Monthly Archives: April 2011

Purple hydrangea

Purple hydrangea

Easter Sunday will be here in just four days. The menu is agreed upon and the guest list is growing. Today I need to begin gathering for a fun family weekend however, my car DIED! Yes, the battery is dead…dead…totally dead. It won’t even hold a charge. So, the tow truck cometh and hopefully I will be back on the road by noon.

While I wait for the truck, I water and prune and pluck. Oh, and snap this great picture which is now my desktop!

Happy Easter!

Seven Mile Drive Canopy

Seven Mile Drive Canopy


In May, 1993 Tom and I borrowed from every source we could to purchase the lot and contract a custom home builder to construct our “dream house”. When we moved on the street not one tree was planted along the Seven Mile Drive hill. But, the hair stood up on my arms every time I drove up that hill and looked out over the beautiful golf course and winding creeks that make up The TPC at Sawgrass and I admit all these years have passed and I still feel that way.

The street looks a lot different today. The empty lots have been filled with gorgeous homes and children have grown and families continue to grow larger. It is a wonderful place to live.

Recently, when the trees had bloomed and the canopy was again complete I took this picture of the hill. I hope you enjoy it too.

Momma is busy with so many mouths to feed

Momma is busy with so many mouths to feed


Temperatures reach into the 80’s most days now. Spring is here and today is Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week. It would only be fitting to discover Momma cardinal has guarded her eggs well and just a couple of days ago I heard the faint peeps of baby cardinals from the nest tucked away in the shelf in the summer kitchen. I ran to grab my camera while she was off foraging their lunch. They were so tiny and so hungry, their little beaks open wide hoping I was Momma returning with nourishment. What could be more Holy than new life?

Our family favorite…..Grandma’s Cake – Torta della Nonna

Our family favorite…..Grandma’s Cake – Torta della Nonna

Since my return from cooking class at Casa Ombuto in the Tuscan countryside last summer my family has fallen in love with this classic Italian dessert.
Now, I must admit the recipe requires patience and time. But if you add a bit of love to your preparation I know it will become your family favorite as well.
So, just turn up some Andrea Bocelli on on your iPod and let yourself drift to a place where green rolling hills are dotted with sunflowers and the bell towers above the terra cotta tiled roofs of the stone farmhouses ring out a gentle welcome.
To make you feel like you truly are in Italy, I am leaving the measurements in Metric. If you have a food scale or a computer you will have no trouble.

INGREDIENTS
Pasta Frolla (short crust Pastry)
1 liter of milk
1 lemon, 1 orange
250 g of sugar
1 vanilla pod
80 g flour, 20 g corn starch
7 egg yolks
100g pine nuts – for decoration

PROCEDURE
Prepare the crust –

INGREDIENTS FOR PASTA FROLLA (SHORT CRUST PASTRY)
250 g flour
125 g butter at room temperature
1 to 2 tsp cold water or milk
1 Tbsp sugar
pinch of salt
1 egg

PROCEDURE FOR SHORT CRUST PASTRY
1 Cut the softened butter into pieces. Combine in a bowl with the egg and sugar and mix and crush with a spatula.
2 Sift the flour with the salt and add to the egg and butter, mixing with the tip of a knife.
3 Add the cold water or cold milk if the dough feels too dry. Do not overwork.
4 Transfer to a lightly floured surface and work the dough with the palm of your hand, then form into a ball. Work quickly, as the dough must not be handled too much. It does not matter if you see little bits of butter not properly incorporated into the dough.
5 Wrap into a plastic bag and let it rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour minimum.

PREPARATION FOR CREAM
1 Heat the milk together with the lemon and orange skins and add the vanilla.
2 Whisk the egg yolks together with the sugar, then add the flour and the corn starch and finally the hot milk.
3 Pour the mixture into a saucepan and heat over a low heat, stirring until you have a thick creamy texture.

BAKING
1 Grease a cake tin with butter, and dust with flour.
2 Line the tin with the pastry and make small holes in the base (with a fork). Cover with a layer of baking foil with dry beans or rock salt over it, so the pastry does not rise too much when baking.
3 Bake the pastry in a preheated oven at 180 C ( 355 F) for 12 minutes. Remove the baking foil and beans/salt and bake for another 8 minutes.
4 Take the tin out and pour the cream into the pastry base.
5 Roll out the rest of the pastry to make a “lid” for the cake. Brush the top with egg and cover with pine nuts.
6 Cook for a further 12-15 minutes, with only the top part of the oven heated. Dust with icing sugar (confectioners)

TIPS
The cream will have more flavor if the milk cools with the aromatics left in the pot. ( lemon, orange and vanilla pod)
Cut two pieces of parchment paper and dust with a bit of flour, then roll out the dough between the sheets. It is simple to transfer the rolled dough to the tin this way.

Although this Italian Recipe is named “cake” it is more like a pie. I will normally double the recipe since it is so time consuming and prepare another for a friend.

Torta della Nonna - Grandmas' Cake

Tuscan Beans….creamy and delicious!

Tuscan Beans….creamy and delicious!

There is a common misconception that Italians are big eaters and the majority are overweight. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In my travels I have found them to be extremely thin and fit. During our trip, Kelly and I determined the secret to eating wonderful Italian cuisine with all of the carbs in the hearty breads and the tasty pasta could only be the staple we found at many of the meals………beans!

Diets including beans can reduce your risk of heart disease and some cancers. It is a food high in protein to “start your engine” and virtually fat free while containing more fiber than many whole grain foods. Because of the high fiber content they tend to fill you up quickly and prevent you from overeating. Someone suggested it takes more calories to digest the beans than they contain. Now that is the kind of food I want to be hooked on.

The great thing about this recipe is you can change it up by adding diced tomatoes or okra or any other vegetable you have an abundance of. You can also add some bits of fried prosciutto or Italian sausage for spice. This would not be as healthy, but a nice change if you serve beans often.

Since being home from Italy I have made the beans almost weekly in a large pot. I have tried cannellini beans, lentils and navy beans. They are all good, but I prefer the cannellini beans personally.

INGREDIENTS

1-2 lb. bag of dry cannellini or navy beans
1-48 oz. box of chicken broth
1 medium onion diced
4 cloves of garlic minced
1 bay leaf
5 Tbsp. olive oil
sea salt and pepper to taste

PROCEDURE

1 Empty the beans into a large mixing bowl and fill to the top with water, allowing to soak overnight.
2 Dice the onion and mince the garlic while the olive oil is warming in a 5 quart pot.
3 Add the onion and garlic to the pot and allow to become transparent around 3 minutes being careful not to burn the garlic.
4 While the onion and garlic are cooking to tender rinse and sort the beans.
5 Add the beans and bay leaf to the pot and cover with chicken stock.
6 Bring to a boil stirring occasionally.
7 Reduce heat to medium (a soft rolling boil) and stir occasionally so they do not stick to the bottom of the pot. Cook beans until tender.

The beans should be tender and a creamy sauce should develop from stirring in about an hour.
Serve with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese and enjoy a healthy and satisfying meal.

MANGIARE!

Our Garden Progress Report

Our Garden Progress Report

This is our new garden.......

Last weekend Matt asked if I had ever wanted to plant a garden. Of course my answer was an astounding “YES”.
Living in Florida we have a lot of sun and recent years not enough rain. I knew I could keep up with a garden once it was planted, but I really wasn’t sure where to put it or how to go about it. So, Matt got on the computer and he investigated.
We agreed a box garden would be the way to go. It would insure proper drainage and the biggest plus, we would not have to deal with tilling or removing the roots from the palms and plants. Within three hours he had constructed an 8’x4’x1′ wooden box, cleared the area and laid garden cloth on the ground inside. It was beautiful and I was totally impressed with my new Son-In-Law and his woodworking skills.
My assignment was to determine the proper mix of soil we would need, so off to the garden center I went on Monday morning. I met a knowledgeable gentlemen who told me exactly what I needed. He told me to use a mixture of manure for nutrients, clean top soil and peat to absorb to prevent the dirt from becoming soggy. He calculated each type by cubic foot and I texted the info to Matt who would pick the soil up in the truck after work.
That night Lou and Matt filled the box with soil. Now all I had to do was find some plantings and we would be set! It is a little late for seeds, so I thought since it was our first garden, I would begin with young plants. It would be a shame as well as expensive to fail.
The next day I visited several nurseries and filled my SUV with a great selection of shade tolerant vegetables and herbs. They would be perfect! I found green and purple cabbage, several types of lettuce, zucchini and yellow squash, rosemary, basil, stevia, spearmint and chocolate mint, a variety of peppers including bell and jalapeno, datil and banana. And we cannot resist tomatoes. The box garden will be brimming soon as I am certain I have planted a little too generously.
It only took about an hour to tuck the healthy plantings into the lush prepared bed. It was beautiful. I dashed off a picture to Matt to show him our garden.
What do YOU think?

Gratin of Braised Fennel

Gratin of Braised Fennel

This is one of my favorite recipes from our Italian- Mediterranean Cooking Course. Kelly and I were served this recipe our very first meal at Casa Ombuto and could not wait to prepare it ourselves. I love the licorice taste of the fennel. It is a wonderfully tasty side dish that is healthy and not difficult.

Tip- When you shop for the fennel bulbs, try to get medium size bulbs if they are available. They look like a celery bunch with long green tops with what appears like dill. Just slice off the end and trim off the fragrant green tops of the bulbs right down to where it becomes white. Remove any bruised outer leaves and quarter them. You will be adding this recipe to your “go to’s” I am sure.

Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS

5 fennel bulbs
5 Tbs grated parmesan
olive oil
chicken stock
sea salt and pepper to taste

PROCEDURE

1 Cut fennel tops and discard any bruised outer leaves. Cut into quarters
2 Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan, add fennel and cook over a medium heat, turning the slices over, until the fennel begins to brown nicely.
3 Add chicken stock to come two-thirds up the fennel, cover, lower the heat and simmer until very soft.
4 Take out the fennel quarters, place them side by side in a buttered oven dish and season with sea salt and pepper. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.
5 Place under broiler for a few minutes until the cheese has melted.

Some days I just surprise myself!

Some days I just surprise myself!

Thirty-five miles with my not so skinny butt perched on a very skinny bike seat on a spring morning in sunny Florida is a daunting idea. Never before had I attempted or seriously thought of taking on such a challenge. But, my beautiful daughter, who works for WWP suggested I join her team. Last Saturday I arose at 6AM to accompany Lindsay, Matt, Louis and Brad, also known in Team GTL (in Jersey Shore Guido culture … “Gym,Tan, Laundry” ) in support of Wounded Warrior Projects “Soldier Ride Jacksonville”.

Wounded Warrior Project is a non-profit organization headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida with offices in Washington DC and New York City. The mission of WWP is to honor and empower wounded warriors by “fostering the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded warriors in this nation’s history.” It was founded by a group of Veterans and friends in Roanoke, Virginia to help servicemen and women. Thru fundraising events such as Soldier Ride WWP is able to provide a signature backpack with comfortable clothing and toiletries as well as support materials to the injured soldier as soon as they reach a military hospital like Walter Reed. Their vision is to help soldiers on the road to healing both mentally and physically. This certainly seemed to fly in the face of the returning Viet Nam Veterans of my era and that is a good thing.

The morning sun was just peaking thru when we pulled out of our drive in Lou’s Ford F150 carrying an assortment of 5 bicycles that would hopefully lead us across the finish line. Matt was the only team member to have attempted such a feat. His confidence was encouraging as well as intimidating. I am 61.5 years old. What am I thinking? Every other member on our team is 35 years younger than me! Plus, Tom expressed his lack of confidence at dinner the night before when he asked me what was the farthest I had ridden recently…or EVER for that matter. By noon I would know what I was made of and so would everyone else.

When we pulled into the WWP HQ parking lot it was filled with about 250 bikers plus Jacksonville Police officers who

WWP Jax HQ Police stand during color guard and National Anthem

would escort us along our route. A color guard was assembled and the opening ceremony was under way. The Chief Development Director, Steve Nardizzi started things off and turned the mic over to Dan Nevins, a wounded warrior and Executive VP of Events who told his story of how the WWP backpack he received at Walter Reed after losing one leg and learning he would probably lose the second helped to encourage him more than anything else that day. What an incredible organization this is. I was proud to be there and excited about giving this my all.

The color guard marched, we stood and sang the National Anthem and before I could retreat Team GTL was crossing the bottlenecked starting line to begin our journey. It was very exciting to see the streets lined with flag waving supporters young and old cheering us on.

The wounded warriors hand pedal on adaptive bicycles in a group in the lead. Lindsay had told us not to pass them as a sign of respect and more importantly, to stay out of their path. Once these soldiers get going it takes a lot to slow and start back up. So, it is best to steer clear.

The route took us through town about 10 miles and over a bridge toward a shady residential area just bordering the St. Johns River. The tree covered streets and the beautifully landscaped yards made the ride a pleasure rather than a challenge. I found myself easing into a steady pace and happy to be keeping up with our team. We laughed and joked along the way and continued to come upon pockets of supporters including baby strollers with small flags and even dogs with bandanas and tee shirts all supporting the soldiers.

We averaged 12 miles per hour and looped back to the finish line three hours later at noon. I had done it with only one little break along the way. The rest of the team also finished. Matt could only restrain himself and stay with us for about two-thirds of the ride. Finally he unleashed his borrowed street bike and sped out of our sight. Brad was a hoot, just being Brad throughout the ride, speeding up then lagging back, but finishing just ahead of me. Lindsay finished just behind me and deserves a medal for encouraging Louis and completing the ride on her rusty old “Specialized” bike that had two nearly barren tires and only a couple of working gears. Louis was able to finish with his knee throbbing the last ten miles, but providing us with many laughs and great music from his ipod with speakers.

It was a beautiful day. Not only did Team GLT finish Soldier Ride Jacksonville 2011, we collected $800 in donations supporting the ride and we proved to ourselves we could accomplish anything if we just believe.