Un Mazzolin’ Di Fiori

 

Nina's Room

Nina’s Room

It’s the little things.

We usually have a bouquet of garden flowers in the house.   It is one of the little things we do that makes every day life a little nicer.

Our flowers are coming into full bloom and we are enjoying the show.

 Yesterday, my sister and I came home from work to find Un Mazzolin’ di Fiori (a small bouquet of flowers) in every room.   They are simple but lovely. We share them with you.

 

E PRIMAVERA! FACEMU U IARDINU’ It’s Spring! Let’s Plant a Garden!

Carmelo

Carmelo

I write a lot about my mother. We are lucky that she is with us. My father Carmelo, passed 13 years ago. Even though he is no longer physically with us he still touches our lives. He was first and foremost a family man, he loved his family, he loved his friends and he loved life.

“Fari u iardinu” or planting a garden is a direct connection to our father, who approached growing food, like everything else in his life, with enthusiasm and joy. It’s Spring and we are ready to plant a garden!

Camelo' s Garden

Carmelo’s Garden

I love a garden too!  Here is my garden…

Picking something from the garden and using it in the house is a huge source of satisfaction. We enjoy a garden bouquet of flowers, herbs for our cooking, and fresh, seasonal vegetables.

I inherited my father’s gardening gene. He loved a garden and he loved to garden. When he came home from a long day at work, he stopped to look at the garden before he came into the house. My father’s garden always produced beautiful vegetables.

We used to laugh, because he did not believe in growing anything that was not edible. He replaced the hostas with onions and fennel and planted mint along the side of the house.

He even tried to graft different apple varieties on the flowering crabapple tree. The wind and rain blew down his grafts, so the crabapple went and a cherry tree took its place. We had plums, pears and cherries. I learned to make plum jelly, how to can pears and make a cherry pie in ten minutes.

My garden is not as big or elaborate as my Dad’s and I am not a great gardener. We live in Southern California so we can garden all year. Though, I admit that I am a springtime gardener and my enthusiasm wanes when it gets too hot. I plant everything, and my mother takes care of the garden. She waters, picks and does most of the weeding.

I love pretty flowers, but like my father, I must have edibles in my garden. My strategy is to plant annual vegetables in my raised bed garden where I can do succession plantings without disturbing my perennial vegetables and herbs.

In addition to my little vegetable patch, along the perimeter of my garden, where the perennial flowers live, I have planted Garlic, Parsley, Fennel, Mint, Onions and Tomatoes. So my garden design is Geranium alongside Garlic, Lily of the Nile next to Parsley, Mr. Lincoln Rose next to Wild Fennel.

I try to garden organically and attempt to put the right plant in the right spot. We have the perfect spot next to the house for tomatoes. In fact, one of our tomato plants will not die. It lives between a rose bush and a Canna Lily. I planted it last spring. The plant has produced buckets of tomatoes all summer and winter and is still going strong. This year I trimmed the rose bush back and have added an heirloom tomato in that bed.

I am working on adding color and variety to my garden while improving the soil. I have added several garden beds and I am in the process of creating a new raised bed for vegetables. We have the best weather for gardening but the tradeoff is that our soil is miserable. Digging a hole is a backbreaking task because our soil is compacted clay.

Rather than killing myself trying to dig a garden, I use a method I saw in Better Homes and Gardens to create a new planting area. It takes time and patience, but it works and I have used this process for years.

Here are the steps:

1. Cover the desired area with several layers of newspaper (cardboard can also be used)
2. Cover the newspaper with 2-3 inches of compost. I use a combination of composted manure and planter mix.
3. Allow time and weather to do their work. After several months the grass underneath the bed decomposes and 6 – 8 inches of topsoil are created. The process generally takes three months in my climate.

So, I have a new raised bed “cooking.” We have fresh tender lettuce from the garden for salads, the finocchio (fennel) is almost ready for our St. Joseph pasta and my arugula seeds have sprouted. Yes! Let’s celebrate spring and plant something!

Happy Mother’s Day!

mother's day 013

Our mother Lucia,  by simply living her life, teaches us every day what it is to be devoted to family. She lavishes us with love and care. She teaches us to enjoy simple things and she shows us what it means to be industrious and hard-working. 

She makes sure that we nurture our bodies and our souls, so we have a garden, cook from scratch and enjoy fresh flower bouquets in every room of the house.

 Thank you for all you do for us!

A Mother’s Hands…

U Taganu

easter 008 easter 004 easter 003 Taganu is our special Easter dish. It gets its name from the clay pot in which it is traditionally baked. According to legend,  the ingredients are items that are readily available in a Sicilian household, Pasta, Eggs and Cheese. The special ingredient is Tuma cheese. Tuma is a mild,  young cheese that is generally available in the early spring. As far back as we can remember, our family has made Taganu the day before Easter.  In our family, we make meat balls, break into pieces and dot into the Taganu. Our cousin uses a meat ball mix but makes a layer of meat instead. Some people add ricotta cheese. In every case, our families enjoy making and eating Taganu for Easter.

Finding Tuma

We used to live in a community where the owner of the local grocery chain and the local Italian deli descended from our town in Sicily. It was easy to find that specific ingredient that is the basis of one of our dishes. A few weeks before Easter we stopped by the “Italian Store” across the street from our church and placed our Tuma  order. We moved away from our community five years ago and our challenge, still, is to find ingredients. We live in the Los Angeles area where literally anything can be found but not every day and not everywhere. Tuma was one of our challenges. We moved here just before Palm Sunday and our first California Easter was looming before us. We spent two Saturdays combing through every Italian Deli we could find looking for Tuma cheese. It did not exist!!!! That first year we resorted to using Muenster cheese. It was a fair substitute but not the real thing. We made it a goal to find Tuma. We Googled, quizzed our ethnic friends and looked for Tuma in every grocery store. In the process we found sources for other things. We found an Armenian market for fresh and reasonably priced produce, a Middle Eastern market for olives, and fresh herbs and an Italian Deli right around the corner for the right kind of Ricotta cheese but no Tuma. During one of our visits to the Middle Eastern market for oil cured olives, we spotted something that looked like Tuma in the deli case! It was spelled ” Touma”  and we were not positive that it was the same thing so we bought some to try. It was Tuma! We found it! Our next Taganu was going to be perfect! After our quest for Tuma, life gave us a little surprise.  While looking through the cheese case at our local Costco, there it was! Touma cheese in little one pound wheels! Our current community has a concentrated population Touma eaters and it is available year round at Costco! Who knew! This year’s Taganu was delicious! Although there is a basic recipe, each family adds its own special touch.

Here are Taganu made by our family and friends!

Rosa’s Taganu

Taganu di Rosa This Taganu was made by my sister Rose in Sicily.  She bakes hers in the traditional pot!  This is the essence of Taganu in my opinion.

Debbie’s Taganu

Ignazia TaganuThis image is our friend Ignazia and her special Taganu.  This Taganu was made by her daughter-in- law Debbie.  Debbie is Sicilian by marriage.  Debbie makes a beautiful “regular” Taganu but, because Ignazia has a low sodium diet limitation, they had to adapt her Taganu.  Ignazia makes her own cheese…and Debbie uses it to make a special No Salt Taganu.

Cara and Monica’s Taganu

Cara and Monica Taganu 2013 cara and monica taganu This Taganu was made by our cousins, Cara and Monica.  Cara and Monica are  third generation Sicilian American (and 1/2 Irish.)   They learned from their grandmother and keep the tradition for their branch of the family!

Rosaria’s Taganu

Taganu Rosaria

This Taganu was made by our friend Rosaria.  Rosaria is second generation Sicilian American, a busy mom, and recently transferred to  Australia.  Even far from home, she maintains the tradition of Easter Taganu!

Here is our family recipe: We like a large, deep Taganu. We have a clay Taganu but it is a bit shallow, so we bake ours in a cast iron enameled dutch oven. Our recipe fills  a 6 ½ quart pot.  In a successful Taganu the rigatoni is filled with the cheese and egg mixture and the dish is dense with minimal empty spaces.

Taganu

Ingredients: 2 Pounds Rigatoni 2 Pounds Tuma, Sliced Thin 2 Pounds Grated Pecorino 18 to 20 eggs (we use extra large eggs) One Bunch Fresh Flat Leaf Parsley 2 Cups Low Sodium Beef Broth (we use homemade broth) 1 Teaspoon Cinnamon Fried Meat Balls (we use 10 – 12) Black Pepper to taste Instructions:

  1. Remove stems and chop parsley.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs, cinnamon, parsley, a bit of pepper and several handfuls of the grated pecorino . We like the egg mixture a little thick.
  3. Cook the pasta al dente according to the package instructions. Do not over cook.
  4. Pour into a large bowl and allow to cool for a few minutes.  Add a few ladles of the egg mixture to the pasta and thoroughly mix to coat.
  5. Spray a deep baking dish with cooking spray.
  6. Set aside about one cup of egg mixture for the final layer.
  7. Set aside about two cups of grated cheese for the final layer .
  8. Begin by covering the bottom of the pot with the egg mixture.
  9. Add one layer of pasta and dot with large pieces of fried meatballs.
  10. Sprinkle with a handful (or two) of pecorino.
  11. Add a couple of ladles of egg & cheese mixture.
  12. Cover with a layer of Tuma.
  13. Continue layering until pot is almost full. We like to stop with a layer of the Tuma.
  14. Mix the eggs and cheese which were set aside to form a thick paste.
  15. Spread on top of the Taganu to form a “cappa” or cap covering the Tuma cheese.
  16. Let stand to settle ingredients.
  17. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  18. Before baking, carefully pour the beef broth along the outside edge of the Taganu and allow to soak in.
  19. Place the Taganu on a baking sheet in the oven should the mixture overflow the pot.
  20. Bake 1 ½ to 2 hours or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
  21. Let Stand to set.

Taganu can be eaten hot from the oven (our favorite way) or room temperature.

I Palmi

palms 006 

Palm Sunday is the beginning of our Easter Week. It is both a solemn and joyous time in my town in Sicily. Each day they commemorate the journey of Christ’s Passion, Death and Rising on Easter Sunday. On Palm Sunday there is a procession through the town where the people carry beautifully woven palm fronds. Our celebration here is less elaborate but we try to be true to the spirit of the day.

We always go to Church where there is a short procession and we are given blessed palms. My father always made palm crosses and pyramids for us. We kept the crosses in the house as a blessing throughout the year.

My father is gone now but we try to continue, I make some rudimentary crosses.

 

My friend Gene however has elevated palm weaving into art. 

Small Arrangement

 

Gene’s palms are elaborate and stunning. He joyfully shares his talents and demonstrates the devotion to his faith. Gene and our friend Carlo Mattia conduct annual seminars to teach others the art and technique of palm weaving. They are helping to keep the tradition alive and helping to make our celebrations more beautiful and meaningful.  Here is the link to Gene’s site.

http://www.griaa.net/palm-weaving/

Micheli Bouquet

Fari U Rusariu

madonna017

My older sister lives in Italy. We call her every few days just to catch up. Most of the time she is home alone, getting ready to make dinner, procrastinating ironing or working on some handicraft. Once a month she is not available, she takes time out to go a friend’s house “a fari u Rusariu.”

“Fari u Rusariu,” in our Sicilian dialect, is reciting the Rosary. She and her friends and neighbors and an extended group of friends and neighbors gather to pray the Rosary together.

Praying aloud for me is mostly a solitary activity. I pray aloud in my car, on my way to and from work. My younger sister always used to pray in her car during her commute to her college classes. Now, my mother and my younger sister and I always pray together in the car when we take a little road trip on the freeway. We switch off the music and say five Our Fathers, five Hail Marys and five Glory Be’s. It is satisfying and a comfort to us, but we don’t have an extended group with which to share.

I can imagine my sister and her friends (all the varied female voices) reciting the prayers in unison. I am looking forward to joining them next time I visit.

The Rusariu group is diverse, mostly older women, some much older. They, of course, recite the prayers in Italian. The older members know some of the prayers in the Sicilian dialect. The group recently decided that they needed to document and preserve these prayers and began to write them down. I was fascinated and begged my sister to share with me.

I received my copy of one of the final prayers a couple of weeks ago and I am, in turn, sharing here for those who have an interest…

L’Urtimu Misteru
L’urtimu misteru ca e di tutti
L’Armuzzi Santi su misi a la porta
O bona genti, prigamuci tutti
Prigamu pi li vivi e pi li morti.
Chistu e viaggiu ca ama fari tutti,
Li misiri cumpurtati
Damuci refrigeriu a l’Armi Santi.
Armi Santi, Armi Biati
O Priatoriu vantri stati
Prigati a Diu prigati pi li me necessitati
Ca vantri siti assa e siti assuntati.
Prigamu u Signuri tutti,
Requiem etrnu facemu a tutti.
Signuri duna Eternu Riposu, Armuzzi Santi di u Prigatoriu

So here is my life lesson. When I got my copy, of course, I began to read it to my mother and my sister here in the U.S. Once again, my mother surprised me. She recited along. She knew the prayer in Sicilian. She had no idea we were trying to document a prayer that she routinely recites in her own prayer life. I have a source of knowledge right here with me. I just need to ask her.

Grains for Breakfast: Cuccia for Santa Lucia!

Cuccia for Breakfast

Cuccia for Breakfast

December 13 is the feast of Santa Lucia. It is also my mother’s Onomastico or “name day.” We remember the day almost like a birthday and wish her a Buon Onomastico!

According to legend, Santa Lucia was born in Siracusa in Sicily and was martyred for being a Christian. She is the patron saint of people with eye disorders.

In southern Italy, we commemorate the feast with a special dish,  Cuccia. Cuccia is made from wheat berries and is only eaten on the Festa of Santa Lucia.

In some regions of Italy, Cuccia is a dessert made with dried fruit and honey. At our house it is a simple preparation of cooked wheat berries and sugar. We always have Cuccia for breakfast on December 13.

Cuccia

1 cup of wheat berries (we bought them in the bulk aisle of the healthy food market)

Water to cover

Soak wheat berries overnight.
Rinse the wheat berries, add 3 cups of fresh water and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until tender. If the water evaporates, add additional boiling water and continue cooking.

To serve, ladle into bowls with a bit of the broth and add sugar or honey to taste.