Sunday, December 27, 2009

Pass the hot butter, raise a glass...

This year's crab season has already netted over 12,000 pounds of the crustaceans so far.  Last year's entire catch was 13,000 pounds. The meat is excellent, and the animals are good sized. Even with a couple of big storms that destroy traps, this harvest appears to be outstanding. Though the season lasts until June, most of the catch occurrs in December and January.

 The local economy will pick up, and it will have a domino effect.  Tourists will eat at the local eateries, sleep at the local motels, and frequent gas stations and  art galleries.  Fresh crab is one reason for driving to the coast and spend a weekend at the beach, regardless of the weather.

Crab is quickly boiled in salted water spiced with peppercorns, bay leaves, cayenne pepper and other seasonings. It is served on newspapers or paper towels, where it is cracked open and pried with special tools. Side dishes include hot melted butter, potato salad, cole slaw, and beer.  It takes patience to crack and remove the meat from the legs and body of the crustaceans.  Cartilage must be cracked and peeled off, carefully separating the chambers that contain the succulent meat. Many people are worried about making a mess. No need. You'll have fun getting your hands messy, and feeding all of your senses.

Any left-overs can be used in chowders, crab cakes, salad toppings, even tacoes and baked pasta.  My family enjoys chioppino, a fish stew with tomatoes and a variety of shell fish, including crab, enjoyed with a generous amount of crusty bread to soak up the juices. Our favorite beer for this occasion is Fat Tire. Sometimes, we'll  have a King Estate Pinot Grigio, a Willamette Valley Oregon wine as good as the best of California's Napa Valley.  Just not as expensive.

When you visit coastal towns, do partake of the local catch. You'll never have fresher fare, and you'll help the local economy, encouraging artisans and small producers to continue living in small towns.

Out of the way places teach us about the interconnectivity of all human endeavors.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Have you seen Her?

She is Kathleen McBroom..............

Missing as of October 2008......

Find out more by visiting Janna's blog linked at the end.

Spread the word.

Visit Janna and find out the details
at the link below:


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sharing the Joy.

If you give a party in this town, everyone will come. Literally. Unabashedly. Enthusiastically. Especially if you cook real food. Meaning: not 1940's recession rations,  canned goods doctored with Campbell Soup and Heinz Ketchup. If you  buy your products from local ranchers, you will be assured quality and goodwill in the bargain.

If you charge nothing for your fuss, you will become an instant hero.

This town has two types of people: those who have lived here for the last one hundred years or so, and everybody else. For decades, Oregon had a saying: come and visit, but go back home. Real Estate agents, and chamber of commerce secretaries would make it clear to you that if you came from California or anyplace else, you were not welcome.  When we first moved here, my husband introduced himself first as born in Portland.  They forgave him for having left and married out of his kind.

So, newcomers have to be patient; they have to make themselves useful; they have to throw parties and cater to the local taste buds. Our first party, for the immediate neighbors, a summer bbq, became our baptism into the town's politics. Feed people, and they talk. Pass the wine, and they'll reveal where the gold is buried.  With the baby-backs and chickens raised up the river, and wine from the bigger valley, and everyone knowing everyone, the party was a huge success. People took home the leftovers and stopped by the following weeks to share some tidbit or other.

Granted, with one or two coffee shops in town serving mostly burgers and fish and chips, feeding people here is easy. Anything that simmers on the stove for a few hours, or has to marinate overnight gets rave reviews.  If it has a foreign name, it becomes mythological.

Besides, many old people don't bother with daily cooking. A stew or a soup  will last them a week. Meals-on-wheels is the highlight of their day. Conserving energy is their mantra.

Both my husband and I work/volunteer. He runs the local food bank; and I run the local school board.  When we throw a party for one or the other, we have to account for taste differences. When we invite neighbors, there is still a third group.

Regardless, nobody turns down an invitation.

For our neighbors, most of whom live far from their relatives, we're having a Christmas Day Open House. We'll prepare a buffet to bring back memories of their past. We'll have the usual, roast beef, ham and all the fixings. I'll add some pasta and pizza, all home-made and from scratch. Desserts will represent my roots and my husband's, Italy and Sweden.  Pies, strudels, panettone, and biscotti will line up together.  We'll toast with Sangria, mulled wine, Pellegrino, tea and coffee. 

In the sunroom, the Presepio will dominate the scene, the houses all lit, the manger a step away from platters of antipasto.

Food may dominate this scene, but the road signs are everywhere. Christian iconography in a new setting.

Good Will will unite us, and beautiful music will cheer us. (I'm counting on the beautiful voice of my daughter and her talented musician husband to get us into the lovely mood, the sharing of joy!)

May you feel loved and nourished on this day. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

West Coast Ecosystem-Based Management.

We're all in this together, no matter where we live, what we eat, what we see out of our windows.

POORT  Port Orford Ocean Resource Team:

Looking out for Red Fish Marine Preserve.

You might be interested in an article written in our local paper, Port Orford Today, dated Nov. 11th, page 4, titled: Local Economic Impact.

Port Orford and Newport, up the coast, have been identified as New Marine Conservation Areas, for study and preservation of marine life. As part of this identification, many agencies have a stake in maintaining this rich ecological area.

In previous posts, I wrote about the impact Port Orford Ocean Resource Team (POORT,
link at the top of the page) is having on fishing and protecting our coastal habitats. 

Scientists are working closely with neighboring teams from Washington and California, to address needs and provide sustainable solutions.

The best way to deal with dwindling resources is to put our heads together and come up with solutions.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Crab Season.

I woke early this morning. There were boats on the Ocean, working all night, their bright lights visible for miles. From our bedroom, they look like spotlights on a crime scene at night.

Our port is busy day and night, especially during crab season. Though Pacific storms will be blustering for weeks keeping small boats in the harbor, they will not keep local fishermen from dropping their crab traps at the beginning of December when crab season begins.

 Day and night, boats will drop and retrieve traps, check their catch, move a few miles up and down the coast to find fertile territory, and collect enough cargo of this delicacy to provide every supermarket and restaurant with fresh catch for weeks.

Dungeness Crab is my favorite crab. I've eaten Blue Crab and Alaska King Crab. Nothing tastes better than freshly prepared Dungeness, boiled in salted water for twenty minutes with a few spices, and served on newsprint paper, to catch the liquid that will squirt when we pound and claw the meat out. On the side, there will be hot butter to dip the morsels in,  and Fat Tire Beer to keep us going in this tormentous task of cracking, picking, slowly separating cartilage and bone from the soft and tender meat.  I've served individual whole crabs with sides of potato salad, corn, and a green salad at our Christmas Eve Meal that can last for hours, depending on how dexterous we are.

Our fishermen deliver fresh catch to Pacific Fisheries, which purchase the live catch, and ship it all over the nation.

When you purchase your crab you will be tasting food that was dangerous to catch. 

The price fishermen will receive for live crab this year: $1.75 a pound. The price supermarkets are charging for the same: $4-7 a pound.

When you sit down for your Christmas meal of fresh crab, remember that earning a living on the high seas is dangerous all the time, especially at this time.

 Winter storms can snuff out a life in a second. 

Friday, December 11, 2009

The tastes and smells of Christmas.

(A little town in Southern Italy, circa 1946. War was ending. Allied Forces occupied the surrounding region, and many houses were without utilities. )

It was a cold night, snow had fallen for hours, and I was tired yet determined to remain awake in order to attend my first Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

I was four years old. My plan was to join my parents and my big brother for this special Mass, though by now  grandmother and I would be in dreamland, hugging each other to stay cozy and warm.  On this eve, the family was preparing  the sweet pastries called panzotti, traditionally eaten on Christmas Day.

Mamma had mixed the yeast dough early in the day, had waited for it to rise as she cooked and chopped chestnuts, adding sugar, chocolate, cinammon and vermouth to make the filling, and had solicited  Pa`pa and To`ni, my big brother, to shape  and stuff these concoctions.  Pa`pa had the task of  frying them in a big iron cauldron, hung from a hook in the fireplace that was our only mode of cooking and heating in those days.

The room was dark and cold,  except for the light and warmth cast by the fire.  I could be spooked easily, and often, as I dozed off, I woke to see long shadows dancing in the corner, looking like a devil in hell. It took a few minutes to realize the image  was just  my Pa`pa at the fireplace.

My brother To`ni waited  for  the sizzling  pastries draining on kitchen towels to cool just enough to be rolled in the sugar mixture.  I wanted that job. But I was told to watch Gatto,  our cat, which grabbed food whenever she could. I kept busy chasing her off the table.

Now and then, she wanted to be let out. That's when everyone would shout at once: "CHIUDI LA PORTA!",  "shut the door!", as though it was my fault that Cat needed to do her thing. I was actually relieved that for a few minutes I didn't have to watch her and could help my brother sugar the pastries. After rolling a few, I stuffed one in my pocket, against  the rules.

Though I had never been at a Midnight Mass, I knew everything about it.  My cousin Maria, who was four years older had been an  angel for years. She bragged that she was the tallest and the holiest of angels. For weeks she pointed out the sins I was committing that would exclude me from the pageant. I had no idea I had committed a sin until Maria pointed it out to me. Did you know that it is a sin to wish for something too badly? That's what Maria said when I told her how much I wanted to play that part in the pageant.

The part of the Archangel was assigned the last minute and only to the holiest among angels.

Just before Midnight, the family bundled up in scarves, mittens and  woolen socks , and joined the neighbors through darkened streets making their way to the Church of Santa Maria.

With each step, I reviewed the pageant in my head, how costumes would be assigned, angels or shepperd, how the Archangel had to carry Baby Jesus to the manger the very last minute.  The first song would be, Tu scendi dalle stelle, O Re de Cielo.  I visualized very movement, every pose, every word. At one point, I slowed down to tie a shoe lace and took a furtive bite of the panzotto in my pocket.

 Sister Caterina spoke to me as I got in line with the other angels, asked why I hadn't changed into the Archangel's costume. I mumbled something back.  She looked distracted and preoccupied and  pointed to someone to take me.  I was then ushered  into the costume room and told to change into the Archangel's. I worried about what to do with my scarf and my mittens. I worried about  dropping Baby Jesus as I managed to put my costume on without any help.  I remained in that room, not knowing what to do next.

After a while, Maria came in. " The trumpet sound it's your cue," she said,"walk over to the manger, put Baby Jesus down, and stand behind the Holy Family. Just the way we practised."

Something in me so wanted to be The Archangel, that I swallowed my fear and nodded as though I knew what to do. When I heard the sound of the trumpet, I walked  to the designated place, a made-up village with life sized statues of Mary and Joseph , deposited a tiny statue of Bambino Ge`su in a cradle, and noticed he was wearing just a cloth diaper.  Under my costume, I still had  my scarf, which I took  off and wrapped all around him. Then, I fished out the rest of the panzotto for Bambino Ge`su,  and out came a sprinkling of sugar. I had finished not a crumb of panzotto left.

I burst out in tears, not knowing what to do next until Maria walked up to me, took my hand, and walked me over to where my parents were sitting, as the rest of the angels continued  their singing. 

"I'm sorry, Pa`pa. I only took one bite, only one bite. Will Baby Jesus forgive me? " I kept wailing, before Pa`pa wrapped me under his coat, and told me to shush.

I must have fallen asleep because I do not remember anything else until the next morning, when Nonna kicked me out of bed at the usual time, and woke me up with a cold wash cloth over my face.

As we sat to a proper breakfast of panzotti and hot milk, pa`pa noticed a letter under his bowl. He picked it up and read it.  " Caro Pa`pa e Mamma, Buon Natale."  It was the letter I penciled in with the help of my big brother.  Then, To`ni got up and read his letter. I listened to him read many words,  lovely sentiments that must have taken him months to paste down neatly on that special paper.

I wondered if Cat wrote a letter too when Nonna asked  if I had remained awake at the Midnight Mass, Pa`pa told her:

"She was awake. And she was the Archangel this year. From now on, there will be scarves on the Baby, and stardust sprinkled from pockets." He told her what happened, how I burst out in tears after my performance. Nonna looked at my worried face and said, "You got your wish, then!"  I had not told Nonna about wanting to be The Archangel.

Then Nonna yelled at Gatto, saying  "Baby Jesus must have returned your scarf!" putting the cat out and hanging the scarf  where Gatto couldn't reach it again. The house was warm, smelling of sugar and cinammon. Everyone was talking.

I slipped back in bed, to dream about panzotti and Bambino Ge`su.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Launching into the Christmas season.

It's time to launch the CHRISTMAS boat. The season of buying has begun.  We don't want to be late. Besides, the weather is frightful, and could get worse. If we don't get out and buy now, the streets could be flooded, iced over, detoured, or impassable in some ways.

Something in me wants inspiration, counting on sights, sounds, smells and tastes to  bring the magic back each year. Baking and decorating the house might propell me into action.


Christmas  is a big baggage I carry.

I have this idea that it has to be surprisingly fulfilling;  it has to make everybody’s secret wish come true. Not just any old wish, but the wish we did not know we had, a wish we made out loud only to ourselves, burying it so it did not continue to take up space on the shelf of wishes. If That wish stayed on the shelf, never fulfilled, it would be a sorry reminder, year after year that our lives were not magical, but ordinary and insignificant.

Wishes must be fulfilled at Christmas.

Christmas comes only once, and it is ok to have wishes out of the ordinary, special, expensive. Deep down, our job as parents, wives, sisters,  is to make magic dreams come true. We must become extra-ordinary and whip up that magic wand. Even if our finances are meager.

I assemble many lists to get me started,  the obvious needs and the practical solutions, sweaters, socks, gloves. Only once, we all  wanted gloves, the ones we could stuff in coat pockets and have on hand as we rode up to the mountains for the day, after a snowstorm had powdered the local San Gabriels. None of us remember what we did with those gloves after the first outing. 

Most people I know  buy with confidence, stick to their lists, in and out of the malls, bags full of clothes or toys. Everyone is happy in their families.

What does my husband crave that he doesn't already have or couldn’t purchase himself?  I have paid no attention.

How do people get ahead of the season by buying off season?

I need to discover what everyone wishes. Something in me wants to be a fulfiller of unknown dreams, every year.  I picture that blessed morning, eyes sparkling, voices  squealing, arms bouncing up and down, and then the rush to hug, call, find the giver of that secret wish.

 “Oh Mom, how did you know?”

My husband is a confident shopper. If  he likes something, the children too would like it. “Look, isn’t that fabulous. I am getting that for her!” he says when he shops, and wraps the present without giving it a second thought. .

 I'm never sure.

There were years with pre-lists, years with no lists; years with themes; years with gift certificates; years with cash; years with fruit baskets and special wines.

This Christmas will be different.  I will give away something I love to someone I love. This Christmas my daughter will get my crystal water pitchers and my boys will get my books, the ones I suggested they read, and the ones I have wanted them to read. Isn’t this like forcing my taste on them? After all, they are adult, adult by day and children when they visit each other, stirring the dust of memories of Christmas past all over the living area. Before long, we’ll all remember who got the biggest stuffed animal, and who never wanted the skating lessons.

Yes, this Christmas will be different.

Now, don't hold me to this.

I might get inspired as I prepare the panettone.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

How Gourmet Magazine took me back home.

I live on Garrison lake, by the Pacific, in Oregon.
For Christmas, we hang around the dock and catch ourselves a trout or bass or perch.
Our holidays are simple and easy going.

But I long for things I had when I was a child in Italy.  At Christmas, more than at any other time. So, when I opened the December issue of Gourmet, last year,  there was an article about making PANETTONE at home. Panettone is the traditional Christmas bread in Italy.

The two page step-by step instructions provided by Jim Lahey of Sullivan St. Bakery in New York City made the process look simple and doable.

Now, I don't  do much baking.
I do bake a pear tart, as the yummy one above using our harvest pears in September.

Making panettone was never on my list of things to try. But making something that you had as a child, something your mother and grandmother were fond of serving back in the old country, became an irrestible urge.

I had time.
I had the ingredients.
I just had to send for the special paper molds  with a phone call to Sir Arthur Flour.

So, following Jim Lahey, this is how to make panettone. Active time: 20 minutes. Start to finish, two whole days.


1C raisins
2Tbsp light rum
2/3C tepid water plus 2Tbsp hot water, divided
3 3/4 C all purpose flour
2/3 C sugar
1/2 t salt
1/2 t active dry yeast
1/4 t lemon zest
1/2 vanilla bean, split lenghtwise
3 large eggs at room temp.
1Tbsp mild honey
12 1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter ( 10  1/2 Tbsp cut into tablespoons and well softened; 1Tbsp melted, 1 T chilled
2/3 C candied citron, small pieces

a heavy duty stand mixer with paddle attachment; a panettone paper mold; 2 metal skewers, long

-Soak raisins in rum and 2 Tbsp of hot water, preferably overnight.
-Mix flour, sugar, salt, yeast, zest and vanilla bean at low speed until combined
-Whisk together eggs, , 2/3 C of tepid water, honey.
-With mixer at low, pour egg mixture into flour mixture until combined. Increase speed to medium.
-Add 10 1/2 Tabsp of butter, one T at a time. When all butter added, increase speed to medium-high until dough is smooth and elastic. About 8 minutes.
-Drain raisins, add citron pieces and 1Tbsp of melter butter. Stir into dough with wooden spoon.
-Place dough in a large bowl , cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a cold oven for 15 hours.
-Discard vanilla bean and sprinkle dough with some flour before you  fold seams down and fit in the panettone mold*
-Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rise for 5 hours.
-Preheat oven to 370 F with rack in lower third.
-Place mold on a baking sheet and score a big X across the entire top, with a serrated knife.
-Add a Tbsp of butter on the X
-Bake 1-1 1/2 hour, or until a wooden skewer comes out slightly moist. Panettone will be very dark.

-Use the big skewers and pierce the panettone including the paper mold 1 inch from the bottom, so skewers are parallel and the panettone can hang upside down over a large stockpot and cool completely.

Panettone keeps , wrapped tightly in foil in a sealable bag, for a week or two at room temperature.

I made a dozen of these, and gave them away to friends and family members.

We ate Panettone for breakfast on Christmas morning, and it felt as though we were sitting at the table with Mamma e Nonna in sunny Italy.

p.s. If you want to learn about Christmas traditions in Italy, check these other blogs:

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Tell your story.

As we age, we look back at  places, people, skills and accomplishments that belonged to us and gave us identity and purpose.

We miss people.
We miss work.
More than we know.

We remember longingly our childhood days,  family members, celebrations, trips to the beach, the mountains, the city.
Many things have changed.
Our lives are finite.
We are coming to the end of this journey. Everything we do and we think about, may be for the last time.

I get these feelings quite often.
I'm constantly reminded that what's ahead is the end.

We can preserve these memories by writing them down, cherishing them properly, putting a ribbon around them and presenting them to our children and grandchildren, and generations still to come. Our humanity will be reflected in our stories and our words.

I teach a college class in Memoir Writing every winter or so.  (It all depends on funding!) I too reminisce and share my written pieces with the class, and so, lovingly and deliberately, I'm preserving  my gold pieces. 

Have you thought about writing your memoir?

Who will tell your story?

p.s. if you have not discovered my other blog, stop by, learn something new:

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A jump on Christmas.

This town
will celebrate Christmas
through Giving Trees, baskets give-a-way, can drives
residents to shop locally
the hardware shop, the movie theater
the art council, restaurants
the flower shop
the grocery store.

We'll all do our part to share what we have
to help and to care.

I thought about
what to give my grandchild
who needs nothing.

So, I did one thing just for her:
I started a blog to teach her what I know
in Italian.

You may remember that I grew up in Italy.
She is interested in learning Italian
and I can help.

If you too want to learn Italian with J.
hop along and check the new blog.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


L.A. is all about getting around, bypassing traffic, and not getting lost too badly.  On the way to the Palos Verdes Botanical Gardens we crossed the Vincent Bridge connecting Long Beach to San Pedro, and we got to see miles and miles of shipping vessels, containers and rigs. I had never seen so much commerce in any one place.  The bins are color coded, blue and red, one for sending, one for receiving.  Just a quick look tells me that we get most of our merchandise from China.

Our visit to the gardens was meant to fulfill a need my youngest son has to re-landscape his yard with native vegetation and water-wise methods.  The Palos Verdes Gardens provided inspiration.  We took dozens of pictures depicting various gardens, from all grasses, to a mixture of edibles and ornamental, as in the Mediterranean garden, full of herbs and fruit trees, my preference.

Our son will do all the work, has actually started the removal of the front lawn, and was waiting for his mom to give him some hints.  I had lots of ideas; but seeing the gardens in Palos Verdes cemented our thoughts.  I reminded him that his young lab will have to be trained or provided with his own play area, or everyone will be frustrated in no time. I discovered that plants in L.A. cost less than in Oregon. I purchased some citrus trees at half price to take home with me.  The sales tax in California is almost ten percent. Fruit trees as all food are not taxed. Lucky me.  We have no sales taxes in Oregon, but our property taxes and income taxes are comparable.

ANOTHER ANNOYANCE:  At a gas station in California, you have to pump your own gas!

When we left California last Saturday, we had only one thing still to do: eat at a fancy restaurant in wine country.  So, we planned to be in Healdsburg, north of San Francisco for lunch on Sunday.  We ate at the Healdsburg Hotel, whose restaurant is run by Charlie Parker.  Healdsburg and all of wine country shops and restaurants are to California as Provence is to France. Wineries and famous restaurants dot the countryside. At a very leisurely pace, with wine to match each course, we indulged and admired the beautiful people sitting next to us and strolling by.  The weather was a balmy 70+ degrees, out on the patio.

By Monday evening when we pulled into our driveway, we had time to stroll down to our waterfront garden, pick some arugula and watercress for dinner, admire the sunset, and finish our day with a Thanksgiving sigh.  We were back to normal.