Thursday, November 4, 2010

Helping the Homeless and Hungry

Here are the angels packing up the boxes of food that are going to help the hungry families right here in Orange County.  Our church is so wonderful in its ministries to help the poor and needy.  Being that our family's mission is the same, we of course had to share in this donation.  Every time we encounter a volunteer outside of a store asking for donations, both of my children light up with eagerness and determination to help.  "Mommy, we have to give to that!", squeals Giovanni, to which Sophia responds, "Yes, Mommy, we absolutely do!"  I am confident that this blog project has achieved its initial objective of raising their awareness, and is now venturing on into the world of active giving.  I planted the seed, it sprouted, and is growing more and more each day.  I couldn't be more proud, and I couldn't be more honored to watch my children unfold into the generous charitable souls that they were intended to be.

I know that I have not had too many vegetarian recipes on here, so here is an AWESOME one...great for a party buffet.  This is published in the "THE BEST OF fine cooking FRESH & QUICK 2010"; No. 37.

tomato salad with feta, olives, and mint

6 oz. feta cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint, plus sprigs for garnish
4 large ripe tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
Kosher salt
1/2 lb. cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into small dice
1/2 lb. bite-size tomatoes in assorted colors, halved
1/2 cup Nicoise or Kalmata olives (about 15), pitted and halved
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. grated lemon zest
4 tsp. fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper

Crumble the feta into a small bowl.  Add the chopped mint and toss; set aside.
Season the tomato slices with salt and then arrange them, overlapping slightly, on a serving platter.  Sprinkle the cucumber over the tomato slices.  Season the bite-size tomatoes with salt and scatter them over the cucumber.  Sprinkle the olives on top.
In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil, lemon zest, and lemon juice.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Drizzle the vinaigrette over the salad. 
To serve, scatter the feta over the salad, garnish with the mint sprigs, and serve immediately.
Serves 6.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"Give A Little Bit..."

So in church this past Sunday, I was so happy when I heard its message for that day!  The message that was broadcast to thousands was that if we all just gave a little, just think of what a difference that can make!  In the very first entry of this blog, I mentioned that not only would that make a difference, but just think how "possible" that is!  I think that too many think along the lines of, "Well, I don't have much, so I really cannot make that much of a difference."  YES, YOU CAN!  There are so many ways to be giving and charitable.  Perhaps it entails buying a hungry person a meal, or cleaning out your closet to donate clothes to the impoverished, or leaving a bit of an extra tip to a food-server who may be barely able to pay their bills in this economy...no matter what the action, the value lies in the fact that you took the time to embark on it.  We have all heard that "Every little bit helps," and it is true.  Provided that it is being given to the right people, the right organizations, every little bit makes a positive difference.  Without action, there can be no change. 

Our church, Mariners, has embarked on a ten-year journey, and has challenged its members to hop aboard and give a little bit more to see if we can change the poverty levels in Orange County so that no child goes hungry, no child goes uneducated, and no one is left homeless.  With God, this is possible.  But, I believe that God uses people to fulfill his purpose.  That is the concept of "free will" -- surely, He can intervene at any time and utilize His majestic power to make things as He wants them to be, but He is hoping that we will figure it out.  Some may call it a test, I call it following His desire.  Now I know that there may be Agnostics or Atheists reading this and you may be uncomfortable or in disagreement with my references to God, but please know that we are all in this world together and we can all do our part to make it a better place.  My beliefs belong to me, and I would never purport to tell another "what to believe"; However, I would be remiss if I did not give praise where I believe praise is due...I have been blessed and I am forever grateful for the abundance that has been given.  So please do not be turned off by my faith, because it won't make a bit of difference to the world if we have a disagreement as to what we believe.  What will make a difference is if we can together alleviate suffering, hunger, or strife in the life of another by choosing to be generous. 

In giving, even if you don't think that you have made a difference, I promise you that you have.  One of my favorite quotes is, "To the world you may be just one person, but to one person you just may be the world!"

So here's to the courage to believe that you can change even the slightest bit of some one's life in a positive and magnificent way by giving a little, no matter how small!  And for you, the blessings shall unfold...

Monday, September 27, 2010

"Waste Not"

In deciding what to make for last night's meal, I inquisitively scanned my pantry for "ideas"...ideas based on what ingredients I already had in my possession.  I saw an unopened box of manicotti, which was left over from a huge Italian family dinner, as well as the knowledge that I had tons of frozen Italian sausage and fresh Ricotta cheese left over as well.  I then went to the Internet and searched  for a recipe of "Sausage-Stuffed Manicotti" and I found one that was not only easy to prepare, but delicious at the same time.  Giovanni yelled, "Mama - I LOVE IT!...This gets a HUGE thumbs-up from me!  Sophia and Giovanni both had two helpings as did their Daddy.  He quoted that this was "really" good!

I had a comforting feeling as I prepared this meal knowing that we were utilizing what we had in our cupboards and refrigerator, rather than allowing it to go unused, which sometimes tends to happen.  I am always attempting to make the children aware of how we should not waste, and how we need to remember how blessed we are.  Blessed with the ability to buy food, the blessing of shelter and family, and blessed with our health.  That awareness went into each step of preparation for this meal, and we mentioned it in our blessing beforehand.

We are closing in on September and we have roughly $85.00 in our jars.  We are going to donate to Families Forward this month since they are so wonderfully successful in helping families that are experiencing struggle of many sorts.  If every family who is blessed with good fortune were to donate something to a family less fortunate, I am convinced that it would make a difference.  It leaves a mark on some one's soul when they know that they are cared about in perhaps their lowest moments.  I believe that such an experience is never forgotten, rather remembered forever.  Often times, it is the catalyst to a future good deed by the one that was helped in the first place.  For instance, on a recent date night with my husband, he mentioned that he had bought a homeless person on the street a hamburger while on a business trip.  He said, "You know, Jenn, honestly I don't know if I would have stopped to take the time to do that before this blog.  You have me thinking about it!"  To which I replied, "Honey, I love that!  And to think of how he was once some one's newborn...what is his story?  What happened during his life to which led to his homelessness?"  Joe replied, "You know, that is a good point...the next time I do that, maybe I'll sit down and have a conversation with that person."  That made my heart smile.  Sure, if one is intoxicated and obliterated, or mentally ill on the streets, sitting down and having a conversation is not going to be productive or perhaps "safe", but there are many that are sober and hungry and lost.  Caring about another goes much farther than our eyes can see.

Here is the recipe for you all to enjoy:

"Laurie's Stuffed Manicotti"

1 lb. mild bulk pork sausage (For all the vegetarians, you can simply skip this ingredient and it would still be delightful!)
2 (15 oz.) cans Hunt's Italian tomato sauce
1 ( 6 oz.) can Hunt's tomato paste
1/4 c. water
1/2 TBSP. packed light brown sugar
1 (15 oz.) container ricotta cheese
3 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
1 egg
1 tsp. parsley flakes
12 manicotti noodles, cooked, rinsed, and drained
Grated Parmesan cheese

In a large saucepan, brown sausage, drain.  Remove half of sausage, set aside.  Stir tomato sauce, paste, water and brown sugar into sausage, simmer 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine remaining sausage, ricotta, 2 cups mozzarella, egg and parsley.

In a 9x13x2 inch baking dish, pour 1/3 of sauce mixture.  Stuff manicotti noodles with ricotta mixture and place on top of sauce.  Pour remaining sauce over stuffed noodles.  Top with remaining mozzarella, sprinkle with Parmesan.  Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"Courageous Souls"

"Courage" is a word that often describes one's attempt at something frightening or uncomfortable.  However, it also describes one's heart or one's soul.  I have been blessed to know many courageous people in my life...one of which is our dear friend, Paul Snyder.  He is the most loving, generous, and compassionate soul. He endured a horrible bicycle accident three and a half years ago that left him partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair.  He has had numerous setbacks due to extreme pain and complication -- something that as he puts it, "...just goes along with every spinal cord injury."  He is optimistic and is married to "Sally Lou" whom I admire and love more than words can express.  These two individuals are the epitome of friendship and love.  Both Paul and Sally are true humanitarians who have been involved in so many philanthropic endeavors.  The world needs more like them for sure!  I pray for Paul's recovery and I have had several dreams that vividly show him walking again.  For those of you that know me, I have been known to have many a "psychic moment", so I choose to believe that this will happen.  I pray for it often.

I also pray for those miners trapped in Chile.  My friend (and overly-generous contributor to this blog project), Nancy, shared the story with me of what these men have endured.  I make it a point not to read the newspaper because it is depressive and pessimistic all around...not how I like to begin my day! Nancy is another one that exemplifies a gorgeous human spirit!  I just knew that when she met Paul and Sally, they would just hit it off!  Nancy called me after a recent get-together, where Paul and Sally were also present, and she said, "I just LOVED them!"  I do not believe that anyone would ever say otherwise.   Those poor miners in the caves of Chile must be so scared, and I am praying that they have the courage to believe in their rescue and survival...thank God that they are alive, and I just hope that the heroes involved in the rescue attempts also allow their courage to prevail!

If only each and every one of the fortunate individuals on this planet could be courageous enough to trust that when one gives, they receive so much in return.  It is as if God just opens your heart and douses it with love -- it is a great feeling.  And, I truly believe that the reason it feels so good is because it is exactly how He wants it.  God's greatest gift is the ability to love and care for others.  Sorry for any atheists or agnostics out there -- obviously we will disagree on this point, but I invite you to put it to the test -- what do you have to lose?

CHEESY VEGETABLE POLENTA
Ingredients:
2 cans (14.5 oz. each) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup pesto
1 medium-size onion, chopped
1 medium-size green pepper, seeded & chopped
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 tube (18 oz.) prepared polenta, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices (about 14)
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups shredded Italian-blend cheese
4 cups chopped radicchio
2 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced

1.  In a large bowl, stir together the beans, 2 Tablespoons of the pesto, onion, green pepper and Italian seasoning.  Place half of bean mixture in bottom of slow cooker.  Layer half of polenta slices over top, pour 1/4 cup chicken broth over polenta then sprinkle with 3/4 cup cheese.  Repeat layering one more time.  Cover and cook for 2 hours on HIGH or 4 1/2 hours on LOW.

2.  Stir together remaining 2 Tablespoons pesto and remaining 1/4 cup chicken broth.  Pour pesto mixture into slow cooker, add radicchio and gently stir to combine.  Place tomato slices on top and continue cooking for another 30 minutes on HIGH or LOW.  Serve immediately. 
(Makes 8 servings).

Sunday, August 29, 2010

"Meaningful Mail"

So I received a post-card in the mail addressed to "Jennifer Fambito", and I had to chuckle..."Family" is the most important thing to me, and it is funny that when I read "Fambito", I quickly resorted to the copy-guy on Saturday Night Live and muttered to myself, "Fambito....Fambaroni...Fambarito...FAMBITO!"...and then I quickly realized that it resembled "family".  So feel free to call me "Jennifer Fambito" anytime so long as you are referring to me as family-oriented.  Upon closer look, however, I noticed that it was a post-card from the American Red Cross informing me that our donation to Haiti was received and acknowledged.  Little do those wonderful Red Cross members know that we also sent that additional $200.00 to our new friend Johanne's mother so that a newborn baby will have milk to drink.  So, we have contributed doubly to Haiti...now we pray that everyone can do the same and that God will just "double" the blessings on those affected by that horrible tragedy.  So much suffering goes on in this world, both locally and globally...if only every single able-minded person could realize that even the slightest bit of help can make a difference....this world would surely be a different and much better place.

So, here is a wonderful recipe that we enjoyed not too long ago, from the "Cooking With Paula Deen" magazine, July/August 2010 edition, titled "OVEN-FRIED POTATO CHIP-CRUSTED CHICKEN"...needless to say, it was heavenly, and I only wish that I could have fed it to the people who really need it.  Perhaps someday I will have that opportunity.  Until then, we will continue to contribute locally to the hungry from the costs of our cooking, and hopefully make some sort of difference in that realm.

1/3 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 (5 oz.) bag thin and crispy potato chips, finely crushed
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon salt
6 boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded to 1/2-inch thickness

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Place a cooling rack over baking sheet; spray with nonstick cooking spray.

In a shallow dish, combine mustard and melted butter.  In a separate shallow dish, combine crushed potato chips, cheese, rosemary, and salt.

Brush chicken breasts with mustard mixture.  Dredge in potato chip mixture to coat.  Place on prepared cooling rack, and let stand for 20 minutes to set crust.

Bake for 35 to 50 minutes or until chicken is golden brown and cooked through.  Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Making a Difference

On a recent trip to a San Diego Marriott with my husband and children, I ran into a Marriott employee who I met and became friendly with on this summer's teaching travels.  His name is Paulo, and we had great conversations back in June about this blog project and how making a difference in the lives of others is so necessary!  He became a follower of this blog, and I haven't seen him since our initial meeting.  So, obviously when seeing him on this short visit to San Diego last week, I was so happy to introduce him to my family.  He is a great young man, who has a giving heart and who made a comment to me this last week that revealed how this project is working...one small step at a time.  Paulo said to me, "You know, I have to tell you, that ever since meeting you, every time I have gone to McDonald's, I have bought a hamburger for a homeless person outside and thought of you."  I screeched, "Paulo - that is wonderful!!!  That is what it is all about!"  We both acknowledged how good it felt to feed someone in need.  Paulo, if you are reading, thank you from the bottom of my heart for being so generous...you have shared your story with me and it has fueled my mission even more.

Here is a great summer recipe that I made the other day which was so fitting for an outdoor barbeque:  It is from the Food Network magazine, September 2010 issue.  It was so delicious!  It is called "Anne Burrell's Super-Zesty Potato Salad".

Ingredients
2 pounds red bliss potatoes

3 cloves garlic, smashed

2 tablespoons olive oil

6 slices bacon, cut into lardons

1 red onion, diced

3 ribs celery, diced

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

Kosher salt

1 1/2 cups homemade mayonnaise (recipe to follow)

1/2 cup Dijon mustard

Directions

Cut the potatoes in quarters and place in a large pot, add the garlic and cover the potatoes by about 2 inches with water. Season generously with salt. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are fork tender, about 20 minutes.

While the potatoes are cooking, put 2 tablespoons olive oil into a saute pan, add the bacon and bring to a medium-high heat. Cook the bacon until it is brown and crispy. Remove from the heat and add the onions, celery and vinegar. Season with salt and reserve.

When the potatoes are fork tender, drain them from the water and transfer them to a large mixing bowl. While the potatoes are still hot add the bacon-onion mixture. Stir to incorporate. Add the Mayonnaise and stir to combine. TASTE for seasoning and stir in the mustard. Add more salt, if needed.

Zesty!
Homemade Mayonnaise:

*2 egg yolks

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Kosher salt

1 1/2 cups neutrally flavored oil (vegetable, canola, peanut)

Place the egg yolks in the bowl of the food processor and add the vinegar and mustard. Season with salt, to taste. Turn the machine on and VERY slowly start to drizzle in the oil. Drip, drip, drip until the mixture starts to look like mayonnaise, then a slow steady stream of oil can be added.

Cook's Note: If the mayonnaise is too thick add a few drops of water or if it is not thick enough, with the machine running, add a little more oil.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"Homage to Haiti"

Today we mailed money to our friend Johanne, from Haiti, whom I recently met on a business trip to Chicago.  If you are following this blog, then you know her story.  She is currently living in Chicago with a host family so that she can attend school, and she is one of nine (9) children in her family from Haiti.  In our first conversation, Johanne informed me that she has a 16 year-old sister who is pregnant as a result of rape, and this sister is living with the remainder of Johanne's family in a small village in Haiti.  This unborn, innocent soul is scheduled to be born this August, and Johanne informed me that her mother was very scared about not being able to feed this baby.  Johanne's family lives in a small village, and they are very poor.  Well, I believe it to be no accident that we were assigned seats next to one another on this recent business trip.  My desire to help others with less than me, combined with the sole purpose of this blog project all just came together in perfect harmony.  If you notice the quote at the top of this blog: "Nourishing the hungry while feeding my family...", this story just couldn't have been scripted any better!  I was determined to send our next donation to this village in Haiti so that this baby at least had some nourishment from our efforts.  I was apprehensive about sending a money order directly to her mother, as I am unaware of how Customs or the Haitian government operates, and I feared that she might never see it.  I discussed this with Johanne, and she informed me that they have a family friend who is in Chicago who will be soon be traveling to Haiti to see Johanne's family.  This friend will be visiting Johanne soon in order to receive things to take to Johanne's mother when said friend goes to Haiti at the end of this month.  So, call it foolish, but we sent cash directly to Johanne to be given to her friend to deliver to her mother.  The passing of the baton so to speak.  We had $160.00 in our "Donations Jar", and we added an additional $40.00 so that we sent $200.00 in total.  Johanne's words:  "Oh, Jennifer, my mother is going to be sooooo happy -- she can at least have some peace because of you...you beautiful person."  To which I replied, "It is my sincere pleasure to help in some small way, and you are actually helping me and my children by giving us this opportunity."  We agreed to talk soon, and I hung up the phone with such a complexity of wonderful emotions...it is true that when you give, you are the one being blessed.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

"Marvelous Mushroom Risotto"

We are back in action!  I have missed cooking and blogging so much while away on the road, or while being a "single mom" while my husband has had to be away on business travel.  I enjoy cooking for my husband so much because having "family dinners" is so important to me, and is essential to a healthy childhood for our children.

We have been collecting our donations for a while now, and this next donation is actually going to go to a village in Haiti.  I met a lovely young lady on a recent flight to Chicago whom is living with a host family here in the states while she attends school.  She is one of nine children, and comes from a village in Haiti.  She informed me that her sister is 16 (and pregnant as a result of a rape), and the sister is looking to give the child up for adoption so that she can attend school.  I made the announcement during my Chicago lecture asking if anyone was interested in adopting or knew of anyone that was...sure enough, a gentleman came up to me at the break asking for the information as his friend was very interested in adopting a baby from Haiti!  This is how God works...people helping people.  I am sending our monthly donation to my new friend's mother in Haiti because this grandchild is expected to be born later this month.  Any little bit can help.  I will be comforted knowing that there will be food or assistance provided for this child as a result of our donation. 

The blog's primary purpose for those that follow is to teach the importance of "giving" to my children, while enhancing their palates all the while.  Although the recipes have not been a "daily-making" lately, the lessons have been in full-throttle for Sophia and Giovanni.  Every chance I get, I introduce them to the opportunity of "choosing" generosity and compassion.  For instance, we were cleaning out their dresser drawers the other day, and I asked them what we should do with the clothes that they have outgrown, and almost in unison, they blurted, "Give 'em to the Village of Hope, Mama!"  Thank you, sweet Lord above, for sending your angels to be my children.  I hope you are proud of their loving hearts! 

Here is a wonderful recipe that I made the other night to accompany grilled chicken and steamed veggies...

MUSHROOM RISOTTO WITH WHITE WINE
Ingredients:
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 garlic clove
8 oz. fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1/4 tsp. dried rosemary
1 Tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
2 cups Arborio rice
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
6 to 8 cups hot Chicken Stock
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1.  In a large frying pan melt 2 Tablespoons butter with olive oil over medium heat.  Add 1/2 cup onion and garlic and cook until the onion is soft, 2 to 3 minutes.  Stir in mushrooms and cook until lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes.  Stir in thyme, rosemary, and parsley.  Add 1/2 cup wine and cook until wine is absorbed, about 2 minutes.  Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.  Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.

2.  Melt remaining 2 Tablespoons butter in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat.  Cook remaining 1/2 cup onion until soft, about 3 minutes.  Add remaining 1 cup wine and cook over high heat until reduced to 1/2 cup, 4-5 minutes.  Add rice, salt, and pepper and stir to coat evenly, allowing wine to be absorbed.  Add 2 cups chicken stock, reduce heat to medium, and stir until stock is absorbed, 5-6 minutes.  Continue to add as much stock as needed, 1 cup at a time, stirring, until rice is creamy and tender but still firm in center.  Process should take 15-18 minutes from time you add first stock.  Stir in reserved mushrooms.  Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.  Pass remaining Parmesan cheese on the side.

Enjoy!  This was given thumbs-up all around!


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Where Have I Been?

I have had to take a temporary pause from the daily cooking as my business travels, along with my husband's, have made it quite tough to do.  This is my busy teaching season where I teach law all across the country for a bar review course, preparing students to pass their respective bar exams.  And my husband, well, he is always needing to travel to see the people he represents in their baseball careers.  We are so blessed to have flexibility in our jobs, yet it makes it quite stressful at times when we cannot all be together.  Needless to say, I have been sharing the "Cooking To Contribute" endeavor with all that I meet, and I have made some wonderful friends along the way.  I have been contributing in other ways, as I always make a conscious effort to do some good in each day that God has given us.

For instance, I bought a military service man a meal and a beer when I noticed him sitting next to me in the airport restaurant.  I noticed his backpack with his name embroidered along with "UNITED STATES ARMY" in bold type.  I looked at him and said, "Thank you so much for all that you do for us here in America...can I please buy you dinner as a token of my and my family's appreciation?"  He replied, in his oh-so-respectful demeanor, "Ma'am, I would appreciate that and I am honored to do what I do."  With that, and a lump in my throat, I told the waiter to please put it on my tab. 

When I see the individuals outside of the grocery store with their metal box on the table asking for donations to "Help the Homeless", how can I resist?  Even if it is some spare change, every little bit helps.  And if for some unjustified reason, I am being ripped off or conned, I lay no worry on that possibility because it is not up to me to judge.  The Man upstairs knows one's heart, and I wish that we all, as a population, could take some pause each day to realize that it is so possible to "give" to one who has less than you...it is actually quite joyful and comforting.  The head pastor at our church always says, "The greatest blessing in giving is that you are the one being blessed."  When you give and sincerely care about others, it truly does touch your heart.

With my children at the forefront of this project, I am seeing the positive progress in my message of the importance of giving.  At the drug store yesterday, the cashier asked me if I wanted to donate to Lou Gehrig's disease research, and before I could even think about it, Sophia piped in with, "Mom!  Yes, we want to do that."  So, we did.

Please keep following as some yummy recipes are sure to be back soon...

I wish you all a day filled with love, good news, good health, beautiful weather and a full and grateful tummy!  :)

Monday, May 10, 2010

So Grateful To Be Called "MOM"

Yesterday was Mother's Day, and one of the best days in my life as a Mom.  The four of us (Joe, myself, Sophia and Giovanni) began the day with church, and went on to a wonderful lunch filled with so many "I love yous" and "We couldn't be what we are without you"s, that I felt more loved and needed than I ever imagined possible.  This job, this blessing, this responsibility, this wonderment--all referring to "Motherhood", is the most abundant existence there is.  A heart has no limits when it comes to love, and when you look into the eyes of your child, the "you" as you used to know it, is changed forever.  Forever changed by the magic and innocence of a child, and the natural appreciation for this angelic soul that God has placed in your care.  My silent talks within my soul each day begin and end with "Thank you, Lord...I am so grateful that you found me worthy to be their Mother."

In Friday's mail, I found an appreciation letter from the Orange County Rescue Mission for our recent donation.  Along with that was a factual depiction of how overwhelmed their shelter is due to the hundreds of people losing their jobs and homes in this economic crisis.  So, April and May's collections will be again donated there to help our local families that are struggling.  We pray that our small monetary contributions will help even the tiniest bit to relieve someone's suffering.  I will continue "cooking to contribute" to this worthy cause.  I love a sign that I see a few times a week at Giovanni's pre-school...it sums it up perfectly:  "Here I am Lord...Use me!"

Just as I hoped and envisioned, my children are catching on to how necessary this giving aspect is. Sophia asked me yesterday, "Mama, remember those children that we saw at Village of Hope--the ones that were playing on the playground?" I replied with, "Yes, sweetheart, I sure do," to which she pleaded, "Mama, please tell me that they have a school to go to."  I assured her that the public school system makes sure that they get to attend school, and that her donations and clothes will help to feed those children and give them something to wear to school.  She nodded confidently and smiled once again as if she was proud...proud to help one in need. 

Here is a yummy recipe that the family enjoyed...again, anything with pasta is a sure hit.  This was simple and great as left-overs as well:

"Chicken and Prosciutto Pasta"
Ingredients:
Non-stick cooking spray
6 oz. dried penne pasta (approx. 2 cups)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
12 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into 1/2-inch strips
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 oz. prosciutto, coarsely chopped
1/2 of a medium green sweet pepper, cut into bite-size strips
1/2 of a medium yellow sweet pepper, cut into bite-size strips
1 teaspoon dried basil, crushed
1 tablespoon capers, drained
1 15-oz. container refrigerated marinara sauce
1 10-oz. container refrigerated Alfredo sauce
1/3 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese

1. Coat a 2-quart casserole with cooking spray.  Cook pasta according to package directions; drain.  Return to saucepan.
2.  Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat.  Add chicken and garlic; cook and stir for 2 minutes.  Add prosciutto, sweet pepper strips, basil, and, capers.  Cook and stir for 2 to 3 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink and pepper is crisp-tender.  Add to pasta in saucepan; mix well.
3.  Layer half of the pasta mixture in prepared casserole.  Top with 1 cup of the marinara sauce.  Top with remaining pasta mixture, and the Alfredo sauce.  Drizzle with remaining marinara sauce.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
4.  Bake, uncovered, in a 350 degree oven for 25-35 minutes or until heated through.  Makes 6 servings. 
--This recipe was from Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publications 2010  titled "Ultimate Chicken".

Monday, May 3, 2010

"Call For Action"

I was watching the Oprah Winfrey episode last Friday where she declared a "Call For Action" regarding distracting driving due to the use of cell phones.  Statistics state that texting or utilizing your cell phone while driving is equivalent to driving drunk--with a blood alcohol level two times above the normal.  That is shocking to say the least as drunk driving is such a horrible epidemic! 

Those of you that read my blog know how I believe that each and everyone of us can make a positive difference in the lives of others--Oprah has done so much of that for so many, over so many years...and hopefully she will have more accolades because of her drawing attention to this problem.

As my baby sister had to learn yesterday that her childhood friend died from a heroin overdose, I believe that a HUGE call for action is needed regarding substance addiciton in our youth population.  So many lives are shortened by this horrible epidemic and such pain and sorrow are left behind.  A mother and father should never have to bury their child...my stomach clenches at how horrific that experience must be.  We have dear family friends that had to bury their son after the Taliban took him from the mountains in Afghanistan while fighting for our freedom here and abroad, and I will never forget the phone call informing me of that fact.  Every generation has their "Do you remember what you were doing when you found out about...?"  Well I believe that these tragedies, whether they be war-related or drug-related or health-related or catastrophic situations, are happening at far too rapid a speed.  Our youth are having their childhoods eradicated--so much is exposed to them at far too young an age thanks to the internet, and drug cartels.

I pray that the family of this twenty year old woman can find strength and some sort of peace someday.  Never will this tragedy be understood...my heart aches for them, and for any other family that has had to experience the loss of a loved one at much too young of an age.

Please appreciate life, and honor its fragility and preciousness.  We all need to be grateful for the time we have here and live with purpose. 

I suppose the message in today's blog is recognizing a needed "Call For Action" when it comes to someone sick with addiction or someone in need of obvious help.  I pray that courage will enter each and every heart if there is a time when it is needed--especially in order to intervene with something serious.  I pray that love and care will abound, and that there can be hope placed in the hearts of those who have lost it.

"Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark."--George Iles

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"Earthly Compassion"

On Earth Day especially, our thoughts turn to our planet and all of its glory with the hope and concern that it will endure far beyond our comprehension of years.  However, when I think of the earth, I think of all of its inhabitants and how we all need to do our part in caring for one another.  I recently sent out an email to all in my contact list asking for clothing donations so that we could deliver an abundance of blessings to a local rescue mission here in Orange County called "Village of Hope".  Village of Hope is a part of the Orange County Rescue Mission, and if you are interested in learning more about what this wonderful organization is accomplishing, please take a look at their website:  http://www.rescuemission.org/.
Well, the response that I received was awesome to say the least as I would come home day after day and find bags of clothing on my porch. Thank you so much for anyone who donated as you are assisting me in the teaching of this very important virtue to my children, but you are more importantly clothing many individuals who genuinely need it!  Here we are, about to set out to deliver these gracious donations...

What an awesome experience to get out of the car and have the mission volunteer say to me, "Hold on, I need to get a bigger container!", when he saw all that was in the back of my car.  He brought out a wood flat with a large container where we placed all of the clothes, shoes, and toys.  I wanted the kids to pose by the container so that they could get a visual of the "giving" aspect and how wonderful it feels.  A forklift then appeared and drove the container into the warehouse.  Giovanni wanted to see what was in there as he is fascinated with forklifts.  We went to the door, and he and Sophia looked up in awe at the stacks and stacks of shelves with boxes, containers, food, etc.  I explained how all of what they saw is going to help families and individuals someday soon in order to make their lives happier.  A certain smile appeared on their face as if to confirm that they not only understood, but felt as if they were a part of that.  Mission accomplished.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A "Simple Truth"

We have a collection of books on our shelves in the children's playroom, all of which are worth holding on to for one reason or another.  I am drawn to books that are inspirational, or reminders of how we should live while experiencing this relatively short life.  Life should not be as complicated as we make it.  Life should be appreciated for the time that it is vibrant, and respected at the time of its expiration.  However, unfortunately, our human nature is to worry and stress when most of the time it turns out to be wasted emotion.  The choice to be positive no matter what the circumstance, is just that:  a choice. 

I periodically like to trust the universe with sending me a message so I do silly tests or trials...such as, randomly opening a book and reading the first thing I lay my eyes on and accept it as what I was meant to read at that given time.

So, this morning while straightening up the kids' playroom (notice I didn't say "cleaning it" because that will take a day or two!), I looked to our bookshelf and reached for a book called "Simple Truths" by Kent Hurburn.  I closed my eyes and opened to a random page.  Surprisingly, I opened to the "Parenthood" section, and here is what I read:
"When you experience parenthood, the whole world remakes itself before your eyes. Nature aligns itself. You understand your parents more and honor them more for the love they gave and the struggles they had. You see your own imperfections cast in high relief, because you know how much you want to do things right, and how hard it is to know what it is you should do. You feel the unity of generations cascading into generations from the beginning of time. You feel something in the world that is more important than yourself. Your life suddenly becomes centered. Your own failings are cast in high relief, but so are your own strengths. You know what it is you believe in and must pass along. If you have a chance at parenthood, look upon it with a sense of mystery and awe. You are given the joy of watching life afresh, and the chance to help another human being take flight into the richness and mystery of life. The very clay of which our world is made is, for a brief moment, placed in your hands."
Now if that doesn't sum up what parenthood means to me, and all of its complexity!  However, with the complexity comes the simplest of truths:  Love is the meaning of it all, and is defined in the deepest sense as that between a parent and child. 

I hope that our children will love those in need, and will want to reach out to them whenever they get the chance.  A smile, a simple act of kindness, a donation of food, clothing, or money--simple things, a simple truth.  Every one of us can make a difference in the lives of those in need.  Hopefully our project will set that example for our children, as Joe and I attempt to pass along our strengths more than our failings. 

May you go out and shed a little light and love on someone today!  It's so easy to do...

"Come on people now, smile on your brother everybody get together and try to love one another right now."--The Youngbloods

Sunday, April 18, 2010

April Showers

"Shower the people you love with love, show them the way that you feel...things are gonna work out fine if you only will"...--oh, the soothing voice of James Taylor!  How true these lyrics are!!!  Especially the "things are gonna work out fine" part, as we just come off the heels of "TAX DAY"!

I stop at a stand-still at times when I hear Sophia laughing at something she finds very funny -- her laughter is infectious, and my first thought is that "she is going to be a great friend."  I know the belly-aching laughs that my friends and I share and have shared over the years, and these are true moments of happiness.  As I watch Sophia grow, I know that I will often be reflecting back to the times my friends and I rolled on the floor with giggles that lasted for minutes on end..."Hello, Ms. Prata, can I just say "Wash and Wear haircut?"; or Heid, "The blue boat and radiator fluid?"; or Lor, a certain Ms. Holls with squinty eyes and padlocks on the fridge?"; or Goona, "The famous drive-thru at McDonalds?"; or Madi, "Why don't you put on your Nikes and get on your bike..." Oh, the inside jokes and memories that never lose their luster...

Three of my dear girlfriends have birthdays in the month of April, and one of them is actually on tax day, so April is a special and heart-warming month for me. I love my friends, and I hope to always shower them with love. So, here is a wonderful recipe to share with you all in honor of the girls who keep me laughing, who authored so many hilarious memories, and who know more about me than I do myself at times.

From "Cooking Light" magazine:

"Balsamic Chicken Breasts with Roasted Tomatoes"

Ingredients
1 pint grape tomatoes
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cooking spray
Balsamic vinaigrette salad spritzer (such as Wish-Bone)


Preparation
1. Preheat oven to 450°.


2. Combine first 3 ingredients in a small bowl; place tomato mixture on a foil-lined jelly-roll pan. Bake at 450° for 12 minutes or until tomato skins burst and begin to wrinkle, stirring once. Transfer tomatoes to a bowl, scraping juices into bowl. Stir 1/4 teaspoon salt into tomato mixture.


3. Place each chicken breast half between 2 sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap; pound to 1/4-inch thickness using a meat mallet or small heavy skillet. Sprinkle chicken evenly with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper.


4. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add chicken; cook 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Place chicken on individual plates; coat each breast half with 2 to 3 sprays of balsamic spritzer. Spoon tomatoes evenly over chicken.

--I served this with orzo pasta tossed with sauteed zucchini as the magazine suggested.

THUMBS-UP!!!

There is nothing worth the wear of winning, but laughter and the love of friends." -- Hillaire Belloc

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Fragility of Us All

The main thread that ties human beings together comes from the spool of feelings and emotions.  We all have them, we all feel them. 

Some of us are woven with the strongest of string in that we come from a family full of love, kindness and good fortune.  Some of us are sewn together with multiple pieces of fabric in that we have been adopted or perhaps have moved from family to family like in the life of a foster child.  Some of us have been wounded, abused, forgotten, neglected, hurt, or abandoned.  Some of us are so privileged that we have no idea how to even relate to one less fortunate, and our ego is largely out of control.  Some of us are so poor in pocket, but millionaires in spirit.  Some of us are generous, some are stingy.  Some are grateful, some are selfish, some are pessismists, and some are optimists.  The point is that although everyone is different, we are more alike than we think.

Every person on this planet has a "story"..the tale of where their life began, what they experienced along the way, and where they are today if they are still here visiting Earth.  I get teary-eyed when I pass a homeless person on the street because the first thought I have is, "That person is somebody's son/daughter."  Society wants to look at them as "the homeless", but they are individuals who obviously have had a rough existence.  I think of the moment of their birth:  Was their mother as ecstatic as I was holding him/her for the first time, or were they unwanted from the get-go?  Were they at once on the path of greatness and someone killed their spirit along the way?  Were they once motivated and responsible, but gave up on themselves?  Were they once healthy, but drugs and alcohol robbed their body and brain?  So many questions, not one right answer, because every story is different.  Where it is the same lies in the fact that everyone has "feelings" and "emotions".  I know that the prison population would be much smaller if those criminals really loved themselves enough to stop hurting others; if they believed in themselves enough to not take the path of least resistance...to live and do "right" each day rather than justify their "wrong" by blaming their circumstance.

Anyway...these are my thoughts today after driving my neighbor friend to her chemotherapy appointment.  Her story is that she is a loving wife and mother to her adopted five-year-old son, and she has cancer.  She has a very aggressive form of cancer, as I am so reminded by the portable chemotherapy machine which every few seconds make a static-grinding noise as it drips into her body while I drive.  Her strength and attitude are heart-warming.  She is destined to beat this horrible disease all the while knowing it is in her brain and many other organs of her body.  Her feelings of devastation are held at bay by her choice to be optimistic.  I am blessed to be asked to assist from time to time with taking care of her needs.  I will never know what it is she is feeling, I can only imagine...I can only try to help.  My attitude is:  If one is not suffering, help one that is; If one is not poor, be generous to those that are; If one is not homeless, help those that are; and the list goes on.

The recipe for today is titled "Sicilian Grilled Chicken"--we all know that the Sicilians are famous for their strength, albeit perhaps the "organized" strength if you know what I mean...ha ha ha (Joke...just kidding..really, Tony Soprano, I am just jokin'... fugetta bout it)!

Sicilian Grilled Chicken (from: www.amorebrand.com)
1/4 cups almonds
1 TBSP Amore Garlic Paste or 2 large garlic cloves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves
1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
2 TBSP Amore Sun-Dried Tomato Paste
2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
4 boneless chicken breasts



In a food processor or blender, combine and chop the almonds, Amore Garlic Paste, basil and salt and pepper to taste.  Add the tomatoes, cheese, Amore Sun-Dried Tomato Paste, water and oil and process until finely chopped.  Heat a barbecue grill or grill pan.  Brush with oil.  Salt and pepper the chicken and place on the grill.  Cook 4 minutes or until just cooked through.  Transfer chicken to a platter.  Spoon on the prepared sauce.  Serve hot or at room temperature.

This received unanimous THUMBS-UP!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"Mom Sambito's Cacciatore"

Near the start of this project I received a letter from my mother-in-law whom I am so blessed to be very close with.  Enclosed was a hand-written note and recipe for "Chicken Cacciatore", and she also included a donation for our Jars.  We were so grateful to receive this as "Grandma Sambito" is such an integral part of this project--our children are her descendants, and she is here as one member of the "first-generation" straight from Sicily, Italy!  Grandma Sambito's parents, Josephine and Cono, arrived on Ellis Island shortly before World War I.   They settled in Brooklyn and started their family.  Grandma Sambito was the second child born to Josephine and Cono, with Grace being the first, and their childhood was filled with traditional family values and lots of home-cooked meals.  Other than the local Italian deli in her Brooklyn neighborhood, "fast food" was not part of her or her family's days...rather, home-cooked, hand-made meals were what brought the family together. 

In our fast-paced present suburban life here in California, I am trying so vehemently to implement these old-time, traditional and meaningful values into our children, all centered around the family table.  Statistics show that the more meals shared as a family with meaningful conversation, the lower the odds of alcohol or drug abuse in the children as they mature.  I believe it!  When a child has a sense of belonging, and a sense of feeling "important" in a family home, their self esteem is encouraged and nurtured.

I heard Carrie Underwood's new song titled, "Temporary Home" recently, and it brought tears to my eyes when I really paid attention to the lyrics.  It begins with a boy who is placed in a foster home, but he knows that his "permanent home" is really in Heaven...then goes on to a single Mom's struggle with the same belief, and ends with an older man who knows that this "was" his "temporary home" as he is on his death bed and sees God's face...beautiful song and validating lyrics as to what I believe. 

The fact that there are so very many people without homes here on Earth, and so many children being placed in foster care, and so many single-parents on their own with children--I pray that they can know that this is just a "temporary home", and that there are people who really care and who are trying to make even the slightest bit of difference.  I pray that more individuals will day-by-day perhaps "give" a little here and there.  Never mind what is going on with the government, or in the financial sector...for this is all so temporary--your struggles, along with your triumphs, are all too accurately "temporary".  So, enjoy each day and know that everyone has some cross that they are bearing.  Do what you can to make a difference because the biggest blessing of all is in helping others less fortunate than you.

Temporary Home Lyrics:


Little boy, 6 years old
A little too used to bein' alone
Another new mom and dad,another school
Another house that'll never be home
When people ask him how he likes this place
He looks up and says with a smile upon his face

"This is my temporary home
It's not where I belong
Windows and rooms that I'm passin' through
This is just a stop, on the way to where I'm going
I'm not afraid because I know this is my
Temporary Home."

Young mom on her own
She needs a little help got nowhere to go
She's lookin' for a job, lookin' for a way out
Because a half-way house will never be a home
At night she whispers to her baby girl
Someday we'll find a place here in this world

"This is our temporary home
It's not where we belong
Windows and rooms that we're passin' through
This is just a stop, on the way to where we're going
I'm not afraid because I know this is our
Temporary Home."

Old man, hospital bed
The room is filled with people he loves
And he whispers don't cry for me
I'll see you all someday
He looks up and says "I can see God's face."
"This is my temporary Home
It's not where I belong
Windows and rooms that I'm passin' through
This was just a stop,on the way to where I'm going
I'm not afraid because I know this was
My temporary home."

This is our temporary home.

I made my mother-in-law's "Chicken Cacciatore" recipe which received unanimous thumbs-up!  I am not going to publish this recipe, though, because I think it important to hold on to a family recipe that is most likely closely-linked to Italy!  A family secret so-to-speak...I will, however, share one secret:  it involved a Crock Pot!  We loved it!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"Fellowship With Family"

Posted by PicasaOn Monday evening, my Dad and step-mom Edie, a.k.a. "Oma!", came over for dinner. I was so excited to cook for them as our getting together does not happen often-enough. Busy schedules, busy lives...but we always know that we love each other. Always present are our giggling and laugh-fests, as Oma always has funny new jokes and stories to share.

My Dad has had a lot of health issues so I am often stopped in my tracks just trying to take-in-the-moment, as when he has good days and a long stint of good reports, I just want to hang on to that and have it not change. It goes the same with Oma...she is a breast cancer survivor, and we all are so thankful that that is still the case.

With my children, I am borderline "obsessed" with the "being in the moment"...I just want to freeze time! As I was walking with Giovanni yesterday, hand-in-hand, I got teary eyed knowing that the day will come all too quickly where that hand is enormous and very much belonging to a MAN. Where will my little boy have gone???  He is here right now, but he is ever growing and maturing...as much as that is a blessing, it is so difficult as a Mom to watch it disappear little by little with the passage of time. It's almost as if the memories are being filed in my mind manually...every day I stop and think about what is actually occurring -- "Life" is happening, and what a life God blessed me with. Being the mother to these two angelic individuals...and having a husband that loves me and just "gets" me...he has always given me the freedom to be myself, and we both know that we have what matters: each other and our children and our family.

Never will I take that for granted, and forever I will be trying to do my part in helping others with less than me. It is my duty...I truly feel this in every fabric of my being.

Here is the recipe that I made for my Dad and Oma -- it was delicious and served with pasta, salad and roasted-garlic ciabatta bread:

"Braised Chicken Thighs With Tomatoes and Olives" (Food & Wine magazine):

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 chicken thighs (about 3 pounds in all)
1 teaspoon salt
Fresh-ground black pepper
1 onion, chopped
12 cloves garlic, peeled
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary, or 3/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup canned low-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes in thick puree
1/3 cup halved and pitted black olives
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil


Directions:


1.In a large deep frying pan, heat the oil over moderately high heat. Season the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Put the chicken in the pan and brown well on both sides, about 8 minutes in all. Remove. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat. Reduce the heat to moderately low.


2.Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion starts to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the rosemary and wine. Bring to a simmer, scraping the bottom of the pan to dislodge any brown bits. Boil until the wine is reduced to approximately 1/4 cup, 1 to 2 minutes.


3.Add the broth, tomatoes, olives, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the chicken, skin-side up, with any accumulated juices. Cover and simmer until the chicken is just done, 20 to 25 minutes. Push the chicken to the side of the pan and then mash the garlic cloves with a fork. Stir in 1/8 teaspoon pepper and the basil, bring just to a simmer, and serve.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


HAPPY ST. PATRICK'S DAY - 2010

So, I am turning my children into "wild and crazy" Irish descendants...have to be festive on this day!!! Hubby is due back in town late tonight so I did not slave over a hot stove in 86 degree temperature, as the kids preferred Mickey D's after a warm T-ball practice of Giovanni's. We celebrate the day of the Irish -- so much of our ancestry lies here...the fair skin says it all! Top-o-the-evening to ya! May you all be safe, happy and well!
Posted by Picasa

Monday, March 15, 2010

"Giada's Rigatoni"

I pulled a loose paper out from a stack in my cookbook cabinet, and it happened to be something that I knew Joe would love!  ANYTHING with Italian sausage will for sure receive a thumbs-up from my Sicilian hubby!  This was titled, "Rigatoni with Sausage, Asparagus and Artichokes".  There was an article written around this recipe, and it was ironic what it said.  It was written by a woman who decided to cook this recipe for her husband because she was a self-admitted horrible cook.  She said that her husband had a crush on Giada deLaurentiis not because of her good looks (Yah, right!!!), but because of her skills in the kitchen.  So this author decided to give it a whirl to capture her husband's heart back.  It turned out delicious for the writer, and so her husband was elated.  Having a loyal husband is a blessing, yet one with a full tummy is an added bonus! 

I haven't blogged in almost a week because the busy schedules went into over-drive this past week.  From school fundraisers at restaurants, to late evening sport practices, to requests for "CPK"...Mommy took a bit of a break.  More to come--lots of it!  Can't wait for Spring Training to be over so the Culinary Institute of Irvine can get back into gear!

LOVE this quote:

Consult not your fears but your hopes and dreams.  Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential.  Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what is still possible for you to do.--Pope John XXIII


Rigatoni with Sausage, Artichokes and Asparagus
3/4 cup drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, sliced (reserve 2 tablespoons oil)
1 pound hot Italian sausage
2 (9-oz) packages frozen artichoke hearts (can used canned, instead)
1 small bunch asparagus (8 ounces), trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
¾ cups chicken broth
½ cup dry white wine
12 ounces rigatoni or other tubular pasta
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
1/3 cup chopped, fresh basil¼ cup chopped, fresh flat-leaf parsley (Italian Parsley)
8 ounces (about 1 ½ cups) fresh mozzarella, cubed (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Heat reserved oil in a large, heavy frying pan over medium-high heat. Add sausage and cook until browned, breaking meat into bite-size pieces with a fork, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer sausage to a bowl. Add artichokes, asparagus and garlic to skillet, and sauté over medium heat until garlic is tender, about 2 minutes. Add broth, wine and sun-dried tomatoes. Boil over medium-high heat until sauce reduces slightly, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. (*NOTE: I like to add the asparagus later so that it doesn’t get overcooked) Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Drain pasta. Add pasta and sausage to artichoke mixture. Toss until sauce is almost absorbed by pasta, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in Parmesan cheese, basil, parsley and mozzarella, if using. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve, passing additional Parmesan cheese alongside. Makes 6 servings.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Memorable Motherhood Moments"

From the moment I gave birth to my first born, my life's purpose had finally emerged--a day that I had dreamt about when I was young.  The day that made me a  "Mother".  That day marked the first of so many "moments"--memorable moments that I pray my brain will always retain with clarity.  Moments that take your breath away because you just can't believe that you can love another human being THAT much, moments that test your every last bit of patience, moments that make you look to the Heavens with gratitude, moments of fear, moments of pure pride, moments of adoration, moments that mark a "first" of everything: first night they slept all night; first time they crawled; first tooth that appeared; first time they said "Mama" or "Dada"; first time trying solid foods; first steps; first birthday; first time they went on the potty; first day of school; first time throwing up; first lost tooth; And the famous First Grade.  There are so many of these first moments...I try my hardest to record them all, but undoubtedly many have gotten away from me.

With my children, there are moments in my memory that I wish I could just hit a "Play" button only to have them performed over and over again.  Sure, threre are those that we have captured on video or film, but then there are those that happen so suddenly and you find yourself wanting to freeze time.  The moments when you look at your child and you realize how FAST they are growing, and how much their childhood will soon become a memory.  I joke with Sophia that no matter how tall she gets, I will always hold her just like my baby girl.  I say this as I hold her and she giggles with delight as I am huffing-and-puffing as I say it due to her already being so tall and no longer weighing that of an infant or toddler.  Forever my little girl she will be...

Then there is Giovanni, who swears that he is going to marry me someday, and this just melts my heart!  To know that he will be one day soooo embarrassed as I remind him of this, makes me somewhat apprehensively sad.  These are the rights of passage...Freud taught us about them all.  My dear friend and family member, Nancy, said it best of all:  "There will NEVER be ANYONE who loves me like my son!"  Just writing that fills my eyes with tears.  A love only a mother can know...

For all those abused, neglected or forgotten children, who have perhaps grown into adults without a sense of purpose or direction, please know that you are not forgotten in people's prayers, and I would just reach out and hug you on the street if I knew that you had experienced pain or suffering as a child. I pray that those who had can find hope and healing.  Research shows that the abuse that exists in families is most likely "learned" behaviors from the past--the domino effect, if you will, which will just keep on repeating itself until love and healing take place--until an abused stops being an abuser. My prayer for the abused is that they can somehow find the way or the path toward believing that there is a life of non-violence and love awaiting them--a moment when they know in their heart that the cycle has been broken.  Noone deserves to be abused, but if you were, please do not become the abuser.  Find forgiveness, and grab onto hope as it is always there.  As for mothers who were perhaps abused as children, may you find forgiveness in your soul so that you can love your own children in the purest and strongest way -- the way that they deserve. 

A moment struck me recently as one of those I will hang on to:  I was picking up Giovanni from pre-school and I noticed a poster board on the wall that said, "How Do We Help Others"?  Underneath that, written in the teacher's handwriting were the quotes from the pre-schoolers.  I looked for Giovanni's name and there it was...his answer was, "Be a Super Hero!"  Perhaps this blog project is sinking in for him...he is learning to be a hero for those in need.  And in my eyes, he is "Super" and more!

On this past Saturday night I had my Mom, my brother Adam, and my brother-in-law Luke over for dinner.  Goo ("Christina" as non-family members know her) was skiing with girlfriends in Mammoth, Madi was out with her friends in L.A., and Joe was traveling on business. 

It is enjoyable to cook for males as they usually have huge appetites and you can be assured that not much will go to waste--provided that it is tasty.  So, I had the other two favorite men in my life over in hopes of feeding them and getting thumbs up!  I made one dish that I had made before as I trusted they would enjoy it.  It was the "Pork Romana" recipe and it was yum!  I then decided to do another guilty cheese-sauce pasta...this one contained three different cheeses and I again tossed it with linguine.  A caesar salad and garlic bread complemented the menu, and we had great conversation and a great time!  I am passionate about family dinners and what they mean for the children.  Seeing Giovanni and Sophia sitting there, quietly eating and chiming in with their funny renditions of whatever they were thinking at the time was delightful!

Here is the pasta recipe for you to enjoy...it goes best with a sweeter dish as the cheese has strong, bold flavors!

Tagliarini With Four Cheeses (but I used Three!)
From:  "365 Easy Italian Recipes "
Ingredients:
1 cup heavy cream
4 ounces Italian fontina cheese, grated
4 ounces dolce latte gorgonzola or other mild blue cheese, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 ounces Bel Paese cheese (Have NO idea what this is -- couldn't find it!), cut up
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, about 4 ounces
1/2 teaspoon pepper, plus more for grinding
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 pound fresh tagliarini (I used linguine)

 
1.  In a nonreactive large saucepan, bring cream to a simmer over medium heat; be careful not to let it boil over.  Add fontina, gorgonzola, and Bel Paese.  Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring, until cheeses are melted and sauce is smooth, about 5 minutes.  Add 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and cook, stirring, 1 minute.  Season with pepper and nutmeg.

2.  Meanwhile, cook tagliarini in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm, 2 to 4 minutes; drain.  Pour pasta and sauce into a warmed large bowl and toss together.  Pass remaining Parmesan cheese and a pepper mill on the side.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

"Dining with my Daughter"

It was "Dad's Night" at Giovanni's pre-school, and luckily his Dad flew back into town in time for the event, so I took our daughter, Sophia, out for a "dinner date" -- Giovanni and I have shared a few of these when Sophia and Joe have had their Indian Princess camp-outs.  We decided to go somewhere different--a place we haven't been to before as a family.  We settled on "Zov's" -- a classy local hang-out.  Sophia had never been there before and she was worth every over-priced menu item! 

I am amazed at how mature she is and how much she is a "little lady".  Just the way she held a conversation this evening was as if she and I were not at once connected by an umbilical cord.  However, there were times when she blurted, "Mommy, I love you more than anything in this world because I loved you FIRST!"  (This is in reference to whom she really felt connected to from in the womb).  She is my never-ending DELIGHT!  Sure there are times of challenge--where I feel like I am losing it with patience and the constant "because I told you so's"--but they are nil compared to the overflowing goodness that emanates from Sophia--she is a trooper! 

Sophia went to Giovanni's T-ball practice with me the other day, and she wanted to help the coach.  I told her to ask permission and he replied with "Sure!"  (Little did he know that he had a little adult at his side--way beyond her years!).  Sophia then ran to the car and grabbed her softball mitt--she immediately sprinted to the "Miteball" field to assist with the practice.  When I saw her rolling ground balls to the boys and saying, "That's what I want!" after they put it in their glove, I almost fell over!  I was silently saying, "Who is that child?"  Oh wait...she is mine!  She is 7, but has the heart and mind of a 30 year-old.  She was placing her hand on the shoulders of these boys saying, "You can do it, I know you can!"  

"Hello, God?"  I am listening, and I am soooo present and aware of your gifts of abundance!  Thank you!!!  We will always give back to prove that we acknowledge your goodness!  We praise you!  I hope that Kenton knows his influence:  "We were blessed to be a blessing"----and we're hoping to be just that!

Today I made a "Trader Joe's" Banana Bread--it was a mix from a box, but I added 3/4 cup chocolate chips and it was over-the-top delicious!!!  You can find the mix boxed in the store.  It is awesome!!!