Category Archives: pizza

Lent, Love, Eagles, and Presidents

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So what do lent, love, eagles, and presidents have in common? They share this 4-day weekend in February!  And Dean and I shared these 4 days with my five grandchildren.  The kids took turns with video games, movies, building with Lego blocks, and cooking in the kitchen. I prepared cheese tortellini with a garlicky white sauce for our first Lenten Friday dinner this season. Our parish hosted a 3-hour mini retreat on prayer Saturday morning. A much needed spiritual renewal for me.  Saturday evening Hannah and I made chicken and dumplings which filled everyone’s belly and we had an extra portion for the “Souper Sunday” mission trip fundraiser. Overnight french toast and maple sausage welcomed our Sunday with Ella’s assistance.  Church-bound this snowy, sleety Valentine’s Day. We are warmed by God’s love.  Then gifts of hand-made palm crosses, sweetheart candies, flowers, and Italian cuisine fill this day of love.  Red and white sauces, heart-shaped pasta, meatballs, cheesy baked bread, and pizza.  The star chefs are my granddaughters, Hannah, Libby, and Ella.

On President’s Day Libby led her cousins in making chocolate pancakes.  The Lincoln Museum is a bit far for us, so in the afternoon we took a drive north of our hometown to the Mississippi River scouting for bald eagles. We saw a bald eagle perched in a tall bare tree across the mighty river, as well as gulls and a blue heron.  We meandered down the country highway to the Our Lady Of The Rivers shrine in Portage des Sioux.  A few more eagles were seen high in the trees along the way.   This warmer afternoon had the ice and snow melting to a slush.  Perfect for snow balls!  Not sure who threw the first one, but it became a free-for-all for a good 20 minutes under the Blessed Mary’s statue.  Libby wondered what Mary must have thought.  I think Mother Mary rather enjoyed seeing us all having fun this winter afternoon!  A few wet shoes and stinging fingers, we warmed up with hot chocolate and marshmallows when we got home.  A wonderful weekend to share with the younger generation.

An Herb Is As An Herb Can Be

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“Herbs deserve to be used much more liberally,” quoting food writer and chef, Yotam Ottolenghi. I keep telling my friends, family, and co-workers the marvelous benefits of herbs. Bursting flavor and full of nutrition! I recently found this guide, the ANDI guide which rates foods based on nutrient density. My ravings on herbs are justified according to ANDI. ANDI stands for “Aggregate Nutrient Density Index,” a scoring system that rates foods on a scale from 1 to 1000 based on nutrient content. ANDI scores are calculated by evaluating an extensive range of micronutrients, including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidant capacities.
Here is a list of basic herbs and their scores to illustrate this concept. Cinnamon Basil
Herbs/ ANDI Score
Basil/ 518
Cilantro/ 481
Spearmint/ 457
Tarragon/ 426
Oregano/ 426
Thyme/ 422
Parsley/ 381
Dill/ 326
Chives/ 319
Peppermint/ 293
Bay Leaves/ 271
Rosemary/ 84
Lemongrass/ 55

Basil rated the highest of all the herbs! Such an easy herb to grow in terra cotta pots in the kitchen window sill or in a sunny garden spot. Our bed of herbs in the screenhouse of our greenhouse include a few varieties of basil. Genovese, lemon, and Tai to name three. In the heat of the summer, it is prolific! Basil nutrients rate up there with arugula, leaf lettuce, and radishes. It’s about 50% the value of superfoods kale and garden cress, but 4 or 5 times more than soybeans or pinto beans. The Italian and Mediterranean cultures include basil in many of their recipes as well as Thai and Mexican cultures. Where I live and work in the St. Louis, Missouri region, there is an Italian restaurant or pizzeria on every corner of the block and in between. We love our pasta and pizza! My home kitchen has the flavors of Italy with my own fresh homegrown basil. Cost pennies to grow. Last night I made homemade pizza with a cup of fresh Genovese basil leaves cut into strips and atop tomato sauce, Italian sausage, Canadian bacon, garlic and black olives. Sometimes its a veggie pizza, with chunky tomatoes, mushrooms, bell peppers, spinach, arugula, black olives, etc. You know, the plumposity of veggies in a single slice of pizza pie! Then there’s pesto! It’s flavor tastes how the word sounds when you say it. PEST-O! More flavors to discover in this nutrient dense herb … sweet, lemon, Tai, spicy, lime, Genovese, cinnamon, anise. Cannot wait to make some lemon scones with the lemon basil this weekend. What herb has captured your taste buds?

Plumposity

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The birthday trip to Chicago this past Thursday and Friday was great! On Thursday night Brian Setzer and Orchestra gave a Christmas concert to remember for our lives. The big band or rockabilly Setzer-style to favorite holiday tunes set our feet a dancing. The show was held at the beautiful, classy Rialto Theatre in Joliet, Illinois. Dean and I were dazzled by the spirit, sounds, and sights of the holidays. On Friday the birthday boy and I ventured to the big city. After finding a parking space (which cost more than our lunch!), we met up with his younger brother and dined at a downtown Chicago pizzeria called Lou Malnati’s. Scrumptious, delicious Italian fare! This eatery described the Roma tomatoes as “plumposity” for the sauce in their signature deep dish pizza. “Plumposity” might be another word for “pleasing plump”, as some men describe how they like their women. My hubby included. Or the “plumposity” of a freshly picked crisp apple as you bite into, it squirts juice down your hand. Or the “plumposity” of the Cherokee purple tomatoes I indulge in still with our tomato plants under plant lights in the semi-heated garage. But the word definitely describes the Roma tomatoes used on this classic Chicago-style pizza. “It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato,” quoting Southern comedian, Lewis Grizzard. Culture shocked for a couple of hours, we then battled the traffic headed out of the city into the suburbs. We visited with my cousin and her husband over a home-cooked meal, before heading back home on a 5-hour drive. A blitz trip, and now we are back to prepare for 5 more adults and 4 more dogs staying for the Thanksgiving weekend, with more family for a pasta dinner Saturday night. Now I am thinking this new-found word might describe the effects of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Yes, this weekend I think our home will experience “plumposity”, an overflow of holiday indulgence and family!

The Year of The Mattress

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Dean and I along with our labrador-flat coat retriever mix, Midnight arrive at the 60+ year old cabin situated on Island Lake just at sundown. Oranges, pinks, and purples kiss the lake “good night” and welcome us. It’s been a long haul from St. Charles County, Missouri to this Minnesota paradise. But so much worth the road trip. Weekday and weekend warriors cannot stop on vacation either. We had taken the extra long route following the Mississippi River highways. So a 12-hour trip became a 15-hour trip. The meandering scenery had slowed our pace down before arriving at this moment. Midnight climbs out of the SUV from his secure kennel into what I think my father described to him as heaven. Our dog gazed wide-eyed at this expansive beautiful lake recounting the aquatic tales his deceased master had told him, I am sure. Into the lake he went, lapping water and going for his doggy swim in Island Lake. Just 2 minutes to realize heaven was here, and my father’s spirit present.
Our first night at the cabin we unloaded the SUV, then gathered jackets and a flashlight onward bound by foot just up the road with our dog. The little green cabin had folks congregated there near a campfire. We met up with my childhood friends and greeted new ones from as far away as Norway. Midnight gets acquainted with more labradors, the natural breed of our 4-legged friends in the land of 10,000 lakes. Before we know it, the time passes midnight with the campfire still aflame. Embers will be there in the morning to start a skillet breakfast. We head back to our lakeside cabin, choosing the front bedroom of the 2-bedroom pine-lined dwelling. I climb into bed too tired to have a spring from the mattress just about empale me. We’ll sleep in the back bedroom tonight and deal with the mattress issue tomorrow. We discovered the back bedroom mattress was not much better as Dean and I are forced to meet in the middle. This mattress’ sunken center provided cozy quarters for this exhausted yet still honeymooning couple. Our backs ache in the morning begging for more support. Dean flips over the empaling mattress to its other side to discover the year of the mattress … 1971. Why that is the first year my father along with my mother and their 4 children ventured to this heavenly northern destination in a Chevy Impala. Now don’t cast too much judgement on this mattress date. The cabins are only used 3 – 4 months out of the year, so a normal 10-year mattress can go to 30 – 40 years. So at 42-years old, it might be due for replacing.
Electronics, computer and TV are non-existent in the cabins. While on this get away, Dean chose to use his basic cell phone on occasion. I took a vacation from it all. This post was written last week, scrawled onto my paper journal … I awoke this morning before sunrise. Is it night still? No clock to check as we are in a time warp at this northern lake retreat. In just a few minutes I see a tinge of blue in the black sky. I take this moment to observe the day’s beginning. I slip on my jeans and sweatshirt and quietly step onto the screened porch. Those moments of complete silence, no human awake just nature and I welcome the morning in this neck of the woods. Our dog, Midnight stretches on the porch and awaits at the porch door to be let out. He, too embraces morning’s arrival this day. There is something special about living in the present moment. All senses akeen, see the colors change before my eyes recognizing the picturesque treeline before me. The loons cry out as the fog lifts from the lake. Misty vapors keep my skin and clothes damp, I smell and taste the lake, and I remember my father’s love of this place. His planning, mapping, and research of his yearly fishing trip started in January when the tree farming and landscape designing was at a hault. My father was a planner, and I too like him. Yet this present moment reels me back to reality. I would have missed this unforgetable sunrise had I rolled over and slept in another morning of my vacation … ducks, a blue heron, and even a night owl calling it a night show themselves amongst the pines, birches, and cattails. The dragonflies are now flitting about, illuminating more color for this overcast day. The brisk morn may see a rain shower before the warm noon sun. No boat on the lake, that I hear or see, and 2 hours into this day … In 1971 and several years to follow, my father would have been out on the lake by now catching walleye and bass for that evening’s dinner. Way before my siblings or I and definitely my mother opened an eyelid. I miss my father today like everyday. This place called Valhalla is heaven on earth, and was my father’s favorite place while he was alive on earth. Somehow he is with Midnight, Dean, and I. It is called eternal life …
For my siblings and I Valhalla meant playing with friends all day with very little chores. We would play h-o-r-s-e in the barn, swim in the cold lake, boat rides, hide-n-seek with the fireflies lighting the path, and a campfire with songs and roasted marshmallows. Those young teenage years I wanted to be on the receiving end of another kiss from a cute Norwegian boy, my Minnesota friends’ visiting cousin. To me Valhalla is about people, kind-hearted genuine folks. The mild summer and lake fish bring the people. But the people bring life to the vacation. The summer visitors enjoy fish fries, potlucks, smokey breakfast skillets, and campfire tales. This year the fish fry, skillet breakfast, fire grilled pizzas, and lemon rice krispies treats make the food highlights. More Norwegian cousins entertain the family and friends this year. I miss my Norwegian friend from my childhood, and his cousin promises to persuade his return to Valhalla next summer. Initimate moments we share about the death and memory of loved ones. Songs were sung at church and at the campfire. Yes, my Scrabble game had kinder words reflecting my kinder, at peace thoughts this restful week. The year of the mattress did not reflect the oldness of 1971, but the goodness.

Pasta Primavera

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Pasta Primavera
According to my culinary book Food Lover’s Companion, primavera alla [pree-muh-VEHR-uhl] is the Italian phrase which means “spring style”. The Italian dish pasta primavera is an example of this culinary style. Fresh vegetables, are diced or julienne cut either raw, blanched, or lightly sauteed and added to al denta pasta tossed with olive oil and parmigiano-reggiano [pahr-muh-ZHAH-noh reh-zhee-AH-noh], Italy’s premier parmesan cheese. Well, this evening was my turn to cook dinner, as Chef Mick was off with his family with other dinner plans. I thought to make a fresh arugula pizza, but did not have any flour in the house. My low-gluten diet. One way or another I was using the organic baby arugula mix I bought at the store yesterday. Store-bought is not quite as tasteful as the home grown variety, but arugula’s destinctive flavor is what I craved, if you can tell by my previous blog. Spring fever has offically hit! I found a box of multi-grain penne, so I prepared them al dente. My kitchen’s vegetables on hand were lightly sauteed in 2 teaspoons of olive oil + 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil. So here are the ingredients found in Anna Marie’s Pasta Primavera made tonight:
2 Deanna Greens And Garden Art dried jalapeno peppers, hydrated and chopped finely
1/2 cup yellow squash chunks
1/2 cup zucchini squash chunks
3 large button mushrooms, chopped in chunks
1/4 cup fresh baby arugula leaves
1-1/2 teaspoon dried basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/3 cup petite cut tomatoes
1/3 cup + shredded Italian cheese blend
10 oz penne pasta, cooked al dente, drained, coated with 1 teaspoon olive oil

Here are the recipe instructions:
1. Heat both oils in a medium skillet.
2. Add the finely chopped jalepeno peppers to the heated oil; saute for 30 seconds.
3. Add both squash and mushroom chunks to the skillet; saute 3 minutes.
4. Toss in arugula; stir to coat with oil.
5. Toss in basil, garlic powder, and salt; stir.
6. Stir in tomatoes and 1/3 cup cheese.
7. Toss saute vegetables with al dente pasta.
8. Pour into bowls; garnish with additional shredded cheese, if desired.

Sure savored every bite of this dish. Buonanotte!