Foodie’s motto: Early to bed, early to rise

Early to bed, early to rise, makes you happy, wealthy and wise, goes an old saying and I must say that I could not agree more. I haven’t been an early riser my whole life, on the contrary, I love to sleep and especially sleep in for long hours in the morning. Recently things have changed, I started taking my daughter to school every morning and that means that I am ready to roll from 8 a.m. Since I have become an early riser I have discovered a whole new taste to life. Waking early puts me in a better mood and makes me feel productive, plus I get some healthy solitude time all for myself while I exercise on my long fast walks.

 

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So many great things happen early in the morning, to mention just one: farmer’s markets. I have talked about my love affair with farmer’s markets in my previous posts and especially so, I adore everything about farmer’s markets in the Fall. The mood is always so cheerful. People get really excited about buying all that yummy, so-very-good-for-you-food. The colors are vibrant and the smells capturing. The farmers all smiley look so proud of their work and their produce. This morning I decided to come to my town’s local market and what I found was, as usual, a crowd of cheerful and busy early risers that moved gracefully around all that glorious fresh produce, cheese, eggs, and flowers. The abundance is everywhere and it makes me feel so grateful for the amazing planet we live on. How perfectly can humans and nature cooperate when there is respect, and gratitude, and love.

 

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Markets are so inspirational to me that when I leave I always feel like going home and cook for hour and hours. Here below I am going to share a recipe perfect for this time of the year. Crescents with cabbage and carrot filling. A hit anytime I proposed this dish. Easy to eat they make a lovely finger food for those crispy Autumn days, a delicious snack to eat perhaps after a day spent planting flower bulbs for the Spring, and cleaning the garden to get it ready for the long winter sleep.

 

 

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Mezzelune di Cavolo e Carote (Half-Moons with Cabbage and Carrot filling)

 

Whenever I am invited to a brunch or to a party I often bring this dish and people love it. It is the perfect finger food: the savory cabbage filling enveloped in a mouth-watering squash bread crust.

 

Making the dough:

 

See recipe below for Squash Bread

 

Making the filling:

 

Half of  a cabbage

¼ cup olive oil

1 yellow onion

3 carrots

2 tsp caraway seeds

½ cup white wine

salt and pepper

 

Dice the onion and place it into a dutch oven, add the olive oil and sautee for 10 minutes on low heat. Turn the heat up to medium high and add the wine and caraway seeds. Let evaporate for 3 minutes then turn heat down again to low.

Dice the cabbage and the carrots and add to the rest along with ¾ of a cup of water. Place the lid on the pot and let it cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

 

Making the Half-Moons:

 

Let the dough rise twice and then with a rolling pin, roll out the dough. With a big glass or round cookie cutter cut out circles. Fill the middle of the circles with the cabbage and carrots. Fold the circle in half, wet your finger and take it along the inside edges of your half- moons, pressing with a fork seal the two edges together. Place half-moons on a baking sheet and bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

 

Squash Bread

 

This is a recipe from my dear friend Kellie, what lovely memories I have from the days we used to run a home-based daycare together. I remember her taking this bread out of the oven, infusing the house with the wonderful smell of fresh-baked bread. The children were filled with excitement and anticipation for that bread that they never seemed to have enough of.  

 

Tip: Squash can easily be a meal or snack on it’s own: try cutting it in half and roasting it with some water in the oven for 45 minutes (see recipe for  Pan di Zucca). Once out of the oven pour half a cup of fresh apple cider on the squash along with a few curls of butter.

 

Making the Sponge:

 

2 cups wrist-temperature water

1 Tbsp active dry yeast

a drop of molasses

1 ½ cups white unbleached flour (preferably organic)

1 cup wheat flour (preferably organic)

 

2 ½ cups well mashed cooked squash

3 Tbsp molasses

4 Tbsp melted butter

1 Tbsp salt

 

3 cups wheat flour

4 cups white unbleached flour

 

Place the water in a large bowl. Add yeast and molasses. Beat in the flour. Cover and let it rise for 30 to 45 minutes. Mix together the squash, molasses, melted butter, and salt.

Mix together until well combined. Beat all the ingredients into risen sponge and add the wheat flour and the white flour. Add one cup of flour at the time. Knead the dough until it is not too sticky. Cover and let it rise until double in size (1 and ½ hours).

Form into two loaves and set in two loaf pans. Let rise for 1 hour.

Bake between 375- 425 for 40 minutes. Towards the end check the top, if too browned cover with aluminum foil.

This dough is great for rolls as well! Form rolls with your hands and place them on a cookie sheet. Let them rise for 1 hour and bake for about 20 minutes.  

 

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There are so many great reason to buy your fresh produce at farmer’s markets: they are hand-picked the day you buy them, they are cheaper, and they are in season. Also it is a great social occasion to meet lovely like-minded people. Let’s all try to make an effort and wake up early one day next week and go the market to find all these delightful goods and make this planet a better place one grocery shopping at the time!

 

With Love.

 

 

 

 

 

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Love versus Fear: cooking for the love of the world

“I want to give as I have plenty, I want to love like I am not afraid”. This is the sentence by Chris Tomlin that caught my attention these last few days, I cannot remember where I saw it, but I am certain that if I read it, anywhere it might have been, it was for  a reason. This last month has been a challenging one, as it is supposed to be, since it is a transitional month and period of the year. It is the transition from Summer to Fall, from hot to cold, from light to dark. These days, which say farewell to Summer and greet Fall hello, are the days during which, in the Waldorf tradition, we celebrate Michael and the legend of the slaying of the dragon. It is quite a strong image, and it is very symbolic. Michael represents  the light, the good, the positive, the courage, and love while the dragon is the symbol of the darkness, the bad, the fear. The sword is the tool through which Michael, slaying the dragon, wins over him and the good, the light, and love win over the bad, the dark, and  fear.

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We all have very busy lives and it is often hard to sit down for sometime, breathe out and shut down our rampant thoughts. But if we did or I shall say, when we do, we realize right away the benefits of it. How we feel restored, energized and more aligned with our real source of life, the Universe. Silence, peace, healthy solitude, and a nice cup of tea sipped  while staring into nothingness often is what you need to regear, refocus and find yourself anew out of all the hustle and bustle of every day life. The thing that never fails to rejuvenate me and make resurface the Me that I love most is cooking, while sipping a nice glass of red wine and listening to some good background music. In these last days I’ve come home often weary with thoughts and in need of solutions to situations that no longer fit me, or belong to me, or even serve my purpose any longer. It is amazing how you can tell when a chapter is ending and a new one is starting, and at the same time realize how powerful we truly are to determine the direction we want to take our life. We just must learn to disregard fear. To shut the whispering voice in our ears telling us, we cannot do it, or we should not do it. Why? Because it is too late or too early or you don’t have time or it is not for you. All ideas and voices coming from outside sources trying to direct your existence in directions that ultimately will not serve you nor your needs. All of these help to create doubts and insecurity, which will result into fear.

 

Fear is not only negative though, don’t get me wrong. Some degree of fear, in a form of caution, it is necessary for a person to conduct a prudent life. The problem starts when we let fear guide our life. We should establish and internal dialogue between ourselves and fear,  which using Elizabeth Gilberts words, as she writes in her last book “Big Magic”, should sound something like this: Dear Fear “I recognize and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still-your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you are allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps; you are not allowed to suggest detours; you are not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you are not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend you are absolutely forbidden to drive”.

 

This is how we shall react to fear, acknowledge its existence but never allow it to direct our life. In the back of my mind I always have Paulo Coelho’s words: “Fear is the worse enemy of your soul”, meaning that fear will always direct you away from your dreams, away from the fulfilment of your greatest self. This is why it is so important to understand our purpose and then start to transform fear into faith while we always keep in mind that the universe has our back, using Gabby Bernstein’s words, of her last book: “The Universe has your back”. “The fear comes from a belief that we are not good enough” How many of us grew up thinking and feeling that something was missing, that we were not up to snuff for those around us? Probably many, too many. Well, today’s news is that the story we chose to listen to was wrong, definitely wrong. Why? Because we are good enough and perfect just the way we are. Fear is the opposite of love, fear gives us the idea that power comes from outside sources, and we get used to listen to these sources, outside of ourselves, when we look for advice and direction. While this is a good thing, to listen to the advice of loved ones, we shall always remember that ultimately we know best. Because what we are deciding is our path, our life and we, only we, will respond for it and will take the consequences in the end, for the bad or for the good. We will, not anyone else.

When I was a teenager I was madly in love with my first boyfriend, he was all I cared about, I remember my grandmother’s words one afternoon as we were sitting together in the garden. She told me that while it was wonderful that I found a person that I loved so much, I shall not fall, so entirely and completely, into someone else that was not me, but I shall always leave a small part of my existence that was mine only, in which I would not allow anyone in. That part, I understand today, is the captain’s cabin, it’s where decisions are made. It is never too late to understand, take the wheel back and start sailing or driving in the direction you recognize as the best one for yourself.

My soul, these days, feels pretty much like my garden looks, they both are in a state of obvious transformation. In the garden every little plant quietly withers and decays, while at this time of the year the seeding activity reaches its highest. As I gather seeds in separate little paper bags, I admire their unique shape.  Each seed in my hand awakens faith, hope and anticipation for what will develop and come to maturity in the coming year.

 

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Now I am going to pick up all my thoughts and take them to the kitchen, pick up my apron, my creativity and transform my doubts into certainty, the abstract into concrete: I’ll make a delicious treat to bring some sweetness into this windy October morning. Since outside in the garden the kiwis are hanging ready and ripe from the vines, this is the perfect time for pear and kiwi custard.

 

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Pere e kiwi con crema pasticcera (Pear and kiwi custard)

 

As I sit and write I can picture the kiwi vines over the veranda. How in May they produce the most delicate white blossoms and how slowly during the hot summer days the flowers turn into juicy drop shaped brown fruit. They hang there the whole summer long and while they provide us with a soothing shade they  absorb the sun rays to become succulent sweet treats by the middle of Autumn. Kiwi vines can be incredibly prolific.  Every year we store up crates and crates of them up in the attic. The best thing is, the kiwis will keep ripening and be ready to eat throughout the winter months.

Kiwis and pears marry deliciously, the sweetness of the pear is a perfect complement to the fresh tangy taste of the kiwi. Both of these flavors are exalted over a silk smooth layer of fresh custard cream.

 

Make the custard:

 

2 cups lukewarm whole milk

2 egg yolks

2 Tbsp powdered sugar

1 1/2 Tbsp flour

1 lemon peel, grated

1 tsp vanilla pure extract (optional), or

1 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)

 

Over very low heat , using a whisk, mix together milk, sugar, and flour to have a smooth and even batter. Separately, beat the egg yolks and slowly incorporate to the batter always maintaining a low heat. Keep stirring. Add lemon peel. Stir until the batter has a thick and smooth consistency. Remove from heat.

While the custard cools, cut up the kiwis and the pears in slices. Place one person portions of custard in small bowls and place the fruit on top. Serve it fresh.  
Enjoy!

 

12 kisses on your cheek, 12 candles on your cake!

 

Around and around  the Sun we went, and once again the end of September is here! Nature has changed her garment, changed her colors and light. The field has a yellowish tint, the trees are slowly turning to the warmer shades of yellow, red and brown, slowly, very slowly.

 

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The late flowers, like Anemones, Cosmos, and Black Eyed Susans are still beautiful, they are vibrant and bright now that the heat has passed and a milder weather has arrived. The purple Morning Glory vine on my fence greets me every day with its joyful heart-shaped leaves, while the Aster is soaking up all the sunshine during these last warm and sunny afternoons, providing delicious snacks for the hungry bees.

 

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The 28th of September is a very special day in our house, because it is my son Niccolo’s birthday, and just like every year we love to celebrate his special day in the most loving way: with the friends he loves, the foods he enjoys, the games that make him laugh, all this to make him feel how happy we are that 12 years ago he came to us, that after a long ride on the rainbow bridge he fell right in my arms with his beautiful chubby cheeks and his little rose shaped mouth. He came to us to show once again how amazing life is, how you can get lost into time just staring at your son, sleeping peacefully for hours, feeling your heart bursting at the seams stuffed with endless joy.

My way to give thanks for my most precious gifts is to celebrate happiness and throw a party to share the joy with as many people as possible. When my kids were younger and we would have over as many as 20 or 30 people, I remember I used to start cooking 2 days prior, in order to find myself ready, organized and not stressed. I mastered a secret technic that I use every time I have friends over: half hour before my guests arrive, I stop working, cooking, cleaning, sorting, washing, put my apron down and go change my clothes, fix my hair, put on make up, in order to be able to welcome my friends as the queen of the house. By then, everything is ready to be enjoyed in a serene and stress-free atmosphere. Whenever I recall the parties I threw for my kids, I remember that one  time before Sophia’s 10th birthday. We were living in our Farmhouse in Michigan, it was almost Christmas time, and the ground was covered by a thick layer of snow all around our house. The snow was all the way up to my knees. After putting the kids to sleep at 8 p.m. I ventured outside, got in my car and drove to the supermarket where I bought all I needed for the next day’s party. Around nine I got back home and I started merrily cooking until late into the night, while the snow was softly falling outside the window panes all fogged up from the heat and the good smells coming from the kitchen.

I enjoy cooking just about anything during these occasions, but I especially delight myself with creative baking. The first few years of my son’s birthdays I used to prepare a 3 layered carrot-walnut cake, which my friend Siri gave me, back in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. I believe she got it from the Silver Palate cookbook.

 

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Carrot Cake

3 C flour

3 C sugar (I use about 1 and 1/2)

1 t salt

1 T baking soda

1 T cinnamon

1 1/2 C corn oil (I use canola oil)

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 T vanilla extract

1 1/2 C shelled, chopped walnuts

1 1/2 C shredded coconut

1 1/3 C pureed cooked carrots

3/4 drained crushed pineapple (optional-I usually do not add the pineapple)

 

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature

6 T butter, at room temperature

3 C confectioners’ sugar

1 t vanilla extract

juice of 1 lemon

  1. Cream together cream cheese and butter in a mixing bowl.

2. Slowly sift in confectioners’ sugar and continue beating until fully incorporated.                Mixture should be free of lumps.

3. Stir in vanilla, and lemon juice

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease two 9-inch layer cake pans lined with wax paper.

2) Sift dry ingredients into a bowl. Add oil, eggs, and vanilla. Beat well. Fold in walnuts, coconut, carrots, and pineapple (in case you chose to add it).

3) Pour batter into prepared pans. Set on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until edges have pulled away from sides and a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean.

4) Cool on a cake rack for 3 hours. Fill cake and frost sides with cream cheese frosting.

 

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During the last few years I have been changing cake, since my son’s tastes change very rapidly these days. Last year to my question to him: “How would you like your birthday cake to be this year? His answer was: “colorful and happy!” Well, I thought to myself, this one is not going to be easy. I looked and looked until I found online something that really tickled my fancy, that is, the recipe for a “Rainbow Cake”!

 

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Rainbow Cake

 

4 eggs, room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup hot milk

2 tablespoons butter

1 tsp vanilla extract

3 drops red food coloring

3 drops green food coloring

3 drops yellow food coloring

3 drops blue food coloring

1 egg white

 

Directions:

 

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour four 9 inch square pans.

2) Beat eggs in mixing bowl until frothy. Gradually beat in 1 cup sugar. Beat until light colored and thick.

3) In another bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and salt together. Fold into egg mixture.

4) Into hot milk, stir vanilla and butter until melted. Fold milk mixture into batter. Divide batter in three equal parts into separate bowls.

5) Add a few drops of red food coloring onto one batter. Stir to mix. Spread into a prepared pan. Add a few drops of green food coloring into remaining batter. Stir to mix. Spread into a prepared pan. Add a few drops of yellow food coloring into another batter. stir to mix. Spread into remaining pan. Do the same with the blue. To summarize, make four different colored batters, and pour each into a prepared pan.

6) Bake in the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes until an inserted wooden tooth-pick comes out clean. Turn out onto racks to cool.

7) Trim cake layers of rough edges. Cut each layer into even layers. Spread cream cheese frosting (see recipe below) between each layer and around the cake to cover it completely on the top and on the sides. Decorate as you wish.

 

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature

6 T butter, at room temperature

3 C confectioners’sugar

1 t vanilla extract

juice of 1 lemon

  1. Cream together cream cheese and butter in a mixing bowl.

2. Slowly sift in confectioners’ sugar and continue beating until fully incorporated.                Mixture should be free of lumps.

3. Stir in vanilla, and lemon juice

 

Few things in life are as gratifying as celebrating something you love. I hope that you will find inspiring the cake recipes I shared above and perhaps you will use them for your loved ones’ next birthdays or any occasion really is good to gift someone with a lovely  homemade, heart felt cake. Just like my beloved neightbors in Michigan did for us when we first moved to our beautiful farm house on Stoney Creek road. Linda and Peter came over to greet us and welcome us with a warm gift wraped in a kitchen towel. To my surprise, as I unwrapped the gift I found a lovely cake made with much care!  Gestures like this make a difference between an ordinary life and special kind of life. I must say that I am very lucky to have met so many wonderful people in my life!

 

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With Love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Think Global, Eat local, trust Nature!

It is not even 8 o’clock in the morning and my oven is already turned on. Yesterday we got a huge basketful of apples from our neighbor’s tree, big round faulty apples, which will need some work to recuperate the good parts, and discard the faulty, brown parts. It will surely take longer, but it’s certainly going to be worth it since these are all natural, fresh, local apples with no pesticides and also because they represent life: in good there is always a little bit of bad and in bad there is always a little bit of good, sort of like the Tao.

In my previous post, I talked about grapes, so common, juicy and exquisite in Tuscany during this time of the year. This is the time of Harvest, of giving thanks to Mother Earth for presenting us with so much beauty and plenitude. The least we can do to facilitate such perfection is to honor the process and honor our precious planet. When I was a child, here in Tuscany ,we got accustomed to the rhythm of the year from our early on in our lives, and Autumn was always a time of celebration, preparing the food from the garden to be stored and preserved for the cold months of Winter.  One of the things I remember most fondly is the “Vendemmia” which is the celebration of the grapes and its transformation into wine. All of us, children of the neighborhood, would help haul the big, round grapes from the vines to huge barrels where the men would throw all of them in, and then, us children, would take our shoes off, wash our feet with the hose and jump right inside the bucket and start stomping on the grapes to help it release its juice. The tangy smell of the grapes, the sound of laughter and the feeling of that joyful freedom will be forever stuck in my mind.

 

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Certainly, back in the days when I was a child, eating local was the way they did it, nowadays many things have changed, with progress, with the radical change of the economical system, just to mention two things, and even though very often it doesn’t seem so, I am convinced that humanity is always going forward to improve its living conditions. Therefore, I am a strong believer that the best thing we can do, as post-modern humans, is to learn from the past, keeping the best of it, but also look forward and apply all the new that has been discovered. Looking back for the wisdom, while looking forward with a new consciousness.

Food is a very important topic, since it is the way that allows us to be nourished and be healthy and consequently, be and feel at our best. Choosing wisely what we eat has become more and more a priority among certain circles and choosing foods that are free from poisons and pesticides has become more and more popular. Eating organic is not only better for you but it is also better for the planet. I invite anyone to shop at local farmer’s markets to support local farmers and local artists, this is hopefully the future, a time in which people will more and more start to eat locally and think globally. We are in this all together, all children of the same amazing planet. It is our honor and responsibility to take care of it. Fall is the perfect time to realize how truly amazing it is and how blessed we are to be surrounded by such plenitude. Going to the grocery shop or better yet to a market is a feast of colors tastes and smells. How could anyone consider it a chore or a drudgery? Let’s take any chance we get to celebrate our blessings and show gratitude. We get so accustomed to take things for granted that we forget how lucky we truly are in our every day life. Living conscientiously is a way to show respect and gratitude. Trying to observe the wheel of the year and try to live by it is a sign of understanding of our real necessities.

 

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What are the many reasons to eat food that is organic and in season? Seasonal food is mostly fresh and not processed. It encourages creativity and home cooking, Seasonal food is not only more affordable, it is also grown locally and it does not spoil as fast. It does not lose its nutrients. When you eat seasonally you have a very wide variety of foods since each season has its own typical produce. Seasonal produce supports seasonal needs: in Winter, for instance, citrus fruits  are just what  the body needs for the prevention of the flu and colds. Winter vegetables are suitable for stews. Summer fruits provide extra beta-carotenes and other carotenoids that protect us against sun damage.  I am going to write up a quick list to help us recognize what is in season during the different times of the year. When the season slides from the hot Summer months toward a cooler weather look for more warming, Autumn harvest foods, including carrots, onions, radishes, and garlic. Also, emphasize the more warming spices and seasonings including ginger, peppercorns, and mustard seeds. In Winter, turn even more exclusively toward  warming foods. Remember the principle that foods taking longer to grow are generally more warming than foods that grow quickly. All the animal foods fall into the warming category including fish, chicken, beef, and lamb. So do most of the root  vegetables, including carrots, potatoes, onions, and garlic. Eggs also fit in here, as do corn and nuts. In Summer, during the hottest months, stick with light cooling foods in the light of traditional Chinese medicine. These foods include fruits like plums, peaches, apricots, and vegetables like beets, peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, and spices and seasonings like peppermint and cilantro. In Spring, focus on tender, leafy vegetables that represent the fresh new growth of the season. The greening that occurs in nature during this period should be represented  by greens on your on your plate, including Swiss chard, spinach, lettuce, parsley and basil. Everything being said, I would just like to exhort you to be creative and trust nature, since on our planet we can naturally find everything we need to be healthy and also to heal ourselves. Let us look forward to a world in which food will be seen as the new medicine, but we will be talking about this more in depth later on. For now I will just delight myself sharing an all time favorite recipe: “Peperonata” or Pepper stew. I use only peppers from my garden and they look and taste so delicious. Check out the photo!

 

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Peperonata (Pepper Stew)  

I am always amazed when I walk in my garden on those lovely warm autumn days and I find my pepper plants still happy and prosperous. When I bend down and amongst the leaves I discover a red ripe pepper I feel like a child who finds her present under the tree on Christmas morning.

Peperonata is a typical recipe in Tuscan cuisine, but I usually prefer to give it a Hungarian twist.

My mother, being from Budapest, has introduced me to the delights of some Hungarian dishes. The most well known flavor is perhaps paprika, used in sausages, stews, and soups. Paprika literally means pepper in Hungarian and it is no wonder the peppers from there are famous, their flavor is hard to describe with words and because of it I could not resist the temptation to offer here the recipe for this treat of peppers!  
1 Big red onion

1/4 cup olive oil

3/4 cup white wine (optional)

1 Tbsp cumin seeds

1 Sausage (Gyulai, Hungarian sausage)

5 Tbsp mild paprika

5 peppers, red, yellow, green

 

Dice the onion and add to olive oil in the pot over medium low heat. When onion starts to soften add the cumin seeds and the sausage cut up in thick slices. Stir occasionally until onions are translucent. Add wine and turn heat up to medium high. When wine is almost all evaporated turn down the heat to low and add 3 Tbsp of paprika Stir and incorporate the peppers previously cut in squares. With the heat on medium low let simmer for 10 minutes with lid on the pot, stirring occasionally. Incorporate remaining 2 Tbsp of paprika. Continue cook for 10 more minutes with the lid on the pot in order to keep the juice of the pepper (add some water if needed). Cook until peppers are soft and juicy. Serve with sour cream on the side.

 

Peperonata (The Tuscan version)

 

4 Tbsp olive oil

2 tsps of thyme (optional)

1 big onion (red or yellow)

2 medium seized tomatoes

4 peppers (yellow and green)

4 potatoes

Sautee the onion in olive oil. Meanwhile, cut the peppers and potatoes in cubes. When the onion is tender add to it the peppers and the potatoes along with half a cup of water. Cook covered for thirty minutes, stirring often.  

 

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Welcome Fall: Concord Grapes Tart

Another rainy day. This year September has stolen summer, its arrival determined the beginning of Fall. I am kind of a procrastinator by nature and that’s why I am never quite ready for the new phase, whether it’s Spring, Fall, Winter or Summer, I always create for myself some sort of an excuse for which, it would be good if the heat or, for the same matter the cold, would last a few more weeks. This year though, I must confess, I am pretty aligned with the cosmos and everything that feels and tastes like Fall sounds good.

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I love everything about Fall, and I feel like everything about it, right now, is just perfect. Big, cozy sweaters, thick socks, grey skies, rainy days, heavy rubber boots. Its pale light, the last warm days before the cold, the beautiful Aster blooming in the fields. The stunning palette of colors, which go from greys to yellows to oranges and reds, so much breathtaking beauty. The smell of cinnamon baking in the oven, the apple picking, the grapes hanging from the vines and the curly pumpkins ready to turn into pies.

 

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I enjoy grey and rainy days, they force me to slow down and they inspire me to reflection, but most of all they are perfect for cooking and baking. Among the many things we grow at my house, we also grow grapes. We all know about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables that are in season by now, but why is it important? Because what nature offers it is exactly what our bodies need for that specific time of the year. Besides this, there are so many other reasons why we should all choose to eat seasonal food: it is cost-effective, it supports local suppliers, it is healthy and nutritional, and it looks after the planet, helping mother Earth’s natural rhythm . We won’t digress further into this for now, but we will continue to talk about this topic more in-depth in my next posts. For now let’s talk about grapes! Why are grapes so good for you? When you bite into a grape, you get more than a burst of juicy, sweet, goodness. You also get a dose of nutrients and antioxidants that may help you stay well. Grapes are low in calories and practically fat-free.  All grape varieties contain polyphenols. Polyphenols are compounds that give grapes and other plants their vibrant colors. They are known antioxidants that help fight free radicals in the body, they also help prevent illnesses such as heart and lung disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and many others. For these good reason let’s have as much of it as we can, especially during this season, because September tastes like grapes!

Here I am sharing the recipe of an amazing grape and raspberry tart, that it is so delicious you won’t believe your palate!

 

Concord Grapes and Raspberry Tart

 

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This is a favorite of mine! I love the deliciously sweet and tangy flavor of concord grapes. This kind of grapes is called “uva fragola” in Italy. My father, together with his neighbor Angelo, makes homemade wine out of this grape, that he himself has grown, every Autumn. As I go home every summer I always get to savor a bottle of “fragolino” that he lovingly put aside for me. My children love the smell of the sweet wine but since they are too young to have any, I treat them with this yummy tart. Buon appetito!  

For the dough:

2 cups white all purpose flour

8 ounces (2 sticks) of butter

1/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup heavy cream (you may add more until you get the dough into a ball).

For the filling:

1 pound concord grapes (stems removed)

1/2 pound raspberry

1 cup sugar

pinch of salt

1 egg, slightly beaten
Making the dough

Pour the flour into a bowl, cut the butter into cubes and add it to the flour.

With a hand pie mixer break up the butter into the flour until it is of the consistency of

big crumbs. Add sugar, salt, mix and then add the cream and with your hands try to form a ball.

Once you have a ball, divide it in two, flatten the two pieces of dough to have to chunky disks, wrap them in Saran wrap and refrigerate for one hour, or for up to five days.   

Making the filling

Combine grapes, raspberry, lemon juice in a medium saucepan over  medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until grapes and raspberries release their juice, about eight minutes. Strain through a fine sieve 1 1/2-2 cups of juice. Return juice to saucepan over high heat, stir in sugar and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for five more minutes. Transfer jam to a bowl, and let cool stirring occasionally.

Preheat oven at 375

On a lightly floured surface, roll out one of disks that you kept refrigerated. (For this recipe we use only one disk, so you can save the other one for another dish for the next day or use up to five days. It also freezes very well!) Roll out the disk to 1/8 inch thickness. Transfer the round to a baking sheet lined with butter and flour (or parchment paper if you prefer). Poke holes in the bottom of the tart with a fork. Spread the jam on top and turn the hanging ends of  the dough over so that they can irregularly rest on the jam. Lightly beat your egg and brush the top of the tart (this will give it a shiny look!). If you wish for a fancy look you can add coarse sanding sugar on the top.         

For a successful tart the baking is key. When you put your tart in the oven at first set your grid on medium low level, insert the tart and bake for half an hour. After half an hour change your grid to the medium high level and bake for another half an hour. The top of the tart should turn chestnut-brown and the jam should have jelly like somewhat bubbly consistency.

If you like, this tart is delicious served with fresh homemade whipped cream, and if you like to decorate your food with edible flowers you can add a touch of color with some lovely nasturtiums, their bright orange color will brighten up your day!

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New beginnings: canning spicy pepper jelly

Today was the first day of the new school year, the peppers on my plants are ripe, the anemones tower tall and beautiful with their silky, pink, petals, as they elegantly dance in the breeze, the first pumpkins hang weary and round on the vine, Fall is slowly approaching with all its warm sun light, cool breeze and random rainy days. Summer has come to an end and a new year is starting.

The kids are off to school, and the house is quite, my sweet little furry friend Gina, a three-year old Dachshund, is sleeping in her bed next to me. Feels rather strange not to have to jump up from the chair because someone needs you for this or that. I am thrilled: I have 3 hours all for myself! Life’s little pleasures.

I look out of the window and notice the beautiful color of the sky, it looks like a painting, in which the painter used wide strokes of dark grey and white to represent the depth and the greatness of a Fall sky about ready to pour down some rain.

It is hard for me to say what is my favorite Season, since I love all four of them, and love to celebrate the magic of their uniqueness. Even though this is true, I must confess that I fall in love with Autumn every year. I fall in love with its colors, smells and flavors, every time. The abundance of this season is reassuring and nurturing, harvesting from the garden is always a feast at our house.

We grow lots of different kinds of vegetables, flowers, and fruits but we especially like  peppers of all kinds and shapes, and we use them for all different purposes, which I will tell you all about in the coming posts: for now I will just tell you that some of them  I use to dry and grind into powder to use in the winter, some I use to make peperonata (I’ll share the recipe later on), other types I use for canning, and some I use to flavor tomato sauce, and so on; but let’s not get carried away here since I want to share with you a special thing that I enjoy making every year for my family of course, but also to start making sweet thoughtful Christmas presents: spicy pepper jelly. This recipe, which originally comes from the south of Italy, precisely Calabria, makes a delicious antipasto or hors d’oeuvre. As shown in the picture below, it creates a perfect blend if eaten with cheese.

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Let’s see step by step how to prepare this delicious spicy pepper jelly, for which we will need not only the hot spicy peppers but also a few red sweet  bell peppers to give it consistency and a more pleasant taste. We will add sugar to give it its peculiar sweet and sour flavor and ultimately red wine to add even more depth to the recipe. Savor the jelly with different kinds of cheese, like the creamy soft goat cheese to mention one, or also a more seasoned one like for instance any kind of sheep cheese, for those of you who love a bold and determined flavor.

Ingredients:

5 Bell Peppers

5 Spicy hot peppers

3 Tbsp granulated Sugar

1 Tbsp salt

2 1/2 cups red wine

To start wash and clean the bell peppers, cut off the stem and remove all the seeds. Wash throughly and cut lengthwise to make long, thin slices and then cut into small cubes. Proceed doing the same with the hot peppers, but this time do not forget to wear gloves, since often the peppers are so spicy that they might irritate your hands and eyes.

Set all the cut up peppers into a pot, add the sugar, the salt, and the wine, then turn on the heat on low. Cover the pot with its lid, leaving just a little opening so that the steam can come out. Let it cook for about an hour. While the peppers are cooking, use this time to sterilize some canning jars with their lids. To get further instructions on how to can, there are some really good and inspiring books out there, like the “Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving” for my English-speaking crowd, instead for my Italian-speaking readers, I would suggest a lovely book called: “Il libro delle marmellate, conserve, e gelatine di frutta e verdura”, in these books you’ll find all the info on how to master the art of canning. After one hour go back to your peppers, and after they cooled off a little sift or blend them in order to removed skin parts, the pepper paste should look smooth and silky. In Italy we have an old fashion tool called passatutto, which does just that so nicely: it separates the pulp from the skin, check out the picture below.

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Take the smooth and silky pulp and set it back in the pot, turn the heat back on low and let it cook for another half hour (while cooking the pepper paste might form some white foam, periodically scoop it out and stir), cook until the paste will have a jelly like consistency. To verify whether or not the jelly is ready, meaning thick enough, try to scoop out a spoonful and drop it onto a dish, if the paste looks thick and jelly like it means that it’s time to remove from the heat. While the jelly is still warm pour it into the canning jars you previously prepared, making sure to leave half an inch (1 cm)  from the lid, fasten the lid onto the jars, tight enough. The cooling process will make the jars air tight and this will preserve the jelly for months. Once the jars are cooled down make sure they are truly air-tight by verifying the click-clack sound in the middle of the lid: if it does the click-clack sound it means that the jar is NOT air-tight and you must eat the jelly within a week or a week and a half at most, if the lid is tight on the jar, the content is good to go for a few months. At this point you spicy pepper jelly is ready to be savored or to be put on the shelf waiting to become a lovely present for someone for Christmas. I usually set the preserves I give to people for presents in a hand-woven basket with some nice tea, a good book, and some fresh, home-made cookies!

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Raising children: in the kitchen

I love Sunday mornings, when very lazily I get up from bed, wonder around the house for a while smelling the freshness of the new day. Everything is still, sleepy, cozy, and quite. I put on the burner some water to prepare my favorite, warming spice tea, then, I slowly approach my desk, sit down and start writing. The children are still dreaming in their warm beds on this cool, rainy September morning. They’ll be up soon with their roaring hunger ready to be satisfied. What brings more pleasure than to see your kids eat well, love food, be healthy, and be happy. I soon will stop writing and I’ll go mix up some pancake batter to make it ready when my children wake up. Especially my son Niccolo’ loves cooking and experiment with food, he is very often my little helper in the kitchen and he has been ever since he was very little. Yum yum, I get hungry myself thinking of the recipe I am about to mix up for this morning: buttermilk pancakes!

As I am writing, the first pancakes are sizzling on the skillet and the smell fills up the whole kitchen. The recipe I am about to share comes from an old notebook of mine and if I remember correctly it’s one of Martha Stuart’s creations. Anyway, here is the recipe so that you can try the heavenly taste for yourself!

 

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Buttermilk Pancakes

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 cups buttermilk
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus 1/2 teaspoon for griddle
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries (optional)

 

Heat griddle to 375 degrees. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar in a medium bowl. Add eggs, buttermilk, and 4 tablespoons butter; whisk to combine. Batter should have small to medium lumps.

Heat oven to 175 degrees. Test griddle by sprinkling a few drops of water on it. If water bounces and spatters off griddle, it is hot enough. Using a pastry brush, brush remaining 1/2 teaspoon of butter or reserved bacon fat onto griddle. Wipe off excess.

Using a 4-ounce ladle, about 1/2 cup, pour pancake batter, in pools 2 inches away from one other. Scatter with berries, if using. When pancakes have bubbles on top and are slightly dry around edges, about 2 1/2 minutes, flip over. Cook until golden on bottom, about 1 minute.

Repeat with remaining batter, keeping finished pancakes on a heatproof plate in oven. Serve with maple syrup.

Tip: To have the best results do not over mix the batter, it should have small to medium lamps, this will make light and fluffy pancakes.

Yummy, yummy it’s always party time when it’s pancake time in our house. The children love to pour small bits of batter next to the pancakes and cook them along. They call them “nibbleys” and they say: they taste fabulous!

I rejoice to think that I can convey the passion for food to my children, food is such an important matter in the life of people, once I heard somebody saying that the mental state of a person can be determined in relationship to the approach toward travel and food. This means that depending on how you relate to travel and food, you can be considered more or less healthy and free. Someone who takes food and travel with passion, enthusiasm, curiosity, trust, joy, and good humor is most certainly better off than someone who is anxious, scared, picky, fearful toward either of the two things. Since both travel and food are and have always been huge slices of our life I am trying my best  turn the two things into fun.

Both my children attended a Waldorf school, and I myself attended courses to become a Waldorf kindergarten teacher. (For those who do not know what a Waldorf school is I highly recommend to look into it, because it is the most wonderful pedagogy and philosophy on how to raise children. It is based on Rudolf Steiner’s teachings). However, I could talk hours about the Waldorf topic, but I’ll leave it for another post, for now I’ll just refrain myself and tell you, that according to the Waldorf pedagogy and the Steiner philosophy children should be exposed to a great variety of foods from an early age, and expose them not only to how fruit and vegetables grow in the garden, but also to how to cook your food. The act of sharing, lovingly setting the table, placing fresh flowers, lighting a candle, singing a short song all together to show gratitude and to celebrate the food are little gestures that turn mealtime into a really special moment.

 

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I remember my children being fairly small and help me chop vegetables while making soup, digging up dirt, planting bulbs, and flowers, watering the vegetables in our garden all things that made all of us happy and satisfied. Back when they were very little we lived in a farmhouse in Michigan and we created for ourselves a little corner of paradise where life was full of joy and very slow. We lived a little bit like Tasha Tudor, the old lady who lived in Maine, author of the most beautifully illustrated children’s books ever written in the U.S. I remember once, reading in one of her books, in which she was describing a religion she and family had invented, called “Stillwater”, she wrote: “Stillwater is really a state of mind, it connotes something very peaceful, you see, life without stress. nowadays people are so jeezeled up. If they took some chamomile tea and spent more time rocking on the porch in the evening listening to the liquid song of the hermit thrush, they might enjoy life more.” That is exactly how we liked to think of our selves: sitting on the porch rocking in our chairs, cooking, gardening, canning and so on.

 

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Our children behold the future, the hope for a new generation, a generation that will transform this world, make it into a better place, a kinder, more loving place, where people live in peace and rise by lifting others. Never before in human history have we faced such an opportunity for growth. Don and Jeanne Elium state in their book “Raising a Son”: “Men are no longer masters of the world of work, and women no longer own the world of the home. Humans, both male and female, are challenged to stretch to our full size – assuming the proficient skills of the hunt and the nurturing ways of the hearth. Nothing less than strength, boldness, a sense of adventure, insight, courage, and leadership joined with gentleness, sensitivity, caring, kindness, and understanding will see us into the future.” They continue saying: “Learning to cook for their families offers a perfect metaphor for teaching boys [and girls] to care [not only for their family and friends, but also] for a larger society, with all its needs, ills, differences, and values”.

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I am amazed to think about how much my children have thought me since they came in my life. With a heart full of gratitude I’d like to end this post with a quote from Tasha tudor’s book, which summarizes one of the most important lessons I learnt: “Life is to be enjoyed, not saddled with…The gloom of he world is but a shadow, behind it, yet within our reach is joy. Take joy!

 

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