Sunday, March 22, 2009

SOMETHIN' FROM THE OVEN

Janine came for lunch the other day. We thought it was the perfect way to show her around the house for potential renters (or myabe even buyers!) and to say goodbye before we leave for the states next week. Once again, it was also an excuse to clean out the freezer.

chicken salad with pecans and craisinsI had some chicken in the freezer and decided to make some CHICKEN SALAD WITH PECANS AND CRAISINS, which has become my all-time favorite chicken salad recipe. With spring in the air, chicken salad on a bed of beautiful green lettuce seemed perfect. As an appetizer I served Caponata, which we spread on bread like a chunky salsa. Caponata is a Sicilian dish, a sweet-sour combination of eggplant, celery, tomato paste raisins and more. I LOVE it, especially this recipe, which is one we got when we atteneded the cooking school several years ago. It freezes very well, and this was the last batch in the freezer. By the time we return to Italy eggplants should be at the market once again.

CAPONATA SICILIANA SICILIAN (EGGPLANT SALAD) FOR 6

1 KILO EGGPLANT (2.2 lbs)
1 heaping TBSP CAPERS (small)
4 CELERY STALKS
20 GREEN OLIVES de-pitted & sliced
1 LG ONION
1 heaping TBSP SUGAR
TRIPLE TOMATO CONCENTRATE
2 TBSP RAISINS (or CURRANTS)
4 + 8 LG BASIL LEAVES
60 ml RED WINE VINEGAR (1/4 cup)
OLIVE OIL
4 TBSP PINE NUTS
SALT
2 TBSP TOASTED BREADCRUMBS

IF THE EGGPLANTS ARE NOT SUPER FRESH, CUT INTO SMALL CUBES, SPRINKLE W/COARSE SALT AND DRAIN IN A COLANDER FOR AT LEAST AN HOUR. SAUTE W/6-7 TBSP HOT OLIVE OIL, DRAIN ON KITCHEN PAPER & SET ASIDE. (THEY CAN ALSO BE GRILLED DRY AND CUT INTO THICK SLICES). ONCE COOLED SLICE INTO THICK STRIPS.

SLICE THE CELERY STALKS INTO 2 cm PIECES & COOK IN BOILING SALTED WATER FOR 10 MINUTES. DRAIN AND SET ASIDE. SOAK THE RAISINS/CURRANTS IN HOT WATER TO RE-HYDRATE.

SLICE THE ONION THINLY & SOFTEN IT IN ¾ TSP OLIVE OIL W/ ½ TUBE OF TOMATO CONCENTRATE & 4 BASIL LEAVES FOR 10 MINUTES. ADD THE CAPERS. CELERY, OLIVES, RAISINS, SUGAR & VINEGAR AND COOK THIS MIXTURE FOR 20 MINUTES OR SO, STIRRING FROM TIME TO TIME.

ADD THE EGGPLANT & COOK 10 MINUTES MORE, THEN TURN OFF HEAT AND ADD THE REMAINING BASIL LEAVES, SHREDDED SMALL BY HAND.

MEANWHILE TOAST THE PINE NUTS AND BREADCRUMBS.

LET THE VEGETABLE MIXTURE COOL, & MIX IN THE PINE NUTS. SERVE SEVERAL HOURS LATER, OR BETTER YET THE NEXT DAY WITH THE BREADCRUMBS SPRINKLED ON TOP.

(Sorry for the capital letters, but that's the way I typed it into the computer several years ago and I was just too lazy to re-type the whole recipe!)

Early in the morning I'd walked down to the bakery to get some foccacia bread and bread to go with the caponata. When I returned Art asked about lunch, and if I'd made anything for dessert. No, I told him, I was just going to keep it light, and thought we'd have plenty of food - no need for dessert.

I don't know if it was his own sweet tooth, or the idea that company deserved it, but he asked why I hadn't gotten something when I was at the bakery. Hmmmm, good question. As I thougth about it, I realized that it never even entered my mind. For those of you who know me, and who know what a sweet tooth I have, this must be surprising, and frankly, it was surprsing to me too. It wasn't until I'd thought about it for a minute that I realized for me, a bakery means BREAD. If I want something sweet, cake or cookies, well, of course I'd just make them myself! Remember that jingle from Pillsbuty: "nothin' says lovin' like somethin' from the oven..."?

cake Art decided to brave the cold to walk down to the bakery for something sweet, and when he returned I was a little surprised that he had some sort of a cake. I really expected that he might return with an assortment of cookies, but not a cake, since we both think Italian cakes tend to be dry. Luckily this one was more like a pound cake and was quite nice - although if I'd had some fresh fruit I would have served it on top of the cake for a little moistness.

Given the fact that winter had suddenly returned overnight, I wished I'd baked the cake in my oven just to warm up the house, but a nice fire did the trick!

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

SPRING PREVIEW

mahonia_001 I sooooo want to believe that spring is right around the corner! There are a few signs that spring wants to arrive, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who's seen the crocus covered in snow! For now I'll be cautiously optimistic! The mahonia is just about to bloom......

But the crocus is out in full force....crocus_0004



mock orange_0003

And the mock orange is waiting for the temperature to rise just a little more.

Monday, March 09, 2009

BLESSINGS

Here in San Venanzo, and in other small villages throughout Italy (and probably the rest of the world), the church is still very much a part of everyday life. If you’ve seen any of my YouTube videos you’ll have seen the various religious processions. Gatherings with food and sometimes music are held regularly in the church hall, and of course everyone know the parish priest, Father Gerry.

Recently I’ve been trying to use up all, or at least some, of the food in the freezer before we go back to the states. I had a large chicken that needed to be cooked, so I decided to make chicken and dumplings. When I opened the frig I discovered that all the celery was gone, so we walked down to the market to buy a stalk. On the way home Art stopped by the bar for a coffee and to read the morning paper. I needed to get back home quickly, otherwise lunch wouldn’t be ready in time. Chicken and dumplings really doesn’t take a long time to cook, but I needed to cut up and skin the chicken, then brown it and add the veggies that would also need to be cleaned and cut. And so there I was, in the middle of stripping the skin from a chicken leg when the doorbell rang!

At first I thought Art must have forgotten his key, but I’d only been home a few minutes and I wondered why he was back so soon. I quick look through the peephole revealed a surprising visitor – Father Gerry!

It’s traditional for the priests to come around to each house during Lent to bless the house, and Father Gerry confirmed that yes, that’s what he was here for. “Great!”, I told him, “our house is for sale and we can use all the blessings we can get!” We chatted for a few minutes, and I told Father Gerry about the statue of ST. JOSEPH I’d brought back from the states. I told him that not only is St. Joseph the patron saint of the family, but also of realtors and people who’re selling their homes. I told him about the tradition of burying the statue upside down in the front yard, but I wasn’t able to tell him the significance of that upside down part!

Father Gerry (who’s Irish, by the way) then blessed the house, gave me a holy card, and graciously accepted a small donation for the church. On his way out the door he also thanked me for posting the processions and various San Venanzo functions on YouTube. I knew many of the locals had seen my videos on YouTube, but I never suspected the parish priest was watching too!

Not ten minutes later the doorbell rang again and it was another priest, one I didn’t know. (Sometimes they call in reinforcements for busy occasions) I told him that Father Gerry had already been by and that the house had been blessed. By the time Art got home (with his key in hand so I didn’t have to wash my hands to answer the door a third time!) he’d missed our visitors, but hopefully the blessings will continue for everyone who visits our home.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

LIFE IS SLOW...

No, I don't mean that life is slower here in Italy, but of course it is, and generally that's a good thing. There's time to enjoy the food, the scenery, friends. But now, in March, while winter still hangs on and it seems too dangerous to wish for an early spring, life seems even slower than usual. The days are still short, and will remain so until Italy 'falls back' the last weekend in March. Although sunny days are occurring more and more often, the weather is still changeable and the chances of clouds and rain are good. Today we woke up to fog in the valley and a slight drizzle. Saturday was beautiful and sunny, just the sort of teaser that reminds you of spring. We took advantage of the beautiful weather to sweep the patio but it'll be a good while before we're really able to sit outside and enjoy it.

We've finally recovered from the jet lag that always occurs when we fly west to east. Normally I do okay for the first few days, then my body clock rebels and on the third or fourth day my schedule goes crazy. True to form that's what happened this time, but then it happened again and again. I'd wake up at 2 a.m., or 4 a.m., then fall asleep on the couch in the middle of the afternoon. Try as I might to stay up later, to fight the urge to nap in the middle of the day, no matter what I did I just couldn't seem to get back on schedule. Art also seemed to have more problems adjusting, and our schedules were completely out of synch not only with the world but with each other.

I'm sure that if we'd come back when the days were longer and the sun was shining our adjustment would have been a little easier. They say that exposure to sunlight helps, but when there IS no sun, you have to do the best you can. We did take "No Jet Lag", which we both think helps, but I guess the gloomy weather combined with a lack of motivation conspired against us this time. A field full of sunflowers would certainly have been motivating enough to get me out of the house, but when it's cold and dreary my preference is to stay snuggled up on the couch watching a movie or reading a book.

For now the time seems to go more slowly, but I'm hopeful that longer days and more sun will somehow make time revert to it's usual speed. But wait! What am I saying?! I don't want time to go too fast, just not drag on and on. Is it ever possible to have things go just right? It didn't work for Goldilocks, it probably won't work for me.