Saturday, March 30, 2013

Wooden Spoons...And Empty Nests

My grandmother was a large woman. Tall, with girth to match. She was an immigrant from Palermo, Italy where she wed my grandfather in an arranged marriage My grandfather was a rather small man. Short and skin-to-bone thin. The logistics of the their marital unions always puzzled me but it really wasn't mine to wonder on, they had nine children together so I guess they figured things out. Right up until the time he left her for his "putana", as my grandmother called the blond woman he moved in with.

Anyway, there is a vision of her that is so clear in my mind. She is standing in front of the stove stirring gravy (sauce to you non-Italians) in a white pot with a wooden spoon, one hand on her hip.The wooden spoon was her go to kitchen tool for anything she needed; stir the gravy, scramble eggs, fry the peppers, stuff the turkey, make the soup, and wave in the air like a orchestral leader's baton as she talked with her hands...on the phone. If she were taking a pot of meatballs and sausage to someone's house, she would use the wooden spoon as a vice to tighten the kitchen towel from under the pot to secure the lid. It never spilled.

It was also her weapon of choice to keep a bunch of giggling cousins in line as we waited for her to fix dinner on Friday nights. I don't ever remember her actually using it on us, but it cast a long shadow raised in her large arm when we were getting out of hand.

I thought of her, and that warm kitchen with the wonderful smells, as I sat drinking coffee this morning. Feeling a little nostalgic, I happened to glance over at my own container of wooden spoons sitting next to the stove where I also used them to stir the gravy and make the soups for my own family.

There is a little sadness as I gaze around my quiet kitchen this morning as my youngest son moved out yesterday and took a little bit of noise with him. God knows it was time for him to go, but as I passed his empty bedroom this morning, I realized his absence is permanent. He, along with his long-time girlfriend Melissa, bought a house that is just perfect and I couldn't be happier for them...and yet a little sad at the same time.
The new homeowners!

I spent so much time in this kitchen, with family and friends gathered around the table, while using my wooden spoons to fill their bowls and plates with so many recipes that I've gathered over the years. I can still hear the chatter of my two little boys as we stirred the chocolate chips in the dough every Christmas...and yes, with a wooden spoon. If fact, there is a Halloween picture that still hangs on my refrigerator where the boys are dressed as pirates and wooden spoons are tucked into their belts as makeshift knives.

My nest is not just empty now, it's broken. Our house is on the market and a new life is on the horizon for me. That makes things a little tougher but I refuse to wallow in the sadness of it all. I will pull up my big girl panties and make a life worth living.

I am thrilled that both my sons have the same joy for cooking that I do. As a matter of fact, Kyle is now a chef and Trevor, well, he makes a mean pot of crab chowder and is a master on the grill. It's a commonality that bonds us! So wherever my new kitchen is, we will gather around the table and share the love and laughter that families do. The lucky ones anyway.

Kyle is on his own now and Trevor, who has been out of the house for years, is about to get married. So much to look forward to. So much to do. So much to be grateful for. And, no matter where my next next next stove is, my wooden spoons will be sitting beside it ready to make new memories. Mangiare bene! 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Heart Healthy Spring Soup...

Note: Looking back over 2014 blog posts, when it came to recipes, this was the most downloaded. It still remains at the top of the "hit" list each week. It is simple and delicious. So, if you missed it, here it is one more time! Enjoy!

He just won't let go. As I write this, Old Man Winter is pointing his icy finger in our direction again with another week of cold temperatures and the possibility of a winter storm, which is ironic since it is SPRING! We should be planning our outdoor recipes but instead the grill remains covered and the patio furniture snugly locked away. With that in mind, we will offer up one more Saturday soup that is actually light enough to serve in the warmer months and healthy enough to eat year round!

I call this "almost" home made soup because you can easily use store bought broth since such flavor is added, no one would know the difference. It also takes such little time to make, you won't need a pot simmering on the stove all afternoon. I don't know where this recipe came from since it is written on fading piece of paper and stuffed in my recipe folder. But I know it quickly became a family favorite, and the time this was deemed "heart healthy" and one look at the ingredients will explain why.


(1) 32 oz can, plus (1) 12 oz can of your favorite low-sodium chicken broth
(3) tbls of extra virgin olive oil
(4) gloves of finely minced garlic
(1) 14 oz can of diced tomatoes with juice
(1/4 cup) of white wine
(1) bag of baby spinach
(1 or 2 - if you prefer more) bag(s) of Barilla 3-cheese tortellini


Saute the minced garlic slowly in the olive oil so as not to burn (I've done this, and there is no way to fix burnt garlic - so nice and slow!) Add the wine. Once the steam cooks off the alcohol, add the can of diced tomatoes and let simmer for about 20 minutes on very low setting. Now add both cans of the chicken broth. Once this mixture is bubbling, add the bag of baby spinach. Now you have something really wonderful cooking!

The last step is strictly personal preference. I boil water in a separate sauce pan to cook the tortellini's in. You could add it directly to the broth to, but I don't like all the starch that it adds so I cook and drain separately, so the pasta doesn't become a thickening agent in the soup. I do this with all soups that require some type of pasta because it is the way I prefer it. Make it the way that you would like it. After I drain the pasta, I add it to the simmering sauce and "boom", you have the tastiest, quickest, almost homemade soup you can make. With the spinach, the garlic, the white wine and olive oil,  I call it my "Heart Healthy Tortellini Soup", but you can call it anything you want. Add a loaf of good crusty bread and you have a meal!

Left over chicken? Dice and throw it in!!

Photos by ImageGoggle

Sunday, March 17, 2013

...And The Music Plays On

Alicia Keys...thank you!
Music has always been my go to ally . It soothes my soul like nothing else does. My iPod content is a veritable musical stew ranging from hip hop's Mary J. Blige, to the soulful Adele, to jazz trumpeter, Chris Botti, and to the full orchestrated sounds from movies tracks such as “The Last of the Mohicans”, which is stunning. Until recently, my Sunday afternoon retreat from the world ritual included me, a recliner and my iPod. For hours I would get lost in the beauty of the songs.

And then...
Life changed. An unexpected divorce made the lyrics and the rich melodies too hard to listen to. The magic of the strings and kettle drums reaching a breath taking crescendo was nothing short of painful. And I was lost. Life was forever altered and I couldn't afford to also lose the one thing that centered me the most…not now, not when my sagging spirit so needed the lift that those mesmerizing Sunday afternoons always gave me.

And then…
Kelly Clarkson
A car commercial, of all things, a car commercial with Kelly Clarkson belting out " “What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, stand a little taller, doesn't mean I’m lonely when I’m alone,” got my attention...and the search began. I didn't have to give up music, I just needed to find something or someone out there who was saying "okay, I've been there and this does suck, but let's move on!" My friends and family were saying that...I just needed the right musical accompaniment to complete my journey! A CD that my youngest sister made me for a long road trip got me well on my way.

And then...
I heard Christine Aquileir in the song "Fighter" actually thanking her ex for breaking her heart  “Cause it makes me that much stronger. Makes me work a little bit harder, makes me that much wiser – thanks for making me... a fighter!”
Many of the songs on Adele's now infamous break up CD "21" are brutal to listen to if your actually breaking up with someone. But on the track "Turning Tables" she is getting out of a smothering relationship by claiming "under your thumb, I can't breath". And she knows what she must do to survive “Next time I’ll be braver, I’ll be my own savior…standing on my own two feet”.

I'm inspired! The people who've talked the talk and walked the walk are on the path ahead of me waving for me to follow. And I do.

And then...
In finding the courage to allow myself to hear the music again, I heard the words that resonated the most. In the song "A Brand New Kind of Me" Alicia Keys sings “It’s been a while, I ‘m not who I was before. You look surprised your words don’t burn me anymore. Been meaning to tell you, but I guess it’s clear to see. Don’t be mad, it’s just a brand new kind of me. Can’t be bad, I found a brand new kind of free.”

Unbelievable!!! That song did more for me than the therapist could. I first saw the video of it while channel surfing one night and immediately got up to download it. I must of listened to it ten times in a row. It was a "light bulb" moment. It made me realize that I was trying to do the impossible...stay myself while the world around me was changing! You can't go through a 40 year marriage and not be altered by its ending, but you can take what is best in you and make it better. A "Brand New Kind of Me" embraces's that belief. 

And I should know this! Hanging over my desk for the past several years has been a quote from Maya Angelou that says “I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it.”

Not being able to listen to music would have reduced me in a way that would have been insurmountable to recover from. I am not going to let that happen. It's Sunday afternoon, and I am heading to the living room with my iPod and a cup of tea. I will reclaim my world!

And then...
Listen to it all!

Photos by ImageGoggle 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Groom's Side Part VI...Is everything in place?

She could be a "dental" poster child!
As the first day of Spring is just over a week away, we are starting to get into the home stretch of getting ready for the big day in June. Many things are in the works. Wedding site? Check. (Although Mother Nature keeps altering the landscape!) Reception menu (a very tasty "check" here!) Bachelor party planned? Check. Bachelorette party planned?  Check. Bridal shower? (almost a check). Bridal party dresses? Check. Mother of the bride’s dress? Check.

Mother of the groom’s dress? (We won’t get into that right now). Groom and groomsmen attire? (this still remains a mystery – if you’re detecting a pattern of a fashion challenge on the groom’s side of things, it’s not a bad assumption).  So, as you can see, we are well on the way to making this thing happen!

But  as we get closer, I've started to notice other things that I might have to fit on my pre-wedding agenda. For instance, my future daughter in-law has a brilliant smile. Seriously. She has the whitest teeth I've ever seen. She makes you want to go to the dentist. So I did.

Completing my cycle of obtaining all female doctors, I changed to a well-known area dentist who had just won the county's "Women of the Year" award. She had been lauded for her charity work and gentle but "tell it like it is" demeanor. And she did... after a thorough work up of x-rays and examination, she looked at me and said "Really? With all that is going on in your mouth, you're here to have your teeth whitened?"  I soon learned it will take several visits and much money until I can even get to the stage that my teeth can be whitened. Can you say "open wide"?

Okay, now I would like to take issue with all of the "Groom's Side" readers who have both emailed and messaged me with stories of encouragement on my on-going weight loss program and workouts. I am down several pounds and still on vigorous walking regiment...but, with all the words of encouragement, no one has mentioned the one word that would help the most. Spanx!   

Several weeks ago, and with no regard as to whatever website I was on, ads for Spanx started appearing on screen. It scares me a little as to how this happens, but I swear to you, I felt like waving under garments were following me through cyber space. I finally caved into temptation and ordered one. I was even more frightened when after it arrived, I took it out of the package and it was the size of Mr. Clean's Magic Eraser.  

Because I've been honest with you all along, I'm going to admit that I actually flipped myself off of the bed at my first attempt to get it on. But then, perseverance paid off and there I was proudly standing in front of the mirror looking an additional 20 pounds thinner! I couldn't breath, but I looked good! Spanx transported me from a state of frustration to a blissful state of denial!

So...come April, armed wearing my new BFF, I will head to the dress shops with a mission! I will be standing straight with stomach tucked magically away! And as long as no one tries to adjust me, this may all work out! So as for the question in the title? Yes. By June 22 everything will be in place. And trust won't be moving!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Second Grade, Birthday Parties and Lock Downs...

She's got things figured out!
Her name is Lauren and she is in second grade, with reddish-brown hair, huge blue eyes and just enough freckles on her nose to make her as adorable as she sounds. And on a recent weekend visit to help celebrate her eight birthday, my niece (actually great niece…but I have trouble saying that), had this to say when I asked her how school was going. “It’s okay, but I don’t like my lock down hiding spot. My feet will show and I could get killed”.

What? I expected her to say something like “It’s okay, but I don’t like math”! I stood starring at her as she then went on to tell me how she devised an additional escape plan around some boxes and into another class! She has thought this out.

At eight years old, she has recognized that her feet would give her spot away should a mad man come into her class with guns blazing and that she needed a plan B. I was speechless. She then, just as nonchalantly, asked, “can we play another game tonight after dinner? Last night was fun!”

Seriously? Is this what our young ones have to think about at school? It's as if studies, peer pressure, who to sit with at lunch, who to play with at recess, has been replaced with thoughts of “how can I save my own life in a crises situation?”

When I closed my eyes to sleep that night, what she said kept running through my mind. When I was her age, all I had to worry about was an atomic bomb dropping on my school where it was believed that the desk I was crouching under would protect me from the blast. But that type of attacked never happened so the drills just became a respite from classwork.

My niece knows that her drill is real. That the nightmare of what happened in Newtown is real. That the possibility that it could happen again is real. And while this eight year old is plotting her escape, congress is crouching under their desks in Washington hoping that the second amendment will save them from a nations angry fallout.

But I'll not get into the debate on gun control. Quite frankly, I'm astonished that a controversy even exists. It breaks my heart that lock down drills are not only required but absolutely necessary. Both of Lauren's parents are educators so they know full on the threats that lurk just outside of school walls...and in malls, and movie theaters and shopping centers on a Saturday morning.

But in lieu of the concerns that Lauren expressed to me, in every other way, she seems happy, bright and ready to take on the world. She is a girly girl who would rather have new shoes than a toy for her birthday. (Although she can easily be persuaded by the offer of a new American Girl doll by her Nonnie). Her reading skills impressed me and she held her own in board games that were mostly geared towards adults. When I read a clue about a sprawling structure in an Asian country, Lauren answered, "it's that wall in China JoJo". And she was right.

It may just be the Lauren's of the world who figure a way out of the mess past generations have created by the inability to amend laws that will then address everyone's rights. Especially those of young children who are now forced to hide behind book shelves and devise alternative ways to save their own lives. My niece has already figured that one out.