Thursday, August 25, 2011

Traditions Transcending Generations

When I was a little girl, I always looked forward to my father’s New York business trips. He never returned home empty-handed. Without fail, he came bearing treats from Veniero’s.

Veniero’s Pasticceria and Caffe opened in 1894 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. My father grew up in Stuyvesant town around the corner. His Italian mother passed her love of Italian confections early on to him, and as a result, my father haunted Veniero’s throughout his childhood and young adulthood. In turn, my father passed this taste onto his daughters. 

Although we lived all the way across the country in Portland, OR, Veniero’s became an important fixture in our family life. My father's favorites became our favorites, which we then passed on to our children. To this day, extended family Christmas celebrations are not complete without Anise Toast, Pignoli (pine nut) cookies, and the famous Veniero’s cookie tray. 

I cherish Veniero’s. This old world café, with its stamped copper ceilings and long glass display cases filled with ornate Italian pastries and the scent of freshly baked biscotti, has played an important role in the story of our family. This place was part of my father’s, my own, and now my daughters' childhoods. It is a place that connects us to the life my grandparents lived in old New York. It is a place to take a small family pilgrimage. For the sake of my family and the many others for whom Veniero’s has a similar significance, I hope their business continues to flourish for generations to come. 

Passing rituals down through the generations is a vital way to keep family bonds strong and healthy. If your family has a tradition already, continue to carry the torch. If not, take some time to reflect on some thing or place you cherish, and consider introducing it to your family, thereby making it a part of your family story.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Come Together. Right Now.

With the economy swinging high and low once again, the United States finds itself uncertain about which way the financial situation is going to go. The result? Much anxiety and increased stress.

These emotions can be traced back to one fundamental emotion: fear. Fear is amplified by isolation—keeping feelings inside, withdrawing from the people who love us and losing ourselves in our problems.

So, I think it’s time for us to take a cue from the Beatles. We need to come together. Right now.

The importance of coming together is nothing new. Those of you who follow my blog and collect Rosanna product know that I always have been a staunch advocate of coming together and creating community.

In this post, I want to suggest a few specific ways to come together that reveal the resources and community available right at your fingertips. 

Courtesy: John Granen Photography
Visit Popular Public Spaces
I don’t mean shopping malls or downtown centers. Find the place in your community that most closely resembles the Italian piazza—a place where people gather to visit with friends and neighbors and spend time in the company of each other.

In Seattle we have Greenlake, a green space constantly peopled by joggers, bikers, roller-bladers, strollers, and plenty of babies and dogs.

University campuses are also often lively, featuring free concerts, lectures, performances, and readings. The presence of students lounging on the lawns and playing Frisbee can be a heartening sight.

Attend summer concerts or plays in the parks; also look out for outdoor movies.

Take advantage of the warm weather and visit a local beach! Lakes, rivers, or the ocean are full of good feeling, places where people lounge, visit, swim, and play.

Create Community
Bringing friends and neighbors together doesn’t have to entail a full-blown dinner party. To create an impromptu get together, try hosting a low-pressure gathering—
A glass of wine or beer and snacks at sunset
                        A bonfire after dinner
An ice cream party (which requires no cooking or prep work!)

If you do decide to host a meal—make it a BBQ. Encourage everyone to bring something to grill; with each guest pitching in, you’re more like a facilitator, freed from burdens of a full-blown host.

Carve Out Family Time
Come together with your family by starting a tradition. It could be something as simple as reading a chapter book to your children at bedtime. The longer story guarantees continuity. The activity can be just as soothing for parents as it can be for children.

It’s extraordinary how comforting a little bit of support can feel. All you have to do is ask for it, or offer it yourself. Be proactive about creating a space where connection can happen for yourself and others. Take the first steps and come together. We all feel better when we do.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Homemade Noodles Made Our Perfect Pasta Night

A few evenings ago, we were hosting relatives of my husband, visiting from Italy. 

They insisted on preparing an authentic Italian dinner.  I knew I was in for quite a treat—both in the food, as well as the time spent together during the preparation.

Sara began by making homemade pasta noodles from scratch.  Using the simplest of ingredients—flour, egg, and a lot of love---she carefully created the dough.   

My daughter, Francesca, assisted by rolling the dough flat.  The preparation of this dinner quickly became a family event, and allowed us time to converse and laugh together.  

When it was ready, the dough was cut into perfect fettucini-size pasta noodles.

I decided to get involved by making a delicious tomato sauce from a family recipe.

After warming everything, we married the pasta and tomato sauce together and refrains of "manga, manga" were being spoken throughout the kitchen, as everyone was eager to sit together and eat.

The time we spent together preparing the meal, as well as enjoying it was sublime.  Connecting with family in the kitchen during the preparation of any meal, and then sharing that meal together around the table, truly creates memories and meaning.

While not everyone has Italian relatives with a family pasta recipe or the preparation time to make homemade noodles, fresh noodles can be found at nearly every grocery store and at many farmers markets. 

I encourage you to have a family pasta night.  Get the family involved in making a salad, some garlic bread, and setting a beautiful table.  That's exactly why I designed my Pasta Italiana Collection.  The large serving bowl and pasta bowls make it easy for families to start the tradition of "Pasta Night".  The 4 individual designs on the pasta bowls include hand-scribed pasta recipes.  The greens, reds, and whites in the design combine beautifully with the colors of your family's favorite pasta.

To help get you started, I'd like to share my homemade tomato sauce recipe with you.  Enjoy!    

Tomato Sauce
serves 4

1 large carrot
2 ribs celery with leaves
1 onion
4 cloves garlic
½ good-quality extra-virgin olive oil
2 (28 ounce) cans San Marzano Roma tomatoes
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon sugar (if necessary)
½ cup heavy cream
Pinch of pepperoncini, or hot red pepper flakes

Dice the carrot, celery, onion, and garlic (this can also be done in a food processor).

Put the oil in a large saucepan and place over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add the chopped vegetables to the pan and sauté over medium heat until just soft, about 5 minutes.

Puree the tomatoes in a food processor, then add them to the pan.  Add the salt, and sugar If necessary (I find that the San Marzanos are usually sweet enough on their own).  Let the sauce simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Add the cream and simmer gently for 30 minutes; do not boil, or the sauce could curdle.  Add the pepperoncini, then serve over pasta.

Note:  This sauce is a great base sauce that can also be modified with meat, other vegetables, or vodka for variation.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Blackberry Biscuits--A Perfect Summer Treat

In keeping with the blog’s recent theme of healthy eating, I wanted to share a summer dessert recipe for Blackberry Biscuits that hit the Big Three:

It’s easy,
it’s local,
and it’s healthy.

…and did I mention it’s delicious?

This is a dessert that can be prepared in the time it takes to wash the dinner dishes, put away the leftovers, and make tea. It’s a very low-maintenance endeavor.

Picking the blackberries yourself fulfills the local part of the dessert. Substituting whole wheat mix for white flour mix, and a dollop of luscious non-fat Greek yogurt for whipped cream makes this dish delicious without the guilt of over-indulgence.
The perfumey delicacy of the blackberry compote pairs perfectly with a cup of lemon verbena-lavender tea, which you can make by simply boiling some lavender blossoms and verbena leaves over high heat.

Have I sold you yet? In case you need more convincing, here’s the recipe:

Blackberry Biscuits

For the compote
3 cups ripe blackberries
1/4 -1/2 cup sugar, honey, or agave (the amount of sweetener will vary depending on the ripeness of your berries)
1 tablespoon lemon juice

For the biscuits
1 package whole-wheat biscuit/pancake mix
(read the back to see what your specific mix calls for)

For yogurt
1 container plain 0% Greek yogurt

-Prepare biscuit batter according the instructions on the package
-Put in oven to bake
-Wash berries
-Pour into to a small saucepan over med-low heat
-Stir in sweetener, lemon juice, and a little water
-Simmer gently until the berries liquefy and begin to thicken, 10-15 minutes
-Slice baked biscuits in half, place one biscuit in a bowl, ladle yogurt in and pour the blackberry compote on top.
-Savor or devour, according to your preference.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Teaching Children Healthy Habits

Photos courtesy of
John Granen Photography

Can you hear it? The wind of change is rustling the branches of the apple trees and garlic shoots in backyards across America. Our county is thinking seriously about the connection between living well and eating well. If you aren’t convinced that this phenomenon is indeed a national one, look no further than the White House. At the helm of the movement is Michelle Obama who is educating the nation about childhood obesity with Let's Move! Campaign and getting her hands dirty with the White House garden. The New York Times is running articles about the Permaculture movement, organizations like Family Eats and Oldways are going full steam ahead, and Edible Schoolyards are popping up in elementary schools across the nation.

New ideas are fluttering and buzzing through America’s cultural consciousness like so many brightly colored butterflies and busy bumblebees. As promising as all of this is, how do we net these ideas and transform them into action in our daily lives? It’s not hard at all. There are any number of (figurative) seeds you can plant to help this movement grow, many of which can involve your children.  

Bring Your Kids to the Farmer's Market
Teach your children that produce doesn’t grow in the supermarket. To really drive that point home, have your children talk to the farmers. These individuals are not only food cultivators; they can also function as teacher for city kids whose experience with gardens may be limited to the 2nd grade field trip to a farm or the county fair.

Take a Field Trip to a “Pick Your Own Berries” Farm
Small farming communities exist an hour or so away from many large urban centers. Make a day trip to one of these regions and spend an afternoon harvesting blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries with your children. Go home and bake a pie, or cook up a batch of preserves. Outings like these help our children develop a more meaningful connection to the food they eat.

Plant a Garden
It’s not too late! If you don’t have a yard with space to garden, consider container gardening on a terrace or a windowsill. Buy semi-mature vegetable plants and herbs at your local nursery, or even at the drugstore. Now is the perfect time to start planning your fall/winter garden. Look up which crops grow well in your area and are good to plant for the fall and winter. Gardening with children and watching plants grow together can be a great delight and invaluable bonding activity.

Have Healthy Snacks On Hand
During the summer months when school’s out, stock your fridge and pantry with healthy snacks for hungry kids. Kids especially love crunchy foods—carrots, celery, apples, cucumbers, and snap peas can be big hits—especially when paired with hummus or a creamy yogurt dip. Salted nuts and seeds are great for satisfying a salt craving. Take advantage of the summer bounty and introduce your children to nature’s candy—peaches, berries, plums, apricots, and all the delicious hybrids under the sun. You can even puree these with yogurt and a little honey and turn them into ice pops for hot days. 

Teach Kids to Cook
Introduce a few healthy recipes featuring fresh produce as a fun summer activity. Hummus is an easy, quick recipe, as are smoothies. Involving your kids in cooking is another great bonding activity. I remember “cooking” with my mother when I was a very little girl, and how the thrill of being fed little nibbles of raw vegetables with a grind of sea salt even made raw cauliflower seem like a Big Treat.

Incorporate Veggies into Tasteful Meals
Trick little ones into eating their vegetables! Well-seasoned veggie stir-frys, summer pastas with sautéed vegetables, and fruit salads are wonderful ways to introduce fruits and vegetables to picky eaters.

Fruit is in the trees, vegetables are on the vine, and change is in the air. Summer is here. The time is ripe for you and your children to reap the benefits.

Here are a few recipes to help get you started.

Yogurt Dip
3 cups whole-milk yogurt
1 cup packed fresh mint leaves
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon honey

Drain yogurt in a paper-towel-lined sieve set over a bowl, chilled, 3 hours.
Pulse all ingredients in a blender until mint is finely chopped. Transfer to a bowl and chill, covered, at least 3 hours.

Makes about 1 cup of hummus

1 cup canned chickpeas
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)
1 small garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Cucumber, sliced
Cherry tomatoes, quartered 
Carrot sticks

Process the garlic in the food processor until it's minced. Add the rest of the ingredients to the food processor and pulse until the hummus is coarsely pureed. Taste, for seasoning, and serve chilled or at room temperature with cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and carrots for dipping.