Monday, June 28, 2010

Home Sweet Home!

I'm home. Back from Eugene and Portland, back to my bed, my kitchen, my garden, my port, my loads of laundry, my....

You get the idea.

For the last three weeks, I was in learning mode and nursing mode:

1. Learn to plan, shop and cook vegan meals.
2. Organize items and tasks that could be done without bending or stretching for my daughter who is recuperating.  Organize kitchen cupboards, especially, since she is the main cook in her household.
3. Set rules. Yes, adult children will listen to Mothers as necessary for recuperation.

I did miss my home, my routines and my wonderful Hubby who had to fend-read pick up take-out-without me.  Oh the damage to his diet!

When I returned five pounds lighter, full of energy and vigor, he was speechless.  How is it that you went up and down stairs, cooked and slaved and are in better shape than you were? He asked.

I learned something new, I told him. Something about eating that I thought was just a fad. I learned that one can be thoughtful about eating, and not feel hungry or deprived.
Well, only once, actually.
It was an evening when I cooked pasta with caponata, and I missed my parmesan cheese topping.  Then, I learned something from my daughter, who came to the rescue by whipping up a nut/lemon zest concoction to sprinkle on top of the pasta that made the dish sing Mamma Mia! 

From now on, I told Hubby, we are eating more vegetables, a lot more.

Good thing he likes vegetables. Good thing he trusts my cooking. Good thing he is patient with me.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Love What You Have.

It's when you no longer have things that you miss them. See this beautiful rhody? We, in the Northwest take these bushes-trees for granted. They are everywhere, native to this area. They bloom for months with hardly any care. Best of all, they are ignored by the wildlife, making them prime landscape choice for front, unfenced gardens as mine is.  Picture then, a cluster of these and their cousins, azaleas, all in different colors, taking your eyes from here to there in a firework of colors.  You'd love coming home to this, right?

Not so fast.

We are constantly looking at ways to subtract rhodies' presence and introduce some exotic plant that has no business being here. In my case, I'd so want to grow more mediterrenean shrubs of lemon, orange, fig.

Crazy girl!

When I lived in Italy, I didn't appreciate those bushes much. Figs? No way.  Too messy, too prolific, too many birds around.  Now, I'm dreaming of terracing my front gravel driveway, (find another place to land the car), wall it with stones, create a warm place to grow my nascent collection of indoor mediterrenean shrubs. I can see myself serving lemonade to my astounded friends, under a glassed dome, the sun, when it does peek, smiling assuredly at us in our woolens, and so on and so on...

It's the Paradise of my dreams. When we lived in California and I could have such a terrace, I had no time to garden; my energies went to my work and my family.  In my dreams, I put these things in priority as my ideal place for retirement: access to water, room to garden, small community to get involved in.  I have all three, and more. 

You'd think my Paradise is already here.

Most days, I think that too.

Then, Signor Serpente sneaks in the garden and talks to me about figs and lemons and warm climates and..........

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Every living thing has a life span. Even non-living things, machines, houses. They do also. The natural wear and tear, use and misuse,  all contribute to a life span.  We grieve when a life ends. Yet, we partake of nuts and berries and see the natural progression of life from seed to seed without regret, without questioning the rhythm of these things. 

Sometimes projects have a life span. They can't propell themselves past a certain stage. They lose their luster, their reason for living. People tire of them; people move on to other things.

Relationships have a life span. Have you ever lost a good friend? That person, somehow moved on to other connections.  It's a miracle that we have life-long relationships, as we change and need stimulation and support in different modes in our life time.

Two of my three blogs are ending.  I'm glad they were alive and vibrant for the months I could concentrate on them. They served their purpose. But, it is time for me to do other things, to find other connections.

Sometimes, in blogland, people leave, or drop out without telling you. We are never truly open with anyone, are we? We don't write our last comment when we are ready to leave:
"I have enjoyed following you. However, dear ...., some other blog is beckoning. Ciao!"

With each encounter, as we experience its newness, we are eager to establish rapport, common interests. We become young again, complimentary, kind and considerate to each other.  Then, the newness begins to wear out, pass through the "I heard this before" stage.

Everything has a lifespan. 

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day!

Happy Father's Day, Dad.
YOu are the reasons we are so strong.
No matter what mess we are in, you rescued us and told us you too made those mistakes when you were young.
You told us to look up and walk tall.
You told us to never take our eye off the ball.
You told us to face the bullies.
You showed us how to keep our tools looking new.
You took the garbage out and never once said it wasn't your job.
You drove us everywhere we needed to go; and places we wanted to go.
You taught us to drive, with a stick-shift, so we wouldn't get too comfortable with speed.
You taught us to do a good job, whether we liked it or not.

No matter how old we are, we feel whole and safe, knowing you are there watching out for us.
We love you, Dad.

For all you fathers, these and more are the thoughts your children have today. That tie you receive is the tie that binds us, the symbol we all jokingly pull out for this occasion.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Learning from the past and the future.

When I was young, we didn't have too many choices of food. We ate what Dad could grow on the farm/vineyard. In summer, there was plenty of fresh food; in winter, there were both conserved food and dried food.  We ate the same dish every day of the week. On Monday, pizza and a salad. Monday was bread-making day and while the bread was waiting to be baked at the town's ovens, pizza pans were slipped in and out quicklyand could be retrieved in no time, providing sustenance for that day.  No, it was not the pizza that Naples is famous for.  It was  a home adaptation necessary to keep the family fed for the day.

And yes, pizza would be eaten morning, noon, or night, instead of bread.  So, Monday was pizza mostly, Tuesday was minestrone, Wedn. was pasta and another legume, Thu. was meat day, Friday fish day, Sat. pasta with seasonal greens. On Sunday we feasted, with pasta and tomato sauce with meat.

My point is that we were never full. We were always looking to have that piece of bread with tomatoes and olive oil known as bruschetta and served as an appetizer.  For us, it could be breakfast, lunch or dinner. (Should you be curious to find out more about my early childhood growing up in war torn Italy of WWII, visit my memoir blog: When I Was Your Age  A Memoir.)

Sixty years later, and  my new family is cursed not with scarsity, but with abundance. Too many choices, too many opportunities to indulge and make the wrong choices

I never worried about dieting until my children came along. From the time I had them, everyone was talking about what to feed them, how often, how much.  My instincts took over many times, thank God. I chose to breastfeed before La Leche League made it acceptable, chose to make all my own baby food by blending what we were eating and freezing it in ice-cube trays, and serving a variety of fresh produce as often as I could.  It didn't hurt at all that we lived in California and in Florida those years, where fresh food is available year round.

Instincts and experience help a whole lot, letting you know what direction to move.
With the internet, with plenty of books, we can learn about nutrition and health and live well into our nineties. 

Our parents never had it this good. They never had so many choices, and so many resources.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Eating Choices--(Eating for Living Well)

Those of you who want to eat more thoughtfully might start with these premises:

1. know the source of your food, where  and how is it raised. Visit your local farmer's market more often.

2. select the freshest, nutritionally rich elements, the darkest vegetables, the richest in minerals and trace nutrients and prepare them simply: sautee in good oils, add salt sparingly, try simple seasonings such as orange or lemon juices.

3. go for variety, of color, texture, taste, smell.

4. add new grains, new foods, the less processed, the better.
5. get to know your providers. Support local farms and ranches. If you do, they can make a living, and your community thrives together.

The toughest element in preparing healthy meals is striving for variety. I had made a list of ingredients I wanted to have at hand for impromptu assembly-this is the way I cook-plus ingredients called for in recipes. By Wednesday, I was running out of ideas. So, for dinner, last night, I opened a frozen vegan meal to serve,called Orange Chicken. I had brown rice I cooked to go with the split pea soup at lunch, I had chick-pea salad for dinner. I wanted something else.

Bad idea. The Thing was awful; I threw it away; I didn't even feed it to the dog.

Today, asian slaw with peanuts and sesame seeds,  a tortilla wrap with avocado, carrot slivers,veggie burger patty and pico de gallo with lots of fresh cilantro. Bananas and peanut butter for dessert.

For dinner, parsley noodles with mushrooms, green salad with pine nuts and pesto dressing.  For dessert, cranberry walnut muffins, made with no butter and no eggs, but with flax seed whipped up with water to resemble and act as a binder. Clever, these vegans!

Do I need a recipe book? Yes, if I am new, inexperienced and need ideas.I needed to follow the recipe to bake without eggs and butter and white flour.

Go ahead, do one thing today.
Check the egg carton. How far do those eggs travel?

Now, if you hate planning and cooking your food, you better be rich and smart. Rich, so you can choose the establishments that will whip up your meals to your liking; and smart, to research and eliminate those establishments that do not care to feed you in a healthy way.

Sure, you have your preferences.
You love certain foods and will not give them up.
Ask yourself, how am I treating this machine-body of mine?

Tomorrow, I have no clue. I'm running out of ideas. Amy sent me an edemame recipe that I tried and loved! Thanks Amy. I am looking for variety here. I cook Italian most of the time. I need inspiration from other places.

Thanks in advance!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

New Tricks: Eating Vegan

I'm three hours from the blustery coast, where two coats, a hat, and gloves are de rigeur. I'm in Eugene, inland, staying at my daughter's while she is recouperating.  (BTW Thank you for asking, she is doing great!). It was 80 degrees on Sunday. You would not have recognized me in short sleeves.

I'm cooking for her and her husband: both vegans. Most people in Oregon accept and embrace this way of life without animal products.

When I think of eating vegan, I panic. Literally.  How does one cook without animal products? How does one get flavors one is used to? How does one get all the nutritional balanced meals on the table with such restrictions?

My first thought is always this: I will starve under these conditions.

The truth is, five days into this experiment, I do not miss anything. I am feeling great; I'm not hungry between meals and I'm not missing my burger fix.  My plan had been to run off in the evenings to a drive-in and fill up on animal protein. I have abandoned that thought completely.

So far, our meals have been complete with a variety of food, flavor, texture and eye appeal.  It took a bit of research and thoughtful planning; but, I'm happy to report, everyone is happy.

At lunch, yesterday we had shitaki mushrooms/vegetable soup with pita chips, a garden fresh salad with boiled and marinated edemame, and melon for dessert.

For dinner, couscous salad with broccoli, red onion, cucumber, green onions, parsley and dried cherries, followed by a garden burger with sauteed peppers. Apples for dessert.

I could list the meals we had on previous days. My point is to admit that this experiment is going very well; I'm sleeping well; I feel full of energy.

More importantly, my  daughter is loving that someone is cooking for her.  

On today's menu:

Lunch--leftover shitake soup and chickpea salad.

Dinner-Baked shells, stuffed with tofu, parsley, olive oil, garlic, topped with a marinara sauce and toasted bread crumbs. Avocado and arugula salad.
For dessert, whole wheat walnut muffins made with apple sauce and a product called egg substitute from Red Mills.

To make my job easier, I shopped at Whole Foods, a gourmet specialty shop that caters to localvores and vegetarians.  The place has an entire section of bulk foods, including a product I never knew existed, flaked nutritional yeast, something my daughter swears by. I got lost in the produce section; looked in awe at all the choices of products available to this lifestyle.

The best part of all this? I'm now convinced that this is not a fad; it is a thoughtful lifestyle, where eveything that is ingested is carefully selected for its wholesomeness and nutritional boost.

This old dog needs to shed a few pounds and learn some new tricks.

We are never too old to try something new.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

New Tricks: Part Two

This is my stove top. I have everything at my fingertip here, including all sizes of Le Cruset cookware, an anniversary gift from Hubby.

But I'm not home cooking for me and hubby. I'm at my daughter's,  and she and her husband are vegans. She is recuperating and I am here to help.

Yesterday was my first attempt at creating delicious dishes by studying recipes and adapting to whatever was in the fridge. Here is the menu I came up with:

Breakfast: cereal and soy milk
Lunch: Salad, garden fresh arugula and assorted greens; eggplant terrine, apple crisp.
Dinner: Farro with a sauce of caramellized onions, pinto beans, hot salsa; strawberry smoothie

The remarkable thing is not that I came up with this menu; the remarkable thing was the way I invented the eggplant terrine. Here is my version of the recipe, with ingredients I had at hand.

Ingredients: eggplant, tofu, onions, minced garlic, breadcrumbs, mushrooms, olives, tomato sauce, olive oil, basil.

Preheat overn at 375F.
1.  cut the eggplant in half and scoop out its interior. Chop tofu and marinate in salad dressing.
2.  saute the onions, garlic, mushrooms and eggplant interior in olive oil.  I set the concoction aside and added olives, breadcrumbs, tofu. Salt and pepper.
3. In the same pan that I sauteed the onion mixture, I added another tablespoon of oil and sauteed the eggplant boats, gently, turning them often, side to side to get tender but not brown.
4. Stuff the boats with the mixture of onions, mushrooms, etc.  Spoon tomato sauce lightly to cover the mixture. Add an additional T of olive oil.

Bake for 20'

Serve with slivers of fresh basil, alongside the green salad and crusty bread.
I want to rename it Eggplant Surprise.
It was most delicious!

I did not miss my parmesan cheese or my mozzarella either.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Old Tricks for New Dogs.

These are wild greens, grasses and bulbs that sprout everywhere. Once upon a time,  I would have foraged here, looking for onions, dandelions, malva.  I then would have parboiled the greens before tossing them in a pan with sizzling olive oil, garlic and peperoncino.  My dad, all through my childhood, would come home with things he found every time he went to the farm. For us, the farm was one of a few plots of land we cultivated.  Dad seemed to find something to bring home  for supper rain or shine, winter or summer. What he brought home became the star ingredient.

Mother didn't cook from recipe books. She would peruse the finds Dad brought home, add what she had on hand, be they beans or cheese, or something she had canned or pickled, and we had supper, with crusty bread and a jug of wine.

She spent her entire day sometimes preparing food. A rabbit or a wild boar would need plenty of time to simmer and get tender before it became fit to eat.  She had scores of jars with specialties she had conserved, from pickled eggplants to salted olives.  She would put a dash of this or that, depending on what she thought would enhance the dish.

I have no trouble doing the same improvisations when I cook.  I know what taste I'm looking for in the final stage.

There are people here in Oregon who can still do that: go into the woods and forage for a variety of mushrooms, leeks, fern heads, etc.  There are people who could live off the land with no trouble at all.  I met a young Eugene nurse, at the city's premier hospital, the other day, who hunts  all his meat. He uses a bow and arrow, in some cases, to be more sportive, more fair minded about his prey.  He may have to buy the condiments at the local supermarket, but the meat he'll barbecue will come from his labors. Elk, deer, cougar. There are limits to how many animals he can catch, and when he can hunt, and he knows these rules. He also knows how to get around them, if he needs to.

We all need to maintain these skills, have the practical knowledge to survive and to provide for our sustenance.

My mother had two concoctions for getting rid of colds. Here they are for your enjoyment.

1. Hot Water, lemon and orange slices, honey.  Drink often and within 24 hours your cold will be gone.

2. Hot wine, preferably red, orange slices, honey. Sip slowly and your chest will clear up in no time.

Friday, June 11, 2010


There are dog walkers, and bikers on this stretch of riverfront this particular morning.  Portland is surrounded by two major rivers, one dividing it, this one in the picture, the Willammette, flowing south to north, joining the mighty Columbia at the north side of the city.  Both rivers are navigable by ships, boats, and other water craft.  The Columbia, as most of you know, is the more famous, longer and bigger, starting its journey in Canada, traversing territories and picking up tributaries for hundreds of miles until it reaches the Pacific.  The Lewis and Clark expedition, the first major government-sponsored exploration of the Northwest back in the 1800's was up in these areas, moving west from Missouri to Astoria and Long Beach Peninsula in Washington State. They arrived at the mouth of the Columbia in winter.  The soldiers and explorers were in much distress because of the constant rain and blustering winds. This kind of weather is not for the weak-bodied or weak-minded.

Portland is a hip city, full of college students, Intel and Nike employees, musicians, artists  and foodies.  It has great restaurants, a wonderful music scene, and plenty of things to do, see and buy.

We'll be spending time with our children in Eugene in the next few days. Eugene, in the middle of the state, is a mini Portland.

In the next few posts, I will attempt to prepare vegan meals. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Portland, Oregon

I'm visiting Portland, to soak up some city life athmosphere, good food, and young vibes.  This view is from my hotel room right on the Willamette River.  The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is across the river. Enjoy the walk on the river banks.

Portlans is a bike-friendly place. One can ride everywhere. Or boat.

Portland never fails to offer some new things to experience.  I will be posting more pictures in the next few posts, as well as some attempts at cooking vegan meals.

All help is appreciated.

Friday, June 4, 2010


Cooking takes up a lot of time. Not just the preparation and the actual selection of ingredients. Figuring out what to cook takes a lot of energy too.

When women talk, they will invariably describe the meal they cooked or the meal they were served. We are constantly preoccupied with what to serve, how to shop, when to shop, how much time and energy all this will take from our lives. Discovering an easy to prepare nutritious meal, something that will satisfy everyone at home, this discovery will make our day.

When I was a working mom, a teacher/administrator for forty years, and had to hustle to get to work and avoid freeway troubles, being organized and prepared for all eventualities, cooking a meal every evening was a big chore.  I could barely stand at the end of the day. 

Fortunately for me, I had learned to create simple meals that were nutritious and delicious, as the minestrone that can be made ahead, and can be frozen for future meals. If you enjoy these cook ahead recipes, I will add a few more in the future.

Ingredients for four servings:

2 cans of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (White Navy beans will work as well)
1 can of stewed tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved
1C chicken stock
2 cloves of garlic, mashed
2 T olive oil
2T chopped parsley, or basil
2T grated parmesan cheese
1C chopped cabbage
1C diced carrots
1C diced celery

The entire process will take you ten minutes. The meal will be ready in twenty. 

In a deep pot, saute' the garlic in olive oil, add the carrots and celery and saute' until soft.
Add the drained tomatoes.  Cook, at medium heat, breaking up the tomatoes for a few minutes. Add the liquid from the tomatoes and the chicken stock. Add the beans, the cabbage and the parsley. Reduce heat and simmer until the vegetables are soft enough to your liking.

Serve in a soup bowl with  parmesan cheese and chunky bread.
Freeze any leftovers.

Note: my mother would have cooked the beans from scratch, and added potatoes and ditalini pasta as well. But then, she had all day to get this to the table.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

How the Past Reasserts Itself

I didn't need Memorial Day to remember the people in my life who sacrificed for me. In our immediate family, we have relatives who served in just about every major war.  Between us, my husband and me, we can list grandfathers, uncles, brothers, all having served in the military.  In my case, my grandfather Paolo, sitting here with my infant mother on his lap, received a leg wound that troubled him for the rest of his life, changing the children's fortunes, and their children's fortunes and destinies.

My uncle Ted was a prisoner of war during World War II, surviving seven years or so of captivity under the British, in India. Yes, he was an Italian soldier fighting in North Africa, captured and taken to India as a prisoner until the end of the war.  Had he been captured by the Russians or the Germans, he might not have survived captivity.   He learned English and learned to paint, enough English to help him emigrate to America as a student at the end of the war. He paved the way for me to come to America as well.

Somebody does something; and the results from that event are immesurable.

My mother used to say, "Every spit counts !" She meant, everything counts.

It was this portrait of my grandparents that pushed me to write my memoirs. I was fascinated by the tall woman and the crippled man I never met. Who were they? How did they influence my mother's philosophy? How did they influence me?  (Should you be interested read: Memoir )

We are our past.
We are our accumulated thoughts and achievements.
We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors.

Everything you do today is because somebody in your life influenced you.

I will cook minestrone today, the way my mother made it when she was barely big enough to stand with a big knife and chop up the vegetables.  I'll remember what she added, and when she added each ingredient. She would taste the food constantly, adding a pinch of this, a strand of that.

I grow rosemary, thyme, oregano and basil every year. Today's minestrone will have fresh basil leaves and a walnut size chunk of parmigiano simmering with the vegetables. These are not recipes as we have come to know them.These are cultural markers.

The past still lives in our hearts and souls.