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

Channeling Family, the Master Gardeners

February 6, 2011 at 07:06 | Posted in Bits and Pieces, Italian Cooking, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Both my husband and I were blessed with family who could grow anything! My mom was a past president of her local garden club and won awards for her flower arrangements. Taken for a walk, she could identify every flower, tree, and weed. Eventually she also gave public slide presentations of plants of the bible. She guest-lectured in so many churches and schools, we lost count. Ask her how to grow something and her answer was to tap it in the packet of Root Tone ™ and then in dirt! My husband had an equally talented mother. Although she never did guest-lectures, there wasn’t a plant she could not grow. Along with the ability to grow plants came an amazing ability to understand and know how to use herbs to heal. She also was one of those clever folks who knew where and how to find mushrooms safe to eat as well as all other sorts of edible wild foods. She inherited that gift from her father. His skills as a farmer were the stuff legends are made of. Family and friends still tell stories of his farm. The farm was on a mountainside in Italy and many thought he got the worst end of a deal. The acreage was full of stones, large stones. Working the land by hand, he tilled and composted and tilled some more in-between the stones. In time those small patches, worked much like our one yard garden plots would yield the best results of anyone. His children were warned to be careful of his plants when he set them in – after all they were what the family would have to eat.

Now we have decided as a family project to start gardening more aggressively than in the past. Although we have had great gardens we have not done so in many years. We had planters of flowers and container gardens of tomatoes and some herbs but now we have decided to really garden. Rising food costs and a need to pay closer attention to our diet means a vegetable garden is a positive for us!

Our container gardens (some of them – a great way to use old tires – I know some folks are worried about using tires but we have done this for years with great yields and no seeming problems.

Our rosemary bushes here are a year old now. We also have eggplant, green bell peppers and pineapple growing around this small loquat tree. They all seem to be happy together – and this little loquat tree is loaded with fruit already! Behind this established garden plot is our new one – much larger to accommodate lettuce, fava beans, zucchini, Italian greens, and garlic!

This was one of my husband’s more clever ideas executed by our sons. He bought forty foot of 5 inch aluminum rain gutter (approximately $5.60 something at Lowes) and the gutter end caps and brackets – also support brackets for the middle portions. We hung it along our fence line and filled with dirt – plenty of room for strawberries, chamomile, and radishes! Below we have prickly fig cactus and small blueberry bushes! The radishes have already started to sprout in a week’s time.

I will post updates as we go along all season!

Treasure Chest Thursday September 11

September 9, 2010 at 01:04 | Posted in Bits and Pieces, Carnival of Genealogy, Current Events, family history, memories, Political Opinions, Treasure Chest Thursday | Leave a comment
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This date is a horrid one for most Americans. Where September used to stand for end of summer, back to school, first whiffs of Autumn leaves and bonfires, it has now become a remembrance of the shock for baby boomers to taste a war-like scenario on US soil. Our sense of security, of world power via being loved and ‘right’ has been shaken. For many it has meant a long drawn out process of rethinking who we as a nation and as individuals are. This time has also seen a change in the country’s economic status affecting al of us. It has also meant reassessing what is important to each of us going forward. For me, it has meant a reassessment of our countries politics and policies as well as a reassessment of our place in global issues. It has brought about a deeper commitment to spiritual values and what they should mean on an everyday basis in addition to my own personal internalizing. More importantly it has brought about a deeper appreciation for what family means to me personally as well as a deeper appreciation for what our ancestors went through in their lives.

As a child I grew up hearing stories about my parents growing up during the depression years. My mother talked of her father traveling out of town for work returning home on the weekends. She also told of their wonderful gardens where they grew much of their vegetable and herb needs. My dad told about not being in school yet but following the bigger kids as they collected lumps of coal dropped by trains to take home for family furnaces. He also told how at the same age he followed the bigger kids to bread lines and to get potatoes. His parents hadn’t sent him, but he caught on quickly from other kids and knew it meant more heat or more food if he participated too! Valentino grew up in post war Italy. His family had struggled before, during, and after the war. His mom’s family were farmers so they grew plenty of food whenever and wherever possible. They would work the bits of soil between rocks to plant one plant per spot if necessary. They owned several small pieces of land meaning they would work one area for one crop and go to another for another crop. It meant a several mile walk daily to tend their food supply. Recently the Publics grocery store near our home was torn apart to undergo remodeling. All of us in the neighborhood have complained that it means a drive of an extra two or three miles to the next store. Only one other neighbor and I attempt to grow any vegetables at all – and we are struggling at it! Our herbs are wonderful but we seem not to be too successful at vegetables other than tomatoes or peppers. I suspect my tomatoes grew at some sort of bargain price under ten dollars each but I might be wrong! On the other hand my rosemary is a bumper crop and I have enough to supply most third world nations with rosemary and basil! I think my ancestors would all be mortified – especially my in-law ancestors!

So as I reflect back on the 9/11 tragedies and the lives of my ancestors, I am grateful for what our family passed on to us. I am blessed we lost no one in 9/11 or the subsequent war. I am blessed that our family passed on a spiritual foundation for Valentino and I to pass on to our sons and now to our grandchildren. And as I contemplate the US and her place in the global view, I am grateful that I was raised in a nation that in spite of her faults is still a wonderful place to raise a family without fear of a knock on the door at night or worse.

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