In Memoriam

11 Sep

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here on For Antonina.  First it was because of new job/new house craziness.  That was followed by a bout of mid-summer laziness.  And just when I had vowed to get back in the swing of things with a recipe for delicious basil pesto (I even took pictures of my herb garden), I was hit with a wave of excruciating sadness.

As many of you know, my father died, out of the blue, in August.  I received a call from his neighbor that he was being taken to the hospital on a Monday.  By Friday, after only four days, he was gone.  As many of you also know, he was a big part of the reason I was able to quit my job, move halfway across the country, and save money to buy my very first home.  He allowed me to live with him throughout the inaugural winter and spring I was in Denver while I hunted for a new gig and new digs.  I joked that we almost murdered each other about ten thousand times.  But it’s funny how quickly one goes from saying “I had to live with my dad for five months at age 35.” to “I got to live with my dad for five months at age 35.”

My Dad

My brother and I spread his ashes at sunset along the shores of Lake Michigan last week, on the beautiful beach in front of our cottage in Pentwater, Michigan; the tiny town my family has been vacationing in since 1960.  An avid fisherman and sailor, he would have loved that.  He was also a Vietnam-era medic in the Navy, so we were able to give him military honors, with a 21-gun salute and a service from some veterans.  The guys from the local VFW hung around with our family at our house afterward for beers and apps.  He would have thought they were a hoot, with their stories, anchor tattoos, and insistence on referring to the Marines they knew as “jarheads.”

So the official story is that “my moods are oscillating” and that I’m sad every day… but trying to get back to normal.  Unfortunately, I have had to redefine my idea of “normal.”  More unfortunately, this new normal was not to be the case for long.

My grandmother, T, the woman for whom I began writing these stories, the namesake for my blog, my Twitter handle and my Instagram account, passed away late last night.

If you’ve ever read the “Why” section of For Antonina, you know that T had Alzheimer’s for a few years.  So, this past year in particular, she was not the woman that I adored growing up, just a sweet stranger with a familiar face.  And you can’t possibly understand this unless you knew her as I did (and as the rest of her family and friends did), but she was truly the nicest, most wonderful woman I think I have ever known.  And even though at the end of her life she was unable to eat or drink anything for more than a week, the nurses said she kept going “because she has such a good heart.”  I found that very poetic.  She honestly did have the best heart.  Always patient, never spiteful, loving and kind, she possessed the qualities that many of us aspire to, and did it with a quiet grace that I still can’t wrap my mind around.  Her goodness was effortless.

My T

I am literally so sad right now that I don’t think I am having a normal reaction to the reminders of mortality which have clouded me for the past month.  I am in shock–  too sad to be sad.  And writing is one of the few ways I am able to articulate what has happened to me, and how I feel about it.  So thank you for allowing me the forum to do so.

Despite it all– the confusion, the pain, the anger and the fatigue, I am making an effort to remember the good things about these two incredibly large forces who shaped me; the individuals who helped make me the person I am today, typing away, barely able to comprehend anything beyond the “click, click, click” of the keyboard.

In keeping with that effort, here’s a good memory: when I went away to college, T wrote me regularly, and continued to do so over my many years of new jobs and new cities.  I saved all of those letters, but for the past several years, I have kept one of them on my refrigerator, because I believe it contains some wonderful words of wisdom, which I read quite often.  I don’t know where they’re from, as it seems she did not write them herself, but was quoting them back to me; I’d like to share them now, in an excerpt from her letter, dated August 26th, 1996:

“Before I sign off I found more things all of us should know– they are as follows:

Don’t be afraid to fail or to achieve
Love and honor your mother (I like this one)

Maintain steadfastly your independence but not at the expense of intimacy
Be loyal but not blindly so
Pride is not a deadly sin
Improve your world at any and every level
Seek to regret nothing
Obey the Golden Rule
Find happiness and goodness in all things
Don’t be afraid to be hopeful and optimistic
Consider the wisdom of the serenity of prayer
Embrace the moment
Withhold judgement as long as possible and then render it with the greatest care”

Nice, right?

I will get back to posting recipes eventually– you’ll get your homemade basil pesto soon.  I know this for certain, I have to keep cooking.  For T and for me.  Because as I said during my father’s eulogy, in the words of Scottish poet Thomas Campbell, “To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”

If you would like to make a donation in memory of my father, Dave Roberts, please visit The First Tee of Denver website.
If you would like to make a donation in memory of my grandmother, Toni Capasso, please visit the Alzheimer’s Association St. Louis Chapter website.

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Snow Day: Oven Roasted Chicken

10 Feb

As I’ve mentioned on this site before, I have lived all over the country.  Along with that, I’ve experienced all kinds of weather.  So far, Colorado seems to be a fine mix of my experiences on both the East and West coasts.  A little snow, a lot of sunshine, and enough variety so when I’m really cold (weather-wise, I’ll always be a California girl), I know a warm-up is only a few days away.

So while my friends back East dig out from feet of the white stuff, I offer a cozy, simple winter meal that goes very well with a snow day.

Yes, we built this!

Yes, we built this!

OVEN ROASTED CHICKEN (serves 4)
3T olive oil
2 1/2-3lb chicken
3 potatoes, cut into 1 1/2in. chunks
1 garlic clove, minced
2t rosemary, crumbled
6T lemon juice
1/2t salt
1/4t pepper

Grease baking pan with one tablespoon oil.  Toss chicken and potatoes with remaining oil and arrange in pan.  Sprinkle with garlic, rosemary and four tablespoons lemon juice.  Cover loosely with foil.  Bake 30 minutes at 400 degrees.  Uncover and bake 15 minutes more, turning chicken to brown.  Sprinkle with remaining lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.  Spoon pan juices over chicken and serve.

ChickenMy brother made this last night as we watched the snowflakes fall.  Perfect with a glass of red wine and I made a side dish of roasted brussels sprouts (let me know if you want that recipe).  Stay warm out there and mangia!

 

I Don’t Know How She Does It: Ricotta Gnocchi

29 Jan

As I slowly awaken from the daze caused by moving halfway across the country, I am tasked with the behemoth job of… getting a job.  I’ve been working since I was 15 years old, and working in my present profession since two days after graduating from college.  So a brief break from the workaday world of 9 to 5 has been quite an adjustment.

While I’m eternally grateful that I’m able to slow down for a minute, I find that I’m not one of those people who enjoys just sitting around.  It’s been an interesting practice in patience, concerning myself with new ways to fill my day.  Many of which involve running mundane errands and taking the dog for long walks.  And cooking things I normally NEVER have the time to tackle.  Like homemade gnocchi.  For lunch.  In the middle of the day.

RICOTTA GNOCCHI (serves 6 to 8)
4C all-purpose flour
1 egg, beaten
1lb. ricotta cheese
Pinch of salt
Flour
Grated Parmesan cheese

Combine flour with ricotta, salt and egg.  Mix until dough forms a ball.  Turn on a lightly-floured board and knead until smooth; about 5-8 minutes.  Cut dough into eight sections.  Roll each section into long finger-shaped rolls 1/2in. in diameter and cut into 1/2in. pieces.  With index finger, press each piece in the center, rolling slightly to form a shell-like shape. Sprinkle with flour and let stand 15 minutes.  Shake off excess flour and drop gently into boiling salted water.  Cook until tender, about 12-15 minutes.  Drain well.  Toss with your favorite sauce and sprinkle with grated cheese.

Yum!

Yum!

These were SO FREAKING DELICIOUS.  I got so involved in the creation of them, though, that documenting the process with my camera fell by the wayside until they were halfway shoved down my face.

Here’s the thing: how on EARTH did T and my great grandmother, Grandma Rosie, have time to make things like this?  With multiple children running around the kitchen and demanding, hungry husbands?  It boggles the mind.  Maybe that’s why they look so grumpy in this shot.  Well, at least T looks fabulous and grumpy.

T and GR

Suddenly, returning to work seems like a welcome respite.  Mangia!

2012: For Antonina Year In Review

31 Dec

While I’m taking a break, the WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for my blog.  I thought it had some interesting tidbits, especially while the recipes are on hiatus.  Who knew my little idea would be such a hit?!?

An excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 3,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 5 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

And, as always: Mangia!

A Brief Break

19 Dec

For Antonina HQ is preparing a big move from the land of palm trees and sunshine.  And in a flurry of activity and a frenzy of packing, I tucked T’s cookbook away for hauling halfway across the country.  So I don’t have access to her recipes for a short while, silly me.

Pink Sky

In the meantime, enjoy this bon voyage shot I snapped of spectacular Southern California in full-on glorious mode.  And indulge me while I write about something other than food today.

I don’t pretend to know a lot about a lot of things, but I do know this: take a minute every single night, before you fall asleep, to reflect and give thanks for the simple pleasures that you have in this life; for the experiences that you’ve enjoyed, the friends that you’ve made and the people that support you.  Take a few calculated risks every once in a while and try something that scares you if it will improve your surroundings, energy and outlook.

And have a safe, happy, fun and food-filled holiday season.  Now THAT’S a recipe for success!  Mangia!

Second Side: Baked Fennel

21 Nov

Webster Groves, the St. Louis suburb where I grew up, is home to the oldest high school rivalry west of the Mississippi.  Every year, on Thanksgiving, the Webster Groves High School Statesmen (a trustworthy government official… what a mascot) compete with the Kirkwood Pioneers for the Turkey Day title.  The winning team receives the Frisco Bell, a large bell that the school holds on to and displays until the next game.  It’s all very idyllic.

And it’s a big, big deal in town.   Both of my parents attended WGHS, my brother played football, I was a cheerleader; the whole nine yards (get it?).  Here’s a little trivia for you– I was SO into it, I actually made up a cheer:

“Hey Pioneers are you ready for attack?  Are you ready to lose to the orange and black?” 

This chant is followed by a series of clapping motions, which I still remember.  I hear, in fact, the cheer is still chanted, almost twenty years later.  How do you like me NOW??!?  I may not be an athlete, but I can write a poem.

Circa 1992. T and Popo and friends also attended the game. Nice hat, Dad. Will you be landing planes on that thing?

The Thanksgiving meal is planned around game time and even though I live in California, I’m still TOTALLY AWARE of how the team is doing while it’s being played (and this was the case even before the advent of Facebook).

So as all of my Statesmen are furiously getting their final prep on before the bonfire tonight and the big game tomorrow, here’s another fast, easy side dish option you can toss on the table for eating Turkey Day-style.

BAKED FENNEL (serves 4)
2 young fennel roots
2T milk
1 1/2oz. butter
2T grated Parmesan cheese

Remove any coarse outer leaves and cook fennel in boiling, salted water until just tender, about 20 minutes.  Cut vertically into 1-inch slices and arrange in a shallow baking pan in which half of the butter has been melted.  Pour the milk over, sprinkle generously with cheese and dot with the remaining butter.  Bake at 400 degrees until golden, about 20 minutes.

The big game

Fennel is a distinctly Italian ingredient, and most people don’t use it that often, because they’re put off by the black licorice taste.  But when it’s baked and cheesed, the flavor completely mellows out.  So try it.  And GO STATESMEN!  Mangia!

Superb Side: Sweet Potato Casserole

20 Nov

It’s almost Turkey Day!  Time to break out a recipe you can present at your table, or take along to a friend or family member’s house as a super sweet potato dish to go with the turkey.

Since I live out of town from the rest of my family, I always have the pleasure of celebrating with generous friends, with family sometimes visiting.  It’s a good excuse to party (and, of course, eat).  So spruce yourself up, slap together this side, and enjoy your holiday… let the feasting begin!

Dad comes to Malibu to celebrate seaside.

SWEET POTATO CASSEROLE (serves 8)
6 large sweet potatoes, cooked
1C dark brown sugar
4oz. butter
1/3C honey (the original recipe calls for Karo syrup, but honey is a good substitute)
2T lemon juice
1/4t salt
1/4t nutmeg

Peel and slice cooked sweet potatoes.  Arrange in baking dish, allowing for two layers.  Mix remaining ingredients together and spread half on first layer of potatoes and the rest on the second layer.  Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes, or until nicely glazed.

Shopping for the feast with a friend

While it’s not an Italian holiday, I’ve never passed up an excuse to have fun.  Happy Thanksgiving and mangia!