food stories

An Unexpected Feast: When Grief Meets Gratitude

Posted by | community, compassion, cooking, death, family life, flourishing, food stories, friendship, gifts, grief, kids, soup, Stories | No Comments

We dipped into hearty bowls of butternut squash soup garnished with sprigs of fresh parsley. We passed platters of golden roasted turkey, Nana’s green bean casserole, and homemade crescent rolls. My dear friend added a plate of her family’s special Salvadoran pupusas to the mix, while my famous pumpkin tiramisu chilled in the refrigerator for our grand finale.

What mattered that year was not what we were serving up on our plates but what we were serving up in our hearts. There was a deep gratitude that was almost palpable around the table after the grief journey we had endured as a family.

Just the year before, we had navigated our first holiday without my beloved husband. He was diagnosed with stage four cancer that May and soared to heaven in September, leaving our whole family and community reeling. I never imagined this would be my story. I didn’t ever believe the tasks of a widow-mama would be in my wheelhouse.

That first Thanksgiving we all had to recalibrate for we had lost our leader. I missed him helping me chop the celery for the soup. I missed his booming voice saying the blessing. I missed him entertaining the girls and laughing loud during dessert. His absence loomed large at the table. I had to dig deep to pull up the gratitude then. I had to train myself to name the small gifts – breath in my lungs, three brave daughters, sunsets chasing across the sky, and saving grace.

A year later, the landscape of my heart and our family had changed dramatically.

Just like the abundant food on our table, the blessings were abundant too. My fiancé sat to my right. He started the meal with a blessing-prayer, thanking God for our first meal as a family in the new home we just bought. My youngest girl with the golden hair, like her “Daddy with Jesus,” squeezed the hand of her daddy-to-be. She was bubbling with excitement for the wedding in January where she would be the flower girl.

My dear friend from El Salvador, her two sons, her husband, and his two sisters from India joined our table. They, too, had tasted grief that year as their dad had journeyed through cancer. These were friends who had become like family to us during crisis.

We shared tears and prayers. We drew close together in the gratitude.

After we had emptied the bottles of sparkling cider and most of us were pushing back from the table, there was a kind of hush…

To read the rest of this post, click here and join me at (in)courage.

Italian Wedding Soup: Sharing our souls over a hearty bowl of soup

Posted by | community, compassion, cooking, food stories, Recipes, soup | No Comments

These past several weeks have been marked by tragic headlines – hurricanes whipping coastal cities and neighboring islands, floods devastating Texas, forest fires chasing up the state of California, and a mass shooting in Las Vegas.

These natural disasters and national tragedies weigh heavy on my heart. They push those in the eye of the storm into survival mode. First responders are called from all corners. And the rest of us must shoulder deep grief from afar. It’s easy to start processing all our feelings online and neglect face-to-face time with our family and friends.

With all the heaviness, I find myself hungry for more time with my people, and that requires being intentional.

I know I need to pull my girlies and my husband close and tell them I love them.

I know I need to carve out space to grieve together.

I know I need to lean into the loss and sift the feelings of fear that creep in.

That’s why I started thinking about comfort food this morning. Comfort food is something warm I serve up at my table for the purpose of gathering people and sharing our souls. Comfort food takes a while to assemble and cook. The time is important. We can’t offer comfort to one another in a rush either.

Today I’m sharing a recipe for one of our family’s favorite soups: Italian Wedding Soup. This one can feed a crowd. We serve it up in both the grief and the joy. The marriage of hearty vegetables and meatballs nourish the stomach and the soul well.

I’ve discovered that when I invite my kids into the kitchen to help me cook, it affords us time to talk, process, grieve and encourage one another. My Giada loves rolling meatballs, and Meilani is great at measuring ingredients. Zayla is good at stirring the vegetables in the pot. And everyone is good at the tasting part!

I encourage you in these difficult times to gather your people, maybe invite your neighbors and rev up a pot of Italian Wedding Soup.

For soup base:

1 cup onion, diced

1 cup celery, diced

1 cup carrot, diced

1 cup ham or bacon, diced

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

12 cups chicken broth

2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons dried basil

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or a dash of cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon parsley

1 bay leaf

1 can cannellini (white kidney beans)

2 cups spinach or kale leaves

1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated

 

For Meatballs:

Approx. 30 small meatballs (You may use already prepared meatballs or mix the following ingredients together and roll your own meatballs.)

1 pound ground chuck

1/2 cup unseasoned bread crumbs

1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

1/4 cup whole milk

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 egg, beaten

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1/2 tablespoon garlic powder

1/2 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon dried basil

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix together ingredients for meatballs and roll into bite-sized balls.
  3. Place on a greased baking sheet. Bake meatballs for approximately 10 minutes so the meatballs will hold their shape in the soup.
  4. Meanwhile, put a large soup pot or Dutch oven on the stove and heat olive oil at medium heat.
  5. Chop onions, carrots, celery and ham and add to pot.
  6. Mince garlic and add to pot.
  7. Stir ingredients and heat until softened.
  8. Add chicken broth, oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, parsley and bay leaf.
  9. Simmer 20 minutes over low heat.
  10. Drop meatballs into simmering soup.
  11. Cook approximately 10 more minutes.
  12. Add beans, spinach leaves and Parmesan cheese. Keep heat on low and cook 5 more minutes.

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Freedom Soup: Soup Joumou (Haitian Pumpkin Soup)

Posted by | cooking, food stories, kids, Recipes, serve, social justice, soup, world travel | No Comments

My family is flying out to Haiti this evening. We are so excited to see all our friends after two years. I decided to share with you today one of my favorite main dishes they make us in Haiti. It’s called Soup Joumou or Pumpkin Soup. It’s really more like a stew.

Soup Joumou (pronounced joo-moo) is a central part of New Year’s tradition in Haitian homes. The hearty dish commemorates January 1, 1804, the day Haiti was liberated from France. The soup was once served to French slave masters but the slaves who cooked it were forbidden to eat it. After they won their independence, Haitians prepared and ate the soup to celebrate their freedom. Haiti was the world’s first and only slave nation in history that won its own freedom.

In rural Haiti, where I have spent a lot of my time, the soup is prepared on a three-legged circular iron basket filled with charcoal where the pot sits directly on the coals. The most popular type of pumpkin used to make the soup is the kabocha, a squatty and often speckled green pumpkin that boasts orange flesh. Every Haitian has their own version of Soup Joumou, but it usually includes garlic, onions, plantains or sweet potatoes, cabbage, pasta or rice and the pureed pumpkin to thicken the broth. The soup simmers for several hours. Some kind of seasoned meat, often beef or goat, is added to the soup making it a savory one-dish feast.

Soup Joumou is often made in a large aluminum pot with plenty to share with family, friends and neighbors who gather to celebrate the New Year and Haiti’s hard-won freedom. I like to call it Freedom Soup!


Below are the instructions on how to make Soup Joumou. This recipe has been adapted with the help of my Haitian friend, Gerby Seriphin, to simplify it. This one-pot meal is great to serve for a large group or a party. You might get some crusty bread and butter to serve alongside it!


Ingredients:

Epis Seasoning:
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, coarsely chopped
6 scallions, coarsely chopped
6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 cup coarsely chopped parsley leaves with tender stems
1/2 cup olive or canola oil
6 basil leaves

Soup:
1 cup distilled white vinegar, divided
2 pounds stew beef (preferably chuck) cut into 1″ cubes
1 lime
1 tablespoon sea salt
16 cups beef or vegetable broth, divided
1 medium calabaza or butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled, cut into 1″ chunks
1 16-oz. can pumpkin puree
3 large russet potatoes, diced
3 carrots, sliced
1/2 small green cabbage, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, sliced
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 leek, white and pale-green parts only, chopped
1 1/2 cups rigatoni, penne or other pasta
6 whole cloves
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more
1 parsley sprig
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter, unsalted

Directions:
1. Combine all ingredients for the epis seasoning in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth like a paste.
2. Pour 1 cup vinegar into a large bowl. Swish stew beef in vinegar to rinse. Transfer beef to a colander and rinse with water.
3. Stir Epis Seasoning Base, juice from lime, and salt in another large bowl. Add beef, toss to coat, and let marinate at least 30 minutes.
4. Heat 6 cups broth in very large stock pot over medium heat. Add marinated beef, cover, and simmer until meat is beginning to soften, about 40 minutes.
5. Add squash to pot on top of beef, cover, and return to a simmer. Cook until squash is fork-tender, 20–25 minutes.
6. Add can of pumpkin to the broth.
7. Add potatoes, carrots, cabbage, onion, celery, leek, rigatoni, cloves, garlic powder, onion powder, 2 1/2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoons pepper, parsley, and remaining 10 cups broth. Simmer, uncovered, until pasta and vegetables are tender, 30–35 minutes.
8. Add oil, butter, and remaining 1 tablespoon vinegar. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until beef is very tender, 15–20 minutes more.

Serves 15.

 

**Read more about why I’m returning to Haiti here. Do you have a special cultural dish you make in your family that holds a special story? Please share in a comment. I’d love to hear all about it!

Make cooking into a creative competition for kids (with pizza dough recipe)

Posted by | back to school, creativity, culture, food stories, Main Dish, Recipes | No Comments

The smell of garlic mixing with basil wafted to my nose. Laughter filled the room as kids rolled out billowy pizza dough into creative shapes and ran to the “market table” to retrieve ingredients. In the corner, some oil and Italian sausage were sizzling in an electric skillet.

“What will help thicken our sauce?” one called out.

“How much time do we have left?” another quipped.

Looking for a fun activity for this summer with your kids? How about inviting them into the kitchen to make some memories and some yummy, creative eats?

This past year I helped teach some cooking classes for my daughter’s fifth grade class. Her school is all about hands-on learning and our cooking classes provided great opportunities to discuss healthy choices, math, creativity and more.

For the end-of-the-year celebration, we staged an “Iron Chef Competition” so the kids could show off their newfound skills and creativity.

One of the moms came and showed the kids how to make homemade pizza dough (recipe below). The next day they used that pizza dough as their “secret ingredient.” We divided the students into teams of four or five. Each team had to make an appetizer, main dish or dessert using their pizza dough, a homemade sauce, and at least three other toppings or ingredients.

These kids knocked our socks off with their creativity!

Our judges had a tough time picking the winners because these kids made everything from pesto dough bites to calzones to berry-filled desserts with their pizza dough and ingredients. The winner was the Purple Mountain’s Majesty dessert. So yummilicious! The best part was seeing the kids have the confidence to chop and mix ingredients, and then serve up their creations.

Mamas, it’s often easier to keep the kiddos out of the kitchen but cooking could also provide a fun activity for a summer afternoon or weekend evening. And who knows, maybe one day you can just assign them the task of making dinner while you put your feet up and read a book or relax?! It’s all about training!

Ingredients:

2 cups (9 ounces) unbleached bread flour, chilled

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon instant yeast

5 teaspoons olive oil

2/3 cup + 2 tablespoons water, ice cold (40°F)

 

3 cups mozzarella cheese

Other toppings of your choice (ie. black olives, sliced green peppers, fresh basil, onions, pepperoni, Italian sausage)

olive oil spray

parchment paper

pizza stones or pans

 

Directions:

  1. Stir together the flour, salt, and instant yeast in a bowl. With a large metal spoon, stir in the oil and the cold water until the flour is all absorbed, repeatedly dip one of your hands or the metal spoon into cold water and use it to work the dough vigorously into a smooth mass while rotating the bowl in a circular motion with the other hand. Reverse the circular motion a few times to develop the gluten further. Do this for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the dough is springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50 to 55 degrees. (The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet and doesn’t come off the sides of the bowl, sprinkle in some more flour just until it clears the sides. If it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.)
  2. Place a square of parchment paper in a large container with a lid and spray with olive oil spray. Sprinkle (or “dust”) flour over the dough. Transfer the dough to container. Mist the dough generously with spray oil and place cover on the container. Put the container of dough into the refrigerator overnight to rest the dough.
  3. Remove the dough from the refrigerator 2 hours before making the pizza. Make sure your hands are dry and then sprinkle flour on them. Divide dough in three. Lift each section of the dough and gently round it into a ball. Lift the dough up, and have someone else dust three pieces of the parchment paper with flour, and then mist with spray oil. Place the dough on top of the parchment paper. Gently press each ball of dough into a flat disk about 1/2 inch thick. Dust the dough with flour, mist it again with spray oil, and place the cover back on.
  4. Now let rest for 2 hours.
  5. If using a baking stone, place on the floor of the oven (for gas ovens), or on a rack in the lower third of the oven at least 45 minutes before baking. Heat the oven as hot as possible, up to 800 degrees (most home ovens will go only to 500 to 550, but some will go higher).
  6. Place a large (a little bigger than final pizza size) piece of parchment paper on the work surface and dust it with flour. Dust the front and back of your hands with flour. Have a partner lift the dough out by the parchment paper. Have them gently turn the dough upside down across the back of your fists and peel off the parchment paper. Roll dough out to the crust shape you desire.
  7. Lay it on the parchment paper. Lightly top it with sauce and then with your other toppings, remembering that the best pizzas are topped with a less-is-more philosophy. The more toppings there are, the more difficult it is to bake. A few, usually no more than 3 or 4 toppings, including sauce and cheese is sufficient.
  8. Slide the parchment paper and pizza onto the stone and place in oven. Wait 2 minutes, then take a peek. If it needs to be rotated 180 degrees for even baking, do so. The pizza should take about 5 to 8 minutes to bake.
  9. Remove the pizza from the oven and transfer to a cutting board. Wait 3 to 5 minutes before slicing and serving, to allow the cheese to set slightly.

**A huge thank you to Elizabeth Orr who shared the original version of this pizza dough recipe and taught the kids to make the dough. If you’d like to check out more of my recipes shared in community, click HERE.

**Check out my children’s picture book, Cora Cooks Pancit, which also includes a recipe in the back to make with kids!

Building community in the kitchen: The secret is in the sauce (and three recipes!)

Posted by | cooking, creativity, culture, end-of-school year, family life, food stories, kids, laughter, Main Dish, Recipes, Uncategorized | No Comments

Cooking has always been a place of creativity, community and comfort for me. I grew up in the kitchen stirring sauces with my mama, kneading dough with my Italian Nana, and rolling lumpia egg rolls with my Filipino grandma.

As an adult, I have gathered many friends and family members in my kitchen to cook together. When I was a young married girl, I hosted a Cooking Club in my home for almost eight years. It all started because one of my friends told me she didn’t know how to boil water. Another friend loved to cook and asked if we could swap recipes. I looked around me and realized there were a host of women longing to learn and get in the kitchen together.

Our Cooking Club was born. We would meet monthly. I would choose a theme and some core recipes. People would bring ingredients. The ladies would cook and the guys would clean. We tackled time-intensive projects like homemade gnocci and and rosemary focaccia bread. We discovered new ethnic cuisines like Ethiopian key wot and Hawaiian sweet potato casserole. We created Pumpkin Party soup using farmer’s market abundance.

Through the years, we all started having babies and the Cooking Club grew to well over 40 people coming each month. We finally took a break when my husband and I took an assignment working full-time for a non-profit organization in Haiti. I still look back on those gatherings with fond memories. Maybe one day we will revive Cooking Club when all our kiddos are in high school.

I believe there’s so much to learn when we gather together to get our hands messy, employ our creativity, and share stories around food.

This school year I had the opportunity to teach a series of cooking classes for my daughter’s fifth grade class. My daughters attend Kepler Neighborhood School, a local charter that focuses on project-based learning. I started by sharing the children’s book I wrote. Cora Cooks Pancit tells the story of a girl named Cora who is the youngest in her family. She ventures into the kitchen one day with her mama and learns to make a Filipino signature dish called pancit. In the process of cooking together, Cora learns about some family history and history of the Filipinos in California. The book concludes with the recipe for pancit.

When I visit classrooms to share my book, I often teach the kids to make pancit. They help me wash and chop the vegetables and add the noodles to the pan. I am always surprised at the number of kids who taste the dish at the end even though it’s full of vegetables and new flavors for them. I think they feel ownership because they were involved in the process of creating the pancit.

I taught five cooking classes for my daughter’s fifth grade class this school year. One of my favorite classes was teaching the kids the secret in the sauce. I have three go-to sauces in my Italian cooking repertoire. These sauces celebrate my Southern Italian roots and my own creativity.

I invited the kids to re-create two of the sauces – pesto and a sausage ragu. We talked about tips on combining ingredients. For example, a little sugar is added to tomato-based sauces to reduce the acidic.

Then I set the kids free to create their own recipes. I told them the ingredients in each sauce but I didn’t tell them the quantities or the process of making it. They had to be creative, think critically, measure, taste test and write their own recipes. Their teacher and I also made this into a math lesson so the students were practicing multiplying fractions.

 

I loved seeing the teamwork that happened naturally as the kids created their recipes. Some wanted to get their hands dirty and add ingredients. Others engaged their senses smelling the spices and tasting the sauces. A few dove right into the math problem, writing down the recipes. I thought back to my cooking club and how over the years each of those friends discovered their tastes and their gifts in the kitchen.

Each of these sauces are pretty simple to make. They do not require a lot of time or a long list of ingredients. They do require attention and love. The kids gained some practical skills in cooking but they also learned to engage their creativity in community.

I hope this summer you will take some time to gather some friends or your own children in the kitchen. You might choose a favorite family recipe or try one of these sauce recipes. If you want to get adventurous, you can cover up the quantities of each ingredient and let your kids explore and combine on their own. You might take advantage of this time together in the kitchen to tell stories about your grandpa or great-aunt who made a special recipe.

**I’d love to hear how it goes. Please come back and COMMENT below about your experiences. Did you find any creative uses for these sauces? Which was your favorite?

 

 

Pesto Sauce

Ingredients:

2 cups fresh basil leaves

2 cloves garlic

½ cup walnuts or pine nuts

½ cup olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup parmesan cheese

 

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in blender or food processor except cheese. Pulse or process until sauce has a course spreadable, texture.
  2. Stir in cheese at the end.
  3. A few options:

-Brush on pesto sauce top of chicken and grill or bake the chicken (30 minutes at 350 degrees).

-Mix in with cooked, hot pasta of your choice and serve.

-Spread pesto sauce on top of toast or pita bread for an appetizer.

 

 

 Italian Sausage Ragu Sauce

-2 tablespoons olive oil

-1 onion, chopped

-1 (28-ounce can) crushed tomatoes

-1 (15-ounce can) can tomato sauce

-1 tablespoon dried oregano

-1 tablespoon fennel seed

-1 tablespoon basil

-1 tsp salt

-2 cloves garlic, minced

-1 teaspoon organic sugar

-1/2 cup parmesan cheese

-1 package uncooked Italian sausage (I love Trader Joe’s sweet Italian sausage.)

 

Directions:

  1. Heat saucepan. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil.
  2. Meanwhile, chop 1 onion.
  3. If sausage is inside casings, squeeze out into a bowl. When oil is heated, add sausage to the oil. Use a potato smasher or a fork to break it up.
  4. Once the sausage is lightly browned, add onion and cook until clear/translucent.
  5. Add the spices: oregano, fennel seed, basil, salt, sugar.
  6. Chop two cloves garlic or mince in garlic press.
  7. Add sugar, parmesan cheese and mix together.
  8. Pour in cans of marinara sauce and tomato sauce. Simmer on low heat for 15 minutes. (Meanwhile, prep your favorite pasta/noodles.)
  9. Add to cooked pasta and garnish with more parmesan cheese.

 

 

Alfredo Sauce

 -1 cup of butter

-1 cup heavy cream

-1/2 cup parmesan cheese

-1/4 teaspoon sea salt (or light sprinkle)

-1/4 teaspoon dried basil

 

Directions:

  1. Combine butter and cream in a skillet or shallow frying pan.
  2. Heat to medium and let slowly simmer. Turn down heat once bubbles start. As bubbles form, sauce will thicken. Whisk frequently and be patient.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare your pasta as desired.
  4. Add salt and basil to sauce.
  5. Stir in parmesan cheese.
  6. Pour over pasta and serve.

 

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Pressing into the bittersweet {and a love letter to my widow friends}

Posted by | behold, community, compassion, cooking, courage, flourishing, food stories, friendship, grief, hope, Stories | 7 Comments

 

My love language is food, and I love sharing it with my people.  This past Sunday night I hosted a dinner party at my house. In the afternoon, my girls helped me roll meatballs, frost mini bundt cakes and dip chocolate strawberries. We scrubbed toilets and pulled out extra chairs so we could fit all the guests around the table. While my oldest prepared activities for the kids, I lit a mess of candles and arranged flowers all over the house.

The goal: to make our friends feel loved and cherished.

After all, it’s Valentine’s week, and we needed to celebrate. As the guests began to spill in the door, the pasta water began to boil. Everyone gathered in the entryway exchanging hugs and catching up. The kids found their way to our office/playroom with no trouble and started up a game of heart bingo.

The party had officially commenced.

A few friends helped me in the kitchen and we served up steaming platters of pumpkin ravioli with alfredo sauce and beef tortellini with tomato-meat ragu. We passed an antipasto salad and crusty bread with softened butter around the table. The volume rose with little clusters of friends all around the room chatting and telling stories.

You might not be able to tell it from the outside, but we all had one thing in common. We were all widows.

To be honest, this is not the kind of gathering I ever expected to have at my house. This certainly was never the story I would have written for myself. When I read my wedding vows to my beloved Ericlee, the thought never crossed my mind that I would be widowed before the age of 40. I never thought about navigating grief with my three daughters all under the age of 8 when their daddy graduated to heaven. Prior to his cancer diagnosis, all our dinner parties were with family and couples and friends with kids.

As I gazed around the table Sunday night, I experienced something surprisingly bittersweet.

Author Shauna Niequist illuminates this poignantly: “Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful, that there is a sliver of lightness on even the darkest of nights, a shadow of hope in every heartbreak, and that rejoicing is no less rich when it contains a splinter of sadness.”

As my widow friends told stories, rich laughter rang out around the table. It was contagious. One story led to the next and to the next. An evening that could have been somber, that could have been spent home alone on the couch, was suddenly dripping with bittersweet like those strawberries dipped in dark chocolate.

We savored every bite.

I know Valentine’s Day can be hard when you are missing someone you love. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but we were all surprised by joy and a few tears as we each remembered what we loved most about our husbands. Each one talked about husbands who had made them feel loved and cherished, who were their cheerleaders, their best friends, their spiritual leaders and the faithful fathers of their children.

I saw courageous mothers around that table. I saw women digging deep to rise above the ashes. I saw widows who were not willing to be defined by pity, but instead held fast to faith. Their strength buoyed mine.

We sent each of the women home that night with a bouquet of roses. As they drove away, I was struck by how, despite life’s thorns, God cultivates resilience in us through community. The blessing Sunday night was all mine.

 

***

 

Dear Widow Friend,

Today I know may feel bittersweet. I know the very thought of Valentine’s Day may prick your heart and trigger your memories. I know you will be scrolling through social media and see all the pictures of couples, and you will miss him.

You will stop and wonder how this came to be. You will ask yourself why you have to endure this holiday without your beloved. Again. I urge you to press in. Give yourself permission to grieve. Allow yourself to step into those memories. Don’t try to shut it down.

Remind yourself what you loved most about your man. Jot down some of those special things he did or the words he would gift to you on a day like today. Tell your kids about that silly gift he brought you that one year or the way he always showed up with flowers.

It’s ok to be a little sad on Valentine’s Day. It’s alright to shed a few tears – or even a deluge of tears if you have to – as you look at his pictures, as you remember the curve of his jaw and the tenor of his laughter.

I don’t want you to forget that you are still cherished. You are still loved.

I can’t help thinking about women in the Bible like Hagar who wandered in the wilderness with her child. God found her there. “Where have you come from and where are you going?” He asked her. He cared about her story. He saw her in her brokenness and leaned in close to see her, to listen to her.

Our God who sees is bending close to see you today.

I can’t help thinking about the widow, Ruth, who lost her husband and all the providers in her life. She followed her mother-in-law to a foreign land. She trusted God even in her grief. And He provided for her in Bethlehem. She was given food and shelter – and eventually a husband who brought new value to her life. A kinsman redeemer.

Widow friend, He provides for us in Bethlehem too.

I don’t pretend to know where or when or how God will provide for you, but I know He will. He is always, always, always working underground on your behalf. He may give you the gift of community. He may speak to you in a sunset. He may sing to you through the radio or the tune of a bird. Look for Him today. Listen for his love notes.

On this Valentine’s Day, I am extending my hands to you. I wish you courage and kindness and grace. And I wish you love.

Dorina

Soup’s on: Italian sausage & kale soup

Posted by | food stories, friendship, inspirational, politics, Recipes, soup, Stories, struggle, transitions, Uncategorized | No Comments

 

This time of year – when colds are plentiful and the air has that memorable chill – all I’m thinking about is SOUP! After perusing many Italian sausage soup recipes, I decided to create my own healthy variety and it was a big hit with my family.

The great thing about this recipe is it uses kale, which you can find fresh at the local farmer’s market this season. Kale has huge health benefits, including being rich in beta-carotene (which protects against diseases of the skin) and a host of vitamins. Kale helps ward off colds and flus during the winter.

This has been a big week for our nation as Donald Trump was inaugurated 45th president. There has been a lot of chaos swirling on the internet and in the world. Now, more than ever, I believe it’s important for us to gather in our homes, our churches, and even in our city’s public spaces to listen well and share our deeper stories. I believe in these challenging times we are all called to the “ministry of presence.” It’s easy to mouth off on Twitter or re-post that article on Facebook that supports our views, but the reality is people are hurting and scared. The most courageous thing we can do is listen. The bravest thing we can do is stand with them.

I’m putting out a soup challenge to you. Make a big pot of soup sometime this month. It could be this recipe below, or another favorite like my Tortilla Soup, or a family recipe of your own. There’s something about the warm comfort of soup that brings a group of people together. You might add a salad or a loaf of crusty bread and butter to melt over top of it. Invite some neighbors, perhaps a family from your kid’s school, or someone else you want to get to know. Step out of your comfort zone and into their story, then come back to tell us about it here or on Instagram.

Soup’s on! #soupsonchallenge
Italian Chicken Sausage and Kale Soup

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 red potatoes, chopped
1 15-oz can crushed tomatoes (or fresh, of course, if they’re in season)
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups (cage free, organic) chicken broth
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 package Italian Chicken Sausage, cooked and cut into bite-sized pieces (I use Trader Joe’s sweet Italian sausage or Sicilian Italian sausage if the crowd can take a little spice.)
3 cups thinly sliced kale (green or purple)
1 15-oz can canellini (white) beans
¼ cup butter

½ cup grated parmesan cheese
Garnish: Shaved parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Add olive oil to a large stock pot and turn to medium-high heat.
  2. Remove sausage from casing and saute in olive oil. (You can use a potato masher or fork to break up sausage)
  3. Meanwhile, chop all onions, celery and potatoes.
  4. Add the minced garlic to the sausage and saute until fragrant.
  5. Add the chopped veggies and tomatoes to the pot.
  6. Add chicken broth and spices to pot. Bring to a boil.
  7. Reduce heat and add kale and beans to pot. Cook an additional 10 minutes.
  8. Stir in butter and parmesan cheese.
  9. Serve with shaved parmesan cheese for garnish.

Makes approximately 8-10 servings.

*Gluten-free

 

Holiday Mint Trifle: Happy Birthday, Jesus!

Posted by | christmas, cooking, family life, food stories, friendship, gifts, kids, Recipes | No Comments

Through the years there are some recipes that have become tradition in our home. I have so many memories of baking and cooking with my Italian Mama Maria and Grandma Sara. We would make Italian pizzelle cookies that looked like powdered-sugar-dusted snowflakes. We would wrap them by the dozens and share them with teachers and friends. Our whole family would gather to make an Italian Christmas pastry called pita piatta. My grandpa John and my dad used to get their muscles into rolling out the dough until it was paper thin. Before long, the house filled with that mmm-I-can-taste-it smell of sugar, cinnamon, nuts and dough. Through the years, my brother and my family have continued some of these traditions and started some of our own. We have added kids and variations to some of the original family recipes.

One year I happened upon a photograph in the newspaper for a beautiful Chocolate Trifle dessert. My all-time fave dessert has always been Italian tiramisu, which I consider the original trifle. People usually dip the ladyfinger cookies in coffee and a dash of rum, brandy or Kahlua for the traditional dessert that literally means “pick-me-up.” I was always searching for a kid-friendly version that could still wow the crowd with decadent layers of cream, chocolate and whipped mascarpone cheese. I decided to try that Chocolate Trifle recipe I found in the newspaper and the rest is history.

I added some of my own variations to that original, including Trader Joe’s Mint Joe-Joe cookies only stocked during the holidays. I actually run over there at the start of December and buy a healthy stash of these amped-up Oreos just so they can last the season (or longer than the season in my freezer.) Can’t get Mint Joe-Joe’s? No worries. Just add a 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract to the whipped cream and you can still enjoy that mint-meets-chocolate marriage.

Through the years, the Chocolate Mint Trifle became our “Happy Birthday Jesus cake.” We make it for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day at our house. We put candles in it and all the cousins since “Happy Birthday” to Jesus before we serve it. Now my kids can make this on their own for company and birthday parties.

This year I’ve been teaching cooking classes for my fifth grade daughter’s class. For their class party, I taught them to make this decadent dessert. Everyone had a job – pounding the Joe-Joe cookies into crumbs, whipping the heavy cream, mixing the pudding, layering the ladyfinger cookeis, etc. We practiced reading recipes and multiplying ingredients for bigger portions. I also challenged the kids to be creative and think of variations they might make to this dessert. I had added mint, but what would they add? Some of their ideas are shared below.

I hope this season you will take time to gather some of your people in the kitchen and make something yummy together. Sure, it’s messy but this is how some of the fondest holiday memories are made.

Merry Christmas!

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Maycie helps layer ladyfingers on our Holiday Mint Trifle.

 

Ingredients:
-1 pint organic whipping cream
-1 tablespoon raw organic sugar or honey
-2 packages instant chocolate pudding mix (I love the Whole Foods version.)
-4 cups milk, divided
-1 package cream cheese (or 8-ounce container mascarpone)
-2 boxes ladyfingers cookies (Trader Joe’s sells a soft version but you can get these at other Italian specialty stores and grocery stores as well.)
-1 box Mint Joe-Joe’s cookies (or other chocolate sandwich cookies like Oreos)

1. Pour whipping cream into mixing bowl and beat until soft peaks form. Blend in sugar/honey while the cream is beating. Set aside.
2. Place the 2 packages of chocolate pudding and 3 cups of milk in the mixing bowl and blend until pudding thickens. Add cream cheese and blend in. Set aside.
3. Place chocolate cookies in a large ziplock bag and use a mallet to crush. (You could also use a food processor but you want to make sure the cookies stay coarse, not emulsified.) Set aside.
4. Begin assembly of trifle. In the bottom of your trifle bowl, arrange a layer of ladyfinger cookies. Drizzle with 1/4 cup of remaining milk. Spread about 1/4 of the pudding mixture on top of the ladyfingers. Spread about 1/4 of the whipped cream over the pudding. Top with 1/4 of the crushed chocolate cookies.
5. Repeat these layers three more times and finish with the crushed chocolate cookies. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes approximately 15 servings.
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Fun Variations:
-Make this a Garden Party Dessert. Add gummy worms to the layers. Cut out paper flowers and glue them to popsicle sticks to insert in the top.
-Add sliced berries as an extra layer for a Berry-Chocolate Trifle.
-Drizzle caramel sauce on top or add caramel pudding in place of the chocolate pudding.

Do you have a favorite trifle story? When and where do you serve it? Is there another favorite holiday dessert that always makes your family’s menu? Share in the comments!

Butternut Squash & Turkey Chili: Thanksgiving leftovers with a twist

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Admittedly, my favorite part of Thanksgiving cooking is not day-of cooking. It’s actually the leftover challenge. I love thinking up unique and creative ways to use our leftovers. One year we made sweet potato muffins. Another year we turned the leftover turkey and carcass into an awesome lime-infused Tortilla Soup. I love green turkey enchiladas or leftover croissant bread pudding to name a few. One year I even had a cooking contest for my girls where they had to create something with the leftovers. A fun way to get kids thinking creatively in the kitchen!

Last week I hosted a Friendsgiving Feast with the mamas and kids who are a part of my Wednesday Go Mama Workout group. Rather than serving up the traditional turkey, stuffing, gravy and green beans I decided to make this butternut squash and turkey chili, which combines some of the best Thanksgiving flavors into a hearty fall chili. My friend Stephanie made us a fabulous salad with candied pecans, strawberries and a homemade vinaigrette. Yazmin brought a classic pumpkin pie and whipped cream. Our meal was complete!

We had a precious time together around the table sharing stories and processing the elections results. I am grateful this year for a safe place to share my heart, my fears and even my prayer requests. The time is especially sweet after we have completed a hard workout and we have a delicious meal to share.

This chili would be great with cornbread or I served it with blue corn tortilla chips for color. You could even dump all the ingredients in a crockpot in the morning and cook it on low all day if you are off to work or plan to be gone shopping those Black Friday sales.

What unique dishes do you like to make with your Thanksgiving leftovers? Leave a comment and tell us how you like the chili!

 

Butternut Squash & Turkey Chili

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil

pound turkey breast tenderloin, cut into 1-inch pieces

28-ounce can diced tomatoes

15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 18-ounce can tomato sauce

1 onion, chopped

cup peeled, seeded and cubed butternut squash 

1/2 cup chicken broth

cup frozen organic corn (I love the Trader Joe’s frozen sweet corn.)

1/2 cup dried cranberries

fresh jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped

tablespoon chili powder

clove garlic, minced

cups shredded fresh spinach

1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

Directions

  1. In a large pot saute turkey in one tablespoon olive oil.
  2. Add chopped onions and butternut squash to the pot and cook approximately 5 minutes until softened.
  3. Add undrained tomatoes, beans, tomato sauce, chicken broth, corn, cranberries, jalapeno pepper, chili powder, and garlic. Bring to a boil for 5 minutes
  4. Cover and cook on low for 25 minutes. If desired, stir in additional broth to reach desired consistency.
  5. Stir in spinach just before serving.
  6. Sprinkle each serving with cheese for garnish.

Makes 8 servings.

 

Move over, pumpkin! A more sophisticated squash has arrived

Posted by | community, cooking, food stories, Recipes, Uncategorized | No Comments

 

 

I am a pumpin lover. Let’s just be clear about that. I live in Central California so our weather is not always the greatest indicator that Fall has arrived. Sometimes it’s way into November before we get to pull out the cozy sweaters and don our boots. When I see pumpkin products at my fave grocery stores and coffee shops, I know it’s time.

That said, I have noticed some pumpkin backlash this year. The marketing of pumpkin products has pushed people so over the edge they can’t deal. Never fear: a much more sophisticated squash is here.

Butternut squash has long been one of my personal favorites. I love its subtle flavor in soup, chili, ravioli, lasagna, tacos or even as the more classic, roasted veggie side.

As with most squashes, the hardest part of dealing with butternut squash is actually breaking into the thing. You might want to skip your arm workout for the day if you intend to prep a raw butternut squash. I like to choose the ones with a longer neck and shorter bottom. This means less seeds to dig out and more melon-colored flesh to cube for your recipe.

Not up for veggie chopping therapy? There’s a simple short-cut. Go buy pre-cut butternut squash from places like Trader Joe’s or Costco. (It’s so worth it!)

Today I’m sharing two of my favorite recipes using butternut squash. One is considered a chowder, the second is our classic Thanksgiving first course. Tradition! (she sings loudly in her best “Fiddler on the Roof” impression…) Both of these recipes feed a crowd. It’s the perfect excuse to invite people to your table for some face-to-face time.

I don’t know about you but I’m longing for in-person connection these days. Everything feels so tense and nasty online. It’s difficult to wade through the newsfeed to really hear each other’s stories. I’m pushing myself to make space for community, for processing around the table, for asking the hard questions, for pressing in to engage with family and neighbors. Won’t you join me? Please share about your gathering over butternut squash in the comments!

 

The proof is in the pot

 

Fall Squash & Corn Chowder (serves 10-12)

 

Ingredients:

10 slices bacon, chopped (We prefer turkey bacon but you can choose!)

4 tablespoons organic butter

2 medium onions, chopped (1 yellow & 1 red.)

2 chopped bell peppers (red, yellow or green)

1/4 cup flour (I use gluten-free flour or whole wheat pastry flour.)

8 cups chicken broth

4 cups 1/2-inch cubed, peeled, seeded butternut squash (You can use a whole squash measuring about 1 3/4 pounds or get the pre-cut packages of squash in the refrigerator section of Trader Joe’s or Costco)

4 medium russet potatoes or sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 1/2 tablespoons oregano

2 16-oz. bags frozen corn or 4 cups fresh corn kernels

1 cup whipping cream or plain yogurt

2 chicken breasts (Save time and buy a rotiserrie chicken & shred)

1 cup chopped green onions

1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon pepper

 

Directions:

  1. Add butter to a large pot and melt.
  1. Chop bacon and saute in butter until crispy.
  1. Add chopped chicken to pot and saute with bacon until golden brown.
  1. Add chopped onions and 1 bell peppers. Saute until onions and peppers are soft.
  1. Add flour; stir 3 minutes until flour starts to bubble.
  1. Mix in broth, squash, potatoes and oregano; bring to a boil.
  1. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer uncovered until veggies are tender (approximately 15 minutes).
  1. Add corn, cream/plain yogurt, remaining bell peppers and simmer additional 10 minutes.
  1. Add green onions, 1/2 cup cilantro; Simmer 5 minutes.
  1. Add salt & pepper.
  1. Ladle chowder into bowls and garnish with cilantro.

Prepping butternut squash aka the best arm workout ever

Thanksgiving Butternut Squash Soup

 

Ingredients:

1 medium onion, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons butter

2 medium butternut squash, peeled & cubed

2 tart granny smith apples, grated

1 cup celery, chopped

3/4 cup white wine (sherry or chardonnay)

Organic chicken broth (48 ounces)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1 tablespoon parsley, for garnish

1/4 cup heavy cream

 

Directions:

  1. Melt butter in large pot. Add butternut squash. Saute in pot for 15-20 minutes until soft.
  1. Meanwhile, prepare other vegetables and apples. Add to pot and allow to sweat until soft.
  1. Add wine, broth and spices to pot. Bring to boil and cook 5 min. Lower heat and cook for additional 45 min.
  1. Puree soup using immersion blender.

 

*For fancy garnish, drip small amount of heavy cream on top of each bowl of soup. Use toothpick to drag cream around in curly designs. Top with fresh parsley.

 

Serve with cornbread muffins, crescent rolls or other hearty bread.

Tortilla Soup: A true comfort food

Posted by | cooking, food stories, Recipes | 2 Comments

I started making this Tortilla Soup more than a dozen years ago. The original recipe was from my friend and former roomie Diana. We loved to host dinner parties, especially in Fall when the evening temperature in Fresno dips low enough to make it bearable to eat outside. This pureed version of Tortilla Soup with chicken was a favorite for our patio parties. The distinct cumin and chili powder flavors make it memorable.

It took a few tries to really master the soup. I recall making a few batches in a hand-me-down blender that exploded hot tomato-based soup to the white ceiling of our Tower District rental. We were covered in hot soup and drowning in laughter after that episode and a few more like it.

I finally invested in a fancy immersion blender for a less messier version of this recipe. (This is as close to power tools as I’ll ever get. Think blender blades attached to a power stick.)

After I got married and my cohort of friends started having babies, Tortilla Soup became the mainstay I would deliver after mama friends gave birth. I’d make up a batch of Tortilla Soup and a salad with all the garnishes packed into little baggies and containers. The soup was hearty and comforting – just what a new mama needs after the beautiful-traumatic experience of bringing a new life into the world.

I served up that soup for more dinner parties, baby showers, holidays, women’s luncheons and play dates than I could count. After a while I stopped making the soup because so many of my friends were making the recipe. I could enjoy the flavors and let them put in the work.

This past Tuesday I knew it was time to dig out the old favorite recipe for an important occasion. My dear friend, Yasmin, texted me the night before that her sweet mother-in-law had gone on to Heaven. She died suddenly – too quickly for the whole family. Some kind of heart complication. Verity and her husband already had booked tickets to Fresno from India to meet their newest grandchild, Yasmin’s baby girl born a few months ago. They had planned to stay six months to cuzzle sweet Sofia during the day while mama returned to work, to fix authentic Indian food for our crew, and to just generally love on their son and daughter-in-law and kids.

Life slips away so quickly sometimes; it’s hard to digest.

I told Yasmin she needed to come to dinner before she flew out for the funeral. I needed to just hug her tight and look into her eyes and say, “I’m sorry” in person. When she arrived there as a vice presidential debate playing in the background and kids doing gymnastics off the big red couch. It was hardly a solemn occasion but it was just what we needed – to sit across the table and just be together.

I dipped the ladle into the pot and served up bowls of Tortilla Soup. We added our own garnishes – a handful of sharp cheddar cheese, a dollop of sour cream, chopped green onions, crushed blue corn tortilla chips, sprigs of cilantro. These add the color to the soup and make each bowl unique for the eater. We munched on chips and guacamole, and filled our glasses with sparkling cider.

On Tuesday night, Tortilla Soup was a true comfort food. We listened in as my dear friend unpacked memories of her beloved mother-in-law, as she processed her death and celebrated her life. We laughed and tears pooled in our eyes as we thought of the sacrifices “Momsy” had made so her three children could come to the U.S. for school. We dreamed about her Indian butter chicken and other famous eats made with love for all of us. We remembered the way she would sing for her grandchildren even on Skype. Tears are always welcome at my table. Tuesday night they seasoned our Tortilla Soup with love.

 

Dorina’s Tortilla Soup

Ingredients:
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 organic boneless chicken breasts,
1/2 jalapeno, minced (1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes)
6 organic corn tortillas (7″)
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups fresh sweet corn (or 2 – 16 oz. cans of organic white corn or 1 bag frozen organic sweet corn)
5 Roma tomatoes, chopped (or 1 – 28 oz. can chopped organic tomatoes)
1/3 cup organic tomato paste
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 quart organic chicken stock

Garnishes:
Sour cream
5 corn tortillas cut in strips and fried in olive oil (or substitute organic tortilla chips crumbled into pieces)
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
Green onions, chopped

Directions:

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in large Dutch oven-type pot. Cut chicken breasts into small bite-sized pieces. Sprinkle with minced jalapeno or crushed red pepper. Sauté in pot.
  2. Chop onion. Add to pot and sauté until onions are translucent.
  3. Meanwhile, add three tablespoons oil to a large frying pan. Cut tortillas into one-inch strips. Add half the tortilla strips to the soup pot with the chicken. (This gives the soup a thicker base when it’s pureed.) Brown the other half of the tortilla strips in the frying pan for garnish. Fry until crispy and dry on paper towels. (For a short cut, skip browning the tortilla strips for garnish and use blue corn tortilla chips from Trader Joe’s broken up into smaller pieces.)
  4.  Add garlic and jalapenos/red pepper (depending on how spicy you like it) to soup pot. Add two cups corn and tomatoes to pot. Mix.
  5. Add spices: cumin, salt, black pepper and chili pepper. Add tomato paste.
  6. Finally, add 1 quart chicken stock. Stir ingredients together well.
  7. Bring soup to a boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Using an immersion blender (or transferring to regular blender) and puree the soup. (You can skip this step if you prefer a chunky soup.)
  8. Allow soup to continue cooking at a low heat for 10 minutes. Continue to puree until large chunks of chicken and tomatoes are blended into the soup.
  9. At this point, you can decide about the consistency. If you like a thicker soup, leave as is and allow to cook longer. If you want to thin out the soup add 1/2 cup water until you are satisfied with the consistency.
  10. Add two remaining cups of sweet corn to pot, stir and serve.
  11. Put garnishes in separate bowls. Allow your guest or family to add garnishes their soup themselves for fun or you can do it and wow them with the presentation.

What’s your favorite comfort food? If you’ve had this Tortilla Soup before, share a story of serving it to your family or your people that provided comfort…

Welcome to my table: How recipes tell a story

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I believe every recipe holds a story. The ingredients, the instructions, the tips and tricks used behind the scenes, the suggestions of how to serve it – all of these play a significant role in a making a recipe unique.

I grew up in the kitchen with my mama and my grandmas and my aunties. I loved being in the kitchen (even to do the kid jobs like mixing the sauce in the pot and licking the spoons) because I knew the best stories were told in the kitchen.

My Mama Maria will always be my inspiration when it comes to cooking. She invited me into the world of ingredients, techniques, tastes and smells, when I was a very young girl. I remember she would make pull my stool up to the counter and sprinkle it with flour. She would let me draw pictures in the flour while she told stories. Eventually, I graduated to measuring, grating, kneading and cutting. Mom would labor in the kitchen with love. She loved her people through food, and now I find myself doing the same. They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

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I still remember the stories my Grandma Cora (my dad’s mama) would tell about moving from the Philippines to Hawaii, where she grew up. She told us about how my grandpa was a radio DJ and used to dedicate songs to her. She taught me to make pancit and to roll lumpia. While she was making these traditional Filipino delights, she would talk to me about all the places she had traveled as a flight attendant. She described to me the bombing of Pearl Harbor when she was living in Hawaii during World War II. These were beautiful stories. These were hard and important stories. Recipes are histories.

My children’s book, Cora Cooks Pancit, tells the story of a girl learning to cook a traditional Filipino dish with her mama. However, the book is much more than that. It’s also the story of her family and their roots in Central California. I interviewed my friend, Rebecca Torosian, whose daddy was a cook for the Filipino farmworkers. As she unfolded her family’s story in the fields, I found an intersection for my own family’s history. My dad worked summers in the fields picking strawberries and grapes. He told me stories about those summers working alongside his cousins. And this is what I love about food – it unites us; it brings us together; it tells a story.

Many moons ago I started a recipe blog called Health-Full. That blog provided a space for me to share recipes with friends and journal my family’s foray into healthy eating and living. I decided to revive that blog idea but with a new twist. I’ll be sharing some of my old fave recipes here that hold memories and stories. I want to remember where and when and how we cooked and ate together. I also plan to experiment with my three daughters and create some new recipes together in our new kitchen, in this new season.

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I hope these recipes will become favorites for you and yours. My dream is that you will create your own stories around your own kitchen counters and tables that involve these recipes. Gather your kids, your girlfriends, your people, and cook up something together. Set the table with paper plates or fine china and sit down for a plate overflowing with stories, a bowl rich with memories and a glass full of friendship.

As they say in Italy: Buon appetito!

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