Sunday, April 10, 2011

"Invest In Giving"

My family and I attended our church's Saturday night service last night, and it was fabulous!  It was right along the lines of this blog, and so "in sync" with how my heart feels on a daily basis.  If you read the beginning postings of this blog (2010), you will notice how I quoted our Pastor Kenton Beshore as saying, "If you have been blessed, in any way, you have been blessed to BE a blessing."  Best quote ever!  I look at my two beautiful, healthy children and my first thought is "Thank you!".  I see my husband and how hard he works for us, and the roof over our heads, and I again think, "Thank you."  I recognize the abundance of family and friends in our lives, and again a resounding, "Thank you!"  These are just a few examples of the blessings that so many of us have been given. 

Last night, Pastor Kenton urged everyone of us to recognize how God has invested in us with every blessing that we can count, and that it is to be "re-invested", so to speak, in giving and generosity toward others.  He was speaking directly to my heart.  I am not a perfect person by any stretch, but I do make conscious observations of how much I have been blessed in this life.  I believe that it is a responsibility to take care of those less fortunate with the gifts and abundance that have been provided.  This blog project was created to instill that awareness in my children so that their adult life will hopefully contain the joyous heart that is created through acts of giving.  I am so grateful for that opportunity -- yet, another blessing.

This blog has been on somewhat of a break due to the busy-ness of life...but the donations are still being placed in the jar, and we are still 100% mindful of this project's purpose. 

This recipe was delicious and easy -- perfect for us busy Moms!  Crock-Pot needed...I hope that you enjoy it as much as we did.  It was published in "Real Simple" magazine (January 2011).

coffee-braised brisket with potatoes and carrots

1 medium onion, peeled and quartered, stem end left intact
1 pound new potatoes (about 12)
1 pound medium carrots, cut into 2 1/2 inch lengths
2 1/2 pounds beef brisket, trimmed
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1/2 cup brewed black coffee
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 Tablespoons packed light brown sugar
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Country bread

1.  In the bottom of a 5-to-6-quart slow cooker, combine the onion, potatoes, and carrots.  Season the beef with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and place on top of the vegetables.
2.  In a small bowl, whisk together the tomato paste, coffee, Worcestershire sauce, and brown sugar; Pour over the beef and vegetables.  Cover and cook on low until the beef and vegetables are tender, 7 to 8 hours.
3.  Slice the beef across the grain and serve with the vegetables and sauce, sprinkled with the parlsey.  Serve with the bread, if desired.

Serves 4

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Compassion Calls...

The other day, while exiting a local fabric store, I was approached by a woman who had "desperation" written all over her frantic face.  She shook in noticeable fear as she asked me if I would like to buy "anything at all" so that her sons could eat that night. She said that she was homeless and living in a hotel, and she was holding a bag of hand-made crafts of some sort.  From her appearance and demeanor, my first instinct was that this woman was on drugs and trying to hustle me, but my heart strings most always get pulled in the other direction--the direction of compassion, empathy and sorrow.  The fact that this woman's situatioin is so far from my daily experience makes me stop in my tracks with the realization of how "lucky" so many of us are...EVERY time.  Sometimes I bow my head and say a silent prayer for these individuals without giving them money, but most often I give something, no matter how small.

I listened to her story and I gave her $5.00 -- I don't know if it was used to buy food or if it bought something illegal.  I pray that my heart's intent prevailed and that she used it in a productive way.  I looked her in the eye and told her that I really hoped for her life to get better.  She thanked me profusely and I walked away.  These incidents always affect me as I choose to live with the awareness of being fortunate and giving back to those who aren't--Hoping always that one small gesture can facilitate the next, and that the pay-it-forward philosophy will prevail over the greed and selfishness that sadly exists in this world.

Aside from the homeless and hunger problem that devastates this world, there are also the countless disasters that unexpectedly occur such as the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  Our donations this month will most definitely be sent to the Red Cross to assist with the Japan relief efforts. 

If you are having a day of good fortune, I hope that it only continues for you...please remember those that aren't.  One person can make a difference in the life of another -- this, I know.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

"Passion for Positivity"

I am always amazed at how a positive attitude and a positive mind-set really make a difference.  It is always a choice, but some days are harder than others to make that particular choice to see the best in every one and in every thing.  Putting positive thoughts together with positive gestures creates nothing but positive feelings.  We learned that in algebra, right?  A positive + a positive always = a positive! 

When I have rough and challenging days, after complaining a bit usually, I slap myself metaphorically and remind my brain how much better it feels to think positively.  Need I remind you that this blog consists of my opinions, my passions, and my love for those that are in need of love and assistance.  So please do not mistake my verbage for "preaching", rather it is my heart speaking.

Just this morning on the "Today" show, they aired a segment on women who suffer from infertility, and how statistics show that joining a support group can increase their chance of conception by 50%!  I believe that to be caused by the positive feelings one experiences when they connect with a human being whom has been through a similar process (or can relate to their emotional challenges), along with the feeling of "hope" that undoubtedly surrounds a group such as theirs. 

I feel so fortunate to have not had to experience that type of hardship, and I pray for those that are going through it today or have gone through it in the past.  I pray for them to feel encouraged and inspired daily in a way known to them individually.  I know of so many stories where after the focus was taken off of the intent to "make it happen", it happened naturally.  Not for everyone, of course, but for many.  I again attribute that type of outcome to the positive energy surrounding the release of the stress and worry and hardship.  Not easy to do...but it is possible. 

Thank goodness for support groups such as the one that was televised today, along with the countless others.  Whether it be grief, addiction, medical, emotional, or psychological issues, we all experience hardship at some point in our lives, and to be able to share with those that understand is important and so beneficial.  I pray that those who have had hardship and have gotten through it one way or another, can prove to be a blessing to those that are going through some type of hardship currently.  (Along the lines of the "If you are blessed, then please be a blessing to one who needs it"...thank you, Pastor Kenton!)

So, today's post was meant to focus on the hope that those that need it, no matter what the reason, will find the strength to reach out and connect with one who really understands so that the suffering person can gain strength, optimism and determination!  The belief that not only will they get through this, but it will be better on the other end.  The wisdom of life is gained through experience.

I love this following quote which has gotten me through some tough times before.  I love it because it depicts the strength of the human spirit and its ability to get through anything! 

"When you are going through hell, keep on going!"--Winston Churchill

Here is a "comfort food" recipe that I hope will nourish your soul and "positively" nourish your tummies!

Grilled Chicken-and-Bacon Mac 'n' Cheese (Rachel Ray magazine/recipe)
6 slices smoky-bacon (apple wood-smoked, preferably)
Salt and pepper
1 pound whole wheat short-cut pasta
2 pieces skinless, boneless chicken breast, lightly pounded
EVOO (Extra-Virgin olive oil for drizzling)
1/2 tsp. sweet smoked paprika
4 Tablespoons butter
1 large onion, quartered lengthwise and very thinly sliced
2 rounded Tablespoons flour
1/2 cup cloudy apple cider or chicken stock
2 cups whole milk
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
1 1/2 cups shredded extra-sharp white cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
Chopped flat-leaf parsley for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Arrange the bacon on a slotted broiler pan or on a rack placed over a baking sheet and bake until crisp, about 15 minutes.  Chop and reserve.  Switch on the broiler and position the rack in the center of the oven.

Bring a pot of water to a boil, salt it, add the pasta and cook 1 minute less than the instructions indicate, or until just shy of al dente.  Drain and return to the pot.

While the pasta is working, heat a grill pan or cast-iron griddle over medium-high heat.  Drizzle the chicken with EVOO to coat lightly, then season evenly with the paprika, salt and pepper.  Grill the chicken for about 10 minutes, turning occasionally.  Transfer to a cutting board and halve the pieces lengthwise, then thinly slice crosswise.

While the chicken cooks, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until light golden and very soft, 15-20 minutes.  Sprinkle in the flour and stir for 1 minute.  Whisk in the cider (or stock), then the milk.  Bring to a boil and cook, whisking, until the sauce coats the back of a spoon, 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the thyme and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Stir in the cheeses until melted.

Add the chicken, bacon and sauce to the pasta and transfer to a casserole.  Broil until bubbling and browned, about 5 minutes. Garnish with the parsley.

This was a bit time-consuming for us busy Moms, so maybe this would be best on a weekend, especially after sports!  Carb-up, people!  :)  This received a unanimous thumbs-up, and a "Mom, this is the best thing I've ever had in my life!!!"  review from the Sambito household.  May you all enjoy!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"Talking with Terri"

Last weekend, a few of my favorite girlfriends and I embarked on a "Girl's Trip" to beautiful San Francisco to spend time catching up on each other's busy lives, and to nurture the friendship that we hold so dear.  We had a fabulous time eating, drinking, laughing, and of course, we fit in the mandatory "spa day"! 

Spoiled were we, but as I have written, never do I take that for granted.  I am so grateful for these blessings in my life -- blessings of good health, good friendships, good meals and of course shelter.  The blessings of my husband and children deserve a novel of praise, so I will leave them out of this blog entry, but they are always there in my heart!  Speaking of the blessings of good meals and having shelter, I could not help but notice the ENORMOUS homeless problem on the streets of San Francisco!  Saddened to see these poor, lost souls just roaming aimlessly through the streets, sleeping in crevices of buildings, and panhandling for money and food.  Occasionally, the mental illness of so many made itself so apparent.  I am constantly uttering silent prayers when my eyes take witness of their existence compared to mine or so many other fortunate beings.  Why does it have to be this way?  What happened to these people, and at what point in their life did misfortune take a drastic turn for the worse?  I know that I cannot single-handedly solve this problem, but I absolutely believe that it can change for the better with contribution and compassion and effort from those that are able.

As my sister and I were waiting for my friend Lori to bring the car around to pick us up and take us to the airport, a homeless woman approached me with her cup in hand, and asked if I could go with her and "buy her a sandwich".  I wasn't sure that I heard her correctly so I repeated, "Did you say, 'buy you a sandwich'?"  To which she quickly chimed in, "Yes, there is a Quizno's right up the street."  She was looking at the pavement as she spoke as if she were ashamed, so I glanced at my sister with an "I'm doin' this" look, and I put my arm around this woman and said, "Let's go and get you a sandwich!"  She replied with "Thank you, thank you, thank you...", and we ventured on up the street to Quizno's. 

On our short walk, I asked her what her name was.  She said, "My name is Terri", and she smiled.  I had my arm around her shoulders as her head lay low, and I was amazed at the look on other's faces.  Many passers-by gave almost a look of disgust as if they couldn't believe that I would allow myself to get so close to this woman.  It only made me want to hug her closer. 

Once we entered Quizno's, I asked Terri what she would like, and without hesitation she blurted, "The Chicken Bacon-Ranch sandwich, the Broccoli-Cheese soup and some juice!!!"  So that is what we ordered, and with a smile, I paid the nice girl behind the register with a $20.00 bill.  My change was $11.80, and I turned to Terri and placed it in her cup which she was still gripping with hands as black as night from dirt and grime.  I told her that I wanted her to use that money to buy herself some dinner that evening and she was so grateful.  She mentioned that she would use it to purchase a bed at a shelter which goes for about $12.00/night.  I requested that she not spend it on booze or drugs, and she assured me that she has been clean for over a year.  I told her that I would pray for her to find the strength to stay that way. 

After being handed her lunch, I looked her in the eye and told her to pray for her future to be different, and that I would do the same.  I told her that I cared.  She had tears in her eyes and thanked me profusely.  We parted ways, and I looked to the sky and prayed for Terri.  She is a human being that suffers daily.  How easily that could be anyone of us.  No matter how she got to where she is, she is there, and I pray for all in her situation, and more importantly, I pray for people to care. 

As I was walking back toward the hotel, a lady passed me by and said, "That was wonderful what you did back there!"  This lady was a patron of Quizno's during my and Terri's short visit.  Of course that made my heart smile, but I wasn't looking for recognition, rather I hoped for this woman's witness of the gesture to cause a similar experience for one she connects with in the future.

How I wish that I could cook this for Terri...our family enjoyed it so much and I hope that you will too, if you are reading this. 

Fettuccine With Quick Ragu
1/2 onion
1 stalk celery, cut into 4 pieces
1 small carrot, cut into 4 pieces
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound ground veal or turkey
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup whole milk
12 ounces fettuccine
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving


Pulse the onion, celery, carrot, garlic and rosemary in a food processor until finely chopped.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the chopped vegetables and cook, stirring, until softened and golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the veal, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, milk, 1 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the fettuccine as the label directs. Drain the pasta, then toss with the ragu.Top with Parmesan.

Recipe from Food Network magazine, December 2010 issue, p. 124.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Italian Recipe from our "Frankie-Frank-Frank"!

OK, so I know that the title of this post is a bit off-the-wall, but once you know the story, it is just all too-appropriate.  My husband played baseball with a wonderful man named Frank LaCorte (pronounced "La-Cortee"), and his gracious family invited us to their Lake Tahoe home on Labor Day weekend 2009 (how time flies!).  We had an absolute blast!  Karen, Frank's wife, is someone whom you would think you have known your whole life as she is so friendly and funny!  We felt so welcomed and we have memories that will always have the LaCorte signature on them!  Can't wait 'til our next get-together!

Anyway, while we were visiting their Tahoe home, Frank made a delicious dinner of steak and chicken for us!  My kids loved him to pieces and quickly named him, "Uncle Frankie-Frank-Frank", and they couldn't have been more eager to hug-up on him when time permitted!  The LaCortes are just the best family and we are so happy for their newest addition:  "Giovanni Vincent" -- a beautiful, healthy grandchild for them!  It is so funny how when our Giovanni was in the womb, the two names that were up for consideration were both, "Giovanni" and "Vincent". 

The recipe posted for today's entry is not an "exact" recipe, rather it comes from none other than "Frankie-Frank-Frank"!  The kids could not get enough of this as the meat just fell off the bone, and I made it for them in Frank's honor.  They loved it all over again!

Chicken Thighs (one package from grocery store)
Salt & Pepper
Can or bottle of beer
Fresh oregano
Fresh rosemary
Lemon wheels (one for each chicken thigh)

Salt and pepper the chicken thighs and grill them until "almost cooked-through" -- you can flip them often which is different when you are grilling steaks or red meat.  Once almost cooked all the way through, place them in an oven-safe casserole dish, and pour a can of beer over them.  Then place a lemon wheel on top of each chicken thigh and sprinkle generously the fresh oregano.  Sprinkle the fresh rosemary over the lemon wheels and cover with foil.  Then place in a 200 degree oven for about two hours.  These are delicious!!!  (Try to venture away from the "chicken breast" mentality, as I know it is the healthier way to go, but the flavor of this recipe is why it is worth it).  We only live once!  Everything in moderation!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Savor of "Sausage & Spaghetti Squash"

Here we were on a wonderful Wednesday, and just getting back into the school routine after a long holiday vacation.  Sophia and I went to the grocery store to pick up the items we needed for this night's recipe and she wanted to do some "scratch-off" Lottery tickets.  (Probably from all the hype recently regarding the $355 million jackpot!)  I told her that since the money to purchase them goes to help the schools, I would buy her a couple to see if she could win.  She of course said, "But Mommy, if you buy me a few more it will double my chance!"  To which I quickly quipped, "Um...that would be a NO."  Sure enough, she won $6.00 from her $1.00 scratch off so we turned to our right and went to the bank teller which is so conveniently located inside our supermarket, and we deposited it into her savings account.  I had given her a dime to use to scratch off the tickets, and she handed it to the teller and said, "Can you please add this dime?"  It was so cute, and I said, "Every little bit counts, sweetheart!"  How fitting for our blog project!  Every little bit of giving counts.

As we departed the store, there was a homeless man asking for donations, and I gave Sophia a dollar bill to put in his bucket.  As she placed it in his bucket, I heard her say, "God Bless You".   And I proudly repeated her words as I looked into his kind eyes.

This recipe is downright delicioso!  It is from the Food Network magazine and you can also find it on the Internet at "".  It was so easy, but I have to warn you about how DIFFICULT it is to halve a raw spaghetti squash!!!  It is like cutting into a rock, and I don't think I could have done it without my husband's help.  It was not easy for him as he carefully hacked away!  Please be mindful of that if you decide to make this, because if you don't have the right knife perhaps you should throw the squash in the microwave for a bit to soften it.  I hope you enjoy this as much as we did!  We didn't need much on the ingredient list as we already had most of what was required, yet we are placing $2.00 in our Contribution Jar for this recipe's 10% cost contribution.

Buon Apetito!


1 small spaghetti squash (about 2 pounds)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
8 links hot Italian sausage (pork, chicken or turkey; 1 1/2 pounds)
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for topping

Halve the squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Put the squash, cut-side up, in a large microwave-safe bowl and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon water. Season with salt and pepper. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and microwave until tender, about 20 minutes. Scoop out the flesh into a colander (use a towel to hold the squash) and shred with 2 forks.
Meanwhile, heat a grill pan over medium heat. Grill the sausages, turning, until cooked through, about 20 minutes.
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bell pepper, onion and 1 teaspoon salt and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until the vegetables begin to brown, about 4 more minutes. Toss in the squash and parsley and season with salt and pepper. Serve with the sausages and sprinkle with Parmesan.

Monday, January 3, 2011

"Happy New Year"

Happy New Year one and all!!!  I am so excited as my children and I embark on "Round 2" of our blog project.  Our first year this past 2010 was a blessed experience all the way around!  Not only did my cooking improve, but the hearts of Sophia and Giovanni seemed to get larger--which I did not think was possible.  As I have written, much to the obnoxious extent I am sure, I feel so incredibly fortunate to be the mother of such gracious, and loving souls.  They truly amaze me with their natural care and concern for others.  Their kindness strikes me so often, and I feel the blessing to my very core!

For instance, tonight, while brushing her teeth, Sophia spontaneously blurts:  "Mommy!  I am going to change the world this year!"  I giggled and said, "I am sure that you will!  Tell me what you have in mind, other than our blog project, of course, " to which she quickly responded, "I have a few ideas that I am 'working' on."   I just pray that this passion for life and for helping others only permeates deeper with each passing day so that it will always be part of their character.

For this year's first recipe post, I thought it would be a good idea to share a wonderful appetizer as it is Superbowl time approaching and everyone always needs a good and EASY appetizer to bring along to the festivities.  My cousin gave me this one and it is NOT on the low-cal list, that is for certain.  But, we can all hopefully enjoy the sinful parts of eating every now and then...after all, life is too short not to!

I hope you all enjoy this!

1-Sourdough bread round, hollowed out with the lid kept for baking.
1-8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup fresh salsa
2 cups cheddar cheese.

Mix all of the above together and place into hollowed Sourdough and place bread lid on top.  Wrap in foil and bake on a cookie sheet for 1 1/2 hours at 400 degrees farenheit.  Serve with fresh cut yellow and red peppers (there, now there's the healthy part).  For Christmas, I served it with red and green peppers.  :)

Enjoy each day and remember:  "Your life is an occasion -- rise to it!" (Dustin Hoffman from "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium")