Friday, 25 January 2013

Sweet Sixteen ... already

Sara (4 days old)


She's sixteen years old.

Sara (age 16)


How can I have a 16-year-old daughter when I still feel like I am 16 inside?!

Sara and me, a self-portrait by Sara (age 15)

These are the moments when I wish Mom was well and I could ask her these questions, and how she felt when these milestone moments crept up on her too.

Mom and Sara (age 13)

For my 16th birthday my parents took me to  New York City.  We stayed at the St. Regis Hotel, went to Sax Fifth Avenue, and saw Cats.  We went to the Russian Tea Room and Mom excitedly spotted Van Cliburn, the famed pianist, from across the room.  It was a trip that I will always remember.
Sara (age 13) cruising in the garage...watch out Dad -
she's finally of legal age and has her eye on your Alfa!

For Sara's 16th we gave her the option of a trip or a Sweet Sixteen party.  Lucky for Carlo, Becca and me, she chose the trip abroad, and off to Jamaica we went, for a memorable and wonderful week.  Thanks Sari!

Sara (age 21 months)

And now, today, she turns 16.  My beautiful little by girl is a baby no more.  She has grown into a beautiful, smart, kind and funny young woman who makes friends as easily as one takes a breath.  My sweet little angel has her wings and is preparing for take off, almost ready to venture into the world and make her mark.

Sara (age 14)

For me, she made her mark the moment I found out I was pregnant, and continues to do so every day I share with her.

Sara (age 9)

Tonight she gets a special birthday dinner, one that is made up of all her favourites: squash soup, veal parmigiana, rapini, Caesar salad, potatoes sauteed with pressed vegetables in oil, and a cherry cheesecake birthday cake to top it all off.

Happy Sweet Sixteen Sara!

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Cookbook Connections...


My tattered childhood cookbook

I have always been surrounded by cookbooks...in my Bubbie's home, my mother's home, and now in my own.  My first cookbook was Betty Crocker's New Boys and Girls Cookbook, which I still have, tattered as it may be.

Those of you who have read my blog know that Mom instilled a love of cooking and baking not only in me, but in our girls.  From the tender age of 2 (or less) I would come by Mom's to discover my daughter(s) seated on her kitchen counter, a mixing bowl (often as big as they were) delicately balanced between their knees, as they recited "mixie, mixie, a la pixie, diddly dum and diddly dixie".

Around the time Mom was finally diagnosed with EOAD she brought a cookbook over for the kids "Kosher By Design - Kids in the Kitchen", which is pictured below.  She wanted to write a note to the kids on the inside cover, as she had done with cookbooks she gifted to me, but the words escaped her and she could not formulate a "dedication".  I tried to help her, but did not want to actually write the words for her, it seemed so forced and phony.    

My kids' cookbook, courtesy of Mom

We all cook from this cookbook.  Susie Fishbein's recipes are easy and delicious and the kids often gravitate to this book when they get an urge to bake.

On Saturday morning I came downstairs to discover Rebecca pulling out bowls and ingredients to make a Banana Berry Bread (page 56).  She insisted on doing it herself, and only allowed me to set up the mix-master for her.  We took her baking to Nonno and Nonna's that evening and it was fantastic!  The next day I took a piece to Mom and she ate every last morsel as I told her how her little Rebecca baked this bread from scratch from the cookbook she gave the girls.  I even got a little smile out of her.

Becca and her Banana Berry Bread

Tonight I came home from work & gymnastics at 4:45 p.m., and I was a woman on a mission.  Becca had to leave for dance by 6:15 p.m., which meant I had to set dinner down by 5:30 p.m.- no pressure at all!!

I walked into the kitchen only to discover that Rebecca was also on a mission - to make another from scratch dessert.  Ingredients were carefully laid out along the counter, and she was trying to figure out how many apples make up one and a half pounds.

So, as I raced to make ratatouille, I also set up the mix-master and helped Becca peel 6 small apples (that's how many apples it takes to make up one and a half pounds), and watched as she put together her first fruit crumble.

Becca's berry crumble

What a great feeling to see Sara and Rebecca loving their time in the kitchen, cooking and baking independently and carrying the passions of their matriarchs into the next generation!

As I cleaned up the cookbooks, I took a closer look at the book that has lived in my kitchen for at least 6 years, and then I looked again.  The author's name jumped out at me - Susie Fishbein.  And then all the pieces fell into place: I see her name mentioned all the time in the Facebook foodie groups to which I belong.

What a small world it is...and, once again, my mother introduced me and my family to a cookbook author who has, through her recipes, become one of the family.

It is a little thing, I know, but for me, these coincidences and connections are a source of comfort...it's as though someone up there is reminding me that my loss may be ever present in the physical world, but my mother's spirit will live on in us forever.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Roasted Chickpeas - a scrumptious snack that's good for you!


I am always looking for a flavourful, healthy snack that may actually sway me from my first love - salty chips.    Few things tickle my taste buds like a bag of All Dressed Ruffles, but I finally found a contender in these roasted chickpeas.

Sitting in the doctor's office one day last spring I found myself bored and seeking distraction.   I started perusing an issue of  Parents Canada Magazine and came across the most enticing photo of seasoned chickpeas.   I thought this simple recipe would be a perfect fit for our family.  The best part? It called for cumin a delicious, brain-protecting spice.


Lucky for me, the magazine was available for parents to take home, and so I did, following which I whipped up a batch right away.  The girls inhaled them - and before I knew it, they were gone.

In fact, every time I make this snack we finish them right away, so I have started automatically doubling the recipe so we can keep some in the fridge for a quick and easy nosh.

The other night Sara came to my room famished and craving roasted chickpeas.  Happily, she took the magazine downstairs with her and whipped up a batch for her and Rebecca.   It was at that moment I realized I had better post the recipe here, so she has easy access to it without having to search for this magazine, which will undoubtedly get tossed one of these days.

From Parents Canada Magazine, to my family to yours, I hope you enjoy these roasted chickpeas as much as well all do.  B'Tayavon & Buon Appetito!

Roasted Chickpeas (ParentsCanada.com)

Ingredients:

  • 1 - 19 oz can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained well
  • ¼C canola or olive oil
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp coarse salt (or to taste)
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper (OK - I admit, mine is not freshly ground)


Method:
Preheat oven to 400˚F.  In medium bowl combine all ingredients and blend well.  Spread out in a single layer on a parchment-line, rimmed cookie sheet and roast for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring once or twice until golden. Season with extra salt if needed (we never do) and serve immediately.   

*  They are delicious hot, but refrigerate well and taste good at room temperature.  They also reheat nicely.  

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Birthday Month is here again...home-made pasta for Carlo!!



I'm back...

Throughout the whirlwind that was my December I can remember telling myself, "OK, just get through this event/dinner/party/function and you can rest a little"...

Then we went away to Jamaica in honour of Sara's upcoming Sweet Sixteen (next week) and time stopped...literally, it stopped.  There was no clock in our room, no watch on my wrist, and the only reason any of us had to consult our phones was to see if it was time for the next meal.  

How luxurious - not to cook, clean or keep a schedule for 7 days....and the food was FANTASTIC!  Mom used to call a vacation our "healing time", and she was right.  

On the plane ride home I reflected on how calm and content I felt, and I told Carlo that I was going to slow down.  It's time to stop over-planning my days and running around like a chicken without a head.

This winter marks some big milestone birthdays: Mom turned 70 last week, Sara turns 16 later this month, my father-in-law turns 85 in February followed by my father's 80th exactly 1 week later.  Wow...in the normal course I would be planning party after party, but not this time.  It is time to stop trying to be superwoman - and start living in the moment, savouring the small stuff.  

Hold on!  That doesn't mean that the cooking, photo cataloging, reminiscing and blogging stops!  No way Jose! (another Carol catch phrase).  It means exactly the opposite. I am going to try and "Julie & Julia" my life, but without a stringent time frame or deadline.  

First on my list for Birthday Month traditional dinners was Carlo's birthday, which was the Friday before last.  With Becca dancing, we extended his birthday to span the entire weekend, and last Sunday we celebrated with his meal choice - fresh, home-made pasta along with a salad and crusty bread.  His cake? Leftover (store-bought) birthday cake from the night before at his parents' (which we hadn't make a dent in yet!)!    

For a while I was buying fresh pasta from the stores, but it just didn't taste like his mom's home-made macaroni, and I kept saying that I need to buy a machine and start making my own.  Then, for the holidays I received the ultimate gift - a pasta maker!  I have wanted the traditional, simple, elbow-grease appliance forever, and now it was finally mine!  I know, people think it is odd that I would covet an appliance as a gift, but it is the kind of gift that keeps on giving.

So, with some direction from my mother-in-law on ways to modify the dough recipe for "macaroni" (the Calabrese term for tagliatelle), Carlo and I embarked on our first culinary adventure of 2013 -- home-made pasta. What a blast we had!! We played around with the ingredients and measurements, and came up with a pretty great recipe.  Then we kneaded it, adding flour to reach the perfect consistency, and tested various thickness settings until it resembled my mother-in-law's macaroni.

We thought that a single recipe was too little for our pasta-loving family, and decided to triple it!  That  ended up being  far too much pasta, and we froze half of our yield, cooking the other half for dinner.  The pot boiled over as the pasta doubled from its original size, but it sure was delicious, and we happily devoured the fruits of our labours.
Our  pasta factory
We discovered that this is the consistency you want
to avoid - too soft and sticky...add more flour!

Aaaah...this is better.  We're ready to roll!
My attempt to label the pasta-maker

Start with thickness #1


Keep running the dough through the rollers,
decreasing the thickness (which is achieved
by increasing the numbers on the dial)

Keep on increasing the numbers
on the dial until you reach #7

This is thickness #3

Look how long the dough stretches when you reach #7!
Run the dough through the cutter - it took help from Sara
 to do the first batch, and we still need to get a wicker basket
 (like my mother-in-law uses) to catch the cut dough

Carlo is separating the strands
(they've been through the cutter too!)

Happy Birthday Carlo!

Lay your pasta on a clean, dry towel and leave to dry
From our family to yours, I hope you enjoy our pasta recipe as much as we did.  B'Tayavon & Buon Appetito!

Naomi's Homemade Pasta Dough

Ingredients:

  • 2½C flour (I used regular enriched white flour)
  • 2 eggs
  • ½C water
  • ½ tsp salt
  • additional flour for kneading


Method:
Combine flour and salt.  Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, pouring in your eggs and water.  Blend dry ingredients by working them into the centre until the mixture is worked into a dough.  I use the mix-master with a dough hook to blend the ingredients.  

Knead the dough by hand on a floured surface, adding flour until you reach a satisfactory consistency - not too soft that the dough clings to your hands (see photos above).  Break dough into smaller balls (the size of your fist), flatten slightly and work through your machine.  

Start rolling at #1 thickness, gradually reducing the roller thickness to #7.  Then run through the cutter, separate the pieces and lay out on a clean towel to dry. 

If you want to save any of the pasta for a later date, you can lay it out on a cookie sheet , layered with wax paper, and freeze it for a few hours, then store in a Ziploc bag for future use.  

Heat a pot of water to a rolling boil and cook your fresh pasta for 5 minutes (test before dumping the water!) and approximately 12 minutes if cooking from frozen!

Combine with your favourite sauce and enjoy!

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

2013 Manulife Walk for Memories

Rebecca tying the memory lace on my finger -
this photo actually made the Alzheimer's
Society  of Toronto Newsletter last year!

As we usher in 2013, and look toward this new year with hope and anticipation, people are asking if we are participating in the Walk for Memories this year and, if so,  where they can make a donation.




January 26th, 2013 marks the second year we will be participating in the 
(2013) Manulife Walk for Memories. My father, brother and I, along with our families, will be participating in this fundraising event to help find the cause, and hopefully a cure, for this horrible disease - a disease which, over the past year, has stolen my mother's mobility, speech, and often times her consciousness.  


MMT Team - 2012 Walk for Memories

Please consider taking part - whether you want to join the My Mother's Treasure team and walk with us on January 26th, make a donation to a worthy cause (Support The My Mother's Treasure Team), or help spread the word and ask others to support our efforts.



Together, we will make the difference!

Monday, 14 January 2013

Happy 70th Birthday Mom - a Milestone to Remember

Mom's 70th birthday cake



Happy 70th birthday Mom, I love you and miss you so much.

I grappled with the idea of posting this photo of Mom with Robert, one of her caregivers, because this is not the way I want people to see or remember her.  But it is the way she is, and I am proud of her, always, regardless of how ravaged she is by Alzheimer's Disease.

When you look at this photo, I hope you will see what I do, a vibrant, loving and wonderful woman who fights every day just to open her eyes and connect with the world.  A true Alzheimer's Warrior.  Then look at the picture below, it reflects the spirit of the woman trapped inside the ailing body we see today.


I remember going with Mom to visit her mother, my Bubbie Lou, at the Pioneer Village nursing home in Regina, some 18 years ago.  She was in much the same condition as Mom is now.  I felt so sad for them both - Bubbie Lou for falling victim to this horrible disease, and Mom for having to lose her mother to such a horrible disease, one that ultimately strips you of your memory, your spirit, your family, and even your dignity.

I never thought we'd be here so soon.  I often reflect on that last visit with Bubbie, and mourn the fact that Mom is now in her place, and I am in Mom's.

Today, I will go to visit her after work, I will hug her and tell her that I love her.  I will hope that my words pierce the veil of confusion that keeps her from me.  I will hope that she is happy in her moments of lucidity, and I will pray she is at peace.
Me, Mom and Davie on her 70th birthday
Mildred, Mom and I on Mom's 70th birthday

And on January 26th, 2013, I will gather together with my husband and daughters, my father, my brother and his family, and together we will participate in the Manulife Walk for Memories, and hope that the money we raise will help find a cure and save our children from ever standing in the shoes we stand in today.

I love you Joychee, and Happy Birthday.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Nonna's Nutty Figs...a perfect treat to follow The Nutcracker


My New Year's Resolution is to take time to smell the roses.  

This post was written before we went to Jamaica on New Year's Day, but I was so busy I did not have the time to review and edit it.  At this point it is a recap of our holidays, with some traditions, memories and a delicious recipe tossed in...  

I love the holidays...the smells of delicious dishes and sweet treats permeates our house, Christmas music rings out in the malls, planning and plotting to find the perfect Chanukah and Christmas gifts for each of the children...

This year has flown by.  We are really busy at work and I never have as many free hours as I wish I did to just bake and home-make.  We still managed to have 2 family celebrations for Chanukah.   The first night -  traditionally our family celebration - is a night to gather together, make and eat latkes, bench licht (light the candles on the Chanukah menorah), close the meal with sufganiyot (jelly-filled donuts), and open gifts.

On the morning of the first night of Chanukah - I shared the following on MMT's Facebook Page:
It never fails...whenever a holiday arrives, I have mixed emotions...the growing excitement of preparing for, and sharing the festivities with my family, and a powerful ache and longing for my mother. 
I miss the telephone calls to plan, and discuss, and review menus. I miss the next set of telephone calls to update each other on how the recipes were turning out. I miss the encouragement and advice she would patiently share as I learned to cook, bake and entertain. I miss her so much, my heart aches...

So as I sit here this morning, having wrapped all the Chanuka gifts with Carlo as the girls schluff (sleep), and finally start perusing the collection of recipes I have been sharing over the past couple of weeks, I have decided to look up a recipe for Sufganiyot from "Auntie Martha".

Mom loved Martha Stewart, watching her show every day, collecting her cookbooks and magazines. Our girls actually thought Martha was their aunt, as that is how Mom referred to her when they'd watch her show together. And so, I know Mom would have loved the idea of making Martha's recipe for sufganiyot...if I let my mind wander I swear I can hear her giggling at my plan.

So...I thank everyone who shared their sufganiyot recipes, I am sure each one is delicious, but today, for the first time ever, I will try making Martha's Sufganiyot, to which my mother would have said: "Nomaleh, it's a Good Thing". And tomorrow, I will take one to her and hope she understands 
The sufganiyot turned out great and Mom loved them (happily eating the two I brought with me for my visit).  On the final night of Chanukah Davie, Lena and Abby returned from vacation and we had a closing candle celebration.  Lasagna, latkes, salad and sufganiyot - all home-made.  It was a night of family, fun, friends and fantastic food - what more could I ask for?

All in all I peeled and prepared 20 pounds of potato latkes during the 8 days.  It was a lot of work to make everything from scratch, and my arthritic feet screamed at me for a full day after each cooking marathon, but it was well worth it - I cannot express how important it is to me to keep the traditions alive for the next generation - and my medium of transfer is...what else?  Food!

Our Italian-Jewish family typically has celebration months - and December is the monster of all celebrations.  As soon as Chanukah ended, it was a race to begin baking and cooking for the Christmas celebrations at my in laws.

But just before the Christmas festivities started we created another memory...carrying on my mother's tradition of going to the Nutcracker Ballet.  Ever since I can remember, my mother would take me to see the Nutcracker at the O'Keefe Centre.  We would grab a bite to eat at Shopsy's restaurant across from the theatre, and then head over for an afternoon of pirouettes and Tchaikovsky.  When the girls were little she would play the Nutcracker Suite CD for them, over and over, and read the book to them until they knew the story by heart.  In fact, the winter that Sara was 3, my mother insisted that she was old enough to attend her first ballet, and took us to the Hummingbird Centre to see the Nutcracker.  Sara was mesmerized.  She loved the sparkling costumes and the music she knew by heart.  I was pleasantly surprised at how well the afternoon went - starting out with lunch at Shopsy's (Mom getting her favourite - a Reuben sandwich, Sara ordering extra pickles with her lunch!) and then off to the theatre.

Unfortunately, by the time Becca was old enough to go to the ballet Mom was suffering from early onset Alzheimer's, and I was overwhelmed at the thought of taking her and my young kids downtown for an afternoon.  It is a missed opportunity that I will always regret, and this year I was able to somewhat "right that wrong".

Early in the summer I mentioned to my sisters-in-law that I was going to get tickets to the ballet this winter, and resurrect Mom's holiday tradition of going to the Nutcracker.  They were also interested in going.  So in the Fall, 13 of the Bruni clan bought tickets to the December 23rd performance, which is now housed in the Four Seasons Centre.  Suffice it to say, it was a wonderful afternoon shared by 4 generations of Brunis.  In years to come, I know it will be a treasured memory for my girls.

What a fantastic way to kick off the holidays!  The following day was Christmas eve, and 24 of us were gathering at Nonno and Nonna's house for dinner.  My mother-in-law is a phenomenal cook - we all walk away with "Nonna Bellies" (a phrase coined by my niece and nephew).  You can't stop yourself from eating, even after you're full, because every dish is better than the last.

But Nonna is getting older, and we all try to bring various dishes for the festive meals to lessen her load, and this holiday was no exception.  I made my Greek Salad, Mom's potato latkes, and holiday cookies for the first night; and Norene's barley and mushroom risotto, Caroline's stuffed mushrooms and Nonna's stuffed figs for the second.

And lest we forget the Christmas morning brunch...on special occasions we have a brunch, home-made of course!  This extends to birthdays, Christmas, and New Year's Day.  It was a bevvy of delicacies - Belgian waffles, fruit, Eggs Benedict, and cinnamon buns.  I love this opportunity for  the 4 of us to be together, quiet and calm, enjoying all the family favourites for breakfast.

But as I recount our holidays, I would point out that the food was only part of the journey. It was the moments shared between cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and the rest of the family.  It was the giggles, and laughter and overall good cheer.  I (re)learned something this year - the food and meals paved the way for the memories and experiences we shared while we indulged.  The dishes prepared by my mother and mother-in-law (and their mothers before them) are scrumptious, but they are so much more.  They represent the ties that bind our family, now and through the generations.  And while the girls may giggle as I recount stories with each dish I prepare, I know that they will remember these moments and anecdotes in years to come, long after their matriarchs are gone, and they will share the same stories with their children as they set their grandmother's dishes down to their own families one day.  That's what it is all about.

So, from my family to yours, I hope you enjoy Nonna's recipe for stuffed figs as much as we all do.  Wishing you all a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year.  B'Tayavon and Buon Appetito!

Nonna's Stuffed Figs

Ingredients:

  • 1 flat (package) dried figs (The plumper they are, the better)
  • ½C chopped walnuts
  • ½C coffee (regular, decaf instant or espresso will work - use whichever one you prefer)
  • granulated sugar (to taste)


Method:
Preheat oven to 350˚.  Flatten dried figs and carefully slice through, leaving a small piece intact (like a hamburger bun, so it opens and closes).  Place walnuts inside each fig, and firmly press down to form a sandwich.  Bake for 20 minutes.  As soon as you remove the figs from the oven, use a spoon to sprinkle coffee over each fig (so that it is completely covered), then immediately follow with a sprinkle of sugar (to taste).  Let them sit until they dry (1 hour), OR put them back in the cooling oven for 5 to 10 minutes.  They will keep in an airtight container (room temperature or refrigerated) for a couple of weeks - but this is a moot fact, because they will be devoured long before that!

Flatten the dried fig, then carefully slice,
leaving a small  part intact, like a hamburger bun
Fill with chopped walnuts (I fill to overflowing)
Flatten, again, with walnuts inside this time,
and place on baking sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes

Sprinkle coffee, then sugar, over the figs when
they are hot out of the oven.  Leave to cool and devour!