This is Us

I read an article recently about how most children, when it comes time, don’t want any of their parents “stuff”.  There’s a minimalist movement going on and this stuff is seen as clutter and junk.  While I also like to live a very minimalistic life, there are some “things” I just won’t part with.  I don’t see these things as junk, or clutter, rather I see them as a way to tell my story and that of those who came before me.  Yes, most of these items are really just “things”.  Yes, most of these items do create some clutter in my home and require care and cleaning.  But, I see them as a way to visit with my family and keep those who have come before me close to my heart.

Today, on this rainy Sunday morning, my husband and I set out to wash all the items in a large wall unit in our living room.  It’s time to get ready to host Christmas dinner and to deep clean the living and dining room.  We barely use these rooms anymore, as it’s just the two of us.  Washing each item today took me on a nostalgic journey down memory lane.  As my husband carried each piece to me in the kitchen for hand washing, he began lamenting that we have way too much stuff.  I tried to explain to him, though I’m not sure he got it, that each item has a story connected to it.  I even tried to tell him a few of the stories to prove my point.  He smiled and continued carrying things back and forth for a few hours, not convinced but no longer complaining.

When my grandmother, lovingly known as Nanny, passed away 30 years ago my dad called and said they were cleaning out her apartment.  He asked if there was anything specific I wanted to have.  I told him I really only wanted two things – her green piggy bank and her junior high school autograph book.

Those were two items that nobody else would want and truly the only things I wanted.  I wasn’t interested in her pots and pans, her furniture or television.  Rather, I wanted a piece of her story, her journey through this life.  I wanted something that connected me to her, in a very personal way and would stay with me through my time without her.

When I was growing up, we didn’t need to wait for Christmas to see our family.  Most of my family lived in one apartment building on Seneca Avenue in Ridgewood, NY.

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A recent photograph of 932 Seneca Avenue. I can still see my Nanny at the top right window waving to us after we dropped her off at home after her visits with us.  

My Nanny and Baba had a apartment on the top floor.  Across from them, lived my Uncle George and Aunt Rose and downstairs my Aunt Catherine and Uncle Jimmy.  In the next building, lived my Aunt Rose’s family.  These were magical times, though we didn’t know it at the time.  Who knew that years later most families wouldn’t live like this, that this would be the exception, not the norm.  I spent most of my Sunday mornings at this apartment building visiting.  Many mornings we played Pinochle or Canasta and many mornings we just spent time together.  One thing I loved to do as a young child, was to pour out all the coins in my Nanny’s piggy bank.  I loved to sort and count the coins and tell her how much money she had in the pig.  Sometimes I helped her roll the coins to take to the bank and cash in.  My Nanny didn’t have a lot of money, so collecting change was a way she saved up to buy the extra things she wanted.  Having this piggy bank on my dresser, still holding some of her coins means the world to me.  When I look at it, I can still see myself as a small child pouring and counting as she and my dad sat in the kitchen sipping coffee and eating crumb cake.  I can hear her radio playing and her canary Chip singing along happily.

My Nanny also had an autograph book in her apartment when I would visit.  She never let me read it, or play with it, but I knew of its existence.  I am by nature curious and fascinated by stories from the past.  I love looking at old photographs and hearing about the people living in them.  I knew this book meant a lot to my Nanny, but just assumed it was the reminder of her youth that made it so.  When I received the book after she died, I spent time reading each entry.  Many are faded as the book is from 1928, but it struck me how similar the entries in this book were to those of today.  As I read, I imagined the people who wrote them, so young and full of life as they were setting out on their journeys.  I had no idea really who anyone in the book was, but as I saw multiple entries from someone called Wuff, I began to wonder who he was.  Finally I realized that Wuff was my grandfather and these were secret love letters he was hiding in her autograph book.  My grandfather was much older than my grandmother at 29, when she was just 14, scandalous really.  I believe he was hiding these notes in this autograph book so as not to be discovered.  How truly special this book is to me, even 30 years later.  I haven’t read it in awhile, but today as I took my trip back through time, I pulled it out.  I won’t share any of the personal notes, but here are a few of his playful messages.

Today, I wonder if nobody wants this so called junk anymore, who will carry forward these stories.  How will we preserve our past?  I know you don’t need a lot of stuff, but these personal items carry our stories.  Surely we can downsize these items, but do our children really need to throw them all away?  Maybe, we need to return to these days gone by to realize the importance of keeping our memories.  Having these trinkets helps me remember and tell the story of us.  I can touch each one and conjure up a memory of a person and a moment that was shared.  I hope that the generations to come can find a place for them in their hearts and homes, for if not many precious memories will be lost.

Here are a few trinkets I visited with today and the special memory attached.

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My dad gave me the Lladro on the left on the day my daughter was born.  It depicts the love between a mother and daughter, as well as my love of reading and the stories that connect us.  Lladro on the right belonged to my mother. It was bought by my dad when he was a young, beat copy working in Jackson Heights.  He came upon a store that sold china and Lladros and purchased many treasures for us throughout his career.
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A Lladro gifted to my by my brother after his trip to Spain.  While they were away I took care of their house so they purchased this for me as a thank you.  This was from the 1980s and in the height of my obsession with aerobic class and leggings.
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Housewarming gift given to my parents by my Nanny & Baba in the early 1950s.  This handmade pottery was used through their 60 year marriage for snacks and candy at any party my mother had.   Totally not my style, but I can still see it in its grandeur filled with love.  Mom cared for it lovingly as I do now.
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My mother loved to be modern and this vase was one of her first purchases as a new bride decorating her apartment in the early 1950s.
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One of the many equestrian awards my daughter won   This was won with her first pony, Spring, for Pony of the Year.
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My daughter on Christmas morning when she received her second horse, Blue Whisper.  My parents and I went down to the barn with her on a very cold December morning.  She was in fourth grade at the time, about 9 years old.   These two horses loved each other and gave her such joy and success in the horse show world.
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Cathy and Blue Whisper at an Eventing competition.  This picture captures his fire and her joy riding and competing.

I’d love to hear about items that carry special meaning for you. Feel free to drop me a line below and share your story.

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Summer Blues

Thirty one years ago this week, my husband, baby and I moved into our home.  My son Robert celebrated his first birthday in our first home and days later we moved into our current home.  My son had not yet walked and I secretly suspect he was waiting to be here in our forever home to take those first precious steps. DCC21A57-578A-4B78-A37B-50193FC2D619 Thirty one years later our son is off in South Carolina enjoying his birthday weekend.  It seems we blinked and time just passed us by so quickly.

Labor day weekend is the weekend I prepare to go back to working a regular schedule.  I’ve read countless messages about how quickly the summer has flown by and how hard it will be to send our children back.  I remember those days so well.  Trying to carve out those last few precious moments of summer with my children.  Swimming in our pool, dreading the return of strict schedules and routines that would cramp our memory making times.  Unfortunately, time stops for nobody and here we are once again on the eve of another year upon us.

My son Robert is off enjoying his birthday with friends and we won’t get to spend it with him.  We had a quiet weekend at home and got to see our other son and daughter for a bit this weekend.  I’m really longing today for those days gone by, but know that all is as it should be.  Our children are happy and that is truly all that matters to us both.  If you’ve spent the summer with your loved ones, you’re lucky.   Don’t wish these days away, as hectic as they may be.  Hold tight to your little ones for they will soon be grown and off on their own.

Today I decided to make a nice comfort meal for my husband and I.  I got the slow cooker going this morning to make a nice hot pot of chili.  I know that wasn’t a great choice on a 100 degree Monday, but it sure hit the comfort spot.  I made some grain free biscuits with it and they really hit the spot and won’t upset my stomach tomorrow.  My stomach has already got enough butterflies heading into the new school year ahead.

Slow Cooker Chili

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup of chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tbsp cumin
  • 1/2 tbsp adobo sauce
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne

Directions:

1. In a large skillet, sauté the onions and garlic over medium heat. Add in the ground beef and cook until browned. Drain the excess fat and then transfer the meat mixture to the crock pot.

2. Add in the bell peppers and celery. Top with remaining ingredients and spices and stir everything together. Cook on low for 6-7 hours. Serve warm.

 

Biscuits

Ingredients:

5 egg whites
2/3 cup almond flour
1/3 cup coconut flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup almond milk
2 tbsp coconut oil

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a large bowl mix together the almond flour, coconut flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the coconut oil and almond milk.

2. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until peaks form. Fold into the flour mixture until combined.

3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop about 1/4 cup of dough onto the baking sheet to form approximately 9 biscuits. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until golden. Serve warm with a drizzle of honey or butter.

*Biscuit recipe courtesy of Paleogrubs.com

 

Revised Recipe – Sausage & Peppers

This week, I was reminded of just how fleeting life can be.  One decision can alter the course of another person’s life in the blink of an eye.  We never really know what’s ahead and we have no control over some of it.  What we do have control over is the way we respond to these tragic life experiences.   This weekend, I’ve said many prayers for a young boy and his family.  I hope that in time they come to find solace in knowing there are many people here to support them.

Thankfully, this weekend my brother came up from North Carolina so I got to spend time with my entire family.  My two brothers and I haven’t been together since November and it’s not often we are all in the same place at the same time.  The weather was amazing on Saturday and it really was just what I needed.  This coming weekend, my children will all be home for my birthday so I’m excited for that as well.  There’s nothing like time with family, including of course good food, to soothe the soul in trying times.

Last month, I signed up for and started taking an online nutrition course.  Those who have been reading my blog for the past two years know that I’ve been to quite a few nutritionists.  While I have learned something from each of them, often I found they were trying to sell me something.  I finally decided to take matters into my own hands and take some courses to become more self sufficient.  I don’t want to live on pills and powders, as I love food way too much.  I spent the first four weeks of the course, tracking my eating and taking notes on how my body responds to certain foods.  I used an online tracking app – Lose It – to identify trends in my eating.  Specifically, I was looking at my macronutrient balance.  This experience was eye opening for me and coupled with the content I was reading and viewing, I had a better understanding of some personal issues.

These next three weeks, I am cutting back on animal based proteins, including eggs and dairy.  This week, I will not eat more than 3 meals in which my protein source is animal based.  The goal is to spend some time on a plant based diet and see how my body responds.  This is just one cycle I will go through to track and observe, nothing permanent.  Yet, this work doesn’t excite me as much as the prior cycle as I often use eggs and chicken as my protein source.  In planning my menu for the week, I must admit I wasn’t too excited about my options.  I’ve got some work to do to ensure I get enough protein, but I feel like I have a plan.  I’ve recently discovered that I love cruciferous foods, especially as a base for my salads.  I discovered that I can also chop up many other vegetables to look like a slaw and they suddenly taste so much better.FA6FF1BB-45C2-4D77-A684-3B02D9058CC8.jpeg

Today, my last day in the current cycle, I reflected on how much I’ve changed my eating habits when watching my macronutrient balance.  I was shooting for 15% carbs, 15% protein and 70% healthy fats these past few weeks.  I have noticed a change in my energy levels, cravings and sleep.

For Sunday sauce, my husband brought home some beautiful red, yellow and orange peppers and some hot Italian turkey sausage.  This simple substitution of turkey sausage cuts back significantly on the fat content of this staple meal.  Let’s face it, sausage is not exactly in the healthy fat category.  Honestly, if I didn’t know it was turkey I likely wouldn’t have noticed.  It was delicious.  Since I’ve discovered how much I like salads that are chopped fine, I’ve not missed my pasta or rice.  This type of salad makes a wonderful base for sauces and protein options.  Today’s version consisted of chopped cabbage – red and green, kale, broccoli, jicama and carrots.  Today’s salad was packaged and purchased at the store, but I am confident I can recreate this quite easily going forward.

Turkey Sausage & Peppers

Recipe used is identical to the one I’ve shared before, except I substituted the pork sausage for hot Italian turkey sausage.  Here is the link to that recipe – Sausage & Peppers

If making this salad fresh you’d need to chop all vegetables finely like you would for coleslaw.  I didn’t use any dressing as I had sauce to top it with.  I think the self proclaimed vegetable hater may come over to the dark side after this three week nutritional cycle.  Let’s see how it goes, I’ll definitely keep you posted and share my updated recipes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stuffed Chicken Breast with Mushroom Gravy

My daughter Catherine moved out almost one year ago and lately she’s been calling me to ask about cooking.  How do you make this?, What can I do with these ingredients?  This makes me happy, as I guess she was watching after all.  These calls bring me full circle to myself when I moved out of my parents’ home when I was a mere 18 years old.  I had just graduated high school and gotten a job working in Human Resources at Morgan Stanley in midtown.  I was attending college at night, working full time and living under my own roof.  I was super excited to have my own place and after about the same amount of time as my daughter, started calling my mother to ask these same questions.  I still have the index cards I typed at work after speaking to her, all those years ago, to get treasured family recipes. (Yes I know I spelled potato wrong back then.)87F83B95-F1D3-4600-8359-90ACA3CEF5D5.jpeg

My mother was a creature of habit, as was my dad.  We ate dinner at the same exact time every single night.  We ate the same meals in a weekly rotation and my brothers and I could tell you that Friday was spaghetti night. My Nanny came for dinner after work on Thursday and we usually ate stuffed pepper or meatloaf and had chocolate cream pie for dessert.  Grandma came over on Saturday and we always had fudge ripple ice cream for dessert and Goulash for dinner.  We had bagels on the one Saturday each month that my dad worked the graveyard shift.  He picked them up on his way home, hot from the bagel store.  Every Tuesday in the summer we went to Rockaway Beach with the ladies and kids on the block.  You could literally set your calendar and watch by the routines my family had.  That’s likely why I rebel so much when it comes to structured routines and like to do things differently each week.

Today, on Sunday sauce day – gasp – I was planning to make chicken cutlet.   When I opened the package, I noticed the breasts were left whole.  I had just seen an idea shared on another website – Cooking with the King Fish – about stuffing these breasts rather than trimming them up for chicken cutlet.  I decided to give this a shot today.  I had some turkey sausage that I planned to cook with the cutlets and some beautiful mushroom for a gravy.  This meal is one of those – a little of this and a little of that and maybe we have a new meal for our rotation.

Change is good and experimenting with cooking is fun.  There are just so many meals to try, why limit yourself to the same thing each week.  I’m not sure why my mom felt the need to have such a strict schedule.  I know she was on her own a lot with dad’s work schedule and likely needed to have a routine with her three young children at home.  I also know as she got older she did not enjoy cooking at all.  So, maybe it was that all along,  maybe she didn’t like to cook and just had her favorite recipes that she kept making.  I’m not really sure, but she was such a great cook and I hope she found joy in it.

Stuffed Chicken Breast

Ingredients:

  • 2 whole boneless chicken breasts
  • mozzarella cheese cubed
  • hot turkey sausage (1/2 link removed from casing for stuffing)
  • 1 mini red pepper cubed for stuffing
  • baby spinach rolled and sliced into strips for stuffing
  • 1 mushroom chopped (white) for stuffing
  • Hot turkey sausage – 5 links sliced (uncooked)
  • Chicken broth 1 cup
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • cooking twine

Directions:

  1. Pour glass of Chardonnay and turn on Alexa for dancing in the kitchen.BBD7D93B-1693-4E5E-9C45-D0CEBB1D471B
  2. Trim the cutlet almost in half and unfold.
  3. If still thick start at middle and trim to outer edge but not all the way through. Unfold.EBE38E41-8245-4935-9C3F-AB9FD291AE01
  4. Repeat on other side
  5. Cover with plastic wrap and pound to even out
  6. Place layer of stuffing on in this order, sausage, mushroom, pepper, spinach, mozzarella cheese.5CC304A3-6A88-4B34-87A6-A629C1FD77FB
  7. Roll breast and secure with cooking twineAED4DABE-1DFB-46BD-BF25-5A83A211E95B
  8. Add olive oil to bottom of baking pan
  9. Place chicken breast in baking pan
  10. Add chopped onions around
  11. Add sliced turkey sausage
  12. Add garlic
  13. Add chicken broth – 1 cup to baking pan
  14. Bake for one hour at 350 degrees13462190-78D2-48F5-8319-8394AE912805

Mushroom Gravy

I used my Schnitzel mushroom gravy recipe to make a nice pan gravy for this meal.  The recipe can be found here –  Chicken Schnitzel with Mushroom Gravy & Spaetzle .  What I don’t use with this meal I can freeze in a container and have on hand for quick meals during the week.  There’s something comforting about having a nice mushroom gravy to top off our chicken cutlet, or steak.EA0315DC-3900-4691-B0B1-AB0A74EF6ABF.jpeg

What were the weekly meals your family ate?  Please share as I love to try new recipes out.  If you try any of these recipes, please drop me a line and let me know how you made out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diana’s Veal & Peppers

Losing a parent is one of the hardest things a person goes through in their life.  Losing two parents and an only sister within three years is unimaginable to me.  When one suffers such a loss, memories are often where they find solace.  Photographs, songs, letters, scents and recipes keep us connected to those we miss the most.  An old friend of mine, Joan often cooks childhood dishes to reconnect to happier times with her family. Living in Buffalo now, Joan’s food photographs pop up on my Facebook feed, often when she can’t sleep.  On those days, I feel like I can smell her cooking right through the computer and wish she still lived nearby.

I met Joan back when our boys were little.  Our boys attended elementary school together and were two peas in a pod, especially when it came to leaving their books at school.  My son Robert used to inform me that Gary’s mother would go and make photocopies of missing homework pages at the nearest drug store.  I told my son that was way too complicated for me with three young children, besides he needed to learn responsibility, right?

Joan was one of the first ladies I met when our children started Kindergarten.  She was hysterically funny and a realist when it came to raising her children.  We shared many laughs and cocktails together as our children grew up.  When Joan’s children went off to college in Buffalo, she and her husband decided to pack up and move up there.

A few years back, Joan lost her mom and dad within one year of each other.  When her mom was dying of cancer, Joan and her sister Barbara moved back into the family home in Brooklyn to care for her.  Joan’s posts were often like Seinfeld episodes, in which she described going back to the old neighborhood.  Throughout this most difficult time, Joan kept her sense of humor and helped her mom Diana keep her dignity.  Anyone who has gone through this knows that is not an easy thing to do.  Not long after Joan’s mom died, her only sister Barbara passed away unexpectedly.  This came as quite a shock to all as Barbara was a healthy woman and left Joan understandably devastated.

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Joan, Diana, Barbara

Yesterday, Joan commented on my sausage and peppers post.   She shared how she too, cooks foods from her past to feel closer to those lost.  She said she tries to make her mother’s recipes to hang on to her childhood memories.  Her mother’s veal and peppers recipe was her favorite as a child.  Every year for her birthday, her mom would let her request a special dinner and this is the one Joan picked.  As she celebrates her birthday this weekend, Joan made her mom’s treasured recipe and kindly shared it with us.

Like most women of her time, Diana never wrote anything down.  Joan said she often has the urge to pick up the phone when cooking to ask her mom how to make certain foods.  I’m sure many of you know that feeling all too well.  Here is Diana’s recipe as Joan makes it today.

Diana’s Veal & PeppersJoansmom

Ingredients:

  • 4-5 red peppers sliced
  • 1 large onion sliced
  • 3 cloves of garlic chopped
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Olive oil
  • 1 1/2 lbs veal cubes for stew
  • Flour
  • 2 small cans of DelMonte Tomato Sauce
  • Red wine

Directions:

I usually make the peppers in advance just to make life easier.

  1. Slice up 4-5 red peppers and 1 onion. Place in pan with olive oil, salt, red pepper flakes. Mix it coating the peppers with oil. Cover with foil and cook at 400 hundred oven till almost soft. (15-20 minutes)
  2. Mix flour, salt and black pepper in dish. Coat veal cubes in flour.
  3. Brown veal in large frying pan with olive oil and minced garlic.
  4. When brown add splash of red wine to deglaze the pot.
  5. Then add 2 small cans of Del Monte tomato sauce and a little bit of water. Bring to boil. Cover and simmer about 1 to 1 1/2 hours till veal is fork tender.
  6. Add peppers and onions and heat all together for 5 minutes or until hot. That’s it.
  7. Serve on rice
  8. Leftovers, if any, are great on Italian hero’s the next dayE974E165-6B44-4A51-AF72-1C9663CD0B1D

If you try this recipe, please leave a comment in the section below.  We’d love to hear how you liked it.

If you’d like to share a special recipe from your family, please leave me a comment and I’d be happy to feature it here on the blog.