Awareness, Believe, Faith, God, Grace, Hope, Inspiration, Life, Love, Mindful, Moments, Peace, Relationships, Self Care, Spiritual, Uncategorized

Holding Patterns

“I am choosing to show up and nurture every part of me that needs love, healing and support.” ~ Alex Elle

I have always been a firm believer in the poem Reason, Season or A Lifetime and it was the Daily Encourager email about Holding Patterns, which ironically, I received on my birthday, that only reaffirmed my belief that things, circumstances or people often come into our lives for a reason, maybe for a season and sometimes for a lifetime. I now begin each day by reading the passage and saying the prayer at the end. I share it with you and may we all journey wisely and never lose our faith when we encounter a holding pattern season.

Namasté.

Holding Patterns

Many times, God will allow a painful situation or a painful circumstance in our life to “swallow us up.” This season in our spiritual growth is a “holding pattern”. We can’t move to the left or the right. All we can do is sit, like Jonah sat in the belly of that great fish, so God can have our undivided attention and speak to us.

God put Jonah in a “holding pattern” because He needed to speak to his heart. Jonah was all alone. There were no friends to call, no colleagues to drop by, no books to read, no food to eat, no interferences, and no interruptions. He had plenty of time to sit, think, meditate, and pray.

When we’re deep down in the midst of a difficult situation, God can talk to us. When He has our undivided attention, He can show us things about ourselves that we might not otherwise have seen.

A few of God’s holding patterns:

• When you are sick in your physical body and you have prayed but you are not yet healed, you are in a holding pattern.

• When you are having problems with your children and you have put them on the altar, but God has not delivered them yet, you are in a holding pattern.

• When you have been praying for a loved one to return to God, and they have not come back yet, you are in a holding pattern.

• When you are in a broken relationship and you have given it over to God, but it has not been restored yet, you are in a holding pattern.

• When the doors slam shut before you can even knock on them, you are in a holding pattern.

When we are deep in the belly of a difficult situation, there are no interruptions. God has our undivided attention. All we can do is sit, think, meditate, and pray. Like Jonah, we cannot run from God, because there are no mountains that are high enough, valleys that are low enough, rivers that are wide enough, rooms that are dark enough, or places that are hidden from Him.

We must remember to praise Him while we’re waiting, remember three things:

• The pattern has a purpose.

• The pattern has a plan.

• The pattern has a process.

So stop struggling and start listening, praying and trusting. He’ll keep you right where you are until you can clearly hear Him say, “I love you.”

Suggested Prayer: Father, forgive my unbelief. I know you love me and I will come to see the benefit of everything in my life, even this holding pattern, and the manifestation of my Good is assured through You. You have planned nothing for me but victories and I am ready to receive them regardless of how difficult the path.

“When you follow your heart, you follow God, and you’ll find your own path to your own deepest peace and happiness.” – R Hauser

Awareness, Faith, Family, Fulfillment, Genuine, Giving, God, Goodness, Inspiration, Life, Love, Mindful, Peace, Real, Relationships, Self Care, Thoughts, Truth, Uncategorized

Walking Away

“If you want more in your life, more connection, more meaning, more fulfillment, you have to shift your attention to something deeper and truer. It will be from that pure and sacred place that you can attract more goodness in your life.” ~ Oprah

It’s very sad when the people we want to feel the closest to are separate from us. There are times that the image of extended family sitting or standing around for any type of gathering is portrayed to be an ideal scenario but it can be a nightmare for many. You can feel trapped in a box of others fixed opinions, reactions and judgments.

For some time now, I have been on this journey of trying, with every ounce of my being, to create peace in my life and this I know for sure, if people or environments don’t feel welcoming, comfortable, no longer familiar or more importantly, like home, I am extremely comfortable with walking away and trust this, there are no hard feelings. I have become comfortable enough with who I am and the choices that feel right for me. At this stage of my life, I owe nothing to anyone, except myself. I have learned to always follow my gut and my heart, along with seeing and hearing with the eyes and ears that God has gifted me. They all allow me to feel and see the genuine and real in myself and the people around me.

I have learned to listen to God’s whisper and it will always be His silent voice that will direct me as to when it is time to walk away. That’s what you do when the negative forces of others attempt to invade your space. It’s what you do when you have had enough with being taken advantage of or disrespected or drained not only physically but mentally, emotionally and spiritually. You walk away and you focus on what’s meaningful to your life. It’s called self care. It brings so much more meaning to your life.

As I walk away, it will always be with forgiveness in my heart, along with silently wishing you peace but before I walk away, I offer these words of wisdom to the unconscious. Know this, you’re not entitled. Stop expecting. Stop assuming. Stop being defensive. Stop complaining. Stop judging. Stop taking people for granted. Mind your business. If it’s not your story to share, don’t share it. You also may want to consider waking up because you’re missing out on the beauty of the world, a good life, the people that truly love you and above all, always say thank you for another day and the blessing, along with the opportunity to be consciously alive.

Be grateful. Be humble. Be loving. Be considerate. Be kind. Be hopeful. Rise above it all. Build each other up. Be unique. Be bold. Be truer. Embrace each other. Life is too short to attract, want or expect anything less than goodness in our lives.

As always, just continuing to keep it real in 2019 and shifting my attention, along with my intentions to all things that bring goodness to my life.

Happy New Year!

Awareness, Believe, Easter, Faith, Family, Giving, God, Hope, Life, Love, Thoughts, Truth, Uncategorized

A Forty Day Journey

“Time directs, heals, teaches and leads hearts to love. Be patient with yourself and with others.” ~ Matthew Kelly

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For the last few years, I have participated in Matthew Kelly’s, The Best Lent Ever. Forty days of absolute awareness, being present and working towards becoming the best version of yourself and learning how to be perfectly yourself. To be honest, some days were more challenging than others and there were days where I failed miserably at becoming a better version of myself and I haven’t quite found my perfect self. It’s not perfection that I am looking to attain, it is being perfectly happy with being who I am and not how anyone else wants or expects or wishes me to be. The last week was probably the most challenging and yet eye opening and extremely telling. It was Holy Week and it started off with the passing of my 94-year-old aunt (my mother’s sister), who went home peacefully to the Lord and her husband on Palm Sunday and the week ended with her burial and a celebration of her life on Holy Friday. It was a week of reflection, along with constantly reminding myself of the importance of being in the present moment, shutting out the chatter and being fully aware of my surroundings. I believe the readings at her mass, at the luncheon and in a booklet her children put together truly summed up who Aunt Josie was as a person, a sister, a wife, a mother, a aunt, a grandmother and great-grandmother and as a friend but more importantly, a devoted child of God and the church. The piece that struck me the most was talking about how non-judgmental she was. She lived a life without any judgment of anyone and she would extend her hand of kindness, love and support to anyone and everyone who crossed her path.

I sat at her funeral luncheon thinking about all of the opportunities where we never take advantage of telling the people we love, while they are alive, how thankful we are for all the guidance, love and support they have added to our lives. Aunt Josie is one person, I am not sure I ever properly thanked for all of her love, support and non-judgment of me. She was there for me many times, guiding me with her kindness and her unconditional love. My heart tells me she just knew how I felt but I did take the opportunity that day, to sit with my Aunt Jean to talk about our family and some questions I had about the past. We also talked about how over time, the dynamics of our family has changed and the realistic reasons as to why change is just a natural progression of life. The conversation at one point became emotional but I knew I couldn’t walk away from her without taking a moment to thank her for her role in my life. She was yet another person who never let judgment be a part of her words, feelings and thoughts, especially about those she loved. She is from the generation of those that understood family loyalty, respect, trust and unconditional love. They believed being there for those that you love was just a given and something that was never questioned. I call them “the just do” generation. They understood boundaries and truths. More importantly, they understood the meaning of being a true confidant and if it wasn’t their story to tell, it was never to be repeated. I walked away from our conversation maybe not getting all the answers to my questions but with a new-found respect and admiration for my aunt and the code that she continues to honor…it’s called family loyalty. Maybe some things in life should never be questioned and maybe there are no real answers and maybe you just need to respect, honor and accept what was in the past and hearing anything different, really wouldn’t change a thing.

Then this morning, while reading my favorite Sunday Paper blog by Maria Shriver, there it was, yet another reminder talking about how we should honor people while they are alive and letting the people we love know they are enough. The article asked questions that made me think…why do people in life rarely see themselves as others see them? Why are they rarely recognized for their powerful legacies while they are still alive? Why are they rarely told how much they are truly loved? Then there was Matthew Kelly’s final video, from The Best Lent Ever, he spoke about resurrection and some of his thought provoking questions and thoughts…what part of your life needs resurrection? What part of your life needs to be resurrected? Because we all have one, every year. You might have the same one three years in a row. You might have the same one ten years in a row. You might have the same one twenty years in a row. He goes on to say, some of our biggest challenges, some of our biggest problems, some of our biggest crises, some of our biggest obstacles – they take more than a year to solve, to change, to heal. The real question is: Do you believe? Do you believe that it’s possible? Do you believe that whatever mess you’ve got yourself into or however bad the situation is in your life or whatever tragedy or challenge it is that needs to be resurrected in your life…do you believe that God is willing and able to resurrect it? Whew, a lot more to think about beyond these forty-days.

My original plan for this forty-day journey was to make time each day to be still, silent and in solitude. I wanted to use the time to reflect on my life…one moment at a time. Each day, I walked away from those moments with a word or a thought. Something that had personal meaning or reflected something about myself or life in general. I knew I wanted to take those words and thoughts and do something with them. Something simplistic and not complicated and out of that came the video below…My Forty Day Journey.

Today and everyday, I hope you take a moment to reflect on the real meaning of life. I hope you get the opportunity to thank someone who has had a significant impact on your life and to tell them how grateful you are that they have graced your life with their presence, their love and their understanding. I also hope you come to believe and know that you are enough and celebrate life every day…your own life and the life of those that you love and who truly matter the most to you.

Happy Easter and as Matthew says, if you are to find lasting happiness in this ever-changing world, it will be as your own wonderful self…the best version of perfectly you.

Aging, Believe, Faith, Lessons Learned, Life, Sixty, Uncategorized

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

“I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles.” ~ Audrey Hepburn

For the last few months, I have been mentally preparing myself for my quickly approaching 60th birthday, which is now only days away and I just keep asking myself, “How the hell did that happen?” For whatever reason, as I approach this milestone birthday, it just seems like it should be a big deal and yet, I just can’t seem to completely wrap my arms around it and embrace it. But there is a part of me with a small plan to celebrate me, along with my life and to make it last for the next ten years.

For quite some time now, I have been on a personal journey of self-awareness and self-discovery and while it has always been hard for me to celebrate myself, this birthday, I am trying very hard to push myself outside of my safe zone and celebrate the last sixty years with complete awareness, truths, applause, failures, successes, along with a lot of dancing, a lot of cake, a lot of wine and a lot of candles. After all, I do believe living sixty years of my life is a celebration in of itself. My journey has been guided with the help of friends, family and other friends, who are not personally known to me. Every day, I listen or read something from the likes of Brené, Elizabeth, Deepak, Wayne, Maria, Maya and of course, God. I have found each of them to be helpful with guiding me along this journey to be a better person with myself and with the people who surround me.

I have been trying to focus on all of the gifts in my life and to be in the moment with all the knowledge from the life lessons I have learned. I’m trying very hard to embrace this next chapter of my life and while I don’t have a master plan, it’s really okay because I have learned that even with the best plans, life can be interrupted. I’m trying to be accepting of every fine-line wrinkle on my face with knowing that I earned each and every one of them and they each come with their own story. I am trying to accept the fact that with every passing year, body gravity is inevitable and everything eventually goes south. Not unless of course you have help from a little nip and tuck or a little beep, bop and boop to plump things up or a large wallet to purchase some $500 creams. At this stage of my life, I am going in fully knowing that the six-pack ab days may be long gone and my focus needs to turn to eating healthy, endurance, strength, balance and stretching.

I don’t think of myself as an expert in any one area of life but one thing I know for sure life is most certainly a mystery. People will come and go throughout your life. Some will enhance your being. Some you will be able to count on. Some you will love. Some will suddenly leave you for no reason or sadly because of the inevitable. You can end up disappointing yourself and others. People you counted on may not come through but at any given moment, a total stranger can show up unexpectedly and take you to places you never dreamed possible. You can have wealth or enough to live a comfortable life and then with a snap of a finger you can be left with nothing and on the brink of poverty or practically homeless. For me, this is for certain, I have learned time and time again, when you fall, you peel yourself up off the floor, you dust yourself off, you learn, you move on and just know you will survive. Life is indeed a mystery filled with many moments of truths and realities and somewhere in the midst of those truths and realities life can be so magical.

I thought I would share with you some of the lessons I have learned along my six-decade life journey. Some are borrowed, some are new and some are old but they are all lessons learned. I share them with the hope that they may help some of you on your own journey to live more genuinely, to live more consciously, with more gratitude and with less judgment of yourself and others. They are some of the best lessons I have learned and my hope is that we take every one of our life lessons learned as an opportunity to be better than we already are and to always celebrate the life we have. I am certain there could and should be more than sixty but in honor of this milestone birthday, I will leave it at sixty and I know that somewhere over the rainbow in the next decade of my life there will surely be more life lessons learned.

  1. Nothing in life is for certain and the sooner you embrace the concept, the less disappointed in life you will be.
  2. Find every excuse and opportunity to celebrate your life.
  3. Love the age you are.
  4. Stop worrying about what others are saying. At the end of the day, it’s a waste of time and who cares.
  5. Have faith that God’s love never fails and that He is always there listening. Find hope in your faith.
  6. Be grateful for everyone who has loved you. Don’t regret a love that once felt right.
  7. Know there will be times when life will break you and when you think you won’t be able to handle it, know that you will.
  8. Always be kind to your body. You only have one. Learn to love it, take care of it and know that the body keeps score and it always wins.
  9. Know and understand that diets are a lifestyle and not a temporary restriction on what you can eat.
  10. Know that you are the only one responsible for the life you live.
  11. Know that laughter and a good night sleep are sometimes the best cures.
  12. When it comes to parenting, always trust your gut and heart.
  13. Make friends with your children’s friends. They’ll make you laugh and they will always give you valuable information. Pay attention.
  14. Know that physical and verbal abuse are equally wrong. Know that we teach people how to treat us.
  15. Hug your mother, father, children and grandchildren. Tell them you love them with every chance you get. Never take a moment of time with them for granted.
  16. Get smart about money early in life. Be diligent and consistent with saving some.
  17. Know that marriage and parenting are the toughest relationships to master.
  18. Be curious about your emotions and others.
  19. Know that every day is a gift. Be thankful for each day you get to witness another one.
  20. Stay out of other people’s business.
  21. Always choose kindness instead of being right.
  22. Don’t engage in gossiping. Know that it hurts the people you are talking about and will eventually come back to haunt you. When someone shares something very personal with you, always choose to be a trusted confidant and know it’s not your story to tell or share with others.
  23. Know that life is impossible without believing in something.
  24. Choose self-acceptance. Believing you are enough gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect.
  25. Spend time alone. Don’t be afraid of it. Know that you will be okay with being alone and some days you will prefer it.
  26. Always say please and thank you. Look for opportunities to be a better person.
  27. Look people in the eye when you are talking to them. Trust that you will learn something every time you do.
  28. Sit down to dinner every night with your family. Put the cell phones away. Turn the television off. Talk to each other. Listen to each other.
  29. Play with your kids. Read to them every night. Make great lasting memories with them. Always make them feel safe and secure.
  30. Celebrate and praise your children. Teach them to feel valued. Teach them to treat others respectfully and with kindness.
  31. Always have an open table and an open mind.
  32. Be available to those in need.
  33. Pay attention to your partner, the one you love. If you don’t, know that someone else will.
  34. Don’t ever believe someone is better than you or you are better than anyone else.
  35. Know that disciplining a child teaches them the difference between right and wrong and taking accountability for themselves. Know that when you don’t follow through on the punishment, your word loses all credibility.
  36. Learn how to turn off your critical and judgmental voice.
  37. Learn the difference between compromise and selling yourself short or settling for less.
  38. Listen to your gut. It knows more than anyone else you are asking for advice.
  39. Practice prayer and meditation. It will keep you in check with yourself.
  40. Never make your work more important than your family.
  41. After years of putting everyone else first, know it’s okay to pamper yourself.
  42. Don’t allow anyone to shame you or diminish you as a person. Set boundaries upfront.
  43. Get good at forgiveness. Don’t wait for someone to die to forgive. Know that you will need to practice forgiveness throughout your life.
  44. Know that control does not equal happiness.
  45. With every chance you get…dance.
  46. Get good at letting go. It’s good for your soul and your overall well-being.
  47. Relax your expectations of others. Don’t expect people to be perfect. No one is.
  48. Learn how to communicate in your own home. Don’t let hostility become the only way you know how to communicate.
  49. Know that therapy is not a waste of time nor a sign of weakness but a sign of strength.
  50. Know that it is okay to distance yourself from toxic people, even if they are family.
  51. If your marriage comes to an end, don’t let anyone tell you, you have failed. Be grateful for the love you shared, the memories you made and the lessons you learned.
  52. If you have a pity party, make it short, turn the page and then move on. Don’t see yourself as a victim. See yourself as someone brave.
  53. Don’t let fear stop you from living your passion. Know you can rebuild yourself and your life at any age.
  54. Be brave enough to write your own story and always know it’s never too late to rewrite it.
  55. Be brave enough to try love after your heart has been broken.
  56. Spend time outdoors. Breathe, take it all in and let it calm your mind.
  57. Spend time around people who see you, who celebrate you and who want the best for you.
  58. Know that trust and loyalty are the most important things in a family relationship. Stay connected to that family trust and loyalty and never let anyone or anything come between it.
  59. Take care of your parents when they age. There isn’t anyone more loving and caring to do the job. Remember the sacrifices they made for you.
  60. Always believe and have faith that the best is yet to come. Always believe and know that you deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XulvnXo6BJk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baking, Bucket List, Christmas, Christmas Eve, Cookies, Dreams, Feast of the Seven Fishes, Foodporn, Italian Cookies, Italian Traditions, Puerto Rican Heritage, Self-publishing, Uncategorized

Another Bucket List Checkmark…✓

 “She believed she could, so she did.” C.S. Lewis

Like so many of us, I have a bucket list too and while I don’t live and die by it, there is this feeling of excitement that comes over you when you can place a checkmark next to something on your life list of desires, dreams and goals. There is also this sense of accomplishment that comes with that checkmark. Actually, mine is not a written list but a mental one and I’ve been fortunate enough to mentally check off a few list items from a dream trip to Paris, to a desire of owning a BMW. Wait, this one should be on the nightmare list. The two best days of owning this car were the day I bought it and the day I sold it. Sorry, I digressed. Back to the list…to dancing on stage in front of an audience of 750 to an event planner to a personal chef…just to name a few.

A big one on that list was writing a book. Well, last year, I finally did it and I was published! After many long hours, along with many days and nights of editing and re-editing, my Christmas cookbooks are done, published and just in time for the holidays.

My original thoughts about writing and publishing a book weren’t really about writing cookbooks but more about my life story. Right now, my memoir is on the back burner but one day it will be written because I am a dreamer. It could possibly be written on the heels of my exit from this life or as I approach 60…ahhh, a new decade of life begins in 2016.

A dreamer I am but honestly, very much a realist at heart. I am well aware of the fact that my books will more than likely never make the NY Times bestseller list but it’s nice to believe, to dream and to always remain hopeful. Even with all my very own personal truths, I still feel accomplished and I can confidently say I tried, I did and I was published. It was more about self-satisfaction, self-accomplishments and responding to the many requests from friends and family, who were asking for my recipes. I also thought why not include a little bit of family history because we all know everybody loves a story.

In my first cookbook, Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies, I share a collection of my family’s traditional and non-traditional Italian Christmas baking recipes that have been passed down for many generations. I also take you on a personal journey of the history behind each recipe and I have included the precise details behind preparing and baking each one of these delectable Christmas treats.

BookCoverPreviewFinal

 

http://www.amazon.com/Twelve-Days-Christmas-Cookies-Delectables/dp/1490581308/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1450033828&sr=8-1&keywords=twelve+days+of+christmas+cookies

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/twelve-days-of-christmas-cookies-deborah-dematteis/1120806633?ean=9781490581309

In my second cookbook, not only do I take you on another journey of telling the stories behind my family’s Italian-American and Puerto Rican heritage, I also share with you some of the most cherished memories from my childhood Christmas’ and Sunday traditions, along with many of my family’s Italian and Puerto Rican recipes.

BookCoverPreview2II

http://www.amazon.com/Feast-Seven-Fishes-Christmas-Delectables/dp/1502498189/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1450033660&sr=1-3&keywords=feast+of+the+seven+fishes

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/feast-of-the-seven-fishes-deborah-lugo-dematteis/1120919738?ean=9781502498182

Self-publishing is not an easy task and it took a small army of supporters to bring it all together. I can’t thank each of them enough for their support, contribution, commitment, guidance and encouragement. A lot of learnings came from this experience and while I am pleased with the end result, along with the reviews and the sales to date, it’s the learnings and the entire experience in of itself that I embrace and know that I will continue to personally learn and grow from.

If you are interested in purchasing one or both, my holiday cookbooks are still available online through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Thank you in advance with any and all considerations of making a purchase.

From my home to yours…this Christmas may your home and hearts be filled with the smells, the joy and the miracles of the season.

 Buon Natale

Believe, Daughter, Dreams, Family, Father, Father's Day, Lessons Learned, Life, Relationships, Uncategorized

Dance With My Father Again

“It’s only when you grow up, and step back from him, or leave him for your own career and your own home — it’s only then that you can measure his greatness and fully appreciate it. Pride reinforces love.” ~ Margaret Truman

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It’s has been many years since my Dad left us, and with each passing year, whether it is the anniversary of his death, his birthday, or Father’s Day, the pain of losing him may have somewhat lessened but as the years pass, and as I get older, I find I miss his presence more, and more. I miss his voice, his gentle hand, and kisses, his huge hugs, his smile, and his special laugh but what I miss the most is talking with him.

I didn’t always feel this way about my Dad. Growing up, there were many times I didn’t like him but I knew I always loved him. He was a man of few words but his presence was always known. He was a very strict father, who disciplined, and ruled with an iron hand, and I was the “rebel with a cause”, who was going to break his strict discipline beliefs, and during my teenage years, it was my mission in life. He most certainly knew I was going to be his challenge, and I most certainly gave him a run for his money.

I often think of the man he was, and I have come to terms with many things in my life, and I now have a much better understanding of his way of thinking, and disciplining. I wish I would have understood him sooner, as I believe we could have had a much closer relationship during the important years of our lives. If we did, we could have talked through many of our disagreements rather than battling it out.

Today, I understand that he didn’t know how to be any other way because it was what he had learned, and what we learn is what we pass on from generation to generation, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Until one day, someone steps up to the plate, and changes the cycle, and I think that was my mission. While his discipline tactics were not always the best, in his mind, he was protecting his daughters in the only way he knew how, and saw fit. He didn’t want his daughters to make the same mistakes he did but by sheltering us, he didn’t realize he wasn’t allowing his daughters to grow, and learn from their mistakes.

I can sit here, and dwell on all of the bad, the harsh discipline but what would any of that change. Really, nothing. Today, I remember the great things about a man I called Dad until he became a grandfather, and from then on he was only referred to as Poppy. The key thing to remember is how much he loved his daughters, his wife, his grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and the things he taught all of us, and more importantly, me.

He was a thin, good looking young man, with a dream, when he left San German, Puerto Rico, to come to New York. I am not sure what he did between the years that he arrived in New York, and when he met my mother at the age of 27 but my good guess, he more than likely was a ladies man, an impeccable dresser, and he probably had an air about himself that appeared intimidating, and somewhat standoffish. That’s my take, and when he met, and married my mother, he took charge to provide for her, and even more so when their daughters came along.

He was a spray painter for many years, and worked for a marketing exhibit company, painting promotional exhibits for name brand products, and services, which were displayed at conventions but his dream was bigger. It was always to own a restaurant, and my mother, who was one of the most conservative people I knew when it came to money, along with being a realist, and nowhere near a risk taker stood by her husband, and supported his dream.

They opened a small luncheonette in Mount Vernon, right on the borderline to the Bronx, and he was in his glory, and stood proud the day the sign went up, and there it was, Dave’s Luncheonette. This happened so much later in their life together but to him it was the beginning of what was yet to come. Remember, he was a dreamer. They both worked very hard, and long hours. They were up at 5am, and at the luncheonette by 5:30am, and ready for their first customer strolling in for coffee, and breakfast at 6am. There were many times during my father’s bouts with his heart issues, and when he was hospitalized that my sister’s, and I had to step in, and open the store with our mother. Oh, those 5am mornings were killers for me. Opening those gates, bringing in the fresh bread, and newspapers that were waiting at the door. Putting on the pots of coffee, heating up the grills, and greeting customers with a smile at 6am. Really, it’s much too early for smiles. The days seemed endless, along with the end of day routine of cleaning the place, and preparing it for the next day. My parents did this for close to 20 years in Mount Vernon, and again, remember my father was the dreamer, and bigger was still his goal.

Over the years, the neighborhood started changing, and after the luncheonette was broken into several times, they moved onto my Dad’s next dream, Dobbs Ferry, and opened Dave’s Charcoal Corner. A bigger place with more counter seats, and probably five times more tables than the Mt Vernon place. Bigger but still only breakfast, and lunch. By now, I had a career in banking, children, and I stood back, at a distance, and watched how hard they worked in the later years of their life, and I only helped out when absolutely necessary. My Dad was the cook, and my mother was the brains behind the pricing, and how to make a profit. No one handled the cash register nor the checkbook but her. She served the food at the counter seats, while a waitress handled the tables, which more often than not were my sisters on the weekends, along with my daughter during her college years. Me, oh, I was known as the black sheep of their daughters. Very rarely to be seen at the restaurant but when I did not have a choice, I groaned, and moaned all the way through it, and went home smelling like a greasy hamburger.

My Dad became known for making the best home fries, omelets, burgers, pancakes, soups, and more. This was the happiest time of his life, and his personality could easily get him side tracked from the grill to have a conversation with any regular customer, which is when my mother would take over the grill with a huff. It was kind of comical, at times but as the years went by, the aging process, and my Dad’s health were catching up. He was slowing down, and while it was hard for him to accept, after a small grease fire, we knew it was time for them to sell the business, and retire. I truly believe he wished he had pursued his dream much earlier in life but he had a good run for nearly 30 years.

How ironic it is that history repeated itself. Who knew my passion in life would turn to cooking, and also, begin so much later in my life. During a visit with our family accountant, he said to me, “You should have taken over your parents restaurant.” I didn’t have a vision back then of cooking, I was working towards a career in banking, which turned out to be a successful one. I fought my father tooth, and nail to not have any part of the business. I had such a dislike for it, and maybe part of it was how hard they worked, the long hours, and while it was his dream, it wasn’t mine, and it certainly wasn’t my mother’s but she was committed to him, and doing whatever made him happy. I have no right to judge that kind of sacrifice, and my point to this story is about all of the valuable lessons I learned from a man, who I battled with for many years.

My regret is that he is not here today for me to tell him, face to face, how grateful I am for all of the life lessons, values, the unconditional love, and the importance of believing, and following your dreams that I learned from him. He taught me hard work is a given. He taught me how to love my children unconditional, and the importance of being there for them through the good, and the bad. He taught me that you never give up on your children. He taught me the importance of family. He taught me to be courteous. He taught me respect. He taught me the importance of being a lady. He taught me the importance of presenting, and representing yourself well, and with class. He taught me that sometimes silence is golden.

It took me many years to realize, and learn the most valuable lesson of all from my father, to grasp every moment because you never know when it can be taken away from you, in a minute, and without any notice. I am grateful that I got to dance my last dance with my Dad on my 45th birthday. It was in his hospital room, just a few weeks before he passed, and I still wish every day that I could dance with my father again, and to hear him whisper in my ear, “I love you, Debbie Ann.”

daddance

While the day of his passing will always be a blurry memory, it is the priceless memory of our life together that will be a vivid one for eternity. It’s an example of a great love, commitment, sacrifice, and no matter how many years that have passed, it doesn’t change the fact that even though my Poppy is not in front of my eyes any longer, his picture is in my heart, and my mind, and will remain unspoiled forever.

“It doesn’t matter who my father was, it matters who I remember he was.” ~ Anne Sexton

 

 
http://www.vevo.com/watch/luther-vandross/dance-with-my-father/USJRV0300079

Alzheimers, Bronx, Brothers, Dementia, Family, Harlem, Italian Traditions, Italy, Life, Mother, Mount Vernon, Naples, Relationships, Sarno, Sisters, Thoughts, Uncategorized

My Mother’s Story…A World of Silence

“My mom is a never-ending song in my heart of comfort, happiness, and being. I may sometimes forget the words but I always remember the tune.” ~ Graycie Harmon

 mom80

 

Some time ago, I whispered in my mother’s ear, and I promised her that I would always be her voice, and today, three years after her passing, would be no different…especially with it being Mother’s Day. She lived in a world of silence for the last five years of her life, and her life was not without heartbreak or hardship, but yet through it all she fought for herself, her family, and faced every challenge with courage, poise, and grace. She was a loving wife, mother, grandmother, and a great-grandmother. A constant guardian, and a woman who loved unconditionally, and for many years after my father’s passing, she fought a brave battle against an awful, devastating disease…Alzheimer’s. A disease that robbed her of her memory, stripped her of her dignity, along with taking away her smile, and laughter. As promised, I am here to tell a portion of her life story, and to be her voice but first a small disclaimer, for those that read this, who may dispute my version of my mother’s life, I ask, respectfully, to remember while reading this story…it’s my story, and more importantly, my mother’s.

Eighty eight years ago, my mother entered this world as Domenica, later to be known as Minnie. She was born, and raised in Harlem, New York on 116th Street by her Italian immigrant parents, and she was one of fourteen children, of which eight were from previous marriages of her fathers. Her mother, my grandmother was not my grandfather’s first wife but she was his last. His previous wives had passed away, and many of his children from his previous marriages remained in Italy, with the exception of three children from his second marriage, a son and a two daughters. They also lived in the same Harlem neighborhood. One half sister returned to Italy, and my grandmother treated the remaining two, as if they were her own, and they ate dinner with the family nearly every day.

My mother often spoke of her upbringing during the depression era, and the lifestyle during those trying times. She would tell stories of her father, and her family, which were verified by my uncle’s (her brothers) in consideration of writing this blog. My grandfather was a Blacksmith back in his small hometown of Sarno, which was outside of Naples, Italy, and when he came to this country he used the skills he learned from working with horses, and to fix the wagons, known as buggy’s. My grandfather also sold watermelons. He would rent a horse and buggy, and go to the blind uncles’ (my grandfather’s brother) store on 107th Street, to pick up the watermelons that were stored there. I always wondered why, besides the obvious, he was always referred to as the blind uncle versus his name, Dominick. Moving on…my grandfather then would proceed to steer the watermelon filled horse drawn buggy up from East Harlem to the Hunts Point section of the Bronx. This is where he would sell the watermelons through the streets, yelling, with what I am sure was with a definitive Italian accent, “get your watermelon here”, which back in the day was called “hawking”. He was once arrested for “hawking”, and was held at the 41st Precinct, known as Fort Apache, and was fined $2.00. During the off season, my grandfather used the horse and buggy to pick up junk, and was considered a junkman, which turned into a successful family junk, and demolition business that was eventually run by my mother’s brothers. She told stories of how all her siblings needed to help out with the family finances, and the meals she grew up on, were known as peasant food. Through all of that, and much more, the family was rich in history, traditions, and a strong family bond that spilled over into the many future generations to follow.

During 1944, at the age of eighteen, my mother, and her family moved to Mt Vernon, New York, and settled in their new home on South High St. Most, if not all of her brothers, and sisters had little to no education, and all of them went to work at a very young age. My mother first worked in a button factory, on 2nd Avenue between 22nd and 23rd Street, which is where she met my father (more on that later), and then she moved on to work for the Corn Exchange Bank. The bank merged with Chemical Bank in 1954, and ironically, 26 years later, I began a career with Chemical Bank, which lasted 26 years. My mother was extremely proud of her daughters’ career, and always said she wished she would have stayed in banking.

My mother was known for having a love for shoes, clothes, along with pocketbooks, and she always dressed well…I guess this apple didn’t fall far from that tree but she knew how to shop for bargains, and she knew how to save money…that’s where the apple did fall far from the tree. She was all of a size 2, and from many old pictures she always dressed nicely, and she was very slender. She traveled every day from Mt Vernon to Manhattan to go to work, and after she left for work, her younger sister was known to sneak into her closet, and she would wear my mother’s clothes, and shoes but she would make sure they were cleaned, pressed, and returned to their rightful place before my mother returned from work. During this era, it wasn’t unusual that most, if not all of your paycheck, went to straight to your parents, nor was it unusual for the oldest brother to take on the role of watching over the family, and to be the disciplinarian of the younger siblings or to be considered the bread winner of the family.

According to the standards of her era, my mother married late in life, at the age of twenty eight. When she met my father, while working in the button factory, he was a charming, and handsome Puerto Rican, and it goes without saying the 100% Italian family didn’t approve of the relationship nor the fact that he was married before, and had a child from his previous marriage. This was unheard of during this era to consider marrying a divorced man but my mother loved him, and her love persevered. There are several version of the story, and one thing I know for sure, at the end of the day, my grandfather approved of the marriage, my parents were married at St Mary’s Church, my grandfather walked her down the aisle, my parents had three daughters, and my mother loved my father unconditionally, and my father most certainly loved my mother. Of course, they had their ups and downs but what marriage doesn’t. They built a life together, and they were committed to their marriage for better or worse, and my mother always referred to the next generations divorce rate, as being an easy out. She said the new generation thought it was easier to give up on a marriage than it was to work on one. Today, my parents would have been married for 60 years, and they worked side by side in their luncheonette business for over 30 years.

They were married on January 30, 1954, and first lived in the Bronx on Wallace Ave, and ironically, when my older sister came into the world during February 1955, and then me, eleven months later, they moved to Wallace Ave in Mt Vernon. Eighteen months later, my younger sister was born, and yet another move, and for my mother it was back to South High Street, across the street from what was my grandparents’ house, into the 2nd floor apartment of my uncle’s three family home. Years later, my parents purchased the house from my uncle, who moved into a bigger home with his growing family, and this is where my parents remained for over 25 years.

My grandfather had passed days after my oldest sister’s second birthday, and I had just turned one, the previous month. My grandmother passed away when I was five years old, and I really have only a slight memory of her, however, I do remember my grandmother living with us for a short time. I have one vivid memory of her standing with one of those fancy brushes in her hand (the kind that were kept on a mirrored tray on top of the dresser) waiving it, and yelling at my sisters, and I, in Italian, of course, for jumping on her bed. After my grandfather died, she would live back, and forth between her children. She was diagnosed with hardening of the arteries, and more than likely today, she would have been diagnosed with dementia. While she lived with us, it was difficult for my mother to watch my grandmother, who would wonder off from time to time, and my mother had three small children but my mother loved her mother, and she did whatever she could to help her, and to keep her with us. My grandmother’s frequent wondering off days, and forgetfulness worsened over time, which required her to wear her name, and address on piece of paper, and pinned to her clothing. After some time, a family decision was made, and with the medical field not knowing what they know today about dementia, along with the care, and treatment required, my grandmother was institutionalized, at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, Queens Village, New York. It’s my understanding that it was a place that left you with the memory of it being dreary, dark, and a place someone would hope to never end up in. My grandmother died three months later. I have such a clear memory of my mother speaking so often about this time of her life, and she always said she could never be a part of that decision, and she believed her mother died of a broken heart from being left there all alone.

When I think back about my mother, and her thoughts about own her mother, I now understand the fear, and the panic that overcame her entire being every time she forgot where she put something…she always believed she was losing her mind, like she believed her mother did. Eventually, she resorted to keeping notes as frequent reminders of things to do, and where she put things.

Growing up, my memories of my mother are of a vibrant, hard working woman, loving, and caring mother, and when she became a grandmother, her grandchildren added a newness to her life. She was always doing something from cleaning to cooking, and taking care of the house, along with caring for her daughter’s and husband. For many years, she was a stay at home mom, and those curtains, and drapes were changed, and windows were washed every three months. She had a love for music, and once she joined the Columbia Record Club, she would wait with such anticipation to see what album would come each month. Music was always playing while she was cleaning, and she would sing along with her favorites, from Connie Francis to Frank Sinatra to Jerry Vale. She kept herself busy, and while she never learned how to drive, she walked everywhere or took a bus. Nothing stopped her. There were countless amount of days that she walked with her three daughter’s to go shopping on Fourth Avenue, and she always found a way to make the trip special by taking us to the Beehive for ice cream.

During the summers, she would pack up my sisters, and I, along with lunch, and her beach chair, and we would walk to the bus stop by the 11th Avenue park, and we would take the bus to Glen Island Beach. My mother loved the beach, and it’s probably where my love for the beach came from. Years later, she went back to work to help my father with the family finances, and I remember feeling sad that she was no longer there when I came home from school. Times were changing, and we were all feeling it.

Many years later, I think what kept her mind going, active, and alert for so long was that all of her energy, and efforts went into caring for my father in the last 10 years of his life. He suffered with heart disease, and diabetes, and eventually, kidney failure. He had open heart surgery back in 1994, which gave him a new lease on life for a number of years, and then he reverted back to his bad eating habits, he put some weight back on, and was now back to square one. My mother was relentless with taking care of him, and stood by his side every step of the way, and with every doctor appointment but he was stubborn, and she could only fight his ways of being, to an extent. It was during 1998 that he took a turn for the worse, and we weren’t sure he would make it after yet another angioplasty procedure. It took some time for him to recovery, and I remember on Father’s Day of that year, I found him in a fetal position in his bed, with silent tears rolling down his face. I laid next to him, and we spoke quietly, and he admitted he was scared, and wasn’t sure he was going to make it to his granddaughter’s wedding, which was the following month. Low and behold, the man recovered, yet again, and there he was dancing with me at his granddaughter’s wedding.

During 2000, six months after his great-granddaughter was born, he took a turn again but this time he never recovered, and he left us on January 23, 2001. My point to sharing my father’s health is that I believe this is when my mother’s life changed completely, after the loss of the love of her life, is when her memory spiraled, and eventually, she went rapidly downhill to being completely bedridden, never to see the outside world again. I truly believe taking care of him for so many years stimulated her brain, and kept her going, and after he was gone, there was nothing left for her that could keep her stimulated, and the sadness of losing the love of her life took control over her mind, and being. I often wondered if my grandmother’s rapid decline was also related to the loss of her true love, my grandfather.

It was like watching a movie that I had heard about my entire life, and history was repeating itself for my mother, as it did for my grandmother. She moved back, and forth between my two sisters, and occasionally, spent a weekend here, and there with me. At the time, my sisters lived minutes apart, they worked together, and were fortunate enough that they were able to take our mother to work with them. She would sometimes be picked up to attend activities at the senior center but she disliked it, and complained constantly about going. She lost interest in socializing with others, and especially, anyone she considered to be old. My mother was a woman of few words, and I am sure knowing what I know today, she was scared, and her rock was no longer here to help her with making decisions or to keep her safe. She did however, like being in the office with my sisters, and she would putter around the kitchen, and wait for the workers to come in at the end of the day, and make them coffee. I think she felt useful, and had a sense of purpose. She would sit with them, talk, and laugh, and occasionally play cards with a few of them. The atmosphere of the office was less intimidating to her versus a senior center, which I believe was a constant reminder to her of the aging process.

I most certainly believe she knew what was happening to her brain function, along with her memory, and things were happening to her stability but she didn’t have the ability to verbalize it, and I’m sure of it now, all the unknowns were frightening her. The times I spent alone with her, I could see the fear in her eyes, and the confusion but I did everything I could to make her feel comfortable, keep her spirits up, and gave her the space, grace and dignity she so rightfully deserved. In the beginning to mid stages of her dementia, it always amazed me how her long term memory was intact, and she could tell you anything from back in the day, and yet, her short term memory was non-existent. I think the hardest thing to witness was her unhappiness, sadness, her confusion, her depression, and the angry person she became. For me, at the end of the day, none of that matter, and my way of thanking her for all of those years she “justdid”, unconditionally, with every opportunity presented to me, I treated her like she was a Queen because in my mind, my mother was.

I owe a special debt of gratitude to my two sisters’. Our parents always stressed we could, and we should always rely on each other, and that has never been more true than during our mother’s illness. I lived in Connecticut during that time, and work was extremely demanding, along with not having the same flexibility that my sister’s did with their work. They took care of my mother 24/7, for a number of years, and then the day came when my mother was progressively getting worse, and life was changing, personally, for both of my sisters, and a decision was made that it was time to place her in a nursing home. I remember that day like it was yesterday, and again, in my mind, history was repeating itself, and all I could think of were my mother’s words about her own mother when the same decision was made for my grandmother. How could I do this, knowing how my mother felt, and I too found myself in a place where I wanted no part of that decision. I was crushed, for her, not for me. I was so angry with the decision, and yet, I had no viable solution that in my mind could save her or keep her out of a nursing home. In retrospect, it was the right decision but at the same, her being my mother, I always wished there was another option.

Over the four or so years of her being a nursing home, during each visit, I struggled to find a connection with a woman, who eventually, didn’t know my name anymore or who I was. I would say, “Hi, Mom.” Sometimes she looked at me with a blank or confused stare, as if she was thinking should I say hello back or if she was trying to figure out who I was. I would say, “How are you doing?” and there would be an occasional hello, I’m okay or just silence or a rare, “Shut up!” I would sometimes laugh, and say, “It’s me, Deborah Ann” and sometimes she would reply, “Really?” She sometimes mumbled, and I didn’t get what she said, and it just broke my heart. With every visit, on my drive back to Connecticut, more often than not, I would cry all the way home, talking or yelling at God, and asking him, why? Why wasn’t he taking her, and she didn’t deserve to live a life like this. I was told many times, she wasn’t ready, and after years of watching her go slowly, I finally came to terms with believing she worked so hard all of her life, and she was tired, and she was just resting until she was ready to go home.  

However, my sister’s dealt with our mother in a way I really couldn’t. They talked to her, she mumbled, they mumbled back. She growled, they growled back. She would refuse to do something, and they would say okay fine just sit there. It didn’t matter to them that she didn’t remember things. She was treated with such love, and acceptance. They took her everywhere. They fed her, they changed her, and they bathed her. My sisters stepped up, and stepped in. What mattered was that she was comforted by the warmth of their human connection. These are just some of the gifts they gave our mother. I was in awe of them, and they have given our family a whole new kind of role model to emulate in every part of our lives. I love, and admire them both, and I am forever grateful for what they gave our mother.

When our mother passed, I again was my mother’s voice, and I thanked my sister’s for taking such good care of her, for being her strength, and her courage when she was weak, and for loving her unconditionally. Our mother rests peacefully now, and is back in the arms of the love of her life, my Dad. Not sure I have done her a justice with celebrating her life but this Mother’s Day seemed like a perfect time to tell a portion of her life story. There is never a day that my mother doesn’t pass through my thoughts, and I am sure she is looking down upon her family, smiling with happiness, and with a tremendous amount of unconditional love, and pride. For me, I am so proud to call Domenica Squillante Lugo, my mother. She will always be my hero, my mother, and a woman, who silently had incredible strength, courage, perseverance, devotion, commitment, and an enormous amount of unconditional love for her family.

My Mother’s Day message to my mother…while it has been a long time since I have seen your beautiful smile or smelled your beautiful perfume or received your hugs and kisses…thank you for passing on all your love, wisdom, strength, and courage, which have made me the woman I am today. With this message, I send you this song, which was always one of your favorites, and I can still hear your sweet voice singing the words. I love you, miss you but I find comfort in knowing you are at peace, with your true love, and always remember…I will be your whisper, and I will always be your voice.

 

Family, Forgiveness, Life, Relationships, Thoughts, Uncategorized

Just Let Go

balloon

 

As I sat with my morning coffee, today, feeling the warmth of the sun, a few tears rolled down my face, as I reflected on 58 years of my life, and family. I openly admit, I am not perfect, I do not always say the right thing, and I most certainly have made many mistakes. However, at the same time there are so many more things that outweigh it all to make me feel so grateful to be alive, and to have witnessed, experienced, and learned from it all.

As I continued to sit there, I read the reading below, which only made me think more. Over the last few months, I have watched from a distance, and up close, the loss, and failing health of dear family members from my mother and fathers generation. While the aging process is an inevitable part of life, it doesn’t make the process any less painful to face when it’s someone you love, and a person who has impacted your life in a small or significant way. The thoughts that seem to get me through the pain is reflecting on the gifts that each one of them have given me, which have contributed to the person I have become, and who I truly am. I will always value, and cherish their gifts, their love, their teachings, and their memories.

I understand that during difficult times, emotions run high, and we are overwhelmed with confusion, pain, loss, and anxiety but I find myself thinking about a discipline we teach our children…”watch your words.” In the grand scheme of things, while I understand we are all human, is it not our responsibility to be authentic, compassionate, caring, loving and forgiving? Especially when it comes to family. Maybe we need to take a moment to think, take a step back, and look at the whole picture before we speak, and “watch our words.” If we did, we would realize that what we were about to say…more often than not, is not authentic, compassionate, caring, loving nor forgiving but judgmental, hurtful, and more than likely, inappropriate.

Idol, unimportant “chatter” has no room or place in our lives, and some things in life, while hard to do, are just this simple…we need to just let go, and begin to repair, heal, honor, respect, forgive, and love each other for who we are…family.

Family and life are gifts, and they are both too precious to throw away or take for granted. Maybe we need to learn or practice to live a life that is more authentic, compassionate, loving, and more  importantly, a life that has the ability to forgive, and just let go.

La famiglia!

How Many Berry Spoons Are There In My Life?

 “I’ll never forgive him. I told him I would never forgive him.”

The elderly lady spoke softly, but with resolve, as the nurse brought her nightly medication. The lady’s expression was troubled as she turned away, focusing on the drape wrapped around her nursing home bed. This brief exchange revealed a deep, deep hurt.

She told of how her brother had approached her bed, accusing her of taking more than her share of family heirlooms following their mother’s death. He spoke of various items, ending with “the berry spoon.” He said, “I want the berry spoon.” For the forty years since the mother’s death he had hidden his feelings, and now they erupted.

She was both hurt and angered by his accusation and vowed never to forgive him. “It’s my spoon. Mother gave it to me,” she defended herself. “He’s wrong and I won’t forgive him.”

Standing at her bedside, the nurse felt her own spirit soften and grieve. A spoon – a berry spoon! In the bed lay a woman given two months to live – just sixty days – and she would face eternity and never see her brother again in this life. Her mind and spirit were in anguish, and her only remaining family ties were broken over a berry spoon.

As the nurse returned to her station she was drawn deep into thought: “How many berry spoons are there in my life? How many things, as insignificant as a spoon, in light of eternity, separate me from God – and from others? How does a lack of forgiveness keep me separated from my family?” She asked God to search her heart. “How many berry spoons are there in my life?”

Family, Foodporn, Grandchildren, Gravy, Italian Traditions, Lasagna, Meatballs, Uncategorized

Lasagna…An Italian Love Story

“As you get older, you find out that true happiness is not in how much you make or how many degrees you have or how big your house is or how fancy your car is. It’s finding peace, and joy, and a calmness in your life that will soon become the most important thing to you. Your family is what really matters to you, love is what matters to you. Things that are of quality, not quantity.” ~ Life Lessons Learned

I have been away from writing since before Christmas, and for some unknown reason or maybe one that I am not willing to admit out loud, recovery from the holidays took a little longer, this year. I also allowed the grayness of the long, cold winter take away my creativity, along with being preoccupied with the harsh realities of my life, I, unfortunately, somewhat deviated away from my life passion. With Spring approaching, and with a few days of feeling it in the air, there is this sense of renewal that comes with the season, and I’m back!

Lately, I have been thinking about my all-time favorite Italian dish, Lasagna. A favorite, for as far back as I can remember, and in my research of this rich, and flavorful Italian classic, believe it or not, it comes with a history lesson. There are a few theories, but here’s the Italian one…Lasagna originated in Italy, in the region of Emilia-Romagna. Traditional lasagna is made by layering pasta with layers of sauce, made with a ragù or a béchamel, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. In other regions, it is common to find lasagna made with ricotta or mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce, various meats (ground beef, pork or chicken), a variation of vegetables (spinach, zucchini, and mushrooms), and typically flavored with wine, garlic, onion, and oregano. In all cases the lasagna is baked in the oven.

Lasagne calde, calde le lasagne, caldeee! History states that forty years ago, you could hear vendors bellow those words from the busy platform of the Bologna railway station. Though lasagna vendors don’t exist today, Lasagna alla Bolognese remains the most famous recipe in Italy, and throughout Europe. In Italy, there are countless regional variations of lasagna. Ingredients differ according to place, and local custom but the distinctive character of lasagna remains the same…layers of flat or curly noodles, separated by layers of rich gravy or sauces, a focus ingredient like meat, fish or vegetables, all baked up into one glorious masterpiece of flavor. While lasagna was born in Italy, a familiar hot slice of this cheesy, rich comfort food makes it one of the most commonly craved Italian dishes in homes, and restaurants all around the world.

As a child, I was totally addicted to lasagna, and it was a regular dish served on Easter, Christmas Day, and as a special birthday dinner. In between those special occasions, as an adult, it was always my main entrée selection at specific Italian restaurants, who I knew made an outstanding version of this Italian classic, and in my opinion, there were very few restaurants who could accomplish this feat. My first introduction to learning how to prepare, and master an outstanding lasagna was by watching my Aunt Fanny, who besides my father, was one of the first great influences in my life with perfecting my cooking skills. Staying true to our Napolitano decent, her Lasagna Napoletana included layers of curly lasagna noodles, gravy (again, not sauce, gravy!), ricotta cheese, mozzarella, grated cheese, and these tiny meatballs, which were the size of a marble. As tedious as it was to make those tiny meatballs, Aunt Fanny never faltered from putting every ounce of love, and perfection into her lasagna. And as a child, to a teenager to a young adult to a grown up, you couldn’t wait to cut into Aunt Fanny’s lasagna to find those delicious tiny meatballs. A Sunday morning lesson at Aunt Fanny’s always included her masterpiece of a Sunday gravy. Her gravy, more often than not, always included meatballs, Italian sausage, pork, braciole pelle di maiale (pig skin braciole), and beef braciole, which is pretty much what mine is today, with a bit of a variation, and absolutely, no braciole pelle di maiale…only because my children, and grandchildren won’t eat it, and it’s not at the top of the health conscious favorite food list.

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Lasagna Napoletana

Another great cooking influence in my life is Nanny Angie. Honestly, she is, by far, the most talented cook I know. I have watched this woman for over 40 years, turn out food from the smallest to the largest of kitchens that made your mouth salivate just watching it being placed on the table to your mouth humming with absolute pleasure while you ate her food. You walk away from her table completely intoxicated from the experience, and with a belly so satisfied. If I learned anything from Nanny, cooking was about pleasing people. A lot of love is a must, and it will always come through in your food. Presentation was crucial, and sitting back, watching people eat your food with complete, and utter enjoyment would be your reward. She taught me cooking was a labor of love, which took planning, creativity, patience, and precision. Amongst her many masterpiece dishes, her lasagna was right at the top of my all-time favorites. For Nanny, lasagna wasn’t a regular everyday dish, it was saved for holidays, and special occasions. Her lasagna wasn’t much different than Aunt Fanny’s, with the exception that hers did not include any meat. Exact and pure precision went into the amount of ricotta cheese, mozzarella, and grated cheese that was used in her lasagna. You can easily overdo it with the cheese, which would create a runny, cheesy mess on your plate but not Nanny’s…perfection every time. Her lasagna took time, patience, and precision with each layer. It’s hard to describe what it was like watching her make this masterpiece, and the only words that come to mind…it was an artistic creation being prepared right before your eyes. There was a rhythm, a glow, and a sense of pride surrounding her with everything she cooked. Cooking is truly an art, and you have to love it, and have a complete passion for cooking to turn out mouthwatering, and tasteful delicacies, such as Nanny Angie’s lasagna.

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Lasagna

Passing on family traditions is so important to me, and I must admit, with great pride, over the years, my daughter must have been paying attention to the preparation, and skills that went into making a lasagna because she too has mastered the art of making a perfect dish of lasagna. My only hope is that she continues to pay attention, and for as long as I am able, I will continue to teach my granddaughters, too. Cooking together in the kitchen, as a family, and sharing family recipes, along with secrets passed from one generation to the next. may be a lost art for some but not in this Nana’s kitchen.

One of the positive side effects from the labor of making the meatballs, frying the gravy meat, stirring the gravy, and layering the intoxicating goodness of the lasagna noodles, the cheeses, and the gravy on top of each other is the guaranteed knowledge of knowing…there will always be leftovers!

As I have stated many times, it’s extremely hard for me to recite or write my recipes down on paper. I learned from the best of them, and exact measurements were rarely used. I can do all of the recipes below by osmosis but in the spirit of giving back, I have done my best to capture all of the steps, and I hope you enjoy all of them.

Lastly, when in the kitchen, always remember Julia Childs words, “Cooking is one failure after another, and that’s how you finally learn…no one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.”

Buon appetito!

Lasagna

  • 5 cups gravy (Nana’s Sunday Pot of Love, recipe below)
  • 1 (32 oz.) container whole milk Polly~O Ricotta Cheese
  • 1 cup grated Locatelli Pecorino Romano cheese (my preference but if you prefer, you can use Parmigiano-Reggiano)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 box lasagna (15 sheets, cooked al dente) *see note below
  • 4 1/2 cups shredded Polly~O Mozzarella Cheese
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine ricotta, 3/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, and parsley in a bowl. Season, to taste, with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the eggs and mix all together.

Spread 1/2 cup gravy over bottom of 13 by 9 inch baking dish. Place 5 lasagna sheets over gravy, overlapping to fit. Spread half of ricotta mixture evenly over the sheets. Sprinkle 2 cups of mozzarella cheese evenly over ricotta mixture. Then, spoon 1 1/2 cups of gravy over cheese, spreading with spatula to cover. Repeat layering with remaining lasagna sheets, ricotta mixture, 2 cups mozzarella and 1 1/2 cups gravy. Once you have arranged remaining 5 sheets, top with remaining gravy, 1/2 cup of mozzarella, and 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese.

Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil, and bake for about 40 minutes. Uncover, then bake until hot, and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Let the lasagna stand 15 minutes before serving.

Note: A trick to keep the lasagna sheets from sticking to each other, add a little olive oil to the boiling pot of salted water, and once drained, run them under cold water, and carefully hang over the side of a colander or a pot, without touching each other completely. Another quick option is to use the No Boil lasagna sheets, which also produces a perfect lasagna, and saves a lot of time. Barilla puts out a good quality No Boil lasagna.

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Lasagna

Nana’s Sunday Pot of Love (Gravy)

  • 1 1/2 lbs. Italian sausage (sweet or hot or combination of both)
  • 10 – 12 pork spare ribs (small but meaty)
  • Bunch of fresh basil (stems removed)
  • 1 onion (peeled and cut in half)
  • 2 -3 (35 oz. can) Scalfani Italian Whole Peeled Tomatoes (This is my preference. I find them to be the most consistent canned tomatoes but feel free to use your favorite.)
  • 3  (28 oz. can) Scalfani Crushed Tomatoes
  • 1  (6 oz. can) Scalfani Tomato Paste
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil (enough for frying)
  • Sugar (handful)

Season both sides of pork spare ribs with kosher salt, and freshly ground pepper. Heat oil, over medium heat, in an 8 quart Dutch oven or heavy pot. Add pork spare ribs, and fry until there is a nice sear on all sides. Remove from pot, and set aside. In same pan, brown Italian sausage until they are just cooked through (approx. 15 min). Remove from pot, and set aside. Add additional oil, if needed. Prepare meatballs (recipe below), and fry meatballs, in batches (do not overcrowd) until cooked all the way through. Add onion, and brown. Drain off excess oil. Do not wash pot. Reduce heat to low, and add all meat (pork, sausage, and meatballs) back into the pot.

Pulse whole peeled tomatoes in blender for a 5 second count, and add to the pot. Add crushed tomatoes, and tomato paste. Take one empty can of crushed tomatoes, fill it to the top with water, and transfer back, and forth between all cans of tomatoes, including tomato paste. Add water to the pot of gravy, and stir.

Add a bunch of basil leaves (handful, not chopped). Add a handful of sugar, and season with kosher salt, to taste. Stir and simmer on low heat for 3 hours.

Note: Keep in mind, you will need extra gravy for the lasagna. A thought to take into consideration when thinking about how many cans of tomatoes you will need or use.

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Pork Spare Ribs

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Italian Sausage

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Scalfani Whole Peeled Tomatoes

Meatballs

  • 1 1/2 lbs. ground meat (combination of pork, veal and beef)
  • 1 egg
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 6 – 8 large slices of Terranova bread, crust removed and cubed (2 day old bread)
  • Milk (enough to coat bread)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  •  1/4 cup chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
  • 2 large handfuls of Pecorino Romano grated cheese

Place cubed terranova bread in a large bowl, and cover with milk (don’t overdo the milk). Let bread soak for approx. 15 min. Squeeze out bread, and drain off excess milk. Add ground meat, egg, finely minced garlic, parsley, cheese, kosher salt (approx. 1 tsp.), and freshly ground pepper. Mix altogether until well incorporated. To form consistent sized meatballs, I use an ice cream scooper. Roll each scoop into a ball, and fry, as noted above.

Note: The meatball mixture should be a tight consistency, otherwise, the meatballs will fall apart in the gravy, and that’s an Italian cook’s worst nightmare!

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Meatballs

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Nana’s Sunday Pot of Love

Family, Food, Foodporn, Italian Traditions, Life, Thoughts, Uncategorized

Nana’s Sunday Pot of Love

Simply Deborah

Since I was a little girl, Sunday’s have always had a special meaning. When you’re fortunate enough to grow up in a multi-cultural family, like myself, you are born into a world of some magnificent foods, and family traditions that stay with you for a lifetime. My only wish has always been to pass on those childhood memories, traditions, recipes, and for them to be replicated for generations to come. Today, I am going to take you on a journey on how I got to a place that I call…”Nana’s Sunday Pot of Love.”

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My dad was born, and raised in Puerto Rico, and he came to New York at the age of 16. My mother was born in Harlem, and her parents, (my grandparents) were Italian immigrants from Naples, Italy, who eventually settled in Mt. Vernon, New York. Me, an American, born, and raised into a family of Puerto Rican…

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Bacon, Baking, Donuts, Family, Foodporn, Grandchildren, Italian Traditions, Maple Syrup, Uncategorized

Doesn’t Everything Taste Better With Bacon?

During the Christmas holiday school break, my 11 year old grandson spent a few days with me, and he had Nana’s kitchen shaking, and baking for as many hours as he was awake. Once you see the pictures of him, you will understand why I continually ask…”Where does he put all of the food he consumes?” It’s amazing to me the amount of food he can put into his thin frame of a body, and by the end of Day 3, Nana told him, “I would need more than a job just to feed you alone or I might need to rob a bank to keep up with your appetite!(Only kidding!)

After a two day marathon of eating, between Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day, along with the holiday excitement, and late nights, I think the exhaustion finally caught up with him, and the day after Christmas he didn’t wake up until around 12:30pm….starving, of course! As usual, the ritual of a typical dialogue between the two of us began, “What do you have to eat, Nana?” As I ran down the endless list of things I could whip up for him, from bacon and eggs with home fries, to challah bread French toast to pancakes to homemade waffles…he proceeds to tell me about this video he watched. Two young guys, who make these Candy Bacon Maple Donuts. The animation in my grandson’s vioce, along with his facial expressions, had captivated this Nana’s undivided attention.

Honestly, though, my first thought, “Are you kidding me, buddy?”…DONUTS! Especially after a Nana marathon of cooking, for days, in preparation of our Italian traditional Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day feast of food! He excitedly ran to get my iPad to show me the YouTube video, “How to Make Candy Bacon Maple Donuts – Handle It” by Epic Meal Time. We watched the video, several times, me with disbelief, and him with pure excitement, and enthusiasm. After the third run through, he asked if I had all of the ingredients, and tools. Being a true Nana, who loves to cook, of course I did! He was so excited, and more surprised than anything else that his Nana had all of the ingredients in the house.

Nana’s kitchen got busy…out came the tools, a large, heavy Dutch oven, a whisk, a cooking thermometer, three mixing bowls, a knife, a slotted spoon, cutting board, baking pan, rolling pin, and a circular cookie cutter. Then the ingredients…cooking oil, flour, bacon, brown sugar, baking soda, vanilla, white vinegar, maple syrup, cinnamon, salt, confectionary sugar, milk, heavy cream, shortening (butter), and pure cane sugar. As I pulled out all of the tools, and ingredients, there was this priceless grin on his face, from ear to ear. One that would capture any Nana’s heart, and we were actually going to make donuts!

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This was my first time making donuts, and to my amazement with all the flour flying, oil heating up, bacon being candied, the glaze coming together…it smelled ridiculously delicious in Nana’s kitchen! Honestly now…doesn’t everything taste better with bacon? If you take bacon, and slather it with brown sugar, cinnamon, and bake it in the oven until it is all gooey, and sticky, the aroma in the house is indescribable, and then you cool it in the refrigerator until it hardens like a candy…are you feeling me, yet? It was off the chart delicious!

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As you will see, he enjoyed every moment of rolling that dough, cutting out donuts, and the donut holes, which by the way we fried up those donut holes, too, and dipped them in the maple glaze. They were our taste test, and there was only one word to describe the donut holes dipped in the maple glaze…yum! He tells Nana, “The best donuts I ever had!” I was amazed how easy they were to make, how they puffed up when they hit the oil, and they were cooked to perfection, I might add.

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Once they were done, and cooled down, we chopped up the candied bacon, the maple glaze was ready to go, and my grandson formed an assembly line of all of the completed items. He dipped each cooled donut into the maple glaze, and then carefully placed them on a serving dish because he absolutely gets, and understands presentation is key. After he dipped, and coated each donut with the maple glaze, with complete precision, he covered each donut with the candied bacon. Once completed, the real taste test began, and there were barely any words being spoken, just a lot of humming….mmmmmmm!

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The end result, I applaud the two gentlemen in the video, and my sous chef of a grandson for a job well done, and to quote my grandson, again….”The best donuts I ever had!”, which made the clean-up, and the flour everywhere, along with a sticky, small disaster in my kitchen, well worth it just to see the huge smile on his face!

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If you are anywhere as structured as I am with cooking or baking, pausing the video with each step, can interrupt the creative process. While the video is quite entertaining, and I do recommend watching it, I took the liberty of writing down the recipe for future use.

Tools

3 mixing bowls

Baking sheet

Large, heavy deep pot for frying

Frying thermometer (recommended)

Cutting board

Slotted spoon

Tongs

Rolling pin

Chef knife

Large circular cookie cutter or a plastic container

Small cylinder cookie cutter or a small bottle cap

Whisk (my addition)

Candied Bacon

1 lb bacon

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup cinnamon

Mix the brown sugar, and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Lay the strips of bacon on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil (easier clean up) or use a throw away aluminum pan. Gently, and generously apply half of the brown sugar mixture to one side of the bacon, and bake in a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes. Flip the bacon, and reapply the remainder of the brown sugar mixture, and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes. Remove the bacon, immediately, from the cookie sheet to a plate, and place in the refrigerator to cool completely. Once cooled, chop the bacon into small bits, and set aside.

Maple Glaze

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 cups confectionary sugar

1/3 cup maple syrup

Pinch of salt

Using a whisk, mix all of the ingredients, in a bowl, until thickened, and smooth. Set aside until you are ready to glaze the donuts.

Donuts

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup milk

1 egg

1/2 tsp vanilla

2 tbsp shortening or unsalted butter (softened)

2 tbsp white vinegar

1/2 cup sugar

4 cups cooking oil for frying

Mix the milk, egg, vanilla, shortening or unsalted butter (I used butter), and white vinegar, together in a bowl, add the sugar, mix well, and set aside. Mix the flour, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture. Once the dough forms, knead on a lightly, floured surfaced. Let the dough rest in a bowl for 10 minutes.

Flour the working surface, and roll out the dough to about 1/3 of an inch thickness. Cut the dough with a large round cookie cutter or round plastic container. Lift the donuts circles, and set aside on a lightly floured surface. Recombine the excess dough, and repeat the process to make more large circles rounds. Use a small cylinder or bottle cap to cut a hole in the middle of each donut. Save the small circles to make the donut holes.

Heat the cooking oil in large, heavy deep pot, over medium heat, until a frying thermometer reads 375 degrees. Carefully place a few donuts at a time (3 – 4 donuts) into the hot oil. Do not overcrowd. Cook until the donuts are golden brown on one side, and carefully flip them over, once, with a slotted spoon (1-2 minutes total time). Remove the cooked donuts with tongs or a slotted spoon, and place the donuts on a plate lined with paper towels.

Cool the donuts for 10 minutes. Dip one side of each donut into the maple glaze, and allow the excess to drip off. Place the glazed donut on a serving plate, and apply the candy bacon to the top of each donut. Ready to serve, and eat!

NOTE: Carefully place the small saved circles of dough (donut holes), with the slotted spoon, into the hot oil, and fry until golden brown (about 30 to 45 seconds). Drain, and cool on paper towels. Dip the donut holes into the maple glaze. Pop in your mouth!

Donuts! Enjoy!

Believe, Dreams, Food, Foodporn, Italian Traditions, Life, Uncategorized

What Am I Really Suppose To Be Doing With My Life?

I don’t believe there isn’t a one of us that hasn’t dreamt of life being anything less than a smooth ride, and I am no exception. For the past year, I have found myself pondering more, and more about finding my true life purpose, how it would be possible for me to fulfill, and live my life passion, and share it with the world, along with making a difference. There were many days over the last year or more, where my life appeared completely uncertain, confusing, in a disarray, and I just couldn’t sort through the chatter in my head to make any sense of it all. The chatter consumed me, and more often than not it made me completely immobilized. I was scared, alone, and I couldn’t see through the darkness.

To add to my angst, six months ago, I lost my job, and today, I am amongst the millions of other Americans, who are unemployed. During these past months, I have applied to nearly 300 jobs in corporate America, with the hopes of being gainfully employed by year end. I posted my resume, and joined every job seeker website out there. After about a month or so, I was approach by a reputable site, who convinced me to have my resume revamped by a professional resume writer, who would gear it towards my dream job. Every day I spent hours at my desk, searching every employment site imaginable looking for a job. It’s a good thing that over the years, I have developed very strong shoulders because with the continuous flow of rejection letters…they just don’t seem to sting as much as they use too.

Knowing my reputation proceeded me in my former industry, I reached out to every resource available, including former colleagues with pleas for help with any type of introduction, guidance, support, and recommendations. Their quick responses, along with their call to action, and their encouragement were all overwhelming. I felt fortunate, and blessed to have crossed paths with such an amazing group of individuals, who continue to check in on me, and offer additional advise, and suggestions. Unfortunately, to date, any referrals have not panned out but I remained hopeful.

As the days passed, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands, and as humans when this happens a lot of thinking transpires. Some not so healthy, and other times some turned into inspirational thinking. All I wanted was to see clearly, and being such a structured person with very little patience…I needed direction, and answers, today, not tomorrow or next week or next month, but today. I found myself reading more, and more, learning things about myself, and really digging deep with trying to figure out if my life passion could anyway possible come to fusion.

Some of the most disconcerting times, and utter disappointment was the lack of support from a good portion of those close to me. I found myself getting more encouragement from friends, and colleagues on how to make things happen, and how important it was for me to believe in myself, and my abilities. I’m sure most of you are aware of Kid President and his mission to make the world a better place. While reading an article, today, they listed just a few of his thoughts that people should be saying every day. I thought how simplistic, and why is it that I wasn’t hearing these things from those that I dearly wanted to support my dreams, and vision.

  • “Everything is going to be okay.”
  • “You are awesome.”
  • “You can do it.”
  • “Hello…here’s a high-five.”
  • “I forgive you.”
  • “Thank you.”

Then I realized it wasn’t about anybody else, it was about me, and me believing in my passion, and my dream. I thought about what I learned, “What you think, and what you believe is what will come true in your life.” Our thoughts create our life…it’s purely that simple, and when we overcome the self-doubt, release the enormous barriers in our life, and make conscious choices that we understand, and accept them, things start to evolve. You begin to create your very own road map of your vision, step by step, and your instincts come into play. Either it feels right or it doesn’t, and when it feels right, you begin to understand this is your life, you start to take full responsibility, and start to believe you deserve the best life, and you begin to express the gratitude for all the good in your life.

I have been following Deepak Chopra for some time now, and when I listen to him there is such a sense of calmness that overcomes me, and he has helped me develop this sense of awareness about myself that seems freeing. Some might laugh but I truly don’t care…remember, it’s about me, and if it feels good, and stirs enthusiasm in my life…how could it ever be wrong. One thing I know for sure, I want to be excited about what I do every day, and I want to share my gifts, along with my passion with the world because I truly believe that’s how we achieve joy, and abundance in our lives.

Chopra teaches that we all have a calling in life that is as unique as our fingerprint, and it’s that calling that will lead us to our passion. When we find something that we are truly passionate about it feels like our breathing is so natural, and effortless. I discovered, a long time ago, what ignites my passion, and lights me up, and I found a way to share it with others. Cooking has always been a love, and passion of mine. I throw my heart, and soul into it, and it all comes through in the taste, and presentation of all my food.

After a long year of contemplating a business venture, I am finally listening to my intuitive inner voice, and I am pursuing my life passion, and dream. I believe my vast business knowledge, wisdom, along with my level of confidence, and comfort in the kitchen, and my creative ideas are all possessions I am eagerly willing to share. I am a firm believer that taste, along with presentation are the fundamentals with awakening an eclectic palate. I hosted this past Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day, and the responses to my food, and presentation just solidified for me…this is what I am suppose to be doing with my life.

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christmas20134Christmas Eve Table Setting

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As I enter, 2014, I believe that honoring my life’s true purpose, and passion will lead me on a path of pure happiness, and success. I look forward to sharing my passion with many of you.

Happy New Year and may 2014 be filled with good health, hope, love, abundance, gratitude and promise.

Uncategorized

Feast of the Seven Fishes

Simply Deborah

“What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace.” ~ Agnes M Pharo

Christmas is such a magical time of year, and to the Italians, La Vigilia di Natale (Christmas Eve) is considered the most magical, and joyful night of the year. Italians share a rich culture, a love of food, along with strong religious, and family values. Holiday meals have always been an essential part of my multi-cultural heritage, and while every culture has its own traditions, I am not sure any other culture celebrates any tradition with more passion than the Italians. As far back as I can remember, and till this day, Christmas Eve has always been a special time for my family, and…

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Christmas Eve, Feast of the Seven Fishes, Foodporn, Italian Traditions, Uncategorized

Feast of the Seven Fishes

“What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace.” ~ Agnes M Pharo

Christmas is such a magical time of year, and to the Italians, La Vigilia di Natale (Christmas Eve) is considered the most magical, and joyful night of the year. Italians share a rich culture, a love of food, along with strong religious, and family values. Holiday meals have always been an essential part of my multi-cultural heritage, and while every culture has its own traditions, I am not sure any other culture celebrates any tradition with more passion than the Italians. As far back as I can remember, and till this day, Christmas Eve has always been a special time for my family, and friends to gather together to celebrate, reminisce about the past, create memories, and share a delicious meal.

Growing up in a Hispanic and Italian-American family, it was the Italian-American culture that dominated our celebration with the traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner, always to be known as the Feast of the Seven Fishes, (Festa dei Sette Pesci). A meal without meat honoring the midnight birth of baby Jesus. It is by far, my favorite holiday of all, and if you come from an Italian-American family, you are more than likely familiar with the tradition, and its history. If not, allow me to take you on a small journey of its rich Italian history.

The exact origin of this tradition is somewhat arguable, however, history states it’s a custom that originated in Southern Italy, which spread throughout Italy, and around the world.  Others believe it originated with the first Italian immigrants to the New World as a way to celebrate the bounty of the New World. Italians and Italian-Americans alike still celebrate this old-world custom that has been handed down from generation to generation, and in my home, it’s an Italian traditional feast to be remembered, and cherished for many years to come. Just ask anyone that has sat at my Christmas Eve table!

Some may ask why seven fishes? There are several religious philosophies that support the early stages of this symbolic feast but the most common belief is that the seven fishes represent the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church. However, some Italian-American families have been known to celebrate with not only seven fishes but twelve, and even thirteen different types of seafood dishes. While seven may represent the number of the Catholic sacraments, twelve is believed to represent the number of Apostles, and together with Jesus, made a table of thirteen, at the last supper. Whatever the number is, the meal is believed to bring buona fortuna (good fortune) in the New Year. For me, the tradition has always been about family, the abundance, and the variety, as much as being fortunate, and extremely blessed.

There are no rules as to which types of fish are served. However, some of the most popular that have been known to be eaten on this special holiday are prepared versions of calamari, baccalà (salted cod fish), oysters, scallops, eel, clams, and shrimp. The feast always begins with antipasto, and on a typical Napolitano table, this would include broccoli rabe, anchovies, vermicelli with garlic and oil, clams, fried eel, cheeses, eggplant caponata, followed by other fish dishes, and the dinner portion of the meal is typically wrapped up with a caponate di pesce (fish salad). The meal always ended with dessert, which included many mouthwatering, and different types of traditional dolci, such as Panettone, Struffoli, Zeppole, along with assorted fruit, and nuts. After the meal, many Italians attend the traditional Christmas Eve midnight mass. Some also may simply uncover the small baby Jesus figurine in the manger of their Presepe (Nativity scene), in their home, and pray. After midnight, many would celebrate the birth of Jesus with sparkling, and bubbly Spumante or Prosecco, and then open the presents. The moment every child anxiously waited for.

My childhood memories of Christmas Eve were always spent at my aunt’s house (my mother’s younger sister). I have such fond memories of those Christmas Eve’s spent in her home, and this is where it all began for me with learning how to cook the most treasured Christmas Eve traditional seafood dishes, from my Aunt Fanny (Philomena). She was a phenomenal cook, who spent days prepping, and preparing the feast, and everything that emerged from her stove or oven to the dining room table were wonderful dishes, and absolutely delicious. Her Christmas Eve table was always filled with seafood dishes such as, clams on the half shell, fried shrimp, shrimp cocktail, baccalà, fried flounder, stuffed calamari, and a sauce filled with all types fish, from shrimp, mussels, lobster, and calamari, which was served over linguine. I always remember, it was a given that a gallon of Gallo Burgundy wine, a bottle of cream soda was set between my Uncle John and Dad, who each Christmas would mix a tall glass of both with ice, and they would share a holiday drink, together.

Their home always felt warm, welcoming, along with being decorated beautifully, and the fireplace always added an extra touch of warmth to the atmosphere. Hours, prior to midnight, were spent eating, the adults playing cards while the children played, and who also waited with much anticipation for Aunt Fanny’s grandfather clock to make that chime sound as it struck the midnight hour, which always prompted a celebration, the opening of presents, and believe it or not, more eating. Magically, my aunt would appear from the kitchen with a tray of Italian delicacies, which now included cured meats, hams, roasted chicken, and more, and the eating began all over again. You never left Aunt Fanny’s and Uncle John’s house until well after midnight, and it was a given that my sisters and I, always fell fast asleep on the ride home, which was only from one side of Mt Vernon to the other.

It’s those Italian family traditions that I have learned from, which I continue, today, with hopes of them being passed on to my children, and grandchildren. In today’s economy, the traditional meal has become an expensive meal to put on the table, and some tend to believe it is a lot of work (and it is) but for me, a traditional Italian Christmas Eve meal is a given, no questions asked, and an important family gathering, in my home. I will make whatever sacrifices I need to ensure it is nothing less than the standards, and expectations that have been instilled in me since I was a child.

It takes days, and weeks to prepare for, from decorating, to baking, to cleaning fish, prepping, and preparing, along with cooking it all but with everything that goes into it, I wouldn’t change a thing. I have been hosting, and preparing the Feast of the Seven Fishes for as long as I can remember, and it’s a holiday where I am in my zone of complete peace, joy, bliss, creativity, and contentment. There is such an excitement that fills my heart, and it brings me such a sense of pride, love, and without a doubt, a day of unconditional giving to my family. I don’t believe there is one member of my family that doesn’t have a great anticipation, and appreciation of Nana’s Christmas Eve, and my Feast of the Seven Fishes meal.

While the menu has slightly changed over the years, for the most part, some dishes will just never change, and are an absolute giving that they with be on my Christmas Eve menu. First the table, and anyone who knows me, it changes every year, and it is most certainly a focal point, and a “wow” factor, as I am a firm believer presentation is everything, and it starts with your table. This year’s table will be spectacular, and you will have to wait, and see but here is a glimpse of last year’s table.

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The meal begins with antipasto, and some staples are my famous Onion Focaccia Bread, and Pizza Bread, along with Broccoli Rabe, Eggplant Caponata, Little Neck Clams on the half shell, Shrimp Cocktail, Mini Crab Cakes, Mussels with White Wine and Garlic, and my famous Scungilli Salad, which a dear friend always says, “It is by far the best I ever had!” A Baccalà Salad or a baccalà stew with potatoes in a tomato sauce were always a staple on my table until the passing of both of my parents. It remained on my table as a symbolic remembrance of their presence for many years but always wound up being thrown away so I discontinued making it. Christmas Eve was their favorite holiday, and while their presence is sorely missed at my table, it’s the fond memories of Christmas Eve’s of the past that brings a sense of peace to my heart, and a smile to my face.

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Onion Focaccia Bread

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Pizza Bread

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Broccoli Rabe

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Eggplant Caponata

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Little Neck Clams

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Shrimp Cocktail

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Mini Crab Cakes

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Mussels with White Wine and Garlic

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Scungilli Salad

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Baccalà Salad

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Baccalà Stew with Potatoes and Calamata Olives

The second course is always Zuppe di Pesce, which can vary each year, however, for the most part, includes Shrimp, Calamari, and occasionally, Lobster, and is served over linguine. This Christmas Eve, it will include Shrimp, Little Neck Clams, Calamari, and Mussels.

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Zuppe di Pesce over Linguine

The last course, is an array of several fish dishes, which includes Stuffed Calamari in a red sauce, Fried Filet of Grey Sole, Fried Shrimp, and steamed Alaskan King Crab Legs. However, as of last year, the Alaskan King Crab Legs have been removed, and are now a New Year’s Eve meal with Filet Mignon. For Christmas Eve, they have been replaced with Steamed Lobsters. Lastly, there are my ultimate Baked Clams, and rarely are there less than eighty of them on my table. Every year, there is a contest as to who can eat the most baked clams, and one of my sisters always wins, with my son coming in as a close second. Ironically, my sister is the smallest of all the women, and we are not quite sure where she puts all the food she consumes.

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Stuffed Calamari

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Fried Fillet of Grey Sole and Fried Shrimp

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Alaskan King Crab Legs

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Steamed Lobster

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Baked Clams

The meal always ends with dessert, which includes trays of baked Christmas cookies, Struffoli, Zeppoles, Pizzelle (made by daughter in law), and it’s a given that a special surprise dessert is whipped up by Nana. I haven’t decided yet but it could be a Chocolate Cheesecake, Pumpkin Mousse Parfait, Chocolate Truffle Cups, or Mini Lemon Curd Meringue Pies. Whatever it is, it will be a surprise, and most certainly, delicious.

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Cocoa Thumbprints and Apricot and Raspberry Thumbprints

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Tarralles, Double Chocolate Chips and Chocolate Chips

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Arugula, Chocolate Biscotti, Hazelnut and Anise Biscotti and Walnut Snowballs

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Struffoli

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Zeppoles

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Pizzelle

The evening comes to an end, when you finally give in to that relentless question that has been asked by each of the six children, at least every 30 minutes or so since they arrived, “Is it time to open presents?” And the mayhem begins…wrapping paper, Christmas bags, tissue paper, and boxes are flying everywhere. The shrills, and gasps of excitement are heard throughout the house. No matter how hard you try, the excitement is something that you can’t control but the joy it brings to watch this in action is one that you never want to miss nor one that you will ever forget. While the excitement of presents is important to all of them, there isn’t a one of them, if you asked, that couldn’t tell you the true meaning of Christmas, including the youngest, my 4 year old nephews. It’s all about the celebration, the miracle, the blessings, and the birth of baby Jesus.

However you celebrate the miracles of the season, I hope each of you are surrounded by the love of your families and friends, and may the spirit of Christmas fill your heart with peace, joy, and hope for the New Year.

Buon Natale e felice anno nuovo!

Baking, Christmas, Foodporn, Italian Traditions, Uncategorized

Baking Christmas Cookies…Italian Style

“Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about? ~ Charlie Brown

Christmas is most certainly about the birth of Jesus, and the baking of Christmas cookies! Some of my earliest memories of Christmas cookie baking are with the same great Italian home cooks, who I learned my culinary skills from. During the days, and weeks before Christmas, as each tray of cookie came out of the oven, their kitchens were filled with magnificent smells of cinnamon, spice, and everything nice. They produced so many cookies during the Christmas season, and each one was made with such patience, attentiveness, and it appeared effortless for everyone of them that I watched, and learned from. There was such precision with each cookie they baked, and as an assistant, it was important to quickly learn how to apply the final touches with exact detail, and not to ever overdo any of it.

I have always said baking is pure science, and they each had baking mastered. While each ingredient was measured, precisely, they had a gift of visually knowing how the look, feel, and texture of the batter or dough should be. This was a telling sign as to whether the end results would be wonderful, and if there were any doubts, adjustments were made accordingly, to ensure they were always wonderful, and they always were.

If you are a baker, and Italian, no less, you know Christmas cookie baking is serious business, and once all the baking is finished, the cookies are either boxed or plated, wrapped nicely with clear cellophane, tied with a pretty ribbon, and then they are given, proudly, to family, and friends as a loving gesture of the Christmas season. Over the years, I have somewhat perfected my baking skills, and learned parchment paper is a gift from the “baking gods”, and yet, there are still some days where a batch may be thrown in the trash. Everyone has a bad day…even eggs, butter, flour, and myself. For me, it’s not only the baking that needs to be perfect but also the presentation, and I spend a lot of time looking for the right packaging (to make it an even more special presentation) to place them in before giving my cookies away as gifts. The boxes are lined with pretty Christmas tissue paper, to protect, and secure the cookies during transport.

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My children grew up with the tradition of watching the baking frenzy of myself, their aunts and grandmother. Today, my daughter is carrying on those traditions with my grandchildren, who look forward to baking Christmas cookies every year. There are so many great memories of us baking all together, and more often than not, there would be more flour on a grandchild than the counter or bowl. I must say my daughter has much more patience than myself with flour being everywhere, and it’s that same patience that comes through with her making my granddaughter’s favorite…Rainbow Cookies. I say, very proudly, she makes them with such precision, and love, and it’s that love that comes through in every bite.

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First up, Biscotti…whether they are plain hazelnut or a chocolate hazelnut biscotti, with a hint of anise, they are a great cookie to have for breakfast with your coffee or an espresso or for dessert with wine. Dipping is truly a biscotti’s purpose.

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This next cookie, I will give you the English version because while I know how to say it in Italian (well, what I think is Italian), I am not sure how to spell it…Italian Lemon Cookies. They are made either in a knot or round, and are topped with a delicate flavored lemon icing, and sprinkles. They are absolutely one of my favorites, and a recipe I have had for a long time on a scrap piece of paper. My daughter laughs at the recipe directions, 5 – 6 cups of flour, and she asks, “Who gives recipe directions like that?” I laugh and say, “Nanny and I do!” Again, it goes back to the look, and the way the dough feels. Sometimes it requires 5 cups of flour, and sometimes it requires 6…it depends on the dough’s mood. I think the entire family has a passion for this cookie, and the harder it gets over the course of days, the better…just dip them in your coffee. Yum! I also have another version of this recipe that includes sour cream. It is a much softer, and a more delicate cookie but just as delicious.

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Up next is probably one of the easiest cookies to make, and there is actually a story behind their history in my recipe file. Many years ago, I was in a full, authentic Italian deli, and sitting on display for the customers to taste were these cookies called Arugula (not Rugelach, which is a Jewish version), and while I stood there, I nibbled on one or two. They were delicious, and were made by the owner’s wife. I purchased a small tray, and on went my mad scientist hat to figure out how she made these delicate, tasty pastry delights. So I proudly call it my very own recipe or version of Arugula, which is made with pastry, apple butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, walnuts, baked, and dusted with powder sugar.

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Walnut Snowballs…interestingly enough, I found this recipe in a magazine at a doctor’s office (back in the early ’90’s), and up until last year, I still had the tattered magazine page. I finally transferred all of my recipes to my desktop. Over the years, I changed the recipe up just a little bit, and it’s a given with every year since the first, a double batch is a must. It’s pretty hard to pop just one of these treasures in your mouth. Years ago, one thing my daughter, and I, learned rather quickly, my grandson, who suffers from a nut allergy, couldn’t touch the dough or be in the same room when we are making these cookies or any nut cookie, for that matter…his eyes would get watery, and then turn red. I can remember him as a little boy, when the tray of Christmas cookies were placed on the table, there would always be someone jumping up to say, “No, you can’t eat that one…they have nuts!” He eventually learned, pointed to each cookie, and asked if there were nuts. As he got older, and began to have an opinion, he asked why there had to be nuts in so many Christmas cookies. We didn’t really have an answer, except, “There just is.” Luckily for him, there are so many others that turned into his favorites, and with him being a chocoholic, I always manage to add more chocolate cookies just for him.

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I make two versions of the thumb print cookie, Apricot and Raspberry Thumbprints, and Chocolate Thumbprints filled with Christmas colors and goodies for the kids. So for the health conscious reading this, yes, there is a lot of butter in these, and many other cookies but again, moderation is key, along with discipline.

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How can you have Christmas cookies without the famous Chocolate Chip Cookie for Santa? It just wouldn’t be Christmas without them. As far back as I can remember, there was always a plate of chocolate chip cookies left out for Santa, along with a tall glass of milk. I have now added a new addition, which is Double Chocolate Chips Cookies…..oh, yes, another cookie you can’t eat just one of.

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The last two Italian Christmas treasures were actually off my Christmas cookie list for a number of years, and reappeared last Christmas. The Pignoli, with that almond flavor, a light, and airy dough, along with a hint of honey. I learned quickly the key is pressing the pignoli (pine nuts) into each cookie, securely, otherwise, they will start popping all over the oven while they are baking.

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What can I say about Struffoli? Just like most Italian families, Struffoli’s are ingrained into the history of my Italian family. I have such childhood into adulthood memories of these delicate, honey drenched, small balls of lightly, fried dough. They most certainly are labor intensive. The size needs to be precise. They use a lot of oil, and a fair amount of honey. You need to be quick with them, and they need to be watched, carefully, to not burn. Lastly, plating, and presenting the Struffoli can be tricky, and very sticky!

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Lastly, a new addition to my Christmas baking list, not a cookie but a candy…Peppermint Bark. The layers of melted semi-sweet chocolate, and vanilla bean white chocolate topped with crushed peppermint candy canes, not only satisfies a sweet tooth but it adds a little festivity to your dessert table.

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While most Christmas cookies have remained the same, some have changed but one thing is certain that will never change…it’s family time in the kitchen, uninterrupted, and with Christmas music playing. Add the sprinkle of laughter, along with a handful of family stories, and a cup of patience. Blend in the young ones excitement, and a pinch of baking experience, and just eat your mistakes with joy. Bake them with love, enjoy the Christmas miracles, and cherish the blessings of making Christmas memories for many, many years to come.

As always, in giving what I love, if you are interested in trying one of my creations, please feel free to contact me, directly, at divinedelectables@aol.com, and I will be more than happy to share any recipe that you choose.

Merry Christmas and Happy Baking!

Christmas, Tablescapes, Uncategorized

Holiday Tablescapes

With so much to do before the holidays, if you are hosting Christmas dinner, there is still the table setting, and the centerpiece to consider. There’s more to setting a table than knowing where the knives go. There’s your imagination, and creativity. When you add a pop of color or a special detail, suddenly, the holiday meal becomes a fun, festive, and elegant family gathering that is remembered, and talked about long after the fact.

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I have always believed we eat with our eyes, first. If the food, and the presentation are appealing to our eyes, we know it will be pleasing to our palate, and it’s the same with your table setting. Your table can be a perfect reflection of who you are. All it takes is a handful of personal, imaginative, and creative details. Maybe your personality is shimmery or festive or traditional or simply fun.

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Holiday gatherings, and dinner parties are an important part of the holiday season, and it’s the hustle, and bustle that sometimes make it difficult to create a beautiful holiday table setting. Believe it or not, you can still effortlessly decorate your table, and provide a festive mood to make your guests feel special, and it doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive.

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Over the years I have collected many items, and each Christmas I try to change it up or add something new. For me the table setting is not only the “wow” factor but it makes my guests feel welcomed, and special. Creative ideas can come from your own imagination or by observing what you see in stores or on the internet or in magazines. Someone once taught me the best ideas are sometimes the borrowed ideas. It doesn’t have to be an exact replication, just take the idea, run with it, and put your own twist on it. Take a risk but have fun with it, and don’t stress about it.

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It doesn’t have to be expensive either. Some of my greatest treasures were found at bargain prices. You just have to be willing to search, and put the time into it. I am from New York so I am not sure these stores are in everyone’s hometown but my greatest finds, and inexpensive at that, were found in Home Goods, Michael’s Arts and Crafts, and Pier 1. Look on the clearance racks, I always find treasures, and who doesn’t like a bargain. Use your imagination, and let your creativity flow. Lastly, Amazon is an amazing place to find some of the best deals, and speaking from my own personal experience, they provide the most outstanding customer service that I have ever experienced.

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Using an elegant or a cheery holiday table runner is equally easy, and it’s a high impact idea to update your Christmas table. Your table can be bold, or simply use a classic glass hurricane vase as a centerpiece all by itself. You can fill it with a colorful candle, nuts or pile it high with glass ornaments.

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Using a white rectangular plate makes a nice base for Christmas tree greens, and pears. They can be placed directly on the table or on a runner with the greens tucked under the fruit. You can use any greens, even from your own Christmas tree. If you don’t have or can’t find miniature Christmas balls, consider buying a bag of quality chocolate balls wrapped in pretty green, and silver foiled papers instead.

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What could be simpler than using a plate, lined up with peppermint scented votive candles, and surround them with peppermint candies. A nice elegant, warm touch, and one that is very inexpensive.

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Place settings can be very elegant, and more involved for those who are more creative or they can be as simple as using twine, tied around a sprig of rosemary, and place a simple, colorful glass Christmas ornament on the side to finish it off.

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Nothing could be simpler or more inexpensive, but yet warm, and welcoming than a serving dish lined with tea lights surrounded by fresh cranberries, and some Christmas tree greens.

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You can choose dinnerware, stemware, table linens, napkin rings, and centerpieces that have bold details, and are elegant at the same time. Don’t feel compelled to stick to certain styles…be creative, and make it more interesting by blending elements.

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Using tinted glassware, and brightly colored dinnerware, you can mix things up for a fun surprise. Table linens can be colorful, and anything that looks like it was discovered at an antique store or something from your grandmother’s attic will probably make a perfect table setting.

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When it’s time to set the table, remember to keep things cozy. Even the stemware can be casual. Picking up a simple, white set of matching dinnerware, along with simple linens is all it takes for a great, classic place setting. The centerpiece can be as understated as a row of white candles,  and it can be even a little unexpected.

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In my growing family, we now have a children’s table, and as much detail, imagination, and creativity goes into creating their table, too. They love it, and they feel extremely special while they are sitting at their very own table. As a special gift, there is always something on the table that each of them can take home, and add to their own Christmas tree.

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Another thought or idea are place card holders. They add a special touch to your table, and can get the dinner conversation started, and after dinner, they make great gifts for your guests.

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I hope this holiday season, your home is filled with joy, and that you find the time to do the things you love with family, and friends. For me, each Christmas season is unique providing long standing family traditions, and making new memories of our own.  It is my favorite time of year, a time of creativity, gratitude, family, and joyous celebrations. And if you need help or advice with  planning or decorating your holiday table, I am only an email away at divinedelectables@aol.com.

Merry Christmas!

Awareness, Meditation, Thoughts, Uncategorized

Who Am I?

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

~ Mark Twain

Along with nearly 290,000 FaceBook followers, I participated in the 21-Day Meditation Experience, Desire and Destiny with Deepak and Oprah. My hope was that the journey would expand my knowledge, my awareness, provide me with the tools I needed with understanding my true self, and by the end I thought I would have clarity around the life I am meant to live…my destiny, and my life purpose. I wanted to learn, and understand how to connect with my soul, to cherish, and realize my desires in order for me to live my life to the fullest, and to make a difference in the lives I touched.

Go figure, Day 1, I was already stuck! As instructed, I closed my eyes, and I was directed to ask myself the question, “Who am I?” While I sat silently, with my eyes closed, breathing deeply, and trying to feel my soul’s deepest thoughts of who I am, I couldn’t find the words to answer this question…I struggled. I attempted to allow the quiet energy to rise inside of me, and I tried to figure out my intentions, and thoughts but my body, and mind were resistant. Fear took over, or I should say the ego, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to know who I am or more importantly, if I really even knew, who I am. I went through the 21 days never answering this question, and yesterday, I returned to listen to Day 1 all over again with the hopes of clarity.

As I went through my day, the question resonated in my head, and I thought about what I learned. I reread what I wrote down over, and over again…”Once we begin to understand who we are, we open the doors to infinite and abundant possibilities. Each of us has been put here for a purpose, and we each have a unique destiny. The only way that our destiny unfolds with complete clarity is when we are still enough to hear the whisper of our hearts desires. When we allow that quiet energy to rise within, it shapes our intentions, thoughts, and actions. Being aware, and in the present moment, and being open to walking the path, with complete confidence, and belief that with living each day with inspired passion, and abundance would connect you to your souls purpose.” Wow, this was huge for me but could it be that I am not present or connected to my soul to know who I am or still enough to hear my hearts whisper?

With every person I spoke with, they could hear the angst in my voice. I questioned my beliefs, and as the fear took over, and I began to second guess myself…my life choices, and my decisions (past and present). All I could think, “I just went through 21 days of a spiritual learning, and did I not absorb any of it?” Some of the dearest people in my life, listened, and attempted to talk me through it. The emotions were on overload, I was babbling, and at the end of the day, one dear friend said, “Deborah, always remember everyone puts their panties on the same way, one leg at a time. No one is better than you, and you just need to believe in yourself. Walk with the style, and grace that you have, along with the confidence that you exude. I don’t care if you cry your eyes out in the privacy of your own home while eating a pint of ice cream but when you go out that door, be the confident you that you know you are.” The intelligent side of my brain got it but the emotional side was still in the battle, and I couldn’t let go…I just hugged my pillow, prayed, and went to sleep.

When I awoke, I read, I listened more, and this is what I learned…when we have limited beliefs than it’s those life experiences we are given. Understanding that the path to wisdom, and knowledge is always open, and changing from I can’t to I can is critical in this life. Gaining the strength to release the past, awakening to the present, and taking action for a future we deserve is our absolute right. The more we understand how life works, and how thoughts work, the better our lives will be. Learning to change our thinking, will change our lives. Being aware, and paying attention, and knowing that what we say, is what we attract, and completely understanding each word we speak creates the life we live is enormous. Knowing how to stop this one is key, and conscious awareness is the only thing that will keep it out of our life. Anything you complain about repeatedly is something you have an unconscious intention to produce. Huge! We all have a tendency to talk about the things we don’t want versus the things we do want. We are all on a life journey, and if we live fairly unconsciously, life is just happening, and not being lived. When we finally get that we have so much more control over our life, and the experience of life…there is a no place more joyous.

Everyday is a new beginning, and with the help of another dear friend, I learned who I am…I am love. I know I give love freely. I don’t know how to live my life without love. Love exudes from me unconditionally, and love feels good for my soul. I know in fulfilling my dreams, attending to myself, and others from a place of generosity, and love, it is only then that I will have started my journey of listening to my deepest truths…my hearts whisper. I know I have to use every ounce of my being to continue to live with an abundant amount of consciousness, and to follow the calling of my heart, to create my destiny, and life purpose. As I travel this path of life, stillness will be important for me, along with capturing those moments in life with complete awareness, curiosity, and absolute unconditional love. On that path, I know I will find, and live my life purpose, my life desires, and my life destiny, along with peace, and joy because I am love.

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Baking, Food, Uncategorized

Baking and Life 101

With the holidays quickly approaching, and being currently unemployed, there are days I feel a great sense of freedom, and at the same time a lot of fear, and tremendous anxiety. Recently, I have been spending a lot of time meditating with the hopes of learning how to let go of my fears, and how to stay more in the moment, each, and every day. I am making every effort to focus on what I do want to flourish in my life, and to believe now is my time to fulfill my life’s passion, along with my heart’s deepest desires.

I am taking the time to learn, to really understand, and believe that every day brings me a gift to start over, and to truly learn who I am, and what do I want in this life. If we all could only find the time to stop, take a step back, and center ourselves, and connect with our true self, we can begin to appreciate the joy, and abundance in our lives. Once we pay attention to the joy, and abundance that surrounds us, they both begin to come effortlessly into our lives. I try every day to believe that with every life challenge I have been presented, they have been gifts (yes, at times, it’s hard to believe this), and understanding that with each challenge new doors will open, and lead me to my greatest destiny.

For me cooking is one of my life’s passions, and I find it to be a place where I am the most relaxed, creative, completely focused, and at peace. For the last two weeks, I put on my mad scientist baking hat, I turned my kitchen into a testing kitchen, and I must say, with great pride, the delicacies coming out of my kitchen have been getting rave reviews from my top critics, my grandchildren. Oh, and trust me, if they don’t enjoy something, there is no hesitation in telling their Nana the brutal honest truth (I think they learned that from me). I have said this many times before baking is pure science, and deviating from a recipe is a risk, and I have been known to be a risk taker many times over. While I follow most recipes to the letter of the law, I am compelled to put my own signature twist on most, if not, all recipes, and then, and only then, is it called mine. I have also dabbled in making my own well thought out creations, and my top critics have yet to be completely disappointed.

I have been testing some dessert recipes, in preparation of the upcoming holidays, and with hosting Thanksgiving, this year, I was looking to incorporate a new dessert onto the menu. But by popular demand, the standards (apple pie, pumpkin pie, chocolate cream pie…boring!), which are good old American Thanksgiving staples, will remain on Nana’s menu. However, it’s a given there will always be a surprise…a decadent new, and different delicacy on my table. With my testing complete, I share with you some new creations, with Nana’s spin on them, and each of them have been added to my recipe file.

Naturally, with it being Thanksgiving something had to be made with pumpkin. First up, the Pumpkin Snickerdoodles drizzled with Dulce de Leche. They were by far one of the easiest cookies I have made, with the exception of the Dulce de Leche sauce, which took nearly 3 ½ hours to make. While there are very few ingredients involved in the recipe (whole milk, sugar, vanilla, baking soda, and my own twists), patience, and a lot of love went into making this decadent sauce, and it had everyone humming with each bite of a cookie. Ironically, with all of the effort, and time, you end up with just about a cup of the Dulce de Leche, which is pure lusciousness. A small helpful hint, I would suggest the last 30 minutes or so be spent carefully watching the cooking process. The last thing you want to do is waste hours of your time, and love, and end up with a lumpy sauce or a burnt one, no less, versus a silky, shiny cup of creamy delicious sweetness.

These cookies received rave reviews from my grandchildren…one granddaughter asked me where I bought them (utmost compliment), and my grandson licked the Dulce de Leche off each cookie before he ate them. My oldest granddaughter begged me to take them out of her house, and my daughter wanted to hurt me for bringing the entire batch over. And the method to my madness…if I didn’t, Nana might of ate them all, and anyone that really knows me, knows I prefer food over dessert but these were just too hard to resist…even for me!

dulce2

dulce1

Next up, French macarons, not macaroons, but macarons. I must admit, these were a challenge, time consuming, and a very detailed, delicate cookie that must be made with such precision, and handled with extreme care…yup, that’s why the French are masters at baking. Seriously, the passion, love, and precision that goes into making these treasures is the reason I have a new found respect for pastry chefs, who have mastered the art of macarons. With all of that said, my first attempt, while it turned out very few, they were incredibly light, airy, and decadent. The Eggnog Macarons were laced with a cinnamon, and nutmeg spiced buttercream. I must admit, out of a dozen, I ended up with four macarons. They are extremely delicate, and must be handled so gently when you add the buttercream…they shatter very easily. This was also my first attempt at buttercream, and after following the recipe to a tee, the first batch went straight into the trash. In making the second batch, it required me to put on my mad scientist hat, I got creative, and ended up with the most delicious buttercream that included a warm subtle hint of nutmeg, and cinnamon. My granddaughter told me they reminded her of a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte.

The second batch, Chocolate Macarons filled with Chocolate Ganache were much more successful. However, I learned very quickly that over mixing the meringue produces a flatter, and larger cookie. Chocolate ganache is pretty much a staple in my house, and while I have the recipe down to a science, you still need to be very careful with the chocolate, and that it is tempered correctly. Again, these were just as time consuming, as you must wait for each process to be completely cooled before proceeding with the next steps. In the end, they turned out magnificent, and along with the Eggnog Macarons, they were removed from my home very quickly.

Lessons learned with macarons…do not over mix the dry ingredients into the meringue, sifting of all dry ingredients is a must (especially the finely ground almonds), completely cooling the macarons before filling is essential, and eating the finished cookie the next day (as recommended) proved them to be a more decadent cookie. Lastly, the most helpful hint that I learned…they all must be the same size, and for the novice baker to ensure they are, making a template of precise circles, drawing them on parchment paper, and placing it on its reverse side on a cookie sheet, and then piping the meringue inside each circle…brilliant!

macaron

Lastly, there are the Chocolate Truffle Cups, which I proudly claim as a pure creation of my very own, and one of the most decadent, irresistible little morsels I have ever made. The cups are made with wonton wrappers, and are filled with this incredible chocolate truffle that has a slight creamy texture, along with a note of bitter chocolate, and yet, they will satisfy any sweet tooth. They were topped or dusted with a mixture of cocoa powder, and cinnamon, along with a sprinkle of mini chocolate chips, or a cookie and cream crumble or my favorite, chopped pistachios, and sea salt. Again, rave reviews, and after posting a picture of these on my Facebook page, one comment stated, “Moving in. I won’t bring much. Just some elastic-waist pants.” Another said, “They look delicious!!” and another, “I want one of each!” Well, that “one of each” got the surprise of a lifetime, and the next day, I personally delivered a container filled with more than just “one of each” to a person I hadn’t seen in over 40 years. The element of surprise, along with someone’s flattering reaction to your food is by far one of the greatest compliments you can ever receive.

trufflecups2
Returning to where I began, I recently heard these words through my meditation exercises, “It is our birthright as human beings to receive infinite gifts from the universe. We are all here to fulfill our life purpose in this world…a life lived with passion, intention, and fulfillment.” Maybe it’s time for me to be in the present moment, and aware, and in doing so, maybe it’s time for different choices. Maybe my purpose is to bring the world joy, and abundance through my food. There is always a lot of maybe’s but what I do know for sure is my passion for cooking, and sharing my delicious food is a burning desire in my soul, and I strongly believe my dreams are not out of my reach. They say, “When we do what we love, and give freely of ourselves, what we offer comes back to us in ways far beyond our imagination.”

In giving what I love, if you are interested in trying one of my creations, please feel free to contact me, directly, at divinedelectables@aol.com, and I will be more than happy to share any recipe that you choose…freely.

Namaste

Dating, Relationships, Thoughts, Uncategorized

Distant Dreamer

After being single for many years since my divorce, I believe the years of dating, along with several long-term relationships in between, have all provided me with some fond memories, some heartaches, a wealth of knowledge and some regrets but very few. As you get older, the dynamics change completely in the dating arena. Who would ever believe that grown adults still play games, especially at my age, and the competition is fierce. A lot of men in their 50’s and 60’s are still looking for their Twinkie and some desperate women make the dating scene more difficult and challenging than it needs to be. There have been many clowns who have crossed my path, some moved on rather quickly and others stayed longer than necessary. Today, my famous words are, “I am done with the clowns and the circus is closed.” I sometimes think I am just not good at this dating thing nor do I have the patience for the nonsense or the time for playing games. Not at this time of my life and now I open myself up to a new world, fully exposed but still filled with hope and yes, I am a distant dreamer.

Not being a bar stool girl, I turned to online dating for a period of time. Oh, yes, I did. Every online dating site provides you with the hope and the fairy tale story of a lasting relationship that could potentially turn into a longer lasting relationship to possibly marriage. Some promise more dates, more relationships and more marriages than any other dating site. Others proclaim they deliver more than just dates that their patented compatibility matching system narrows the field from thousands of single men or women, to match you with a highly select group of compatible singles and they claim it to be a scientific predictor for long-term relationship success. Really? I will not argue the fact that many have found love in cyberspace but for me, it has been a ride, an adventure and a novel in the making. I consider myself to be a fairly stable, intelligent woman with style and grace and yet, sometimes still a little naïve and stupid because I believe in love, after love.

Before I considered online dating, there was a lot of fear that came with taking it into consideration. I thought about my past experiences with men and the variation of characters. What could be left for me to meet? With my luck, potentially a mass murderer! But I jumped into the pool, treading water lightly, with little to no expectations (well, I thought I had none) and a lot of careful thinking, along with a little creativity and wit that went into writing my profile. However, every word of it was honest, as were the pictures and it gave an accurate description as to what kind of man and relationship I was looking for. Really, how much more unromantic could it possibly get? But I took the plunge.

I have joked many times with friends about having 12,000 hits to my profile and less than a handful of potential suitors have gotten past a wink. The stories are endless. Some are extremely hilarious. Others are out right unbelievable and bizarre. Stuff you just can’t make up. The experience left me with a lot of questions, somewhat discouraged and disheartened. Are there any gentleman left in this world? Why is everyone on the hunt? Where in my profile did it say I was easy and desperate? I came to the conclusion, most men and women included, just look at the pictures and the art of reading is a thing of the past because clearly if a man had read my entire profile, he would have completely understood what I was looking for. Unless he was a complete illiterate.

Maybe I trust and believe in honest, kind and loving qualities in people. Maybe I believe in integrity. Maybe I believe in romance. Maybe I believe in true love. Maybe I believe you truly can find your soul mate. Maybe I expect too much but I settled too many times in my lifetime and the settling days are over. I am no Twinkie, and if you’re looking for one, you’re searching in the wrong kitchen cabinet.

I am fairly attractive. I hold my own but at this stage of my life, it is utterly amazing to me how many men in my age range are looking for the much younger woman. I get the reason, I am not completely stupid. Maybe it’s a mid-life crisis or they want that eye candy on their arm. Maybe it’s an ego thing that they still have the it factor but fella’s after you move out of the bedroom and the effects of the blue pill have worn off, what do you really have in common with the Twinkie? Outside of sex and what size your wallet is, what can you possibly be talking about? Is it anywhere near an intelligent conversation? Don’t get me wrong, I believe true love can happen regardless of an age difference. I have witnessed it happen with many people who are close to me but it’s a rarity and when it does happen, it’s a special bond, love and complete connection.

If you’re committed to bachelorhood or being a bachelorette, then marriage or a true long-lasting relationship are not for you. When things and life are centered on you and only you, you are incapable of being a unit of two. Honestly, that’s okay if it works for you but say that in your profile. Be clear and upfront. Set the ground rules and the expectations from the start, than no one can say you weren’t honest or that you misrepresented your intentions.

I believe most woman want to see a man making an effort and well written and good grammar are important when you e-mail. Make it clear that you read and thought about her profile. If you don’t show her she is worth your time, she most certainly won’t think you are worth hers. And once you move into meeting each other, pick up the phone…what’s with all of the texting? Have people forgotten the art of conversation? My take on all the texting, anyone who uses texting as the only means of communication, leads me to believe that they have something to hide or its pure laziness or they may have social skill issues. For me, I want to hear your voice. Wow, what a concept…connecting vocally and ladies, this works in reverse too.

I remember a time when one profile stood out. It was written with such refreshing honesty and the context was an extremely bold move on his part. It also helped that he most certainly had the it factor, along with intelligence, a great sense of humor, athletic build, retired twice over and a good grasp on the reality of life. While his profile made for some good reading, most would probably have thought he was a bizarre and insane man but he was honest, clear and concise as to what type of relationship he was looking for. While I found his story to be amusing and intriguing, it most certainly wasn’t anything I was looking for and while I didn’t completely understand his wants and desires, I respectfully, declined his intentions and moved on.

Have we become that shallow of a world that it’s all about looks, shape, size and how many digits are in your net worth or what type of car you drive or how big your house is? Also, when did relationships become more like a business deal? I admit to overlooking one or two or many of those 12,000 viewers purely based on looks but for me you most certainly needed to have teeth. You shouldn’t be wearing overall’s or be topless on the beach or a boat with your unattractive gut hanging out for the world to see, holding a drink, and surrounded by bathing beauties. You get my point!

Now if you add distance to the mix, I have yet to meet someone where distance is not an issue. I do believe if you’re not willing to put the work into getting to know each other or into finding a true, loving, equal and caring relationship than you shouldn’t be on a dating site, unless you are extremely clear that you’re looking for a non-committed relationship and good luck with that. I am not saying my thought process is the right process, however, I do believe dating and expectations are a personal choice and you should follow your heart, your gut and not sell yourself short.

I left the online dating world believing it to be the new bar scene. My intention is not to generalize the whole process and I am just speaking from my own prospective and experience. I met some jerks and some very nice men. It takes a date or two or more to figure out if you’re both on the same life path. Some will fill a temporary need, some will be great company, some will move on and some will become great friends. And maybe someone will become a lifetime.

Lastly, there is that chance you will meet someone and everything just hums. And wham, in the end, timing is everything and you both are on different life paths. The hard ones to let go of and get past are the ones that say, “only if we had met years ago.” We are all human. We all have feelings, wants and needs but the day that serious conversation happens, sometimes they include specific words that never leave your mind, like, “people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.”

Sometimes that person can be in your life for more than a season and for more than a reason but will never be for a lifetime and yet, my heart remains receptive, my mind is open and I still believe…my lifetime will come.

Reason, Season, or a Lifetime

reason

                People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.

When you figure out which one it is, you will know what to do for each person.

When someone is in your life for a REASON, it is usually to meet a need you have expressed. They have come to assist you through a difficulty; to provide you with guidance and support; to aid you physically, emotionally or spiritually. They may seem like a godsend, and they are. They are there for the reason you need them to be.

Then, without any wrongdoing on your part or at an inconvenient time, this person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end. Sometimes they die. Sometimes they walk away. Sometimes they act up and force you to take a stand. What we must realize is that our need has been met, our desire fulfilled; their work is done. The prayer you sent up has been answered, and now it is time to move on.

Some people come into your life for a SEASON, because your turn has come to share, grow or learn. They bring you an experience of peace or make you laugh. They may teach you something you have never done. They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy. Believe it. It is real. But only for a season.

LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons; things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation. Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person, and put what you have learned to use in all other relationships, and areas of your life. It is said that love is blind but friendship is clairvoyant. ~ Unknown

Awareness, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Thoughts, Uncategorized

Fearlessness & The Crusade

“The first part of looking at our fear is just inviting it into our awareness without judgment. We just acknowledge gently that it is there. This brings a lot of relief already. Then, once our fear has calmed down, we can embrace it tenderly, and look deeply into its roots, its sources. Understanding the origins of our anxieties, and fears will help us let go of them. When we practice inviting all our fears up, we become aware that we are still alive, that we still have many things to treasure and enjoy. If we are not pushing down, and managing our fear, we can enjoy the sunshine, the fog, the air, and the water. If you can look deep into your fear, and have a clear vision of it, then you really can live a life that is worthwhile.”            ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

A little over a year ago, my niece, Christina, at the age of 22, who a few months early had just graduated from Quinnipiac University, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It was devastating news to her, and the entire family, and life would never be the same. As a family, we always have believed, “things happen for a reason”, and that there was a bigger reason than we all could have imagined as to the why. I believe it was facing that fear head on that provided Christina with the courage, and strength to get through probably what will be her most difficult life challenge. I also believe that once you read Christina’s story (in the link below), you will most certainly agree, she is an amazing, incredible young lady, and a shining light of hope for all of us. I ask who wouldn’t want to be a part of trying to help someone find the strength, courage, fearlessness, and hope to fight the fight, and more importantly, taking part in supporting, and helping to find a cure. Spreading the word doesn’t take a lot of effort, and interestingly enough, a stranger found Christina’s link on Facebook, and she was so touched by Christina’s story, and found her to be such an inspiration that she not only donated but left a beautiful message on Christina’s Crusaders homepage.

Recently, I looked up the definition of a humanitarian…”someone who is devoted, and actively engaged in the promotion of human welfare, along with the happiness of people. A person having the interests of mankind at heart, and a person who is markedly or motivated by concern with the alleviation of suffering of others”. When I think of the word humanitarian, and its definition, I think of Christina, and all that she has accomplished in the last year, both personally, and with helping others. This past month there was an article written in the New Rochelle Patch noting Christina’s achievement of being named by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society as an Honored Patient for its 2013 Westchester Light The Night® Walk. As an Honored Patient, she will be making a speech at this year’s walk at Rye Playland on November 2nd .  Her family, friends, and Christina’s Crusaders will be front, and center, with great pride, to support her, and to hear her speak about her year long journey.

This year, Christina celebrates her remission, and continues her work on the path of her new found “life purpose” of helping, encouraging, and supporting others with cancer to fight the fight, and proving to them that they can beat cancer. Christina is a remarkable young lady, with an enormous amount of courage, and strength. She is my inspiration to continue the course as a Crusader with helping to find a cure, and as I get older, and older, the words…Someday is today, has more, and more of a meaningful definition with finding a cure, and about life…a precious gift, never to be taken for granted.

As a Crusader…my vigorous concerted movement for the cause is to continue to be a voice of awareness for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, for Christina, and a champion for finding a cure. Many have heard the story of her journey, and her fight with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma through Facebook. However, do many also know the stories behind the lives of Jaymie, Kimmie, Gail, Doug, Alex, Melissa, James and Isaac (just to name a few), and their incredible, challenging life journey with getting to the promise land of remission. They are all survivors with heart wrenching, touching, and miraculous stories just like Christina’s. I find when I read their stories, they touch me so deep that it just makes me want to crusade even harder to find supporters who understand how important it is to help find a cure.

My mission has always been to be a voice, and over the last month, and the past year, my Facebook posts have been about awareness, and pleas for support with helping to find a cure. Now, I am here and please allow me a moment to put some insight around my efforts. Between my two Facebook pages, Divine Delectables and Divine Designs by Deborah, my recent posts have reached 16,230 members. As a page owner, each post I promote cost dollars…dollars, which I am willing to spend just to increase the audience, who read my awareness posts, and to find additional supporters willing to donate with the hopes of finding a cure.

Here are some simple math facts…just ONE DOLLAR ($1) of a donation from each one of those viewers would have brought the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, $16,230 closer to finding a cure. Now, let’s put a meatier twist on that number, and say each viewer donated FIVE DOLLARS ($5)….that’s $81,150. Oh, but wait, let me take it to whole other level of a TEN DOLLAR ($10) donation…that’s $162,300 closer to finding a CURE! Absolutely, incredible! However, interestingly enough, even with the high number of viewer’s…very few donations have come in, which is a little mind boggling to me. What does it take to sacrifice one small thing, today, to help others towards a better tomorrow? Not much! Who is willing to sacrifice one latté, one beer, one martini or maybe something as simple as a dessert or a candy bar, and donate those small dollars to help find a cure or to assist a cancer patient with their medical treatment? Is it you?

So here’s Divine Delectables and Divine Designs by Deborah’s challenge, and this is where all you readers come into play…are you a crusader for the cause or are you just a curious reader that’s leaving the fight to find a cure to everyone else? No donation is considered too small, and if you are worried about the amount appearing on our homepage, you have the option to donate anonymously…your donation amount does not need to appear nor does your name.

Every single one of us has a purpose in life. Maybe you have been lucky enough to find yours or maybe you’re still searching or working towards finding it, and maybe my ultimate calling is to be a voice…a voice of awareness, a voice of inspiration, and a voice to ignite a deeper passion inside of all of us. But for today, maybe’s don’t count…it’s the level of awareness that truly counts, and just as important, my hope continues to be that each of you dig real deep, and search for a small place in your heart, and wallet, and make a donation, today!

It takes a small army to help but I’m looking for a few thousand Crusaders with the willingness to support LLS, and the research for finding a cure. Please donate…TODAY not someday!

Please feel free to share my message, and Christina’s Crusaders homepage link. As always, thank you in advance for your consideration, support, and your continued kind thoughts, words, and prayers.

No one fights alone!

http://pages.lightthenight.org/wch/Wstchstr13/ChristinasCrusaders