threefold, tenfold, maybe more.

Today, I am passionate about being conscious of what we put out there in the universe and sharing inspiration to create positive change in the world. To that effect, I stumbled upon Romancing the Crone's blog and was moved by so many great quotations she has on her site. One of her posts, "Obligation Observations", addresses the issue of blogging with obligation and I really thought it was an important read for bloggers, after all, blogging is putting forth words into the world and I believe it should be done consciously. (If you are just a reader/commenter, and not a blogger, it is still interesting.) I am adopting Mother Wintermoon's logo, with her permission of course, and encourage all my other blogging friends out there to read her thoughts on blogging with obligation, and join me.
One of my favorite blogs, Beauty in the Breakdown, mentioned this great poster she received. I followed the link to Jen Lemen's site, and ordered the poster for myself. Not only is the poster inspirational, but so is the site that is selling it - Cool People Care. Jen Lemen's site also has so many inspirational stories of people doing good and creating good...please check it out. All of this made me realize that there are so many wonderful people out there in the world who are trying to make a positive difference.
Will you join me in being passionate about doing good in the world and sharing stories and inspiration of others doing good in the world - all hopefully to inspire more people to do good. A bit of "paying it forward" you could say. It can be the smallest of gestures, the tiniest of efforts, a simple task, but it can make a world of difference. We never know the full effect of our words or deeds; there are always repercussions, like ripples on the water. So, make every word and deed a good one, and let's effect the world in a positive way. As Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world."
Have a Passionate Monday, week and holiday!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Christmas Meme

I have been tagged. You know, I love that image of "being tagged". It reminds me of the tag game we played as children. It was full of that feeling of running and thinking "please don't catch me", while secretly wanting to be caught and always laughing when it happened. So, for me, being tagged is full of happiness.

This tag was from the one and only Her Grace Lady Wanderlust Scarlett the Indefensible of Eschaton End, otherwise known as Scarlett from From the Shores of Introspect and Retrospect. She created this festive Christmas Meme in which I am supposed to share 12 of my favorite Christmas things (memories, traditions, songs, foods, etc...)

Here goes...
  1. Decorations. I love making the house look festive with lights, candles and decorations. I especially love the Swedish decorations.

  2. The meals. I love planning the meals because coming together with family and friends over food and wine holds so much fun and meaning to me. My father's family is Swedish, so we normally do a smorgasbord on Christmas.

  3. Giving. It feels so good!

  4. The idea of birth and renewal. Whether you celebrate the season as Christ's birthday or the older pagan traditions of the winter solstice and the beginning of days growing longer - a new year, both have the hopeful sense of new beginnings and the birth of hope. (For me this is especially needed as I have been surrounded by a lot of sickness and death this year.)
  5. Chestnuts.

  6. Silly Christmas traditions like reindeer antlers on our dogs.

  7. My stocking - the same one I've had since I was a little girl, with a "J" stitched into the trim. It's very worn out and grungy looking, but I can't get rid of it!

  8. Panettone.

  9. Baking.

  10. Seeing a child's eyes light up at the sight of presents. Can there be anything better?
  11. Snow & beach. I love snow at Christmas, but unfortunately don't have any. My dad and I would often go to the beach on Christmas Eve or Day...and I think I will do that again this year.

  12. Memories. Especially this year, remembering all those wonderful memories that my sweet mother created out of our holidays. I miss you mom!

Now, I get to tag others, of course. No obligations, as the season is a busy one, but it seems like a celebratory meme to participate in, doesn't it?

Apples & Thyme - Round Up #2 - An Addition

Just a quick addition to our Apples & Thyme #2 Round Up...

My partner in this event, Inge at Vanielje Kitchen, just posted the most amazing photos of The Truly Remarkable Once a Year Cake, along with her memories of her mother at Christmas, and the joy of finding her Christmas spirit. Please hop on over and see her amazing creations!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Apples and Thyme - Round Up #2

The holidays are upon us and as expected, they flood us with memories - memories of growing up, traditions, food and family. We started Apples & Thyme for exactly those reasons, so that we could have a forum for sharing those types of memories and thereby record and remember our cherished traditions.

These December entries are full of wonderful and warm sentiments honoring each person's heritage. Apart from the touching stories and histories in these entries, there, of course, are some great recipes. Grab a cup of glogg, tea, coffee, wine or your choice of beverage and settle in for some good reading!

Ann at Redacted Recipes writes about her Mom's Constant Kitchen and the joy of learning confidence in the kitchen at a young age thanks to her mother's guidance. She leaves us with an easy, but delicious looking, recipe for pork loin and potatoes - a perfect quick meal for this busy season.

Paul, our down-under friend at Eat Me, brings us memories of time in the kitchen with his Argentinian grandmother and the cooking secrets she passed on to him. Check out the delicious looking Tallarines con Tuco de Carne.

Laurie from Tastes Like Home in Alaska shares with us the Greek tradition of Hilopites and Trahanas, types of special pasta only made at certain times of the year. Her stories are always full of incredible detail and tradition.

Tamara our Rocky Mountain writer recently lost her mother, but is having no problem calling up many happy memories of her mother's holiday cooking - especially the cookies. She shares with us her mom's special Lebkuchen cookie recipe.

Chris from Mele Cotte, who is on a cookie-baking roll at the moment, stops to share her favorite holiday cookie recipe with us - Tarralflucci. Don't try to pronounce it, but do try to bake them...they look delicious!

Marla, all the way up in the Alps of Piedmont Italy at Bella Baita View, shares with us her mother-in-law Elge's recipe for a dessert named after the nearby mountain - Monte Bianco. If this isn't decadence, I don't know what is.

Mrs. W of Mrs. W's Kitchen, like Tamara above and myself, are trying to focus on the memories from our mothers' healthy years (before illness) and celebrate those cherished times. She shares with us her Christmas childhood memories and the time-honored recipe of Ambrosia Salad.

...and there was one - me! My post on my mother's Biscotti - or Biscotti a la Mamma - was the first one I could write about my mother's love of cooking since her passing. I love these cookies and hope you do, too!

Vanielje Kitchen and I look forward to seeing your entries for our our January Apples & Thyme event. Click here for entry dates and rules.

Happy Holidays one and all!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Ravioli di Zucca/Squash Ravioli

I realize that I haven't been posting much lately. Life is full at the moment and I still feel a bit like pulling inward, taking inventory, and healing. It must be the season and all that has happened in my life this year.

I am on my way to a three day personal getaway to visit friends in Northern California, after spending today in Santa Barbara to help my father and aunt decorate their house for Christmas. I am sure that those connections will help to renew my spirits and fill me with inspiration. So, I won't get to post a Passionate Monday next week, but will resume the following week. But that doesn't mean that we all shouldn't find ways to live passionately!

I was so very touched by the responses from my last post about charity. I love to hear about everyone's favorite way to give. Thank you all who shared.

I have been wanting to post this recipe for quite some time, as it one of my husband's and my favorites.
Every fall the cooler weather and winter squashes arrive almost simultaneously. It is a good thing since I crave their comfort on brisk evenings. Butternut squash is an excellent source of Vitamin A, but also contains fiber, Vitamin C, manganese, magnesium and potassium. I just read that these squashes originated in Mexico, but they quickly spread to all parts of the new and old world, as you can find them used in most cultures.
This recipe is a labor of love, but if spread over a couple of days, the effort isn't too strenuous. We originally made these raviolis with a simple browned butter and sage sauce. Now we like to serve it over tomato sauce with the browned butter and sage sauce on top. While it may seem like a lot of flavors, they are very complimentary and oh-so-delicious! Please forgive my inexact proportions, but it really is difficult to make a mistake with these ingredients, so have fun with it.
Ravioli di Zucca or Butternut Squash Ravioli
Served over Tomato Sauce and Topped with Browned Butter & Sage
Serves 3-4 as a main course (or 6 as a starter)
Again, the Tomato Sauce is optional. If you are going to use it, make a marinara sauce ahead of time.
Start by roasting a butternut squash (about 3 lbs.) in the oven at 350 degrees until soft and golden, about one hour. (After cutting in half and scooping out the seeds, I brush with olive oil and turn face down on a baking sheet to bake.) This can be done the day before making the ravioli.
When the squash is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh into a bowl. Stir in about one cup of ricotta cheese, 2/3 cup grated parmigiano reggiano, salt and pepper. If you live in Italy, the ricotta that you can buy is so much tastier than what we have in the U.S. that you can use just ricotta without the parmigiano. I would be tempted to use ricotta di pecora/sheep's milk ricotta for its unique flavor. Taste and adjust ingredients to your palate. (This, too, can be done a day ahead. If this mixture sits for a while, some liquid will separate. Drain off the liquid before using.)
For the pasta, I use Marcella Hazan's pasta recipe (but use a little more flour than she calls for - most likely because our flours are different here), but you can use whichever one you like. Or, if you are lucky enough to have access to buying fresh pasta, that makes this recipe much easier! A few of my tips for handmade pasta are:
  • Make it by hand, at least the first half a dozen times, so that you can really get the "feel" for the pasta. You will learn what it is supposed to feel like, you will learn what happens when it is too dry, too wet, etc. Once you master it, then you could make it in a mixer or food processor, but if you are like me, you will get hooked on doing it by hand and never use a machine!
  • I find that the dough when ready will have a silky consistency, not too tacky.
  • When rolling out, don't be afraid to dust with flour whenever the dough feels too sticky.
  • When pasta is done, cut into six wedges.
  • Roll out each wedge, on setting number 1 of a pasta machine, three times, folding in thirds between each roll. Set aside and repeat with remaining wedges.
  • Then take a pasta section and roll through settings 2-6. Repeat with each section, setting them aside on floured cloth when done.
Match pieces as closely as possible by size. Drop spoonfuls of squash filling, leaving at least 1 1/2" between.
Place another sheet on top and carefully press out the air around each mound and press to seal.

Cut between the raviolis and place each one on a floured plate or sheet. Set aside but do not refrigerate.

While you are bringing your pasta water to a boil, prepare the browned butter and sage sauce. We use about 2/3 butter to 1/3 good olive oil and a lot of sage. (Proportions for 4 people would be about 6-8 Tbsp. butter, 3-4 Tbsp. oil, and maybe 20-30 large sage leaves left whole or cut into pieces - your choice.) Saute until butter begins to brown and sage begins to crisp. Be careful not to burn!
Also, while the pasta water is boiling, if you will be using a tomato sauce for a base like we do, then heat that up. We make a simple marinara (be sure that you puree it so that is not chunky for this preparation.) You can also just take a can/box of tomato puree, add a good glug of olive oil and salt and pepper and reduce down by at least a third, which would take almost an hour. It is not quite as tasty as making a true marinara, but it is pretty darn good!

When your sauces are ready, drop the ravioli into the boiling water one at a time. These only take 3-5 minutes to cook, depending on how big you made them. You will be able to see, or feel, the edges change when they are ready. It is a little too rough on the ravioli to dump them into a colander, so we use a slotted spoon to remove them into a colander.

Spread your tomato sauce, if you are using one, on the bottom of the serving platter.

Place the raviolis on top, pour the sage/butter sauce over the top and serve with plenty of grated parmigiano reggiano on the side.

I know you are thinking this looks like a lot of work, but it is worth every minute. It is an addictive dish! Serve it with a fruity red wine like dolcetto, refosco, nero d'avola or a very simple Chianti.

I find that I usually have left over filling. I either freeze it for my next batch, or use it the following days as a bruschetta topping with some drizzled sage butter on top.

This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, this week hosted by Briciole.

Buon appetito!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Passionate Mondays

Today I am passionate about giving and charity.

I know this post has nothing to do with food, Italy or travel, but I can't help but put my two cents in on the subject of giving...after all 'tis the season. Like most of you, I am passionate about giving. I love to give - hugs, help, food, gifts, a listening ear, etc. It seems that during the holiday season, when consumer pressure to buy is at its highest, that we all need to be reminded that sometimes giving the free things in life are the sweetest.

As most of you know, my mom passed away this year. It was during my time caring for her that I realized how much I got out of giving. Caring for her made me feel good. I have read that there is scientific evidence that shows that when we make someone else feel good, we have the same reaction in our bodies on a cellular level that the receiver does. And remember Saint Francis' quote, "In giving, we receive." It was also during this difficult year that I became so grateful for the small things (and some big things) that friends did for our family. A simple gesture like making a pot of soup for us seemed like the most perfect gift in the world.

So, I want to gently remind everyone that sometimes the smallest gifts and gestures can be the best gifts and that spending money is not always or, really, not at all, necessary. Try baking something for your neighbor, or offering to care for their pet while they are away. Try creating an artistic piece for a friend, perhaps a photo you took or an inspirational quote handwritten on beautiful paper. Offer to cook your friend a lovely meal, or give a massage to a loved one. The ideas are endless.
If you do have money to spend, then why not give it to a charity in someone else's name for a gift? There are so many good charities out there and so many people and animals around the world in need. I think it is important to investigate charities to see how much of your gift dollar actually goes toward the actual recipient, and how much goes toward their administration. Here are a few of my favorite charities, all of which have low over-heads.

If you have a blog, why don't you do a post about our favorite charities to help spread the word during this important giving season? If you do a post, please leave a comment here so that I am aware of it. If you don't have a blog, just leave your favorite charity in a comment form here then. Let's spread the spirit of giving!

Have a passionate and giving day!