Category Archives: Food

Oh My Gluten (Free)

My sister is flying across the country tomorrow to visit me. She’ll be staying with me for five whole days. YAY! I love family visits. I don’t get them very often, so I hope to make the most of it, with the usual food, fun, and frivolity.

She’s gluten-free (and I’m not), so that just adds to the fun of preparing for her stay. I’m not being sarcastic. I actually enjoyed my gluten-free scavenger hunt at Trader Joe’s tonight. I googled “Trader Joe’s gluten free” and found a list that included these yummy items. (I can’t wait to try that almond cashew macadamia drink.)

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For dessert, we can snack on Lara Bars. I love the cashew/date ones. I hope she leaves those for me. Actually, they’re the only ones I’ve tried. That lemon bar looks good right now. Hope I can wait till she gets here.

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I also bought some fruits and veggies, and made a centerpiece to welcome her into my home. Luckily, my sister gets my sense of humor.

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Is wine gluten-free? Oops. I just might have to consume these all by myself.

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I KNOW these aren’t gluten free. Impulse purchase!

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Tucson is an International City of Gastronomy, which means we’ll definitely be going out to sample some gluten-free tacos, tamales, burritos, salads, baked goods, and Margaritas while she’s in town. I’ve got my Best of Tucson issue on the coffee table so we can find all the best places.

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Needless to say, I might not be posting anything for the next five days. But after that, I just might have some food photos to share!

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This is post #5 (but who’s counting?) of NanoPoblano2019. Don’t know what NanoPoblano2019 is? Just click the link! It’s gluten-free, too!

 

Grandma’s Friendly Village

My grandmother Angeline was born in central Sicily, in a small village with the beautiful name “Villarosa.”

In 1910, at age 8, she emigrated from Sicily to America with her own grandmother, got married at age 16, quickly had five bambinos, and was widowed at 30. She later remarried and had a good life, but she never got to see Villarosa again.

Here she is at about age 30 (I’m guessing).

Grandma Armenia

I liked going to Grandma’s house. She always seemed cheerful, and she served us plenty of macaroni, ice cream, and raspberries, saying the word “mangia” practically as soon as we’d walked through her door. Her house was decorated with colorful starched doilies that she’d crocheted herself. I wonder if she crocheted the collar in the above photo. I have a special memory of the two of us sitting in a summer garden next to some pansies while she taught me to crochet.

Although Grandma never talked about her childhood (probably because I never asked), I’d always wondered what Villarosa was like. About a month ago, I finally got to see it for myself.

I’d signed up for a 5-day Italian language immersion program in Taormina, Sicily, mainly so I could learn about my Sicilian roots and visit Villarosa. Luckily, our group leader and two other students also were interested in seeing more of Sicily, so we rented a car on day 6 and headed for my grandmother’s home town.

Villarosa (pop. 4,824) is on the outskirts of Enna. The two cities couldn’t appear more different. Enna (left), seen from a distance, was a glittering city on a hill, while Villarosa (right) was its poor, dusty cousin. But Villarosa, as it turned out, was AMAZING.

I’d Googled “Villarosa” the day before we set out and learned a surprising fact: It’s kind of well known for its man-made lake, a popular fishing destination. And the man-made lake was the result of the building of Ferrara Dam. OMG, I thought. Grandma’s maiden name is Ferrara!

Here’s the dam, the lake, and me:

After parking in town, we looked around, hoping to find a place for lunch. Directly across from our car there was a restaurant, complete with group of Italian men deep in conversation. It looked like something out of a movie. Then I noticed the sign above the doors: F.lli Ferrara (Ferrara Bros.). And on the doors, the initials “LB.” Grandma’s maiden name, and my initials!

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We didn’t want to interrupt the men (OK, maybe we did feel a little intimidated) so we walked on down the block. Seeing a small, elderly man nearby, one of our group asked (in her newly-learned basic Italian) where we could eat. The man pointed down the street and rattled off directions in Italian. Then, probably realizing we didn’t capice, he escorted us all the way to tiny “Casa Mia.” It wasn’t open yet, but they welcomed us in. No one who worked in the restaurant spoke English. I ordered bruschetta and risotto (in Italian).

Suddenly, a family of about 20 people entered. It was an 80th birthday party! We smiled and nodded at them. A woman (angel?) from their group approached our table and asked (in English!) what had brought us to Villarosa.

“My grandma’s from Villarosa,” I said. “I was hoping I might find some family here.”

I’m an interpreter!” she said, handing me her business card. “I can help you.”

After I provided my Grandma’s name, and what I was pretty sure were Grandma’s parents’ names, she made a few phone calls, and within an hour I was sitting across the table from Gaetano Ferrara, owner of the Ferrara Bros. restaurant that we’d seen before lunch. His grandfather and my great-grandfather shared the same first and last names. It’s possible we’re cousins.

Gaetano spoke no English, but, with the help of the interpreter, I was able to ascertain that his brother, Pietro, owned a gelato/cannoli shop in town, and would be there at his shop to meet us! Mamma mia! It doesn’t get much better than that. But then it did. On our way out of the restaurant, the owner treated us all to shots of grappa and limoncello, on the house.

When I learned that the limoncello was homemade, I asked if they’d be willing to share the recipe … and they did. And yes, that alcohol is 90-proof.

The hospitality didn’t end there. When we got to Pietro’s store, we were all treated to free gelato and cannoli. Here I am with Pietro Ferrara, another possible member of my family tree.

Connolo Cousin

After returning home, I discovered that Ferrara is a common name in that part of the world, so I’m not sure if Gaetano and Pietro are my cousins, but it doesn’t matter. It was an amazing trip, one I’ll never forget. I’m so happy to know that my roots include such a warm and welcoming town. And I’m still in touch with that lovely interpreter, who has offered to translate a letter for me so I can get in touch with the folks at the Villarosa town hall to learn more about my relatives.

For now, ciao until next time!

P.S. This is my first post for the 30-day November blogging challenge known as NanoPoblano2019. Our challenge is to write for 10 days, read others’ posts for 10 days, and share our posts on other blog sites for 10 days.

Please click this NanoPoblano2019 link and read some of the wonderful posts from other members of our little writing group.

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Birthday Breakfasts

My birthday is approaching. I’m not saying which one. That’s for me to know and you to Google. I will say this much: It’s a significant one.

As I mentioned in my recent post, Birthday’s Silver Lining, my birthday is causing me to ponder many things, such as the passage of time, the meaning of life, and … well, I’ve forgotten the third thing.

All this pondering is having an unexpectedly pleasant side effect: I’m finding extra joy in little things, like sunshine glittering on the lake, and the deep green color of the trees. I’m in a spectacularly good mood. Or maybe it’s just because I’m on vacation.

I’m staying in a trendy part of town, a neighborhood that I used to live in during my twenties. The area wasn’t always this trendy. Now it has cute little shops with names like Tru, and Roux, and Roam, and Hemp It Up. It also has a lot of gardens. Two days ago, after a rainstorm, I went out in search of some of my favorite things, like flowers with raindrops on them.

After taking pictures of flowers, I considered looking for more of my favorite things, like warm wooly mittens and bright copper kettles. But instead, since I hadn’t had my coffee yet, I headed to my favorite coffee shop, Glen Edith. It was only a few blocks away, right around the corner from the apartment I’d shared with three other roommates once upon a time.

As I walked past the old apartment, memories came flooding back: the music, the incense, the bell-bottoms, the vodka-spiked Kool-aid. (Just kidding, Mom.)

I kept walking, dressed in the long skirt, sneakers, and hipster sunglasses I’d donned that morning, and I suddenly felt young, energetic, and hip. Or maybe it was the thought of caffeine that was propelling me forward.

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I also felt rich, since I’d miraculously discovered some unexpected cash in my wallet the night before. I’m not making this up. There’s a secret hiding place in the wallet, right behind my driver’s license. I was looking for my Social Security card (don’t ask why) when I felt something wrinkly. I pulled it out and, to my shock, it was several twenty-dollar bills.

The last time I could remember having that amount of cash on me was on my previous out-of-town trip, and since then I’d lost my wallet and had it returned to me, contents intact. Good people still exist!

I went a little crazy that morning with my new-found wealth, deciding to treat myself to not one, but two breakfasts, since, after all, I have a birthday coming up, and life is short.

Breakfast number one was at the aforementioned Glen Edith, where I ordered a delicious cappuccino. It came with a tiny surprise: a mini-doughnut hole.

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And then, another surprise: a bright copper kettle on the counter!

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After the Glen Edith, I moved on to Jines Restaurant, a neighborhood institution since 1971, and ordered my old favorite, creme brûlée oatmeal.

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The creme brûlée oatmeal at Jines is decadent. Come to think of it, the word “decadent” has the word “decade” in it. Maybe “decadent” actually is a contraction, as in this example: “Did you turn 50 last decade?” “No, I decaden’t.”

Having two breakfasts at my two favorite shops in the neighborhood was a small thing that brought me joy. It was all part of my preconceived plan to pamper myself, since, in case you forgot, I have a rather significant birthday coming up.

Just Gelato

 

I needed a break from the news, a break from the work week, and a little break from writing today. I decided to just stare at this photo of gelato for a while.

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Unfortunately, the gelato in the picture is long gone. I consumed it last September while visiting Florence, Italy (the birthplace of gelato).

I’m feeling more chill now. I may be able to write again tomorrow.

This photo is dedicated to David Ellis … to further entice him to visit Florence as soon as possible.

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My Carb-less Day

My cholesterol is high. Well, at least that’s what the doctor says. Do I believe her? Well, yes … and no. I read the lab test results, and I looked at the chart. I can see that my numbers are higher than they should be. But it’s complicated. My good (HDL) cholesterol is very, very good, while my lousy (LDL) cholesterol is quite bad. My triglycerides were very bad the first time I had the test, but now (only one month later) they’re fine. So what’s going on?

I’ve tried figuring all of this out via the internet, but the answers are either conflicting or lacking, especially in regard to medical research of the female variety. I’ve decided not to panic, but to make some changes and get re-checked in six months.

I already eat ground flax seed every day to boost my Omega 3’s and reduce cholesterol. (I know salmon’s supposed to be even better for that, but I’m allergic to fish, so no salmon for me.) I’ve cut down on dairy, I no longer use half-and-half, and I rarely have bacon, eggs, beef, or pork.  I guess you could say my diet is Mediterranean, for the most part, but I probably do eat too many carbs.

One thing I read on the internet (and for some reason I believe it) is that cutting down on carbs can reduce cholesterol. So yesterday, I decided to try going a whole day without a single carb. And I’m not even Catholic.

It wasn’t that hard, because I knew I was only going to try it for 24 hours.

My food intake consisted of: coffee (with unsweetened soy milk), a smoothie (banana, orange juice, mango chunks, ice, soy milk), three hard-boiled eggs (I know, I know … cholesterol!), an avocado, an orange, a few berries, an apple, and lots of natural, unsalted, unsugared peanut butter on that apple. (I despise plain apples.) Also, a tiny bit of cheese, and a cup of green tea (without my usual honey).

No wine. No crackers. NO CARBS. (Except the sugar that was in the fruit. Oh well.)

I was pretty proud of myself. But then this morning happened.

I had: coffee, toast with peanut butter and jelly. And a snack: crackers with avocado.

But later, I wasn’t even hungry for lunch, and my dinner was a handful of black olives, a cup of green tea, half of an apple, and lots of peanut butter on that apple.

I’ve learned that giving up carbs yesterday wasn’t that hard, and it seems to have carried over a bit into today. I’ll let you know in six months how this is working out.

In the meantime, maybe I’ll have just a tiny bit of spaghetti tomorrow.

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Bite Bite Bite

I was wandering alone in Florence (Italy) recently. It was the last day of my vacation, and I decided to get as much as I could out of it. Lunch at a sidewalk cafe seemed just the ticket. After a quick glance at the menu, I took a seat and ordered lunch #5. A nice little bite to eat and I’d quickly be on my way to the cathedral a few blocks over, right? Ma, no!

The primo piatto (first plate) was pasta.

Delizioso.

Next, the secondo piatto (second plate) appeared.

Dio mio. I managed to eat most of it.

And then … dolce (dessert). And not just any dessert, but my absolute favorite dessert, tiramisu. And this tiramisu was out-of-this-world good.

I enjoyed every last bite.

P.S. Today’s post was brought to you thanks to today’s Daily Post prompt, which is the word “bite.”

On this 27th day of the November daily blog challenge otherwise known as Nano Poblano, I found myself coming up blank. I’ve already used songs, haiku, personal confessions, humor, autobiography (disguised as fiction), history, and photography. What else was left? I don’t have a cat, so a cute kitty meme just wasn’t possible. I had no other choice but to post photos of what I had for lunch!