Monday, March 29, 2010


There are a lot of photos of six of us celebrating. The 7th person was always holding the camera.

My father loved a lot of things. Swimming, basketball....

He was a chemist. With two daughters allergic to science.

The Christmas tree had to have tinsel. And only he could put it on properly.

He certainly loved to eat. And Christmas wasn't Christmas without a cannoli.

He danced. At weddings and in our home. After a celebration, we'd roll up the rug and put on some rock 'n roll.

As a boy, his Uncle Billy taught him to fish at a point in Brooklyn, NYC. Over the years, fishing was relaxation. And if dinner was caught, so much the better.

He was beautiful.

When he was younger, his father left. Took the car, the savings and just left. My father, his sister Ruth and brother Richard braved the world together. It was the three of them against the world as my grandmother struggled to care and provide for her children.

Their love and affection for each other carried them through life.

This June would have been their 59th anniversary.

"You will carry him in your hearts always and find him in unexpected ways," wrote my close friend. "Those who love deeply, grieve deeply," wrote a wonderful blogger.

There are so many photos of my parents dancing... I know how wonderful that is. It's a gift,

The biggest hug in the world on my sister's wedding day.

The biggest smile in the world on mine.

Matthew wanted this photo. For his smile. His grandson.

Kirsten wanted this one. His granddaughter.

Not everyone knew his great capacity for silliness. But my sister did!

In the great northwoods for my parent's 50th. We didn't fish but we had an al fresco lunch on Lake Superior.

At 2:30 a.m. Palm Sunday, my sister woke up. She went downstairs to check on Dad. She felt the room fill up. She saw Grandma Daisy and Aunt Ruth. She held his hand. From my father's early days he was a caregiver. Way before Grandpa Rudy up and left them, he assumed care of my Uncle Richard. He continued to be a caregiver his entire life. My sister told him how much he was loved. And that everyone he loved would be fine and it was all right to leave. And while holding his hand, he died peacefully. At home. As was promised.

We celebrated everything. Every birthday, anniversary, graduation and the fact that it was Sunday and we were all free for dinner.

We gathered at their Woodbury home. To cry, to nosh, to grieve, to tell stories. Later as my daughter was home alone prepping for a job interview, our yellow lab howled. Our cat meowed. She could not quiet them. She listened. She looked outside. She could not see what set them off. And then she wondered if Grandpa was checking on his granddaughter one last time. Ever the caregiver, checking to see if she was all right. Flights of fancy? Does it matter?
My father was a private man. I will respect the privacy and never write of what is intensely personal to him. But I will always write of his love.

And he loved. And was loved.

Friday, March 19, 2010

La Dolce Vita

A lot of wishes have been blown into the air these days. Life is erratic and it seeps into my being, my work, my blogging. "Looking for normal" and find it in a blog, a recipe, an unexpected burst of silliness. A dandelion blooming way too early.
I am learning about the end of life. Learning acceptance and grasping minutes that are "normal."

And then the unexpected happens. A playwright-colleague of mine wrote a play Danny is Going to Die about his bout with cancer. It's biting and sardonic. It satirizes the treatment of patients and the disease. And it's warm and fuzzy. Only Tim could pull that off. 'cause that was Tim - wry, sardonic, highly irreverent (wonderfully, strongly, enthusiastically irreverent) and thirty. He will always be 30. On St. Patrick's Day he passed away peacefully.
His Facebook friends declared him sharing a pitcher of his favorite appletinis with St. Patrick. Facebook was oddly comforting and there was a lot of laughter in the remembrances. Tim wouldn't have it any other way. As I prepare for a different loss, I am blindsided by Tim. And I stop preparing - because I cannot, I shouldn't - it negates what I have now - la dolce vita - even when the sweet is savory - even when I don't taste the sweet.

Someone gives me some truffles. Very unexpected.

- I cannot cook in the hospital I visit regularly. I cannot shave these over eggs or into risotto or pasta. But I could slice them into butter. Savory cookies and cream. Pick up some artisan bread.

So I stir and with emotion - mash it into butter. My daughter's was wishing they were chocolate truffles. I am glad they are not.

It will sit in the fridge over night: 2 shaved small black truffles, 1 stick of unsalted butter - which I proceeded to salt with a few shakes of sea salt. And then it will accompany me and some mighty fine bread on my journey tomorrow to spend time with my parents and sister. We will break bread together in the seating area. We will hug and we will smile and we will laugh. We will chew and talk all at once with our mouth full.

La dolce vita from a truffle. From a gift. From remembrances. For this minute today.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bertolli Skillet Meals Review

I received an exquisite package in the mail from Bertolli Foods last week.
Wrapped in red and gilt-gold, I discovered a gift card inviting me to purchase Bertolli frozen meals. Accompanying this was a wine aerator (I had never used one before) and a beautifully wrapped envelope with recipes developed by Rocco Dispirito which could accompany my meal. The meal was to coincide with the unveiling of Bertolli's webisodes: Into the Heart of Italy. The trailer was to make its debut during Desperate Housewives on Sunday eve. As someone who:
a. does not watch TV
b. does not cook frozen meals
- this was an intriguing opportunity. Because it was Sunday dinner, I felt I had to make some sort of effort. I put out Asiago cheese with Sicilian olives and Caprese roses.
With the gift card, I purchased 3 skillet meals: Italian Sausage & Rigatoni, Chicken Parmigiana & Penne and Shrimp Scampi & Linguine. My college-aged children and my daughter's boyfriend were invited to partake of the festivities. With their time constraints and less expendable income, they are more likely to purchase a frozen meal than I.
The Chicken Parmigiana with Penne (pictured above) had mixed results. All loved the sauce, the penne came out al dente but the Chicken Parmigiana was soft and soggy. My daughter who is fussy about textures did not eat it. My husband, son and the boyfriend wolfed theirs down.

Having non-shrimp eaters at the table, only three of us tried the Shrimp Scamp with Linguine. It was probably the least favorite. My husband and son did finish theirs. I wasn't wild about the shrimp - too translucent (it was cooked), too mushy and I felt the very strong garlic sauce overpowered the shrimp. I like my shrimp simply broiled, baked or grilled with cooked garlic. I feel cream sauces overwhelm the shrimp. So some of this is personal taste.
The garlic remained raw during the cooking process. There were large chunks of garlic that overwhelmed everyone's sense of smell and taste. After a few bites, my husband and son started putting the slices aside.

The Italian Sausage and Rigatoni was the hit of the evening. The 20-somethings at the table all declared that it would be a grand meal to have in the freezer. The rigatoni was al dente (which surprised me - I thought it would be softer). The sauce was a savory blend of herbs with the taste of the sausage. The sausage was firm. Not overpowering with enough spice to please all.
My husband and son ate hungrily and happily - stopping in-between bites to assure me that although this was very good, my from-scratch meals were better. Hmmm. I wondered.

We did a taster's menu - 2 or three meals on each plate. The presentation of al dente pasta, vegetables and meat was pleasing.

I was astounded that a frozen pasta dinner could yield al dente pasta - which it did in all three results. The portions of meat, chicken and fish were generous.

I found the meals for $8.39 at the local grocers. (I checked three grocery stores and the prices did not vary). The meals serve 2. All thought it a reasonable price. The rule of thumb for fast food is that your meal should be under $5.00. And this was much better than fast food. Cooked in a skillet for nine minutes, it was also faster than fast food!
We have since learned that Target sells these meals for $6.60 and that was the deal-breaker for the 20-somethings. They would definitely keep the sausage-rigatoni skillet meal in the freezer for an easy, flavorful meal. All were predisposed to trying other Bertolli meals.

We rounded out the meals with some arugula topped with fricos and settled down to watch Desperate Housewives and catch the trailer to Into the Heart of Italy.
You could view the trailer here: Into the Heart of Italy
Bertolli Frozen Meals is getting ready to launch a new series of webisodes titled "Into the Heart of Italy: Six Adventures, Three Celebrities, One Mission. To Unlock the Secrets of Italian Passion for Food and Life." This one-of-a-kind online series will feature celebrity chef Rocco Dispirito and actors Marisa Tomei and Dan Cortese as they explore the food and culture of Italy.
I guarantee you that the video will have you saving your pennies for a trip to Italy.
I want to thank Bertolli for giving me the opportunity to try their meals. I am not someone who buys frozen meals and was pleasantly surprised. And while I will continue to cook my pasta dinners from scratch, there will be a frozen meal in the freezer for my busy children. With the gift card and aerator, I also received suggested wine pairings (also on their website) and recipes developed by Chef Rocco DiSpirito: Jump Asparagus with Oyster Mushrooms and Fresh Pecorino Cheese, Chocolate Cake with Armagnac Ice Cream. I will definitely keep those close!
The wine aerator opened up new possibilities. We have always scrambled when busy to make sure our red wines had time to breathe before serving. As we uncorked the Chianti and poured it into the aerator, the bouquet of the wine was instantly released. The aerator does indeed allow the wine to breathe without prep time. I will use it again and again.
I have fallen in love with the Bertolli website. With its suggestions on how to use their products, wine pairings and recipes, they provide a wealth of information. My children want to try Bertolli's lasagne ("but we know it won't be as good as yours, Mom.") What? Me worry?
And while there will now be a Bertolli meal in my freezer, I still won't watch TV.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy Saint Patrick's Day

"Land of Heart's Desire, Where beauty has no ebb, decay, no flood,
But joy is wisdom, time an endless song."

Ireland is faerie mist and pubs,

Carefully penned words and laughter,

Abundant salmon: have some on me.
Salmon with lemon-cream chive sauce

And dreams. Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Caprese Roses

The thing is - I am susceptible. I was paging through a book devoted to small bites at a book store and saw these. They called them "Caprese Lollipops." My daughter called them "Caprese Roses." I left the store and bought tomatoes. Because sometimes you need something fanciful in your life.

I have always made "Caprese-on-a-stick" for appetizers. Thread a toothpick with a tomato, mozzarella ball and basil leaf. Dip it in some sort of balsamic-olive oil mixture. Watch them disappear.
The grape tomatoes were hollowed to make room for the small ball of cheese. A dab of pesto inside it would dance on your tongue.
So easy, you can just grace your table with it. No need to save this "for company."

Perfect for Mid-March when spring is teasing us - coming and going. And so simple: for each one you need:
1 large bamboo skewer
1 grape tomato - hollowed
1 pearl-sized mozzarella ball
I dipped them in olive oil and minced Italian parsley but you know as soon as spring truly comes, these flowers will be dipped in basil. I can hardly wait.

Fantastical roses. Spring-in-a-bite. Being susceptible has its upside.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Beef Rollatinis - a whirl of ingredients and winners of ABC Italiano

It's a truth that you may not think of something for twenty years but once you unlock one memory bank, other locks crumble and open. As I badger my mother with questions about Grandma and the family - I am hit by visions of the old Gresio kitchen. I smell aromas and respond to the sounds. I spend hours piecing memory waves together - what is memory? And what do I think I remember by virtue of the fact that I have heard the story so many times - I think I was there even if my mother assures me I was not.
While piecing and layering anecdotes and facts - wondering if immigration, cooking and Grandma could be a children's play, I receive an intriguing e-mail. A gentleman has started an Italian food import business of hard to find Italian foods and would I like to sample some of his products and report on them? Is it serendipity? Or do thing unfold in their own time?

"I am Scott Stegen. I recently opened a website selling imported Italian food products, focusing on rare and hard to find items, like bottarga and pane carasau among many others. I have many more new products coming in the next few weeks. You can see my site here:

May I send you some things?"

And suddenly I have: 2 bags(2kg) "00" flour, 1 250g bag fennel seeds, 1 250ml bottle vincotto, 1 jar of capers from Salina, 1 500g bag of farro perlato. Enough to have fun with. I have used the fennel seeds for making my own turkey sausage (well, sort of - I just add spieces to ground turkey). I can smell the fennel through the bag. Heaven.
For the beef rollatinis, I opened the vincotto - that is something I cannot find here. My mother is sending me a little jar so she can have some! And I use it sparingly - just for finishing. Is this me cooking? And I hungrily check his site for more ingredients. I know there is an order in the very near future. I know my mother would love a bottle of Vincotto.

We get our meat locally and because we buy in bulk, Bob Otis (a local farmer) throws in some extra cuts. He actually threw in a flat iron skirt steak - a cut rarely seen here. My mother is jealous. She hasn't seen that cut in decades. I slice it - about 3 inch wide stips.
Rollatini's are simple meat roll-ups. In Liguria you would use veal and have a simple cheese-bread crumb stuffing. In Lazio, beef is used and the stuffing is more savory. I love how every region in Italy has their own rollatini recipe. In Valle D'Aosta, the filling has brandy and cream. In Sardegna, it is a simple filling of lardo, herbs and garlic. In Piemonte, anchovy and tuna are the stars of the stuffing. Each province developed meals according to what the land and sea provided. The foraging of an earlier people has become the cuisine of today.

Beef Rollatini with Vincotto Glaze - serves 4
1-1/2 pounds flat iron skirt (can use a flank steak, tenderloin, sirloin - anything that can be pounded flat
1-2 tbl butter (I used Earth Balance)
salt and pepper to taste
Rollatini Stuffing
3 ounces prosciutto, finely chopped
1/4 cup freshly shredded Parmesan
1/4 cup freshly shredded Fontina
4 oz favorite mushrooms, finely chopped (I used shiitake)
4 tbl fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 large shallot, finely chopped
olive oil to coat a large skillet
Finishing Sauce
4 tbl Vincotto or a very good balsamic vinegar
(Note: Vincotto is not interchangeable with balsamic vinegar but a good balsamic also privdes a rich syrupy sauce for finishing meats)
The Vincotto is reduced by just a third. Although, it already is thick - I could warm it and serve it. As you drizzle it over the finished rollatnis, the aroma of the grape must is a time machine - and an airline ticket. You can smell the goodness of the past. You can breathe in the vineyards of Italy.
Beef Rollatini Preparation

Between sheets of waxed paper, pound your meat thin (1/4 inch). Put a thin layer of butter on the meat. It will help the stuffing adhere to it. Salt and pepper to taste. Moving along the width of the meat, cut it into three inch strips.
Combine your stuffing ingredients making sure all is minced. Spread it evenly atop the meat pressing to adhere the stuffing to the beef. Roll the beef and secure with a toothpick. (Can do ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
Cover the bottom of your skillet or pot with oil and heat till sizzling. Drop the rollatinis in the pot and brown all over. Turn with tongs to ensure even cooking. The beef takes 6-10 minutes to cook. Six minutes will be rare to medium-rare beef and 12 minutes will be medium well to well-done. Remove from pan and let rest 3-4 minutes.

In a small fry pan, add your vincotto or balsamic vinegar. Heat to a boil and reduce 1/3. You should have a sweet syrupy glaze. Drizzle over rollatinis and serve.

I may brown them oil and bake them next time.

A few serve as an entree. Or use them as an appetizer. Change the cheese, change the herbs - make it suit your tastes and your ingredinets - just as the Italians do.
As I think of my famiglia from my past, I also smile at my family today. My firstborn's birthday is tomorrow. The young man who had the hard task of teaching me to be a mother. I read the books, I went to early childhood classes, but you know, this guy as an infant had a lot to tell me, to show me. A lot of understanding motherhood came from being a mother. Sometimes it was easy and sometimes it took time.

But he stuck with me. I remember sitting at his college graduation last spring - so proud - that I didn't cry. I did not dissolve into puddles. I controlled all those lumps and butterflies. Until of course he told me to check Facebook as soon as I arrived home. He would have photos of the day there. Of course, I did. I went straight to his page - and there he was - in his cap and gown with the title:"All Growed Up." And that's when I melted. And so he is - "all growed up." I wrote about it. Tomorrow we will celebrate that.
And to end, I am the proud recipient of 10 wonderful ABC Italiano books and while some are earmaked for the Italian Cultural Center in Minneapolis and children's charities and preschools, three of them are for you: Fresh, Local and Best, Cinnamon Spice and Everything Nice and Mocha Me. Please e-mail me your address and I shall get them out to you quickly. Thanks to Joe at for providing these charming books and to all of you. Most people develop a love of language and reading on someone's lap. It's the best way to learn.