ashes

This morning, I shook up Lucy and my routine by bolting out of the house at 8am, panicking about being late to church.

I have realized over the past few years that the man and my year is split into halves.  The half of the year when we go to church almost every Sunday, and the half when we don’t (otherwise known as football season).

We always start off really motivated on Ash Wednesday, and try to make it to church for all the Sundays of Lent.  (In the general scheme of things, I think this is a good effort, mostly because Lent is arguably the most important time in the Catholic calendar).

As spring turns into summer we enjoy church, and brunch with J&J on Sundays.  Then 11.30a mass stops (during the height of heat and summer) and we start to miss occasionally.  When September rolls around, we try to make the effort to go to mass, but end up spending Sundays watching football instead.  I cannot say that I’m particularly proud of this trend, but in the spirit of honesty, it’s the truth.

The man and I debated for awhile what we would abstain from through Lent, and came up with a few things.  First, we gave up Facebook.  Having done it before, it won’t be terrible, but just to be safe, I let Facebook know last night. Next, we’re going to restrict drinking to the weekends (which isn’t exactly Lenten, but it’s close).  AND, we’re giving up Fast Food.  To some, this might not sound difficult, but I have a love for McDonalds and Munchkins from Dunkin Donuts that only gets stronger when I’m not allowed to them.

Speaking of the man, he is safely home from all foreign parts, and Lucy and I are very happy.  We are a whole family again (and I don’t have to always get up to take Lucy out at night, which rocks!).

Now, I’ve got to order sushi, because someone (oops!) forgot that you can’t eat meat on Ash Wednesday, and had planned to make Italian sausage for dinner.  Guess we’ll have that tomorrow.  :)

 

a day late, $40 short

On Sunday, as I sunk into my sofa to enjoy two hours of Downton Abbey, I was feeling quite pleased with myself.  I’d blogged twice, I’d made dinner and cookies, Lucy was fed, bags were packed and ready for work, laundry was done … you get the jist.

Then Monday came.

And it was not what I expected.  Roofers arrived bright and early with a dumpster the size of China, which they thoughtfully placed across my garage and right next to my front door, in front of which they positioned their ladder, and power cords running to the roof.

The man’s truck, which has been inoperable for a few weeks (I was waiting for the man to come home, because who could have anticipated telepathically that my whole world and apartment would be turned upside down?) had to be moved, as did the Mini.  Lucy and I, after realizing what a huge inconvenience it all was, packed our bags and headed south to stay with my parents.

My anger has not get dissipated at what I consider to be a highly inconsiderate occurence.

Yesterday, after getting Lucy settled with my dad (it took all of zero seconds, because Dad loves Lucy and Lucy loves my Dad), I headed downtown.  I thought it odd that there was a line out the door of the tiny cupcake bakery I walk past every day on my way to work.  Normally, it looks empty, and the counter worker slightly forlorn and deflated.

What was causing this mad rush for cupcakes, I wondered?  Was someone trying to boost her spirits?

Upon arriving at work, I noticed that the office manager had flowers on her desk.  Was it her birthday?  I knew she had recently lost a family member.  But pink roses?  Odd.

Since I was running really behind, I threw my bag down, and started doing about nine things at once.  I felt a little flustered and just wanted to get things in order.

My office mate (he of the cookie requests) poked his head in the door and smiled a big smile.

“Happy Valentine’s Day!”

Ah!  It all came together … cupcakes, pink roses … a lot of people wearing red and pink.

So I’m a day late today, but to those who celebrate, Happy Valentine’s Day!

This morning, I arrived at work much less flustered (no line at the cupcake shop ~ all felt much more normal!) but anxious to register for my first ever race.  And after two hours and 45 minutes, multiple windows, several failed attempts, and one successful one (by Minda’s hubby, not by me), I am officially registered to run Broad Street 2012.  I’m excited and terrified. And as Josh pointed out, it took longer to register than they allow you to finish the 10 miler (you’re capped at 2 hours and 30 minutes by the police, emergency services, etc etc, so that roads can be re-opened in a timely fashion).  The pressure is on.

Wish me luck!

flash blizzard & strong drink

Yesterday afternoon, after spending the morning at Jefferson Hospital’s Heart Health Day, I packed a bag for Lucy, and the two of us headed south to my parents for a dinner of Haggis and Mashed Neeps.

The haggis had originally been purchased for Rabbie Burns Day a few weeks ago, but I’d finagled my darling parents into coming to my house to visit with my brother and his lady, so the haggis had gone uneaten.  (Instead, we’d enjoyed Crab Stuffed Tilapia, boiled baby potatoes and green beans … yummers).

It sounded like a relaxing Saturday night, and as Lucy had never visited her Grandparents before, it was also an excellent socializing opportunity.  And if I timed it properly, we’d be home in time for a blog post and a snuggle on the couch before heading to bed.

Into Lucy’s bag went dinner, her Dragon, her antler chew toy, a blanket, her kitchen bed (not to be confused with her bedroom bed), and some water from home.  For safe measure, I also brought her big, blue collar (which she should have been wearing to prevent her from licking or scratching her incision, but she hated it so much I took it off).  Better safe than sorry.

We hooked up “A Clash of Kings” and settled in for the drive.  There were a few flurries in the sky, but all seemed okay.  After we turned off the highway, I pulled over to fill up my gas tank (it’s SO much cheaper near my parents house).

And then the weather just … well … completely changed.  The wind picked up, and Rooney Cooper was pushed around the road.  The big, wet flakes that had earlier been dancing to the ground became an angry squall of blinding white.  The temperature dropped nearly eight degrees in less than ten minutes, and we slowed to a crawl as we slid on the curving country roads.

It was a long twenty minutes to finish the drive.  My mother called as we pulled into the driveway.  My father had arrived home just a little bit before me (he’d been Lucy-sitting while I worked), and the driveway hadn’t had any snow on it. As I pulled in, and slid sideways a little, it was a slick sheet of ice and snow.  As we tumbled inside the house and stamped snow from our feet (well, Lucy was ‘detained’ and politely allowed her Nonna to wipe off her paws), my mother said matter-of-factly, “Well, you’re not driving home tonight!”

We did have a great night.  Lucy was very well behaved (despite not sleeping through the night), the Haggis and Mashed Neeps were delicious, and breakfast of fried eggs, sausage and English muffins with Marmalade was scrumptious.  It’s always nice to go home and be spoiled a little bit.

The pup and I hit the road shortly after breakfast and were home before 1p, at which point I collapsed on the sofa and we had a nice little afternoon nap.  I awoke with a deep craving for Bourbon Balls (a decadent dessert introduced to me by Minda).  So I made some. It’s really the only logical thing to do when all the ingredients are in the cupboard. Now it’s time for the penultimate installment Downton Abbey (it’s extended!), some Bourbon Balls, and some cuddling with the pupster.

In case you’d like some Bourbon Balls, too ~ here’s how!

What you Need: 

1 box Nilla Wafers (10.75oz)

1 lb shelled Walnuts or Pecans (Minda does half and half and it’s sublime)

1/2 c. Honey

1/2 c. Bourbon

1/4 c. White Rum

1/4 c. Brandy

Powdered Sugar

What to Do: 

1. Combine Nilla Wafers and nuts in a food processor.

2.  When fully chopped, add honey and alcohol.  Mix together.

3.  Roll into balls and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

4.  Refrigerate.  Enjoy at your leisure.

**If you have time, refrigerate the batter after mixing, and about an hour later, roll into balls.  It will make the process much easier, and less messy.

 

 

 

healthy hearts

Yesterday, Zavino participated in Jefferson Hospital’s Fourth Annual Heart Health Day.  It was our first time as a featured restaurant, and I went with our Executive Chef to help distribute samples of our heart healthy pasta salad (created specifically for the event).   The event was held at King of Prussia mall, and Tim Spinner of Cantina Feliz and La Calaca Feliz (translated, it means the Happy Skeleton ~ the skeleton, I learned, is one of several characters in a very popular Mexican card game) did a cooking demonstration with former Eagle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter.  (Despite not being an Eagles fan, I am a huge football fan, and Mr. Trotter was really funny, good -natured and generous in his attitude and demeanor thoughout the event).  Watching the crowd’s faces as Chef Spinner pulled a huge octopus out of cambro and dropped him into a pot of hot water was priceless, as was watching Jeremiah Trotter’s face as he assisted in making and then tasting each dish.

The entire event reminded me that the food business can be pretty cool.

Since we handed out hundreds of menu cards generously printed by Jefferson Hospital, I thought it would only be fair to share Chef Carlos Aparicio’s Heart Healthy Whole Wheat Pasta with Grilled Veggies on my blog.  So, here goes!

For the Pesto:

2 c. fresh basil (picked leaves)

1 c. baby arugula

1/2 c. grated Parmesan-Reggiano

1/2 c. EVOO

1/3 c. Toasted Pine Nuts

3 medium sized Garlic cloves

1/4 tsp fresh black pepper

1.  Place all ingredients in blender or food processor.

2.  Blend for 2-3 minutes, adding a little extra olive oil if it’s too thick.

For the Pasta:

1 lb dry whole-wheat penne (or other pasta)

1 c. small chunks of sundried tomatoes (keep separate from all othere veggies to incorporate at the end for garnish)

1/2 c. small diced Asparagus

1/2 c. small diced Zucchini

1/2 c. small diced Yellow Squash

1/2 c. small diced Cauliflower

1 bunch Swiss Chard (washed and cut in small pieces)

10 leaves Basil Chiffonade (for garnish)

What to Do:

1.  Cook pasta for about 10 minutes in boiling water. Drain & reserve.

2.  In a big pot of boiling water, blanch all veggies except Swiss Chard.  (Blanching = leaving veggies in water no more than 45 seconds).  Remove from water.

3.  In a stir fry pan, add EVOO and garlic (diced) over medium heat.

4.  Saute all veggies (after being blanched) for about 2-3 minutes.

5.  Add salt & black pepper to taste.

6.  In a large bowl, combine pasta and veggies, adding pesto and basil chiffonade.

7.  Garnish with small-diced sun-dried tomatoes (add extra pesto and pine nuts for extra creaminess & flavor).

 

 

from the depths

Today, Lucy had her lady surgery (my way of saying she got spayed, which I think sounds so ugly …).  We got up early, had a bath (Lucy was quite good in the whole scheme of things) and headed to the vet.  It’s a little bit of a drive, so we listened to “A Clash of Kings” on the way, because currently, I am completely enthralled.

When I handed her over to the extremely friendly vet staff, she was shaking so hard that I knelt down and wrapped her up in my arms, telling her over and over again that I would back soon, and she would be okay with her friends at the vet while I was gone.  Telling her that I loved her and everything was fine.

I cried a little on the drive home.  Not hysterically, but my heart was filled with worry.  For Lucy, for the man who journeyed to Nicaragua yesterday, for all the uncertainties of life which felt huge at 1oam this Friday, the 10th of February.  I called my mother-in-law, who kindly assured me that the man was fine, despite having not heard from him, and that Lucy would be fine as well.  We talked about lasagna, and pierogi casserole, and stuffed pepper recipes.  I felt better when I arrived at Starbucks to purchase my daily addiction of a soy Chai Latte (no water, extra hot).

I spent the afternoon doing numbers and data entry, and was relieved when the vet tech called to say Lucy had done very well, and was currently in recovery.  Huge. Sigh. Of. Relief.

I heard from the man, and we were able to talk for a bit.  Huge. Sigh. Of. Relief.

It put into very stark perspective for me, however, that my love for both the man and the pup plumb the depths of my heart and soul.  Their well-being, happiness, safety … all of it ranks so much higher than my own.  Wondering and worrying about either breaks my heart into a thousand tiny pieces.  Such is love, I think.  Real love is so uncontrollably self-less … so completely pure, and good and amazing.

On a lighter note, now the Beatles’ “Real Love” is in my head.  It will keep me smiling as I tuck the Peanut into her bed, wearing her ridiculous blue collar, and climb into my own to drift to dreamland.

Good night my friends! Sweet dreamin.’

 

La-sag-na

In first grade, my teacher Mrs. Seibold elected a Student of the Week and every time, a questionnaire about that student’s favorite things hung in the classroom for everyone to read.  When your sojourn was done, you were given your list to take home.

In first grade, apparently, my favorite food was lasagna.

This is hilarious, considering that for most of my teenage years and adult life, I firmly stated that I didn’t like lasagna.  At all.  Even when everyone else told me how fabulous Jennie J’s lasagna was, I didn’t budge.

And then John’s mom made lasagna.  And I honestly couldn’t.get.enough. She made it for the weekend we moved into our apartment, and I scarfed it down and had seconds.

But, in my world of cooking, lasagna felt overwhelming.  Layers of ingredients that I didn’t know … noodles … other, well, stuff.  Despite rekindling my love affair, I didn’t try to make it.  I left that to the professionals.

(May I repeat a sentence from an earlier blog?)

Silly girl!

I finally tried it out the weekend before the man jetted off to Costa Rica.  And it was a semi-success.  (Sidenote: fresh squash doesn’t cook in 25 minutes, even if it’s in a lasagna and those appear to be the directions).

Tonight, for Thangsday (a Thursday version of WeHangs … if you didn’t get it), I decided to make a lasagna based on the earlier recipe, minus the hard as rocks squash, and plus a couple other ingredients.

In general, it was a success.  Here’s how it went.

What you need:

9 lasagna noodles

16 oz Ricotta

5 oz (give or take) of fresh spinach

Fresh sage (at least five or six good sized leaves)

2 tbsp minced garlic

8 cups shredded cheese (I use the Italian mix and one bag of shredded cheddar)

Sweet Italian sausage (1/2 package)

EVOO

1 package Exotic Mushrooms (or whatever mushrooms you like, or no mushrooms … it’s completely open to interpretation)

S &P

What you do:

1.  Cook lasagna noodles.  Once al dente, drain hot water, and re-fill with cold water (this will keep the noodles from sticking together … I learned this little tip tonight, and I say thank you!)

2.  In one bowl, combine coarsely chopped spinach and sage (I pop it all in the food processor and chop it until it’s fairly even, and not too fine) minced garlic and ricotta.

3.  De-case sausage, pull apart into bite-size pieces, and cook in small saucepan with a dab of oil.

4.  In a separate bowl, combine cooked sausage chunks, mushrooms, 6 cups of cheese, and olive oil.  Season generously with salt and pepper.

5.  In a 9 x 13 greased lasagna pan, lay three lasagna noodles.  Use half of the ricotta-spinach mixture and spread across evenly.  Use half of cheese/mushroom/sausage mixture and spread evenly.  Lay down 3 more lasagna noodles.  Use the remaining ricotta-spinach mixture for the next layer, then add the cheese/mushroom/sausage mixture on top.  Use the remaining three noodles for the top layer.  Use the final 2 cups of cheese as the topping.  Sprinkle with parmesan, salt & pepper.

6.  Cook in oven at 350 for 20-30 minutes, or until it starts to bubble. (Helpful hint: line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and cook your lasagna on top of the cookie tray to prevent overflow and having to clean your oven out).

I served it with a little arugula salad tossed with (you guessed it) parmesan, EVOO and lemon juice.  Yum yum.

Lasagna, I confess… we’re definitely friends again.

winter wonderland

Tonight, the trees were painted in the white of snow, the sound of life muffled by the fast and furious flakes streaming to the ground.  Yes, there was more traffic.  Yes, the roads were iffy.

Yes, my soul breathed a little.  As street lights began to glow orange and illuminate the flakes; as I moved further and further away from the concrete jungle of downtown Philadelphia – my heart expanded, my shoulders eased, my jaw un-clenched.

The man used to say to me that he couldn’t live anywhere that didn’t have seasons.  I scoffed at him, thinking how brilliant year-round warm weather would be.

But I think he is right. Oh winter, I have missed you.  You are so beautiful, and powerful and mighty.  You are not convenient.  You can be dangerous.  You deserve respect.

And even if by morning you are gone, for tonight, you have made my heart smile.

XLVI

Four years ago, I was in South Africa during the Superbowl.

My brother was conflicted about the teams ~ New England was undefeated, and as Steelers fans, we don’t love the Patriots.

But as a New Yorker, he couldn’t stomach the Giants winning either.

Me?  I wanted New York to win, to prevent the Patriots from having a perfect season.  Typing that, I realize it was a really angry way to choose a team.

Fast forward four years.  I’ve spent three of them watching the Giants every Sunday (when their game time didn’t conflict with the Steelers, obv!) I have affection for them, I watch how much my man loves them, and I love the man more than life itself.

I knelt on the floor of my living room as the final minutes wound down tonight, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.  I prayed.  I cried.  I wanted more than anything, for my man’s team to win.  It’s been a rough year for him, and I remember how after the most rough year of my life, the Steelers triumphed against Arizona.  The adrenaline of that kept me floating on a high until the next season began.

Congratulations to the New York Football Giants.  And to my man, so far away ~ you believed when no one else did.  I’m glad they won tonight.  And I love you.

mission accomplished

I have had the idea of pizza sammies in my mind for quite some time.  And today, despite not being hungry at.all (I dined at PF Changs for lunch and completely stuffed myself) I made one.

And it fulfilled my dreams.

I ate every bite, and I wasn’t hungry after the first few.

First, I pulled apart some sweet Italian sausage, and cooked it in a saucepan with a little bit of olive oil.

Then, I took two slices of the Asiago bread (bought for this specific endeavor), buttered the outside, and layered Paul Newman’s Tomato & Basil pasta sauce and nuggets of fresh mozzarella on the inside.  Once the sausage was popping and hissing, I added it to the mozz and sauce, closed the sandwich, and smooshed it between the press.

Delish.

Then, as an experiment, I left Lucy for a few minutes to catch up with my neighbor.  She re-paid me by peeing on the floor (about 15 minutes after she peed outside, which was disheartening, to say the least).

But the bottom line is, I made that Pizza Sammie.  It’s been a little bug of an idea buzzing around my brain for a few months, and it may sound small, but to me, I wanted to see if it was still pizza-y while maintaining it’s identity as a sammie.

It did.  :)  Mission Accomplished.

girl’s night

Lucy looked at me with sad eyes as I grabbed my lunch from the fridge and put up the pet gates.  She sat, thinking that perhaps, that would mean I wouldn’t leave.  It twisted my heart into knots twisting in on knots.  I thought about it all day at work, as I trained my new assistant and watched the clock tick slowly by.

It’s amazing the capacity you have to love when you weren’t even expecting it.  My heart seemed full and then I met her, with her wide eyes, and floppy ears, and big, white feet.  She was mine and I knew it the second I met her eyes.  The man knew that my heart was set.  We packed her up and brought her home.  We became a family.

Life has changed since she came to live with us.  Obviously, the man is gone (no, not in a bad way, in a “he-has-to-be-gone-for-work” kind of way).  So it’s just me and my girl.  And it isn’t always easy.  It’s particularly hard when I leave her, and those sad eyes look forlornly at me through the front door, as though she believes she may never see me again.  Seriously. Could I feel more guilty?  … Probably not.

But today when I got home, my little lady hadn’t destroyed anything (other than the chew toy she received as a little present this morning … oooor bribe … y’know, however you choose to interpret it).  She was bending herself into a pretzel (boxers do that, I am told) and after running around the yard for awhile (which tired me out more than Lucy) we’ve been enjoying a girl’s night together.

New, well-balanced food for Lucy with pumpkin puree mixed in.  Eggplant Parmesan from the restaurant for me (I know I had it last week, but it is just.so.good!).  A nice bottle of chilled white wine.  Lucy’s dragon, Puff (or, as her dad calls him, Draco).  A lot of HGTV.  And her Yak’s Milk and Lime chew toy, that managed to last the.whole.day.

Life is pretty good.  Hope you’re enjoying an indulgent Thursday, too.