Monday, November 25, 2013

Thanksgiving Traditions?

       Thanksgiving is almost here. Probably the biggest food holiday of all!

   I do a homemade cranberry sauce. While growing up I remember cranberry sauce, jellied, sitting in a bowl in the shape of the can it came out of. My mom would slice the roll into 1/4 inch slices, so when you took some cranberry "sauce" there would be a round slab of red stiff jelly on your plate. That's how I thought cranberry sauce was supposed to look.
   Then, when I got a little older and ventured to other family's thanksgivings I learned there was something call "whole berry" cranberry sauce. Mixed in the "jelly" were berries of the "cran" variety, and this stuff did not come out of its can in a formed lump. Very interesting and dang, good!
    About five or six years ago I decided to try my hand at making my own cranberry sauce. They wouldn't sell bags of whole cranberries by the truckload if this was a difficult task. So I bought my first bag of cranberries and set out to make my own.
   Upon researching how to make cranberry "relish" I was shocked to see most recipes required on three ingredients: cranberries, rinsed and picked through for mushy ones or the occasional stem, water, and sugar. Of course some recipes got exotic, so I quickly dismissed those. A few recipes included orange, either grated peel, or strips of peel, and/or chopped up orange segments. That sounded interesting.
   So you wash and pick through your three cups of cranberries while you have one cup of water** and one cup of sugar on the stove.  Bring the sugar-water concoction up to a boil in a heavy bottomed saucepan. You are making a light syrup. Grate the peel of half an orange, and cut slices from the other half, avoiding the pith (that bitter white stuff under the peel but before the flesh), like you do for marmalade. When the sugar-water comes to a boil, add the cranberries and the orange peel. Keep it up to a boil, stirring.
    Within minutes you will start hearing this popping sound. The cranberries are bursting, letting their pectin go, just stir and continue on for eight to ten minutes, if you want a little tighter concoction just stir and boil until the stuff gets thick, however, it gels up pretty good without much help. Remove from the heat and pour into a glass bowl or container. Allow to fully cool to room temperature without covering. Then when it is room temperature, cover and refrigerate until you are ready to use it.
    When it was done, I looked at my husband and said, "I am embarrassed. I cannot believe we have bought this all these years and it is so easy to make." We have never bought it again. And seriously doubt I ever will again. True story.
    So next time you want cranberry sauce, why not give it a try? 
** I sometimes substitute half a cup of orange juice for half of the water! This year I used tangerine in place of the orange...asked the #1 son to get me an orange for hot cider I was bringing to a friend's house, and wouldn't you know? Got a bag of tangerines instead---worked great in the cider--and tastes great in the cranberry sauce as well...Just goes to show, you never know what you can come up with unless you experiment!
      Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Traditions are not just for food....(oh, duh, I should have known!)

   To be perfectly honest, I have not had quite the "hit" I was looking for when I started this blog. Maybe food traditions are really on the skids?
    I work the evening shift manning the phones in a customer service capacity. After the early evening "rush" we do get some time between calls and emergencies, so my coworkers and I compare notes about cooking and recipes, among other domestic issues. Traditions came up last week. A.P., a sweetheart and very creative and talented friend told me about a new Christmas tradition she was starting with her family: The Elf on the Shelf® Click here to visit their official website. to learn about this cute little story and learn how to adopt an elf for your shelf.
   So A.P. adopted "Peppermint" and we await details of how often the little guy has to be reminded that "Peppermint is nearby", as well as other stories that will inevitably occur this Holiday season. 
   I would post a photo of one of the elves, however, I do not want to violate any copyright laws, so I have, instead, supplied a web link to their official site...have to keep things legal, you know!
   And, just so you know, between you and me, my money is on the kid....


CCA & B LLC - The Elf on the Shelf® (2013) retrieved 16 Nov 2013 from
Elf on the Shelf® is a registered trademark of CCA & B LLC

Friday, November 1, 2013

Just a bit of tradition

   Anyone who knows me knows, personally or from my other blog, Food Flavors and Fun, I am of Italian and Irish descent. When it comes to food, however there are many more good things on the Italian side. No offense to the Irish side, and we will get to that in a later posting.
    Today my husband, the big "E" as I affectionately refer to him, wanted a big Italian dinner: pasta, braciole, meatballs, sausage, homemade tomato sauce, homemade bread, stuffed artichokes, and salad. I just thank goodness he does not want the antipasto, soup, roast beef, fruits and nuts, and pastries. But still, we call our version traditional because it is a big dinner that we request all our kids --all in their 20's now, to be home for. And best yet, we are having cavatelli and gnocchi. Okay #3 son is 4 hours away in Potsdam, at college, so he is excused. All others and girlfriends/fiances are expected to be present.
   Cavatelli is the traditional ricotta pasta shaped like little hot dog rolls, and gnocchi is a potato-pasta dumpling little thing that my kids call "brains", because of the ribs in the little dumplings look like a brain. I have home-made both, but when you make braciole, meatballs, sausage, bread, salad, stuffed artichokes all in one day, well you have to go with the frozen version of the pasta. I do have a life and many other things to do; including posting on this blog.
                             Here is a photo of my homemade cavatelli:
                                  Don't they look like little hot dog rolls? 

     The major problem with making these little beauties is that you literally make them one at a time, although I did devise a way to shape about three at a time--still labor intensive. But that is what my Italian Grandmother did: lived in the kitchen making sauce, pasta, bread, pastries, soup. Grandpa, on the other hand, after he stopped working, spent time tending to his garden plot, complete with a fig tree, tomato plants, and grape vines, or in the basement making homemade wine. Life was a bit simpler, even back in the 60's and 70's.
    It seems, however, that immigrant families were very much different than families of today. Most of us, now, have two income households, so many of the traditions have taken a back seat to the more convenient food fare. We have to, so we can make do, and get ready for another day of work, household chores, shopping, laundry.
   When I announced to my kids that we were having a "traditional Italian Sunday Dinner" they knew what it meant, and it was humorous to watch them alter plans to be present--without having to be asked. Since they started going off on their own I have let them know that their dad and I would give them room, but there will be times that their attendance is required.  Today was one of those days.
     Sometimes you just need to put your foot down and let them know "this is the way it is going to be" and it seems to be working here, because we give them a lot of their own space. Some families just have that tight bond, I guess, and the kids want to be home to share family time. Sometimes they just need a little "push".
   If you have any tricks for getting your family to honor your requests for their presence here's the forum to share. Love to hear your stories!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


     Thinking about the timing of this blog I realized that Halloween is bearing down on us. While I do not "observe" or "celebrate" Halloween, I realize many of you just might. So tell me if you have any special treats you make for your families for Halloween, and I will scan my endless recipe collection to see if I can find anything that might be of interest to you. 
    I do confess to making "Mummy dogs" this past weekend. It is just an alternative method of wrapping frankfurters in pastry dough than traditional "pigs in a blanket". My children, all in their 20's now, laughed, saying, "really, Mom?" 
     Did they eat them? You bet they did. Did they unwrap the "bandages"? Naturally. Ah, kids, at any age, you gotta love them!
    Here's a link to how to make the "Mummy Dogs" courtesy of Pillsbury. 

     Besides trick or treating, do any of you have any food or goody traditions for Halloween? ALERT: I do like my sweets!
      'Til next time......

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Strengthening Families through Traditions

   Welcome! This is a media project for my Communications through New Media class at Empire State College/Fall 2013.

     I am all about food; I love to cook, and learn new recipes, to try new techniques and play that I am a gourmet chef---well, almost, but I enjoy every minute in my kitchen preparing foods from my past and finding ways to pass on my family's food traditions and learn a little about my heritage in the process.
   Join me, won't you, on a journey through food traditions and learn how to start your own?

La Familia

     Family is one of the most powerful connections one can have. Families can be the sources of our greatest joys and sorrows. This blog's aim is to share family traditions, especially food traditions, our forefathers--and mothers--brought from their own cultures and how we meld them into an "American" life.
     Being of Irish-Italian descent, my families' traditions are varied, and we tended to lean toward the Italian food  traditions. Who doesn't love Italian food?
     My all-time favorite tradition is the Feast of Seven Fishes, celebrated on Christmas Eve. The tradition originates in Southern Italy, and I am very fortunate that that is exactly where my father's parents are from.
     Traditionally, Christmas Eve is a fast day in the Catholic religion--meaning there is no meat to be eaten, although I cannot decipher exactly how that taboo began. I have surmised that early Christians, who were originally Hebrew, fasted for the Sabbath and their high holy days, so fasting comes along somewhere in all the Christian religions, as well. Compared to the fasting the Hebrews practiced, as well as Kosher households nowadays, foregoing meat one day a week does not seem like that much of a sacrifice, but that is fodder for quite another blog. I have not even been able to completely track down when the no-meat on Friday ban started, but I do know it was lifted in the mid-1960's under the Vatican II council of Pope Paul IV. Since Vatican II fasting is only required on Fridays during the Lenten season. Even that tradition has whittled down to next to noting compared to "the old days".
   My family also has continued "fasting" on Christmas Eve--however, I use the word "fast" very loosely here. The words "fast" and "feast" are only one letter different, but worlds apart in the culinary sense of Christmas Eve. Feasting on seven different fishes or seafoods, all non-meat fare does not sound like a sacrifice or a fast, and I am thankful for that.
    Our Feast of Seven Fishes consists of hectic planning and preparing a meal that uses seven different items. We usually start with shrimp cocktail and stuffed quahogs--hard-shelled clams. Then we head into the pasta course which is seafood fra diavolo--a spicy tomato based broth with stuffed squid, shrimp, scallops, mussels, and clams sometimes served as a soup with crusty bread, and other times over Penne. Either way, it is to die for!t The stuffed squid is something I remember my grandmother would make, then I watched my father make, and now I make. I hope to pass along the recipe to my boys. As of this writing only one of my sons eats calamari, and we share the tender stuffed morsels and smile that no one else at the table will touch them! More for us!

                       Here's a photo of some stuffed clams--also known as quahogs.
    The rest of of the dishes are quite simple: shrimp scampi, fried shrimp, and flounder fillets, and seared scallops just served with a variety of dipping sauces, hot sauce, cocktail sauce, tartar sauce and a nice big tossed salad of mixed lettuces, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, green and black olives and homemade Italian salad dressing of extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar with herbs and spices.
   The meal is far from over, however, we always save the crab legs for the end--sometimes we are too stuffed to eat them with dinner, so we wait a few hours and eventually everyone ends up back in the kitchen snooping around for the crab legs with drawn butter.
   Now that does not sound very much like a fast, does it? No, but it is a family tradition that I remember since I was a very little girl, and one that I still look forward to. It does this mom's heart good to hear my boys ask if there are any planned changes to the menu. I confess over the years I have pared down a bit, just not making quite the amount I used to try to stuff into one meal. We would end up eating leftover fish for a week. Now I make less, and have not taken away any more dishes. I used to also make shrimp Parmesan, but for reasons unbeknownst to me, it has fallen out of favor with all of us. I also used to make linguine with white clam sauce, but it was just too much food and too much cooking, so I now reserve the clam sauce for the evening of my youngest son's birthday, a week later. That has now become a tradition. He was the one who squawked the loudest when I removed it from the Christmas Eve menu, so I make it up to him by making it every year on his birthday. 
     That is how easy it is to create a tradition, just start something special for some occasion and just be sure to do it again and again, and make it "a big deal".
    Later I will get into the little of the history of the Feast of Seven Fishes and later I want to cover Easter traditions and perhaps share an age-old recipe that was almost lost to posterity because many grandma's did not write down or pass down their recipes. It is our duty to teach our children where they come from and celebrate the good and bad of their heritage--no matter where or what.
     So share share and please share. Help me turn this project into a resource.
Talk to you soon./barbara