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Change.

“By changing our thinking, we change our lives”. This is the sentence I found this morning peeking at me from behind a refrigerator magnet, I remember finding it last year on a tea bag, and thinking: “hmm this sounds interesting, let me put it on the fridge as a reminder that change can happen” and yes, indeed, it can. I can. You can.

 

Ever since last Summer or more like Fall, I started feeling antsy in my skin and all the sentences written pretty much everywhere, Facebook, Instagram, books and so on exhorting me to wake up and realize that it was time for me to expect more from myself started to make sense, and the letters of these sentences started crawling inside my ears and from there inside my head and at some point they were so many, jam crammed in there, that I could not fall asleep at night.

 

I kept thinking about when fourteen years ago, sitting on that bus in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, going from campus to my house, I made the decision to quit my studies, and quit graduate school. By then my daughter Sophia was already one year old and my burning desire to be spending most of my days next to her, watching how her next little tooth was going to push its way out of her pretty rose gums, to watch from behind where her endless wonderings in the park would lead her, pouring over baby cook books to find the best, most delicious and nutritious recipes to go in her tummy was all I cared about. The idea of having to spend days, weeks, months away from her while she was unfolding to this beautiful life under the eyes of someone else that it wasn’t her Mama in some day care, while I was building my brilliant career else where, just did not feel right, the thought did not fill my heart with joy, nor it sounded like fun.

 

On the other hand, what did sound like joyful fun was to hold her little hand through the awakening to her new life, and learn so much from her. To simplify my life to strive to what it is really essential, and the first thing that came to my mind back then was love. Love for my young family, my beautiful daughter, my friends, and starting from that day on I decided to put all my love and passion into building a delicious life. I wanted to be there for who needed me, I wished for a slow life in which there was always time for a cup of tea with a friend, time for a hand written letter for someone far in distance but close to my heart, time for knitting a soft blanket for my new baby on the way or for my best friend, time for baking cakes, making bread at home, wandering through farmer’s market, gardening together while singing, this was what back then was  making my heart joyful. So I did it.

 

“I want to be there for others”, I thought, and since what we think we become, so it happened. I must say that it was great fun, I had wonderful long talks with extraordinary friends I had the luck to meet along my path, I learned so much and shared so much. Life kept on going, years went by, major things changed and “being there” turned into something more than I could chew. But nothing is by chance, things got to be “too much” simply because it was time for change, to flip the page, and start a new chapter. Everything has a beginning and an ending. Life comes in cycles. This thought reminds me of Edison’s words: “Discontent is the first necessity of progress”. When we are discontent, unhappy, dissatisfied with an area of your life, that means that progress and evolution are about to happen within you. You are about to learn and to grow, therefore to make a change. You just need to let it happen. Let the new you be born. Push the new you out, no matter how challening this might feel.

 

If we look at life through this lens, it all makes sense, do not blame discontent or even depression or frustration, all of them exist to help us understand life. They work as guard rails, when we go off our road too much we touch the guard rails and it hurts, right? In the same way works our brain: if you stay on the track that is right for you, in which you give and receive in equal parts, your needs are fulfilled, and you feel appeased, you will not bump into the guard rail and you will most likely not experience things like frustration, and depression. When we get into these vortices we tend to blame ourselves: we are not good enough, we cannot understand situations, etc. In fact, the contrary is true: we are too good, and we understand things more that others, we simply do not fit in a mold given to us by someone else any more. We must trust our gut and move on towards where it feels comfortable to us, without paying attention to what others say to us, because most likely people will try to advice you based on their personal experience, which might be totally wrong in your life setting. Do not listen to fear, pick up all your courage and go toward your destiny boldly. We must be the guardians of our well-being, and keep safe our own inner balance.

 

There is an amazing level of potential within all of us, unrealized, undiscovered, hidden. Deep down , in the depths of our soul we all know this, we all could use more love, more creativity, and more joy in our lives to reach up high and find the us we are meant to be, our highest self. The good news is he/she is very patient and never stops hoping and waiting for us to become one.

 

 

Unfolding

This 2018 is revealing itself to be quite an interesting year, a lot of newness in my life is happening right now. After a long phase of having put my brain and life on hold, once again, I recently looked in the mirror one day and heard something saying: “where have you been, good to see you again, I have been waiting for you, because I knew that I was going to see you here again soon”.  I suppose that was the voice of my conscience, my poor old conscience, so patient with all my mood swings, which do not last a day or two in my case, but rather a year or two, or even more. Here I am again, looking at myself straight in the eyes, and trying to pick up my pieces and start anew, a new chapter, a new phase of growth.

I feel it coming every time, I start to feel uncomfortable, the world around me is all of a sudden too tight, too suffocating, too small, and everything that surrounds me is a sign that it is time for change, for growth, for the next level. When I heard the first time the sentence “transform obstacles into opportunities” I thought : “yes, right, whatever, another of those smart ass sentences, impossible to put into practice”. Instead, I must say today, that it is indeed a very brilliant sentence so deep and true in meaning. Naturally, living an authentic and raw life isn’t easy, but noting easy is worth doing, and where there is no challenge there is no success. One must be willing to move beyond the comfort zone in order to live a successful life.

What do I mean by successful life? I mean a life lived in the way I want, being able to be free to do the things that make me happy, that liberate me, that take me in the direction of my dreams, using the senses as my internal compass. Real success is knowing that you did your best at anything you are trying to do. Trust your gut. Trust yourself. Take small steps. Relax. Pay your bills. Things are going to work out. Patience. Set your intention. Things arrive when they are supposed to. Just like fruit falls off the tree when it’s perfectly ripe.  The whole life is a journey to be enjoyed, and viewed as an amazing chance to unfold, through the discovery of our path. We cannot waste our lives working at jobs that just allow us to get money, life is too short to be used that way, life must be lived with the intention to find one’s vocation and mission. Our senses will lead us to our dreams.

Success takes us to freedom, but what do we exactly mean by freedom? Well, I believe that just like about anything in life also the concept of freedom is relative. For me freedom has always been very important and I realize that I dedicated all my existence to gain more and more freedom slowly but surely in every aspect. How has the meaning of freedom evolved in my mind? At age 15, freedom was represented by having a boyfriend, at age 20 freedom was represented by traveling, and living on my own away from home. At age 30 freedom was having and building a family the way I wanted. At age 35 freedom meant getting to meet myself as a woman, a mother, a goddess. Freedom to be my wild self. Free to be me. At age 40 freedom means financial freedom. Free to run after my dreams and live the life I want. Free from scarcity, free from that feeling of not having enough. The feeling of scarcity is the cause of a lot pain, distress, and anxiety, and these are all mental states that bring us farther from our soul, farther from peace.

I was impressed the other day listening to Oprah Winfrey’s interview to writer Cheryl Strayed, who I love. Oprah asked a very profound question to Cheryl: “What do you think is the biggest obstacle to peace?”. Cheryl thought for a moment and then turned towards Oprah and said: “Scarcity”. Scarcity can occur in any field of life: scarcity of love, money etc. but all these cause the same effect: a sense of loss of power, and in most cases these people will devote their existence to regaining that power, they will direct their energy to hold power instead of sharing love. Sharing love causes freedom, holding onto power causes slavery of the soul. When you are free and happy you attract abundance and the Universe will show you the way. Never hesitate to dare. Run after your dreams and there you can find the life meant for you. Never for a moment let fear stop you or slow you down, fear exists to be defeated, use caution to go in the direction were you feel at home, where your heart beats, because it is only there and with that happy and fulfilled state of mind that you can serve your purpose in this world.

With much Love.

Christmas Good-bye: tasty cookies to greet the New Year

Christmas. The Holidays. Now that another year has gone by and I have added more living to my life, I open my eyes bigger, open my heart wider, to the understanding of this miracle called existence. I have been thinking a lot about the meaning of this time of the year. The darkest meteorologically  speaking, and yet the brightest, the most festive out of the twelve months. What is the meaning of Christmas? The slowing down of all the regular activities, the clearing time to reflect, ponder, draw conclusions sitting in a dark room lit only by the four candles of the advent wreath? This is a time during which feelings come to the surface, and make themselves be seen and heard. All those feelings that during the rest of the year remain hidden and asleep among the folds of our brain, now wake up and look at us straight in the eyes. I will never forget sitting in the class room during my Waldorf teacher training in Michigan and talking about the topic of the holidays, one of the teachers put it in a very brilliant way, which I haven’t forgotten ever since. She said: “Christmas is a time to feel”.

This process isn’t easy for many of us, one of these characters, for whom Christmas is a miserable time of the year is the famous Grinch. He hates Christmas! Why? Because his heart one size too small. Joy, togetherness, celebration, are hard to swallow for those of us who learned that these things are painful because they are nowhere in their lives. Christmas is the celebration of love, and it must be certainly hard to celebrate something you have or have had problems with, in most cases, your whole life. It must be hard to celebrate something you do not understand, but that your intuition says that it would feel good, warm, welcoming, sweet. You convince yourself that it must feel good, because wherever you look, everyone else appears to be happy and joyful, or so it seems.

For me the Holiday Season has always been joyful, and if I were to answer to the question: “what does Christmas mean to you?” I would answer: magic. The anticipation colors everything gold. Christmas is the time of the year during which everything is transformed, the adults become children again and star-dust lands on people’s hearts. Music in the streets, the scent of freshly baked sweets, the lights everywhere, and then Santa Claus.

What is that phoney rumor that goes around saying that Santa Claus does not exist? I am certain of the fact that Santa Claus does exist, and not only he exists but also the whole magical world around him: the little wooden house in the woods in Lapland surrounded by the beautiful gigantic trees with the branches covered in snow, the hard-working elves busy getting the presents done to take to the lucky children all around the world, the rein deer, the freshly baked cookies, and the peace and joy so typical of this enchanted place.   The beauty of Christmas is to be found in the details: the many small lights in the dark, the smell of pine, the white candles, the excitement  for the snow, the urge in your heart to make a wish, Or better yet help make someone else’s wish come true, becuase this is the pefect season to give, give with a heart full of love and gratitude.

 

If we want for the New Year to be our best year yet let’s get up and move, let’s bring the light where there is darkness, this world badly needs more light. Let’s start with small changes, like a beautiful smile to wear everyday to give to random strangers on the street a slice of our sunshine, just like that, just for the love of the world. Let’s bring some healing where it is needed, warmth where there is cold, joy where there is sadness, light where there is darkness. How can we have a good start into this new 2018, how can we serve our life, our purpose the best?  We all have a purpose, our lives are not random conincidences. What is your word for 2018? A word to inspire yourself and others around you?

Empathy is a wonderful world for a New Year’s resolution. Empaty towards ourselves, respecting and honoring the point in life we are at and trust that that is the place we are supposed to be, trust the process of our life. Empathy towards others, getting rid of judgement and strive to meet the other with compassion.

 

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There is no better time than this for me to emphasize the importance of Empathy in this world. Trough understanding and compassion we can face the difficult situations of our lives, with the strength we gain we can learn to transform difficulties into opportunities in order to grow into a better version of ourselves. We need to have empathy in the first place towards ourselves. We need to remember to take good care of ourselves because we cannot give to others unless we give to ourselves first. This isn’t narcissism, this isn’t selfishness, this is a healthy approach that allows everyone of us to be balanced and strong enough to be of use to others.

 

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Do not forget to give yourself time, patience, mindfulness, ease, rest, pleasure, exploration and so on. Remember to give yourself some love everyday in order to make your light from within shine trough and be healing to the rest of the world. Make time for the people that matter to you, tell them what you feel for them, invite them over to your house, cook for and with them, bake cookies for and with them, make them feel important and loved. Christmas time just got to an end, on the 5th of January in Italy we celebrate a festivity called Befana, which is represented by and old lady who brings gifts to the good children and coal to the not so good ones. She arrives in the night on a flying broom. On Befana day it is custom for most families to bake cookies called Befanotti, they have colorful sugar candy on top and they taste just like my childhood.

 

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Befanotti Cookies

4 eggs (3 whole 1yolk)

500 gr flour

200 gr sugar

1 orange zest

1/2 cup anice liquor

1 and 1/2 stick butter

2 Tsp olive oil

1/2 stick vanilla bean

1 Tbs baking powder

 

Instructions:

Melt the butter in a sauce pan and let it cool. Mix all the ingredients starting with forming a volcano shape with the flour. Pour in the eggs, beat lightly. Add the baking powder, the sugar, the orange zest, the liquor, the oil, and the vanilla bean cut up in small bits. Make the dough into a ball and wrap it in seran paper. Set the ball in the fridge for at least one hour and up to 3 days. Once you remove the dough from the fridge, you are ready to make the cookies. Roll out and flatten the dough helping yourself with a rolling pin. Once all the shapes are ready brush with the remaing egg white on to the cookies, this will make them shiny once cooked and it will work as glue to fix the sugar candy on the top of our Befanotti. Enjoy the taste of this traditional sweet food, this recipe has been passed down from generations!

 

Cooking and Thinking: Tuscan Kale soup

The weather has gotten cold, Winter is here.

Winter is the time for reflection, nature invites us, in this season,  to turn away from the business of the world, turn inward, and begin to listen. Listen to the longings of our hearts. Just like the garden is quite at this time of the year while waits, rests, and listens.

Even though the rows of canned jars sit quietly on the shelves in the cellar, my kitchen is once more full of life and forever vibrating. Especially in the Winter it is so cozy to wake up to the smell of a baked breakfast and the warmth that it brings to the body and to the soul. My book, my faithful companion, speaks loudly to me while it invites me to reflection, as I sip my soy milk matcha.

 

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I need to “conjure up the feelings I want to feel”, this is what in this time I must learn. Yes, but trust me, it isn’t so easy. It isn’t easy to keep your chin up when cold wind keeps hitting your face, day after day, week after week, year after year. Thankfully I have always been strong and stubborn, I never let the events of life beat me down, but now, at times, I get tired and overwhelmed and then I remember the words in my book: “Surrender spiritually”. In order to live a free life you must commit to freedom, and this sounds easier than what in reality is. You have to identify your controlling and worrying habits as wrong, and furthermore, as the very reason of why you keep staying stuck on the wrong track not being able to find or tap into the bright energy of the Universe. Control and worry are an armour, that people raised in toxic environments, develop for self-protection. That environment is not the world outside, that feeling of powerlessness is not you, but it is simply there to be overcome, to be defeated and leave space to all the feelings of love, warmth, acceptance, caring that all of us deserve.

Ego seeks to divide and separate, spirit seeks to unify and heal. Judgment separates, compassion unifies. These are great words, which lead to reflection. In order to live a more authentic life you have to strive to replace judgment with compassion. All of us need a process during which to learn to approach people and situations with a more compassionate attitude, sort of like training our minds to see ourselves in the position of the person standing in front of us. Judgement is fed by fear, while compassion is fed by love. The Course in Miracles by Gabby Bernstein says: “every communication is either and extension of love or a call for love”. A lot of the unpleasant behaviour we see in people, it is nothing else but the result of fear, fear of the world all around. Aggressive folks are not strong or courageous, actually the opposite is true. Aggressive people are fearful and scared. Their aggressive attitude is the shield they erected as the response to an existence, which has been too invasive of their private field, invasive, sometimes brutally. This is why “The Universe has your back” at some point says: “attack is a call for help”. Judgment, therefore, is an emotional pain”.  “Attack, pain, fear , judgement, and any form of separation are calls for help”. Judgment, therefore, is an emotional pain that you want to relieve. as we said judgment is dictated by fear, and the presence of fear is, right there, your resistance to love. The way back to love is to surrender, to soften your facial features, feel the tension in your neck and shoulders, and letting go, finding a state of relaxation. This state of relaxation allows the loving energy of the Universe through you and gives you a state of peace and understanding that Oneness is our true nature. When the concept of “Oneness” is understood we realize that compassion is the key to emotional freedom. What is exactly this “Oneness”, that the spiritual teachers talk about? The Oneness to which they refer is our one desire to be happy and free. We all are in this together. Our presence or absence in other people’s life is not by chance, we must learn and teach respect by giving it and expecting it. By expecting respect we help people around us understand healthy boundaries. The same thing we teach to our children we should strive to find in the adult world. In our relationship with our spouse, our parents, our boss, our best friend, our neighbour: I begin where you end, you end where I begin.  Your pain is my pain, and your joy is my joy, because if we truly consider things we will notice that one’s loss is everyone’s loss and one’s win is everyone’s win. As we said, we are in this together.

We must be willing to shed odd patterns and open our arms to new ones, which will lead us to a new way of being. The transformation is not easy but the results will be stunning. Tension, stress, and negativity will clear the way to serenity, balance, peace, and positivity. When we approach life with a kind attitude, and start to see things through the eyes of love, life will answer in a more pleasant manner.

Pleasant just like the smell of hot soup simmering on the stove on a cold Winter day. Pleasant like the laughter of children, pleasant like the taste of delicious food. When I think of Winter food, I think of Zuppa Frantoiana, a hearty soup straight from the ancient Tuscan Tradition. A soup made with ingredients that you can find in the garden during the winter in Tuscany: cabbage, kale, potatoes, pumpkin and red beans.

 

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Zuppa Frantoiana with Kale and Squash (Traditional soup from Lucca, Italy)

 

If I were to pick the one soup that I thought was the most traditional, the most ancient, and the most typical of my hometown Lucca, Zuppa Frantoiana would certainly be the one! This is the soup that appears on all the menus of the most authentic and rustic restaurants. The name “frantoiana” means from the “frantoio”, the place where the olives are squeezed and made into olive oil. The soup has this name because it is always served topped with fresh, local extra virgin olive oil.

This recipe calls for fresh herbs, but dried will also work. As for the beans: I usually use Tuscan red beans (pinto beans could be a good alternative), which I soak overnight and then cook in water for 2 hours. This method makes the beans and the soup more digestible and the nutrients are more easily absorbed. If you find yourself in a pinch with time, canned beans will work fine.

 

Tip:

Every week I chose a legume, beans or lentils, that I soak overnight, usually on Sunday night. On Monday morning I rinse the legumes and place them in a crock pot and cook them for a few hours. I always put one long piece of Kombu or Wakame seaweed with my beans. This enriches their flavor and they, also, will be assimilated and processed by our digestive system more easily. This method of cooking the beans in a crock pot is very convenient.  If I have to leave the house for the day, I just set the heat on low. In this way I always have cooked ready beans in the fridge, ready to be used!

 

1 onion

3 cloves garlic

2 Tbsp fresh rosemary

2 Tbsp fresh sage

1 Tbsp fresh thyme

1 cup white wine

2 slices of pancetta or bacon

3 cups cooked pinto beans

3 cups cubed squash

5 big leaves kale  

Salt and Pepper

 

Serve with: 2 slices of toasted country bread with garlic

 

Pour olive oil in the pot, add diced onion and garlic, and minced herbs. Stirring often cook until onions start to wilt. Incorporate the pancetta or bacon and wine. Turn the heat to medium high and cook until the liquid is almost all absorbed. Incorporate the beans. If you are using beans that you soaked, add some of their juice. Add 2 Tbsp of salt and water, at least 6 cups.Cut the squash into cubes and add it to the soup. Cook for 30 minutes on medium low with the lid on the pot. Cut up the kale discarding the hard stems, the white part and keep the soft dark green leaves. Add to the soup and cook for 20 more minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Turn on the oven to 350 and on a baking sheet place several slices of bread (preferably homemade, or homemade style), consider two small slices or one big slice per person. When bread has turned golden on the edges remove from the oven and let it cool.  When bread is cooled enough to handle, cut a clove of garlic in half and brush lightly the bread slices with the half clove. This will infuse the bread with the tangy full flavor of garlic and it will exalt the taste of the soup. Cut the bread slices in chunks and place them in the plates. Pour soup on top. To complete your work of art, drizzle olive oil on the soup and “Buon Appetito!”  The steaming good flavor of the Tuscan countryside is being served on your table!

 

 

 

  

Food, foodie,foodlover: the 101 Ways to prepare Pumpkins

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Life is good, on a cold end of November morning, after waking up early taking a long exercise walk, and now sitting down at my desk with a steaming hot cup of chai tea. I am about to start doing one of the things I love the most, along with baking, cooking, reading: blogging! Today’s topic, I chose to be pumpkins, so that with this marvellous, and orange gift from nature we can wrap up the posts on Fall and enter, starting with the next one into Winter. This morning, after my walk, I went to one of my favorite shops, one of those with all kinds of nifty things for  crazy homemakers like I am. I spent a good half hour in the aisle dedicated to Christmas, and since I am in love with everything that has to do with Christmas I stood there pretty much like Alice in wonderland admiring all the lovely things that I realized right there I could no longer live without: Santa Claus mugs, candles of all colors, Christmas lights, Cookie jars, advent wreath decoration and all kinds of lovely trinkets. From there I moved to the baking aisle, where I found a few items I had been looking for a while: a small, round and tall baking pan, a few sugar decorations, and Christmas theme cookie cutters. Looking at these new things, put me in a great baking mood and I started fantasizing  about all the things to bake. The first thing that came to mind was Chocolate Pumpkin cake! Pumpkin is just the icon of Fall and also Winter here in Tuscany. We grow big long round pumpkins in our garden, it is a delight to watch them unfold during the whole summer and admire its beautiful big yellow flowers with is silk like petals. Pumpkin, just like all orange vegetables is a very healthy food, rich in vitamin A among the many other proprieties. It is a very versatile food, which can be enjoyed savory and sweet.  In this case we will start with a sweet version: chocolate pumpkin cake!

 

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Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cake

 

Ingredients:

300 gr of Pumpkin pulp

4 eggs

100 gr brown Sugar

1 pinch of Salt

1/2 Organic Lemon

100 gr Dark Chocolate 70%

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

100 gr Whole Spelt Flour

1 tsp baking powder

 

Turn on the oven at 350 degrees F. Butter the pan. Cut up the chocolate in bits not too small.

Grate the pumpkin.

Beat the eggs with the sugar, and the salt. Mix the batter with an electric beater until it turns lighter in color. Add the lemon zest and the lemon juice.

Add the cinnamon, flour, baking powder and the chocolate chips. Mix a few times, but do not over stir. Bake until the top looks brown and the inseted tooth-pick comes out dry.

 

This is a really delicious recipe, perfect on a cold winter afternoon to savor with some hot tea or coffee.

 

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Another way to use pumpkin in the kitchen is to prepare a pot-licking good risotto. This is a traditional recipe in Tuscany. I still remember when my grandmother woud make it, that unforgettable flavor and that charcteristic smell that filled the whole kitchen while she was cooking it.

 

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Risotto alla Zucca  (Squash risotto)

 

I warmly recommend to soak the rice overnight, in this way the rice will be more digestable and all its’ nutrients will be easily absorbed)

¾ cup of olive oil

3 cups  short grain organic brown rice

1 large onion

3 cloves of garlic

¾ cup of white wine

1 medium butternut squash (or pumpkin)

2 vegetable stocks (I recommend the swiss brand Rupunzel, that you can find at most health food stores) or homemade stock (see recipe below)

parsley

walnuts (optional)

gorgonzola cheese (optional)

parsley

Soak the rice overnight. Cut the squash in cubes. In a sauce pan boil 10 cups of water and add the vegetable stock, and let simmer. If are using homemade broth or stock for this recipe, heat it up and bring it to a gentle boil.

Cut the onions up along with the garlic, move them to a dutch oven and let sautee on medium-low flame in the olive oil until the onions look wilted. Stir and turn the heat to medium high for 3 minutes, when onions and garlic are sizzling  add ¾ of a cup of white wine and the squash then turn the heat back down to medium. When the onion looks translucent and the wine has mostly evaporated add the rice. Stir everything together and add the broth to generously cover the rice, put the lead on the pot and let cook for 10 minutes on medium-low heat. After 10 minutes check the risotto regularly to make sure to add more broth every time the rice has absorbed the previous quantity. Every time add enough to cover the rice and stir. Cook for 45 minutes. Towards the end check the rice yourself, you are the best judge for its readiness since most likely you will be eating it. The rice should be soft but keep some body in the middle.

While the rice cooks, if you wish, roast the walnuts for 5 minutes at 350 in the oven.    

Stir the rice and the squash which at this point will certainly be cooked soft and tender and will embrace the rice in a silky blanket of orange pulp. At this point if it is your choice incorporate the parsley.

Serve the risotto and top with lightly roasted walnuts and crumbled gorgonzola cheese. Oh so yummy!! Risotto is pumpking is for sure and evergreen just like the silken pumpkin soup with strips of smocked speck o top along with some freshly squeezed olive oil, salt and pepper.

 

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Zuppa di Zucca (Pumpkin soup)

 

This is the smell of autumn in the kitchen! Before I went to the U.S. and fell in love with the smell of cooked apples with cinnamon, the smell, shape, and color of the pumpkin was for me the symbol of the end of Summer. By mid-October the pumpkins in my father’s patch had absorbed all those juicy summer sun rays and they were now ready to give all of their flavor into my mother’s cooking. Enjoy the velvety texture that will melt in your mouth!

 

Ingredients:

1 onion (meium to big size)

2 clove of garlic

olive oil

1 stock or bouillion

3 cups of cut up pumpkin

2 medium size potatoes

 

Cut the onions up along with the garlic, move them to a dutch oven and let sautee on medium-low flame in the olive oil until the onions look wilted. Stir and turn the heat to medium high for 3 minutes, when onions and garlic are sizzling  add ¾ of a cup of white wine and the pumpkin, then turn the heat back down to medium. When the onion looks translucent and the wine has mostly evaporated add the stock, and slowly after the cut up potatoes. Fill the pan with water, just enough to cover the vegetables, let it simmer up to one hour. After all the ingredients are well cooked and flavorful blend them into a smooth velvety texture. In a skillet cook the speck till it’s crispy and then add to the soup. Sprinkle it all with some freshly squeezed olive oil, and serve with some grilled home made bread. Nice and crunchy. Buon Appetito!

 

Cooking Wisdom: The ancient flavor of Chestnuts

While the Autumn days are fading, and slowly melt into the mellower and more subdued moods of Winter, cold air starts to regularly visit from the north, while dense morning fogs cover the meadows. “As the sun withdraws toward its Winter home in the south, I feel my inner light stirring, calling up forces of strength and courage. The playful wind in the Fall whirled the glowing leaves around before dropping them to the ground. Piled on top of each other they create a colorful blanket to cover and protect the life beneath”.

These are the beautiful words by Anne-Marie Fryer Wiboltt extracted from her inspirational book called Cooking for the Love of the World. I eagerly read her sentences and they sound like music to my ears. The way in which she describes the seasons is so poetic that I cannot refrain myself from sharing it with you all. As she goes on talking about the arrival of Winter she writes: “The trees, getting ready for a deep winter rest, stand majestic and strong as they let go of what is needed no longer. Their bare branches reach to the lowering golden sun. Each branch, holding buds containing every tiny leaf for next year’s growth, assures me that there is no end without a new beginning”.

Observing nature we can learn so much about life, about how easy and simple living could be if only we would slow down and pay attention to our inner wisdom. If we were to silence all the outside noise of our every day life and we were to use the cold season as a chance to reflect, take it easy and draw in to start to listen more to our inner  voice. As we start to master the ability to get in contact with our ancestral wisdom, we learn to recognize the messages that guide us towards the right direction, the direction we are meant to follow. As things start to make sense we develop a sense of serenity, as opposed to stress and anxiety, a sense of peace and well-being, as opposed to uncertainty and precariousness, we start to live in a state of mind. When this happens we become the instruments of positive energy and this allows to our lives to turn for the better.Good and positive thoughts start to inhabit your mind, and this will start to reflect on who you are. The inside light will be visible on the outside and you will manifest what Dr. Wayne Dyer said: “As you think, you shall be”. Once you have become the creator of your life, through your thoughts, you acquire a sense of certainty and balance, and certainty clears the path for what you desire. As Gabby Bernstein points out in her book A Course in Miracles; “Those who are certain of the outcome can afford to wait and wait and wait without anxiety”, but instead surrender to the conviction that things are going to go exactly as they should with the timing that is needed. Allowing in this way, the creative flow of love to move through us, which is ultimately the feeling we long for, rid of fear and uncertainty, and anxiety.

As I observe nature in all its magnificence and stand in owe, I draw inspiration. Ancient wisdom is to be discovered for living a more fulfilling life altogether, for feeling better in all the spectrums of our existence. Going to visit the small villages on the mountains around Tuscany reminds me to strive to be authentic and humble. Just like the food from this area. The staple food of Lunigiana, situated next to Garfagnana, is simple and poor. In the Fall, in the past, the people from Lunigiana used to gather all the chestnuts from the trees and transform them into flour and this made it possible for most people to survive the cold snowy winters.

 

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Last Sunday we took a hike in the woods of Fivizzano in the heart of Lunigiana. We took part to the event called Mangialonga, which consists in walking in the woods for miles until you find a shelter where you can rest and eat and then set off to hiking again, and so on for a total of five pit stops, for almost 10 km. It was a very nice experience to feel the brisk cold air on my cheeks during the walk, admiring the beautifully colorful foliage, the mist in the air, the persimmon trees, with their bare branches and round orange fruit, piercing the grey and cloudy sky. The torrents gurgling through the trails reminded me of my childhood. The warmth of the shelters, the good smells, the chestnuts prepared and cooked in all ways possible, the big fire place ready for roasting and putting out that heat that is such a blessing on cold winter days.

 

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At the first stop we were served chestnuts boiled in milk for two hours with two special ingredients: cinnamon and bay leaf. In order to have clean chestnuts with no shells, they have to be preciously boiled, after being rinsed, in salty water for a half hour. Once they are soft they are ready to be eaten, most people eat them just like that, and they are called castagne ballocciore, putting them in milk with cinnamon and bay leaf, boil them for another couple hours makes them even softer and tastier.

 

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Another delicious way to enjoy the rich flavor of chestnuts is by grinding them into flour. Once you transformed the chestnuts into flour, or better yet you bought some chestnut flour, it can be used for making polenta, chestnut polenta, which is super easy to make: just add water and stir constantly until you have a thich and silky batter, add salt to taste.

 

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The polenta is delicious eaten along with ricotta cheese. The two textures and flovors marry exquisitly. This way of enjoying chestnuts is very common, just as much as the other very popular way to prepare chestnut flour, this time baking it into Castagnaccio with pine nuts, rosemary, walnuts and orange zest.

 

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Castagnaccio  (Chestnut Flour Cake)

 

This is a tradional Tuscan “poor man’s” dessert. This gluten free dish made from mainly foraged and also seasonal ingredients, such as rosemary, pine nuts, grapes, walnuts, would be a meal for poor people in pre-war Tuscany. The chestnut flour gives an earthy flavor and dense, puddingy consistency that for many people can be an acquired taste. After a few times, you will start to get the essence of the flovor, and then on it will become addictive! This is a perfect dessert for those who don’t like their sweets too sweet. about this dish, people say, it  warms the heart and fingers (since you don’t need a fork but just your hands to eat castagnaccio). It makes a perfect ending for your meal matched with a sweet liquory wine.

 

INGREDIENTS

    • 3 T sultana raisins (Optional)
    • 3 T walnuts
    • 1 T orange zest
    • 1/2 lb chestnut flour
    • 2 1/2 T extra virgin olive oil, plus a little extra for oiling the pan and drizzling on top
    • pinch of salt
    • 4 t sugar
    • 2 to 2 1/2 c cold water
    • 3 T pine nuts (pignoli)
    • a few sprigs of rosemary

PREPARATION

    1. 1. Soak the raisins for a few minutes in a small bowl with warm water. 2. Mix the chestnut flour, oil, salt, sugar, and water. 3. Drain the raisins and mix them into the batter, along with the pine nuts, and walnuts, and the orange zest. 4. Pour the batter into a greased 9″ diameter pan, 2″ deep. The batter will not rise during baking, so if you have a slightly different size pan on hand, that is fine too. 5. Sprinkle the rosemary sprigs over the top of the batter and drizzle with a little bit of olive oil. 6. Bake at 400 F for 1 hour. You’ll know it is ready when the surface is covered with little cracks. Cool, turn out onto a plate, and voila’!