Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

(With apologies to every Christmas songwriter.)

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love said to me: forget the lords a-leaping. "Come," she told me, "pa rum pum pum pum."

And with Jack Frost nipping at my nose, we made our way to a place where treetops glisten and children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow.

The stars were brightly shining. A silent night, a holy night! All was calm, all was REALLY REALLY BRIGHT. A far cry from deck the halls with boughs of holly. But lots of fa-la-la and jolly, nonetheless.

Strings of street lights, Even stop lights, blinked a bright red and green. And when you walk down the street, you say "Hello" to friends you know, and everyone you meet.

Oh Ho the mistletoe, downloaded from the app store for free. Somebody waits for you; kiss her once for me.

A beautiful sight, we're happy tonight, walking in a winter wonderland. But, "watch out for the traffic!" This is where Grandma got run over by a reindeer, walking home from our house Christmas Eve.

Wait! Do you hear what I hear? Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow chanting: "bring us some figgy pudding, bring us some figgy pudding" (this part is true).

And then another child: "What child is this, who laid to rest, on Mary's lap is sleeping?" Do you really need to ask?

Yuletide carols being sung by a choir. Repeat the sounding joy, repeat the sounding joy.

May your days be merry and bright!

P.S. If you like these lights, get over to the Trinity Street Light Competition by January 2, 2010.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Christmas Biscotti

This is my holiday spin on our traditional Italian biscotti, or what we used to call "Auntie Inesse cookies." The dried cranberries and pistachios give the cookies a lovely holiday feel. Enjoy!


1/2 cup butter

3/4 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

2 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

3/4 cup chopped pistachios

3/4 cup dried cranberries


Cream butter and sugar until light.

Beat in eggs and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add this dry ingredients to the butter/sugar mixture. Mix until blended.

Divide the dough in half. On a greased and floured baking sheet, shape into two logs (1/2-inch high, 1 1/2 inches wide, about 14 inches long) and place two inches apart.

Bake at 325F for 25 minutes (until lightly browned).

Transfer from the baking sheet to a rack for cooling. After 10 minutes, move to a cutting board and, using a serrated knife, slice diagonally about 1/2 inch thick.

Lay the slices flat on the baking sheet and return to a 200F oven for one hour.

Once cooked, let cool o

n a rack. Store in a covered container.

Makes about three dozen.

Looking for other Christmas cookies?

Here are some of my past Christmas cookie postings:

Eat Christmas Cookies, Season 3!

I've submitted this recipe to Food Blogga's Eat Christmas Cookies, Season 3! event.

If you have awesome holiday cookies, find out how to participate.

Check out all the great cookies on the round-up page.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Zucchini Sousa

Zucchini sousa is a traditional family dish that's made with large zucchini during the height of the season when you don't know what you'd ever do with one more zucchini. This dish was a highlight of my childhood summers, made with zucchini from the gardens of nonnos, zios and neighbours.

I don't know what the word "sousa" means or if it's even a real word. And I don't know of anyone outside the family who makes this recipe. If you've heard of it, please leave a comment.

This is a fabulous summer side dish or picnic dish. It's served cold and tastes better the next day. If you like wine vinegar, you'll love this dish. My dad doesn't know this but he makes the best red wine vinegar ever. Don't ask about his wine.

Here's the recipe handed down from my nonna and mom. In true nonna fashion, it has no quantities. And in true Deb fashion, my sweetie makes it for me.


- medium or large zucchinis (not gigantic ones because they're too seedy)

- soft bread crumbs

- grated parmesan cheese

- fresh peppermint leaves

- red wine vinegar (use a lot)

- batter (flour, egg, milk, salt, baking powder)

- oil for frying

- salt


- Slice zucchini into 1/8-inch rounds

- Salt and then drain (put them in a colander with a weight -- a jug of water on a plate -- to drain the liquid from the zucchini)

- Dip the zucchini rounds in your batter and deep fry

- Put the fried rounds on a paper towel to drain off the oil

Assemble while the zucchini is still warm

On a serving platter, layer:

- fried zucchini rounds

- grated parmesan cheese (sprinkle onto the warm zucchini)

- pieces of mint leaves (make sure there's enough for every bite)

- bread crumbs

- sprinkling of red wine vinegar (sprinkle liberally with each layer)

Continue layering until all the zucchini is used.

Refrigerate (overnight is best) and serve cold.

Delicious! Thank you nonna!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fresh romano beans

I love beans. Sweetie is allergic to beans. When sweetie is away, I make "bean delight!" Doesn't matter what the dish is, we always call it bean delight.

My last bean delight dish was a warm romano bean salad. I was thrilled to find fresh romano beans at a local produce place and greedily purchased them for my dinner. I was so happy, I think I skipped a few steps along the Drive.

Reality set in when I got the beans home. Now what? How do I tackle this now foreign-looking bag of pods? I took a three-pronged approach:

  1. Ask Twitter. This was a #fail, which I attribute to the Italians still being asleep when I tweeted.
  2. Call Mom. Dad answered, uh-oh, Mom was out of the country. I tried to get Dad to channel nonna for her recipe but it was futile.
  3. Google the experts.

Google wasn't as easy as it sounds, partly because I didn't know that romano beans are also called cranberry beans or borlotti beans. I settled on combining the wisdom of Mark Bittman and David Lebovitz.

Here's what I did. It's nonna-style, with imprecise quantities and instructions. Simply do what feels right.

Warm romano bean salad

  • Shell your romano beans: This is best done outside because that's how my nonnas did it. Before starting, pour yourself a nice glass of red wine (that's my addition). Shell the beans directly into your pot. Discard the pods.
  • Add water and a few cloves of garlic to your pot of beans and bring to a boil.
  • Simmer 20-30 minutes or to your liking.
  • Drain.
  • Mix the warm beans with your favourite vinaigrette.

Vinaigrette for about 2 cups of cooked beans

Mix together:

  • 5 T olive oil
  • Thinly sliced onions
  • Chopped fresh basil
  • 1 1/2 T dry white wine
  • 1 1/2 T red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp grated lemon zest
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Add the warm beans to your vinaigrette. Try adding tomatoes or greens if you like.

Enjoy your bean delight!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

It's smoking hot and I decide to bake

What was I thinking? We're in the middle of heat wave and instead of sitting in a tub of ice water, I turn on the oven to bake a cake. And you remember that I don't cook a lot. 

Well, I had the kitchen to myself and wanted to bring something memorable to our friends' crabfest. And we had a fridge full of rhubarb.

This is a no-fail recipe but sweetie says I make it better than anyone. For that reason it makes my "signature dishes" list.

I love that this recipe breaks all the baking rules that I learned in my high school home ec class. You don't need to separate the wet ingredients from the dry ones, and you don't need to cut the butter into the size of small peas. You simply mix everything up, bake and serve. 

Rhubarb cake recipe

2 cups brown sugar

1/2 cup butter (melted is okay and easier to mix)

2 eggs

2 cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 cup sour milk (to make sour milk, mix 1 cup milk with 2 tablespoons of white vinegar or lemon juice)

2-3 cups of chopped rhubarb

Topping: 1/3 cup white sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix all but the topping ingredients together and put into a greased 9 x 11 baking pan.

Sprinkle with the topping mixture.

Bake 45 minutes in a 350 F degree oven

That's it. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Canada Day: What it means to be Canadian

Like most Canadians I take being Canadian for granted. We're not raised on a diet of patriotism. We don't sing "O Canada" at the start of every day. We simply ARE Canadian, sometimes with apologies, but never with regret. 

I come from a family of immigrants, my sweetie is an immigrant, many of my friends are immigrants, as are my neighbours [note the Canadian spelling]. We're a nation that embraces diversity through a multicultural policy. We are not a melting pot. Our cultures are fused, not melted.

Our revolutions are quiet ones but that doesn't mean we're not passionate.

We can vote freely, without intimidation or violence but we take democracy for granted. Our last federal election recorded the lowest voter turnout in our history. We need to be more vigilant to protect our democracy. Voting is the least we can do. 

Our sweeping generalizations:

  • We don't worry about concealed weapons.
  • If we're sick, we know we can get well without having to sell our home.
  • We can sponsor our partners for immigration, regardless of gender.
  • We can marry the one we love, regardless of gender.
  • We can serve in our military regardless of sexual orientation.
  • We don't have to join the military to get low-cost post-secondary education.
  • As long as we have Qu├ębec we will never be "American"
  • We call our money loonies and toonies, and we don't miss the bills.

As for our stereotypes:

We like beer.

We like hockey. 

We believe in Sasquatch, particularly after beer.

Of course, it's not a perfect place. We don't have hot, sunny beaches in the winter. Because it's Canada Day I'll save my rants for another day.


Please share your stories of what it means to be Canadian.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day

On this Father's Day I'm thinking of my nonnos, the two fathers who brought their families from Calabria to Canada for a better life and unknowingly gave me two lands where my heart and soul dance.

Nonno Joe was born in the late 1800s. It makes me pause: I know people who were born in three different centuries. We may be the first generation to make that claim. 

Nonno set out for the USA on his own when he was barely a teenager. I can't imagine the strength needed for that journey in a time before mass communications and transportation. How would WE do it without the Internet and our cell phones? Nonno was resourceful enough to make that trip several times. Returning to Calabria to marry and emigrating with my nonna and their Italian-born children.

Nonno Joe

Nonno Tony arrived in Canada at mid-20th century with full family in tow. Even then, they left knowing they'd never see mothers, fathers or siblings again. And no text messages, no tweets. I was lucky to know this Nonno who lived into his 90s. His grapevines are in my back yard and his lemon tree is in my living room (this is Canada). 

Nonno Tony

I will write more about their journeys. Today is for a simple remembrance of the fathers who brought me here.

And happy father's day to my dad too.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hot lemon drink

Like most people I know, I've struggled with the cycling cold/flu bug for far too long this year. While I haven't found a cure, my hot lemon concoction has helped me make it through many, many days and nights. This goes out to CS who is relapsing with a cold.

In your favourite mug, add:

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 T honey (to taste -- I like mine tart)

a few dashes of hot sauce 

a 1/4 inch slice of fresh ginger, peeled and squished a bit

Add a little bit of boiling water and stir to melt honey.

Fill mug with hot water and stir.

Bundle up with your laptop and a wool blanket and get well soon!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter Eats

Growing up in a Calabrese-Canadian family Easter was a big food holiday after the long fast of Lent. Even with Nonna reciting "Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi" -- spend Christmas with your family and Easter with whomever you want -- we stuck close to home for all the great food.

Both sides of my family immigrated to Canada from Calabria well over 50 years ago so what we consider Italian traditions are more likely family microcosms of traditions that no longer exist in Italy or with other families. Our food traditions have evolved based on ingredients available in small towns, culinary skills, and individual tastes, likes and dislikes. Today we celebrate our food mash-ups.

The names of foods I claim as our own, based on dialect, faint memories and the influence of Italian neighbours from Abruzzo, Tuscana, Friuli, and other regions. If you share any of these food traditions I’d love to hear your stories.


This is a favourite of mine because it falls in my category of one-pot cooking, that is, it’s really easy to make. For us, pastieri is a cold pasta square made with eggs, ricotta and parmigiano or romano cheese. It’s great for Easter brunch.

Baskets & Paparelle (Ducks)

Nonna Filomena would make these for her grandchildren. The paparelle or ducks were made for the girls and the baskets were made for the boys. Making these decorative breads requires a lot of skill and patience. Our family has preserved these traditions through the family cookbook that I mentioned in a previous post.

Straw Poll

Straw poll isn’t an Easter delicacy, it’s a quick poll I put out to my Facebook friends and family asking what they were making for Easter. Here’s a sampling of responses:

TB: I am making the traditional Perugian/Umbrian? Pasqua dinner -- lamb. I was thinking about making a nice Easter Bunny stew, but my butcher said agnello per Pasqua

JA: Matzoh with charoset and smoked salmon salad (not combined, and in lieu of Gefilte fish).

PH: perogies

CM: Veggie patties and veggies grilled on my baby Weber...and a few ice cold beers to boot. 

WA: those new pre-made Easter cookies ... (grin)

I love my family’s diversity!

Easter Pizza

This is my favourite Easter food, probably because of its off-the-charts fat content. The Easter pizza is bread dough baked around layers and layers of sliced meats and cheeses, evenly stacked to make a geometric pattern when cut. The pizza is served cold and feeds a large extended family. I’m working on a version made in a loaf pan.

Easter Bread

All my nonnas made sweet Easter bread often with whole eggs baked into them. Sometimes braided, sometimes shaped into an alphabet letter to represent your first name. I ran into my Italian neighbour the other day and asked her if she makes Easter break. She said, “I don't make the Easter bread with the eggs in it anymore. No one eats them, it's a waste.” I don’t recall eating the eggs either.

Do you want more?

If there’s any interest in recipes or how to make these family delights, leave me a comment.

Buona Pasqua!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Lutto Nazionale

Good Friday, April 10, 2009 is a national day of mourning in Italy for the victims of the Abruzzo earthquake. 

Please take a moment to remember the victims. 

Now take some time today to hug your loved ones.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Italian Groundhog Day

"Quattro Aprilante, giorni quaranta" was a proverb I learned from my Nonno T. My grandparents knew many, many proverbs and whenever I asked they would recite them, all strung together, usually challenging each other as to their accuracy (that's a polite way of phrasing their typically loud Calabrese interactions). 

"Quattro Aprilante, giorni quaranta" is literally April 4, 40 days. It means that whatever the weather is like on April 4th, is what it will be like for the following 40 days. I think of it as Italian Groundhog Day. I know nothing of its derivation but I suspect it's Italian and not regional to Calabria or our southern villages. For Nonno, it didn't have any meaning in the new world, Canada. It may have been more important when they lived in the old country and had to tend animals and plant crops. 

In my part of the world, today is sunny and the first day the sun has shared its warmth along with its brilliance. I'm taking this as a good sign that spring is here to stay.

If you know anything about this proverb, I'd love to hear your wisdom and your stories.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

One pot: Baked oatmeal

Anyone who knows me knows that I don't cook a lot and when I do, it's not very complex. That's because I live with an amazing cook who is also my culinary slave as well as a recipe tester-at-large for America's Test Kitchen. My one-pot dishes and "bean delight" don't stand a chance against my sweetie's creations.

About a month ago, Cream Puffs in Venice [don't click on that link or you'll never come back -- she kicks my butt] blogged about a baked oatmeal breakfast dish that caught my attention. I read it three of four times finally convincing myself that I could do this, after all it was all in one pot. 

My sweetie was out of town and, honestly, I have no idea what a rolled oat is and how it's different from other oats. I saw we had a bag of flaked oats in the cupboard and that's what I used. 

This is a great little recipe and now that I've found it I'm less likely to skip breakfast. Here's my adaptation:

1 cup whole rolled oats (I use about 1 1/3 cups flaked oats because Sweetie likes the density. What's the difference between whole & flaked?)

1 tsp. cinnamon
a pinch of nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. maple syrup (Sweetie says to try 1 1/2 tbsp of honey if you don't have maple syrup. We'll try that next time.)
1 tbsp. grated orange zest
2 medium apples, peeled and diced (I use whatever I have on hand, usually a crisp eating apple)
1 ripe banana, mashed
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts (I use pecans, because we have lots of them)

1/4 cup fresh frozen blueberries (I freeze them in August and enjoy them through the winter. Once the raspberries ripen, I'll try a handful of them instead.)
1-1/4 cups milk 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Grease a 9-inch pie plate or baking dish with butter or cooking spray

Combine all the ingredients in ONE (I love this part) large bowl and mix well.

Pour into the greased pie plate.

Bake in the centre of the oven for about 30 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed (don’t overcook or it will dry out).

Remove from the oven and let cool. Serve warm with yogurt (I like vanilla yogurt). Add extra honey or maple syrup as desired.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Spring has sprung

"Spring has sprung, grass has ris, I wonder where the birdies is?" -- nuggets of wisdom passed down from my father. 

Well, the birdies were tweeting today and not only on Twitter. We had lots and lots of rain today, a crash of thunder followed by more rain, then wind. Through it all, except for the thunder crash, the birdies were noisily doing what birdies do outside my window (except where the screens keep them from roosting). 

After all the wind, the sun appeared and I ran outside to take this photo. I ran because our weather has been so unpredictable, I didn't want to be caught in an unexpected snowstorm -- like the one we had ten days ago. 

But I'm not really worried about snow. I'm worried about crows. Our house is on their sunset flight path, which is an amazing sight to watch. I'm not so worried about their daily flight. I'm worried about their stops. 

Every couple of years they nest nearby and aggressively swoop, making contact with anything that appears to threaten their young 'uns. Like pathetic me, in the morning before coffee, dragging myself to the bus stop -- a threat?

We used to wave our arms wildly and shout disparaging remarks trying to intimidate them into moving to another back yard. Because we were scared. 

And then I watched Joshua Klein's TED Talk on "The amazing intelligence of crows." We were right to be scared. Crows are smart and they're going to take over the world. We were left with two choices: 1) sell the house and move to the desert; or 2) be nice to the crows. 

We're trying option 2, which includes speaking gently in short sentences, moving smoothly without sudden jerks or leaps off the ground, and leaving small twigs in easily accessible places, all the while wondering where the birdies is.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Happy birthday nonna

Nonna Filomena would have been 112 today. It's hard to believe I'm living in the third century since my grandmother was born. 

Because I'm near the end of the grandkids I only remember the older skinny version of nonna. She was an incredible 80-something who I'm sure passed down the obsessive compulsive disorder of cleaning the house before the cleaning lady arrived. I don't do it to the degree that nonna did. She would straddle the stairwell (feet on the railings!) to clean the light fixture so her cleaner wouldn't have to do it. I don't think the cleaning lady phase lasted very long since there wasn't much to do. Probably a thoughtful idea from one of her children but not very practical. 

After nonno died, we would visit once a week. In winter we would pass the time together watching tv shows: MASH, the short-lived Planet of the Apes, and her favourite, the Lawrence Welk Show. Nonna always laughed along with the MASH laugh track but I'm sure she didn't catch most of its humour. As young kids, I'm sure we didn't either.

Lawrence Welk would have been 106 last week.