Memories New and Old

October 28, 2011 at 09:24 | Posted in Fragile Family Friday, Gardening, Italian Cooking, memories | Leave a comment
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I have begun to read a favorite book The Lost Ravioli Recipes Of Hoboken. Once again it stirs emotions and memories. I’m not Italian but my husband is. Yet in spite of not being Italian something deep inside me calls me to the kitchen in search of special flavors to treat my family to. Like the authoress I did not learn to make ravioli as a child but I did learn to cook many other meals at my mother’s side. Years later it was my sister in law who undertook the task of teaching me to make pasta and the family’s favorite ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach smothered in rich thick tomato sauce.

   

While others thought me foolish because it is so simple to buy prepackaged pasta in neat cellophane-wrapped containers, she understood me.

But somewhere deeper inside me has been a yearning to explore further, not willing to settle. Time has been spent making our yard over into a large garden.

And when the first harvests this spring and summer brought us a huge bounty of lush vegetables, I found myself not yet satisfied.

The garden was redesigned; huge raised garden beds were added and the area enlarged. More detail went into our planting layout to maximize the yields.

It’s not that I want a farm by any means. Nor am I giving into wild fantasies of no food available to eat. But something compels me to continue this quest. Next came the challenges of preserving my own fruit jams and marmalades. Then it was homemade pickles and those followed by huge beautiful jars of lush roma tomatoes.

Our sons laugh and tease – they want to know how I am going to hide the herd of beef cattle here in our suburb yard. Yet they enjoy the jokes as they sit together over a meal of big plates brimming to overflowing with pasta and homemade sauce and fresh baked bread warm from the oven!

So it is now that my granddaughters want to linger in the kitchen with me as I cook. One of them has taken to watching cooking shows on TV but she admonishes her mom that none of those cooks are as good as her nona and nono! Juliana is fascinated with the jars of marmalade and had to help with the pickles and tomatoes. She watched as I started to prepare to can them. Soon she was wrapped in one of my aprons and standing on the stepstool at the sink helping.

Together we filed the jars with the tomatoes and fresh basil she helped pick from the garden. Nono lit the fire and set the big pots of water to boil. When the jars were finished boiling in the hot water bath, we listened intently for the magic “ping” of the jar lids to tell us they were set. Juliana was so content, so happy – and then she turned to me and said, “We’re cooking great memories together, aren’t we?” How is this six year old so wise beyond her years? She got it when I wasn’t sure what it was I have been seeking. Memories. Those fleeting wisps, fragile ties to family now gone from our lives. When I was young, my father every year would bring home bushels of pickling cucumbers. I would watch as he pickled them, boiling them with wonderful smelling spices in hot brine. How I loved the crunch of those pickles! How much more I loved watching him, being with him in the kitchen. Memories. I would watch my mother enjoy her gardens, digging in the rich Connecticut soil. She could make anything grow from gentle lady slippers to the sturdy patch of rhubarb tucked behind the garage. The aroma of her fresh baked rhubarb pie would fill the house! My mother in law, too, could make a garden grow to incredible harvests. She grew everything from artichokes to eggplants. At her elbow I learned to pickle eggplants and crack green olives! We picked dandelions for salads and mushrooms for sauce. And we made fresh ricotta cheese and solid cheese for grating from fresh goats milk.

Memories. I realize it is family I have been seeking. I yearn for the family of my past …. And I want to share it with my family that they can also pass it on, my sons and their children. Through the richness of the earth to the pleasures of the food as we sit together at the table eating. Amore e’ Sapore di famiglia. May it always be so……

Beginnings of the Harvest to Come

April 12, 2011 at 22:18 | Posted in Bits and Pieces, Gardening | 5 Comments
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It has been a challenge to get our garden going this year. Florida presents a different gardening experience for someone from New England and rich brown dirt. Valentino is from Italy where he too grew with a different soil and climate. We have always had small containers or tomatoes and herbs but this year we have gone full fledged backyard gardener. I won’t use the now hotly contested term but I will admit I am “one of those” homesteaders! Nothing is more special than a day in our yard enjoying what it is becoming for us!

We splurged on some baby chicks and are looking forward to fresh eggs in a few months. And we have planted one of the largest gardens ever for us as a married couple. Even our sons are enjoying the prospects of a garden harvest. They too spend most of their free time in the backyard with us planning and working and planning some more!

We have had koi ponds for about twenty years or so. We started with a basic one back at our previous home that was simply a square pond with wooden seating benches framing it. From there we have come to a simple pond near our back door, It is framed by my rubber tree plant that is more tree than plant . It is a peaceful place when I need somewhere to sit and meditate and pray. The sound of trickling waterfalls is like music!

The plants are beginning to blossom now, promises of harvests to come. It appears that we will have plenty of pumpkins by fall too.

My son’s iguana will be enjoying plenty of fresh collard greens in his diet too!

Comfrey is growing! So is the rest of the garden!

This then is what we are looking forward to…. A harvest of our garden, feeding our family, being nourished by all we have accomplished together. Today we sat out back and sipped Liquori di Zecca – mint liquor made from our fresh mint! Sipped over ice, it was refreshingly sweet knowing it was only the harbinger of our harvest yet to come!

Spring – New Beginnings, New Challenges

March 23, 2011 at 09:31 | Posted in Bits and Pieces, Gardening | 3 Comments
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The headlines have been full of ugly scenarios describing TEOTWAWKI – the end of the world as we know it. It’s no longer merely a Fox News or survivalist mentality pushing the meme on blogs. Recent tragedies in Japan and war news in Libya are added to the fuel of the economy not recovering the way the current US Administration would like us to believe. I have no desire to get into the politics of why or how or even who is to blame – seems there is more than enough of all that to go around the world many times over crisscrossing each other on each round! But my basic budget realities tell me the economy is certainly not improving in my household. I have a decided shortfall beginning to appear each time I go the gas station and the grocery store is not helping. What I felt in the wallet is now beginning to be talked about on all the news channels as well as liberal and conservative blogs alike. Food is getting more expensive, the weather is not helping, and the wars and natural disasters both have drastically affected food availability as well as cost.

So like many I have started a garden – much like the Victory Gardens of WWII. Our family laughs a lot that Valentino is a reincarnation of his grandfather Valentino who was the master gardener to beat all gardeners! He was “blessed” with a piece of land that consisted mostly of poorly placed rocks all over the side of the mountain. For whatever family reason that piece was left to him, he chose to do what we now laughingly refer to as “Given lemons, make lemonade!’ He would laboriously till each small plot of dirt between the rocks – all by hand. One certainly could not have used a tractor around all the rocks even if he was able to afford to own or run one! Because he worked each plot separately he was able to compost and till until each little spot became a wonderful raised garden plot. His yield of vegetables to feed his family became the stuff of legend that the old timers who knew him then still talk about today!

So with this in our thoughts, Valentino and I now set about making our garden. We have ample room to both have two fair sized plots – one is 6 by 28 and the other is 12 by 30 feet. In addition we have set pots and other containers everywhere we can fit them.

On our fence we hung aluminum rain gutter fastened into a window box contraption for strawberries and radishes.

The planters at the base of our grape arbor shelter chamomile as well as the grape plants.

Now we are anxiously awaiting the results of all our work – I have been tracking the expense and at this point if we see a 50% germination and crop yield, we will at the minimum break even financially for our first season! This is pretty remarkable considering the expense of buying soil and cow manure our first time out here in addition to some containers to grow in and fences! I have also started a compost heap so that we can perhaps avoid the expense of more dirt. Our future plans are to raise the beds with side boards so that it becomes easier to control the soil content and avoid some of the washout effect of rains here in Florida. We plan on saving many of our seeds to defray that expense also.

One thing for sure – my impatience (a bad trait to be sure) is showing! I cannot wait for the first salad made totally of our own produce! This being strawberry time in Florida, I decided to indulge my impatience just a bit – yesterday was spent in wicked pleasure making homemade strawberry jam and lemon marmalade (from our homegrown lemons!). The tree is still full of lemons but also ready to bring more!

The family pronounced the jam-making a complete success, opening bottles this morning to spread on toast with their espresso!

Italian Bietola Cicoria Collard Greens and Celery Comfrey Zucchini

Italian Fava Italian Loquats Rucola Tomatoes

Is Spring Far Away?

February 10, 2011 at 10:13 | Posted in ancestry, Bits and Pieces, Current Events, family research, Gardening | Leave a comment
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One of the wondrous things about this time of year is how spring fever hits many of us. I realize a goodly portion of the country is now hitting cabin fever levels and are snow weary because you are still digging out while tentatively watching those weather forecasts! But many of you are pouring over those seed catalogues and planning gardens. When we lived up north we longed for the first hibiscus and then daffodils and tulips and crocus. I loved walking in the woods to find lady slippers, jack-in-the-pulpits and my all-time favorite wood violets, especially in yellow! When I no longer lived in the woods I turned to small African violets in every color under the sun to fill all of my window sills. I literally have over 60 plants at one time. When we finally moved to Florida my green thumb became very brown and dried out. I could not get anything approaching flowers to grow. Oh, I went every spring and bought all the pretty petunias and pansies to fill the yard. Then came thorny bougainvilleas that had wonderful flowers but horrid thorns. Eventually I learned that this area loves lots of lush greenery but few flowers. I adjusted and went for the mid-tropical look like everyone else. I attempted vegetables but never reached the bounty that we had enjoyed in the northern climate. Sand does not always like vegetables and they aren’t real thrilled with sand either. So it took me time to adjust once again to another learning curve. I wasn’t willing to give up, I just had to find a new approach.

So it is with our families and genealogy research. Sometimes those ancestors are so buried we don’t see where they are. Sometimes the timeframe is off from what we think it should be. And sometimes an ancestor was thriving where we felt he or she should – so we need to change the soil. We need to change the nutrients perhaps. Or the climate. Or the location because of too much or not enough of whatever it is they don’t want. It is easy to dismiss advice of our elders or those who have gone before us. We even equate those simple comments as the ramblings of an old fool – or the stuff family legends are made of. But stop and think for a quick moment. Maybe that favorite dish – that recipe we make because grandma made it because great grandma also made it. Was it adopted by the family because it was gleaned from an old neighbor or friend? Does it not make sense in that we’re Italian but it seems French or German? Try expanding that view a bit – did they move to Germany to follow a lover or perhaps a new job opportunity? Maybe there you will find a missing ancestor and can start anew to trace another branch?

Lately I have been watching our political unrest and stress with growing concern. I decided to plant the vegetable garden for a few reasons. Obviously I want better food in order to be healthier. I want to protect my family from the growing economical issues and inflation hitting our food budget. Most of all I wanted something, anything to take my mind away from all the stress. I wanted to shut out the world and find some peace and quiet for a few short hours. So I garden. I dug the dirt until muscles ached. But I worked the soil until it was ready for my new plants and seeds. I added things the soil lacked. I turned it and tilled until the soil was blended and accepting for my seeds. I set up little starter pots to plant my seeds. Each little pot holds one of two seeds until they germinate. I started with fancy store bought pots but gradually I ran out and had to adapt with other solutions: used plastic containers, old cans, old washed out flower pots, even old newspaper cones. Each choice is another learning experience of what works or not. Within two weeks I am already seeing seeds sprouting, little green shoots peeking through the dirt. This is how my spring fever is being fed now. I can’t wait for what I can’t hurry. It is a process as old as time but it happens in spite of our best and worst efforts. Spring brings new beginnings. And each generation does the same. As we mess up the world around us, the plants adapt and learn to grow in spite of us. Some call it evolution, others call it survival of the fittest. No matter what we do, life goes on in spite of us.

Family does the same. We may walk away but the family exists anyway. We cannot deny those who have gone before us. So it is with the current world situation. Dictators and presidents and kings may try to change people. They want to control them, maybe even eliminate them at times. Yet the hearts of men continue. The desire to grow, to find something better, to find a way to exist is in the hearts of all men. We may not like the choices or even understand them but ultimately man does continue and does find the better way. That is why instead of fighting the dirt it is better to amend the soil, to give it nutrients and fertilizer and water to let it enable the plants to grow bigger, stronger, more nutritious for us or other living creatures. We need to learn from history, not change it to suit ourselves. There is a reason history repeats itself. The bible puts it another way: there is nothing new under the sun. To every thing there is a season.

For now I am working the garden, pulling weeds, watering new plants, watching the sprouts push through to daylight. Spring means new life. So it is for all of us, for all of the world. It hurts to watch when we cannot stop certain things from happening but we know also that these plants have lived for thousands of years and so has man.

This brave little tomato sprouted off a plant that was brown and dead looking. It was left over from last year and spent the winter outside unprotected even through the freezes that seemed to kill off so many of our tropical plants in the yard. It survived and grew new green shoots, then leaves flowers, and now a small roma tomato! The plant proudly boasts more new flowers too scattered around the brown seemingly dead branches. It has decided to live no matter what my opinion of it was.

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